Wednesday, March 19, 2014

For Love of George

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since
(I've) been here . . .

~ George Harrison

Not that George . . . this George!

Our sweet old boy had his thirteenth birthday just before Christmas.  He's the primary reason I've been absent from the blog so long. 

 Back in early 2012, we received the presumptive diagnosis of Degenerative Myelopathy - the explanation for mysterious, progressive neurological symptoms we'd been seeing in our sweet boy since late summer of 2011.  DM is a disease of the canine spinal column, believed to be autoimmune, where the body attacks the myelin sheath that protects and insulates nerves in the spine.  It's believed to have more than one form - a form that resembles Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis in humans, and another that's more similar to ALS.

As the disease progresses, it eventually causes the dog to lose the use of its back legs, and later as it progresses up the spine, the front legs as well.  Left to its natural course it eventually affects the organs of the respiratory system.  Few dogs make it that far, and most either die of other causes or are euthanized due to complications of the disease, or often, due to another illness.

The average lifespan post-diagnosis is only a few months.  Many dog guardians have their dogs euthanized almost immediately after diagnosis, and others, once the dog loses use of their back legs.  

Some, like our sweet old boy, have guardians who opt to do what it takes to keep them happy, healthy, and enjoying life for as long as possible.  It's a lot of work, but for many of us who opt to wait until our dogs are ready to leave us, it's very rewarding, and very worth the effort for these loyal, loving canine members of our families.

We have some special equipment for George.  This was his first doggie wheelchair/a/k/a cart.  Over time, as his front legs compensated for the paralysis in his back legs, this cart got to be difficult to use.  An Angel donated a different cart to us.  It's counterbalanced with a variable axle, and transfers more of his weight to the wheels, taking a lot of extra weight off his shoulders, and giving his freedom for walks and backyard romps back to him once again.

There's also this harness (below).  You can't see the top since  he's busy rolling around in last fall's leaves, but it has handles in the front and back, making it easier for us to lift him and help him get around.  Our sweet old boy is still happy, enjoying life, and doing all the things able-bodied dogs can do.  He just needs a little help.

There's no sugar-coating it though, eventually we'll lose him, either to DM or a complication, unless something else gets him first.  A dog's life is just much too short.  In the meantime though, as long as he's still happy and otherwise healthy, and as long as I can take care of him, we're taking life one day at a time, putting in the effort needed to make sure he gets plenty of exercise and play, good food, lots of supplements targeted for the disease, and a medication that helps slow down the progression in most dogs lucky enough to try it.

We feel fortunate to have had our sweet boy so long.  He's a big dog - a Lab/German Shepherd Dog mix, and he's already outlived the expected lifespan of both breeds.  It's never long enough when you love a dog, but we are blessed still having him with us.  Every day is a gift.

Keeping a dog with Degenerative Myelopathy healthy and happy is a lot of work.  It's physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging, and it takes a lot of time and focus.  

His smile, his happiness, and the love . . . they make the sacrifices worthwhile.  Some pictures are worth a thousand words.

So I'll try to make it back here to the blog when I can.  In the meantime, if anyone's looking for me, I've just been a bit busy and preoccupied.  It's all for the love of my sweet George.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
It's all right, it's all right.