Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rite of Winter

I have been reading Jon Katz's new book, "Coming Home, Finding Peace when Pets Die." I don't agree with everything he says, but the vast majority touches on the kind of decisions and loss and grieving that come with DM. It would be a good book to read before losing a dog, or while trying to make the decision to let him go, or after.

About the time I started reading the book, Woody's owner took his ashes to his favorite spot and scattered them. I thought about Merlin's ashes. I had left for California soon after he was euthanized and my mother had picked them up at the vet's office. Sometime this past summer I collected them from her shelf and brought them home. They were in a small cardboard box, taped closed. Too small. I put them on the shelf where I also have Luka's urn and a plastic box with Teddy's remains. The rest of my dogs are back in Fresno.

I have a plan to have their ashes combined with mine and scattered after my death, and have been looking for a large, unbreakable urn to keep them in. The other day it occurred to me that a new paint can would work, and I bought one.

I wanted to scatter some of Merlin's ashes in a special place, and I chose the ADA trail where we took our last walk together. It wasn't Merlin's favorite spot, but it was the one place that was just his and mine. The last time we were there I pushed him in the stroller. It was the first day he was sick, late December. None of the other dogs had been there, and I had not been able to go back this summer or fall, though I thought about it each time I drove past the turnoff.

I waited for a sunny day, which, in the winter in Washington, was a long wait. We had a high sitting over the state but the days were cloudy and foggy and cold. But today we woke to clear skies and sun.

I decided to take Oliver. Just as I always felt that Mandy, my first heart dog and first dog as an adult, sent Merlin to me, I feel that Merlin had a role in Oliver's arrival. I knew his owner because of this blog, for one thing. And if I needed another sign, it came when another friend named her red brindle Cardigan Merlin. Oliver, I knew, was a red brindle Cardigan. And Oliver had been DNA tested and was DM-clear.

So it was appropriate for Oliver to be the one who first shared Merlin's spot with me. We drove there; it is only about five minutes from my cabin. I left Oliver in the car and started off. As soon as I began to walk I started to cry. I walked up the trail to a bend where the light was streaming in through the trees. There I opened the box, finding a nice metal urn inside. I unscrewed the lid and tore open the plastic bag, and with my hand, scattered ashes to the light breeze. Not all of them, just some. And then I said "Goodbye, Merlin. I loved you so much and I will always love you."

I returned to the car and got Oliver out and into his cart, and we walked the ADA loop together. No one else was around, so I let Oliver off leash to run. I knew he didn't need an ADA trail but I wanted to share it with another dog, and he was the right one. He raced happily down the trail until, near where I had scattered the ashes, I put him back on the leash, and we walked back to the car.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Testing Rescue Corgis for DM

A well-respected rescuer asked the question, would you do a DM DNA test on a rescue dog at the request of a potential adopter? She concluded that she would not, stating that the genetics of the dog were not her responsibility as a rescuer, and she would not want to know the status because then she would have to disclose it to any other potential adopters. She was asking what other rescuers think about the issue. The following is based on my response.

I agree it is a tough question but I would do it if asked. My reason has more to do with placing the dog in the right home. If someone is set on a dog being
DM carrier or clear, she isn't going to adopt an untested dog, I know this for myself as I will not put myself through that again, and I have heard it from many, many other owners who have lost dogs to DM. Regardless what anyone says to the contrary, DM is more heartbreaking than any other way I have lost a dog, it is a slow death that breaks your heart, it has no clear end point, and the emotional toll is high.

Oliver has IVDD, but his DM status is clear.

For those who don't know me, I have adopted three wheelchair corgis, all with IVDD. I would not adopt a corgi At Risk for DM, having lived through it with Merlin. Paraplegia did not put me off adopting my latest corgi, but had he not been clear or carrier, that would have. When the test was first available I thought I would be able to adopt an at risk dog, but by the time of Merlin's death I realized I could never face this disease again in a dog I loved.

I had an email yesterday from an owner who has just lost two DM corgis, she is leaving the breed. She may reconsider if she can find a tested pup but right now she is too devastated to consider it. And tested, clear or carrier dogs are not easy to find.

Another owner who has lost a dog to DM stated adamantly that she would not adopt a rescue or buy a puppy that wasn’t tested, even if she had to change breeds.

