About 16 months ago, we came downstairs for breakfast just like any normal day. However, just as we rounded the corner from the hallway into the kitchen to prepare the breakfast of champions for Barney, Archie and Maisy, it was clear that all was not well.
Sat in the hallway with a look of panic and bewilderment etched on her face was my then 6 year old rescue basset, Maisy. We'd had Maisy around 3 years by this time and her life is a tale of woes. Born into the misery of a puppy farm in South Wales, she was used solely for the purpose of churning out money making puppies for a farmer that didn't give a sh*t about her welfare. Kept in a box and beaten by her owners, her life was unimaginable.
She was rescued by the Many Tears animal rescue centre and at the age of around 3 1/2, was introduced to our family. I had been trying to convince Cas for over a year that we should get another dog, but I wanted a "long legged" dog, rather unlike the two rather stout bassets we already had. She was having none of it until one day, Cas thought it would be nice to get another basset.
So we made the 4 hour trip to Carmarthen and before our eyes was one sad looking basset hound. Emaciated, malnourished, coiled up in a mixture of fear and relief having found her way out of that horrible place, Maisy captured our hearts immediately. We took her into the sand pen, where they train the horses, to see how she would get on with the boys and allow her a little space. They seemed absolutely fine, in fact, I was so proud of the boys and how gentle they were with Maisy. They've always been like this with her.
Driving home, I kept Maisy on my lap. As I stroked her and tried to comfort her, I felt that her fur was greasy and oily. When I looked more closely, I realised that she was caked in dirt, ground in to her skin. This little girl hadn't seen a bath tub, ever. We got her home, gave her a bath, a good feed and introduced her to her sanctuary.
Maisy gained weight quite quickly and her patchy fur recovered in a few months to a glossy, pretty tri-colour state and it was marvellous to see. In her years with us so far, Maisy has discovered the delights of the Scottish Highlands and adores walking in the woods and paddling in the lochs with her brothers.
So here we are, a few months before our next trip to Scotland and Maisy is sat on the cold floor of the kitchen, not able to move even for her breakfast - now we know something is up. She was panting and drooling quite heavily and we thought she may have been having a fit or a seizure. Maisy has an existing condition which causes this. We gave her a shot of diazepam in her rectal passage, which normally resolves the situation pretty quickly. Didn't work and was now clearly not due to a seizure.
We rushed Maisy into the vets and following a bit of prodding and poking, were then referred onto a "specialist" in spinal injuries. We had to hurry, for it was clear that Maisy was paralysed and was showing only deep pain reflexes. We took her 40 minutes to the Orthopaedic specialists who immediately felt that the likely cause was compression to the spinal chord, caused by a protruding disc.
Maisy was going to require a myelogram and CT scan to determine the exact cause of the obstruction, and depending on the results, would then need to go straight into surgery for a procedure called a hemilamenectomy. This involves removing the compression from the spinal chord by cutting away the protruding disc and clearing any debris that may be causing the compression. It's quite a risky procedure, but the odds were OK - maybe 60-70% chance of recovery.
When the results of the myelogram came back, there was good and bad news. Maisy was found to have both a bulging and a burst disc. So it's common for dogs such as basset hounds, especially as they age, to get a calcification of the discs separating the sections of the spine. This makes them harder and they lose elasticity. They are then susceptible to this bulging and commonly in long bodied dogs, such as dachshunds and bassets, are actually prone to bursting. When they burst, the inner part of the disc is released with some force. The debris can hit the spinal chord and the trauma of this impact can cause irreparable damage, that even surgey could not cure.
So now this was a very real concern. Even if the surgery went exactly as planned, they removed the bit that was bulging and any loose debris, there is a chance that the damage sustained could render Maisy paralysed for life. Our chances had dropped to 40-50% for full recovery.
The surgery went ahead, and to all intensive purposes, proved a success. We were allowed to visit a day or so afterwards and were so excited to be seeing our little princess. I remember walking through the vets out the back to where the hospitalised dogs were kept in their own cages. As we reached the door, we could just see through the little window. A vet was on the phone so we hovered outside. We could see that the vet was crouching down and was distracted whilst talking serious vet business on the phone. A little curious, we peeked through the window for a nosey look and there, sat outside of her cage, was our little Maisy. The nurses and vets had taken such a liking to Maisy, that her bed had been placed next to the desk and was basking in the glory of a pat rotation as every new member of staff came through. Trust her!
The other quite funny (given the circumstances) thing was that in order to get Maisy's fluid drip into her blood stream, normally you would go into the leg, or you would on a normal dog. In a basset and Maisy in particular, her best access point is a whopping great vein in her ear. So here she was, sat with what looked like a huge padded sock on her ear, receiving adulation from the people in the vets and now as we entered the room, was getting smothered in kisses and cuddles by us. It was so good to see her again.
So after a number of days of visiting her everyday at the vets, with me travelling 2hrs back from Bristol where I was working, then the additional 40 minutes to Ringwood. It was taking its toll, especially as everyday, we were waiting with baited breath for additional signs of movement in her hind legs, as well as her ability to urinate and deficate independently without being expressed. This was the main "quality of life" factor that would determine if Maisy was to have any future at all.
So after a couple of weeks in post op hospitalisation, Maisy was allowed to come home. However, she still hadn't gained the ability to urinate herself, without manual expression of her bladder. We continued to travel to the vets everyday so that she could be expressed and so that she could undergo physiotherapy.
It was such a relief as slowly, Maisy's bodily functions returned and she was able to relieve herself without expression. However, she was still unable to move her hind legs and so bum-shuffling was her primary mode of transport. Dragging her behind on the floor was really not good for her, as she got sores and also picked up a pretty nasty infection, resulting in diarrhoea and blood in her faeces, requiring antibiotics and more vets visits.
In order to break up the monotony for Maisy, we took her out regularly with the boys, up to her favourite walking place, the Milldown. Cas and I would take all of her home physiotherapy stuff, and one of us would sit with her and carry out the various exercises we had prescribed, while the other walked the boys and knocked the hyperactive juices out of them. And so this became our system and Maisy really seemed to flourish by being included. Eventually, as her leg movement began to return, she would walk a little way using her belly band support, before settling down to the usual exercises. These walks got a little longer over time and she was really starting to get some serious leg use back. We'd get comments from all the usual suspects at the Milldown, often stopping for many minutes to explain over and over Maisy's story and get the kind words of encouragement that really helped us through her recovery.
As soon as we could, we started Maisy on a course of hydrotherapy, with Dorset Aquadogs. Almost immediately, we began to see the effects as she was forced to use her hind legs to swim. It was the perfect low impact exercise that she needed. Maisy is so stubborn, that although she didn't really enjoy the water, all you had to do was put her in and point her at the exit of the pool. She would swim solidly for as long as it took to be let out. We have been taking Maisy to hydrotherapy every week and has then enabled her to maintain her performance to the extent that she was able to come out for hour long walks and was able to keep up with the boys.
So great has been her recovery that in October 08, just 4 months after her surgery, we went to our beloved Scotland hideaway for a week of wilderness and walking. Maisy was able to get out and enjoy the freedom of the forest walks, mountain views and seaside visits. It was so gratifying that the horrific events of just a few months earlier had come to this and the result was more favourable than we could have hoped for, when Cas and I went to bed on the night of Maisy's surgery, crying our eyes out not sure if we would see her again the next day.
In the next part of this blog, you'll be able to read about our wedding in Scotland in April 2009 and what happened when the horror of Maisy's curse came back to haunt us in November 2009.