Leslie R. Dye, MD, Treasurer, National German Wirehaired Pointer Rescue
If you are reading this blog, you probably have some strong positive feelings about dogs. You may have even lost one or more dogs that you loved deeply. Sometimes the balance of love and loss is difficult.
Health Benefits of Dog Ownership
Dog ownership has been scientifically associated with health benefits. A systematic review from Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes from October 2019, concluded that dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of death over the long term, which is possibly driven by a reduction in cardiovascular mortality. This study added the following information to what was already known about the benefits of dog ownership:
- Pooling the data of 3,837,005 participants, dog ownership was associated with a 24% risk reduction for all-cause mortality as compared to non-ownership
- In analyses of studies evaluating cardiovascular mortality, dog ownership conferred a 31% risk reduction for cardiovascular death
- Dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of death over the long term, which is possibly driven by a reduction in cardiovascular mortality (1)
An Australian study showed that dog ownership reduces loneliness (2), and that just 10 minutes petting a dog can lower blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, relax muscle tension, and reduce cortisol levels (3). There are many other health and social benefits related to dog interactions that have been scientifically supported, including helping to cope with a crisis, encouraging exercise, making people more attractive, sociable, and likable, and even improving cognitive function in seniors and those with mental illness.
The Loss of A Beloved Companion
But what about when our hearts are broken by the loss of one of our dogs? Dogs have the qualities we think our friends should have-lack of judgement, genuineness, trustworthiness, acceptance, respect, and more. And we don’t have the conflicts with our dogs that we do with humans about politics, religion, money or other worldly concerns. These and other factors strengthen the bond we have with our canine pets. A study in the Journal Society and Animals showed that the death of a companion animal can be far more severe , just as devastating, not quite as severe, or about the same as the loss of a human significant other.
Some stories are incredibly heartbreaking and difficult to relate, but their importance and the lessons they teach us should be shared. Such is the story of Doc, one of the most majestic and bravest dogs we have had in our rescue, and Carrie, one of the most selfless and kind women who fostered, loved, and nursed him back to a happy life, even if only for a short time.
On December 5, 2021, Doc, a two-year-old Drahthaar, fractured multiple vertebrate and suffered spinal cord injuries when he and his owner were involved in a truck accident. He survived emergency surgery, but could not get the care he needed and deserved by his owner so was accepted by the National German Wirehaired Pointer Rescue. A working mother of 4 in Billings, Montana with 2 children at home, one in college, and 2 grandchildren, Carrie Brewer, agreed to foster Doc.
Like many rescues, Doc seemed to know how lucky he was to have Carrie as his foster and rewarded her with an amazing disposition. He initially could not get up from the ground, but a wheelchair was built for him, and with extensive therapy and work, he was able to walk with the wheelchair.
At one point during his recovery, Carrie said, “Doc is the most amazing dog I have ever worked with. And I have had a ton of foster, rescue and other dogs. He has the most amazing disposition. Everyone loves him. He has made a ton of human and dog friends on his walks and gets greeted regularly. ‘Good work , Doc!’ is something we hear quite a bit. He is a big old teddy bear. If you are on the floor where he can see you, he will flop down with you giving you slobbery kisses. He has such a will to please and do whatever is asked of him.”
Carrie describes a Day with Doc:
“Doc wakes up about 6 am, or when the rest of the house starts stirring. He sleeps inside my home beside my bed but is perfectly happy sleeping in his crate. He will go into the crate on command. He doesn’t bark or whine while in the crate. I just don’t use it because my other dogs also sleep in my bedroom.
I take him outside as soon as he is up. I just say ‘Doc, come’ and he follows me. He scoots along pretty fast. He stays outside while I get his breakfast ready. I make him stand on his own while he eats his food. I hold his food bowl up about waist height and he pulls himself to a stand. Then I set his food down for him. I do use a raised feeder but he does fine if it is on the ground. Sometimes I have to help him position his hind legs for a more solid stance as he tends to put them very close together. After he eats, I put him in his wheelchair and let him wander in the yard while I get ready for our walk. He almost always has a BM . I walk him for an hour in the morning, usually 3 miles. He loves his walks and towards the end of the walk is where he really engages those back legs. When we get home he is pretty fatigued. I take him out of his wheelchair. He drinks tons of water, again standing on his own, and usually chills in the backyard while I get my other dogs fed and I get ready for my day. Then I bring him in the house and he lays in my office with me while I work.
