by Kristen Vilardi
Sunday, July 3rd, is a day forever etched in my mind. Waking up like any other Sunday morning, I was looking forward to beginning my day. The dogs were all excited to go outside and get some much needed fresh air. It was then I no- ticed Travis appeared to be walking like a drunken sailor. Coming from Canada and having only been in Texas a few months, my first thought was a possible spider bite. Either way, it was time to visit the emergency vet. It seems if there's ever a problem with my dogs, it's always on a long weekend. X-rays were done, and it was discovered Travis had 2 ruptured discs in his neck. We were sent home with orders of strict crate rest and pain meds. Come Tuesday, Travis was getting worse. He could no longer hold himself up, and his front legs were just not working. We rushed him to our local vet where he looked at the x-rays and recommended surgery right away.
Thankfully, we were only 30 minutes from a vet that's known for doing these kind of surgeries on dogs suffering from IVDD. What's strange is I always thought IVDD only affected the back. Boy was I in for a surprise!
July 5th was the day Travis had his neck operated on. The vet doing the surgery said he'd only seen his condition once before and there was a good chance surgery wouldn't work for him. The only other option would be euthanasia. We were willing to give the surgery a chance. Travis is only 8.5 years old and, having him since he was rescued at 3 months old, there has always been a special bond between us. Later that night, we heard the surgery was successful and Travis had come through it with flying colors. I wasn't prepared in the least for seeing him the next day. His neck was so swollen, stitches, and his beautiful, long hair shaved. Just listening to him cry was the hardest thing ever. He stayed at the vet for 5 days getting the care he needed. We visited him every day and prepared ourselves for bringing him home.
The day we brought him home, I cried nonstop. My little man, who was always so independent, could do nothing. He was now paralyzed from the neck down. He spent his day and night barking and crying in frustration and pain. He just laid there unable to even lift his head. His quality of life was gone. It was then, I made the one decision that I will have to live with for the rest of my life.
I gently held Travis, crying into his hair. We sat outside in the rain and I promised him I would do what I thought was best and end his suffering. My vets were open that Saturday morning which was sheer luck because they only open one Saturday out of the month. I waited in the room, crying and holding my boy, telling him I was so sorry. I told him, “I'm sorry you're in pain. I'm sorry you've had to go through this and I'm so sorry I have to be the one who ends your suffering. You are so loved and have been such a blessing in my life. I will be right here with you as you take your last breath and your brothers and sisters will be waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge.”
Dr. David Duplechin (or as I refer to him Travis's human angel) came in to the room and wanted to give Travis a bit longer to heal. He would keep Travis at his office and work to get his pain medications adjusted so at least he was comfortable. Then we just needed to wait and pray for his body to take the time it needed to heal.
July 15th, my big boy came home. His pain was under control (as much as could be expected) and, now, we played the waiting game ... would Travis ever walk again?
The days and nights seemed to blend into each other. He never slept. He just barked and barked non-stop. He was uncomfortable and scared. We had to do everything for him. By everything, I mean turning him every 3 hrs, holding the food and water bowl under his face, carrying him outside and helping him go to the washroom. Seeing him just lay there and only being able to move his head was the hardest thing I've ever been through. I cried day and night from lack of sleep, stress, and seeing my boy in the condition he was in. Living with so much doubt was taking its toll on me. Would Travis ever walk again? Would he be happy living in a quad cart? Did we make the right choice in keeping him alive?
I was very lucky that I was able to stay home and be with Travis 24/7. I was able to learn his different barks. He had one for when he wanted water, had to pee, or when he just wanted to turn over so he could watch everything. He would lay in his wagon and we would take him everywhere with us. Whatever room we went into, he was right there with us.
July 24th was such a happy day! Travis finally wagged his tail for the first time and kicked his back legs a little bit. It seems so strange to look back now and be so excited over such a small thing; but, to us it was HUGE. It was the progress we had been waiting for! We started to prop Travis up on pillows so he was able to sit up a bit. He had to use the strength in his neck to hold his head up. He would still fall over, so we got creative and used the bottom part of the crate and it helped to balance him. Being part of the family again was lifting his spirits and having all his brothers and sisters able to sit with him was just what the doctor ordered.
Three days later, Travis began his physical therapy consisting of water therapy at home in the tub and laser therapy at the vet. My husband and I were so dedicated to not giving up and giving Travis every opportunity to walk again. We never missed a night of water therapy. Our hard work was finally starting to show.
On July 31st, Travis was able to right himself from laying on his side. It was amazing! His legs were still so wobbly, and he had lost 6 lbs of muscle mass; but, his healing journey was just beginning. We just sat back and watched the miracle that is Travis.
Every day, there was more and more progress. Baby steps - but the progress was there. Travis went from being fully paralyzed from the neck down, only able to move his head, to righting himself when laying on his side, to taking his first steps, to finally being able to walk - then run.
Travis walked himself outside for the first time on August 15th. To see him so proud of himself, getting back the independence he'd lost and being "normal again," brings tears to my eyes even as I write this.
Travis is such an inspiration to everyone who has met him or heard his story. We've been through hell and back with him and IVDD. I pray he never meets this disease again; but, I know if we should cross paths with IVDD, we'll laugh at it because Travis is one doxie that will never be kept down. Travis is 8.5 years old and learned to walk again. If Travis has taught me anything, it's whatever life throws at you, don't give up! Take baby steps to get through it. Then when you have the strength, you run ... and you don't stop!