Monday, February 9, 2015

A Beautiful Life

A Rare, Beautiful and Gentle Spirit.

Nessie the Monster, Duchess of Hagg, Canine Good Citizen
Registered Therapy Dog

December 28th, 2003 - February 9, 2015
Twelve Years, One Month, Twelve Days

I'll begin my story at the beginning.

WishBone was a wild man.  I always thought that he would calm down by the age of 3.  But he didn't. At some point, it had occurred to me that he might be better with a playmate, though we had never owned 2 dogs at the same time.  It just seemed to me like that's what he needed.  Not being the greatest of dog trainers (which could explain why WishBone was so wild), I was nervous to go ahead and get another dog, so I waited.  Finally, when he turned 4 and started to calm down just a hair, I decided I would be able to handle another so I began my search.  My husband wasn't for the idea, but there would be no stopping me on this one.  I was all in.  I didn't want to spend a lot of money for a top quality dog, but was scared to go to a shelter for one, thinking that if other people couldn't handle the dog, then neither could I.....  I've learned a lot since then.  I found Nessie in the newspaper.

I took a short trip to another town to see about her.  She was 10 weeks old, cute;  but with splayed out feet and crazy.  The place was filthy and I didn't want to sit on the man's furniture.  I looked at her and she cuddled me.  But I put her down and thought that this was a horrible place and I didn't want to purchase from him.  I had nightmares about her living alone in that guy's garage though.  I couldn't sleep much that night.  I decided to go back the next day and pay the guy his $300 bucks and I'd just call her my 'rescue' dog.   

I brought a cat kennel (Yes, I had a cat too.  Taylor Bailey Alexander the Tailless Cat) to transport her safely.  I put her in it.  She stunk.  But it would be a short 45 minutes home.  As we were traveling down the highway, I smelled vomit.  Trying to stop my reflexive gagging, I opened the window of the Jeep and let my hair fly, not really caring what I looked like anymore.  Then some other horrible smell happened.  It was so bad that all the windows in the Jeep were down and I was still gagging.  So I drove the rest of the way with my head out the window like a dog would do..........
I remember telling her that no little girl should ever smell like that.

Well, we did make it home of course and when I let her out of that kennel, it was full of vomit and poop.  My goodness!  What a stinking mess!  The first thing I did was hose the kennel out and take the dog into the kitchen.  On came the hot water, soap and dish gloves.   A nice, luxurious bath would make us all feel better!  I don't think she appreciated it until she came out of the water and into that nice clean, warm towel.  She immediately relaxed and curled up in my hands and let me dry her.  I held her for a long long time and we got to know each other a bit.  She seemed hungry so I fed and watered her.  And after a quick trip outside, she curled up in my lap and slept for a long time.......

Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo

When I took her to the vet, he wondered out loud at why I would have chosen this dog.  She was malnourished, he said.  That's why her feet splayed out.  But he couldn't find anything so wrong with her that I couldn't fix with a bit of TLC.  One thing I know how to do is feed things, whether they are people or animals.  I could get her healthy.  So she had food available to her whenever she wanted it. And her new buddy, WishBone would see that she got exercise.

Grand Canyon

Just outside of  Los Vegas
It was hilarious (for a while) to watch those two.  Nessie was crazy.  She felt so much better after a few good meals that she just couldn't sit still.  She ran 100 miles an hour around and around the back yard and she and WishBone soon came up with what would be their very favorite game.  We named it 'Duke of the Deck' because Nessie would take off and run around the yard with a toy in her mouth and WishBone would wait for her behind the patio table.  If Ness came that way, he would stop her.  He only had to move like 3 steps to play the game and Nessie had to run around and around the table and yard.  He always won.  She never did.  But they played for hours on end everyday until WishBone finally died in 2009.  That wasn't the only game they played though.  He would stand patiently in the yard while Nessie ran and flung herself at him, puppy teeth grabbing on to anything she could.  He was blood red for a year.  She gave him a 'cauliflower' ear once.  That was a $400 surgery at the time.  His white chest was bloody.  You couldn't see any white at all.  We were so worried.  We had thought that he would be the dominate dog being a male and that much older.  But he never defended himself.  Not once did he even attempt to tell Nessie to stop.  He just stood there for a year taking everything she threw at him.  I finally couldn't take it anymore and took them to a dog obedience school (which I would later join and train the Chamberlains there) to enroll her in obedience and ask them why they thought WishBone was so passive around her.

