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Sweet Bam: Degenerative myelopathy in dogs is the long goodbye

    white boxer and the love of his life

    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.

    Degenerative myelopathy in dogs is a cruel disease. It’s similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in humans, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

    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.

    dog with degenerative myelopathy

    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. 

    woman shares a special moment with her DM dog

    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.

    woman and her dog at Bear Lake Regional Park in Chattaroy, Washington

    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.

    woman hiking with dog in backpack

    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.

    Start with Elaine Tweedy of I Got the Shot Photography, sharing her session with a working border collie, in the Endless Mountains of PA.

    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.

    Rest in peace, Bam

    Dogs. Adventure. Outdoors. These words set Angela's heart afire. Angela Schneider, an award-winning writer and dog photographer, documents the story of you and your dog and the adventures you take together. Your portraits will be a statement piece in your home, art that will make your friends and family beg to hear its story.

    12 thoughts on “Sweet Bam: Degenerative myelopathy in dogs is the long goodbye”

    1. This one hit me right in the feels. Thanks for sharing Stephanie’s story and experience with Bam and Charlie. I’m pretty sure my first dog had DM (catahoula’s are prone to it evidently) although it was never properly diagnosed. The hardest part was knowing he was still “in there”, after his mobility went. It’s so great Stephanie’s helping dogs like this!!

    2. DM is awful, that’s all there is to it, but I love that such a horrible disease can create such an incredible resource through Bam’s mom’s work. I will be eagerly anticipating your One Last Network interview with her.

    3. Damn it Angela! Your post made me tear up. Elmer was our hospice pug foster with DM – such a cruel disease. The with Stephanie is doing sounds incredible.

    4. Tears. Yet absolutely beautiful. I adore the relationship they shared. My heart breaks for Stephanie. Angela, you captured their bond perfectly – a treasure. Thank you for sharing.

    5. Oh, man, Angela. I love the bond that they shared and how Stephanie let Bam change her life. Dogs do that, if we are open to it. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful dog and a beautiful person. <3 Well done, Angela.

    6. Oh man. So, I really didn’t want tears this afternoon, but they ARE cleansing. Our dog Danny was diagnosed with DM at the age of 11. He is 13 this year. We are managing it with immune system supplements, continual exercise, a bit of therapy and corrective booties. But, there is no cure and we know we won’t have him much longer. We live every day to the fullest with Danny. Lovely photos, Angela. You captured the love and connection between Stephanie and BAM so well.

    7. Such a sweet story. I had a white boxer that ended up at my door as well! She was MY first dog. One day she just showed up at our home and we took her in…tried to find her owners, but she didn’t have any. I love that you were able to capture such great pictures and tell her story!

    8. Wow – I’m sitting here with wet eyes. You’ve touched that value that is about to free flow. I haven’t seen this happen with any dogs but I can tell this has got to be so hard. Your photos say so much – the words convey the story. Wow. I love the idea of a backpack for Bam – would love to know if there is a special kind of backpack or just look for one that will fit your dog. Thanks for sharing.

    9. Dogs lead us in the directions we didn’t know we needed to head, we just need to be ready to see, hear and act on those indicators. I’m a dog trainer today because I adopted a horribly reactive dog and wanted her to have a better quality of life. How lucky you are to call Stephanie a friend, and how lucky Bam was to find her. Rest in peace Bam.

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