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.