Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Last Entry

This probably won't really be the last page as I will use this blog to rant about DM and breeders who don't test for it. But it is the last entry in Merlin's journey.

Just under a week ago he started refusing to eat. THe previous two posts cover that. Now he is still not eating, we switched to Baytril and still no appetite or improvement. He seems congested, isn't breathing well, and has little energy. Every so often he rallies enough to bark but he will only drink water and he looks miserable. His eyes are telling me it is time, and this afternoon at the South Whidbey Animal Clinic Dr. Patrin will humanely end his life.

Just over 13 years ago, Christmas vacation 1997, I brought Merlin home. In November of 97 my Labrador Brother had died and for my birthday my dear friends surprised me with the tri puppy from their litter.

But I actually met Merlin the day he was born. My daughter had been home from college for the weekend and I was loading up to drive her to the train when my neighbor's husband ran over. "Linda needs you, it looks like Lily is having the puppies." He drove Melia to the train and I got to Linda's just in time to see Lily pick up Merlin, still in the sac, and deposit him in the litter box. It was the 57th day and I was worried when I saw him that she had gotten bred by some stray dog. I had never seen a newborn tri and did not know they were all black and white!

As soon as finals were over Merlin came home to live with me and our last Lab Pippin and our older female corgi Dolly. He quickly became a little terror. He and Dolly frapped non-stop and when Dolly took a moment off to recover Merlin tortured Pippin trying to get her to play. He started to show his extreme stubbornness even then.

Merlin proved to be a heroic little fellow, at the age of just about six months he scared an intruder out of our house. I heard him snarling and growling at about 6 one morning and came to find him holding off an intruder who had started to come through the back door. The guy backed out and said he was looking for this guy's studio (at 6 AM?) and Merlin got lots of extra treats!

Over the years our dog family changed, Pippin and Dolly were followed by Luka, Wesley, Abby. Janine,. Jack, Teddy. and Candy. Now besides Merlin we have Candy at 10. Janine 8. and Jack 5. Merlin liked our cats but Hobie and Casey have both since gone, not to be replaced.

Merlin had a few injuries in his youth,. at two, one CCL ligament ruptured, the second one at five. He recovered from both surgeries but always had a bit of a funny gait after the second. Despite that, at 7 he started agility, competing in his first trial right after his eighth birthday. He was never fast because he insisted on running next to me and watching me the whole time, but he managed to reach Enthusiast Level 4 in CPE before his retirement.

At the age of almost ten Merlin started to have seizures. It took quite some time to get them under good control, and by then he had begun to walk even funnier. He retired from agility in April of 2008 and by September the DM was pretty obvious. The rest of his history can be found in this blog, thanks to the suggestion of Millie Williams that I keep one.

Merlin's journey is ending today, but the fight against DM has to go on. Puppy buyers, PLEASE insist on buying only carrier or clear puppies. Breeders, PLEASE be responsible, test your stock, and breed to lessen the incidence of this terrible disease. No person and no dog should have to go through this.

Rest in peace, Merlin.

Epilog: we left early and took a long drive since Merlin can usually sleep peacefully in the car, and he did. Stopped for a bit and he woke and his breathing was terrible. I know I made the right decision for him but my heart is breaking.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Thoughts

Merlin is still under the weather but I hope he is improving. He is sleeping a lot without any yowling for attention,food, water, etc. The only barks today have been to ask to go out to the car and then after he came in, to go to bed. Now he is sleeping. He ate one piece of liverwurst with his pills and drank some water but no real appetite. It could be the antibiotic keeping his appetite down but the quietness is so out of character that it is pretty clear he still feels lousy.

The good thing about this is that it tells me he isn't barking because he doesn't feel good. He barks when he feels good, to get things. So while the barking is pretty annoying I don't think I need to worry about his well-being just because he is doing it.

The bad thing is that his being sick like this brings quality of life into question. Believe me., this is nothing new., quality of life is an issue that the owner of every dog with DM lives with most of the time. When is it time? Should we let him go now or treat this illness? A couple of years ago two owners of DM dogs both found out their dog also had lymphoma. Lymphoma can be treated and will go into remission sometimes but usually for a year, rarely more than that. One felt the quality of life with DM was too poor and let her dog go, the other opted for treatment and had another year of relatively good quality life,. though the DM of course proceeded. Who was right:? Both of them. Every owner has to make these decisions and believe me they are very hard.

My rule of thumb...what would I want? There was an episode of ER in season 13 in which Abby treats a former professor who is in the late stages of "human DM", i.e., ALS. They do flashbacks to earlier visits to the hospital, in all of which he wanted to fight whatever brought him in. In this final episode he is getting to where he would need to be intubated to continue breathing, which would compromise his ability to communicate via an electronic device. He opts for no treatment.

Thinking of Merlin, he can still communicate, even though he needs a lot of care and isn't very independent. He still- when he is well- enjoys car and stroller rides. He usually likes his food. So if what is bothering him now can be cleared up so that he feels good again, I'm all for doing it.

If he continues to get UTI's and keeps feeling crappy a majority of the time, though, my choice might be different.

There is also always the underlying, paired thoughts: if he is gone I'll be free of care taking him, and feeling guilty for thinking the former. I am reminded of the story of the great cellist Pablo Casals smashing his fingers when mountain climbing,and his first thought being , "I never have to play the cello again. " And his next thought was certainly, " I hope I can play again!"

The other thought is that maybe this illness will make the decision easier. Because without a sudden change in health, DM is insidious. Here you have an alert, aware, and often happy corgi, and you are expected to end his life at a time of your own choosing, with no definite indication that the time is right. In most illnesses, you know it is time. With DM that may not happen.

I know Merlin's time is limited, I don't know by how much, but my decision this week was based in part on not wanting to lose him right before
Christmas. I don't have a definite cut-off for him, it just depends on quality of life and his attitude. I want him to feel better and enjoy the time he has left.

RIght now we are hoping the antibiotics work and he is his noisy, barking self in a day or two.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Heart, lungs, blood work except WBC, normal. He does have a UTI which is weird as no signs of one at all. So that is a relief!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merlin isn't eating...

