At the start of this, I have to say that I find myself at a loss for the appropriate words. Nonetheless, I feel this is a special story that needs to be shared.
My journey with Britney, Gavin and Debbie began five years ago, when they came to see me about treating Britney’s arthritic hips. After consultation, examination and discussion we started on an exercise program both at my facility and at their home. This included running and swimming. Britney was shy but soon figured out what to do. Running with Gavin was the ultimate treat for Britney!
As time went by, her front legs started to show signs of pain and discomfort. Further examination revealed that Britney had now developed osteoarthritis of the elbows as well! We changed from running to walking, added medications and continued swimming.
Since I have met them, Gavin and Debbie have always been totally dedicated to Britney’s well-being, and were prepared to explore every option to ease Britney’s discomfort. Upon hearing about stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis in dogs, and discovering it was available in South Africa (and at great expense), Gavin and Debbie took Britney for this procedure.
Sadly, not long after, Britney suffered a spinal stroke which left her a quadriplegic. I have not yet mentioned that Britney is a 40kg Labrador-Rottweiler cross. Moving and managing a dog of this size is no easy task but Debbie and Gavin never stinted in their attention to maintaining Britney’s quality of life.
We stepped up the pool sessions to 3 times a week in the hope that we could stimulate some movement in Britney’s legs. After a month of intensive therapy I was at my wit’s end as to a solution. I felt that Britney had a very guarded prognosis and would most probably never walk again.
Their journey progressed into the esoteric and Debbie made the decision to contact an animal communicator. As many people do, Debbie and Gavin had their doubts as to the feasibility of this exercise. How would they know the connection had really occurred? Was it even possible to link telepathically with a dog? Despite their misgivings, they went ahead, hoping and believing that they could determine what Britney actually wanted, needed and what she was feeling. The messages that came through the process held elements of truth that the communicator would not have had access to, unless directly connected to Britney. Britney was not ready to give up and so Gavin and Debbie devoted themselves to looking after their beloved, disabled companion. Therapy at the hydro stopped.
Months later Debbie contacted me requesting an appointment for Britney. Imagine my surprise when she was taken out of the car, her hindquarters placed in a sling, and she walked to my door with small, uncertain steps of her front limbs! It was amazing to see and so very encouraging!
Our facility had recently acquired an underwater treadmill and so we embarked on the next phase of our therapy. There were times when Britney got up at home and walked a few steps in the garden before stumbling over her front feet. What an amazing dog, and what amazing people. I am humbled every time I think of Britney and her guardians. As a vet, I am in a unique position to fully appreciate the sacrifices Debbie and Gavin made, the strength required for all of them to carry on and the sheer willpower needed to beat the odds!
A few months ago Britney became very painful in her right hind leg. Tests revealed a bone tumour. Time was limited and pain management essential. Debbie and Gavin continued with their love and support, using herbs, acupuncture and medications to alleviate the pain.
On 31st May 2015, Britney breathed her last – 3 weeks after her tenth birthday. I believe, that as a family, they defied the odds! I have learnt a tremendous amount about people and dogs during this precious journey. There can never be any judgement in any situation involving animal companions and their human guardians. What works for one family may not necessarily work for another. Not everyone is able to care for a disabled pet, especially a large one.
This is a tribute to an incredible family that loved and respected their canine companion to the end and beyond. As I started this piece so shall I end. Words are inadequate to express the emotions assailing me. This bit of writing is in memory of Britney – a beautiful, brave being. And to celebrate Debbie and Gavin who walked every step of her path with her. I am honoured to have been part of your journey. R.I.P.