I set a timer and make him get up every hour and stand. When I am not running around doing other things for my elderly parents of my family, I get on the floor ahead of him and call him and he will pull himself up and stand. I have a ton of exercises I do with him at this point that the physical therapist gave me. I choose one thing and we work on it for literally 2–5 minutes. At around noontime, it’s back in his wheelchair and we go outside in the yard. I usually water my flowers, garden, etc. and he runs around and plays with the other dogs or I will throw a ball or toy for him. Probably 10–15 minutes total. Afternoons, the routine is the same, unless he has a physical therapy appointment. And then I just drop him off. I only come back for the last 15–20 minutes of his therapy to see what he did and what I need to work on. He typically is by my side while I cook, do laundry, etc. He just lays down and is chill. He will stay wherever, on command, and not move. I just say ‘Doc, stay’ and he literally will not move from that spot, with the exception if someone comes home. Then he makes a dash for the door to greet them. He eats dinner around 5. Same routine. Stand. Eat. Wheelchair so he can move around and have a BM. We try to go for our second walk as soon as it cools down enough to do so. After dinner walk is typically shorter, usually about 2 miles, depending on time. Again, I am doing these walks to work on his gait/walking/ muscle strength. He would be just as happy running around the yard in his wheelchair. I try and do his massages, range of motion, and nerve stimulation work at night when I am watching tv or hanging with the family. If I am busy, he is perfectly happy with one of my kids or hubby just hanging with him and rubbing his back legs, or brushing him. Bedtime is easy. I tell him ‘Doc, bed’ and he goes and gets on his bed. He sleeps great.
The first week or so I had him, I was nervous to leave him, but he was fine. He doesn’t bark, dig or otherwise get into mischief when left alone. I have left him in my yard if the temperature outside is okay, I have left him in my office, and have left him in the laundry/ pantry room. He has been fine in all places.
I was been manually emptying his bladder about 4 times a day. He does not dribble as much if I do this, but I still have him wear a band since he is in the house. I do have to offer him water often or he will drink excessive amounts at one time. I just keep a water bowl near him and offer it to him often. I do give him a bath/shower frequently and he is fine with it.
He loves it if I put his food (kibble) in a Kong and freeze it. I will use pure pumpkin purée to bind it. I usually give him 3/4 of his food at mealtime and use the other part to put in the Kong and for treats during the day. He has to have his GI sensitive food brand, or he will have issues with his stool/ tummy. He loves ice and frozen blueberries. He is on a probiotic to help with his sensitive tummy. I do not know what his prognosis is. I can tell you he is a hard worker. He has gained strength since I have had him. My goal has been to get him to maintain balance and take steps around the house without the wheelchair.”
When Carrie described caring for Doc, she sounded so matter of fact, but at the same time extremely loving. She maked it sound like his care was no big deal. The amount of time and effort she spent to help him recover and get stronger is incredible. She posted videos of him escaping into the yard to play with the other dogs and him playing in the house. His mobility was limited, but he looked so happy.
Doc struggled with recurrent bladder infections and was diagnosed with encrusted cystitis in early December and given no chance of recovery from multiple veterinarian consultants. On Wednesday, December 7, with his loving family and rehabilitation staff as his side, he crossed the over rainbow bridge to a place of no more struggles or pain.
Doc’s story touched people all over the world and continues to do so. The pain of his loss fortunately is viewed through the lens of watching loving people who made his last year one filled with caring, compassion, and undying devotion.
What lessons can we learn from Doc?
In a study by Wendy Packman and others, “Posttraumatic Growth Following the Loss of a Pet,” after losing a beloved pet, many reported an improved ability to relate to others, feel empathy for the problems of others, an enhanced sense of personal strength, and greater appreciation of life (4). Children also need to be able to grieve the loss of a pet as it may be the first time they are faced with the fragility of life.
Grief is the price of love, and Doc will forever remind us of positive attributes that make the pain so powerful. His resilience and will to recover cannot be disregarded just because recovery was not an option. No amount of will and care by Doc, Carrie, her family, or his health care team could have changed the outcome. We can remember his resilience when we look for resilience in dealing with his loss. No one at NGWPR regrets accepting Doc into our family, despite our grief.
Thanks to the wonderful donations we receive and because we are blessed with fosters like Carrie we are able to help many dogs, even those with serious medical conditions. In 2022, we placed almost 50 dogs in forever homes and consulted on approximately the same number with other organizations.
Consider a donation this year to support more dogs in need. Whether you can donate or not, join us in gratitude for angels on earth like Carrie.
- https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.119.005554Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 2019;12:e005554
From all of us at NGWPR, we wish you a safe and happy holiday and a joyous New Year.
2023 CALENDARS AVAILABLE
National GWP Rescue is a nationwide rescue program whose volunteers work tirelessly to provide funding, foster homes, medical care and training for GWPs found in shelters, animal control facilities and to those GWPs whose current owners are unable to provide a suitable situation.
Working hand- in-hand with governmental and local shelters, NGWPR provides a safe and responsible home for GWP’s in need. Placed with an experienced GWPCA member, fostered GWPs that have been neglected, untrained or have medical issues quickly blossom as they are readied for their “forever” homes.
Prior to releasing our rescued GWPs for adoption, volunteers provide obedience, manners, and house training. We hold to the philosophy that a mannerly dog has a better chance of fitting into a new household.
NGWPR believes that Wires were designed to hunt and unlike some other rescue programs, we are happy to place dogs with field experience or bird instinct with potential owners who enjoy hunting behind a Wire. However, NGWPR insists that any rescue dog first be a house dog and companion, then a weekend hunting partner.
Please go to our website to learn more.
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