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--Success Story--    

Rusty, A Miracle of His Family’s Love

by Deb Russell

As I begin to tell you Rusty's story, my husband, our “doggies,” and I are on vacation.  We’re sitting in a cabin in front of the fireplace at Mahoney State Park just west of Omaha, NE.  My doggies, Rusty (age 14), Simba (age 12), and my husband are snoozing after a wonderful October day.  Life doesn’t get any more normal or perfect than this. I cannot help but reflect over the journey our family has been through this past year and a half.  

After Rusty's back problem on Feb 22, 2009, I was advised by two different veterinarians to put Rusty to sleep because of his back issue.  They said he would not have "quality of life.”  Obviously, I never returned to their practice.

Since Rusty's back issue, I have often pondered the meaning of "quality of life."  I am an avid walker, so I walk daily by dogs that are in kennels, on chains, or allowed to run loose “24/7.”    Oh yeah, they can walk; but, do they have the "quality of life” that Rusty has even though he cannot walk? I have come to believe that "quality of life" for animals or humans means having loved ones who are there for you, no matter what happens.  Rusty has a great “quality of life" because he has a family that loves him as much as they would love any family member.

After the two veterinarians I previously mentioned, we ended up at a veterinarian college.  They were very helpful and never made me feel like keeping Rusty going was wrong.  However, I usually saw someone new at every visit which is not the ideal situation for someone like Rusty.  So I kept searching for someone that would understand our situation.  Dr. Holland was recommended to me by a friend, because of her experience with dachshunds.  After a very lengthy phone conversation, I felt she would be someone that could help us.   During our initial visit, she asked to see his Dodgerslist success story webpage. The following is her email response: 
Deb, It was wonderful to meet you and the amazing Rusty today!  What a guy.  I can tell just from the few minutes he was here that he has a very special spirit to him; he is so lucky to have such a wonderful family who values it so highly!  His attitude is inspiring to say the least! And for having so many issues "on paper" he looks great! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the videos!  I got goose bumps when I saw him swimming - that's awesome!  Keep up the amazing work you guys are doing and let me know if I can help in ANY way.  I feel lucky to know such a super star!  Dr. Holland

At my last visit at Iowa State University Veterinary College, the young veterinarian that walked into the room after reading his medical history, exclaimed, "My!  Rusty is certainly a medical miracle!!"  What the people on Dodgerslist don't know is just how true that statement is regarding Rusty.

Most of the "Bright Outcomes" stories begin when their dog's back injury occurs.  However, for you to really understand Rusty's situation, I must tell you his history.  You see, Rusty had a horrible accident as 5-month-old pup.  He fell from a cliff of about 40 feet to what should have been his death.   After examination by a surgeon, we were told that 95% of all people would not have the surgery to try and save him.  We were told that if they could fix him he probably wouldn't live very long and that we may have to express his bladder for the rest of his life.  Just one look into those big brown eyes was all it took to know that I had to be one of the 5% that tried.  I had to give him a chance for life.  After almost 15 years of loving and caring for him, I can whole-heartedly say that saving him was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  He has been such a blessing in my life.  He has given me more love and devotion than any human is capable of giving.  There hasn't been a day that I haven't thanked my Heavenly Father for giving me such a beautiful gift.


Lake swimming is fun

A sunny day on the boat

February 22, 2009, he was almost 13. When we came home from a movie and discovered that something was horribly wrong with Rusty, it was just another chapter in our story of love for him.  We didn't do surgery because of his age and because of the extensive surgery he had already undergone as a pup.  His chances to ever walk again, with or without surgery because of his previous injury, were very slim.    When his current veterinarian told us to PTS, we just walked away and kept looking for someone to help us.  We wanted to try for a few more years of him being happy and pain free despite his disability.  

Thanks to Dodgerslist and some very supportive people, Rusty is doing great!  Rusty does use his Eddie’s Wheels, but he actually prefers getting around by himself.  He has taught himself to hop around to get where he needs to be.  We live on a private lake and one of his very favorite activities is to go boating.  One of my best memories of this past summer is a day that we decided to take our doggies boating.  My husband took our lab down the hill to our dock and boat.  I was to bring Rusty.  I sat him down at the top of the hill to potty and he saw Simba and Daddy at the boat.  Down the hill he started hopping so fast that I couldn't catch him -- his “Doxie” ears flapping and a ARP, ARP, ARP (Doxie bark) all the way!!  No way was he going to get left out of this fun time!

Another very fond memory is last summer is when we discovered for the first time that he could still swim.  We took both dogs on the boat and stopped at the beach.  My husband started throwing a stick in the lake for our lab to fetch.  To our great surprise, Rusty started barking and hopping towards the lake for his stick!  Rusty has been raised around labs so swimming and fetching has been a part of his life.   My husband threw in a stick for him - close to the shore.  He got into the water and started swimming just like the old Rusty.  I started crying and laughing at the same time!