Merlin is under the weather. He would not eat this morning. Later I took him for a car ride and a walk on the ADA trail and he perked up and ate a few small milk bones. But now no dinner.

Merlin still isn't eating more than a few nibbles of liverwurst. At least I can get his pills into him.  Tomorrow we will go to the vet if he is still down and see if it is anything there is a magic bullet for, but I am worried this may be it.  If it is, better now than Christmas Day.  So think good vibes and pray good prayers for him.  I won't let him continue not feeling good so if he isn't better or there is no quick fix...

He did go right to sleep when I brought him into the bedroom and sat down  with him,. which as you know is completely out of character... he should be barking up a storm!

As he is no longer walking at all I know his time is short but I had hoped not before we get back to California, especially since he enjoys the car trip so much. So send him your vibes and prayers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Knuckling/loss of proprioception

I wanted to include a photo showing what I meant in the previous post.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

I decided the airbag was the least of Merlin's worries, so fixed him a better spot in the front seat. He likes it!

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

merlin's walking days are over

He looks kind of miserable in the picture but it was icy cold and windy and he wasn't getting any treats.

Merlin is still here, still barking and complaining, but recently his walking took a bad turn. About two weeks ago I noticed he was knuckling on his left front leg. The right soon followed. In DM, knuckling is caused by loss of proprioception, which is the ability to sense where one's limb is in space. in other words, Merlin put his foot down and if it was upside down, he didn't know it, and just left it.

He was still trying to walk until a week ago, but with increasing difficulty as his legs didn't seem to know quite how to move anymore. I decided there was no point continuing to worry about staying in shape if walking wasn't going to be happening much longer, so have not encouraged walking, though I put him in the cart when he wants to. The last two walks, he hasn't wanted to get down.

Now the challenge is to make his stroller rides more interesting. i realized today the beach sand is packed well enough that I should be able to take the stroller on it, so will try that tomorrow. if he can't run on the beach at least he should be able to enjoy the sights and smells.

On the plus side he is sleeping well at night, although he wants a) to go to bed at about 7:30 PM and b) for me to come to bed when he does. I usually give in about eight and go read instead of watching t.v., although now that I figured out i can watch TV shows on my ipad now that it gets 3G, I can also do that.

His appetite is still good, but he has trouble if the food isn't in reach, as his front paws are also not working for moving things towards him. I noticed he got a little frustrtaed with that last night.

I did the Scout's House Qualifty of life scale and came out a 13, which is the low end of good quality of life. (Or high end, 0-13 is in the good range, 13 up to something is decreased quality, etc.) So he is on the cusp of lower quality of life, not that life at this stage is a picnic, but I think he would still rather be here than not.

Now he is barking away saying it is past bedtime. I will try to upload a photo later, but I have to be on a real computer to do that, I think, unless I have one on Photobucket.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Support- and the lack thereof

On Corgis on Wheels we have discussed support- where you find the emotional and physical support you need as you care for your disabled dog. Family, friends, physical therapists, and veterinarians were all named.

Today's blog is not about support, it is about lack of support.

Without getting into too many details, I took a car trip with two other people, one of whom this story is about. I expected the trip to take only three hours, and planned to leave at 8 am, so thought Merlin would be good left home during that time. Well, as often happens, we left over an hour later, and things took longer, and instead of being home before noon, we were still 45-50 minutes away at 12:30 PM. At that point, I expressed my concern about getting home quickly.

We got into the car, and this other person announced we were going to stop and fill up a gas can for a boat on the way home. To be charitable, I don't know that she initially did this just to provoke me, she could simply not have understood the urgency. I objected, suggesting she could go back and get gas after dropping me at home, which is about five minutes from the gas station. I explained that I was concerned that Merlin would have to pee and would end up lying in it, and I needed to get home as fast as possible.

At that point, instead of agreeing and expressing concern over Merlin, this person insisted she was going to stop for gas if she felt like it, and told me I could call and get someone else to let him out. I explained it wasn't a matter of letting him out, someone needed to put him in the cart and express him, and no one knew how. She said I just didn't want to stop because I wanted my own way, and as the driver, she would do what she felt like.

I realized soon that she was making sport of upsetting me. Nowhere in her game was any concern for Merlin, he simply didn't enter into the equation. To her, the argument was just like an earlier one about gay marriage, it had nothing to do with Merlin or my feelings, it was just sport. She has no empathy for animals and can't understand why someone else would bother to go out of her way to care for a dog. It's possible she thought the argument was just a game for me, too.

Now I know this isn't really about DM or Merlin. But it is the existence of people like her that makes searching for support both difficult and important. Difficult because one never knows the reaction another person might have to concern about a dog, and important because loving, supporting, caring individuals are needed to counteract the selfish and uncaring ones. I'm lucky that this insensitive person is not someone I see every day, and really feel for those who have spouses or children or parents who fail to understand their care and concern for their dog.

I did get home in time to take Merlin out, and he definitely had to go. Bottom line, there will always be insensitive people, who lack the experience to understand and the capacity to empathize with animals or with the feelings of other people. And I am glad I am not one of them. And I think, in the long run, those of us with the capacity to love and care for an dog, and to empathize with the feelings and needs of other living creatures, human or not, are the lucky ones.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

August 2010 Update

Merlin has had a good month. July 4th weekend was spent at my sister's in Ronald, Washington, to avoid insane fireworks on Whidbey, and Merlin did a bit of walking, some sleeping, and got a nice visit to the Cle Elum street fair. He got a lot of attention in his stroller and cart, plus good treats.

In July he went to the Bayview Farmers Market in just his stroller. What a difference! While some people thought he was cute, others called him spoiled and lazy. I explained that he could not walk. We talked about this on Wheelcorgis, and one member said she got the same reaction when her disabled daughter was in a stroller as opposed to a wheelchair. People see the wheelchair as cute, the stroller as spoiling the pet (or child.) Hey, folks, when you see what looks like a child or a dog too big for a stroller, consider that just maybe he or she cannot walk!

In July, also, blackberries on the dike start ripening, and Merlin's interest in walks triples. He literally runs to get to the berries, and even after he conks out and is in the stroller he barks for more.

