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.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Woody, March 1999-October 2010

March 5, 1999- Oct. 20, 2010

Merlin's alter ego in North Carolina was Woody Capell. They progressed through DM during the same approximate time frame. Woody was much younger, nine when diagnosed with DM. He began showing the earliest signs at almost eight years old.

Margie's vet did X-rays, bloodwork, etc, but finally referred Woody to a specialist who made the DM diagnosis after ruling out everything else. Margie's vet was surprised at the diagnosis in a corgi, but the other specialist said it was "a problem showing up more and more in the breed." Woody did not have the DNA test but ultimately had definitive necropsy results from the University of Missouri. His symptoms were very typical of classic DM.

At the time of his diagnosis, Woody was walking two miles a day, taking weekend hikes in the woods, and periodically swimming in the river. His coordination was waning but he was still active when he was diagnosed in April of 2008.

Asked, "How did you cope?" Margie states, " You name it. We ran the gamut: Carpet runners, tape and boots to prevent rug burn, cart (June 2008), T & T boots for cart, baby gates to avoid accidents as incontinence started and to keep him from going down ramp and not being able to get back up (when I was not there), diapers (belly bands, taping, homemade vests, anything to keep them on), playpen, crate, daily baths for a while, expressing as retention started (this got more and more difficult to ensure that he was fully expressed), 4 wheel cart (Dec. 2009), stroller (off and on from Oct. 2009- continuous after July 2010 when he could no longer use cart), shifting position often throughout day (usually slept through the night, with occasional flipping to other side), expressing was at least 4-5 times a day at this point, lots of carrying for at least a year (everywhere he needed, unless in the cart or stroller)- complete lack of movement from one spot without being carried from about May 2010, required propping up with towels when awake for last 2-3 months, remained happy and cheerful throughout."

Woody, like Merlin, went through a series of carts, beginning with a Dewey's cart, progressing to a counterbalanced Eddie's cart and then a fully supportive four-wheel cart, which he stopped using about four months before his death.

Woody's death in October of 2010 was definitely DM-related. Margie wanted to donate his tissue to the DM study at the University of Missouri, so planned for euthanasia and coordination of tissue harvest. The timing was based on some swallowing issues, shutting down of peristalsis, inability to eliminate, fears of aspiration or impaction. He was also having traces of UTI secondary to urine stasis (his bladder was impossible to empty completely as it was flaccid.) Margie was also no longer able to keep him comfortable in any position, and both Margie and Woody were restless and worried.

The necropsy results confirmed the diagnosis of DM.

Asked how Woody's illness affected her life, Margie states, " A bonding experience like no other, exhausting, rewarding, privilege. I am not getting past it yet. I would have him back under all those circumstances if I could, rather than start over with another pet at this stage. As hard as those three plus years were, I would not have had it any other way- it was all about accommodating, accepting, giving and loving on the parts of us both."

On October 20, 2011, Margie wrote, "Speaking of letting go, sometimes it takes longer for one than another. It is a year today that I had to say goodbye to Woody. I will be leaving work early to take his ashes to our favorite spot (featured in the calendar a couple of times), Max Patch along the Appalachian Trail. I hope spreading them at one of the tops of the world will help me with the "coming to peace" process. "

"There he goes. I was standing on the Appalachian Trail at this spot, the wind was quite strong and going out in the right direction. He floated off onto this beautiful expanse. It was cold, but clouds were moving quickly leaving sunny openings moving about the landscape. It was good."

Guido, 1995-2009


American/Canadian Ch. Caralon Brookehaven Hearthrob
(Ch Brookehaven Pfeif and Drum X Ch Caralon's Lana Lee)
December 7, 1995 - January 11, 2009

We met Guido several years before Merlin developed DM, in fact, I'm sure it was before Guido showed signs of DM although I don't remember him before he was in a cart. As a result, Guido was in a way Merlin's guide through the disease, and one of my favorite pictures of Merlin is Merlin resting in Guido's stroller at the 2010 PNW Corgi Picnic.

"Guido came to us after a successful show and agility career, and quickly became a pet, a companion, and as we like to say, our 'love sponge' - ready to accept any and all loving attention available. He stayed that way to the end."

Guido's owners, Leo and Kathy, got him a cart fairly early on. " It took Guido a full six months to accept the cart as something that was worth using. It was very helpful, and much less frustrating for all, that he could still move around without it; that allowed us to take a much more casual and less stressful pace."

They also kept Guido active with warm water swim therapy and later with rides in a stroller. Leo wrote, " Your dog may not be able to do everything he or she once could, but that doesn't mean that they can do nothing. Find activities that he can still enjoy. Guido still loves biting at the hose, but he also still likes riding in his buggy and meeting people. (He'll complain if they fail to pet him :-). Even bed-based activities like barking at the vacuum cleaner attachment he used to chase can be fun for both of you. Be it exercise in a cart, warm water therapy, even a modified play time while in a bed, activity is key to maintaining both your dog's physical and mental health."

