Friday, December 30, 2011

Rummy: September 5, 1994 to July 2, 2010

Rummy belonged to Christine McLaughlin, her husband, son Jonathan and to his second family. Christine wrote the following about Rummy.

"Rummy (Arbor Festinog Midnight Snack) came to us as an oversize fluffy puppy at the beginning of December 1994, when our son and I visited a breeder to look at getting an already trained adult dog. But our hearts were drawn instead to a puppy watching us from a pen. The timid puppy immediately nestled into the lap of our seven-year old only child, who announced tearfully that the puppy had “chosen him”. Potty training a puppy through a Boston winter had not been in the plans, but we never regretted getting Rummy. His main interest throughout his life was guarding and protecting his humans, especially our son and his nanny. Even as a puppy, he was always watchful and serious, never playful or silly. He was a dud at the A-frame in agility and was terrified to have his feet leave the ground, whether in jumping up, swimming or being picked up. He believed in the value of warning and disciplinary nips.

"Rummy lived with DM for well over three years and died just two months short of his sixteenth birthday, as a functional quadriplegic. He was finally diagnosed at age thirteen by a neurologist only after he had reached the point where he was collapsing on one side in the rear every 42 seconds because his general vets and I thought it was “merely arthritis” for the longest time. I think the “lameness” that Rummy developed at age 11 or so might have been the very beginning of DM, not just the Lyme’s disease for which he was treated, as was his increasing hesitance on uncarpeted stairs, something we attributed to his overall “general clumsiness” and the “long fur” between the pads of his fluffy hobbit feet. We had never heard of DM.

"He absolutely refused to use his cart but adapted quickly to being supported with a Bottoms Up rear leg sling (which had to be modified to keep on his legs) and galloped around very happily with it (and later a front harness) for 2 ½ years, until my aching arms could no longer bear his full 35 pound dead weight. (For the last six months of his life, I kept his bed on my desk near me so I didn’t need to kneel to care for him (I had developed knee tendonitis) and so my presence provided the constant reassurance he needed.) As the DM progressed, so too did our adaptations for him, familiar to all owners of DM corgis: yoga mats for traction, booties, carts, beds, bolsters, strollers, skin cleaners galore, d-mannose for the frequent UTIs, medications, bellybands/diapers, many different types of food to tempt him, weekly swimming in a pool, seemingly vast amounts of “stuff” to keep him amused and comfortable. We were blessed to have enough time, health, energy, patience, money and backup support to care for him so long into his disease and old age.

"The immobile/incontinent/retentive stage ain’t so bad! I found it actually much easier to care for Rummy when he couldn’t move and couldn’t urinate because everything was under my control and he didn’t need to be carried outside many times a day. To escape those steep outside stairs that, in miserable Boston winters needed to be shoveled constantly just to take an immobile DM dog outside safely for potty walks in the snow in his harnesses, we undertook an epic drive with him, in his last winter, from Boston to Florida and back. (We chose to drive to Florida, shoehorned into a BMW sedan, because I knew he would freak out at flying.) Rummy sprawled regally in half the back seat, with the other half jammed with his big jogging stroller, cart (I hoped that warm weather might inspire me and him!), and bedding, with my husband’s golf clubs and many other Rummy supplies in the trunk. The only place left to store the bulky box with the University of Missouri “tissue collection kit” (we were prepared for everything!) was on my lap for every mile of the entire 3400+ miles of the drive. We travelled with a list of neurologists based along the route and even had Rummy examined by a neurologist on the other side of Florida to make arrangements for tissue collection, “just in case”. On the road, we stayed at dog-friendly luxury hotels and golf resorts, where the collection vials and freezer packs had to refrigerated carefully every night, to the amazement of the hotel staff. During our month long stay at a rented condo, Rummy enjoyed being wheeled about in his jogging stroller for hours every day. He became a familiar sight and developed quite a fan club in our gated community as an “ambassador of DM”.