As a family, we have a new normal.  Rusty's personality has returned and we spend more time doing the things he really enjoys.  Car rides, boat rides, swimming, parks, napping by the front window, barking at the deer (or as he knows them, “big doggies”), and running them off our property. He enjoys the belly rubs, tea parties with my grand-daughter, treats, hanging out with and bossing around Simba who, by the way, is a Black Lab.   In fact, everything he used to do, he still does it in some way.

I have been told by so many people that Rusty is lucky to have me, but that is not how I see it. He has touched my life and soul on a very deep level.  Rusty's unconditional love has made me a better person and my life so much fuller.  I have been richly blessed beyond words.  Whatever I do for him now is the very least I can do to repay his love and devotion.  Rusty has taught me so much about life, love, and relationships.  Even through all the physical problems life has handed him, Rusty has not spent one day or even one hour feeling sorry for himself.  He has more spirit and determination to live happy than any human I know.  As I age, I can only pray that I do it with as much courage and grace that Rusty has shown.  

We have recently been given another sign of encouragement.  On his last visit to the veterinary college, they changed his label from "paralyzed” to "hind-limb paresis” which means he still has motor skills; but, they are very weak.  When I asked the moderators on Dodgerslist if this made a difference in miracles, here was their response:
HI Deb! Good to hear from you!! Yes ma'am, paresis is technically considered slight or partial paralysis and in that difference between slight or partial paralysis and total paralysis is a world of difference. And the miracle of healing can still be taking place. Nerves can slowly and gradually keep on healing. That is one reason why we always say, "Never say Never" with our IVDD dogs. The body has a miraculous ability to keep on healing itself and we can never know just what level of healing can be ultimately achieved. Only their bodies can reveal the answer over time. This is great news! Of course, for me the fact that he is sooo happy and pain free is the ultimate definition of success in the first place. Anything extra is really icing on the cake!”

     Even though we are perfectly happy with just how Rusty is today, happy and pain free; as the moderators said, “Anything extra is the icing on the cake!”  However, it is my opinion that he has always had some hind-limb motor skills; but, they are very slowly becoming stronger even to the point that the vet noticed he could move his legs.  As they say here on Dodgerslist, “NEVER say NEVER” about our IVDD dogs.  Rusty may have just one more miracle up his beautiful “Doxie” paw! 

Original story:

I'm writing our story in hopes that you do not give up on your Doxie. It will get easier and you will find a new normal even if they don't regain use of their back legs. You will find happiness again with your beloved pet if you will give it some time.

It happened on Feb 22, 2009. When my husband and I returned home from a movie, something was horribly wrong with Rusty. We rushed him to the vet; she said it was his back. The next month was a nightmare. We live in a small town and Rusty's medical care was done by the only vet in the area. She seem okay until this happened to Rusty. She advised against surgery due to his age of 13. She put him on Prednisone & Previcox with no stomach protection, for 2 weeks. On day 4, he started bleeding internally. She tried to convince me to put him to sleep. I never went back...

A friend recommended her vet. I give him full credit for saving his life because he immediately took him off the drugs and put him on pepcid. However, he gave me no hope of Rusty being able to have any quality of life. He tried to convince me to put him to sleep. I never went back there either...

I decided to take him to Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center, at Iowa State University . They recommended crate rest, acupuncture, and water therapy after crate rest; all the treatments that Dodgerlist promotes. They told me not to give up on Rusty. They said even without surgery, 60% of these dogs eventually walk again. I knew he was in the right place now. I promised Rusty that as long as he wanted to fight for life; we would be there fighting with him.

I love the dachshund breed so much that I do plan to have future doxies. However, I have learned that I will find a "safe vet" using the Dodgerlist list of questions to select my vet. I will ask lots of questions about how many IVDD cases they have treated and the outcomes. What meds do they use. How do they treat IVDD. What type of prevention treatment do they recommend. I will ask many more questions than I did with Rusty.

Over the past year, Rusty's loving personality has returned. As a family, we have learned a new normal. We have learned to genuinely value everyday with him as a true gift. He is always so happy when he wakes up each morning. He is my sunshine. Even though he has not regained the use of his back legs, he does have a good quality life. He loves the park, car rides, boat rides, swimming (yes, he can swim!) , belly rubs , his family and treats!! Rusty just celebrated his 14th birthday. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I created a video to share. Happy Birthday, Rusty!



June 18, 2010


March 24, 2010

Update October 2011:

Rusty passed last Wednesday having lived over 15 years with a wonderful and loving family who devoted themselves to him and who felt blessed to have been able to share his unconditional love. He left them and us a living legacy of life lessons about determination, courage, and the will to live.

We made so many good memories with him even though he couldn't walk. In some way, I would like those who are trying decide if they can live with a IVDD family member to see what they might be missing. Even though I totally loved him before his back issue, our relationship went to a whole level that sadly most humans will never experience. I understood every bark & whine. I knew when he was hungry, thirsty, sick, potty time, tired and "I need a belly rub time". I never minded all of the extra care that was needed for him. I would do it over again in a minute or for another 5 years it had been possible. He truly taught me unconditional love.

Happy Trails at the Rainbow Bridge Rusty! I know you're running free with glee in your eyes!