Even though you love your dog, you feel devoted and loyal, and you know your dog is giving you unconditional love and devotion in return, you can still be a stupid dog owner.
Let me explain.
You MUST be aware of what your dog is communicating. Is she telling you something is wrong? Is there some nuance that is different today than yesterday? Does it mean anything?
Let me tell you the story of Isabel, my paralyzed Belgium sheep dog. That’s her picture at the top of the post.
At the time, Isabel was 5 years old. She was fast as lightning and loved running. Just for the sake of running, for the sake of speed. She also loved chasing the squirrels. She did not catch any, thank God, but she loved to give them a run for their money. Every day she ran and ran.
She also loved her daily walks. She lived for those walks. She and my husband, Jim would leave each day and be gone anywhere from 30-60 minutes. Jim allowed her to sniff the mailboxes and visit with every clump of grass that called to her. That takes time.
We had friends visiting us from England. I am using this as the excuse for this terrible incident to be allowed to occur. I consider myself to be an excellent dog owner, sensitive, alert and dedicated to their care and love.
Like I said, we had friends visiting from England. We live in the USA, in the northern state of Michigan. It was a wonderful visit. Nothing changed for Isabel, she still had her daily walks, and she still ran and ran in the backyard, chasing squirrels. This one day we were going to show our friends around a bit, and we left the house for the afternoon. Isabel had already had her run and walk and she was going to be staying home. We were gone until early evening, and then I began preparing supper. I first went up to feed the cat and realized Isabel was not with me. She ALWAYS came up the stairs to beg for the cat food can. I went to the top of the stairs to see where she was and she was sitting at the bottom of the stairs looking forlorn. I asked her what was she doing, why wasn’t she coming for her can. She stood up and came up the stairs and happily got her can.
I continued on with dinner preparation, entertaining our guests and enjoying the evening. Isabel started to come into the kitchen and I noticed she was walking funny, her left back leg was sort of uncoordinated and faltering. I went to her and started checking her over for what could be the problem. I called to Jim to have him take a look and we couldn’t find anything, but Jim recalled that she had not been very enthusiastic about their walk earlier that day. She just didn’t seem herself, he said.
She continued on to her destination of the water bowl and seemed to be doing okay at the time. So we thought maybe with all her running she had strained something, we would keep an eye on her, but we went back to our guests.
We were all sitting around the dining room table having our meal, when Jim realized Isabel had come under the table and had wedged herself up against his legs and she was whimpering. We immediately, went into action and realized she was in trouble AND she was in pain. We tried to call her out from under the table, but she could not move herself. It was about midnight now, we called the emergency vet clinic and described what we were seeing and the day’s events, (which were startling clear in hindsight). They said we needed to rush her into the clinic immediately, we were dealing with a spinal cord injury.
We placed her big soft pillow in the back of the van and we carried her out to the van, and we had her to the vet clinic in about 15 minutes. She cried when we lifted her and it was so obvious the pain she was in. I couldn’t stop myself from crying. Our house guests were long forgotten.
The Veterinarian at the clinic examined Isabel right away, she had neurological deficits that were frightening and worsening quickly, they said the injury could be traveling up her spine toward her heart and lungs, she could die. They did a myelogram and Ct Scan of her spine. They found she had a severely ruptured disc in her spine and she had a lot of damage in her spinal column. They recommended immediate surgery to save her life. We did not even hesitate, DO THE SURGERY!
We did not understand that she might be paralyzed, we did not know how to care for a dog with this circumstance, we didn’t think about anything but saving her life. She survived the surgery and then they said it would be another 48 hours to see if the damage traveling up her spine would stop and she would indeed survive. She stayed in the hospital for 3 more days with IV’s and pain medicines and antibiotics, She was shaved on both sides of her spine and she was drugged and weak and she was the most beautiful sight to our eyes.
Both Jim and I would crawl into her very large cage and sit on her blankets with her. She had a bladder catheter in place and they were worried she wasn’t making enough urine. Also she wouldn’t eat or drink so they couldn’t remove the IV. I asked them to let us try and we gave her mushed up food and water and she took it gratefully with that look that every animal lover recognizes. “why did you wait so long”.
So from then on we went there every day to give her food and water, she was able to get the IV out and to get off the strong pain medicines. She got her catheter out the last day. That is when we were told she was incontinent (couldn’t control the function of) her bowel and bladder. She was paralyzed and we would need to assume these functions.
They showed us how to sling walk her, using a strap under her belly and we had to be extremely careful due to the newness of her incisions and surgery. We also had to express her bladder to make her urinate and we had to keep her clean from the stools. We had to make sure her bladder was empty or she would develop urinary tract infections. And we were taught how to perform physical therapy on her so she could keep her muscles in good shape for when and if she ever walked again.
They told us it could take up to two years, but she had all her reflexes, so they were hopeful she would walk again. So off we go to our home with our baby and all the determination to be the best caregivers on the planet and terrified of what we were undertaking.
Well to bring this story to a close, let me just tell you that as of today’s writing it has been 3 years, 2 months and 12 days. She is not walking. BUT…who cares?
She is the best dog in the world. She is happy and well adjusted. And she has the best parents alive. We love her. It is just simply all okay. We have mastered the art of diapering a dog, well enough that we rarely if hardly ever have an accident outside the diaper. We got her the wheels to enable her to be independently ambulatory. And she is the talk of the neighborhood.
Jim loves to tell the story of how when Isabel was ambulatory, we knew our two next door neighbors and the people across the street. Now…we know the entire neighborhood. As Isabel on her wheels and Jim walk by people will actually come out of their homes to speak with them and pet Isabel and make remarks about how wonderful it is and what a great person Jim is and how sweet Isabel is. All of that is correct of course.
Also before the accident, Isabel was very shy and standoffish. She would even hide behind Jim’s legs when people or kids would approach. Now she is the one to say hello first and she knows she is the pride of the neighborhood. It is truly remarkable.
She is totally the wrong breed, it should not have happened to her. It is those short little dachshunds that are prone to these injuries, not a herding dog. But it happened. We theorize that it happened because of all that running and jumping and twisting and she just landed wrong one time.
We have forgiven ourselves for ignoring the subtle symptoms in our dog that we missed because we were too distracted with our out of town guests to notice. We love our Isabel and would not change a thing. We know she is not going to be one of the dogs that regains the ability to walk, but we don’t care. Our lives have nicely settled into a routine that works for us all. We can deal with it.
Isabel is a dog, despite the fact that she is so remarkable. She lives in the moment, she has no idea anything is any different than it is supposed to be. She is happy and well loved. When people express their sympathy and sadness over her paralysis, I like to say, “hey don’t feel sorry for her, it’s me that changes her diapers”… Life is good.
If you take anything at all away from this…Love your dog and pay attention to what they are saying to you. And forgive yourself if you miss one now and then.
If you would like to see more pictures of Isabel you can visit the Squidoo lens I created for her. You would be welcome.