My family’s new “normal” life with our paralyzed dog, Sophie, was actually one of constant change. As soon as my husband Ken and I would become accustomed to a particular way of helping her, the paralysis would progress and take over more of her body. We would find ourselves learning a new lesson and making adjustments for her care.
One of the biggest challenges came when Sophie lost her voice. Somewhere between year one and year two of her illness, Sophie lost the ability to bark.
Why barking was so important to us
Barking was the way Sophie let us know she needed water or to change positions in her bed or when she needed to have a bowel movement. I know every mother thinks her child (2-legged or 4-legged) is the smartest on the block, but Sophie was the brightest dog we ever raised when it came to communicating her needs – until she lost her voice.
As the paralysis moved from her hind legs and into her torso the sounds that came out of her mouth changed from a deep Shepherd bark to a harsh, raspy seal -like voice. It sounded strange enough that one person visiting our house asked if Sophie had been surgically debarked.
The new bark was not only hard to decipher, it was also soft and hard to hear if we were in another room. This meant we had to keep Sophie close to us at all times so we could hear the new squeaks. In order to do that, we had to move her 50 lb. body around the house all day long. It was a constant chore to pull her dog bed from room to room.
Taking care of any task in the house now had to be done twice; once to move Sophie into the room where you were going to work and then a second time to do the household chore that needed to be done in that part of the house.
So, if I wanted to fold laundry, I would pull Sophie’s bed into the bedroom first and then make a second trip to grab the clean clothes. The same was true for setting the dinner table, unloading groceries and vacuuming, which was a complete disaster. I was always calling out to her that I would be right back. But the new set of circumstances made me realize how much I moved around the house and how little time I spent in any one particular room.
How losing her bark left Sophie fearful
Losing her voice had a major effect on Sophie. It caused her to lose her confidence. I think she started to realize how vulnerable she was in the world. And she would panic if she was alone in a room. If we were gone for more than a couple of minutes, her little seal squeaks would frantically call for us.
Over time Ken and I got used to doing everything twice and we learned what her sounds meant. Sophie even taught us a bit of sign language, especially when she was thirsty. If you asked if she needed water, she would actually stick out her tongue and lick her thin dog lips to indicate that she needed a drink. It was brilliant maneuver.
Other dogs have lost their voice too
After writing Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog for a while, I heard from other pet owners who reported how their dogs lost the ability to bark as a side effect of their paralysis. We would compare notes and although I haven’t found documentation for the reason, I’ve come to believe it had to do with the progression of Sophie’s illness. As the paralysis crept up from her legs to her torso, it took away the ability to push herself up from the floor. And as her core muscles weakened more of her chest remained pressed against ground. It’s my opinion, this made it harder for air to move in her diaphragm, affecting her bark.
If this has happened to your dog, I’d love for you to share your story in the comment section below.
Do you know about The Lessons section of our website?
The Lessons is my family’s personal story about life with our paralyzed dog, Sophie. It tells about our journey and the many ‘lessons’ we learned along the way. Click below to start the journey: