Friday, December 30, 2011

Rummy: September 5, 1994 to July 2, 2010

Rummy belonged to Christine McLaughlin, her husband, son Jonathan and to his second family. Christine wrote the following about Rummy.

"Rummy (Arbor Festinog Midnight Snack) came to us as an oversize fluffy puppy at the beginning of December 1994, when our son and I visited a breeder to look at getting an already trained adult dog. But our hearts were drawn instead to a puppy watching us from a pen. The timid puppy immediately nestled into the lap of our seven-year old only child, who announced tearfully that the puppy had “chosen him”. Potty training a puppy through a Boston winter had not been in the plans, but we never regretted getting Rummy. His main interest throughout his life was guarding and protecting his humans, especially our son and his nanny. Even as a puppy, he was always watchful and serious, never playful or silly. He was a dud at the A-frame in agility and was terrified to have his feet leave the ground, whether in jumping up, swimming or being picked up. He believed in the value of warning and disciplinary nips.

"Rummy lived with DM for well over three years and died just two months short of his sixteenth birthday, as a functional quadriplegic. He was finally diagnosed at age thirteen by a neurologist only after he had reached the point where he was collapsing on one side in the rear every 42 seconds because his general vets and I thought it was “merely arthritis” for the longest time. I think the “lameness” that Rummy developed at age 11 or so might have been the very beginning of DM, not just the Lyme’s disease for which he was treated, as was his increasing hesitance on uncarpeted stairs, something we attributed to his overall “general clumsiness” and the “long fur” between the pads of his fluffy hobbit feet. We had never heard of DM.

"He absolutely refused to use his cart but adapted quickly to being supported with a Bottoms Up rear leg sling (which had to be modified to keep on his legs) and galloped around very happily with it (and later a front harness) for 2 ½ years, until my aching arms could no longer bear his full 35 pound dead weight. (For the last six months of his life, I kept his bed on my desk near me so I didn’t need to kneel to care for him (I had developed knee tendonitis) and so my presence provided the constant reassurance he needed.) As the DM progressed, so too did our adaptations for him, familiar to all owners of DM corgis: yoga mats for traction, booties, carts, beds, bolsters, strollers, skin cleaners galore, d-mannose for the frequent UTIs, medications, bellybands/diapers, many different types of food to tempt him, weekly swimming in a pool, seemingly vast amounts of “stuff” to keep him amused and comfortable. We were blessed to have enough time, health, energy, patience, money and backup support to care for him so long into his disease and old age.

"The immobile/incontinent/retentive stage ain’t so bad! I found it actually much easier to care for Rummy when he couldn’t move and couldn’t urinate because everything was under my control and he didn’t need to be carried outside many times a day. To escape those steep outside stairs that, in miserable Boston winters needed to be shoveled constantly just to take an immobile DM dog outside safely for potty walks in the snow in his harnesses, we undertook an epic drive with him, in his last winter, from Boston to Florida and back. (We chose to drive to Florida, shoehorned into a BMW sedan, because I knew he would freak out at flying.) Rummy sprawled regally in half the back seat, with the other half jammed with his big jogging stroller, cart (I hoped that warm weather might inspire me and him!), and bedding, with my husband’s golf clubs and many other Rummy supplies in the trunk. The only place left to store the bulky box with the University of Missouri “tissue collection kit” (we were prepared for everything!) was on my lap for every mile of the entire 3400+ miles of the drive. We travelled with a list of neurologists based along the route and even had Rummy examined by a neurologist on the other side of Florida to make arrangements for tissue collection, “just in case”. On the road, we stayed at dog-friendly luxury hotels and golf resorts, where the collection vials and freezer packs had to refrigerated carefully every night, to the amazement of the hotel staff. During our month long stay at a rented condo, Rummy enjoyed being wheeled about in his jogging stroller for hours every day. He became a familiar sight and developed quite a fan club in our gated community as an “ambassador of DM”.

"In general caring for Rummy, I tried to be mindful to make choices that would help maintain my own sanity. It was a painful decision to start having his entire body shaved, trading his magnificent fluffy beauty for a “scraggly lamb” look, but it was much easier to keep him healthy and cool. I “expressed poop” so Rummy wouldn’t lie in it and develop sores. I was willing to try anything to get him to sleep more at night (a small fan on him worked better than any medication). I was able to get breaks from him by relying on respite care from his extraordinarily devoted “second family” who cared for him when we traveled, even for long periods of time. The mother in this family, our former long-time nanny and now a nurse, to whom Rummy remained extremely attached his entire life, had many excellent suggestions about nursing care for him, and her two children adored Rummy and provided great amusement for “The King”, as they called him, including celebrating all his birthdays, even his last at 15 ½, and giving him a loving goodbye at the very end.

"I found joy in the fullness of Rummy’s life and even in my near full-time care of him, and I found it very hard to let him go. I think that caring for a totally helpless dog makes parting from him even more wrenching, because he becomes more like a "human infant" than "beloved animal". Rummy was quite happy until the very end, so I felt obligated to stick with caring for him, even though I was increasingly frazzled and exhausted. Rummy’s euthanasia needed to be arranged well in advance around the schedule of his busy research neurologist at Tufts because I was absolutely determined from an early date to have him contribute to DM research. Our son Jon, now 23 years old, took time off from work to come back to Boston to accompany his beloved old buddy Rummy on that final journey, including feeding Rummy his last meal at 3:30am after he arrived and Rummy, of course, was wide awake and hungry.  

Rummy wasn’t euthanized because of DM; although for many months at the end he couldn’t move any part of his body, had to be supported and repositioned constantly, and could only rarely lift his head even slightly, he remained bright, engaged, and deeply aware. His full autopsy showed that his month-long reluctance to eat (the reason for the euthanasia) was due to heartburn from a benign tumor in his esophagus, not anything serious medically, and his difficulty tonguing food was due to several small strokes, not advanced DM in his cervical nerves. His tissues were indeed donated to the University of Missouri, using that kit I carried so faithfully on my lap on Rummy’s Great Adventure. I will remain forever grateful to all the researchers who are working so hard to conquer DM and ALS.

"We miss him every day. He was a stubborn, beautiful, protective dog who came into our lives as a gentle young puppy and left as a grand old man -- still dignified, opinionated, and wise.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Roggan, 1998-2011

Roggan belonged to Kirsty McCarron and her family.

"Roggan went to the bridge on Oct. 19. He would have been 13 Oct. 20. " (This was also Merlin's birthday.)

"My grandparents raised corgis. I remember one of their corgis, a r/w male named Zebby. He was the perfect corgi, and when we started talking about getting a dog, I knew it was to be a corgi.

"I didn't research breeders, just found one close to me, who had puppies. We got Roggan when Emma was 4, and the twins, Jordan and Devon, 1. He was very devoted to the kids. If anyone approached his kids, look out. He would defend them with his life. But if the kids weren't around, he would take any lovings he could get. We often said that if anyone broke into our house Roggan would probably lick them to death. He loved any visitor.

" We took him with us anywhere we could. He loved the beach, swimming pools, sprinklers, water guns, anything water related. He would get so wet that his ears would flop. Roggan also had the largest corgi ears. On windy days we would joke that we should put a leash on him in case he flew away.

"In true corgi fashion, meal time was his favourite time of day, and he would sit outside and refuse to come in until he got a cookie. He could manipulate for food. In fact, I think he was a master.

"Roggan started dragging his back leg 2 yrs ago; by April of 2011, he was completely down in the back end, but could bunny hop run if something got his attention. We built a ramp for him for the stairs, got a cart, slept on the couch with him beside us, tried multiple medications, and found Wheelcorgis, who were full of information and suggestions for us.

"By August 2011, he was having trouble with his front legs. By September we had to help him up the ramp, he lost control of his bladder. October he began barking all night long. He would settle if we got up with him, but as soon as we left him alone again, he would start barking. We also noticed at this time that he was choking on his food.