We finished out July with the Pacific Northwest Corgi Picnic in Woodinville. Merlin was allowed all the attention and mooching for treats that he could manage, and you can see by the photo that he had a great time!

Physically, he is doing about the same. He is still strong enough to run in his four-wheel cart, but moves around very little outside the cart, and only really uses it for walks, with leash assistance. He can only pee on his own in the cart, same with poop, at least, no control there and sometimes he needs to be expressed for both. He is licking his front paws a lot so they look awful but he always has, he just did it for less time before. Appetite is great (he is a corgi) and bark still going strong.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Merlin in the summer

Merlin is doing very well up here in Washington. our routine is that he wakes me up around six am and I carry him outside to pee and poop (expressing both) and then back in where I put him on the recliner so he feels safer. He is in the four wheel cart for pee and poop. then we have pills. The switch from phenobarbital to KBr was seamless thanks to zonisamide, his other seizure med, and he gets SAM-e in the morningo and Atavan in the evening as well. Pills are in liverwurst as he will no longer eat peanut butter.

Then we wait an hour to eat and he often barks or whines through most of that.

After breakfast I take Merlin out to the car and put him in his crate in the back, on Palace fleece. If it is warm I roll the windows down and if it is sunny drape a reflective tarp over the car. It has only hit 75 once so far so heat has not been a problem. He gets either a milk bone or a sweet potato chew in the car and then naps until around noon when he has a potty break and sometimes a short walk. If I go anywhere of course he goes along.

Merlin started this sleeping in the car all day four years ago, it is not really a DM thing, but it does make life easier since he tends to bark for attention, food, water, bodily needs, or just because the rest of the time.

At about five I give him his dinner and then around seven take him for a walk. He is using the four wheel K9west cart and I have sent his counterbalanced Eddies out on a Corgiaid loan. He can run in the four wheel cart and does, but only when he is in a hurry to eliminate. I do assist somewhat with a leash on the cart but sometimes he is entirely on his own. He can walk up to a quarter mile but I take along the stroller so he can ride when he tuckers out, which is more often at about a furlong. He loves to ride in the stroller.

Then he comes back in to the recliner and evening pills, which is when he gets the Atavan to reduce anxiety. he barks until Bedtime, so usually around 9 PM I put him in my bed and he either goes to sleep or barks a little more.

He sleeps pretty well but occasionally wants on the cooler floor or some water or to go out at night.

No more diapers as he needs help or to be in the cart to go, so that is a relief. I am worrying about fall if or when we return to Fresno heat and he can't have his car naps.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Merlin the Wheelchair Test Pilot

Since I am the cart coordinator for CorgiAid's Cart Loan program I usually have a few carts around the house. Hence, Merlin has been able to move from one cart to another as need arose.

My first wheelcorgi, Wesley, had a Doggon Wheels cart. It was a great little cart for Wes, and the only thing I don't like about the Doggon design is that the cart is a pain in the bunny butt to adjust- nuts, bolts, and pipe clamps.

When I got Candy, a friend gave me her dog's K9cart made in Langley, Washington. I liked the design and ease of use, so I ordered this kind for Merlin. However, we ran into a few more issues with Merlin's cart. He is taller, and the initial cart was too narrow; he could tip it over as he turned a corner. So I took it in and they made wider struts for it. I had asked for 8 inch wheels to begin with, as we like the larger wheels for rougher terrain. Next, the back bar on Merlin's cart started sliding, and after multiple attempts to tighten the set screws, the piece holding it broke. K9carts sent me a replacement part, but later I went and got their newly designed all-metal back bar.

I never liked the fleece-padded stirrups on the cart, so on both Candy's and Merlin's I'd substituted neoprene stirrups from Doggon.

As Merlin's front weakened, he started wanting to lie down all the time, so I rigged an Eddie's wheels cart to fit him, and counterbalanced it. Merlin did not like the front strap so I removed that but added a strap under his arms the same as the K9cart has. We again wanted larger wheels and not having any spare ones from Eddie's, he got 8 inch plastic wheels from the other K-9carts (hyphen between K and 9) located in Oxford, Maryland.

Then Merlin got sick (liver disease) and didn't want to walk, and as in the meantime Liz Ridgely's front extension had come back in, I rigged it for Merlin. Meg had replaced the wheels with roller skate wheels, but they were small, so I replaced those with 4 inch Razor wheels. The front support band she used was too wide for Merlin (since he is a boy) so I borrowed one from an Eddie's quad cart. There was too much weight on the front wheels, so I used Velcro One-wrap to move the saddle back up against the metal back bar, effectively counterbalancing the cart. On cement, if he wants to, Merlin can run in this cart. (He mostly does not want to.)

But now we are worrying about walking on the dike and the macadam road up on Whidbey. The front-extension isn't going to work well for that. I'm exploring a K-9cart east cart as theirs seems to have a better kind of front swivel wheel.

The one kind of cart Merlin has not used is a Doggon, but he did test-drive a Walkin Wheels cart last summer when Mark Robinson generously donated one to CorgiAid. We love the Walkin Wheels design but it is a bit heavy for a corgi- it worked for Merlin then as he was fairly strong and he is a big dog, but I'm waiting for their light-weight version to come out. (Walkin Wheels is great for big dogs as one-size adjusts for all.. if anyone has one they want to donate to CorgiAid, we'll take it, regardless of what breed it WAS for, as we can get it adjusted to fit our bigger corgis.) But we also hope they will soon have a front wheel or counterbalance option as otherwise their cart does not work very well for a dog with DM.

Other carts: there are a LOT of carts on the market. Many are not worth the price even if it is half of what Doggon, Eddie's, WW, or K9carts charges. One I saw does not have ANY saddle at all for the dog!! Some are poorly made, some are very heavy, some are PVC and easily broken. Buyer beware- if you buy an "off brand" cart make sure you can return it and investigate the company as much as you can first. If your dog has a bad experience in his first cart, he may never be willing to try another one.

As for Merlin, he says he is ready to become a stroller Test-Pilot, but I'm going to try to keep him walking for a little while longer.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Good news: DM-free puppies!

