That pretty girl is Helen, who was just adopted by our friend and long-time awesome volunteer in Montana, Laura W. of Helena. When we were at the ranch in Montana, Laura adopted two disabled dogs from us — blind Levi in 2008 and three-legged Timmy in 2010 (just a week before we moved the dogs to New Hampshire!). Well, Levi sadly passed away a couple of months ago, and Laura decided she wanted to adopt another special needs dog to add to the family. She saw Helen at the shelter in Great Falls, Montana, and this beautiful Lab tugged at her heartstrings.
Helen has canine mega esophagus, a condition in which the esophagus lacks sufficient muscle tone to move food down to the stomach. If that sounds like a real problem, it is. Dogs with this disorder have extreme difficulty eating and drinking, and tend to regurgitate a lot of what they consume. They can also get food into their lungs, causing aspiratory pneumonia. Many, and perhaps most, dogs with mega esophagus are euthanized in shelters. But, like most dogs with disabilities of one sort or another, they can have a wonderful, happy life if they’re only given a chance. You can read more about canine mega esophagus here and here and here.
The key is managing how they eat and drink. That means feeding them in an upright position in a “Bailey chair,” which is what you see Helen using in the photo. Here’s how Laura described the feeding routine in an email to me:
“She jumps up, gives you her front legs and we back her into it…or maybe I should say she backs up into it! We feed her twice a day … we mix three cans of dog food and make meatballs a bit bigger than a racquetball. Wait two minutes between each. After her last one, she stays in the chair for 30 minutes to make sure everything gets down. Other than that she is a normal dog.”
Here’s a video clip Laura sent showing how she gets Helen in her chair:
And a video of Laura feeding her:
Laura added in her email, “She is a great dog. Started obedience classes with her couple of weeks ago. She’s a bit nervous without Timmy there as her “guide” dog. But she is figuring out it’s not so bad. She is friendly with other dogs, just not sure about people. She is slowly coming around. I think that about covers it. Again I would not have even thought of trying this without you two and having Levi in my life! He was that ‘one’ dog for me. Made me realize I can give these dogs a loving home and they can have just as good of quality life as normal dogs!!! I will always look for that senior dog or special needs dog in need of a home!”
Bless you, Laura!