Our dog, Jasper, is a 6 year old black and tan dachshund, and I love the little guy. I love the way he trots a few steps ahead of me when we walk, little tail straight up in the air, bum wiggling with each step and head held high, moving with all the confidence in the world. When I watch him strut down the street, I am reminded of John Travolta’s strut in the movie “Saturday Night Fever,” and the song Staying Alive hums in my head.
Many of us take little animals into our homes for companionship. In no time at all, our pets have made their way into our hearts, and daily life has changed. We go on regular walks and enjoy the fresh air more often. We improve our patience waiting on pets’ frequent sniff inspections, exchanging pleasantries with neighbours while we wait as our canines greet each other in their own special way. We all make new friends.
At home, we accept being stalked by our four legged companions, from the washroom to the bedroom to the kitchen and then back again. We nestle into the comforting warmth of the furry little body that soothes us, adoration pouring from almond shaped eyes that seem to peer into our soul. We know we are loved.
How often it is that we don’t fully realize how valuable and how much a part of our family unit our pets are until something happens to them.
My story began with a little whimper followed by a wee yelp by my dog Jasper. His discomfort seemed to be triggered by occasional movements he made, but not when he walked, sat, slept or when I massaged his whole body, back and front, trying to determine what was wrong.
I took Jasper to my veterinarian, Dr. Nicole Nicolson at Heartland Animal Hospital in Mount Forest. He was examined, medicated and x-rayed by Dr. Nicolson and diagnosed with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). Jasper was experiencing neck pain due to the disease. Alarmed at Jasper’s condition, Dr. Nicholson immediately contacted the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College to arrange a follow up appointment.
The morning of the appointment, as I carried him from the car through the doors of the Small Animal Clinic at the University, his state had moved beyond yelps to a continuous weak, moaning cry. It was the sound of a little creature in pain. My heart was pounding, and my knees felt weak as tears gathered in my eyes. I was so afraid. And I silently prayed for my little darling.
I will never forget standing at the Admissions desk at the clinic, unable to talk. I really didn’t need to speak because the woman looking through the glass was already on the phone calling for «immediate help because there was a little dog in pain.» She had heard Jasper’s cries as soon as we came in the door and responded before I even reached her.
A trio swooped around us, and one person gently took Jasper, still wrapped in his blanket, from my arms. It was so fast that I was astonished at the efficiency. Dr. Guillaume LeBlond Neurology Intern, and Jennifer Robbins, a final year student from the Veterinary College of P.E.I., led us to a room to talk about Jasper. Dr. LeBlond explained that they would examine Jasper immediately, give him medication for the pain, and get back to us with their findings. Once Dr. LeBlond left the room, Jennifer counseled us, asking questions about Jasper and his symptoms, while taking notes. Her competence created a calming effect and relieved us of our tension and fear.
The diagnosis was just as Dr. Nicolson had determined, IVDD. Normally, discs between each of the bones in the back cushion the joints. With IVDD, the firm outer portion of these discs breaks down, allowing the softer tissue inside to protrude, placing pressure on the spinal cord. This can occur at any point along the neck or back. The more the spinal cord is pinched, the less able it is to carry signals to and from the brain.
There are several stages of disc disease, and the severity is based on how much the affected disc is disrupting communication. In earlier stages, there is pain – yelping when moving, reluctance to jump up and go up/down stairs or move gingerly. As the disease progresses, more pressure is placed on the cord until, eventually, the brain cannot communicate with the limbs. In the later stages, the animal loses the ability to move the limbs and, eventually, all feeling.
If it is caught early, some pets can be treated with rest, pain medications and muscle relaxants. If the pain persists after treatment or if there are any signs the brain and limbs are having difficulty communicating, surgery is required. Once he had assessed Jasper’s condition, Dr. LeBlond let us know surgery was the solution for Jasper.
Surgery has an 80% to 90% success rate, depending on the point in the disease at which the surgery occurs as well as the length of time the pressure has been on the spinal cord. In Jasper’s case, it was at a more advanced emergency stage and prolonged pressure on the spinal cord could result in loss of function. Dr. LeBlond recommended we proceed with an MRI to locate the specific disc that was causing the problem. Once that was determined, surgeons could eliminate pressure on the cord by removing the disc material, which would then allow communication to flow between the brain and body once again.
Dr LeBlond told us with great compassion all that we needed to know as well as the advice to make a decision quickly.
My husband and I looked at each other. “Ken,” I asked him, “can we live without Jasper in our lives?” The look in his eyes said “no,” and we let Dr. LeBlond know we were ready to go ahead.
The care and attention Jasper received at the University of Guelph Small Animal Clinic during Jasper’s three day stay was wonderful. Dr LeBlond phoned us the evening after the surgery to report, “You will not believe the difference in Jasper the past 24 hours. He is walking, eating, and comfortable.» Jennifer Robbins continued to contact us, providing twice daily reports on Jasper’s condition during his time at the clinic. We knew step-by-step how Jasper’s treatment was progressing from MRI to surgery to recovery. Jasper was in incredibly good hands.
We were able to bring the little guy home 3 days after we first took him to the clinic. Jasper was placed on strict rest for a month with orders that there was to be: no jumping, no stairs, no exuberant play, and walks on a leash only for bathroom duties. To prevent Jasper from disobeying and running, we used a body harness (no neck leads). We were thrilled to watch a progressive return to normal activity level once he was home.
Our experience with Jasper gave us firsthand exposure to the talent, compassion and sincerity of individuals in the field of veterinary medicine. They were there when we needed them. They understood us and the bond we have with our pet. And they just cared. The treatment was not without cost, but the return was immeasurable. Our pets extend and beautify our lives, and yes, they complete us too.
Jasper is home and back to his usual quirky, happy, wonderful, funny, and stubborn self again. And I love it.
To Dr. Nicolson, Dr. LeBlond, and the many other Veterinary professionals, thank you for what you provide and for all the human and little animal lives that you touch and make better.