At the school, I remember him passing out on their cool concrete floor surrounded by other dogs and went to sleep, while Nessie was in class.  The trainer just told me that when it was time, the dog would let the puppy know not to bother him.  Never had I seen that much patience.......

Then, one day about 12 or 13 months after we had brought Nessie home, I was in the kitchen cooking dinner and I heard it.  A snarl and growl unlike any Boxer play and totally out of character.  It was a very scary sound so I dropped what I was doing and ran into the family room where I saw Nessie laying on the floor limp.  Not moving a muscle.  WishBone was standing over her with her entire bitty head in his mouth.  I was horrified and shocked and aghast all at once.  I had no idea what to do. If I made a sound, surely, he would kill her.  I froze in silence like a deer in the headlights........
Then he laid her head gently on the floor.  (There was not one mark on her.  He had held her very gently and had no intention of chomping down)  She got up, shook herself and turned and pranced away with a smile on her face like nothing had happened at all.  But she NEVER tormented WishBone again.  He had had enough.  I believe that this is when she began to torment the cat....

I may be a Duchess, but nothing prevents me from a wee nip or two......

Nessie and WishBone were best friends.  They were never apart until the day he died.  She mourned him by howling for a good 30 minutes at the front door.  She missed him and mourned him for at least 2 months.  They had done a lot together, from playing in the back yard, to going to dog school, to traveling and hiking in the Rocky Mountains and all over the United States.  They loved running on the beaches of Lake Superior and Lake Meade below the Hoover Dam.  They loved seeing the Grand Canyon and WishBone even got to show her his 1st home in Virginia Beach.  (He was very excited but she didn't seem to care too much).  He took her to the Atlantic to mess around on the Boardwalk and they loved running along the beachy waterways in the marshy areas there.  They were the life of the party in Florida, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, New Mexico, Kansas, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana too.  But their favorite thing to do was hike the Rockies.  We found many trails to hike and they loved going off leash and running ahead of us.  I think they hiked the mountain 4 times to our 1.  They ran ahead for a distance and waited for us to catch up or they would run back to us and try to get us to hurry.  Once, we were walking along and a rock formation jutted up from our path.  Nessie decided to take the rocks while we stayed on the path.  Suddenly, the rocks ended.  That didn't stop her though.  She kept right on running and flew just like superman right off the edge, over my husband's head and landed somewhere in a tumble out in front.  She rolled, but she never quit running.  She kept right on going as though nothing had happened.  Then, she and WishBone could be seen off in the distance, Gazelling and bounding through the tall grasses.   We still laugh about the dog that thought she was a flying squirrel!

She has traveled from the uppermost point of the United States, to the lowermost point and from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific. She learned Agility late in her life, but enjoyed going to the class and doing the obstacles.  She was a registered Therapy Dog who visited Nursing homes, Alzheimer's facilities, Libraries and hospitals.  She had her own school of etiquette and  all dogs had to comply with her rules.  While she was patient, she didn't put up with misbehavior, even from strange dogs.  She straightened out WishBone a time or two and she tried to teach Taylor Bailey to be a Boxer.  (He wasn't well for that and eventually went crazy)  By the time she was introduced to her Chamberlains, she was a pro at teaching youngsters how to behave.  It was her way or the highway, but she ruled with patience and love.  

