Bam isn’t even my first DM dog.
I met sweet Maggie, a Bernese mountain dog, a couple of years ago and watched as her body revolted against her. Her mama, Hilary, did everything she could to keep Maggie entertained through the last months of her life.
She bought a yard wagon and would roll Maggie around Riverstone Park in Coeur d’Alene, their favorite stroll together.
It steals away mobility in the hind legs and slowly creeps up the spine. The dog becomes incontinent and immobile. A wheelchair can help for so long but eventually DM takes away strength in the front legs, too.
A dog is left with bright eyes searching for meaning in a world in which he can’t move and humans who do what they can to provide him the quality of life he deserves in his final days.
A life-changing event
Stephanie met Bam when two lost souls were searching for their forever. He was a disappointment as a fighting dog and ended up with a boxer rescue and he landed on Stephanie’s doorstep as a foster.
Her then husband wanted a white Subaru.
She said, “You can get the white Subaru if I can keep the white boxer.”
They shook on it.
When they divorced shortly after, he kept the Subaru and Stephanie kept Bam.
“I TOTALLY got the better end of that deal,” Stephanie says today.
And then Bam started knuckling on his hind paws, one of the first signs of degenerative myelopathy in dogs. Stephanie immediately knew what was happening. She already had experienced degenerative myelopathy in dogs with a boxer girl, Charlie, she had rescued.
She went through the incontinence, the weakening of the hinds and then the immobility throughout the entire body.
She was prepared for the DM.
What she wasn’t prepared for was how Bam totally changed her career path and showed her how she can help so many more dogs like him.
Degenerative myelopathy changes a career trajectory
Stephanie is a dog trainer in Spokane, the chief operator of Pawsitive Connection in Spokane Valley.
She has built her business around positive reinforcement, encouraging dog lovers to learn how to communicate with their dogs and be partners more than the outdated master-dog method.
“I don’t just want people to keep their dog in the home,” she told me when we first met for a photo shoot almost two years ago. “I want them to enjoy their dog, I want the dog to be a part of the family.
“Dogs bring a lot of joy. They help us destress. If we can give them the proper tools, they can have a therapeutic nature for us. They live in the moment and think, ‘I don’t care that you had a bad day, I’m just happy to see you. Do you want me to lay on you?’”
Bam was Stephanie’s therapy.
He was her soul dog.
Yes, we are using past tense today. Stephanie gracefully let Bam go when she saw that quality of life was draining from his eyes, the way it already had left his body.
Not before, however, he led her down a different path – one where she became a hydrotherapist for dogs and built a pool facility on her property in Mead where she soaks and swims with dogs who are experiencing mobility issues such as degenerative myelopathy or arthritis.
And now she’s going one step further in creating DM University. As she dove further into researching DM and how to best manage Charlie’s and Bam’s care, she learned there weren’t many available resources guiding pet parents to enriching their dogs’ lives as their spines and body weaken.
The brain stays very much alive and alert while the body shuts down.
So she’s doing what a lot of people do when they learn the resources don’t exist. She’s making them herself and sharing them with the dog world at large.
The resources include games and activities for pups to stay mentally stimulated, exercises to maintain muscle mass, and so much more.
Because there is no cure for degenerative myelopathy, and Stephanie wants other pet guardians to know they can maintain a qualify of life for their dogs and themselves.
One last day together
Stephanie, whom I call “friend” now, didn’t tell me she had booked Bam’s euthanasia.
But she also booked one last session with me.
I knew that Bam was fading quickly. We’d done some instructional photos for the DM University modules before Christmas. He was barely able to lift his head then.
We went to one of their favorite places to sit and enjoy nature, Bear Lake Regional Park in Chattaroy. Stephanie brought Bam’s backpack because she wanted to show guardians of dogs with degenerative myelopathy that outdoor activities like hiking are still possible.
They snuggled, they loved, they enjoyed while my shutter release clicked away.
Our time together reminded me that this job gives me an immense privilege to see a pure, authentic love between a woman and her dog. I am but a voyeur allowed into their space for a brief moment in time and when they show me that sweet love, the Magic Moment, my heart soars.
All around the circle
Stephanie is one of my first feature interviews for One Last Network, which I officially announced here last week. We’ll be digging deep into her work in hydrotherapy and restoring a quality of life to dogs in Spokane who are experiencing mobility issues. I can’t wait to get these interviews with her and other experts in the pet care world launched for you to listen and learn.
In the meantime, dig into the worldwide pet photographers blog circle, which takes you to magical places like Sussex, England; Milan, Italy; and the Emerald City on the other side of the mountains, Seattle.
When you get to the bottom of Elaine’s post, click the link for the next post in the blog circle. Keep that up on everyone’s post until you find yourself back here to degenerative myelopathy in dogs.
That’s when you know you’re home.
Right where you belong.