It is something no one should ever have to hear about their not yet 7-year-old dog. I froze and my mind went whirling, I suddenly found it difficult to get out all of the questions that were racing through my head. As my Uber driver was pulling into Los Angeles Airport, I was talking to Kim on the phone, she was back home in Canada. In my absence, Kim had taken my Border Collie, Swagger, to a vet appointment for me. It was kind of a precautionary visit that I had requested because of a slight “concern” I had… a weird vibe that I got when Swagger was running full out.
It has now been 7 months since Swag had surgery for Medial Shoulder Instability. I had been more patient than Swagger with the long rehab process. I wanted to give him the best chance possible to come back to agility stronger than ever. And that he did. His times were amazing when I worked him just last week. His turns tight… he had come back his same powerful, agility-self. We were now 9 weeks away from our Canadian World team tryouts, and I was flying high with anticipation based on how good Swagger had been looking in training.
All that changed with one phone call as Kim reported that the cardiologist was shocked to discover Swagger has Dilated Cardiomyopathy.
My heart sunk.
My sadness isn’t over the realization that we will never again compete as a team in agility. Nor is it from the immediate restriction of all of Swagger’s activities. No more flat-out running with the other dogs or any other activity that may cause him to want to give a sudden explosive burst of energy (if you know Swagger that basically means most everything he does).
But my sadness does not come from that. It comes from the unknown.
The question of “how long does he have?” is all I wanted to know… but of course, no one can know for sure. Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a disease that breaks the hearts of Doberman Pinscher owners on a regular basis however as the cardiologist shared, it is rare in Border Collies. She herself had never seen it in a Border Collie in her practice. That gave me some comfort. Because it is so rare his prognosis is less known… which immediately gave me reason to be more optimistic.
I’m sharing this news today for several reasons. I’m hopeful this blog post will be shared far and wide and that someone reading it, or referring it to a friend, maybe someone familiar with this condition in Border Collies. I want to search every corner of the world and review every strategy, feeding regime or supplement possibility. I’d especially love to talk to any cardiologists who has worked with Border Collies with this condition.
I’m also writing to ask you all to keep Swagger in your prayers.
But what motivated me to write immediately was to share early diagnosis has potentially saved Swagger’s life. If I had continued to work his heart to the max, it could have eventually just given out. By following up on my hunch I have given him the best chance at the longest life possible. I think the key take away is; know your dog. Know what “normal” should be in every situation. Working, running, sleeping, breathing. Record keep times in training…not just looking at ‘course times’ but know how fast your dog should be…do your dog’s time get significantly get faster or slower after a rest and repeat. If your dog starts to do things he normally doesn’t, like drinking more, sleeping more, moving differently, take note. Don’t just assume these little things are normal signs of ageing …check things out. Trust your gut instinct.
There were several little things that Swagger has shown me starting late last fall that were “different”. All of these little things added up so that two weeks ago, I requested Swagger see a cardiologist before I continued with my plans for his return to agility. I was told the wait for an appointment would be a long because Swagger was, by all appearances, a normal, healthy dog, and it was difficult to see a cardiologist unless the situation was more serious.
As luck would have it, last week we got a call that there was a cancellation so Swagger could be seen earlier than planned. Since I was going to be in L.A. on business, Kim would take him. Which brings us up to my telephone call at LAX.
Yes, this sucks.
The nice thing about being in Los Angeles airport when you get this kind of news is that no one looks at you weird because you are sitting alone on a bench sobbing. Actually, all of the attention was diverted to what appeared to be a homeless man, who was hanging out two benches over randomly shouting out “My kitty is a good kitty…” and “The Po-lice can’t get me…” followed up by “I love dat kitty!” over and over and over.
I admit I did sit there stunned and crying for a bit before I walked off, leaving the wailing-cat-lover behind in order to check in early for my flight and start to formulate a plan for Swagger.
I’m a big believer that life happens for us, not to us.
When the highs in life with a dog are super high, the trade-off is that the lows are going to be like a massive kick in the guts. The thing is Swagger is still his same happy, kooky handsome self. Yes, I needed to grieve what I believe we’ve lost, an amazing partnership in the agility ring with a dog that I adore. However, agility is a sport we play and, as much as we both love it, everyday life with a dog that you love transcends any sport. There is no need to be morose now.
