As I type, the dogs and I have retired north for the summer to bask in Western New York sunshine and relish time with our family, which is precisely what we do every summer when school lets out and I am left to my own devices for two months. My city-fied pups roam the 24 acres and lay in the grass and walk the canal – all things that dogs are supposed to do. We regroup, we recharge, and we relax.
Last summer I took to walking the dogs along the Erie Canal in the early mornings and late evenings when all was quiet and we had the path to ourselves. That’s when I noticed it – the faint lagging step that broke the silence. It wasn’t obvious at first, and I had to check all legs of Miah and Ivan to find that it was appearing in Miah’s back right leg. After such an amazing year off medication and playing like a dog half her age, I was alarmed at the favoring of the hind leg, the same one I remember she initially injured in her fall on the ice.
I made note of it, hoping it was exhaustion or a tumble in the grass chasing her ball, but the slight lagging became exaggerated by the end of the summer, and it was a noticeable drag. Because Cindy had been traveling all August before I moved to Virginia, Miah hadn’t been seen and no treatment started – something I wish now had been different. Still, she was happy and energetic and her slight limp wasn’t slowing her down at all.
By the time October rolled around, Miah was still limping in the back but now I would find blood on the floor when she returned from a walk. Turns out, she was dragging enough on that leg that she wore down her nails and they were responsible for the bleed. I bought boots to protect her feet, and in no time things seemed to clear up. Until her left hind leg started to show weakness, and dragging occurred there, too. I knew in my heart this lameness was a direct result of her disease, but she still ran and loved walking like a normal dog. She’d jump up on the bed with ease, and so I felt this was a hiccup that could be remedied when we returned home for Christmas. I would book an appointment with Cindy and she’d save my dog – again.
By Christmas, Miah was going through boots right and left, wearing holes into the toes. We would bandage her, tape them, and hope the boot wouldn’t fall off somewhere along the walk. She became increasingly weak in the hind quarters, and the wood floor in my apartment was now causing her concern. She would walk gingerly from area rug to area rug, slipping in the back when her feet came in contact with the smooth surface. Her house went from being safe and comfortable to a living nightmare for us both.
In hindsight I guess I didn’t realize how quickly my dog was actually regressing, simply because her spirits were high and I have a knack for denial.
Miah saw Cindy in December, and the verdict was that she would need constant treatment if we were to be able to slow the progression. The Systemic Lupus caused a breakdown in her nervous system, and the nerves in her back legs were numb and not receiving the messages her brain was sending. Cindy assured me that while some dogs felt pain, that odd sensation your feet are asleep, Miah felt nothing. No pain, no discomfort, just complete lack of coordination – with a dash of humiliation whenever she fell.
Cindy referred me to a vet in Northern Virginia, and she is seen bi-weekly for acupuncture and is on several herbal supplements to help maintain the acupuncture’s effect. Of course, this vet is triple the cost given the area in which we live, but anything for my girl.
Miah has lost the ability to use her back legs, pretty much entirely. I support her using a scarf around her hips – and while she has gained a little feeling back, her muscle is gone. She “walks” her back legs, sometimes very well, and the additional support I can offer keeps her from falling on our walks. She has learned to listen to my voice, as I have to walk several steps behind her head, and she knows “turn”, “this way”, and other directional commands. My girl is smart.
Miah has the will, just not the way. She still wants to play with her toys, and I’m convinced she would drag her body a mile for dinner. She loves to roll, loves to cuddle, and loves to play tugs – even if it means she stays stationary while we do the tugging.
Miah lets me know how she feels- she shows me the good days with her desire to play and to attempt her own walking, and the bad days when I need to pick up the slack. She has changed her bark for me so I know that when I’m in the other room, she needs help to get on the couch. She talks to me constantly, and I listen to every word she says. When she tells me that it’s too much – I’ll know.
The vets tell me she isn’t in pain – which, if she were, would be the end. The disease will most likely continue to creep up her body, and in time will take over more than just her ability to walk. Kidney failure is common, so I am watching her like a hawk.
In the meantime, I realize that every moment with my best friend is a sacred one. Every obnoxious thing she does I absolutely cherish. When she celebrates her 9th birthday on July 6th (the day I brought this crazy dog home) I will recall fondly the years I have spent chasing her down the street after she jumped the fence and the million cats and squirrels she’s run after for fun. Though I rescued Miah 9 years ago, it was Ivan and I who were rescued the moment she came into our lives.
But now I must run – Miah wants to go for a walk on the farm…
(And sadly – Miah’s journey ended on July 3rd, 2015 under a beautiful tree on our farm. Her tribute post can be found here)