Spanna at 5 1/2 weeks old
Graphics courtesy of Arlene at Dilly Doodles
It all started back in 1991, my husband who was my boyfriend at the time wanted a GSD.  There had always been GSD's in his family and he was now keen to have one. I had been brought up with dogs but never GSD's.  We sat and talked about different dogs and their personalities and then I had been convinced, I too wanted a GSD.  And so the search was on.  Before we went to a breeder I wanted to first see if we could get a rescue one. 

We found an advert in a pet shop window that was advertising GSD's free to good homes.  We went to the house the next day in an area in Cardiff.  Upon arriving we were told that there were no papers with the puppies as the mating was an accident. Their bitch had escaped and mated with their friends dog down the road.  We were not bothered about the papers as we did not want to show, we just wanted a pet/companion.  The puppies were only 5 1/2 weeks old and we were told we could take one there and then as the mother had rejected them and they were hand rearing them.  We saw the mother, and whether she had rejected them or not we could not be sure about.  I  suspect that the owners were merely out of their depths and had not realised the logistics of puppy rearing.  The puppies were very dirty, and covered in food and sick.  I could not decide which one to choose and so Andrew chose the one that was biting him the most.

And so we had our new puppy.  We took Spanna back to his new home in Cardiff, Wales (UK).  Puppyhood brought the usual joys of chewed up furniture, possessions and many many laughs. 

The first 5 years of Spanna's life I had to work, but would always go home lunch time to see him so as he would not get too lonely, and so I would't be worrying about him.  I was totally devoted to him and he meant the whole world to me. In 1996 our  first child was born and so now I was home and able to spend most of my time with him. I counted down those days prior to leaving work, and was really looking forward to being able to be with him.  I hated to leave him, I always felt so guilty.  Andrew is a HGV truck driver and would often take him to work with him.  Spanna would love to go and was very popular at the places they stopped. The staff there would even keep dog biscuits for when he was there, and they would allow him to run around the offices.

Spanna also enjoyed many caravan and camping holidays, and going to American car shows and camping over. The American cars are one of our loves.  Spanna would always be the star of the show wherever we went.  He was very popular with everybody, young and old alike. 

When we came home with Spanna on 9/6/91, I never in my wildest dreams expected such a tremendous dog.  He had the most wonderful character.  He was a huge dog (around 95 pounds), of very gentle nature.  When our first child was born from the first day he was marvellous with her and very protective.  He was so cheeky.  You would tell him not to do something and next you'd see him crawling on his belly trying to get to where he was not supposed to be, without you seeing him.  He was remarkably intelligent and learnt to recognise peoples gestures.  If someone said "oh well" as they got up he knew they were going and would get all excited hoping they would take him for a ride with them.  When Andrew would finish a cup of tea and place the cup in the sink, he would get excited as he knew that he would do this and then take him for a walk.  You could not say "walk" as he would start running back and forth through the house with excitement, so we went through numerous other words to try and put him off the scent and even spelling words but he would learn them all one by one.  If I went upstairs to get my mobile phone he would run up and down the stairs knowing that I was about to take him out.  He could even recognise different clothes and would know what was going to happen by what clothes you had on.

The fun continued until  one day in June 1999 when I noticed he was dragging one of his hind legs.  A trip to the vets confirmed that he had been doing this as his toe nails were worn down.  The vet said that he had Arthritis and possibly Degenerative Myelopathy, also known as CDRM and DM.
He did one of the standard tests of turning the dogs paw under to see if the dog will correct it, but he didn't.  We tried numerous different medications for the Arthritis and hoped that it was just Arthritis that he was suffering from.   After about 1 month the vet confirmed that he felt Spanna was suffering from DM.  We felt absolutely devastated, we had never heard of this before and did not know where to turn for any help.  We had been advised by our vet that  there was no cure.  We had x-rays taken to check that there were no underlying problems.