Feeling sad comes from focusing on the future rather than the present. Thinking of the future will create anxiety as I’m left thinking “but he is barely 8 years old” and other thoughts that serve no other purpose than to take me to a very dark place. Thinking of the past will bring me to a similar place resulting in me once again, feeling sorry for myself and all that Swagger has been robbed of at such a young age.
Focusing on the past or the future can’t change this diagnosis, and can’t make Swagger’s life the best it can possibly be, but acting in the present can. So I’m going to use any sign of sadness I feel as a trigger to get my head back to the present and take action on the things within my control…like writing this blog post looking for help for Swag.
It’s not a time for sadness, it’s a time to spring forward and make plans.
Swagger loves to work. Luckily for me, he also loves to watch other dogs work. So he will be able to come to the building every day to watch me training Momentum, then he will get some low impact, low energy work to keep him physically fit and mentally happy. He will need all of that and more to replace the hours he spent running, jumping and swimming as a part of his every week routine.
Enter games of mental stimulation and low-level exercise.
Before my flight took off for Toronto I had already contacted Jane Book, a long time friend and student who also happens to be an expert at Nose Work and Tracking. She is both a judge and seminar presenter… and it just so happens she too loves Swagger. So yesterday Jane gave Swag and I a private session officially starting our new hobby of nose work. We played around with it a bit after his surgery last summer…and it seems he remembered a LOT!
Currently, Swagger has been put on a couple of heart meds and a healthy dose of Taurine (an amino acid), which in rare cases, has been shown to reverse this condition. Hope certainly does springs eternal here in Alberton, Ontario, Canada.
Today I am grateful for Swagger’s early diagnosis. No more sadness, time to celebrate every single day we get to have together from this day forward. ♥♥♥
A new journey taking the path less traveled. You and Swagger will enjoy learning and loving together. Hugs to you both.
Healing thoughts and prayers coming your way!
I am so sorry for these news 😔 High risk of DCM was the reason I “quit” Dobermanns. I have been very fortunate to have been able to avoid first hand experience with it but I have heard great things about high doses of ubiquinol in dogs with heart problems. I will be very much looking forward to seeing how Swag does in his new sport! All the best to both of you 💗
My prayers are with you for a long life Swagger, and enjoying fun new adventures.
I am so sorry to hear about this. Best wishes to you all.
So sorry yo hear about Swagger’s condition. watching him time after time again in the clips online ( Recallers ) makes me feel I feel connected to your dog(s) so this really sucks ( sorry for my vocabulaire but ometimes it’s EXACT the right word ). Thank you for this wonderful post (it’s amazing you are able to wright such a strong post ). I hope Swagger will be fine. Thank you for reminding us to Always check our dogs and trust our instinct.
I am so sorry to read this. The agility world will miss a great competitor, but knowing how you stress that our dogs are most importantly pets first I know you and Swagger will have years of fun ahead of you.
I,m so sorry😥😥😥
Bucket List! When my Kerry was diagnosed with cancer that was the first thing we dd, create a bucket list of the things he would love to do. We spent a year and a half having fun, living now, eating ice cream, swimming, making memories! We quit agility class and started rally, when he lost a leg we quit that and started swimming, mostly in circles, but he loved the water. Hugs, life is never a straight line from where you are to where you want to go and sometimes the broken paths hold the most beauty!
What a lovely reply.
Thinking of you and Swagger. Special prayers for you both.
Holding you both in my thoughts ❤️
You always excelled in obedience which I believe is a lot less impact than agility. Would love to see you and Swagger continue your partnership by dancing down those mats. Prayers to you and Swagger and the whole family. I, too, watch over my dogs carefully and am disturbed when they show signs of different behaviors for whatever reason. Hugs to all.
Hi Susan, you may wish to contact Dr. Michael O’Grady at Calgary care Centre. He’s a cardiologist that did research and teaching at OVC in Guelph. He has studied DCM in dobes extensively, can’t comment on his experience with BC’s. Also Dr. Mark Kittleson at the school of veterinary medicine University of Califonia, Davis. I am sure your cardiologist has already given you some names.
Hugs to you, John, Swagger and everyone else there at Say Yes!
Your Nosework journey will be fun! It CAN be very competitive ;o) and the games are endless!!
In the meantime I will send all my healing thoughts up to Swagger <8
I love your honesty and your willingness to share everything about your dogs. I am new to your website and agility and it is your passion and love for the dogs that inspires me. Keeping you and Swagger in our prayers. I know that he will make an awesome “nose” dog.
