Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog: A True Story

You guys! I just made a few friend and I wanted you to meet her, too! Today, we have with us Sharon, a lovely lady who has been kind enough to share with us her story of Sophie, her beloved dog who became paralyzed midway through her life and who is the inspiration behind her blog “Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog.” Please give her a big welcome as she opens up to us about some of the details in living with a special needs dog.

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Crepes: Your blog is called “Lessons From a Paralyzed Dog” and is written about your dog Sophie, who became paralyzed due to an undiagnosed illness. Tell me, how did you notice that something was going wrong with Sophie’s health? What were the first signs?

Sharon: The first signs that something was wrong with Sophie were very subtle. My husband and I walked our three dogs, Sophie, Shadow, and Cody around the three mile path in our neighborhood nearly every day and we noticed the first sign during the walks. At first Sophie started walking slower than usual and stopped for breaks. We poked fun at the idea she was becoming an old lady because she was ten years old. Soon after, we saw her back legs slip out from under her during our walks as if she walked on something slick. I got suspicious and paid more attention to the situation and realized she was starting to slip inside the house too. Soon after that, we went to the vet. Sophie’s condition deteriorated very slowly. It took six months for her to be completely paralyzed.

C: Many people would have re-homed an animal with Sophie’s needs, but you didn’t. Why?

S: She had been part of our family for 10 years so the thought of giving her up never entered our minds. I adopted her from the city shelter when she was about 4 months-old. Sophie was my little girl and we would never give her away or give up on her just because she was disabled. However, many of my friends thought we were crazy to be her caregivers for five years.

Sophie in her bed.

Sophie in her bed.

C: Did you ever feel like Sophie’s needs were too much for you to handle?

S: Yes. The two roughest times were when she first became paralyzed because we didn’t have the skills and then again in the last few months of her life. She became very fussy about eating and was rapidly losing weight. It became very stressful trying to cook food that she enjoyed eating. We tried chicken and rice, soups, hot dogs, hamburger and rice, baby food… anything I could think of. Sophie was a big fan of McDonald’s chicken nuggets so there were many nights when I made a late night run to pick some up. I knew she was really sick when she stopped eating them. One morning I spent two hours tearing through everything in my refrigerator trying to find something that she liked. (It turned out that she was developing a tumor in her stomach and although she couldn’t feel any pain because of the paralysis, it must have upset her stomach when she ate.) She acted very excited to see the food, but simply couldn’t get it down.

C: Were you able to go out of town and leave the house for long periods? How did you prepare Sophie if leaving was required?

S: The first 18 months my husband Ken and I didn’t leave our house for more than 4 hours at a time. (We work from home). Finally, we were exhausted and I searched for a pet sitter who was willing to help. I wrote a story called Practically Perfect Pet Sitter because we found a woman named Claire to take care of not only Sophie but all of our pets. Claire still helps us today. At first, we went on day trips and finally progressed to being away longer, but I don’t think we were ever gone more than 4 days at a time. I prepared with massive training sessions for Claire, especially about expressing Sophie’s bladder. I left tons of written instructions for Claire. She could always reach us by phone and she knew how to reach neighbors and our vet. We were in constant communication during every trip.

C: What do you think is the greatest lesson that you learned from Sophie?

S: That’s a good question. There are so many important lessons, but I hadn’t thought about the greatest lesson. Maybe it would be that life is constantly changing and when someone you love is handed a challenge, you don’t give up or hand the problem to someone else. You adapt.

Sophie and her friend Shadow

Sophie and her friend Shadow

C: What do you hope to inspire with your blog?

S: I hope my blog will be a resource to owners with special needs pets. I want to share the life lessons I learned from Sophie’s experience and also share information about resources for products and services for disabled pets. I had to hunt around for information. It would have been nice to find one page that answered my questions. I want to be that resource.

C: Is there anything I left out that you’d like our readers to know?

S: I would like them to know that while it’s a gift to help your disabled pet live with their handicap, you also have to recognize when to let go and say goodbye.

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There it is, guys! I want everyone to know that if you have a special needs pet, and you’re going through a hard time,  you’re not alone. There is a whole community for you to find help and support, and sharing real stories like Sharon’s are an important part of that! Please stop by at Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog to say hello and find more stories about living with special needs pets.

Love,

Crepes.

PS. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! It’s a big event here in Chicago, so I wore my t-shirt in support! This is after a big night of staying up late waiting for the river to turn green. Love, O’Crepes.

Me in my festive T-shirt. What do you think?

Me in my festive “kiss me, I’m Chi-rish”  T-shirt. What do you think?

Adopting A Blind Dog: What You Need To Know

You guys!

If you recall, I recently did an article with Tree House on what it’s like to adopt a blind kitty. Well, we couldn’t leave out our doggie friends! Today, we have with us Karen Belfi of Blind Dog Rescue Alliance to answer some of our questions about adopting and living with dogs who are vision impaired.