Leo emphasized that in particular, they believe the warm water swim therapy contributed significantly to the quality of Guido's life.

As the disease progressed, Leo learned to express Guido's bladder and bowels. " Finding and knowing how much to press the bladder can be a little difficult to get the hang of. Getting used to bowel assistance is mostly a mental thing but can go a long way to avoiding constipation or just generally keeping your dog more comfortable."

Like many corgis with DM, as Guido became less mobile he whined more. Leo said, "I have learned that Guido whines for a reason. Sometimes, yes, it's because he just wants attention. More often than not, though, it's because he needs a change of position, or an opportunity to go to the bathroom. I try to pay attention." To help keep Guido comfortable once he was immobile, they turned him at night and periodically during the day. It was also important to keep him clean and to keep him drinking lots of water, flavoring it with dog food juice, to prevent UTIs.

Guido died at 13 not of DM directly, but of stomach issues that caused him discomfort that could not be alleviated. He had been a quadriplegic for about a year.

Leo wrote, " And finally: enjoy your time together. Mobility issues will naturally change the relationship with your pet, but it doesn't have to be a completely sad or depressing thing. Being there with and for each other, working out creative solutions to life's challenges, having fun and simply enjoying your dog is not only possible, but can be a very positive experience."

Parts of Guido's story were excerpted with permission from and

Friday, January 14, 2011

Casey: 11-21-90 to 12-09-05

This is the first in a series of blog posts about other corgis that have been lost to DM. Long before I had ever heard of degenerative myelopathy, Shelby was dealing with it with her corgi Casey. It is fitting that his story should be first in this blog.

Casey's story as written by Shelby Geisler:

I got my first pem in 1960, his name was Pageant. He was with me for 16 years. I was 6 years dogless when I found Brandy Buck. A 2 year old his Daddy wouldn't let him eat so the lady decided to give him away. I was insurance adjusting, she drove a school bus. While I took pictures of the damaged bus 3 corgi's, seemed like more were running around barking at me curious of this visitor. I remember asking her, oh my gosh where did you get them. As I went into her house I said you even have a corgi dog door mat. Her reply was "you even know what they are, do you want one". Oh my goodness did I ever want one!

I took 13 pictures of the bus, took a 3 page hand written statement with all the kids names and addresses and left there in 45 minutes with a dog. I pulled up in front of the house, looked at Brandy and said "I've got 5 hours to explain how this happened".

Pageant passed from a heart condition, Brandy Buck kidneys. They both went on their own at their own time.

I didn't want to go through the hurt of losing them anymore it was too painful but it was also so lonely. Then one day the yellow pages lady called. I no longer had a corgi at my feet and we spoke about dogs. She called back a few days later "I found some corgi pups, they are in NJ and here's the number". I looked at that number laying on the desk all day and about 4pm I placed the first call. While I didn't reach them immediately I did speak with them only to learn they were all gone. Now I was on a mission. I got the kennel club book and started calling breeders.

Weeks turned into months, and I have since learned from Casey's breeder she only gave me a pup because I pestered her so much. Boy did she grill me before letting him go. I later learned the litter I was to get a pup from that day was sick. Casey was from a former litter and one she had kept to show herself. Ohhhh he was so beautiful, a sable.

When she finally let him go I think I ran with him as fast as I could to the van. I wanted to get out of there before she changed her mind. Going down the road I looked at him saying "don't you get any birthdays, oh yes please get lots of them". He was 13 weeks old. We were inseparable 24/7. The back seat was his and we had contests who could see the cows in the fields first. The first day he was with me we put over 200 miles on the van, ate at Arby's he got the beef I got the two rolls.

He always maintained his weight at 23#. In the summer of 2004 he lost 2# all in the rear. I gave him milk shakes. He was sleeping more and he had always asked for a companion/friend. I finally gave in and got Lucy, a 4 year old female on labor day. He followed her around like a puppy dog. So thrilled to have her join our family. Just two weeks later we were out back just off the porch which is nearly flat even with the terrain. Casey was sitting aside me, he stood up went to take a step and it was as though his left rear leg was nailed to the turf. He looked up at me puzzled and/or as if I was doing something to hold his foot. That was the beginning. He was 13.10 months old.

Off to the vet. She said he had arthritis. He was given shots like allergy shots and then it dwindled off to pills which she said he'd be on for life. Somewhere along the way I had taken him along to dog school as I was bonding with Lucy. The minute the dog trainer saw him she said he has DM. Back to the vet, I didn't know what DM was nor the full name. Apparently this vet didn't know either. When I asked if there was a possibility what was happening with my boy was DM, she quickly scooped him up, took him in the back x-rayed him and brought the picture out to show me.