Dear Susan & Swagger,
I will print this blog post & keep it with me as I love & live with my little BC girl. To remind me to pray for you & Swagger & the homeless man in the airport & to remind me to stay in the moment with Mira. I am president of a BC rescue group in Northern California & will send out an email to all of our adopters & fosters & will check in with the cardiologists at UC Davis & in Sacramento that we’ve worked with. This is BC country, & they may have information to share. You bless our lives more than you can ever know.
With you, Jeanne & Mira
Susan, it is worth checking with Dr. Etienne Cote at the Atlantic Veterinary College regarding any experience with Border Collies. He is widely respected in the field. (He worked with me and my Cardigan Corgi with her diagnosis.)
Hearts and hugs to you and Swagger. Reading this was heart wrenching, but the early diagnoses sounds promising.
I had to retire my young BC from agility at age 5 due to shoulder injury (had stem cell then injured the other shoulder). I wasn’t too excited about nose work but she now drags me to class just as she did the start line of a run. And the sport is way more challenging for me than I ever thought
I hope you and Swagger love it as much as we do. Best wishes always
My heart goes out to you and Swagger, But, as I have discovered Scent work is wonderful. The dogs love it and it is a natural activity for them using their minds and not so much their physical strength. You will love it because he will love it and a new leg of your journey begins. Best to you and Swagger.
Dino and Oyster who is crazy(and under control) with Scent work.
I am so sorry to read this Susan. I don’t know if you remember my sable headed white Collie. She was a rescue and was given 3 month to live. I figured she can live those three month happily with me. Her heart was in horrible condition. At first I babied her, but then again the heart is a muscle and it really was no fun life for her being cut out from so much. Ended up consulting with a holistic vet, wishing I knew who it was now. Added CoQ10, Hawthorn and something else that eludes me now. This girl lived another 4 years being quite active. No heart meds until the last couple of month. When she started going downhill my vet called the Cardiologist at MSU who had seen her there. He was surprised she was still alive and they really wanted her heart when she passed, which kind of tells you how bad it was. They never seen a dog with such a bad heart live this long. I am grateful she shared my journey. Jackie also cae up with a heart murmur at age 10. First instinct was to retire her, but again the heart is a muscle, well you know she lived to be 15 and 1/2. On to Fantom who had depressed contractility for most of her life and did well with just Vetmedin. I know you will get the best advice from some of the best Medical teams out there and have faith Swagger will live a long happy life despite this.
I’m so sorry to hear the news about Swagger.I had a friend with this condition. His elder brother suddenly dropped dead in his fifties and it was only then that he and his sister were tested to see if it was inherited, it was. Both were put on heart meds and had pacemaker/defibrillators fitted enabling them both to live active lives into their seventies. If you search online there is a report of a boxer dog in Washington having one fitted, perhaps that maybe worth investigating.
I am so very sorry, you and Swagger are in my prayers. You are so very correct that it is so very important to know our dogs – every part of them. Praying the early discovery leads to full recovery.
So sorry to hear about Swagger. I’m sure he’ll love scentwork, mine love it.
love and prayers for both you and Swagger.
so very sorry but nosework is great also. i will be following Swagger and you. hope for the best.
Hugs and prayers for you and Swagger. And thank you for sharing this heart-wrenching story, leading by example. 😪❤️
Oh Susan so sad to read your news, I had a rescue Doberman years ago with this but sadly undiagnosed so you’re already ahead and in a better place for knowing and be so pro-active in management. Good luck with all your new plans, you always do what’s best for your dogs, much love for you both X
Love & hugs to you & Swagger as you set off in a new direction. With you beside him, he’ll be awesome in a different discipline.
Maybe it’s time to think more about some obedience competition! I feel your pain. I lost a fabulous dog at 6 years old to an incurable disease. Live and love each moment!
Prayers for you and Swagger as you take a new path in life. I’m sure he will enjoy scent work!
How disappointing for his agility career. How wonderful you have the early diagnosis. What a lucky boy Swagger is. We are sorry to learn this.
Blimey. Rubbish news but I love the way you already have a new job for your boy. One of mine has liver issues and OA in a foot so we now do heel work and some body awareness for fun. Its always sad but as you say pet first amazing agility partner second.
Hugs to you both. It is a fine line between gratitude and disappointment when you have the teammate you have spent years working with sidelined and yet still with you.
You two have been an amazing team in competition. I have high hopes that you both will remain an amazing team in life for many years to come.
