Birdie was picked up as a stray by Missoula Animal Control along a street in the city’s business area. How she got there is anyone’s guess, since Birdie could barely walk ten yards before dropping to the ground and crawling. The officer’s report described her as “extremely emaciated.”
Birdie had been starved nearly to death. But the folks at the shelter looked at her and thought there might be something else wrong with her, too. They took Birdie to a vet, who suspected muscular dystrophy (MD). Birdie’s muscles had atrophied, and her difficulty in walking – and the sheer exhaustion it caused – could not be explained entirely by starvation.
We say the vet “suspected” MD because the only way to determine for sure is with a muscle biopsy. When the shelter learned that Birdie probably had muscular dystrophy, they called and asked if we could take her.
The shelter folks had warned us about her condition, but we were still shocked by her skeletal appearance: every bone sticking out, reed-like legs, and a bony, hunched spine.
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She was so emaciated that she’d stand up just long enough to do her business, then sink to the ground. She crawled more than she walked. And when she did walk, it was with a stiff, bunny-hop gait.
That was Birdie in April. Now, in July, she’s a new dog. She has more than doubled in weight. Her strength and stamina have increased dramatically. Birdie rough-houses with her buddies here and loves a good tug-of-war. She still can’t stand up for very long, but playing tug-of-war while lying down is very effective: It gives her a lower center of gravity and more “pulling power.”
Birdie also found her voice and a sassy attitude to match. One morning she shuffled over to the breakfast table, put her paws on Alayne’s lap, and started barking. She wanted a biscuit. She wouldn’t stop barking until she got one.
Then she discovered bagels, and would bark until we fed her a bagel.
Now she barks when she wants us to play with her. She’ll bring a toy over, drop it in front of us, and bark until we pick it up and throw it back to her … or play tug-of-war ourselves with her.
Along the way we named her ‘Bossy Birdie.’ That is, when she’s not ‘Biscuit Birdie’ or ‘Bagel Birdie.’
Once she regained her health, we had our vets do a muscle biopsy. We wanted to know exactly what she had and what the prognosis was. There are many different types of muscular dystrophy. A common form of MD ends in an awful, early death. Another type stabilizes within the dog’s first and second year, allowing the dog to live a normal lifespan.
For two anxious weeks we waited for a specialized veterinary lab in California to analyze her tissue sample. Finally we got the word: Birdie had the “good” form of muscular dystrophy. Whew!
Birdie will always be thin and frail, and she will never have the strength and stamina of a ‘normal’ dog. Her body will always be hunched. But she’ll able to boss us around for many years to come!