"We opted to have Roggan euthanized as he was becoming very agitated at night, and could not settle. He was also licking himself, and had developed multiple sores on his body. He was incontinent of bowel and bladder, and was very upset with himself when he had accidents in the house.

When asked how Roggan's DM had affected their lives, Kirsty said, " We had adjusted our lives to make sure Roggan was never alone, and if we did have to leave him, it would be for as short of time as possible.

"The worst thing is the feeling of guilt, the what if's, etc. I feel that maybe I could of done more if I had more money. Maybe I gave up on him too soon. He was an amazing, devoted dog, and we couldn't of asked for more.

"Although he was hyper, and could get nasty when anyone touched his back, he was a perfect dog. We miss him dearly."

Cookie, 199? to 2011, Beloved Rescue Corgi

Cookie, Beloved Rescued Corgi

The following is written by Millie Williams. Millie is the author of The Watching, a beautifully illustrated book about corgis and Christmas.

Cookie came into foster care in December, 2010, from a home with elderly owners who could no longer lift her due to their advanced ages. When Sue, the transporter, picked her up and drove her partway to me, she said “She’s going down in the back”. What I saw when she let Cookie out of her van was an elderly corgi who was having trouble walking. There was some pain which we were able to relieve with aspirin, but she had that gait that is so common in dogs with DM, too.

I knew little about Cookie’s background except that she had wandered into the owners’ yard, lost, and they had kept her. They estimated her age at about 11, I thought it was more like 13 or 14, based on the white on her face, her teeth and her general condition. The owners had loved her but realized that it was going to be too much for them to care for her. She seemed happy and interested in everything that went on at our home.

Cookie was the sweetest of the Sweet. I aspire to breed temperaments as lovely as hers was. My corgis would walk by and say something about “Yo momma” and she would just look at them very mildly and say “What a nice day it is!” A true Southern Belle! On the other hand, she was just an ordinary corgi in looks. But what is inside is the most important and Cookie brought that lesson home to me more than once.

Within 3 weeks, she was having trouble getting up, keeping her balance and walking at all. Most of the time, she just seal walked but then after a week or two, got up and walked a few steps now and then for another week. This time when she went down, she never got up again.

In years past, we also had a lovely girl named Isabelle who had destroyed her back leaping off the porch for several years and so we knew what was to come. Although I had sworn that I would not go through this again, one look into Cookie’s gentle eyes told me she had a zest for living and was not ready to leave us just yet. So we fitted her for diapers, shaved her rear, dug out the double sided fleecy blankets and found her a non tip water bowl. And Cookie did love that bowl! It had Velcro on the bottom so it wouldn’t scoot away from her on the fleecy if she wanted a drink.

Caring for a dog with a back injury or DM is mostly a matter of management and prevention. Managing the diet, whatever therapy you can give to them and time; prevention of sores from lying on one side too long or dragging themselves, keeping bottoms clean of waste so that sores don’t begin there, keeping the dog’s mind occupied and busy. Cookie was easily entertained, she liked rolled pork skin with sweet potato on the inside and she liked to be petted. One thing people do forget with these dogs is the need to scratch them all over when their little back legs cannot scratch their faces, ears, head, neck, and they lack the ability to lie on their backs and scratch themselves this way.

Cookie enjoyed being in the yard with the other corgis, watching the chickens and guineas, scooting merrily about and sniffing everything. She liked to be talked to, enjoyed her meals and watched the litter of corgi pups grow up. Watching TV at night was the best because my husband and I were both “there” all the time with her.

Over the next few months, we sadly saw Cookie deteriorate. And I played the “Line in the Sand” game. It was first that I would not care for a dog (that was not of my breeding) if it went down. Then it was when she had to go in a diaper. I just wasn’t going that far. Then the line got moved again. This happened several times because I dearly loved this little soul that God had sent to me to care for. She was happy, grateful for everything we did for her and she asked for so little. The only good thing about this condition is that one will build an incredible relationship with that animal, and I did.

Finally the day came where I had to admit defeat. I came home from work and Cookie had gotten part way off her fleecy, her rear legs were twisted under her in a very uncomfortable fashion and she looked miserable. Although I realized that I could fix her positioning, I knew that this would happen again and again. And she had started to lie on her side and unable to right herself to get a drink. It was unthinkable that the Line had finally appeared but I could not keep her comfortable if I had to go to work each day. I couldn’t take her to the vet. I asked Jerry if he could and although it nearly killed him, he spared me the last devastating tears that I would have shed. I shed them anyway, but the wound was not so deep.

And how we still miss her… I am misting up as I am writing this story. She brought to my life so many things, yet asked for little. She needed the care and the help, but she was not a demanding dog at all. I found it no trouble at all to help a sweet being that needed some extra help.

God bless you, Cookie. I will miss you always.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Beamer 1997-2011

Annette Sheppard wrote about her corgi Beamer.

"We had Beamer since he was a pup (born 4/15/1997, came to us 6/21/1997)--14 years +. Formal name: Sports Beamer Extraordinaire. He was diagnosed at age 13.

"Beamer had the DNA testing done in August 2010 but was exhibiting symptoms for some months already--we just did not realize what it was. My local vet had done x-rays in June 2010 and had given a diagnosis of arthritis, or possibly IVDD. The next stop was Gulf Coast Veterinary Neurology & Neurosurgery, for a possible MRI. However, he had the DNA test instead, with the result: at risk/affected.

"Knowing the symptoms as we now do would have been helpful in spotting the
development of DM. My daughter recently came across a short video made at
our lake house about 2 years ago. Beamer was tethered to a post on the porch
when a deer approached. Beamer tore off down the steps toward it and was
jerked to a halt by the tether. After that, Katherine said she observed his
hips beginning to give way when he walked. It was a momentary gesture at the
time, but one which would recur at a later time.

"Beamer went on walks with me in our neighborhood and occasional playtime at a nearby bark park. The last time he was at the bark park he slipped into the pond and was unable to get out--it had sloping concrete sides and he
could not get enough traction with his rear legs to push himself out of the
water. He never liked going into the water and was most likely just getting
a drink when he slipped in. I had turned my back on him to look after
Tigger, our latest rescue, who was attempting to leave the park with someone
else. This was the last time we went to the park.

"We got a loaner cart from a friend and adjusted it for Beamer; however, we
were not able to win him over to using it. We live in a one-story home, so
there were no stairs to contend with. The kitchen tile was another obstacle,
as he slipped on the smooth surface until we put down rubber matting--the
thick kind you use in the garage, that fits together like puzzle pieces. He
could seal-walk on this and the carpeting in the rest of the house until the
last few months.

"A friend had loaned us a small stroller--tiny, in fact, so that Beamer had
to be somewhat stuffed into it. Then I found one on Craigslist and bought it
from a young woman who had used it only once or twice--a really nice
3-wheeler made by Solvit Products. This allowed us to take him for walks again, though the Texas heat (in the 100s a lot lately) restricted walks to early morning or after dusk, when the mosquitoes took over. That afforded us the opportunity to explain DM to people we met along the way who had never heard of the disease.

"Beamer never became incontinent to the point where he needed to be
expressed; he wore diapers for some months because he could not go out the doggie door, though we took him out several times a day. We tried various means of carrying him and in the end just picked him up. He generally let us know when he had to poop by somewhat frantic whining. He actually barked, whined and cried A LOT, as he was not content unless he was in the same room with one of us.

"Beamer was not totally paralyzed at the time of his death. His front legs
were weak, but he could still raise himself a little and swivel around.
Knowing that the eventual outcome would be inability to breathe and/or
swallow, I could not bear to have him come to that point. He was already
suffering anxiety--and thereby raising our anxiety level--by needing to be
with us and having us carry him in and outdoor, and from room to room. He
was beginning to awaken during the night, either to be taken out or just to
be repositioned. My husband fell once on the patio while carrying him in,
which could have caused more damage than the scrape on the arm that he
sustained. We had doggie beds in nearly every room of the house and would
keep a water dish close enough for him to reach. He slept on a bed in our
bedroom so we could hear him and take him out or reposition him if he cried
during the night.

