Ella was diagnosed with Syringomyelia and taught me more in her short life about how to live life to the fullest, love with all your heart, and learn from each other.

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The moment I first held Ella, my world changed. She has touched so many people giving love as a therapy dog but now it is time to give back. No matter how hard she tries to give, her eyes show sadness and pain.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Things and people I have learned from through this experience

Each January I have new resolutions and hopes for this year to be more fulfilled and even better than the last.  I thought this was going to be a great year. I had recently changed jobs and I was so excited about my new opportunity.  Everything changed that first week in January.  I remember sitting that first week in class and reading "For the Love of Ollie" during a break because I knew something was not right with Ella.  My excitement over my new possibilities was now filled with fear of what was going on with Ella.  Soon after she was diagnosed with a severe case of Syringomyelia.  The outlook was not good for her because she was not reacting well to medication and also due to her specific case.  It seemed like her only hope to prolong her life was to have foramen magnum decompression surgery.

I have posted a bunch about how difficult the decision of whether to have surgery or to try to manage Syringomyelia (SM) with medication is.  This post is about what I have learned from people and what I personally went through.  Surgery is very expensive which money is not something I have.  Ella is everything to me and I have told the story about how I got her when I was extremely depressed and she gave me a reason to live. I could not look at her and know there is something I could do to maybe make her life longer and stop progression.  There are some dogs that manage fine with medication alone but that did not seem to be a choice for Ella.  I did not know what I would do without her and since I was not approved for credit for the surgery, I had a family member sign for me.  I had several people tell me that they did not understand why I would spend so much money for this.  One person even said for the cost of the surgery, you could even get another Cavalier.  Are you kidding me.  They did not agree with me changing my lifestyle so that I could take care of Ella. Without Ella, then I don't know what kind of life I would have.

My life has changed.  I lost friends because I spent my nights with Ella and her recovery.  I did not have the luxury to go out with my friends to dinner or do the things I once enjoyed but that was okay because I had this beautiful blessing with me.  I have friends that understand but I have learned that the things that once mattered are not important.  Also spending my nights and times with Ella, I have developed relationships with people from all over the world.  I know how hard it is to go through this and every time someone e-mails me telling me they learned their dog has SM, my heart goes out to them.  I have developed new friendships and once someone has gone through this, there is a bond.  It is so difficult and it is something that you don't wish on anyone. 

Things did not stop with Ella's surgery.  I started to join groups and heard stories from other owners and breeders.  I developed a passion for the health of dogs and for spreading awareness of Syringomyelia and also the importance of dog's health.  I especially feel for the Cavalier breeders that are trying to prevent passing this on to future generations.  The responsible breeders are paying to have their dogs scanned to follow SM breeding protocol because they do not want to pass this on to future generations.

Rupert's Fund was established for SM. The following was from the website:

 Rupert's Fund is a rolling fund to MRI scan older cavaliers, age 6+, for critical research into syringomyelia   (SM), a neurological disease that is alarmingly prevalent in the breed. International studies have shown at least 35% of cavaliers under 5 worldwide have this often painful condition. Researchers now estimate 70%-plus of all cavaliers will eventually develop SM, and evidence indicates it is taking more severe forms over time.

Why scan? Finding the genetic cause of this terrible disease is critical to the survival of the breed and will give breeders tools to breed away from the problem. Scans are a crucial part of this research, because they are the only way to accurately diagnose SM.

Because SM is a progressive condition -- meaning it tends to develop slowly over time and may not be apparent when affected dogs are younger -- finding older cavaliers with little or no SM is especially valuable to determine how it is inherited and help breeders identify promising lines. But time is running out. With every new generation of dogs, lines are further mixed. Some old, probably healthier lines have disappeared already. The chance diminishes of finding the fully clear dogs that could provide a genetic rescue plan.

I have learned to sorrow and loss from other owners.  Just watch this video clip of Lucy and you will see how painful this can be for someone who lost their Cavalier to Syringomyelia.  YouTube clip of Lucy in the Sky.

Even though this has been an extremely tough year, I have learned what is important in life. I have met some very generous people who have contributed to Ella and have let her touch their lives as she has touched mine. I know that I can not do the things I once did but my values are now on things more important. Keeping Ella healthy and happy as long as possible, being there for other people going through the same things, being active in Cavalier groups and involved in their meetings, understanding how important it is for people to know about responsible breeding because I cry already too much each time I hear from a Cavalier suffering. 

I know there are many people and dogs that need help and people may not understand why I went and did everything I did for Ella.  I have always been involved in charity and volunteer work and I never thought I would be needing help myself.  I have started fundraisers for the Humane Society of Charlotte and raised over $2000 last year but it is different when it is your dog.  I thought I could do the same and I will.  I had a silent auction for them last year so I gave everything to that.  Ella used to be a therapy dog but she can't anymore. I met some people on Twitter that have shared her story and even people that read this blog and ask how she is doing.  Those things make each day easier.  I enjoy each day I have with her and cherish the moment and don't regret the fact that I can't get my hair done or buy the cute new shirt I want.  I know that those things don't matter a year from now.  I look at the tubs of outfits and collars I have bought Ella through the years.  Those things were not to make her happy. She does not need a Louis Vuitton coller but what she does need is for me to be by her side and massage her and kiss her when she is feeling down.

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