Despite the general reluctance of many Pembroke Welsh Corgi breeders to test for DM or to use the results if they do test, some are testing, and doing their best to defeat this disease. Right now I know of five litters either on the ground or well on their way in which not a single puppy will ever get DM. Some will produce carriers, others carriers and clears. And every one will be a quality pup with many generations of good breeding behind it.

So how are these breeders doing what others claim they cannot do, without "throwing the baby out with the bathwater?"

First, they tested. One lucky breeder found two clears in her own dogs, and has been able to breed them to produce more carriers and clears. The others found everything they owned to be At Risk.

But doesn't that mean they have to get rid of those dogs and start all over?

Not at all.

DM acts like a recessive gene, that is, a puppy must get it from both parents. An At Risk bitch bred to a Clear male (or vice versa) produces DM-free carriers. So with great effort- because very few other breeders are testing and identifying the precious clears that must be out there in our breed- the breeders with only At Risk bitches each waited to find a clear that they could use without giving up anything, and bred to him. They did not rush into breeding to just any male because he was clear, nor did they breed to a male who was NOT clear. One breeder waited three years to breed in order to find an appropriate clear male.

Not easy to wait, not easy to find the clear males, but they have shown us that it can be done. If only more breeders would test and make their results and pedigrees known so that these clears- and I'm convinced that at least 15% of the breed is clear- can be made available and the gene pool will not need to be narrowed.

Once carriers are produced, some breeders may opt for a carrier to carrier breeding. I hope they won't have to do that, but at this point it is an improvement over what happens if you do not test at all, which has a high chance of being At Risk to At Risk or At Risk to Carrier. If enough clears are produced or identified before that time, carrier to carrier breedings can also be avoided.

Puppy buyers need to demand testing! It's clear that many, many breeders are willing to ignore the availability of a DNA test and continue to produce dogs At Risk for DM. If you don't want your beloved corgi to die from DM, insist on testing, and only buy from a breeder who tests ALL her breeding stock, not just the puppy you want. There are a lot of health tests available for corgis. This is the ONLY test that will let you know if your dog is safe from a disease that is 100% fatal. So when the breeder argues that she tests hips and eyes and vWD, ask her what the fatality rates are for those diseases.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vet visit X 3

I am running out of time before leaving next week (my deadline is the NW Corgi Afternoon Saturday and not wanting to drive through Seattle on Friday or hit the ferry line on Friday afternoon.) So I have to leave no later than Wednesday. One week. So I broke my usual rule and combined vet visits for Candy, Jack, and Merlin.

Merlin was in his crate in the garage so I just had to load Candy and Jack in the car, try to convince Janine we would NOT be gone for three days this time, and then lift Merlin with crate into the back. We drove the 20 minutes to the vet's office and time to unload. I meant to take the stroller but didn't, probably a mistake, so I had to put Merlin in his cart to go in. He refused to walk so I towed him behind the other two dogs to the dirt potty area, where he went on his own.

Then inside, where I unloaded Merlin from the cart since he wanted to lie down in it. Everyone got weights, and off to an exam room, where Candy immediately hid under the chairs (at least the part he could get under it.) Jack got his temp taken, then Merlin, who was sitting in a chair barking, and I warned the tech he would probably poop. Sure enough, she pulled the thermometer out and Merlin started to do a big poop, so I hollered for her to get something to catch it (keep it off the chair.) She did, just in time, although by then Jack was prowling shark-like under the chair hoping to help with cleanup.

Then Candy got his rabies shot (since he bites) and his back nails cut before my vet arrived. Now we had to try to discuss one dog at a time. Merlin needed a KBr level and a liver enzyme test so the question was did he need a full blood panel. As white count was up last time and BUN low, we decided yes, so Rich tried to draw blood. He claims to be as good at it as his best tech but it took him a few tries before he got Merlin to donate.

Then Jack had to give blood, to see if his liver is okay, and we discussed lowering his dose of phenobarb and adding in KBr, which I will be doing.

Then additional requests: written scripts for Zonisamide and lorazepam to send off to Costco's online pharmacy (the cheapest for the zonisamide.) 15 mg size phenobarb for Jack so that once he is at half his current dose I don't have to try to break pills in half. Tramadol and Robaxin just in case for either one. Pickup Janine's prescription for Prednisone and Jack's rectal Valium, and three doses each of Interceptor for heartworm prevention due to our unusually wet spring and actual mosquitos.

Most of this time Merlin has been barking, by the way, so now at least Rich is quite willing to write all the prescriptions I need for anything to get him to sleep!

Finally a muzzle on Candy, two techs, and clipping the front nails while Candy snarled viciously at them for daring to touch his working feet.

Pay the bill (just about what I predicted, just over $500 thanks to three expensive blood tests.) Get a rabies cert for Candy and one for Jack since it shows his neutered status and I want to get him an AKC number and an APDT number, and we are finally off. Stop to have Merlin pee again, load everyone in, and home just over two hours after leaving.

I had my vet check Jack's back, he is a bit worried about lack of muscle and I've been worried that he often lies down when he is waiting for something, but I hope good exercise in Washington gets him back into better shape without any issues. Neither Jack nor Janine have great backs (ironically Merlin has the great back- the best my vet has ever seen on a corgi) so I'm always a little worried one or the other will go down. Janine has been fine since her muscles built back up, though.

Oh, then I got home, got to the front door, and Candy was in such a hurry to go in that when his wheel caught on the door frame he just left the cart behind- except his feet were stuck in the stirrups! Another Kodak moment that I missed.

We will really miss our current vet when I retire to Washington, but I am excited to see one of the two South Whidbey practices has been sold to a new veterinarian, a new guy, fairly recently out of school. Kind of like Rich when I first went there.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quality of Life time

It's that time again.

Mobility has gone down but as Merlin can still manage a four-wheel cart and loves the stroller, I'll rate that okay.

Hygeine has gone up. Since he quit crawling, he also quit peeing on his own very easily, so he doesn't soil himself or the floor or a diaper. As long as I can get him out at least about every four hours he is clean and dry.

Other issues: getting off one drug, onto another, has been smoother than anticipated.

