As many of you will know my then 8 year old Border Collie “Encore” suffered a major traumatic event 3 months ago when she collapsed seizing one morning which could not be stopped. With good medical care and the outpouring of prayers from this dog community Encore survived where little hope of survival was given. No absolute diagnosis for Encore’s problem was ever given however we do know she has a mass in her brain (non cancerous) which may have been the cause or an artifact of the encephalitis which brought on her the seizures.
The explanation I have been given is that it is suspected that a “long term untreated chronic illness” was what caused all of this in Encore. This diagnosis goes hand and hand with my belief she has been suffering from some form of a tick borne illness for the past 4 years (even though only one very weak positive has ever shown up on any of the many tests that have been run . . . including one draw from her cerebral fluid).
Regardless of the “why” today focus on the “how.” How do we get Encore to be as happy, comfortable and functional as possible. Yes we are still reducing meds (she lives in a bit of a phenobarbital fog) and monitoring her responses to avoid any relapse. But for me I am focusing on making sure Encore is mentally stimulated and physically as fit as she can be. Encore loves to work, so keeping her busy is important, but it also gives me an outlet to accomplish it all.
One of the biggest “ah ha” moments I have had throughout this journey is how incredible important body awareness exercises are to our dogs. Sure they give us something to do with our puppies, something that helps develop strong supportive muscles. And yes they can contribute to an adult dogs; flexibility, core strength, proprioception and balance. However my big “ah ha” moment came when we were trying to evaluate exactly “what” Encore could and could not do during her rehab. By having a load of body awareness exercises and “tricks” I could ask her to perform and we could get a brilliant evaluation of what she knows. I had tons of video clips of her performing these skills before her illness and could show the neurologist what was and wasn’t possible for her before and after.
I can go back to these exercises weekly to see how far she has come or where she is still challenged and what she needs more work on. I encourage you all to create the best foundation possible of these tricks and skills for your own dog! You never know what a blessing they are to Encore and her team of specialists today.
Another “ah ha” moment I had was when I was trying to get Encore to “wave” with her right paw. Her brain injury is on her left side so her right side of her body has been most effected. Initially I asked her to wave and she didn’t move her paw an inch . . . not one inch. So I would ask for her left paw waving and rewarded that before I would try again on the right . . . I was looking for even the slight movement of the right front paw. Every time I asked her to try on her right side she would get more and more frustrated demonstrating it with her increasing vocalization. From my point of view Encore was getting frustration because she was trying to get her paw to wave but couldn’t figure out how to do it. My big “ah ha” moment happened when I thought; what if that just wasn’t true. What if rather then being frustrated because she couldn’t create movment she was frustrated because she believed she WAS moving the paw and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t rewarding her!
Soooooo change of tact for me. What I did next was used one of my big blue FitPaws foam pads and put it on an angle in front of Encore. I cued her to touch it with her left paw . . . she did and I rewarded. She could see the paw on the blue pad as she got her reward. Next I cued her right paw . . . no vocalization as she appeared to try and try and then finally lift that paw a few inches on the the blue pad. UNFREAKING BELIEVABLE! Judging from both of our reactions you would have thought Encore just won another gold medal. Her rehab has come along so much faster with my new mindset; it isn’t that she can’t do it . . . it is that she thinks she is already doing it!
Here is an update on Encore’s progress.
For those of you that get an “error” message due to copyrighted music you can watch the video without the hip music at this link.
So the journey continues, rather than prepping Missy En for her next big agility trial we are prepping her for whatever lies ahead. To her it is all “work” and that she loves. To me it is playing with my special girl and that I love. Today I am grateful the opportunity to go through this journey with Encore and for all of those who support and help us out along the way.