Danny's back in action
The making of Danny's double miracle — regaining the capacity to walk on his own four legs and, at the same time, finding his forever home — took a bit of faith and hope. And a lot of love.
Jackie Scott of Crest Hill and fiance Herb Zite of Chicago adopted Danny from The Dog House Humane Group, a nonprofit organization based in McHenry and Joliet that's dedicated to rescuing dogs who are slated for euthanasia, on March 30.
"Herb and I both fell in love with Danny instantly," Scott said.
Unbeknownst to Scott and Zite or even to the shelter staff that handled the adoption, then 5-year-old Danny already had intervertebral disc disease, a degenerative and debilitating condition that affects some dog breeds more commonly than others.
When Scott and Zite went to leash their new ward for their first walk together, Danny let out a little yelp.
"We thought perhaps he was nervous, but actually, that was our first sign that he had a problem with his neck," Scott said.
Danny yelped a few more times in that first week. But at his first veterinary appointment, Danny didn't flinch when his neck was examined by trusted family veterinarian Paul Navin.
Navin reminded Scott that dachshunds are prone to spine issues in their necks and backs and to keep a close eye on Danny.
In that first week, as symptoms of Danny's condition emerged, the newness of the relationship made it tricky to gauge what was going on. Danny began spending more time in his open crate, at times refusing to go for a walk when it was offered. He was clearly dejected but still had a healthy appetite and still wagged his tail each time he saw Jackie or Herb.
By April 10, Danny was limping and staggering a bit. An emergency clinic visit led to a veterinary neurologist visit that confirmed the diagnosis about two months after his adoption: Danny had IVDD. He would need an MRI and possibly surgery.
On a limited income as a result of her own health issues, Scott couldn't immediately afford the care that was offered Danny.
"They gave me a written estimate of $6,000 to $7,000," she said. "I was panicked! I had no idea how much it would cost and had expected possibly to see $3,000 to $4,000, but not $7,000. They said we could try a treatment plan to see if it would work until I could afford the surgery."
Danny was prescribed an anti-inflammatory, a muscle relaxer and a pain reliever and was put on strict crate rest for six weeks. He had to be carried in and out of the house to relieve himself, and since Scott's own spinal disc condition means she can't lift more than 10 pounds, Zite, who lives 45 miles away in Chicago, moved in to help out.
"Because the anti-inflammatory prednisone causes thirst and frequent urination, Zite set his alarm to wake Danny at 2 a.m. to take him outside," Scott said. "I'd give Danny his meds and then wake Herb again at 6 a.m. to carry him out again. If we didn't do that, Danny would start to urinate on Herb while he was lifting him out of the crate. Not only would Herb and I get wet, but the bedding in his crate would need to be washed several times each day.
"We bought three crate 'beds,' so we'd always have a spare while the others were in the washer, and we cut up some inexpensive fleece blankets to use on top of the beds so Danny would be comfortable while spending so much time in his crate."
Danny's condition didn't improve. Soon it had progressed to the point where he couldn't stand, and Zite would have to lay him down on his side in the yard so Danny could relieve himself.
Said Scott: "We were so sad for Danny and wondered, 'What kind of a life is this for him?' We struggled with wondering if we were doing the right thing by keeping him alive. The thing that kept us going was that, no matter what, Danny always wagged his tail like crazy when he'd see us."
The couple took turns sitting with Danny and petting or massaging him, so he wouldn't feel alone. Scott's 4-year-old granddaughter drew pictures for Danny that were hung on the back of his crate, along with some artificial flowers.
"I'm sure it didn't matter to Danny, but it made us feel better. Each morning after I spoon-fed Danny, I'd say a prayer aloud for him and asked God to heal him," Scott said.
In the meantime, two Humane Group volunteers organized fundraisers to help pay for Danny's medical bills. They encouraged Scott and Zite to register Danny's cause on an online fundraising website as well.
By mid-May, it was clear: Danny wouldn't get better without surgery.