"The mental anguish was a deciding factor in letting Beamer go at this time.
I began searching in June for a vet who would be able to harvest his organs
for the research program at the U of Mo, since I had contacted Dr. Coates and
received the kit back in March. However, without a vet who could/would
perform the necessary necropsy, I felt Beamer's death would be a total
waste. Going back to the Gulf Coast Vet clinic, I found that the doctor who
did his DNA was on maternity leave and may or may not return. I got an
appointment with another vet there, who said he usually declines "that sort
of thing" because it "takes too much time." Now I was getting upset! So he
offered that he WOULD do the necropsy ("Let's see--we're looking at about 6
hours at $115 per hour. . . .")

"At that point I left and emailed Dr. Coates, asking if she knew anyone else
in the area. I then called a vet clinic in Sugar Land, asking for The veterinarian recommended by Dr. Coates. Left a message and faxed the 6 pages of protocol required. Waited for a call. Talked with the vet and again faxed
the protocol. Played phone tag and never got a definite response that he
would do it. Busy man. By this time it was nearly August, when they had told
me at Gulf Coast Vet that a new doctor would be coming on board, one who had worked with Dr. Coates! Called Gulf Coast Vet again and got an appointment with Dr. Vasquez. Received a call that she could not actually perform the euthanasia until she had the Texas license in hand, and she had just taken the test in Austin on Monday of this week. However, Dr. Giovanella was back from maternity leave and would be able to do it. Meanwhile, I had sought out funding for this little project and was given a grant of $250 by the PWCCA, which covered part of the cost.

"My husband Chuck and daughter Katherine were with Beamer and me when he was taken. The staff was wonderful, giving us time and space to say goodbyes and even providing some chicken tidbits as a final treat for my Little B. He went quietly, just falling asleep and drifting away. My only comfort is that he is at peace.

"I just never want to deal with DM again, and really hope that none of the
rescues we have come down with it. But if they do, we will be able to
recognize it earlier."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rocky, 1/5/97 to 5/31/11.

 Starr Ladehoff wrote the following about her corgi, Rocky.

"We had Rocky for 4 1/2 years."

"My friend, who owned my female corgi, Lady’s sister, lived next door to the people who had Rocky. She told me the wife didn’t like the breed so she told her husband to keep Rocky in a crate (he was the husband’s dog) while her Akitas were allowed to have attention and freedom. The husband finally agreed to give him up and spoke to my friend about keeping him. My friend couldn’t keep him at the time so she asked me. I had always wanted a tri-color corgi so I was happy to get him. He cowered when I took the crate out of my friend’s car when they dropped him off. I showed the crate to him and told him he never had to go into it again and put it in storage. He has never been crated since. And by the way, he had no behavioral issues either – what an amazing dog."

"Rocky was diagnosed with DM at the age of 13. I did not do the DNA test. I researched DM vs. other spinal diseases and trauma, watched videos of dogs with DM who had the same walking behavior, spoke to and saw three veterinarians and people on the Wheelcorgi list to determine the diagnosis.
"Rocky was never involved in sports or games to my knowledge. He did not know how to play with other dogs, people or toys. Since we got him at age 10, we did not know what his life was like, other than being in a crate. However, he LOVED going on walks and simply just to be in the same room with me. It took me two nights of sleeping next to him on his new dog bed for him to feel that it was ok to be on something soft, instead of the hard surfaces in the house. All he cared about was being loved by people.

"I first noticed Rocky walking wobbly when he had just turned 13. He would list to the side – this was in January, 2010. Then, he started slipping on hard surfaces and within a couple of months, he started falling down in the hind end. By April, 2010, he was seal walking mostly but if he had traction, he could walk a little ways but very wobbly. By November, 2010, he could no longer walk at all other than seal walking. He could not stand at all and I used a sling to move him around. In December, 2010, we were fortunate to get a CorgiAid cart on loan. It instantly perked him up once he realized he could move again freely. We went for a walk that first day and he was actually faster than my other corgi who does not have any walking issues (as of this date). I still remember how much fun he had and explored all of the bushes again and was able to do something more than drag around the house and yard. I took him everywhere I could. Each time, he would look at me with the biggest smile on his face. It was the best Christmas present I could have gotten as it had been nearly a year since he actually went on a real walk.

"The cart was a Godsend! We made a nice ramp out of plywood for the stairs off of the porch into the yard and put mats on it for traction. We leveled the yard with the tractor so he didn’t have to struggle over the lumps and bumps. I had a male wrap for him but after we got the cart, we didn’t need it. I did not keep him in the cart, except for walks or going out to potty since he would get hung up on the furniture and if he was in it too long, he would bend too much in his spine so I was careful. Fortunately, we only had stairs from the porch to the yard as the entire house is on one level. I had beds in various parts of the house for him so wherever he dragged himself to, he had something comfortable. In the end stages, I propped him up as he seemed to be uncomfortable trying to lay down. I would massage him and work his muscles however they still atrophied quickly. After he started falling on his chin while in the cart, I would prop him up with a line attached to the front of the cart when he walked.

"Before his death, Rocky appeared to be in congestive heart failure. His cough was described to me as a “heart failure” cough which was increasing. He would start panting and trying to catch his breath as well. He was struggling with seal walking too and could hardly drag himself at all. I decided to put him to sleep mostly due to his heart but also felt that he was no longer comfortable physically with DM.
"How did his DM affect our lives? Where to begin??? I had no idea what this disease was. I thought he couldn’t walk well initially due to his living in a crate but realized it was for a very different reason. I’m sure the crate life didn’t help as his muscles were never strong in the back but he did walk until he was 13 so I consider myself lucky. I realized how hard it is to care for someone who is totally dependent on my timing and availability. I went through the gamut of emotions from sadness to anger to resolve to help make his quality of life better. Scheduling was stressful as I still work but I never felt bad caring for him. In other words, I never considered him to be a burden. The few times he had an accident due to my bad timing (gone too long), I only felt bad for him and mad at myself for not being home on time. Only a week before he died, I was gone too long. I came home and he had peed on himself. I looked around for the puddle but never found one in the house. I discovered he had dragged himself through the doggie door, peed on the porch, then dragged himself back in. He had never done that before. I was so impressed with his desire to go where he was supposed to go, despite his physical incapacity but angry at myself as he must have felt desperate. I was truly grateful he didn’t get high centered on the doggie door.

"My life, both personally and professionally ended up centering around what I needed to do for Rocky but one look from him, a stare actually, was all it took for me to know he was happy just to be with me. I didn’t take vacations and only left him with family who knew how to take care of him if I was gone all day. Now that I know so much about this disease, I feel I can help others. I also am so grateful for the support I’ve gotten through the Wheelcorgi’s online group. I’ve made some great new friends who all have the same desire I do, to honor and cherish our special dogs through thick and thin and give them the best life possible. I would read every post and try to help with some behavior issues when I felt I had something to offer. I learned and cried and supported and got support from those in the group. I learned about breeding for DM free dogs. Thankfully, there are breeders out there taking serious note and doing their best which is a big sigh of relief for me. I have had many dogs of various breeds throughout my life. All of them have been special. But Rocky was right up there with the best of them when it came to touching my soul. I’m so honored to have been able to know and care for him. I don’t think my life will ever be the same. God Bless you my sweet Rocky, I can hardly wait to see you again."

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lulu, 2000-2011

We first met Cori and Lu at our 2008 CenCal Corgi Picnic when Merlin was just learning to use his cart and Lu was still just wobbling. Later we met at the beach in Santa Cruz with another friend and her dog in a cart due to DM, Cori and Lulu, Merlin and I, and my IVDD dog Candy.