Sleep is STILL an issue but it comes and goes.

More good days than bad, yes. More good nights than bad?? That's a toss-up.

Is he still engaged? Yes, I think so.

He's eating and drinking well, appetite back. Sleeps a lot but that's okay at his age, even without the drugs. But he's only still really himself when he's content, which is in the car or the stroller or walking for treats.

I didn't do this numerically, but I think its a wash from last time, due to hygeine improving.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"Geriatric Corgis"

One breeder said there was no need to test for DM because it was a "disease of geriatric dogs." The following is a video of a "geriatric corgi" running agility 1 week short of her 14th birthday.

She is a DM carrier.

That's what a geriatric corgi should look like. Not this.

A responsible breeder? Health testing corgis

I'm going to have to paraphrase this bit I lifted from a so-called responsible breeder's website. Now I have to say that I've seen a few of this breeder's dogs and they are, in fact, wonderful dogs.

She states that not only do they do hips and eyes and vWD but they consider much less important problems such as skin allergies.

All very well.. except that she does not do DM testing, which tells you that she puts it as less important than skin problems. In fact, she is probably breeding two At Risk dogs together to get better skin!* Worse, since the genetics of skin allergies can't be done with a simple cheek swab, she may not even be getting rid of the allergies.

Several other breeders offer four and five year contracts against "disabling hereditary defects." Safe enough- DM doesn't affect dogs at four or five, and very few puppy buyers are going to give back their puppy because it has hip dysplasia.

So just a word to the wise- when the breeder you are considering says she does "health testing" find out what this means.

*I know skin allergies in dogs can be very serious- they can require a lot of time, attention, and sometimes even rehoming of a dog to a less allergenic environment. But they are rarely fatal.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Update May 1

Well, this has not been a good month for Merlin, lots of downhill "progress". It started when he wouldn't eat or walk in early April. I took him to the vet and they did blood tests and said his ALT was high. Probably the phenobarbital, which affects the liver. So after some discussion we did a bile acid test, where you fast him, then draw blood, then he eats, and two hours later has another blood draw. The idea is to see if the bile acid that is released for the meal is reabsorbed by the liver afterwards as it should be. Not only was it not, but his fasting bile acid level was too high, meaning that even after overnight it wasn't absorbed.

Liver damage due to phenobarbital is reversible if you quit phenobarbital, so since then he's been transitioning to KBr. As of Wednesday he's down to half the phenobarbital he'd been on (which is possibly why he's sleeping less and less soundly) and his KBr should be starting to reach therapeutic levels. In a week and a half we get it checked again and recheck his liver.

Anyway, his initial not feeling well made me pull out the four-wheel cart, as he would not move at all in the counterbalanced cart. He walks in it on walks, for treats (the front extension cart) but not in the house, it is too hard to maneuver over or around things. So he walks at most two blocks a day and I carry him out to pee and poop and set him in the stationary cart.

If he ever seems more energetic again I'll try the counterbalanced cart again but I'm not hopeful, he isn't that thrilled to walk at all.

The sleep issue goes on, again, possibly worsened by reduction in his phenobarbital dose. He sleeps at most about two hours without turning, often more like 30 minutes. He usually wants out during the night and won't let me just express him lying down on a pee pad. In the morning, once he gets his pills, he starts barking and does that non-stop until breakfast, then he would keep barking except I put him out in the car to sleep.

Same thing in the evening- he barks from coming in until going to sleep. He wants food, he wants to go out, he wants something, he's anxious- who knows?

He's happy in the car, he's sort of happy walking for treats, he loves riding in the stroller. But he sure acts miserable inside, whether he is or not is another story.

The upside of all this is that, being less mobile, he doesn't pee in the house. Well, also, he has more trouble peeing on his own- he needs a manual assist. So diapers are no longer an issue- if I put them on they stay, if I don't, he holds it anyway.

We leave in just over two weeks for the summer in Washington, where he can sleep in the car all he wants (windows rolled down when it is warm) and where he will (hopefully) sleep on the bed. I am hoping he will have a good summer and maybe even be motivated to try the Eddie's cart again, but he was stumbling in it and lying down a lot even before this.

The problem with the K9cart (west) with front extension is wheel size- they won't go over even a small bump. It's very easy to put him in and out, great to use when expressing him, and great on the sidewalk, but it isn't going to work to walk in Washington as is unless I take him somewhere with sidewalks. (Nearby towns- but hard to find level sidewalks in any of them.)

When we get up there I may take his cart over to K9carts and see if there is a larger caster they use for larger dogs. I did order some 4 inch scooter wheels that should be a bit better than the 3 inch ones in the video or the 4 inch flat spoke wheels.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Merlin walking 4-10

Merlin has more energy and is doing much better, but still only up to about two blocks- partly because he runs for the treats and wears himself out! He's using the K9cart with front extensions. The original owner of the front-extensions replaced the wheels with pink skateboard wheels, which work well, but I'm wondering if we can find something slightly larger, say Razor scooter wheels, to fit. I'm going to have to go on a mission and look for them.

The front wheels for all the various carts have issues. These are nice in the way they attach, permanently, so the dog is put in and out of the cart without removing the wheels or having them get in the way. But the wheels are small and the framework holding them quite heavy, and it would help to have more support for the corgi's front than a single band about 2 inches wide. For a female you can put a wider band in but for a male this would tend to block the ability to pee.

Doggon has better swivel wheels, but a bulkier way of attaching them to the cart, and my dogs aren't used to the Doggon-type cart. (Though Wesley did fine in his.) They also sit wider apart which could be an issue. And Eddies Wheels has non-swiveling front wheels that are a pain to attach to the cart.

What I'd like is partial swivel, so they could turn but only about 45 degrees, allowing wide turns but not ending up sideways (I've never seen a swivel like this.) A lighter framework might also be nice. I like the looks of the K-9 East front extension a little more; it seems like it would be lighter. I need to ask them how hard it is to add and remove from a standard cart. K9 West was an easy do-at-home modification.

