Once at home, she seemed to be happy with the resident dogs, all well used to new schnauzers, and was soon exploring the garden with them, keeping well away from me, all normal at this stage. She didn’t want to eat, but that’s not unusual in what to these dogs is a totally alien environment. However over the next few days, her behaviour was far from the usual. She absolutely would not eat, although every permutation of location and company was tried, and all sorts of tempting delicacies. At times she would chase happily with the other dogs, yet at other times be apparently fearful of all but my very quiet and elderly schnauzer, and she would crawl into bed with her to seek comfort.
Something was very wrong for this little one, and I took her back to DBARC to see our visiting Vet. Bizarrely, while waiting in a quiet kennel, River seemed far less stressed. She was offered food and ate eagerly. Was she so institutionalised that she was only happy in a confined environment? The decision was made to kennel her for a while, to get her reliably eating and used to handling, before starting the habituation to a home environment again, and although this was tried again more than once, it was with similar results.
River seemed strange in other ways. Her gait was very unusual, although her mobility was generally good, but she would often have days when she seemed unwilling to move at all, followed by days when she would happily run in the paddocks and interact with the other schnauzers. She’d sometimes be willing to be approached, and a sweet and funny personality would emerge, but other times she was very fearful or even hostile. While every technique was tried to improve her happiness, and while our Vets thought she was just shut down due to her obvious terror, we also had help from a canine Chiropractor and an aromatherapist, although there seemed to be limited progress.
But generally her health improved, and it seemed time to address her other issues. She needed eye surgery (not cataracts) – was this causing the fearful behaviour? And she needed dental work – was this the cause of her sometimes refusing to eat? So both these procedures were carried out, with apparent success, but they seemed to precipitate an extreme relapse for River, and after further consultation with our Vets, it was agreed that the future for this poor little soul looked completely hopeless unless her quality of life could be improved.
So River was taken to a specialist surgery for a CT scan, but they then decided her issues were too complex and that she needed to be referred to a Centre with a superior scanner and a Consultant Vet with more experience. So, she was then taken to a Referral Centre, and on the Friday before Christmas 2017, at last a diagnosis was made.
River was suffering – and that really does mean suffering – from Atlas Axial subluxation. This poor dog was living every day of her life with a condition that causes intermittent excruciating disabling pain, and the constant risk of paralysis or even death as the discs in her neck were unstable. Her apparently illogical fear was the anticipation of agonising episodes, and the inability to eat or move was the direct consequence of this horrific condition that had probably always been present. She would only have survived in the puppy farm because she literally never moved. That she was able to sometimes overcome her fear and pain shows what a remarkably brave girl River is.
The consultant advised us that while the condition was operable, it was very high risk. River’s chances of survival were less than 30%. Furthermore, the consultant was not willing to do the surgery, and suggested referral to the Royal Veterinary College at a likely cost of £10,000. And we were given 30 minutes to make this life or death decision.
Such a dilemma. Was it fair to subject this dog to the procedure? Was it reasonable to use so much of our funds on one case when so many other animals are in need, and when there was such a limited chance of success? Would River cope psychologically with it all? So, with the clock ticking on River’s very precious life, we made two phone calls. We spoke to another experienced rescue contact, just to get an opinion. She strongly felt River deserved a chance to see that life wasn’t all just pain and fear, if we could justify the funding. Then we rang Janetta Harvey who, through her creation of Schnauzerfest, is so significant in the funding of help for many dogs. What would her opinion be about spending so much money on one dog? Janetta immediately said that money was not the issue here. She was adamant that a specific appeal would enable the surgery to be funded without impacting on future animals needing help. So, we were now convinced that River should have her chance.
It turned out that the top specialist for this surgery was not at the RVC, but was at Fitzpatrick Referrals, and so on the day before Christmas Eve, Janet North, DBARC Manager, delivered River to their care, a very emotional moment as there was sadly every likelihood we would never see her again. But River turned out to be our Christmas Miracle!
She came through the surgery with flying colours, spent the Festive Season in the care of the Supervet practice, and then returned to DBARC, to her specially festivised kennel, and so her new life began. Now her neck was stabilised with plates, screws and cement! She needed lots of immediate nursing, months of physio and general recovery, but it was an incredible privilege and total joy to see her just getting better and better, stronger and happier, and finally to go off to a home life – with me! She frequently visits DBARC to run and play with friends old and new, she’s just full of happiness and fun.
River still finds new situations a worry, but she is intending to join her first ever group walk this coming weekend when she hopes to try out beach walking at the West Wittering Schnauzerfest walk. She has no idea that the cost of her life was so high, she only knows that she now has a wonderful life, beyond priceless to her. So she’ll be supporting Schnauzerfest to give other Schnauzers the chance to have their lives transformed too.
You can support the work that DBARC does with dogs saved from puppy farms, by making a donation to Schnauzerfest HERE.