Cori Troiani wrote the following story about her corgi, Lulu.

In the Spring of 2000, I was beginning to look for a Corgi puppy—our first after decades of having “full size” dogs. One day I was only planning to practice interviewing a breeder, having heard he only had a litter of male pups. I arrived to find 2 sixteen week old sisters and one, who became my Lulu, locked eye contact with me and never let go. It was love at first sight and over eleven years has grown into a mutual devotion filled with intimacy, joy, playfulness and, in her later years even a spiritual connection.

Soon after joining our family we took Lulu to a pond, where she observed a dog swimming and paddled out, entirely on her own, to join him. She has loved water her entire life and this has been a saving grace when she developed DM and could use her passion therapeutically, swimming every other day to maintain strength, coordination and flexibility. Her vet and I have no doubt that her swimming through the DM years slowed the advance of the disease process, as she maintained muscle tone, coordination and flexibility. Her rear feet paddled purposefully long after she could place them when in her cart.

Lu participated in an “agility for fun” group for a few years when she was young and was always the clown of the group; Her favorite encore would be an unprompted run through the tunnel with a grinning play to her audience for applause. She developed strength and endurance early on accompanying me on a daily 3 mile walk, as well as regular outings to the beach. Her greatest athletic joy, though, were the vacations in the high Sierra mountains every Summer and Fall. Camping together, we shared activities all day and evening—what could be better! She hiked all day, swimming in every body of water and enjoying the lean air and different smells. Her last camping trip was in July 2007, but we adapted to her developing DM by renting cabins from that point on. In August 2010 she played fetch at Lake Tahoe in her Eddies' Wheels cart and swam in a smaller, warmer lake. Bliss was written all over her face. Three months later the spinal degeneration was moving toward the front and since than our lives changed dramatically: less activity, more rest, more care.

Lu's lifelong passion for any kind of fetch game sustained her through her years with DM. As we entered the final months before she couldn't use even her front wheel extension cart, she played fetch a couple of times a day on our cement terrace. As she became less enthusiastic about sniffing walks, stroller excursions and even her people friends near the end, these few moments a day continued to bring joy and enthusiasm to an otherwise very limited daily routine. It helped that the fetch object squeeked!

Living with DM brought Lu and me even closer together and she adapted to every stage of deterioration with a great attitude: enthusiasm in the beginning and acceptance as we neared the end. Nothing has been so precious and rewarding as sharing these years with my beloved girl, and I know she felt the same.

Lulu's DM timetable: starting at age 8, summer of 2007: 1 year of subtle rear leg/gait changes—as this progressed we got her a Ruff Wear harness with a rear leash attachment and a big stroller, but she still was mobile on her own most of the time with increasing malfunction—lots of hippity-hop running and later the Corgi drunken sailor walk. In February 2009 we got an Eddies' Wheels cart that she occasionally practiced in but didn't use regularly until May. While I don't think all Corgis need 12” nubby wheels, they enabled Lu maintain her rough and tumble vigorous activities on a wide variety of rugged grounds
She pushed off with her rear feet for a long time, which meant lots of boot repair but also kept up muscle strength and coordination. In October, 2010 she moved to a front wheel extension cart from CorgiAid, which she used for 7 months. Throughout this tine she swam in her own heated hot tub every other day until January 2011, when she became too weak. Throughout her time with DM she received care from a holistic vet (acupuncture, gentle chiropractic, massage) at least monthly and I massaged her and did a variety of physical therapy techniques throughout these years. I haven't charted them, but I think Lulu held on to the plateaus of the progression of DM quite well.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Starr, 1999-2011

Camille Tinling wrote this bio of her corgi Starr.

Starr was my first dog. I had walked dogs for neighbors growing up, and I'd cared for my husband's dogs when we married. But I had never had a dog of my own until I adopted Starr. She came to live with us on Jan. 1st, 2000 when she was just over a year old. Her birthday was October 9, 1999.

My plan was to get her involved in hospice work with me. I had been volunteering for hospice for six years and was tired of making friends only to have them die. Since our hospice had a dog-to-patient program, I thought having the spotlight on the dog rather than on me would enable me to continue to work with patients without getting burned out. I took Starr to obedience training and she learned the commands before I learned how to give them. The only command she had problems with was "heel". She was pretty sure that her proper place was out in front :-)

Starr passed the initial testing for the hospice program with flying colors. She knew all her commands and would let anyone touch her feet, her mouth, and her belly. Then came the in-facility test during which she and I were to go to a facility and meet with patients to see how she dealt with elevators, crutches, wheelchairs, and the like. Starr was charming the pants off everyone until a little boy came to visit one of the patients and began to jump up and down in excitement over something. Starr began to bark and spin, and there was no getting her attention back. The patient we had been visiting looked properly horrified, and that was the end of Starr's hospice career. Lest you think I gave up too easily, I later learned that Starr was offended by anyone with any sort of disability. She barked at people with casts, crutches, wheelchairs, and she barked at all kids, short people, and at other dogs. She did have her own opinions.

We did everything together. I was self-employed as a hairdresser so I had the freedom to walk her five times a day when she was young. She also came to work with me on weekends (I had a private studio). She loved going to the salon. All I had to do was ask her if she wanted to go to work and she would grab her leash, wagging her butt vigorously. She accompanied me on all the errands around town, too. I only frequented businesses that welcomed dogs so Starr had many friends in the community.

In the Spring of 2008, my husband and I and our two dogs and three cats took off in our RV to travel the United States and Canada. Starr was a bit anxious about the rig when we were moving, but she loved going visiting as soon as we got set up. She went up through Canada, traveled the Alaskan Highway, and then crossed the U.S. to spend the Fall in Maine. It was when we were hiking in Acadia that I first realized that the weakness I thought I had seen in Starr's rear left leg was not my imagination. She, of boundless energy and determination, was slipping on the rocks. I was afraid. I had known a Corgi with DM in our neighborhood in Sacramento. This looked very similar.

I didn't want to take her to a vet I knew nothing about, so I contacted our nephew in Connecticut (where we were heading soon) to get the name of his vet. We saw her at the end of October when Starr was just nine years old. She examined her carefully and said she felt fairly sure that the problem was neurological. She then suggested another veterinary clinic in town that had equipment to do x-rays and MRIs if need be. We went to that clinic that next day. It was big, very impersonal, and after an expensive "consultation" I was told they would have to do an MRI to know what was going on. I was annoyed that they'd charged me to tell me the same thing that the referring veterinarian had told me. Plus, by this time I had been in contact with my veterinarian back in Sacramento who had suggested a teaching hospital at the University of Pennsylvania.

When I contacted them, I was told that they could not see Starr until the end of November. As we were traveling in an RV, we could not linger in cold, potentially snowy areas that late in the season. RV parks close at the end of October (for the most part) where it snows. Thus, on the phone with this nice woman who was trying to help, I began to cry. Maybe it is fortunate that I am such a wimp because she immediately suggested a graduate of their school who had a clinic in Fairfax, Virginia, close to where we were at that time. We called and were able to get an appointment that week. In the meantime, I had been very busy researching DM and had begun following Dr. Clemmons protocols.

The vet in Virginia did a very thorough neurologic exam and thyroid test. She suggested that I might try Starr on a course of prednisone which, if it helped, would suggest that the problem was inflammation rather than DM. The prednisone didn't help, we were waiting for the results of the thyroid test and waiting for OFA (whom I had found on-line) to send us the materials for the cheek swab, and the weather was getting colder. We decided to have the MRI, despite the high cost. That test ruled out every other potential problem. Starr was diagnosed with DM at the end of October, 2008, at the age of nine years. Her lab results from OFA confirmed that she was Homozygous A/A.