"In general caring for Rummy, I tried to be mindful to make choices that would help maintain my own sanity. It was a painful decision to start having his entire body shaved, trading his magnificent fluffy beauty for a “scraggly lamb” look, but it was much easier to keep him healthy and cool. I “expressed poop” so Rummy wouldn’t lie in it and develop sores. I was willing to try anything to get him to sleep more at night (a small fan on him worked better than any medication). I was able to get breaks from him by relying on respite care from his extraordinarily devoted “second family” who cared for him when we traveled, even for long periods of time. The mother in this family, our former long-time nanny and now a nurse, to whom Rummy remained extremely attached his entire life, had many excellent suggestions about nursing care for him, and her two children adored Rummy and provided great amusement for “The King”, as they called him, including celebrating all his birthdays, even his last at 15 ½, and giving him a loving goodbye at the very end.

"I found joy in the fullness of Rummy’s life and even in my near full-time care of him, and I found it very hard to let him go. I think that caring for a totally helpless dog makes parting from him even more wrenching, because he becomes more like a "human infant" than "beloved animal". Rummy was quite happy until the very end, so I felt obligated to stick with caring for him, even though I was increasingly frazzled and exhausted. Rummy’s euthanasia needed to be arranged well in advance around the schedule of his busy research neurologist at Tufts because I was absolutely determined from an early date to have him contribute to DM research. Our son Jon, now 23 years old, took time off from work to come back to Boston to accompany his beloved old buddy Rummy on that final journey, including feeding Rummy his last meal at 3:30am after he arrived and Rummy, of course, was wide awake and hungry.  

Rummy wasn’t euthanized because of DM; although for many months at the end he couldn’t move any part of his body, had to be supported and repositioned constantly, and could only rarely lift his head even slightly, he remained bright, engaged, and deeply aware. His full autopsy showed that his month-long reluctance to eat (the reason for the euthanasia) was due to heartburn from a benign tumor in his esophagus, not anything serious medically, and his difficulty tonguing food was due to several small strokes, not advanced DM in his cervical nerves. His tissues were indeed donated to the University of Missouri, using that kit I carried so faithfully on my lap on Rummy’s Great Adventure. I will remain forever grateful to all the researchers who are working so hard to conquer DM and ALS.

"We miss him every day. He was a stubborn, beautiful, protective dog who came into our lives as a gentle young puppy and left as a grand old man -- still dignified, opinionated, and wise.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Roggan, 1998-2011

Roggan belonged to Kirsty McCarron and her family.

"Roggan went to the bridge on Oct. 19. He would have been 13 Oct. 20. " (This was also Merlin's birthday.)

"My grandparents raised corgis. I remember one of their corgis, a r/w male named Zebby. He was the perfect corgi, and when we started talking about getting a dog, I knew it was to be a corgi.

"I didn't research breeders, just found one close to me, who had puppies. We got Roggan when Emma was 4, and the twins, Jordan and Devon, 1. He was very devoted to the kids. If anyone approached his kids, look out. He would defend them with his life. But if the kids weren't around, he would take any lovings he could get. We often said that if anyone broke into our house Roggan would probably lick them to death. He loved any visitor.

" We took him with us anywhere we could. He loved the beach, swimming pools, sprinklers, water guns, anything water related. He would get so wet that his ears would flop. Roggan also had the largest corgi ears. On windy days we would joke that we should put a leash on him in case he flew away.

"In true corgi fashion, meal time was his favourite time of day, and he would sit outside and refuse to come in until he got a cookie. He could manipulate for food. In fact, I think he was a master.

"Roggan started dragging his back leg 2 yrs ago; by April of 2011, he was completely down in the back end, but could bunny hop run if something got his attention. We built a ramp for him for the stairs, got a cart, slept on the couch with him beside us, tried multiple medications, and found Wheelcorgis, who were full of information and suggestions for us.

"By August 2011, he was having trouble with his front legs. By September we had to help him up the ramp, he lost control of his bladder. October he began barking all night long. He would settle if we got up with him, but as soon as we left him alone again, he would start barking. We also noticed at this time that he was choking on his food.

"We opted to have Roggan euthanized as he was becoming very agitated at night, and could not settle. He was also licking himself, and had developed multiple sores on his body. He was incontinent of bowel and bladder, and was very upset with himself when he had accidents in the house.

When asked how Roggan's DM had affected their lives, Kirsty said, " We had adjusted our lives to make sure Roggan was never alone, and if we did have to leave him, it would be for as short of time as possible.

"The worst thing is the feeling of guilt, the what if's, etc. I feel that maybe I could of done more if I had more money. Maybe I gave up on him too soon. He was an amazing, devoted dog, and we couldn't of asked for more.