What I'm after is wheels that allow a dog to move on rougher terrain than the sidewalk seen here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Test results and change of meds

This is all for Merlin's seizures again, but it does affect his DM. His bile acid test came back bad- this test measures whether or not bile acids, which are produced when you eat, are recycled by the liver after the meal. If the liver is having trouble, the bile acids measured two hours after a meal will still be high. If it is really in trouble, they will be high after fasting. His were high after fasting, so he has to go off phenobarbital.

Now, since he has to go off fast, he'll get a loading dose of KBr. KBr can take 3-4 months to build up to an effective level at the regular dose, so a loading dose builds it up more rapidly. The problem is, that also means lots of side effects, which can include ataxia and nausea, while it is building up. So he may feel a lot worse before he feels better, and the big questions will be does the KBr control his seizures, and after he hasn't felt good for a month is he going to be able to get back to walking again?

Right now he is pretty immobile. I took him for a block yesterday basically holding up his front and pulling him (he didn't want to walk) and I've been carrying him out to potty. (I keep the four-wheel cart outside and just put him down in it.) I'm going to hope he isn't too ataxic and feels up to walking at least a little every day so we don't lose too much, and if he does lose it, hope that being up in Washington in five weeks will inspire him to walk a bit more. I doubt the four-wheel cart will work up there on the dike so I'll either have to help him a lot in the Eddie's cart or take him in to Langley to walk on the sidewalks.

I'm going after work today to pick up the KBr and get him started. After a week we'll drop the dose of phenobarbital and keep our fingers crossed about seizures.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Under the weather

Merlin hasn't been feeling too good. Monday he wouldn't eat, which meant he wouldn't walk, because he walks for treats (I bribe him to exercise.) So when he wouldn't walk and wouldn't eat dinner, I made an appointment with the vet. I use a practice that has four vets; the owner is our primary vet and one of the younger women in the practice is who I prefer as alternate (partly because I like her and partly because that's who my regular vet usually consults with!) I could get in to see her Tuesday so we did that.

She didn't find anything on gross exam and drew blood to send out. It turned out he had elevated liver enzymes, the most likely cause being the drugs he is on for his seizures, particularly phenobarbital. A more specific test for liver disease is the bile acids test, so I took him in yesterday for that. They draw blood after fasting overnight, then feed him, and two hours later draw blood again. The fasting bile acid level should be low, but if the bile acids that are excreted when he eats are not removed from the blood stream quickly by the liver, the post-eating bile acids will be high.

If he "flunks" this test he will need a change of medication. We talked about having him go down on phenobarbital and increase slightly the zonisamide, which has little effect on the liver. In some cases just a decrease in phenobarbital returns the liver to normal; in other cases they need to go off it altogether, which we will hope is not Merlin's case as switching over to KBr takes time and with DM, we don't have time to have him feeling bad or ataxic (a side-effect of KBr.)

He's feeling a little better already, appetite mostly back, and he will walk a little. I've been leaving the K9cart with four wheels out in the back yard and carrying him out to it for relief, but using the counterbalanced Eddie's cart on walks. (I don't want him lying down after or while he pees, hence four wheels for that!) It's so easy to lose strength and hard to get it back, so I'm trying to get him to walk every day. If he isn't hungry he won't walk.

I am constantly reminded that Merlin is old enough that he will only die from DM if something else doesn't get him first. In a way, I'd prefer it be something sudden and unquestionable. DM is such a gradual loss that it is hard to know when it is time to let go. Some dogs seem happy and content right up until their breathing is compromised (and would probably continue just as contentedly on a ventilator if that were an option) and others- and I suspect Merlin will be in this category- grow less happy and more frustrated as they lose function. And the caretaker is part of the equation, also, as it takes a lot out of you to be the caretaker, and requires availability that not everyone has.

One of the members of our DM list had a boxer in early stages of DM when she suddenly died (probably cardiomyopathy). Boxer cardiomyopathy is a terrible thing, and a shock to have one go so quickly, but is that really worse than watching her deteriorate and having to make the decision to end her life?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

That terrible DM

Of course I care about DM because of Merlin. But he isn't the only reason, and he wasn't the first reason, I knew about or cared about DM and puppies being born at risk for DM even though a simple test and judicious breeding can now prevent it.

But I handle cart loans for CorgiAid, and one thing I do is lend carts out, about half to dogs with DM, another quarter to undefined maladies that are probably DM. It isn't the lending of carts, though.

It's that they come back. One came back today, with a brief note. "(Our dog) could no longer use the cart and had to be put to sleep."

Then she went on to say, "That terrible DM took her."

It's true no one knows yet how many At Risk dogs, particularly Pems, will get DM, and it is easy, I guess, from the perspective of a breeder who doesn't think she has had it in her lines, to say the risk is small. But from my perspective it isn't 5% or 20% or 30% or 50%. It's 100%. Of the carts we lend to dogs with DM, 100% will come back within a few months to a few years. That terrible DM takes them all.

And that's the reason I'm argumentative and outspoken and even militant about DNA testing. It's too late for Merlin, and it was too late for Poppy. But thousands of puppies are born each year, and if every breeder had started testing for DM in 2008 and avoided breeding At Risk litters, in 2020 I might have stopped getting notes and emails about the ones that terrible DM took.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Maybe I should just feed him at 4 AM?

Merlin has wanted out at 3-4 am the last two mornings. Yes, he does have to go, and because of DM robbing his mobility- and now his ability to go on his own- he needs me to help him get out and go. I'm sleepy, but I can do that, and still get back to sleep.

But then we come back in and he wants to eat and starts to bark. This morning I was determined to ignore him and tried hard to go back to sleep, but I never really slept, and at 6:30 when there was a brief lull in the racket, jumped up to reward the quiet.

Pills, then he barked for another 45 minutes. Finally he stopped and came into the room I was in, so I jumped up and rewarded his effort with breakfast. Now he is sleeping. Maybe feeding him at 4 would have accomplished the same thing and allowed me to get more sleep! But I figure 4 will become 3, then 2, then every hour on the hour if I give in.

He is STILL perfectly happy sleeping out in the car all day, never barks, wonderful peace for all of us, even if I'm in the car with him. But the weather warms and that is going to come to an end soon, and we have six weeks of warm weather before we can leave for Washington. I'm determined to get him to Washington as I think he will be happier there and maybe have a few more good months.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Still having restless nights...

