One of the best reasons for having a blog is that I get to meet amazing people who are changing the world for disabled pets. That’s how I felt when Debbie Thompson sent me a message introducing her Boxer, Melody who was born with Spina bifida. She and Melody (Mellie for short) are teaching pet owners that dogs born with this birth defect can lead quality lives.
Debbie is the founder of Boxers on Wheels. Her mission is to stop the euthanasia of Spina bifida puppies.
Here are facts you should know about Spina bifida (SB)
The birth defect happens in the womb when one or more vertebrae in the spine do not fully fuse together. This prevents the spinal column from closing over the spinal cord. Dogs with the condition have part or all of the affected area open and exposed.
The cause of the problem isn’t completely understood, but researchers think there is a strong genetic component linked to malnutrition in the mother dog during pregnancy. Other risk factors that might play a role are: being exposed to environmental toxins during pregnancy and undue stress.
Puppies born with SB have problems walking, controlling their muscles and are usually incontinent. They can also have drainage from their spine. The good news is the condition does not get worse over time.
Spina bifida is seen most often in English bulldogs
Because the condition is prevalent in English bulldogs, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is currently studying a new treatment. They are seeking puppies with SB to see how well corrective surgery to close the spine along with stem cell therapy works to alleviate symptoms.
If you have an English bulldog puppy who is less than 9 weeks old and has been diagnosed with SB of the lumber area of the spine, you might want to reach out to Dr. Beverly K. Sturges at [email protected]
Debbie explains how she came to be Mellie’s pet mom
SB is seen in a variety of breeds other than English bulldogs. French bulldogs and Boxers are at-risk for the birth defect as well. Many are euthanized as young puppies, but thankfully Mellie’s breeder reached out for help.
Debbie said, “Mellie’s breeder contacted Wigglin’ Home Boxer Rescue in Washington state to see if they might take in a puppy who had little to no use of her rear legs. Dogs with medical needs are hard to find homes for, let alone one that can’t walk on its own. They thought the puppy would be safe with a volunteer foster while a diagnosis for her condition was sought. – That foster home was our home.”
The rescue group came to Debbie because she is a retired nurse. They knew her medical background would come in handy for Mellie’s care.
Here’s what Debbie had to say about life with Mellie and their mission
1. How old was Mellie when she came to you?
“Mellie was 8-weeks-old when I got her. She had open sores on her legs from dragging them. She was also incontinent. We fixed the incontinence situation with diapers and we got a wheelchair for her. The cart turned out to be a problem because it rubbed against the site of her Spina bifida. It caused her a lot of pain.”
To compensate, Mellie began to lift her hind end in air and walk on her two front paws, like another famous two-legged Boxer named Dunkin Lou Who. (If you’re not familiar with Dunkin, he was a homeless dog who became famous for his up-side-down walk.) Debbie shared that she worried this form of walking wouldn’t keep Mellie’s bones strong. She wanted her dog to get back to using the wheelchair.
So, the decision was made to amputate both of Mellie’s hind legs.
“We discussed the bi-lateral amputation with Mellie’s veterinarian,” said Debbie. “She doesn’t realize she has no legs. She is great in her cart now and pain-free while using it. Some days she’s in her wheelchair 5-6 hours while we visit veteran centers and assisted living facilities. Mellie’s training to be a therapy dog.”
3. What’s a typical day like for the two of you?
“We don’t focus on what Mellie can and can’t do. We get up in the morning do a potty break, dress Mellie in her diaper and suspenders and she’s off and running. She loves playing with our 13-year-old Shar Pei and our Schnauzer.”
Debbie also shared that Mellie is on a raw diet and eats vitamins as a snack.
Debbie and her husband David take their boxer on all sorts of daily errands. The couple live in a small town and Mellie is welcome wherever they go. Then in the evening the family has playtime and then it’s homework for Mellie’s therapy dog certification.
4. Have there been any other health concerns for Mellie?
Last year a bump was discovered on Mellie’s leg, but it turned out to be benign. Debbie said there is always concern that other potential health problems might pop up. She also explained that Mellie is quite small for a Boxer. She only weighs 28lbs. Debbie’s guess is it’s related to her SB not allowing her spine to grow.
5. What are your goals for Boxers on Wheels?
We are a Facebook page that’s a resource for rescue groups who help disabled pets and nonprofits like Gunnar’s Wheels who donate carts to handicapped animals in need.
Gunnar’s Wheels has guaranteed a wheelchair to Mellie for the rest of her life. Jason, who founded Gunnar’s Wheels, even called to see how Mellie was feeling after her amputation surgery.
“I also want people to ‘mobilize don’t euthanize.’ We were lucky that Mellie’s breeder was responsible and reached out to help her. They were also responsible by not breeding Mellie’s mother and father again.
But many breeders routinely euthanize SB puppies. They never get a chance to see if a family is out there to give them a home.”
We are showing how good life can be for these dogs by our example. All it takes are simple changes to your home like getting a ramp so your dog can join you on the couch. Or by outfitting your dog with a harness, a wheelchair, and diapers dogs to make life good.
“I’m surprised I’m carrying around a diaper bag again, but if this is how it will solve a problem for Mellie, it’s what I will do for her.”
Debbie shared that it’s been a busy year for Mellie. To protect the area around Mellie’s amputation, a one-of-a-kind prosthetic was designed specifically for her. Debbie said Mellie loves it. They are currently helping another dog with Spina Bifida get his own protective device.
Mellie also became a therapy dog this year with the nonprofit group, Love on a Leash and she started her own website. Boxers On Wheels shares helpful information for pet families with a SB dog. And you can still keep up with Mellie’s daily adventures on her Boxers on Wheels Facebook page.