The Nessie Monster School of Etiquette
Class in Session 

She was an ambassador to bring knowledge to her Boxer loving friends about her disease, Degenerative Myelopathy.  She wanted everyone to know about it so that they would work to eradicate it from the gene pool by excellence in breeding.  This is only one reason that we are so against backyard breeders and puppy mills.  They have no knowledge of breeding to erase disease or to promote the qualities most desired in the Boxer Dog. Nessie, herself, is a product of backyard breeding by a guy who didn't care a rip about the breed;  only his pocket. Even though she had a wonderful spirit, just to look at her reminded me more of a hyena than a Boxer Dog. She had a longish snout, a barrel chest and her body and head seldom looked much like a Boxer.  All this is evidence of poor breeding.
Trying on her new wheels for the first time

Mostly, Nessie was a hugger.  Her very favorite thing was to go limp in my arms and to hug me.  Snuggle time was the one thing she lived for.  She always made the effort, even when it was hard for her to walk, to come to me when she thought I was feeling bad, and snuggle.   She was probably one of the best dogs I have ever known.  She always had a need to do the right thing.  And now she's gone.  She's left a legacy and her Chamberlains will never forget her.  May God keep her in the palm of His hand, May she find WishBone and Taylor Bailey (to apologize) and T-Bone and Satchmo and Prince and Puff the Magic Dragon and play with them until I come to find them.  I will miss the warmth of her body.  But the warmth of her love will be with me always.  You are in my heart Sweet Nessie Bell.   You are my friend.  You are brave and courageous and smart.   I couldn't let you suffer.  Now go and play and be happy til I see you again.

Nessie died in my arms in her own front yard on a very warm and sunny day in February.  She had had a great weekend of playing ball with her Chamberlains, walking in the park, watching some dogs play in the dog park and meeting a few new people.  She had a great day.   She was not ready to go and it killed me to do it.  Her body had given up, but her mind had not realized it yet.  She had many friends who were praying for her and for me.  Sleep well, my sweet Nessie Bell.  Find our WishBone and run and play until you see me again.  You have left a hole in my heart that cannot be healed.  You lie in a grave wrapped in a Black Watch Tartan.  I know you will be looking over us until we meet again.

Canine degenerative myelopathy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A dog with degenerative myelopathy often stands with its legs close together and may not correct an unusual foot position due to a lack of consciousproprioception
Canine degenerative myelopathy, also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy, is an incurable, progressive disease of the canine spinal cord that is similar in many ways to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Onset is typically after the age of 7 years and it is seen most frequently in the German shepherd dog, Pembroke Welsh corgi, and boxer dog, though the disorder is strongly associated with a gene mutation in SOD1 that has been found in 43 breeds as of 2008, including the wire fox terrierChesapeake Bay retrieverRhodesian ridgeback, and Cardigan Welsh corgi.[1][2] Progressive weakness and incoordination of the rear limbs are often the first signs seen in affected dogs, with progression over time to complete paralysis. Myelin is an insulating sheath around neurons in the spinal cord. One proposed cause of degenerative myelopathy is that the immune system attacks this sheath, breaking it down. This results in a loss of communication between nerves in lower body of the animal and the brain.


The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals has a DNA saliva test to screen for the mutated gene that has been seen in dogs with degenerative myelopathy. Now that a test is available the disease can be bred out of breeds with a high preponderance. The test is only recommended for predisposed breeds, but can be performed on DNA from any dog on samples collected through swabbing the inside of the animal's cheek with a sterile cotton swab or through venipuncture.
The test determines whether the mutated copy of SOD1 is present in the DNA sample submitted. It must be interpreted with caution by a veterinary clinician in combination with the animal's clinical signs and other lab test results.
The results reported are:
  • Normal / Normal (N/N, or 'clear'): The dog does not have the mutation and is extremely unlikely to develop degenerative myelopathy. There have been cases in which dogs that tested clear were found to have DM upon necropsy. This information was given to Dr Keller from the OFA. Dr Coates performed necropsy. It is important to note the OFA statement on their website that states "Recent evidence suggest that there are other causes of DM in some breeds".
  • Normal / Abnormal (N/A or 'carrier'): The dog has one mutated copy of the gene (is heterozygous) and is a carrier but will not have degenerative myelopathy though there has now been some cases of Carriers developing DM.[3] It will be possible for it to pass the mutation to offspring. A thorough examination of the dog's pedigree and DNA testing should be undertaken prior to breeding a dog with this result.
  • Abnormal / Abnormal (A/A or 'At Risk'): The dog has two copies (is homozygous) for the mutation and is at risk for degenerative myelopathy.


