Taffy, a 6-year-old Pekingese, has fully recuperated after having had an outdated human pacemaker implanted in her chest about seven months ago.
"She's doing fine. She's not as active as she once was, but she's doing well," said the pet's owner, Hazel Gomes of Westminster. "Sometimes she even plays and gets kind of rowdy."
But Taffy's prognosis was not always so promising. Last year, progressing heart disease made the pooch grow listless and eventually become completely immobile.
"I hated to just give her up. I could have just let her die, but that is a very difficult decision to make. It was my choice," Gomes said.
She said veterinarians at Grand Avenue Pet Hospital in Santa Ana convinced her to try implanting a pacemaker that had passed its expiration date. Dr. Richard Yamaguchi, who has monitored Taffy's post-operation progress, said the practice is used in the eastern United States.
"It's relatively common surgery," he said. "For some people, their pets are very important, like their kids, and we think we should serve them as best we can."
There were a few complications that kept Gomes scurrying back and forth to the clinic once or twice a week for about two months, but most were related to the dog's immune system, not the new heart.
"I wondered then if it was worth it," she said. "It took a while for her to rally around."
Gomes said steroids helped put Taffy back on her paws within a few weeks.
Taffy "still has trouble waddling down stairs," she said, "but overall, she's doing just fine."
Dr. James Felts, who did the surgery, said he has performed only two such implants in Orange County. The procedure can cost up to $550, with the pacemaker an additional $200.
He said owners of recipients can expect their pets to have "pretty much normal lives." But he said "excessive activity" is something the animals should avoid.