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."