"Although he was hyper, and could get nasty when anyone touched his back, he was a perfect dog. We miss him dearly."

Cookie, 199? to 2011, Beloved Rescue Corgi

Cookie, Beloved Rescued Corgi

The following is written by Millie Williams. Millie is the author of The Watching, a beautifully illustrated book about corgis and Christmas.

Cookie came into foster care in December, 2010, from a home with elderly owners who could no longer lift her due to their advanced ages. When Sue, the transporter, picked her up and drove her partway to me, she said “She’s going down in the back”. What I saw when she let Cookie out of her van was an elderly corgi who was having trouble walking. There was some pain which we were able to relieve with aspirin, but she had that gait that is so common in dogs with DM, too.

I knew little about Cookie’s background except that she had wandered into the owners’ yard, lost, and they had kept her. They estimated her age at about 11, I thought it was more like 13 or 14, based on the white on her face, her teeth and her general condition. The owners had loved her but realized that it was going to be too much for them to care for her. She seemed happy and interested in everything that went on at our home.

Cookie was the sweetest of the Sweet. I aspire to breed temperaments as lovely as hers was. My corgis would walk by and say something about “Yo momma” and she would just look at them very mildly and say “What a nice day it is!” A true Southern Belle! On the other hand, she was just an ordinary corgi in looks. But what is inside is the most important and Cookie brought that lesson home to me more than once.

Within 3 weeks, she was having trouble getting up, keeping her balance and walking at all. Most of the time, she just seal walked but then after a week or two, got up and walked a few steps now and then for another week. This time when she went down, she never got up again.

In years past, we also had a lovely girl named Isabelle who had destroyed her back leaping off the porch for several years and so we knew what was to come. Although I had sworn that I would not go through this again, one look into Cookie’s gentle eyes told me she had a zest for living and was not ready to leave us just yet. So we fitted her for diapers, shaved her rear, dug out the double sided fleecy blankets and found her a non tip water bowl. And Cookie did love that bowl! It had Velcro on the bottom so it wouldn’t scoot away from her on the fleecy if she wanted a drink.

Caring for a dog with a back injury or DM is mostly a matter of management and prevention. Managing the diet, whatever therapy you can give to them and time; prevention of sores from lying on one side too long or dragging themselves, keeping bottoms clean of waste so that sores don’t begin there, keeping the dog’s mind occupied and busy. Cookie was easily entertained, she liked rolled pork skin with sweet potato on the inside and she liked to be petted. One thing people do forget with these dogs is the need to scratch them all over when their little back legs cannot scratch their faces, ears, head, neck, and they lack the ability to lie on their backs and scratch themselves this way.

Cookie enjoyed being in the yard with the other corgis, watching the chickens and guineas, scooting merrily about and sniffing everything. She liked to be talked to, enjoyed her meals and watched the litter of corgi pups grow up. Watching TV at night was the best because my husband and I were both “there” all the time with her.

Over the next few months, we sadly saw Cookie deteriorate. And I played the “Line in the Sand” game. It was first that I would not care for a dog (that was not of my breeding) if it went down. Then it was when she had to go in a diaper. I just wasn’t going that far. Then the line got moved again. This happened several times because I dearly loved this little soul that God had sent to me to care for. She was happy, grateful for everything we did for her and she asked for so little. The only good thing about this condition is that one will build an incredible relationship with that animal, and I did.

Finally the day came where I had to admit defeat. I came home from work and Cookie had gotten part way off her fleecy, her rear legs were twisted under her in a very uncomfortable fashion and she looked miserable. Although I realized that I could fix her positioning, I knew that this would happen again and again. And she had started to lie on her side and unable to right herself to get a drink. It was unthinkable that the Line had finally appeared but I could not keep her comfortable if I had to go to work each day. I couldn’t take her to the vet. I asked Jerry if he could and although it nearly killed him, he spared me the last devastating tears that I would have shed. I shed them anyway, but the wound was not so deep.

And how we still miss her… I am misting up as I am writing this story. She brought to my life so many things, yet asked for little. She needed the care and the help, but she was not a demanding dog at all. I found it no trouble at all to help a sweet being that needed some extra help.

God bless you, Cookie. I will miss you always.