It was a typical morning; all the dogs had finished breakfast and we were relaxing before taking morning walks. I was on the couch with Hidalgo and Uma. Suddenly Uma raised herself quickly and in such a way as I hadn’t seen before; she typically has twitches and acts strangely due to her being an old dog with neurological issues, but this was different. Her head and ears were extended so straight and upright that her head looked like that of a Great Dane. Thinking it would probably pass, as most things do for her, I asked her if she was ok, pet her, and went back to reading something, but it didn’t pass.
Worried she would have a seizure soon, I put her on the bed on the floor while Chris, my husband, readied the Diazepam. It was apparent at this point that she had lost function of her back legs. Something was definitely wrong—she kept moving her mouth in strange ways, and her head was wobbling. I got treats and she couldn’t seem to even follow them. Her eyesight was at least partially gone, and even her sense of smell seemed off. Yet, she wasn’t having a full-blown seizure. I called the MaxFund clinic right away and was told to bring her in.
I carried her into the clinic and the tech agreed that it was probably time for her to go, after we went through what had been happening. At one point while she was on the exam table, she leaned over and her nose landed on the table, and she just let it be there, supporting her head. I’ve seen some really weird stuff at times but this loss of function was some of the weirdest. We put her back on the floor and I waited there with her for a doctor to come in an assess her. I called Chris and told him to come down right away. I just kept petting her and telling her how much I loved her, as she went in and out of sleeping and trying to “come to.” At one point she was so still I thought she might go ahead and leave, and told her it was fine to go.
The doctor who assessed her said her heart sounded much worse and that there wasn’t much they could do for her. We knew it was best to let her go. Likely her heart would fail, and that may be why she had been losing weight. (We had been trying to figure out why she had lost 10 pounds since March but only had some blood work done and were working on scheduling an ultrasound.)
Chris showed up and we spent some time with her before we ultimately watched her leave us, very peacefully, with help from the very caring doctor and tech.
Uma was our foster dog, but she was truly OUR dog.
I met Uma at the MaxFund shelter back in January 2012. I had been coming in to work on training with the dogs, as I was in the beginning stages of learning dog training, and I was going there very regularly. I had also decided to help with washing dogs. I was getting ready to leave one day when I saw her in a kennel—her beauty struck me right away, and many people know I have a bit of a penchant for good-looking herders. I asked a fellow volunteer, “Who is this?!” and found out that Uma had been found left alone in a local dog park, no one to claim her. Some good Samaritans took her in and tried to find her people to no avail, and ended up bringing her in to MaxFund. She had a very gnarly case of arthritis in her front legs, and a bad hot spot on front right paw. No doubt that spot was getting worse, waiting in a shelter kennel.
The following week I went back to see who needed baths. Uma’s was the only name on the list. I gave her a bath and a tech helped me trim her nails. She was such a sweet girl. I knew I had to get her out of there, though I wasn’t committed to adopting, so I convinced Chris to bring her home as a foster, and we did, on February 5, 2012. I was told by the vet that she was probably at least 13 or 14, and that she would maybe have another year or two of life, by how advanced her arthritis was.
Uma’s arthritis and bad heart (congenital heart murmur) were all she really had when we first brought her home. She and my dog, Jasper, who was a little over a year old at the time, got along well, playing in the snow in the yard. While she would still be limited by how bad the arthritis was, she never let it hold her back. We were able to take her out on short romps in the mountains (nothing too long or too strenuous!) and go for nice walks in town, and she and Jasper did love to play every so often.
In late March we were contacted by potential adopters. We did a home visit and they had a great home and seemed to be a perfect fit. The only concern I had were some stairs that weren’t blocked off, and told them they would need to install a door or a very good gate to ensure she didn’t try to go down them and fall; her arthritis made it impossible for her to navigate stairs safely. She was formally adopted by them and we took in another foster, but about six weeks later I got a call from the shelter saying she had been returned, and her front right leg was broken. Apparently the new family had installed a gate, but after coming home one day, found it broken and her at the bottom of the stairs. They returned her because they claimed she had more health issues than we had disclosed, and couldn’t care for her.
I was just anxious to get her back into my home. She had to stay in the shelter a few days so they could clear her medically to be back in my care, so I visited her every day there and told her I was sorry she had to be there, that I would be back to get her out. When we did get her back on May 3, we had to be careful as she was about 20 pounds overweight! With her broken leg/arthritis, we put her on a diet and once the leg was healed, she was able to get enough exercise and lose the weight.