That same vet referred us to a physical therapist who gave me a sheaf of exercises for Starr and suggested water therapy whenever and wherever I could get it. She also gave me the names of a few companies who make canine mobility carts. In retrospect, thanks to the internet and some kind, knowledgeable people, the road to diagnosis was pretty straightforward. At the time, because I was frantic for my girl and under tremendous time pressure, it seemed very difficult to get information. I contacted Eddie's Wheels for a cart, and through their site found Carol of Tammy and Teddy's who made many pair of wonderful booties for Starr. In our travels south, we clung to the coast as Starr seemed to be able to run on the wet sand better than on other surfaces.

The cart arrived when we were in Florida for the Winter. Starr was still doing very well as long as she could get enough speed going. She was continuing to chase her brother, Emmett, though she was having less success at keeping up with him. Since I had measured her for the cart myself, I worried that I had done so poorly when Starr refused to use the cart. I took many pictures and videos which I sent to Eddie's Wheels to see if there was something wrong with the fit of the cart. Finally I was told that the cart fit well but that I shouldn't expect too much as Corgis are known for being impossibly stubborn. That infuriated me, but I figured maybe Starr would use the cart when she needed it more. At this point, she was still dragging only on the left and kept trying to lift one leg out of the saddle. I continued to try her in the cart for the next year and a half or so, by which time she was ready for both stirrups. She moved in the cart as long as I offered incentives, but as soon as the goodies ran out she would assume the dromedary pose and fix me with a baleful stare. At one point I left her in the cart in the back yard and walked to another section of the yard to do something else. I thought perhaps if I weren't paying such close attention, she might do better. My girl then chewed through the strap across her chest!

Aside from the Battle of the Cart, we lived well and often joyously with DM. Starr lived 2 1/2 years from diagnosis. During that time we did a lot of traveling, and Starr quickly figured out that for a dog who loved attention from people, having DM could be a boon! She'd always enjoyed visiting with people. In fact, she had favorite houses in the neighborhood, outside of which she would stop our walk and bark until someone came out with love and treats :-) Now she would stop in front of any likely looking stranger and look as fetching and as disabled as possible. I once had to watch a clearly homeless person share her skinny sandwich with Starr -- I didn't want to hurt the woman's feelings when she so clearly wanted to do something nice.

Starr continued to enjoy a romp on the beach, even when she was dragging both rear legs. We bought her a carriage/stroller when she refused the cart, so she still got to go for a "walk" at least once a day with her big brother, Emmett. As she always enjoyed chasing him, we made a game of chasing him in the carriage. When we came abreast of him, Star would reach out and nip him lightly. She liked to go fast in the carriage and would work her front legs as though she thought she was making it go. Though it probably goes without saying (she was a Corgi, after all), she continued to enjoy eating! I often gave her treats and or her meal in a Kong to keep her busy and moving.

We continued our walks and whatever games she could still play. However, about a year before she died (1 1/2 years after diagnosis), she let us know that she no longer felt comfortable traveling, even to the grocery store. I think with no control of her rear, she felt too vulnerable in the car. I had put an enclosed bed with a bolster pillow in the car so she wouldn't roll, but we do live on the coast where the roads are winding. This situation was very limiting to her and to me. I did not feel I could leave her for any length of time more than a few hours. Thus, when my father (who lives alone) had a stroke, I helped him via the telephone and the internet. Thank heaven for modern means of communication!

Starr began to experience urinary incontinence a little over a year after diagnosis. My vet advised against diapers, saying they hold bacteria in and fresh air out, no matter how often you change them. For a few months we tried her on what I called "pee-pee pills", actually PPA to help with urinary control. But then Starr began to get urinary tract infections. We stopped the pills, and my vet showed me how to express Starr. As with the cart, Starr would have none of it. When I tried to express her bladder, she scooted away and then seemed unable or unwilling to urinate for some time. Thus began what I think of as the beginning of the end. We could not seem to shake those UTIs. She would go on a course of antibiotics, be pronounced clear, then a week or two later, she would have another.

The infections started a little shy of two years after diagnosis. We put up a baby gate so Starr and Emmett had access only to half the house, which I papered with disposable underpads pinned to rubber backed throw rugs (so Starr would have traction on the tile and wood floors). The washing machine was running almost constantly as Starr was losing control over her feces as well. After a few months, the vet and I decided to risk just keeping Starr on the antibiotics, hoping she wouldn't develop a resistant strain of bacteria. Starr could not lift her hind quarters at all when she eliminated, so now she would do a wiggle dance to shake the feces off. Then my job was to run to pick it up so she wouldn't accidently sit back in it. We gave up on full baths because I was constantly wiping her undercarriage with unscented baby wipes, then washing her tu-tu with an antibacterial solution we got from the vet and finally applying a little Desitin so she wouldn't get a rash. I still lured her to scoot in the house, but I had to carry her when we went outside. I tried to take her out at least every couple of hours. Though it seemed better for her to pee inside on the sterile underpads, she still seemed happier going outside.

Finally, she seemed to be struggling more to move at all, and to breathe. I could no longer interest her in playing ball or even poking it with her nose to make it squeak (one of her favorite activities). Though she was on the antibiotics, it smelled like she had another infection, her abdomen was bloated, and her bright eyes had a dull look I had never seen. In her dreams, she no longer ran like the wind (previously, the otherwise atrophied legs would run - not twitch). I went to see our vet and asked her if there was anything more we could or should do for Starr. She said she knew of nothing. My husband and I talked it over and decided that her quality of life was no longer what it should be. We took her on extra walks in her carriage, which she still seemed to enjoy, though she no longer "helped" by running her front legs. I spent extra time brushing her and sitting with her in her favorite chair. But she showed no signs that we had made a wrong decision. She did still enjoy eating. When we took her to our vet to have her euthanized, I told the vet that for the first time she could give Starr all the treats she wanted. Starr kept eating those until her eyes were too heavy to hold open.

We have four other animals, but our house is empty. I feel as though I have lost one of my body parts. I am bereft. She was the best companion I have ever known. When she'd been with us a few months, I overheard my husband telling a friend of ours that he was sure that if the house caught fire, I would save Star and leave him behind. I admitted the truth of that, explaining that Starr was my charge, he was not.

DM is an heinous disease in that there is no pain, just gradual debilitation. Thus, it is much harder to decide when it is time to let go. I am so grateful that there is now testing for the disease. I am so amazed and impressed by those of you who have more than one DM dog in your household! And I am so grateful for the support and sharing of this group of generous people.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Arthur 1996-2011

Carole Blemker wrote this story about Arthur.

Arthur, the Aristocratic Corgi, was born on April 4th 1996 and came to us in early June of 1996. He was a poster child Aries boy! My earliest Arthur memories are of a very confident puppy who loved to chase moving objects, including my ankles early in the morning while I was making coffee. His first love affair was with a soccer ball that mysteriously appeared in our yard one day. I’d never had a herding dog and watching him push and bark at that ball was an endless source of amusement, until it almost went through the neighbor’s basement window. As with most herders, work was important to Arthur. With 3 naughty cats in the house there was always plenty to do. He learned early on that they belonged inside, not outside, of the house. This lesson came when all 3 cats somehow escaped from the house simultaneously and my husband was trying to frantically round them up and get them inside before going to work that day. Arthur observed this chaotic scene and shortly thereafter those cats were blocked, by a very determined Arthur, from getting near an outside door as it was opening and closing. Arthur had great tenacity and determination in everything that he did. He loved hiking and when near a body of water, forget it, there was no keeping him away. Swimming was his passion. He was an avid collector of large sticks and often elicited smiles, giggles and laughter from passers by as frequently the sticks were twice as long as his body.