The next 3 vets said he had a bit of arthritis but only normal for his age and certainly not sufficient to cause this. Some vets (there were several) did suggest neurologist. By that time I had learned/found/whatever an MRI is not a good idea as it can hasten the progress of the disease. Since there was no cure - only an idea by process of elimination I decided against the MRI. I searched out a chiropractor. He had two treatments which I thought helped a bit. She backed off saying she was in over her head. While she attempted to contact an associate she was never able to. I located a holistic vet. She came once. I recall the Chinese Meds which Casey could not take. Gesh he couldn't raise his head off the pillow. I have pictures. Once again he rebounded.

I couldn't stand to see this boy struggle to drag himself around. Fortunately I had seen a dog on a cart at one of the events. My first contact was to Foster Smith. They referred me on to Handicapped Pets. I did order him butt lifts (most don't fit a corgi), booties, etc. I don't recall any of them fit then there was the frustration of sending them back in an attempt to get credits. I was so excited when I thought I had found something to help him only to be disappointed when it didn't work out. The EW cart was mis-sized. I actually wound up purchasing a second cart from Dewey's but not before we took a trip to Delaware in the hopes of a loaner cart. The trip was like 8 hours. It was hot. I had a cargo van but it did have an air conditioner. Little did I know the a/c only cooled the front of the van. Something started rattling about 35 miles into the trip. I stopped twice and could not find it. I was nervous as a cat.

The lady with the loaner cart expected Casey to come out of the van and run in it. Didn't happen and we left there with me crying "Casey no one wants to help us". I got lost somewhere around Philadelphia. When I we finally got home Casey was limp like a wet towel. I thought I killed him. He rebounded once again and that's when I decided to order the Dewey's cart on my own.

I had read water therapy. I couldn't find a place for him to swim. When I did it was a horse tank and that year the horses were sick with the potential to spread it to dogs. For every crack of light I thought I found yet another door slammed on my nose.

I knew absolutely nothing about caring for a handicapped dog, with an old limping computer I did the best I could to care for him. Caught between 4 walls, alone watching a vibrant dog deteriorate when it seemed I could do nothing to help him was overwhelming to say the least. Casey was never sick a day in his life and now when he needed someone there was none. He never thought anyone would hurt him. He'd find a baby bird or a turtle and come running for me. Mom, Mom look, look.

I stayed with him 24/7. He continued to want to travel with me to the bank, to job sites, etc. I carried him outdoors to relieve himself every 3 hours round the clock. He preferred we do wheelbarrow, I was his back legs, good thing I'm only 5'1" tall. He could take me at light speed across the yard. He soon learned the command "whoa". I sat on the floor with him twice a day hip to hip and finger fed him. He especially enjoyed cooked carrots. Those were some of the most enjoyable times when he'd look up at me in want of more food.

That last winter we did go to diapers not because he was incontinent because I didn't think it a wise choice for me to slip on the ice while carrying him. I used the old time gauze diapers with a Always sanitary napkin tucked inside. I wrapped it around him and pinned it on top with a diaper pin. I put a rubberized sheet on the car seat and he moved up front to the passengers seat aside of me. The washer was getting a work out.

Via the net I located a vet who did therapy/swimming about 2 hours away. Scheduled an appt only to have them call back asking if I read the U of Tennessee report. From the conversation it was evident they didn't want to see my dog.

I then purchased a huge galvanized tub at the farm store to swim him. Got a life vest but didn't know what temperature the water was to be or how long he was to swim. I stacked pillows around him to sleep and put a motion detector on him so I knew when he wanted to move. This finally gave me a minute to grab a sandwich from upstairs. I bathed and slept downstairs on the recliner to stay with him. Would I want to go through this again, no way. Would I do it for Casey, you betcha.

Casey passed 12-09-05 just a few months before the DNA test came out. I was so excited to learn finally they have a way to eliminate this horrible disease. I had thought everyone would be as excited about the test as I was. When there was reluctance from some of the breeders and/or excuses they weren't going to comply I'm the one who said the Pembroke Welsh Corgi will be known as "oh those cart dogs". Fortunately there are breeders who do care enough to save the breed.

It's been 5 years and it seems like yesterday. His companion Lucy is still with me. I adopted another 2 year old rescue who was on death row and I got a sable pup in August 2009. I've surrounded myself with 3 corgi's I'm so lucky to be able to share my life with them. I pray they will lead healthy happy lives.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Welcome to Merlin's Friends

Merlin's DM Blog tells his story, but there are many more corgis and humans affected by degenerative myelopathy.
This blog is not to memorialize those corgis, but to tell their stories.

Soon I will post stories of corgis already "at the bridge", and then add more with passing time. If you have lost a corgi to DM and wish to have your corgi's story posted, please email me and I will send you the guidelines.