About two weeks after we got her back, I was staying at a client’s home for an overnight pet sitting gig when Chris called me at about 2:30 in the morning. Uma was having convulsions and foaming at the mouth. I told him it was a seizure and to just wait it out, and to get her to an emergency facility, which he did. She had a grand mall seizure, the first we’d ever witnessed. We aren’t sure what started them, but perhaps a bump to the head falling down the stairs, or perhaps that is what caused her to crash through the gate and fall down the stairs—we aren’t sure—but this was the first we knew of, and we started her on meds to control them.
By October of that same year, I was noticing behavior changes in Uma as well. She’d always done fine around other dogs, and I would occasionally take her to dog parks, where she would usually stay to herself, sniffing around the parameter, or just lying down. She wasn’t one to play with lots of dogs, only Jasper occasionally. However, she started to be more like a herder—she would chase after dogs, barking, if they were playing or came into her space, and she would start staring more. There weren’t any problems and she always stopped or was easily redirected, but on Halloween, I noticed her staring more as we entered the dog park, and she went at a Rottweiler in a way that I felt was a little less “playful herder” and a bit more over-reactive, so I removed her and stopped taking her. She also started to become more leash-reactive: not only at dogs, but other people, birds, and random objects (like a recycling bin that was out on a corner).
A mentor trainer I had in the beginning came out to evaluate her and said I was limited in what I could do for her. The reactivity was likely from the seizures/her neurological issues, and training would be unable to really fix the problem because of the health issues compounding it. I was saddened by this news, as I was hoping I could relieve her (and my!) stress about this. I was embarrassed by her reactions and was terrified of her hurting another dog or person, or worse—a child. I avoided as many things as I could on walks with her, and if we encountered over-zealous off-leash dogs, I would drop Jasper’s leash to let him deflect the dog so she wouldn’t be in potential harm’s way.
By the following year I had been getting to know other trainers and discovered clicker training methods. I was doing everything I could to learn as much as possible not only for my own professional career, but for Uma. How could I help her? How could I keep her safe and rehabilitate her? I didn’t want her to be so stressed on walks. I wanted her to have a happier life. Finding Leslie McDevitt’s book, Control Unleashed and the Look At That method changed everything! Uma was finally able to learn how to cope with stimuli on her environment, and disengage from it and focus on me. Life changed for us, and I knew that if these kinds of methods could work for her, they could work for ANY dog. It was a true revelation to my life and hers, a revolution! I ironically took a video just this Sunday of her, being so good on a walk.
I would get inquiries about Uma, but when I’d list all the health/behavioral issues (bad heart and thyroid, arthritis and dysplasia that was now moving to the back end, seizures, her reactivity) and the commitments that came with them, it was too much for people. Later down the line it became more intense; as her liver got worse, she was up to medications five times a day, limiting how long Chris and I could be away, not to mention the cost of that plus the acupuncture treatments we got regularly for her. She had an intense routine and while her reactivity got better, her hunting for food never lessened. We had to be very careful about management with her, ensuring things were put away and sometimes even crating her. Everything in our lives had to consider her and what could happen to her.
In fall of 2014 she had a lump that was found to be cancerous. She underwent surgery like a real trooper, and became cancer-free. She kicked cancer’s ass, a true tenacious cattle dog!!!
Uma was a real treasure. She was always happy, always had a smile regardless of how painful it must have been to inhabit her body, and grateful for the walks to sniff as much as she could at her leisure. Some days she would surprise you by going that extra block, while a lot of other days it was a simple 20-minute walk around one block. Her spirit was inspiring. We had lots of nicknames for her, like Sassy Britches. She was full of sass and ready to take on the world, despite her frail body.
She taught me so much. I wouldn’t have become the trainer I am without her. She pushed me to learn and grow, and taught me a TON about patience, kindness and persevering. I owe her so much and wish I could have given her more…my heart is so broken today, the house so quiet without her demanding her breakfast or shuffling around to try and find any scraps she can, or to try and scramble on the couch for cuddles. I know I’ll get through this, but right now it’s terribly painful.
I will miss Uma terribly for a very long time. But I will also carry on and push through this in her spirit, as she has helped teach me to do. Uma led by example. She never let her pain hold her back from enjoying her life, from always having a smile, and always wanting ear scratches and belly rubs. She lived far longer than the year or two expected, at almost five! Amazing girl.
Rest well, dear Uma-loompa. Take care of our Soup, Buttons and Merlin, and we’ll see you at the Bridge, you playful, lovable pup, you!
Owner, Delightful Doggies