Updated: Aug 17
It’s incredible to think that just one dog could change your whole life. Maybe not so much if you’re talking about assistance dogs as they provide such vital, often life-changing support to their owners, but for your average everyday couple it was not something that was on our radar or expected.
We’ve always had dogs in our lives as we were both brought up with dogs and that continued into adulthood. Neither of us were particularly dog crazy, we didn’t go to training classes or do anything particularly dog orientated, like agility or cani cross, we were just your average dog owner going out on regular walks with our faithful companions with a few 'sits and stays' thrown in for good measure. But then that all changed…
It was New Year's Eve 2015 at 3.45pm, a time and date we’ve never forgotten.
Spooky Boo came to us in 2012 from Dogs Trust, Evesham. We’d been looking for a companion dog for Mojo our standard poodle. We’d lost his half-sister from liver disease and thought he’d do better with another dog around as he was very flat and had lost his sparkle. As we’d had dogs for most of our lives, we thought it was time to look for a rescue dog, but one that may be a little harder to rehome and something a little more challenging for us. We had a tip-off about Spooky Boo who was struggling at Dogs Trust, a lovely white lurcher who was deaf, and we quickly made an appointment to go and see her.
She was quickly adopted by us (or she adopted us), not quite sure which way around. She settled in quickly and over the coming months and we worked through a few challenges. For the first 6 months, she very rarely slept through the night and would whine and whimper. We set up a huge crate in our bedroom as we had more success with her being with us and then spent time crate training her. But no matter what we tried she would always wake up during the night. We exhausted all the usual things to try like dap diffusers, thundershirt, changing her bedding, covering her crate, settling her down with a kong and keeping to a usual routine (plus lots of exercise and stimulation during the day). But nothing seemed to help, and we were exhausted and literally at our wits end. Then came the lightbulb moment – quite literally! We plugged in a nightlight, so when she woke up, she could see us better – end of the problem and finally, we could all sleep through the night.
Over the next couple of years we got into a routine and we started to teach her our own version of doggy (or should that be dodgy) sign language. She was super quick to learn and knew quite a lot of signs but her favourite was ‘walks’.
She loved to run and the excitement when her paws touched grass always shone through, but her love of running came at a huge price.
On that fateful New Year's Eve, Spooky Boo and Eddy had gone on their usual afternoon walk whilst I stayed at home getting ready for New Year’s Eve celebrations. After only a short time, Eddy was banging on the front door and I rushed to open it, seeing him with Spooky Boo in his arms (this was serious – carrying a 37kg dog is not for the fainthearted).
She had slipped and twisted on wet grass and had come crashing down, losing all use of her back legs, screaming as she fell. Despite it being late afternoon on New Year's Eve, we called our vets who were at our house within 15 minutes. We still cannot believe how fantastic they were with us (thank you Ambleside Vet Clinic).
To cut a long story a little shorter, after treatment at the vets and a subsequent referral to Willows in Birmingham (plus various tests and an MRI scan), she had sustained a catastrophic spinal injury, leaving her paralysed from the waist down. A fragment of disc matter had exploded at high velocity into her spinal column, causing bruising, swelling and compression. This injury cannot be decompressed with surgery. Unfortunately, the MRI also showed Myelomalacia in a small portion of her spinal cord, where part of the cord had 'died' due to severe trauma. Myelomalacia is extremely rare, only 5% - 10% of dogs with spinal trauma will suffer this. It can also be fatal should the condition progress or creep along the spinal cord, causing problems and failure of other organs, particularly the lungs.
We were given the choice to euthanise her, but as she was not in any pain we decided we would fight for her and give her every chance we could. If we could provide her with a good quality of life, we would do whatever it took. And that’s exactly what we did.
“It's not the disability that defines you; it's how you deal with the challenges the disability presents you with”. (Jim Abbott)
So the rehab began.
When Spooky initially came home she was catheterized, so for several weeks we would empty her catheter throughout the day, ensuring all tubes were spotlessly clean to reduce the risk of infection. We had a chart of her fluid input and output which we would update several times a day to ensure she was getting enough hydration and passing enough urine. Being a ‘down’ dog led to challenges with pressure sores, particularly on her elbow and hips, so she was bandaged and turned regularly to help prevent these.
Fortunately, Eddy had a background in care, so even though it was a very difficult time (and I often broke down in tears during the early days), we managed to pull it all together to give her everything we could. We bought a sofa bed so that one of us could sleep downstairs with her each night and turn her and check she was clean and comfortable (believe me, it's no fun waking up to a dog covered in the stinky stuff).
We learned how to produce a ‘poop’ from her on command (you wouldn’t believe some of the tricks we have up our sleeves now) and spent hours researching enrichment for dogs, particularly those with disabilities to keep her engaged and stimulated. We used an electric toothbrush on her paws to help stimulate her nerve endings several times a day and using this gave us the first sign of hope when she moved her paws for the first time away from the toothbrush. We undertook regular hydrotherapy and gave daily physiotherapy and stretching to prevent her tendons and ligaments from shrinking. After a lot of research, we spent a ridiculous amount of money on a bespoke dog wheelchair from France, which worked her back legs and helped her regain some muscle memory. This chair was later donated to Wolfies Legacy, a charity that specialises in disabled dogs, and we replaced it with an ‘off road’, all-terrain version from the late, great, Jim Cola of Dogs Wheels, who we lost during the pandemic (he was such a wonderful man who did so much to support disabled dogs).
We also became knowledgeable in dog boots, wet mats, dog slings, dog braces, specialised harnesses, how to prevent chaffing whilst using a doggy wheelchair, how to help prevent UTI (common in disabled dogs), knowing way too much about struvite crystals and urine alkalinity together with specific diets and the macro constituents, the best products to remove urine accidents, prevent urine scalds, various sizes of peanut balls and orthopedic mattresses.
On her follow-up appointment at Willows, Spooky walked into the appointment. The specialist was left open-mouthed (I truly wished I would have recorded the moment – it was a look of pure astonishment from the vet). After he told us that his ‘guarded’ prognosis for Boo was his way of saying ‘slim to none’ that she would ever walk again.
So you may ask what does this have to do with The DogFather Worcester?
As you can imagine, the rehab and care Spooky Boo needed was considerable. We were both in full-time jobs and for the first few months we used all our holiday entitlement, together with working from home days for me (which back in 2016 was not as easy to arrange as it is generally now), to ensure she was never left alone. When we’d used up all our options, the only thing left was for one of us to become self-employed to give her the extra time she needed throughout the day to continue her rehab. As we’d been completely immersed in all things dog for several months and spent many, many hours researching and studying behaviours, enrichment and trying to think ‘dog’ and put ourselves in her doggy shoes, it was a natural progression that Eddy take a huge leap of faith and started up his own dog walking business.
Unfortunately we lost our beloved Spooky Boo during the Pandemic in 2020, but she is never far from our thoughts. We owe her so much and she gave us a whole new life.