Breeding risks for degenerative myelopathy can be calculated using the Punnett Square:
  • If both parents are clear (N/N) then all of the puppies will be clear
  • If one parent is a carrier (N/A) and one is clear (N/N) then roughly 50% of the puppies will be clear and 50% will be carriers
  • If both parents are carriers (N/A) then roughly 25% will be clear (N/N), 50% will be carriers (N/A), and 25% will be At risk (A/A)
  • If one parent is clear (N/N) and one parent is affected (A/A) then all puppies will be carriers (N/A)
  • If one parent is a carrier (N/A) and one is at risk (A/A) then roughly 50% of the puppies will be carriers (N/A) and 50% will be At risk (A/A)
  • If both parents are At risk (A/A) then all puppies will be At risk (A/A)


Degenerative myelopathy initially affects the back legs and causes muscle weakness and loss, and lack of coordination. These cause a staggering affect that may appear to be arthritis. The dog may drag one or both rear paws when it walks. This dragging can cause the nails of one foot to be worn down. The condition may lead to extensive paralysis of the back legs. As the disease progresses, the animal may display symptoms such as incontinence and has considerable difficulties with both balance and walking.[1][4] If allowed to progress, the animal will show front limb involvement and extensive muscle atrophy and paralysis. Eventually cranial nerve or respiratory muscle involvement necessitates euthanasia or long term palliative care.[2]
Progression of the disease is generally slow but highly variable. The animal could be crippled within a few months, or may survive as long as three years or more.[1]


The etiology of this disease is unknown. Recent research has shown that a mutation in the SOD1 gene is a risk factor for developing degnerative myelopathy in several breeds.[2] Mutations in SOD1 are also associated with familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) in people.[5] More than 100 SOD1 gene mutations are involved in human familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and the pathologic spinal lesions of ALS are similar to those of canine DM, making canine DM a potentially useful animal model of ALS.[6] .Known causes of spinal cord dysfunction should be excluded before accepting the diagnosis of degenerative myelopathy; disc disease (protrusions) or spinal cord tumors can cause compression of the spinal cord with similar signs to degenerative myelopathy.[7]


Degenerative myelopathy is an irreversible, progressive disease that cannot be cured. There are no treatments that have been clearly shown to stop or slow progression of DM.[1]


Exercise has been recommended to maintain the dog's ability to walk.[1] Physiotherapy may prolong the length of time that the dog remains mobile and increase survival time.[8] Canine hydrotherapy (swimming) may be more useful than walking.[9] Use of a belly sling or hand-held harness allows the handler the ability to support the dog's hind legs for exercising or going up and down stairs.[citation needed] A 2-wheel dog cart, or "dog wheelchair" can allow the dog to remain active and maintain its quality of life once signs of weakness or paralysis of the hind limbs is detected.

Use this link to order the DNA test for your dog.  They are also currently conducting a drug study to stop the effects of this disease from progressing.  Your dog may or may not qualify to participate in the study, but it's well worth checking out!


Casey said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. Run free and happy at the Rainbow Bridge!

Anonymous said...

Losing a dog brings its own dreadful pain. They wrap their paws around your heart. You will see your precious girl when you cross the Rainbow Bridge

My thoughts are with you.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry about your loss. The tears are just rolling down my cheeks.