I'm not sure why, but Merlin is still having restless nights. The last two he has wanted turning 5 or 6 times and wanted out to pee and poop around 4 to 5 am. I think he could have a UTI though the only symptom is the restlessness. His urine is so dilute it is hard to tell from that but I may have to take him to the vet this week and check it out. Maybe if I do a urine catch from after all day in the car (when it is more concentrated as he drinks less) they can tell.

During walks and stroller rides and in the car he is still happy. I think part of the problem at home is wanting attention, part is he drinks more, and part is being nervous around the other dogs. Yesterday morning he was up at 5:30 and the only way I got another hour in bed (not asleep) was to lie with my arm on his head for the hour (he won't come up on the bed but he was next to it.)

Monday night update: He whined and barked all day today (he wasn't out sleeping in the car) except for about half an hour after eating and on our walk/ride. It was too warm to take him in the car with me for a noon appointment so I never took him out there. I also thought maybe being awake more of the day would help him sleep tonight. We shall see.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A night with five interruptions...

Since Merlin got me up at 5 on Monday I tried to head to sleep at 9 PM last night. He was sleeping, everything seemed fine. Then, at 10:30, he whined, and I got up and turned him over, but no, he wanted to bark. Finally he dosed off again.

At 11:30 he awoke again. I gave him a Benadryl then, hoping he would sleep.

Then at 12:30. Finally I put him in his cart and carried him and cart outside and expressed him and he pooped. Came back in, went to sleep.

At 3:30 he woke. This time what settled him was bringing him closer to me and holding him a bit, and I also gave him a Rimadyl.

And at 5, just rolled him over, and finally he went back to sleep again.

I awoke at 6:30, he was still sleeping. So maybe the wakefulness was discomfort. We did do a lot of walking yesterday, 3 1/2 blocks in the morning, then 2 at night. It's just so hard to know why he is not sleeping when he isn't sleeping. (Considering his anti-seizure meds he should be sleeping all the time.)

I'm not nearly as tired as I should be but it will probably hit me about the time I get to work. It is free pastry day at Starbucks which probably means no Starbucks due to a long line that I won't have time to wait in. (There really isn't room for a long line at the Starbucks I go to, anyway.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Must you be so stubborn, Merlin?

It is warm now so I walk Merlin this morning at 8 am. We have half an hour to get around the block. Merlin is reluctant to go but happy to cross the street where he tries to pee on the hydrant; I am unable to express anything. Then we toodle on down the block. It is now 8:15 so I attempt to get him to turn around. He plants his feet. Merlin does not like to go back- a walk should end when he says it ends, even if he is too tired to move.

So we go on, past the turn up the alley and start up the long block. Now, almost to the corner as far as we are going to get from my house, he decides he has had enough walking and wants to lie down. He just does not understand that half his walk has to be on the way home!

I find a piece of string and basically drag the cart, with him walking with it, the remaining two blocks. Merlin periodically tries to lie down but I have to go to work.

Next walk the stroller comes along.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Goodbye, Jack

Merlin's friend from the beach, Champion OTCH Golden Road's Jack Straw, who turned 12 last week, finished his four year journey through DM today. Some of you will remember Jack's 11th birthday video.

Jack's 11th birthday video

and the new Scout's house website

Jack has been our shining example of a life as good as it can be for a dog with DM and then from January 2009 with lymphoma. His owner Lila kept him happy and active and engaged right up until today, when she let him go.

Our tears today are not just for Jack and Lila, but for all who ever have or ever will lose a dog to DM, and especially for Merlin, who will continue to follow in Jack's pawprints for awhile longer.

Rest in peace, Jack.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Merlin and his car and why we hate warm weather

Merlin loves to sleep in the car and ride in the car. This past weekend, we left at 5 am Sat for a rally trial in Redwood City. Merlin rode up in the car, napped all day at the trial in the back crate, slept out there, napped all day Sunday, and rode home. Never a peep, he was sleepy, happy, and never grumpy.

FF to Sunday night and Monday night at home: bark, bark, bark and so on.

Monday he slept all afternoon in the car, had his walk, and came in and barked for two hours.

I've been letting him go to work and sleep all day in the car but this week is in the 70s. He'll have to start staying home. I'm thinking of putting a crate in the trailer for a while until it is too hot in there for him and see if he seems happy.

In Washington in summer he can sleep there all day except in the very hottest weather because I can drape the car with reflective tarps and leave all the windows down and it stays cool. Can't do that in Fresno- not only would the tarps be gone, so would the car.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A peaceful night

Yesterday after work (about 5:30) I took Merlin for his usual post-car-day walk. We went two blocks up, two back, he peed and pooped with a little help. Came in, had dinner...and he went to sleep! He dosed until almost 8:30 PM.

This meant no walk for anyone else as there was no way I was going to wake him or let them wake him by barking excitement about a walk. So we just all laid around and enjoyed the quiet. No barking, no fighting, no rowdiness. It was pure bliss.

Eventually I had to wake him for meds but after that he went to sleep without much hassle, and only stirred once before six AM.

It occurred to me maybe he wasn't feeling well but I have to admit I was just going to ENJOY the quiet. Then I also remembered giving him a GABA in the morning yesterday. We'll try that again this morning as he is already starting to bark. Or it could be that he didn't sleep much in the car yesterday as it was windy (though I don't think he'd have heard the wind.)

Now he is barking- I think breakfast was somehow inadequate. I'll double the GABA again and see if the daytime dose made a difference somehow.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Interlude: the DNA test

As many of you know, there is a new test for the inheritance of DM (Degenerative myelopathy.) You can find information on it here: DNA Test

Initially, on hearing the gene had been found, I was delighted, and thought, no one will ever need to breed a dog with that gene again!

