Otis' Story

Hi - my name is Sue Jeffrey and I have been in Affens since 1994.  I have a sad story to tell you about SM in Affens. I am a scientist in the health field, so I am pretty savvy about disorders we face in the breed, and fairly well read on the subject.  I am so glad that SM is being discussed more and recognized now.


In 1998, I got my 3rd Affen from Kathy Smith (she is no longer breeding). Kathy and I were interested in health concerns, at that time, no one was testing for CHD, and she was one of the first. Otis came home with me as a 12 week old puppy from a very well planned litter, parents x-rayed, knees certified, eyes tested, and the works.  No one was into testing like Kathy was back then. And we pissed off quite a few people by doing it. In any case, I thought I had just brought home the healthiest dog I could imagine. Little did I know….....



For his first year, Otis was a cute, spunky little guy. Never got his second testicle, so showing him was out. But he did have an odd behavior that was very noticeable to everyone that knew him. He would scratch at his face, without actually touching it - scratch like he was desperate, and then he would run and stretch and arch his back, lifting himself on his front legs, as if to extend his neck - and you could see he would relax, and feel better. I never could figure it out, but boy did I later on...when Otis was 3 he had a little run in with a very large dog. Although it wasn’t anything serious, Otis screamed and seemed to go limp. Afterwards I felt like he was not himself, and he was extremely lethargic so I took him into the emergency vet.  He was checked inside and out and there wasn't anything "wrong" with him.  But Otis was never quite the same. He acted like he had a broken neck.  He showed extreme reluctance to raise his head in certain positions, and he seemed to be in extreme pain. And he started snapping at people he knew, like me, and my Mom (his favorite person in the whole world.)  He would have good days, and then he would have bad spells. He seemed a little uncoordinated at times, other times weak in the front. Strange symptoms would come and go, and I remember begging my vet for just a few more of that doggy NSAID (I forget the name of it but it wasn't Rimadyl) it seemed to be the only thing that gave him any relief.


One time an unexpected visitor came to the house and he went flying out of my lap onto my brick floor, and he could barely walk afterward. Again, nothing was wrong on any X-ray, the vet said he thought it was Lyme, or a slipped cervical disc, though neither seemed to fit his actual condition.  The scientist in me started reading. I don't know how I put all the pieces together, but looking at his symptoms and human disease, I came up with Chiari Syndrome as a starting point. I didn't have access to Vet literature, just human mostly. And finally I talked to a vet at my company and she did a little digging for me and told me about reports of SM in Cavaliers.  I printed out tons of stuff, and brought it all into my vet at the time. He just thought I was nuts. But, we kept Otis on the NSAID though he was never a happy carefree dog again. Otis died at 8 years old possibly from melamine poisoning (Nutro Natural Choice).  He was having horrible constipation issues... He wasn't a strong dog... Otis kept getting sicker. He died in my arms the day before Christmas, at 5 AM.  I had been debating running him over to the emergency vet, but I didn't, and he died.  I felt awful, but everyone else was relieved. Especially my Mom, who thought Otis was a very unhappy dog and had suffered long enough. 


I still thought I was a little nuts thinking that Otis had SM, it wasn't until last year I read about the link and the research in the UK. I donated as soon as I heard. Thankfully someone else knows that SM is in dogs. Thankfully, I am not crazy. It was such a relief to finally know that what I thought was probably true. I wish I knew he was going to leave me so young, and I wish I had known to give him more NSAIDs, but really, I am just so glad that we recognize this now, finally.

I'm older and wiser now, and I realize it isn't possible nor feasible to test for everything all of the time. This is sad, but true. Purebred dogs are an amazing feat that man managed to develop over hundreds of years. It isn't perfect, and genetics is ALWAYS a crap shoot. The best thing you can do is get the word out as fast and as successfully as possible is to keep the finger pointing and accusations and demands for testing to a minimum. Instead, educate especially the Pet Owners. Let people know what signs to look for, make sure it gets mentioned in the Club newsletter etc. The more of us that know about the disorder, the more likely the breeders will pay attention. But it isn't ever going to be easy, but in the end Trooper is a hero.


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