The Dog (Don't break it)

Firstly, I am just checking that this will end up where I want it to.  I literally have not a clue what I am doing.

Right, did that - absolutely no idea where it has ended up.  I have now totally forgotten what I wanted to write on here.  Ages ago I sat down, full of enthusiasm, fingers limbered up...
Why is it so hard to find my way around this bloomin' thing?  Why?  Why...?

Well in the words of the Duke of Wellybums - I shall 'publish and be damned'.
At least I will find out where it ends up on my blog pages. 

Here goes....
* * * * * *

So I managed to get some text onto the page.  Perhaps now I should use this page for what it was intended - to write about my bloomin' dog!

The Dog.  I have a dog. She is beautiful, but she is wonky - bless her heart.  

You should probably know that I am NOT a dog person.  I am a cat person.  I would happily house/befondle any old feline (and yes, I am aware of the rather unfair stereotype that conjures up) but dogs have always left me cold.  Cold as in frozen with terror, mostly.

But the kiddies and husband were desperate for a hound, and so eventually I was won round. 
(Ooh, poem).

Plenty of research ensued to find a brand breed of dog that I would be borderline comfortable with (since it would be me who was with the pooch 24 hours a day). 

Among my list of requirements were :

No starkly visible bum-hole
Enough hair for me ruffle
Of a reasonable size - 
(i.e. not teacup sized, but not big enough to eat me)

Indeed, I stipulated that the hound should be small enough for me to lift it into the car should a visit to the vets be necessary.

And that was lucky.  Because many, many visits to the vet have been necessary.

But, for now, let me take you back to the heady, carefree days of October 2010. 

Under dark skies, lit only by a full moon, did we bring our precious fluffy ninepence home.  We didn't call her that.  We called her Witch - which seemed appropriate given the month of Hallowe'en and her dark and pointy hat (kidding). 

Witch Waggity Warhound
The Cockerpoo

She settled in instantly with the kids and the husband.  I took a bit longer to get used to her.  (I had that with my babies too.  My maternal bone is there, it just likes to hide behind a curtain until it's sure it's safe to come out).

She was fast to learn and did all her 'bits and bobs' in appropriate places (mostly).  She was playful and cheeky and about as daft as you'd expect a ball of black fluff to be.  During the day, as I painted my wooden characters or wrote at the computer, she would nestle right next to my foot and sleep.  When the kids and husband came home in the evening, she'd be up and performing until she collapsed, pooped, on the sheepskin rug.

All was good with our world.

* * * * * *

By the time Witchy was about 8 months old, she'd had her first season and we booked her in to be spayed.  We'd done loads of research - among our friends and family are two vets - and it seemed fairly evident that this was the right thing to do.  We were told to look forward to a couple of days' recuperation and then our bouncy, silly-arse dog would be back to normal.

So we were a tad concerned when it didn't happen exactly like that.

* * * * * *

The next bit . . .

This is her chair now
After the Operation.

On the morning of her op she'd been bouncing around as usual -  and when I brought her home she was dozy, which was to be expected.
By the next day she was up and almost her usual bouncy self (stitches permitting) but within a couple of days it became clear that something wasn't quite right.  She would pull up one of her back legs (not always the same one) when she was standing for any length of time.  And she didn't seem as hungry as usual - although she was still eating.

I mentioned this to the vets on both follow-up visits and she was duly examined.  All obvious causes were ruled out - no seeds or thorns in paws or pits.   They thought perhaps she'd pulled a muscle over exerting herself after the op, and some painkillers were duly dispensed.  But generally it was put down to 'some dogs being slower to recover'.  Then they'd sign off with a cheery, 'as she's eating and going to the toilet, we're not too worried.  They're the best signs that something's wrong'.

So home she came and we looked forward to seeing some improvement.  The painkillers didn't seem to make much difference, but then she never really complained - just hobbled around a lot.

Some days were better than others, and the whole thing went on for weeks and weeks.  On a good day we'd be excited that she seemed to be on the road to recovery, but then she'd have a bad day and we'd be back to square one.

I started to feel (maybe I was being paranoid) that when I took her back to the vets they thought I was just an over-anxious dog-owner.  
It didn't help my cause when Witch leapt around like a spring lamb whenever I took her in!  I felt a bit foolish 'explaining' to qualified vets that she was still an excited puppy, even with the trouble she was having with her legs. 
And that was the one thing that continued to ravage my brain - Witch was only 11 months old, a pup.  She should have been a proper handful, full of beans and going on regular long-ish walks.
As it was she spent most of her days flaked out on the rug, barely moving.
She'd gone from always being at my heels - literally wherever I went - to staying pretty much in one place for the entire day.

It was as if she was saving her energy for when everyone came home from school or work.  Then she'd play for a bit until she flaked out again.

Because some days were better than others, and because the dappy hound would get uncontrollably excited whenever she saw someone, it was very hard to give the vets the kind of concrete detail they needed.

I began to doubt myself too (and this is something I swear I will never do again).  It was clear to me that Witch had a problem.  This was not the behaviour of a young dog.  But it seemed like the world was conspiring to disagree with me.  Not a single soul who encountered her for any length of time agreed with me - pointing out the occasions when she was mobile, and glossing over the times she was not. 
I expect much of the time it was wishful thinking and, of course, it was easier for me to see the problems as I spent every waking moment with the dog.

But I became increasingly frustrated hearing, 'there's not much wrong with that dog!' and trying to convince people that not only was there a problem, it was becoming a serious one.

Within a couple of months, the dog could hardly get up. 
She would push herself up onto her front legs, but hauling her back half up was incredibly difficult.  It would take her several minutes to build up enough momentum to get going.  Stairs became a definite no-no, and even the one step between our living room and kitchen became too much for her.

I explained all this to the vets and they suggested x-rays of her hips.  These were inconclusive and that seemed to be the end of it! 

I began to feel like I was in a nightmare - I was talking but no-one seemed to be listening.  Obviously I was happy nothing seemed to be wrong with her hips ... but something was still wrong! 
Whenever I visited the vets I would introduce myself as the woman 'who honestly doesn't have Munchausens by Proxy'.

Everything came to a horrible head when Mr W was away in Finland on business.

Witch literally couldn't get up.  I had to lift her to her bowl.  Lift her into the garden.  Lift her back into the house.  It was heartbreaking.

Please don't anybody tell me any more that there is nothing wrong with my dog.

Then BB had a brainwave, and that was to be the turning point . . .

Get it on film!

It seems so obvious now - and I can't believe we hadn't done it before - but while listening to me sobbing on the phone to him in Finland, Mr W said, "I'll film her on my phone when I get back and we can show them that".  (My phone, in case you were wondering, is so low-tech it's only good for calls and texts).
For the first time, in what seemed like a lifetime, there was a glimmer of hope that we might be able to get Witchy some help.
So, the day after Mr W returned from Finland, we went to the vets - armed with our new evidence.
I can remember, as if it were yesterday, the feeling of relief as two of the vets watched our video.
Strange as it might sound, the tension of the previous weeks left my body in a great wave, as the vets watched, with deep concern etched on their faces, and said,
"Oh no.  That's not right."
Tests and x-rays were done and, when the results came back inconclusive once again, our vet told us the next step was to refer her to a specialist
Did we want to go away and think about that?
Er...that would be a NO!  Get My Dog Some Help Now, dammit!!!
Bless them, they were concerned about the finances - but luckily (and I do thank our lucky stars daily) we had Pet Insurance.
So, Mr and Mrs Vet, - refer away!

The Willows

So off we pootle to the Specialist Veterinary Referral Centre - who see animals from all over the country.  Luckily for us it's just an hour and half's car journey away.
We were seen by an impossibly young (and a bit handsome, which doesn't hurt) vet who, after an initial examination of Witch, said,
"First things have a lovely dog".

"But she is definitely in severe pain - in all her joints".

The tests they did while we waited suggested it could be Immune Mediated Poly Arthritis (IMPA) - but there were other things they needed to rule out as well, including cancer.

We went home to await further news.

Before too long we got the call to say that it was, indeed, IMPA and that now we needed to see an Internal Medicine Specialist to get the treatment started.

At last.

As Witch's condition and its treatment was explained to us, we were also told that it was a 'see how it goes' condition.  Some dogs respond quickly and are totally cured within 3 months, others take 6 months, and some need to remain on medication for the rest of their lives.

I figured that, since the journey to this point had been anything but straightforward, there was no reason to expect that the next stage would be any different!  Although obviously I hoped our doggie would recover totally and swiftly.

I forget the exact details now - since we've had changes in drugs and dosage a-gogo - but steroid treatment was started straight away.  I think we were seen by the Willows on a Wednesday, and we asked how long it would be until we could expect to see some improvement.

Apparently, our doglet - who had been lifted out into the garden to pee, carried to her bowl and generally entirely wobbly - could be expected to improve by Saturday.