So saying no to testing means the potential adopter who asked for the test will not adopt this dog, period. Saying no to testing does nothing to help the dog get a home. Chances are reasonably good that the dog is carrier or clear, I firmly believe the incidence of DM is higher in well-bred corgis than in others. I tested my own rescues and got two carriers and a clear. By not testing you are removing the chance that adopter will adopt that dog. For an easy to place, highly desirable dog, that may be fine. But what about the dog that is going to take some time to place? Can you afford to refuse a home that might be the right one?

The difficulty in testing is that you, the rescuer, now know the dog's DM status, and have the ethical dilemma of telling the next potential adopter or not. For me, that isn't an issue, as I believe you have that same dilemma if you don't test, do you tell all your adopters the dog might be at risk for DM? Ethically, since you know it is true that he might be, do you inform them about the disease?

If, for example, 1 in 10 dogs with at risk genes get DM (and I think that is a very low estimate), then 1 in 20 untested dogs get it. Are you, a corgi rescuer, telling all of your adopters their corgi has a 1 in 20 chance of getting DM? Then why would you feel obligated to tell them there is a 1 in 10 chance?

For some rescuers as well as some breeders, that is the issue. They would rather not know. I don't know what I would do. I stopped actively rescuing when Merlin got DM and then Janine developed an autoimmune disease and is on immuno-suppressants for life. We can't introduce new germs from new dogs, so I don't have to answer that question. I might take a "they don't ask, I don't tell" approach, but I would feel guilty about it. But as I said, I would feel the same about placing an untested dog. I don't think you would have to euthanize an at risk corgi, there are enough people at least today who have not experienced the disease and would even knowingly take a chance. But they are not the people asking the question,

As we learn more about DM- what percent of At Risk dogs get the disease, for example- the question may become easier- or harder- to decide.

There is an advantage to knowing the status. It makes more sense to place an at risk corgi with someone who is sure to be strong and healthy when the dog reaches its senior years, to avoid homes with lots of steps, or owners with health issues that might interfere with caring for a disabled dog. You can't know the whole future, but you can guess at some of it.

I do think if you allow testing it is perfectly reasonable to ask the requesting potential adopter to pay for it. In some circumstances such as crowded foster homes or a dog in great demand I think it would also be reasonable to include the stipulation that if another good home comes along without the testing requirement the dog will be placed and not held for the adopter who is waiting for test results.

But I do think rescuers will be faced with this question more and more often as the incidence of DM grows, and will be losing potential homes if they do not adopt a pro-testing policy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Llyr's DM Blog

Our friend Llyr has his own blog now, which you can find at Llyr's Blog

I encourage anyone with a corgi or other dog with DM to start a blog. If you aren't a writer, do it with pictures. It is a nice record to have, it helps educate others, and it helps the owner to see the changes in her own dog as time goes by, something that is harder to do on a day to day basis. Millie Williams suggested it to me soon after Merlin's diagnosis and now I am grateful to have kept it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Four months after Merlin

I'm making Cheese Growlers for the dogs. The last time I made them was for Merlin, a Cheese Growler was the last treat he enjoyed before he got too sick to eat. At times like this I start missing him a lot. Most of the time I'm busy, surrounded by my three corgis, and have plenty to do, but sometimes reminders come.

I'm reminded whenever I do a new entry in the blog for Merlin's Friends. It has been a hard winter. Murphy left a few weeks ago; he and Merlin had run together at CPE Nationals in Elk Grove, CA in 2006, and now DM has claimed them both. Arthur is gone. Lulu left last week. I still find it hard to write about these things without tears.

It's going to be a little sad to return to Washington where we left Merlin. My mom picked up his ashes after I left for California. All my memories up there are of Merlin- I didn't have time to make any "after Merlin" memories. But I know the other dogs will benefit from more of my time and ability to go places Merlin could not go. We'll make more Corgi meetups- last year it either had to be accessible for a stroller or shady enough to leave him in the car. We'll get to the beach more often.

Merlin's cart (which I ran over just before he died) is in Oregon with Cochise, having been repaired and adjusted to fit Co, who has IVDD but was weakened to the point of needing front wheels.

On the DM front, the first of the At Risks have developed DM. I don't know what the percentages will turn out to be, but "At Risk" starts to take on a very somber meaning when a dog that was "At Risk" as a seven or eight year old is now a ten or eleven year old corgi with DM. One friend is waiting to see if her two girls, ten-year old daughters of her DM dog and both At Risk, will develop the disease. Other friends have dogs that are much younger and are waiting to learn what chance there is they, too, will develop DM.