Life with Arthur was fairly uneventful, healthwise, until the winter of 2007 when we noticed that he was dragging his rear right paw in the snow - which was made obvious by his footprints when we went on daily walks. I thought that it might be arthritis and mentioned this to a friend who volunteers for CorgiAid. She suggested that I have Arthur checked by a veterinarian for degenerative myelopathy - a neurological problem. I rushed home, logged onto the internet, and went insane for a week spending every waking hour reading up on DM. I had never heard of it, but the more I read the more I started seeing the start of DM symptoms. He simply had no pain.

Shortly after that Arthur was seen by his veterinarian who said that the problem did seem to be neurological, and Arthur was referred to the neurology department at the University of Wisconsin Veterinary School. He was such an angel throughout the 2 to 3 hour exam. The neurologist suggested that it was very likely DM, but could not be sure without an MRI. He suggested that we consider physical therapy, and perhaps getting Arthur a cart for when he could no longer use his back legs for walking. My husband cried all the way home. I remember that I kept repeating, “we’ll get a cart, we’ll get a cart.”

We refused the MRI. Since I had already familiarized myself with DM by doing the reading and research the neurologist’s opinion just solidified my observations. I think that going into his exam with some forewarning of the possible outcome made the discussion with the neurologist less devastating than had I been blindsided by something that I had never heard of, or considered.

I had also done some preliminary cart research and decided to go with a K-9 West Cart. We measured Arthur, which was not as easy as we thought it would be! This was our first encounter with the many gray areas of DM. We wanted to get his measurements perfect, and probably measured him at least 30 times before we just decided “that’s enough,” and acknowledged that perfection was not in the stars. The measurements and payment were sent off and a few weeks later the new cart arrived. We sat it around the house, occasionally smearing some peanut butter on it, so he would get used to seeing it and when the time came he wouldn’t be freaked out by this totally alien contraption. About 6 months later, Arthur’s maiden voyage went pretty smoothly. There were some minor adjustments to be made on the cart height, but Arthur hung in there with us and seemed genuinely happy to be able to move around again without being troubled by an increasingly lagging back end.

Soon the bootie issue arose. After frustrating, frantic and futile searches in local pet stores we found Tammy and Teddy’s, online, and once again, after very careful measuring of rear paw size, had little custom made booties for Arthur that we reinforced by duck taping the toes. Arthur logged in an average of 3 miles a day in the cart, occasionally losing a booty which was always returned to us by one of our many friends that we made on the local bike path. Before long, everyone knew Artie’s booties and if one was lost we always got it back.

DM seems to wax and wane, at least that was our experience. Arthur showed no signs of change until about 8 or 9 months in the K-9 West Cart when we started noticing more weakening in his rear limbs. The cart did not seem to offer enough support so once again I was spending hours on the internet and on the phone talking with different cart companies. We settled on an Eddie’s Wheels as I wanted the option of a counterbalanced cart if and when the time came – which it did. So, there he was learning to use a new cart and once again – no complaints by Arthur. Any issues were due to our anxiety. He continued his 3 mile walks and when we saw the first signs of front limb weakness I ordered the counterbalance attachment.

I love Eddie’s Wheels, but I came completely unglued when faced with trying to attach the counterbalance wheels to his cart. Fortunately, Arthur’s physical therapist (more on that later) came to our rescue and offered the engineering skills of her husband who put it together on one of his sacred free weekends – a favor for which we will be eternally grateful! Although Arthur was able to walk using the “new” counterbalanced cart I always found it awkward and somewhat cumbersome. He didn’t seem to mind it, as long as he could still get over to the neighbor’s house for treats and get out on the bike path to follow pee trails.

A year following the “diagnosis” we scheduled Arthur’s first appointment with the physical therapist at UW Vet Clinic. Initially, Arthur was very shy and hid behind the only chair in the room or repeatedly pulled himself to what he thought was an escape door (it was actually a closet). The water treadmill scared him, it was noisy and the room echoed. By slowly getting him used to the room and a few trips into the water treadmill without the water and many treats, he soon was walking about 40 minutes with 2-3 minute rest breaks.

He continued with physical therapy for 3 years, the last 6 months he could no longer use the treadmill and was treated with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and a series of head, shoulder and neck exercises which helped with maintaining some mobility and strength in his neck. His last day of PT was a very sad one as we felt such a bond with his therapist, and although we knew that the disease was degenerative it was almost like the final resignation that DM had “won.”

By the time we moved from the cart to his radio flyer wagon I was as exhausted as Arthur. It was a relief. Finally, no more struggling to get those front legs to move back and forth and hold him upright. We enjoyed his “wagon days” as he rode around like the little prince that he was just making people smile and graciously accepting treats and pets from, by this time, his sizable fan club.

Two days before he died we walked our usual route with him. At one point I looked in Arthur’s eyes when we stopped to talk to a bike path fan and I could just see the light fading. I didn’t say anything to my husband but that look spoke volumes. He had lost his interest in living. So, I gave him extra cuddles over the next 48 hours, and had bedded down next to him two nights later all ready to spend our last night together when I noticed that his breathing was distressed. I woke up my husband and told him that we had to take Arthur to the University of Wisconsin Vet Clinic ER as I didn’t want him to suffer any longer. We said our goodbyes while holding him on the couch of the ER comfort room at 12:36 a.m. He was two weeks shy of his 15th birthday.

Our house seems so quiet now, even though Arthur lost his bark, he could still fill up a room with his presence.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Murphy, 1998-2011

Merlin and I met Anna and Murphy in 2006 when both our boys were competing in CPE agility in Elk Grove, California. Murphy's story was written by his owner, Anna Potter.

Murphy came into our household in July, 1998. He was my first dog and introduced me to the sport of agility and to the world of unconditional love.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature”. In my mind, Murphy was that masterpiece. He was a great, loyal companion (as long as someone else didn’t have better treats) and he always tried his best to please me.

I started noticing that Murphy was shuffling his rear feet while walking around the house in 2008. At first, I thought it was just the Corgi shuffle, but then I noticed his left leg sort of dragged while he was on the dog walk during an agility trial. He had also started refusing to take the A-Frame which caused us missing a lot of AKC qualifying points. In November, 2008 he was noticeably throwing out his left rear leg when he walked. I had him looked at by my vet and asked about DM but was told that DM in Corgis was just not that common and it was probably something else. We tried pain meds, but nothing changed.
Finally, with the urging of friends I went to another vet in the same practice and she connected me with UC Davis where he received an MRI and the blood test to verify that he did indeed have DM. This was in March, 2009. His blood test show “affected”.

Murphy started using his cart in the summer of 2009. He still had both rear legs able to walk. The left one was going down more often but he could still get around inside and outside well enough. He took to the cart fairly easily. He was always a dog that would do anything for a cookie. During the summer of ’09, I took him to a friend’s hot pool where he would swim, with my help, for a little exercise. By the end of that summer he could no long stand on his left leg. He started doing the seal walk around the house, using his right leg as a paddle to help him move.

Because of the stress on his shoulders, pulling such a lot of weight, I started giving him 25 mg of Tramadol and .25 of Deramaxx to help him with any pain he was experiencing.

As the DM progressed, he became very particular about his food. He was always a dog that would eat anything and everything. Now I found that I had to buy small bags of dog food, because toward the end of the bag he would decide that he didn’t like it anymore. He really never missed a meal because I would change his food and give him anything he wanted. He did, however, lose about 4 pounds during the course of the disease.

He started losing the use of his right leg during the summer of 2010. We used the cart to go potty and indoors he slowly stopped moving around the house. Because he always liked being close to me, he would let me know by giving me a gentle “woof” that he wanted to come, so I would pick him up and carry to wherever I was going to be.

He never really became incontinent. He would, however, start peeing as soon as I put him in his cart, so I made little diaper strip for him and lined it with “Light days/Kotex pads” to keep him from dripping until we got outside.
After December, 2010, Murphy became really anxious about being alone. I was still working and could not be with him all the time. He started chewing carpets and anything that was around. He chewed table legs, chair legs, stereo cords, the zipper out of his bed and so many other things. This problem became really bad. I tried to put him in an X-pen to keep him safe but he would chew his way out of it.

