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.

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