There is good news, especially on the DM-testing and breeding front. More breeders are testing, and among those that are, some are finding clears. An influential Pembroke breeder in California just started testing (far from the first; Calfornia has been ahead of the curve in DM-testing.) More litters that are only clear and carriers are being born, and more puppy buyers are insisting on testing. I think the tide may be starting to turn; there are holdouts, of course, but eventually they will be the minority.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wheelchairs for Corgis- What to buy!

As cart coordinator for CorgiAid I've seen the good wheelchairs and I've seen the bad ones. And believe me, there are bad ones out there. Expect to pay $300-$500 for a quality corgi wheelchair, new, 50-70% of that used. If it is $200 or $150, buyer beware.

A good wheelchair cart for any corgi needs to start as a supportive two-wheel cart. It should have a saddle, hard or soft, that the legs fit into. A support band in the abdominal region is NOT enough support. There are several carts out there in the "cheapy" category that do not have saddles.

The cart should be made to fit or be adjustable to fit your dog. Wheels should be not be trike wheels or wagon wheels. PVC parts are bad news- they break.

For a dog with DM you also need to consider use as he weakens in front. Look at the K9 Cart companies (one is in Maryland and one in Washington State; we have links at Corgiaid . Both have adjustable carts with good support and eventually front swivel wheels. Merlin used a K9 Carts west cart. Another good cart for DM is Doggon Wheels; the wheels can be slightly counterbalanced and then later front wheels added. Ruffrollin, by a former Doggon employee, has a similar design. And Eddie's Wheels has the best counterbalancing, either with a variable axle cart or adding counterbalance after it is needed (don't order it this way) to a regular cart. Their front wheels are not the best as they do not swivel but are okay for indoor use.

Please stay away from the cheap carts! A cart is worth nothing if your dog won't or can't use it; it is priceless if he loves it and gets two more years of mobility out of it. Isn't the difference worth ten dollars a month?

For more information about wheelchair carts and caring for corgis and other dogs with mobility issues, see "Corgis on Wheels"- the book- available at

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Daily Corgi

The Daily Corgi successfully raised $3500 earmarked for DM research.. but it doesn't stop at $3500! Because they raised more than $2500, funds up to $100,000 can go to the same DM research projects. This is a 40-fold increase of your donations! Talk about matching funds!

Raising money for DM Research- $3500
Gaining corporate and other money for the same research= $100,000
Awareness of DM and the need for research and testing- PRICELESS!!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the cause and especially to those who shared their corgi's story as one of the "Faces of DM."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

After Merlin

Merlin's story is over but there are so many, many more stories of corgis with DM that we have added a new blog called "Merlin's Friends."

There is a lot to sort out and put away after a dog with DM dies. I started up in Washington cleaning his bed and crate out of the car so that we could pack to return to California. I also cleaned up his bedding in two places in the house and washed all the various fleece and Pooch pads.

Two strollers stayed in Washington and the one down here in California will come in handy this week as Candy has a pressure sore and is out of his cart for awhile.

I had been hoping to let Candy inherit Merlin's cart but ran over it a few days after Merlin quit walking so instead it went to Vicki in Eugene who is going to try to rehab it and use it for her IVDD dog, and then eventually maybe it will be useful as a 2-wheel cart again. Basically I bent the strut on one wheel and slightly tweaked the back bar, it is actually amazing how well it stood up to being run over.

The first morning after Merlin's death I slept almost ten hours. Sleep deprivation was one of the worst things to deal with for me (other than the direct effects on Merlin.) I never, knock on wood, had my back go out during the time he needed help though it has in the past.

The trip to Fresno was easier than it would have been in terms of packing as we came home with only three dogs, three crates, and no strollers. Harder in another way- about midway through Oregon is a sign for the turnoff to "Merlin, Oregon," and every other trip for thirteen years (twice a year) I would say, "Merlin, its your town!" This time I saw the sign and started to cry.

Back in Fresno I moved the bed back into the bedroom and we started taking three-dog, no stroller walks, which are much faster and a little simpler, though the fact the three have to stay on leash all the way does cramp our style a bit. Ironically, the city put curb cuts into two intersections on our walk which I had avoided with Merlin in the past.

I really miss having Merlin in the car when I drive. I've taken Jack places but he has to ride in a crate so it isn't the same thing. I want to try him with a seat belt so at least I can tell he is with me in the car.

So life goes on. I am trying to focus more attention on the other three dogs as they were sadly neglected the past few years. Janine has started sleeping on the bed with me, a privilege she only reluctantly shares with Jack. I am glad I have them.