Hugs-hugs-hugs.He is the most amazing and wonderful dog.
How sad, my heart just sank reading this and relating…..I had noticed years ago a difference in our German Shepherd that most people wouldn’t have noticed in their own pets. We lost her at a young age and as much as it always fills my eyes with tears and makes my heart heavy thinking about it, I’m grateful for everything that she taught me. I wouldn’t be who I am today if she hadn’t come into my life!
Yes now is time to jump into “paramedic” mode….calm, thoughtful decision making. Just this week i was talking to someone about your lecture on “PTSD” after Decaf was bitten coming out of the ring. Grieving then moving past those constraints to a new beginning. I am so sorry but I know that you and Swagger have a whole new world to conquer. Much luck, much success and many prayers…..been there and you helped me thru.
Dr Joshua Stern at UC Davis has been studying DCM beause it started showing up in Goldens. He has linked it to low taurine levels and is trying to find the cause. You might want to read his research.
I am so sorry to hear this as it is obvious Swagger loves his agility job and partnering with you. He still has his partner, just a new job. Nose kisses to your sweet boy and I hope you find a miracle, but if not may the nose work begin!
I’m so sorry to read this. It’s happening to Golden’s who are taurine deficient Golden Retrievers, and in them it seems to be reversible. You can have blood levels tested.
Will be thinking of you….
Hearts to you & Swagger. I know you both will succeed with any task you undertake. Hope Swagger is a rare case & the Taurine reverses the condition.
My rat terrier Zip went from heart murmur to syncope to congestive heart failure; we had quality time and my vet treated custom protocol. Zip took about 10 pills three times a day with a Bullseyepiller. He climbed up on the bed to be dosed daily; it was as if he knew the pills helped. I loved that dog to live and he did by the grace of God and my vet. We got 24 months after the initial syncope episode. The diuretics killed his kidneys before his heart gave out. Praying for you and Swagger.
My thoughts and prayers are with you both. He’ll love nose work.
This is crazy. And sad. And I’m glad he gets to learn scent work. And big hugs to you and him.
Here’s hoping for a reversal in his condition!
Wishing you both all the best. You’re in my prayers.
Hi-I’m so sorry about Swagger’s diagnosis 🙁 just wanted to let you know that this could possibly be related to diet. Do you have him on a lamb based food? If so ask your cardiologist to test taurine levels. Sending lots of good thoughts to your sweet boy,
No Sue, no lamb in his diet however Taurine levels are being tested.
Susan , hugs to you. I can completely understand. I wish I knew more about the disease but there are so many knowledgeable people out there. Facebook and friends around me helped me keep my border collie alive 3 years ( and counting) past life expectancy when she was diagnosed with a severe liver shunt at 10 months old. She only was able to play agility a short time before it impacted her health. We now do barn hunt and nosework to keep her mind happy. Swagger is lucky to have you know him so well to catch this now.
There are no words. I read this just before going to bed last night, and did not sleep well thinking of you and Swagger.
I know that you will follow your heart and pursue every avenue, as you did with Encore. I hope that Swagger’s DCM is reversible, and this article says that cardiologists recommend taurine testing for breeds not associated with DCM, so you have hope.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. You have always been able to follow the turns in your path that God has sent your way, and come out with an even more amazing life for you and your dogs, and the lives of people and their dogs all over the world. You and Swagger will love nosework – it is now my passion. As others have suggested, this may be your cue to focus on obedience and offer another classroom in Say Yes online learning. And with your love of music and Swagger’s enthusiasm, I can visualize incredible freestyle or heelwork to music routines. Stay strong.
it is so sad to read this! I feel with you, more, than you know. I lost my Border Collie 2 years ago, and my beloved girl Arwen had an surgery and will never do any sports again, she is almost 8 years old. But like you, keep your had up, find a solution for our dogs. I think, the most important thing is, they stay with us, they are a part of our family. And we can learn a lot of them, they’ll never be sad, cause of doing no more sports. especially our Border Collies are happy, only to be at our side, no matter what we’re doing together. All fingers and paws are crossed here for lovely Swagger Boy.
My prayers are with you and Swagger as you travel this journey of healing. The bond is strong and grows dstringer. The love is deep and grows deeper. Thanks for reaching out and always teaching. Just sorry these lessons are the hard ones. Yours, Kathie and Rook
Hearts to you and Swagger, and all who journey with you.