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. ♥♥♥