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Crepes: Welcome, Karen! Please tell me a bit about BlindDogRescue.org.  It seems that you don’t have a specific physical location, but that you are a network across the US and Canada. Is that correct?
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Karen Belfi: Yes. We have a series of foster homes throughout the US and Canada. Since we formed in August 2009, we have rescued over 300 blind and visually impaired dogs.
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C: Excellent! Some of the dogs that you have rescued aren’t completely blind but have impaired night vision or other difficulties. What are some of the other forms of blindness that one might encounter?
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KB: There are many causes of blindness. Cataracts and glaucoma are two common causes. PRA, or progressive retinal atrophy, starts off with night blindness, then the dog eventually loses all vision. Diabetes can cause blindness. Some dogs are born without eyes, or very small, malformed eyes. Injury can cause blindness as well.
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C: What is it like to care for a blind dog?
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KB: Really, they are like any other dog. They react differently to situations, depending on the individual dog. I have a dog with no eyes, Pete, whom I fostered for BDRA, and ended up adopting. He can adapt to anything! We moved a couple of weeks ago, and he learned the layout of the new house (and big yard) in a few hours. You can see him just walk the perimeter figuring things out. My other blind dog, Mabel, took longer to figure things out. It’s very individual. Most dogs adapt to blindness very well.
Blind dog "Malcolm" having a meet and greet.

Blind dog “Malcolm” having a meet and greet.

C: Are there any particular household dangers that someone caring for a blind dog should look out for, such as dangerous furniture, stairs, etc.?
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KB: Stairs, of course, are a concern until the dog learns where they are. Anything that can puncture the eye, like branches, are a concern, if the dog still has eyes. This is why ophthalmologists will sometimes recommend removing a dog’s eye(s) if they are blind.
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C: What is it like to take a blind dog out for a walk? Do you always need to take the same route?
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KB: Pete pulls like any other dog! He just plows right along as if he could see. We try to get our blind dogs and fosters used to different situations. We take them everywhere – into pet stores, into the city, to the park – to get them used to noises, smells, etc. We try to make them as independent and confident as possible.
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C: Do blind dogs like to explore their environments?
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KB: They do. Their noses tend to work VERY well, so they use them to explore and figure out where they are. We teach a couple basic commands to them. “Watch” is for when something is in their way. They learn to slow down and feel for what’s there. “Step” is for when there are stairs, a curb, etc. They start to slow down and feel for the step.
This doggie's rolling in the grass so far he's blurry!

This doggie’s rolling in the grass so fast he’s blurry! No camera could catch his awesome!

C: Can you teach a blind dog to play fetch using a sound toy, or is that not something you’d want to have a blind dog performing?
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KB: I have a rubber ball that has a bell in it. Pete loves to play fetch with it. We have also gotten some tennis balls with bells in them that the dogs love to play with. There are other noisy balls and toys they can use.
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C: Can you leave a blind dog unattended in the same way you would a sighted dog?
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KB: This would also depend on the individual dog. Does the dog know the area well? Is the dog a chewer? Will the dog get into things in your absence? Are stairs blocked off? Our dogs do fine left alone. They know exactly where the stairs are, and do not tend to get into things.
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C: Please walk us through how you would teach a blind dog to perform the basic command “sit.”
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KB: It’s really the same as any other dog. Tap their bottom, or hold the biscuit high above their nose to position them to sit, then treat.
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C: How can our readers assist BlindDogRescue.org if they’re interested in helping further? What do you need the most?
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KB: We ALWAYS need volunteers. Of course we always want foster homes, but if you can’t foster, we definitely need your help!
We need people to do lots of things-organize transports for fosters (you don’t have to drive to do this!), check adoption applications, contact shelters with blind dogs, attend local events, check volunteer applications, etc. Lots of things. If anyone wants to help, they can fill out the volunteer app on our website.
FACT: Children love blind dogs.

FACT: Children love blind dogs.

C: Is there anything you’d like to mention that I’ve forgotten?
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KB: I think the main thing to know about blind dogs is that they are all individual. Many people tend to assign character traits to a blind dog. “He’s scared of other dogs, because he is blind.” “He should have another dog with him, because he is blind.” Really, that depends on the dog. Some blind dogs are scared of other dogs. But, some sighted dogs are too. Ditto having another dog in the house. Some do better, some do better as an only dog. Each dog is so individual. They’re dogs first, blind second!
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That’s it, everyone! A wonderful thanks to Karen Belfi for her help with this piece. I hope this article opens your eyes to the awesomeness of blind dogs. If you’re considering adopting one, here are some more resources for you to look at:
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You see those photos above? That’s Malcolm. Tomorrow, we meet Malcolm, who just so happens to be looking for a home, no pun intended.
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Love,
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Crepes.
**photos provided by Margaret D. of BDRA – Thank you! **
PS. Last chance to enter The Honest Kitchen Quickies Valentine’s giveaway! Just leave a comment and let me know you want an entry! (and make sure I have your email there in case you win!)

Confession Friday: I Draw Nudes

It’s true. What’s worse is that, sometimes, my models are dogs. I mean, they’re not ugly, they’re literally dogs. This is a portrait I did of my grandFODs’ dog Jilly. As you can see, she’s nude. It was a Christmas gift for them.

Jilly, nude.

Jilly, nude.

Anyway, that’s all for now. What do you have to confess? Tell me.

Love,

Crepes.