THIS Saturday?!!?
We got very excited, can you tell?
 Then, woah there Neddy...'what kind of improvement can we expect by Saturday?' we asked.
And our vet said,

 "She should be running up the stairs."
Mr W and I stared at him as if cartoon bluebirds were flying around his head scattering petals. 
I imagine he's probably used to that.
And indeed, by Saturday, she was running up the stairs like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe.

Have to tell you, my chin still wobbles at the memory.

Living with IMPA

Now, almost exactly a year later, Witch is still living with IMPA.  We have tried all sorts of dosages of steroids and all the other stuff they've given us (sorry I can't be more specific, I expect it's obvious I am not remotely medical.)
Where other animals have responded earlier to fewer drugs, Witch has had to try more and more (expensive) medicine to try to cure her condition. 
In my next life I hope to come back with a scientific bent - I would like a slice of the drug manufacturers' action :)
On our last visit to the Willows we were told (what we had already suspected, even though you keep hoping) that Witch wasn't going to get better.  It was now a case of managing her condition with drugs for the rest of her life.
Obviously this was sad news, but we do have so much to be grateful for and glad about.
She is still a happy, cheeky little dog.  She's not quite the rusty-dusty, roustabout playmate we had hoped the children would have - but she is fun and delightful and entirely adorable. 
My memories of slowly, painfully, walking her up the road, her tail down between her legs, and managing just 5 minutes before she'd really had enough, are so clear  -  that when she's feeling really playful and zipping around chasing her favourite toy (the most revolting sleeve of an old fake sheepskin coat) it fills me with so much pleasure I think my heart might burst right out of my chest.
'I wear this for medicinal purposes.  To keep my joints warm.  It's important that you know that' - Witch
And of course the other thing we have to be grateful about is our local...


Woozelwhatnow?  Woozelbears Hydrotherapy, Physiotherapy and Grooming Centre!
Man I love that place and I talk a bit about it here.  Witch has had about 18 sessions in the pool now, and the improvement in her strength is incredible.  She is hilarious - she leaps off the resting ramp with all the vigour of Rebecca Adlington...only to spend the rest of the session trying to sneak back because she feels a bit tired.  She's a bit of a woosie, bless her heart.  But, thanks to Charlotte and Maria's (the Hydrotherapists) skills, Witchy does a little longer each session.  Sometimes she even gets to swim against the water jets.  Every time, when she gets home, she is full of zip and energy - and I am convinced she looks forward to going again.
Witch and Charlotte at Woozelbears

Playing the Glad Game

So much to be grateful for...
Witch was diagnosed with a condition that is apparently very hard to spot and so often gets missed.  We have local(ish) specialists in The Willows and Woozelbears (oh my, all these Ws - Witch, Willows, Woozelbears...)
And so far our Pet Insurance continues to pay out. (Long may that continue, please, please, please.)
And of course we have a delightful, affectionate, funny little pooch.  Even if she is a bit wobbly.

IMPA - It can be cured

Our vet looked young...but not this young
I feel duty bound - just in case you have stumbled on my Dog Story because your dog has recently been diagnosed - to tell you that there are plenty of cases when dogs are completely cured.  Often with just one relatively short course of one drug.  We just got unlucky with our poochy not responding as well to three types.
I realise this is not exactly scientific evidence, but a friend of ours (with Labradoodles) met a couple on a walk who had a dog that looked exactly like Witch.  When he spoke to them, it turned out that not only was she also a Cockerpoo, but she was almost exactly the same age and that she, too, had been diagnosed by the Willows with IMPA.
After 6 months she was completely and utterly cured. 
So don't despair!  It could all be all right :)

Stuff I Must Have Left Out

Honestly I must have left out loads.  Stuff that's been pushed way back into the dark and cobwebby recesses of my memory.  Stuff that is probably pertinent and important, but is eluding me for the moment :)  
If you do happen to be reading this after an IMPA diagnosis for your dog - I would be more than happy to try to answer any questions you might have.  Please bear in mind, however, that it's from a daft, non-medical, first-time-dog-owner's perspective.
But, if I can help you, I will.
I know it can be hard.
M'laptop, m'hound and me.
Also washing up waiting to be done behind me.
And don't forget! - There are really good bits too :)


  1. Ooh I can't wait for the next installment. Dude, I love how you write. I may have told you that before ... xx

  2. Oh Witchy woo! So glad to hear things are getting better, I too love the thought of Witch playing with her toys and running up the stairs. Awesome story dude, sure anyone who went through similar would appreciate it.