Well, as details emerged, it became apparent that in Pems, at least, this was not to be the case. First, although it appears to take two copies of the gene to cause DM, the gene is firmly entrenched in the breed, with up to 50% having the dreaded two copies and another 40% being carriers. (These stats will probably improve as more dogs are tested but won't be anything but dismal.) So not breeding any dogs that have the gene (an SOD1 mutation) is not going to work. There are, to date, precious few clears (no mutated genes) for anyone to breed to, so even breeding dogs to clears is not always a possibility.

A further complication is that not every dog with both copies of the mutated gene (At Risk dogs) get DM. The percentage that do is still unknown but my guess is between 20 and 50%, with the percent increasing with the age of the dog. I hope it is lower, I fear it might be even higher. Nobody knows, but luckily we should know soon, as researchers are testing a large number of dogs over age 10 and following the At Risks to see if they develop the disease.

So it turns out that the best breedings (Carrier or Clear or At Risk to Clear) are hard to come by, and some breeders will have to breed Carrier to Carrier to get Clears for future breeding. Some are adamant that they will not do this and produce a possible DM dog, but I think, being realistic, its going to take one more generation to get enough clears.

So that's the situation, and you'd think Pem breeders would be jumping on board with testing and doing selective breeding. And a few are, but sadly, these are mostly the ones who themselves have nursed a DM dog to the end and know just what kind of heartache this disease produces. Not everyone- I know at least one breeder who has never had the disease in her line but still is breeding to eliminate it, and kudos to her and to everyone else who cares enough to select against the SOD1 mutation.

If you are a puppy buyer, be aware that YOU can ask for the test. It takes only about two weeks to get a $65 cheek swab test done. Put your deposit down contingent on the pup being clear or carrier (neither of these can get DM.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Walking with Merlin

Merlin is walking mostly in the counterbalanced Eddie's Wheels cart now but he can still make it in the K9cart if he has to. He has not become any less stubborn. This morning we walked around the block before work since it was supposed to rain. Which it did, but by 5 it had cleared up, so when we got home he wanted to go again. And he likes to go south, across the road, so we went over there to pee. He peed, anyway, I didn't, though I was beginning to wish I'd gone at work before starting home.

Because then he refused to go home. I put the leash on his cart and pulled; he planted his feet and refused to move. I gave in and we walked to the corner, turned, and started up the alley. No wwwayy.... he planted his feet again. I pulled without giving in this time. Finally we got home and got dinner (he wanted some kitty snacks on the way which I refused to allow.)

I've started expressing him but it is hard as his bladder is SO full and stretched (he drinks a ton) and then when it gets partly empty it becomes flaccid and hard to find or squeeze. He does better with a Robaxin so I'm going to give him one in a few minutes so he can empty before bedtime.

Merlin has also decided March 1 should be daylight savings time so he has started waking at 5:30 AM instead of 6:30.

Speaking of life with stubborn corgis, check out our friend Dancer on Draw the Dog.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The world's most stubborn corgi

Corgis are none for their stubbornness, but Merlin has to be one of the most stubborn ever.

DM has not changed that!

Here's our day: I get up and give the dogs their pills, and take Candy out. Then I put Merlin in his cart. I cannot take him out then- he won't go. I have to sit down and wait for him to decide to take himself out. As soon as I am comfy again he gets up and heads as fast as he can for the back door. Now I have to jump up again because he can't open the door or take his own diaper off. I help him out and then I ignore him as he does his own thing in the yard.

Then he comes back to the ramp, at which point I am permitted to help him again. Once inside, he wants a treat as a reward for going out. But he lies down in the doorway to the utility room, which means I can't give Janine a treat because I can't close the door, and that means I can't give Merlin a treat, either, without risking a fight. So I pull him through the door, but as I go to the door to give Janine her treat he backs up into the doorway again.

This is not accidental; long before his cart days Merlin learned that a dog IN the doorway cannot be locked on either side of it.

Later, we go for a walk. Merlin is good for about four blocks, which take him about half an hour. But we can't walk two blocks there and then turn around and come back, because he won't turn around until HE is done walking. So either I take the stroller, go the four blocks, then wheel him home, or we have to go around the block or cross the road to come back. Several times I tried sneaking up the alley on the return trip but he figured out that was the same as coming back early and refuses to do it.

I should add that Merlin is not the only corgi I know that will only go on one-way walks. Martha, next door, is the exact same way.

Merlin likes to choose which direction to go at the corners, also.

So you might wonder, why don't I just make him go where I want him to? Well, because that involves pulling him while he plants his feet and refuses to move. Or carrying him. (Merlin is a great proponent of loose-leash walking- if I pull, he refuses to move.)

When we get home he does the door thing again. He will go through the door not ahead of me, but with me, even though he needs me behind him to help him through and close the door.

At least it is good to know that DM has not affected his personality. Or is it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Disabled Corgi Doga

Since I've never done yoga I didn't know the benefits, but now that I've experienced DCD (Disabled Corgi Doga) I can appreciate yoga.

Here are some of the poses. I am auditioning people to demonstrate these moves in photo form; please send your pictures and if acceptable, I will add them to this post!

Downward Expressing Dog: with dog in cart, bend at the waist, until hands are just inches from the ground and around the dog's bladder. Squeeze. Hold position as long as it takes the dog to do his part.

Variation: Downward diapering dog: Instead of squeezing the bladder, diaper the dog.

Standing Forward Stirrup bend: from a stand, lean forward until you can catch the dog's back feet and insert them into stirrups. (It is not recommended to do this after a full meal.)

Tripping Dancer pose: lift one foot as though to take a step. Dog quickly rolls cart into position in which you would normally put the foot down. Hold pose as long as you can or until you fall into Gasping Fish pose, which involves lying on the ground hoping nothing is broken.

Attempting to sleep pose: Lie on back (or side if you prefer) until disabled dog wants something (this should take no more than a few minutes at most.) Attempt to satisfy dog without getting up.

Upward-standing dogmom: Move your mattress to the floor to keep your disabled dog company, and then rise from your bed to a standing position. This pose may be done in sequence with the attempting to sleep pose.

Hands and knees balance: get down on hands and knees and sniff carpet. Slowly move forward until you locate source of smell. Holding the pose, lift one arm and spray Nature's Miracle (or your preferred odor eliminator) on the spot. Repeat until you achieve peace of nose.