I'd like to make a post celebrating the life of sweet Susie, officially known to my vets as the Miracle Dog , an ex puppy farm tricolour breeding girl who came into Irish Cavalier Rescue three years ago with my own Tansy. On Wednesday, after an extraordinary three year battle with MVD and heart failure, through which she was always cheerful, and always a tail-wagger, she got her wings as I held her after I took her on one last trip to my fantastic vet FIntan at Anicare Blanchardstown.
In so many ways, Susie is a poster girl for all that is tragic about mass breeding, even though the farmer in this case would not have been the worst -- many simply kill their breeding dogs or dump them somewhere, a fate to fortune. In this case, a rescue colleague alerted me to Susie and Tansy three summers ago. I even remember the call, because I was in London with my partner on some rare time off, and I joked to him that as usual, I had never yet left for a holiday without getting a rescue call! These two were up for sale at a nominal price from a puppy farmer and I gave the OK for the colleague to get them. Both were dirty and happy to be out of years in kennels -- both were said to be around 6-7. Susie had had 6 litters -- pretty much back to back -- and was being sold because that was the maximum the farmer could breed and get IKC registrations for, and thus charge more for the puppies even though in this case, there was nothing to pay extra for .
Because on their vet check we discovered Susie already had a severe heart murmur, up around grade 5 or 6, a health history now passed on to all those puppies, many of which will no doubt be bred by their owners. How she lived through all those later pregnancies with such a murmur, I don't know. I doubt she had ever seen a vet.
The colleague got them out, washed them up, and here were the pair, clearly happy to be on that huge soft bed!
They just exemplified all that made me angry about puppy farming. Susie was very thin, but happy and eager to be with people after years of producing puppies non stop which probably increased her heart problems. Tansy was so friendly and probably once someone's pet, maybe sold to in the small ads to a 'good family' that was actually the farmer. She was sold because he couldn't get her in pup -- probably hadn't been there more than a couple of years but she so adores people that you wonder how she, or Susie, ever survived being alone in kennels with little human contact.
I put Susie up for adoption but her heart condition made people wary of her. But a housebound neighbour down the street, whose dog Sam, Nellie (also on the board here ) and I walked, had asked me many times for a cavalier companion after his second dog died. So Susie went to live with him. She adored Sam and he her. I thought she might have about a year with that murmur. She was soon on heart meds, which kept increasing over time. Her murmur was so severe you could easily feel her chest shake when her heart beat. She had the perfect retirement for a puppy farm dog -- slept on a bed with Sam or on an armchair, had constant human companionship with her new owner who was always there, and she quickly gained weight -- and got a bit fat! from treats.
A year passed, then another, and still she hung in there. Her friend Sam passed away last November and her owner was heartbroken. I really feared Susie was close to her time, too -- she was clearly much worse, and had fluid on her lungs and her belly was filling with fluid, all the horrors of this dreadful disease. I took her to my vet and we increased her meds, and she no longer took walks, just a brief step out to toilet and sniff around, then back inside. Nicki here kindly suggested trying an old human heart med mostly out of use now called Moduret as for some, this helped with the belly fluid (frusemide for example does not). My vet had never heard of it -- but lo and behold, it did help quite a bit -- no other diuretic helped in this way and I wish more vets would now consider this as it made a big difference for Susie for another year!
To the disbelief of my vet and me, Susie powered on and on and on. Twice more I thought she was really at the end, starting back in August. We added an additional dose of frusemide and she completely rallied for another month or so. I brought her to my vets again about three weeks ago fearing that was her last night. She seemed more tired and worn than cheerful.
We discussed her and instead, we decided that, as she was still alert and cheerful and had always managed to rebound well, he would drain some fluid off her now enormous belly -- the Moduret had finally begun to fail to keep her belly fluid to a moderate level -- and boost her meds by adding in one last medication. We would know then that we had done all that could be done. She tolerated all this with only local anaesthetic quite happily -- tail wagging through the procedure. And amazingly, she was back doing OK, at least, for a few more weeks. We all kept a close eye on her -- me, Nellie and another wonderful neighbour called Pat, who often brought up treats for Susie and whom Susie adored.
Pat texted me Wednesday morning to say he was worried about her, and when I saw Nellie later, she said the same. I went up to check in on her and gave her an extra dose of frusemide and her prilactone to make her more comfortable and we'd see how she did. In the afternoon Pat texted me to come up again and we decided Susie really needed to get to the vet, probably for her last trip. Her tail was still wagging as I lifted her into my car. She was breathing hard, and couldn't seem to find a comfortable position. It was time.
We had our own waiting room and Fintan came in, happy to see her again and she was wagging away, and sniffing around the room, but it was clear she was really having to work to breath. If she sat any length of time she was starting to slump, probably from lack of oxygen and lack of sleep. It is hard to make a decision for someone else that I knew would be heartbroken to lose his last dog, but I looked at her and thought about what I would do if this were any of my dogs and I knew the answer immediately. I would never wait and risk them suffering in passing. Having gone through MVD with my own Lucy, a rare case of a dog indeed going quietly in her sleep, I knew it was our gift to let any dog go gently out of the horror of the last stages of MVD, and to be there with them as they go, rather than risk them being alone and in crisis. Few dogs pass quietly -- and despite her cheerfulness, Susie's quality of life had tipped over from adequate to very poor. Her poor circulation meant she needed to be sedated first, and I held her in my arms to let her rest her head as she slipped into sleep. She was wagging her tail, still. It would break your heart.
She was an extraordinary dog -- legendary at my vets for just keeping on keeping on, always happy. My partner Chris and I will collect her early next week and bury her out on his land next to two of his own dogs, in their own little section of the garden.
Farewell Susie -- it was an honour. You were everything a cavalier should be in personality. Sadly you also suffered from all the bad things that humans can do to dogs, years of life in a cement kennel, years of puppies, a genetic disease that could be eradicated if more people cared more about how cavaliers live, than producing puppies for sale and show or 'to have one litter' from their pet.
Your courage is what gives so many of us courage to try to change things.