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