Saying goodbye slowly

It's no surprise that I haven't blogged about this until now; it isn't a pleasant subject to dwell on. For the past year, Zephyr, my rottie/shepherd mix, has been battling degenerative myelopathy, for which there is no cure. DM, as it is referred to by the owners of dogs who suffer from it, is the dog version of multiple sclerosis. It often affects shepherds, but I guess any dog can get it. It is genetic, and once we had narrowed the diagnosis, I sent her blood off to confirm that she carries the gene that causes the disease.

In the summer of 2010, Zephyr was diagnosed with Cushing's disease. She'd been ravenously hungry, her hair was falling out and she didn't want to do much else but stay at my feet. Then one night she snuck out of my bedroom to eat a chicken that had been left in the trash, and I knew something was truly wrong. Lots of tests; expensive medication. But she returned to herself again. In fact, her energy came back so intensely that I decided last January to take her to our old dog park for the first time in years. This was to be her reward after a long illness.

Within minutes of arriving at the park, Zephyr was chasing squirrels and birds, and tangled her front wrist in the chain link fence. She hung there by her wrist for a moment before falling back to the ground and we all knew instantly that it wasn't a minor injury. She had torn the ligaments in her wrist and had to have a plate put in; the cost was outrageous, the recovery was interminable. She had to keep off of it for three months. When she was finally able to walk again, her back legs started slipping out from beneath her. At first I thought she just needed to get used to walking again, but it was the beginning stages of DM. It would have revealed itself eventually, but her extended recovery had allowed the disease to take hold sooner.

We started working with hydrotherapy, but she contracted an infection that made it impossible to continue with that. We've tried acupuncture. But the most I can hope for is that it makes the transition easier for her. After our last session of acupuncture last Wednesday, Zephyr has been virtually unable to walk without my assistance. This is incredibly painful, because she used to be so incredibly active an athletic. Now even when drinking water she prefers to lay down. Because of the way she drags herself, I have to wipe her down throughout the day to prevent urine burn. Yet she's still my cheerful Zephyr.

The disease isn't painful, but that's one of the things that everyone has advised me makes it most difficult; we don't know what our dogs are feeling or thinking and we can't explain to them why things aren't the same as they once were.

So I'm blocking off some time to spend with her and the other dogs, up in our house in Mississippi. DM doesn't evolve at a predictable pace, so it might actually be months or even a year before she is paralyzed to the point that she begins to lose other functions. Or it could be sooner. In the meantime, I want to spend some time hanging out together on the porch, just being happy with each other's company.


I'm so very sorry for your heartbreak. Zephyr is so very lucky to have someone who loves her so completely. It's a brave and scary path you have chosen but we salute you. I know you will cherish your time together.

Many hugs, Maureen

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