It was obvious that he was under a lot of stress. I tried increasing his pain meds and his Gabopentin but that did not seem to help. He was also having trouble sleeping at night and would wake up in an extreme panic, panting and a little frenzied. In March, I decided that it was time for me to help him find some peace. On March 18, I had my vet come to the house and put him to rest. The day before, he decided that he didn’t want to eat his dog food and he also wouldn’t take any of his pain meds. I stopped at McDonald’s and got him a hamburger which he ate really well. The next morning both he and Bella had Jack In The Box hamburgers for breakfast.

He spent the morning snuggled with me on the sofa (which was his most favorite thing to do) and I held him while he slipped away.

DM affected my life like any fatal disease affects anyone life. My husband died of cancer 15 years ago and my experience with Murphy brought up so many of the same emotions and memories. Watching a healthy, vital life deteriorate is extremely hard to do. What I once again was able to see was how noble and courageous Murphy worked through his disease. He had dignity and grace throughout the progression. He was “my little man” and I miss him.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Puffer, 5-9-98 to 3-14-2011

Puffer's story is told by his breeder-owner, Mary Lowder.

I bred a litter of Pembroke Welsh Corgis in 1998 resulting in 4 boys and 4 girls. I had planned to keep my pick female, which I did, but I could not stop looking at this beautiful boy I'd named Puffer. I turned down several homes for him when I finally realized he was going to stay. Puffer had an undescended testicle which, at the time, saddened me. He was a beautiful dog and could have easily finished in the conformation ring.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the entire litter was "at risk" for developing Degenerative Myelopathy. I am so glad that none of these puppies was bred!

Puffer was a delightful young dog. He was very naughty as a puppy, and as is the case with most males, did not get his head together until he was about three years old. He showed a LOT of talent at agility and I knew we'd go far when I blew out my knee while training him. I haven't been able to run since. I considered having someone else show him to his MACh, but I knew we'd miss each other terribly if I sent him away for weekends. Instead, we switched to flyball.

Puffer wasn't the best flyball dog. He was always pretty slow running out to the box, but came back to me with speed. The more we raced, the slower he got and I finally retired him when he turned 9. I realize now that his DM symptoms were probably starting as early as age 7-8. His box turn and jumping form really went south between ages 8 & 9. But, we enjoyed our weekends together and the camaraderie of the flyball team.

After his retirement from flyball, I'd occasionally show him in a flyball demo until his jumping form really started to alarm me. (he was only jumping 7") The summer of 2008, I realized that he was taking stairs very slowly, but I didn't concern myself about it because everything else about him was normal. He'd run hard on our walks in the woods, always the fastest of my pack. Then, on November 4, 2008, Puffer suddenly started dragging a rear foot. I was in the kitchen and could hear it clearly as he crossed the tile floor. I couldn't remember the name of the disease, but I knew exactly what was wrong.

Being reasonably well informed about Degenerative Myelopathy, I knew there was no treatment. That winter I just watched and worried. He did not deteriorate much until March '09 when he went through two periods of extreme weakness and inability to walk. He recovered from both, and who knows what that was all about. But those episodes spurred me to pursue genetic testing and take him to a rehab center.

I never did spend much money on his diagnosis. I could see no point in paying for an MRI when it was so clear what was wrong with Puffer. We did under water treadmill that next winter but relied on our own forms of exercise when the weather was good. I got an Eddie's Wheels cart for Puffer in September, 09, and around that time, he started exercising with a home made Biko Brace. That probably extended his walking days by couple of months, but by December, 09, he couldn't walk any more. He'd been using the cart part time up until then, but we moved to the cart full time during a huge blizzard in the Midwest. It's amazing how one learns to cope with things unfathomable a year earlier.

For the next year, Puffer used the cart very satisfactorily. He was always a bit slow getting started and I often had to lure him forward with a treat. He was never able to use the cart indoors, partly because of the design of my house (4 sets of 7 stairs) and partly because he spent most of his time indoors lying down. But we had a long walk every day, and multiple short walks. He always did his bathroom business in the cart until the day he died. My best move was to buy a used golf cart in the summer of '09. Not only did Puffer adore his rides in the golf cart, it eased the burden on me dramatically. I'd drive him up to the top of our gravel lane, put him into his wheels and let him walk down. He'd always follow the golf cart eagerly, but as he weakened, he'd sometimes refuse to follow me on foot.

The year of 2010 was a good one for us. Puffer used his wheels well and was able to participate in so many activities. Throughout his illness, Puffer panted a great deal. In the summer I assumed this was heat related and was very careful to keep him cool. But, when this panting continued into winter, I realized it was something more. Pain meds did nothing to alleviate it, nor did massage or exercise. Not only did he pant a lot, he'd lick his feet & the area around him constantly. It made me a little crazy! He seemed most comfortable on a towel on my granite kitchen countertop. I found that I relaxed only when he was sound asleep.

Despite his obvious distress over something, Puffer never did keep me awake at night. He slept in our bed his entire life and could still change position to some extent when I finally put him down. He never did become incontinent, never got a urinary tract infection, but did suffer from seemingly random bouts of diarrhea. He'd always improve on antibiotics, then it would return.

So Puffer never did cross any lines in the sand I'd drawn for him. But I came to realize that his quality of life was not what I wanted for him, nor was mine. Keeping him comfortable became a full time job. I did not want to travel with him any more, and couldn't imagine asking a stranger to care for him were I to leave. I finally realized that I needed to put Puffer down as much for me as for him. Once I made the phone call, I knew it was the right decision.

I miss my boy terribly, but what I miss was the love he always showered on me. I don't miss his care at all. Would I do this again? I'm not sure. I don't know what I would have done differently, given how much I loved this dog and how much he loved me. I can say with certainty that, should his sister develop DM symptoms, I will euthanize her before she becomes dependent upon wheels. This is partly because of her age and her temperament, and because I know the toll it all took on me.

All I can say with certainty that I will *never* acquire another dog At Risk for developing Degerative Myelopathy. Farewell, sweetest Puff.

Mary Lowder
& Puffer, PW Corgi
5-9-98 to 3-14-2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

Augie: November 2, 1997-March 17, 2011

Owner Leslie Huttinger wrote this bio of Augie, of whom she said, "He came to live with me on Dec. 30, 1997, and graced my life for almost 13 ½ years."

Augie was diagnosed with DM at about age 12. His vet thought it was arthritis when I first started noticing some problems. This went on for some time. He began to trip a lot and have trouble going up stairs. As it seemed to get to be more noticeable to me that something was wrong I found the Corgi list and Kathleen Mallery told me about the wheel corgi list. The vet did a blood draw that was sent off for DM testing and came back at risk. Before Augie our vet didn't know much about DM and since has done some research and even made Augie her Pet of the Month in one of her newsletters. She included an article about DM to go with it. Augie posed in his wheel cart to be in the newsletter.

At that time Augie was just hanging out with me and being my shadow buddy. He lived with DM at least a year and a half, probably longer since it took a while to figure out what was wrong with him. I would think it's possible it started when he was 11, the tripping and stumbling went on for some time before it became noticeable something besides arthritis going on.

We got him a Eddie's Wheels so he could keep up with walks. About 5 or 6 months ago we had to start using a belly band as he was incontinent. We were lucky we had bought a house that already had a wheel chair ramp, it made is much easier for him as he got worse. In the end coming back up the ramp was a struggle.