For about 3 months Spanna's DM progressed slightly but he was still able to walk quite well, he was just slightly wobbly and weaker but still had fairly good mobility.  He had monthly Cartrophen injections for his Arthritis.  By about November we needed to buy him a dog boot as he was dragging his leg so much, the nails and pads on his paw were raw and bleeding.  We would use this if we were taking him for a walk on concrete, but most walks we tried to take him in the near-by fields without his boot and he walked alot better there.  As well as dragging his hind leg more and more he was also losing a lot of muscle mass from the hind quarters and becoming weaker and less stable on his feet.  He would cross over his hind legs and start tripping up on them and his tail.  Towards the end of November we decided to try accupuncture.  Our vet did not practice in accupuncture but kindly put us in touch with a vet that did.  We were told by the accupuncturist that it was unlikely to help the DM, but could may help with the Arthritis. We were keen to give it a go as we had been told it could not do any harm. The day after the treatment Spanna seemed to be walking just slightly better.  2 days after the treatment I took Spanna for a walk over the fields.  He was walking pretty much the same and then saw a dog he knew and decided to chase it.  Even though walking was becoming increasingly difficult once he got himself into a sprint or more of a bunny hop really, he could move quite well.   Unfortunately in Spanna's eagerness to chase he fell over as he was turning a corner.  Spanna could not get up on his own.  I helped him to his feet but without leaning on me he would start to fall, and could not walk more than about 2 steps.  I telephoned Andrew on my mobile and he came over the fields and had to carry Spanna home.  That day we felt like it was the end of the world.  Spanna could not move for hours and it was about 8 hours before he could get onto his feet.  We felt terrible and blamed ourselves, we thought  the accupuncture was responsible for it, and at that point deeply regretted the treatment.   After speaking with the vet and the accupuncturist we realised it was most unlikely that the accupuncture had caused it, and it was probably that Spanna felt slightly better and therefore was more sprightly.  He had caused himself a bad strain.  Over the next few weeks he slowly picked back up, but we felt he never really recovered to the level of fitness that he had prior to the fall. I regret not having him on a lead that day, and will always wonder if he may not have gone down so fast had he not have fallen.  By the end of December we could not take him for a decent walk at all as he could simply not do it.  We had to just take him for regular short walks.  We wanted to keep him moving for as long as possible.  In December Andrew got a computer and we were desperately searching out any information we could find.  We came across information regarding the use of vitamins and the regime put together by Dr C from the University of Florida.  We showed everything to our vet and he said we could try the vitamins with no ill effect to Spanna, but he was unsure of the rest as he had not come across it before, but it was up to us.  We started giving Spanna the high recommended doses of  vitamin E and B Complex.  After about 2 weeks we stopped their use as we found that Spanna was becoming dehydrated on their use. Many other people have used these vitamins though and found no ill effects.

On Christmas Eve of 1999 our house became flooded by a stream and filled the ground floor with water.  We had to have all the carpets ripped out.  These could not be replaced for some time due to damp. This created a very unsteady surface for Spanna to walk on as now he had no grip.  We used rugs to try and help him along, and would try and support him whilst walking to stop him falling.  The builders arrived to start all the work in February.  At this point the kitchen had to be completely gutted including having the concrete floor lifted, the whole house was like a building site. It was a complete nightmare.  Of course, we could have moved out but there was nowhere for us to go with our dog, and so he would have had to go to kennells.  There was no way that I wanted to go anywhere without Spanna and so we stayed.  We muddled through those few weeks, our daughter  (who was only 3) went to my mothers every evening as we had no cooking facilities, and then she would take her to nursery the following morning.  I stayed and nursed Spanna during the day and then picked up my daughter from nursery lunch time.  We spent most of our time upstairs.  At this point I was also pregnant and due to have a baby in 5 weeks.  Andrew was working during the day and his evenings were taken up with renevating the spare bedroom to move our first daughter into. The whole situation was just a complete nightmare.  When the builders came in it completely stressed Spanna and he started nibbling/biting himself.  He made himself so sore the vet said it was equivalent to a burn.  Poor Spanna now had the agony of this on top of everything else, he was red raw.  Those few weeks the builders were in just seemed to send Spanna on a downward spiral and the DM progressed rapidly.  I had to go into hospital to have the baby the 2nd week of March, thankfully Andrew had the week off work and so was able to look after our  daughter and Spanna whilst I was away.  Upon my return home I found Spanna to be in a much worse state and barely able to walk at all.  Within a week Andrew was having to use a lifting strap to help Spanna to walk.  Spanna was becoming depressed, he had a look on his face of total misery, he had such a sad face, and let's face it you couldn't blame him, he had been through a lot.  We didn't know what to do for the best, what was kindest for him.  We couldn't bare to see him suffering and struggling so much and yet it didn't seem right to have him put to sleep .  We agonised about this for a long time and then eventually decided on 19/03/00 that he had had enough, he was put to sleep very gently. It broke our hearts, and to this day we still feel so much pain over losing our beautiful boy.  We had the vet come to our house and he went with his loving family all around him and he was eating his chocolate drops.  Afterwards, Andrew buried him in the garden and we have built him a memorial garden above where he lies.  This has tropical plants, a water feature and a wind chime. 

The week after Spanna had gone we came across a web site with a great deal of help and information on it regarding DM.  The site also gave you access to chat to others.  We found some great  information there and wished we had only found it sooner, it came too late for us.  Since then, I have gone on to try and find out as much as I can about DM.  It may be too late for us but perhaps It may help others suffering from this tragic disease. 

I hope that this site, dedicated to our darling Spanna may help give some hope and guidance to others travelling the sad and lonely path that we were once on.  It can be made a little easier with help and understanding from people who have already been there.

Please click here for the DM Support Group at Yahoo.

Please click here for our final testimonial to Spanna.

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