Friday, April 22, 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.