The last month or so he started having trouble breathing. Panting even just sitting still. He would often tremble for no reason we could see. The vet gave us some Valium to give him thinking it was nerves but I don't think that was it. I have no idea really. He would sit in front of me and just stare at me, trembling and panting. This was getting to be more and more what he would do every day. I started to notice a look in his eyes, sadness, frustration, I just knew he wasn't happy. Just more recently one of his front legs was starting to appear weak and he didn't seem to want to move much. Like it was getting to be too much effort for him. Just in the last few weeks he started to be incontinent of feces once in a while. I know it bothered him; he was ashamed. He would avoid looking at me until I cleaned it up and gave him a belly rub so he would know it was okay. My husband took him to the vet this (St. Patrick's Day) morning and taking everything going into consideration it seemed the kindest thing to do at this point was to have him put down peacefully. Augie had won the hearts of everyone at his vet's office and even some of the staff was crying when he passed. This being St. Patrick's day it seems fitting that he left on a special day and it's a day I will always remember in a more somber way.

It (Augie's DM) has been breaking my heart piece by piece over the last year or more. Watching him slowly change from the fun loving dog he had always been to this misery. Watching him try to run when he couldn't anymore. It is a horrible disease. DM robbed him and me. He was my best friend, confident, made my life richer, motivated me to fight through my own health problems so I would always be here to take care of him. We were always glued to each other. In the 13 1/2 years he graced my life we were only apart 7 days when I had surgery in 2001. Since I was retired the whole time I had him, we were together 24/7; we did everything together. He'd lie in the garden next to me when I was doing yard work; what ever I was doing he wanted to be a part of it. He loved people, he loved riding in the cart at Home Depot and having everyone pet him and tell him how cute he was. He didn't have much interest in other dogs; he loved humans best. So many things he loved that were no longer possible for him to enjoy.

As my cancer has gotten worse it has been a struggle for me too. There were days I was too sick to do much more than feed him, clean up some pee and poo and pat him on the head before heading back to my bed. Then I would feel guilty and sad that I couldn't give him the attention I knew he wanted. It was getting harder for both of us. As I was going down hill so was he. My family has thought for a long time I should put him down because of my health problems but I couldn't do it for that. We were in it together for better or worse. I was able to let him go because of his discomfort, it couldn't be about just me. And I always knew it would end up being for him because I would have struggled for as long as I could physically do it.

He loved his family, cookies, going out in the car with me and belly rubs. He loved to show off the tricks he could do like play dead, speak, etc. He was a bit of a ham. He had a very gentle spirit and was a very sensitive guy. He would find things to do that he thought was funny. When we had a shower bathtub combination he would run around the house and gather his toys one by one and throw them in the tub while I showered. Don't know if he thought I should wash them or he just thought it was a amusing thing to do. Till the day he died he always needed to accompany to the bathroom when I showered, maybe he was afraid I'd drown and he had to be there to save me. Augie had his own little bathroom in the back yard and he usually got a cookie when he came back in. More than a few times he would run out to his bathroom and just pretend he did his business and come running back in fast as a race horse, where's my cookie. I would say hey you faked it and he would make a quick u-turn and run back to really potty. It was funny, who would out smart who. Even as a puppy I would try to get him to sleep on the bed with me. It never worked out because as soon as I would move he would get up in a huff and stomp off, like lady how do you expect me to get any sleep if your going to keep moving. Whenever my husband or I would come in the house he would run and get his bone and give it to us. It was like here is a little gift for you since you managed to find your way back home. He was so sweet and funny, made my life richer and I hope I did the same for him. He was just a true treasure.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Merlin and I had the pleasure of meeting Sally Nichols and her corgi Annie (as well as her cousin Maggi) when Sally came up to Fresno so that Annie could be fitted for a cart.

Annie was active, hiking with her owner, when she first began showing signs of DM at age 10. The first vet Sally consulted thought Annie had hip dysplasia and put her on Rimadyl and recommended a neurologist. A holistic vet tried acupuncture with no success, and also suggested a neurologist. After an MRI showed a normal spine the neurologist drew blood for the DM DNA test, which came back At Risk.

Within about six months of the first signs of DM, Annie had lost the use of her hind legs. Sally borrowed a CorgiAid cart and Annie could walk, but since Sally's condominium is upstairs Sally had to carry the cart down, then go back up and get Annie and carry her down to the cart.

After 1 ½ years Annie became incontinent and too weak in front to use the cart. Diapers would not stay on so Annie mostly stayed on large puppy pads. When she was almost completely paralyzed Sally had to have her euthanized on December 30, 2010, just two days after Merlin.

Sally says that due to DM she stayed home more, but , "Annie was so sweet and loving it was easy to take care of her until she no longer could help herself at all."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Help the Daily Corgi raise money for research in DM

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UPDATE: The Daily Corgi DM Research Fund Drive raised $5000 for DM research!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Jackson, 1988-2001

Duke Junior Jackson CD HS CGC
12/31/1988 - 7/3/2001

Written by Mary Kramer

Jackson was our first Pem. Bred by friends, we brought him home in March of 1989 and he brought out the suppressed dog lover in my husband and introduced us to the magical world of corgi ownership.

Through the years Jackson also led me to learn a lot about veterinary medicine as he was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis following a bout of pneumonia when he was four. That put an end to many of our extra-curricular activities but that was preferable to risking his health further with a condition that discouraged running and dusty environments. It marked the end of his herding career as we opted for giving him the best chance of spending the most years possible with us rather than risk exacerbating his respiratory issues. But he continued to accompany me to obedience classes, and on long walks whenever the weather wasn't extreme, and taught the new puppy how to wrestle and FRAP like a proper corgi.

In June of 1999 Jackson was diagnosed with multicentric lymphoma and began chemotherapy. It quickly put him into full remission and within two weeks he seemed back to full health. We completed the six months of the protocol, then had a wonderful eight months of no drugs and no sign of the cancer! At one point that summer he served as a fill in demo dog for a beginner obedience class and they were shocked to learn he was eleven. I don't think they would have believed me if I had told them all he had been through but was gratified to hear that he could still hide his age so well. But in August of 2000 that first remission ended and we began another six month course of the drugs.

It was as this was coming to an end early in 2001, just after Jackson turned 12, that I recall first noticing his rear nails beginning to scrape when he walked and that when he came to stop he often stood with his hind feet nearly touching each other -- oblivious to his hips gently swinging back and forth over this poor support base.

I had begun subscribing to the PWCCA Newsletter while he was still a puppy and had seen references there to degenerative myelopathy, and also knew someone from my obedience club who had lost a GSD to the condition after a long battle. In 2000 Jean York had authored an article in the Newsletter on her experience with the disease, as well as a request for others who might have seen it in their Pems to contact her with their experiences and the pedigrees of the dogs involved. Her followup in a later edition reported receiving 51 case histories and submitting a report to the PWCCA's Genetics Committee with a request for research.

So when I told my own vet what I was seeing with Jackson during one of his appointments, he first noted the uneven nail wear on his rear feet, then went over back and rear, and then stepped back regarding him with a puzzled frown. Didn't present like IVDD, no pain, his hips had OFA'ed good just a few years before, and it would not be a typical side effect or progression of either the cancer or the chemo. So I asked if he was aware there was DM in this breed? His eyebrows went up, he paused for a moment, and then started to nod. He also suggested I call the GSD owner (he had been his vet as well and knew we were acquainted) and compare notes on early symptoms. I did that and she confirmed that this fit with what she had seen early on in her dog.

That was the closest we came to a diagnosis, but over the next months I watched as Jackson began to struggle more with his uncooperative rear and began stumbling when he tried to go up stairs. That June he came out of remission again and, while the chemo did put him back into remission for a third time, it was taking it's toll as well, and we lost him three weeks later.

That September, I was able to attend Dr. O'Brien's presentation on DM at the PWCCA National Speciality in St. Louis and all that I heard and saw that evening cemented my belief that that was what I had been seeing in Jackson's final months. I remember asking how much longer it might be before something was published in a veterinary journal so vets like my own would know that hind end issues in older Pems were not necessarily IVDD.