"Danny deserved so much more," Scott said. "He deserved to be able to walk and be pain free. He's such a happy, friendly, wonderful dog that I couldn't bear the thought of losing him, but I didn't want him to suffer and live his life in a crate like this. So, I prayed my usual morning prayer for Danny to be healed, and this time, I prayed to the Holy Spirit for the wisdom I needed to make the best choices for Danny and for guidance to be led to the right place that could help Danny.
"About 30 minutes later, I was catching up on reading several messages from friends and noticed one from a friend who said I should call the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital because they were miracle workers and less expensive than many other vet hospitals in our area."
Scott took it as a sign. The couple made the long drive with Danny to Urbana. An MRI showed a ruptured cervical disc and several other cervical disc-related issues. Surgery was scheduled for the following day, and arrangements were made for Danny to remain at the hospital through recovery and physical therapy.
The surgery was a success, and as it turned out, Danny didn't need the physical therapy: He could walk just fine without it. Danny was released early and put on strict crate rest for the next six weeks.
"When we picked Danny up, Herb and I both felt like kids on Christmas morning; we were so excited to see him," Scott said. "He was really happy to see us, too."
When Zite went to pay the bill, instead of a balance due, there was an $800 credit. An anonymous donor had taken care of the full expense, and the account was actually overpaid because Danny hadn't required physical therapy. The couple asked if the credit could be refunded to the donor, but staff at the clinic suggested they use the funds to pay the veterinary bills Danny had accrued before surgery.
"We had already spent $1,400 of our own in vet and prescription bills during April and May," Scott said. "And, currently, due to donations, we've only paid $600 of our own money.
"I only wish I knew the name of the donor so that I could thank her or him for their kindness. All the donations from friends, family and strangers paid for the surgery and post-surgery charges to date. Without this generosity, I'd have had to apply for a home equity loan or Danny wouldn't be here today."
Today, Danny walks just fine without any sign of pain. The crate rest during recovery and later to overcome a brief relapse wasn't at all fun for Danny, but he is easygoing and has tolerated it admirably. Scott said Danny is doing so well; the biggest challenge is making sure Danny doesn't jump up or down from the furniture — he will avoid the doggy stairs if he can.
"He'll always have IVDD, and there is a chance there can be another recurrence, but we'll do our very best to care for him so that won't happen," she said. "The best day for me after his surgery was the first warm, sunny day that he was able to walk outside on his leash. He looked up and sniffed the air and looked so happy. It's little things like that that we appreciate now.
"Some of my family and friends thought I was crazy for not surrendering Danny back to the Humane Group because of his illness. But in my gut, I knew that wasn't the right thing to do for him. Herb and I both loved him as if we'd had him for years rather than just weeks. I can't explain it: It's just that we knew it was the right thing to do for him, and he deserved to have a happy life with us."
According to University of Illinois small animal veterinarian Evelyn Caporali, Danny's surgeon, IVDD is most common to dachshund, Pekingese, beagle and cocker spaniel breeds.
"The herniated disc compresses the spinal cord and leads to a variety of clinical signs varying from neck or back pain to weakness or paralysis of the hind limbs or all four limbs, depending on the location of the lesion," Caporali said. "Dogs that present with pain and minimal neurologic deficits can be treated medically with strict cage rest, pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants. About 50 percent of all dogs with IVDD will require surgery."
During Danny's surgery, herniated disc material was removed from his spinal canal to decompress the spinal cord. The overall success rate for surgical decompression is about 83-99 percent.
"The prognosis for dogs that present clinical signs similar to Danny's (inability to walk but still able to move his legs) is good without complications," Caporali said. "However, the prognosis can be poor for dogs that present with inability to move their legs and also have lost deep pain sensation. This is rarely seen in dogs with cervical (neck) disc herniation but can be seen in dogs with thoracic or lumbar (upper or lower back) disc herniation and is considered a surgical emergency."
This column is dedicated to your pets in The News-Gazette's circulation area. If you have a special pet story you'd like to share, please send an email to Siv Schwink at email@example.com. Schwink is a freelance writer and interpretive naturalist. She lives in the country with her three kids, a dog, three cats and two ferrets.