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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.