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.
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!
LuAnn Whale says
That’s my sister!!! Can hardly wait to meet Helen when I move back to Montana at Thanksgiving. Hoping Dobie will take to his cousin as much as her brother Timmy has! And while I’m at it Happy Birthday Sis (Thursday)!! You rock!!
Thank you for the videos! So awesome to see!
Celia Brown says
Cool! I want one. It would be nice having a dog that has trouble controlling the food going in, instead of issues with the food coming out the other end….for a change.
Barb Ribinski says
Wow, I’ve never heard of that. I wonder how common it is. It doesn’t seem like much trouble if the only difference is that she has to be upright while for eats and for a while after. She certainly looks like a very happy dog. And normal! Did you see the way she grabbed that meatball?? Is she actually standing in that little box or is there room for her to sit? And she’s a really nice looking dog. Thank you Laura for taking such good care of her.
Laura, Timmy & Helen says
Barb, she is standing as that’s what she prefers. There are different designs that allow your dog to sit.
That is a unique and pretty difficult situation that you’ve turned around. Thank you Laura for all the care and attention you have given to Levi and the other disabled animals. It’s heartwarming and it gives me patience to cope with just everyday issues. God Bless!
This video is just awesome. Helen is a beautiful dog and reminds me so much of our first dog, a yellow lab named Cookie. There is something about labs that have such a sweet face. This made my day.
Tonya Allen says
That’s fascinating. I’d never heard of this disorder before. It’s great that there’s a pretty simple fix, i.e., no surgery or medication necessary. I love how she backs right in to the box. Dogs will happily go through all kinds of strange maneuvers if they know there will be food as a result. Kudos for giving Helen a chance and a great life.
Kristin Pospisil says
This is incredible. Way to go Laura. I wish every shelter in the US could see how easy it is to manage this condition – giving more of these dogs a normal life! This made my day. Thank you for adopting sweet Helen. She is simply beautiful and I know you are her angel!
Mike Marshall says
Laura has established herself as one of the better humans in the world. Thanks for sharing this story. And thanks for inspiring people like Laura.
Shirley and James says
Laura—this was so wonderful—you are an amazing woman!!!!
Shirley and James says
RIP Levi! Laura my love and respect to YOU!
Laura, Timmy & Helen says
Thank you Shirley and James!! He was a great dog and is missed everyday!! Helen is filling the void and Timmy is one happy boy!
That’s just awesome. Thanks for sharing.
Nancy Yarmac says
I really enjoyed this post. I had heard about this medical issue, but had no idea there was a way to feed a dog and have the food stay down. I figured sitting would work. But the dog looks so happy to be in her little box and get those meatballs! Great post. Nancy