Week One – Day 3: Introduction of the Bailey Chair

Stats: Duchess Dustine von Bahm (“Dusty”)

7/27/11 (Two months old today!)

Female German shepherd

Medications: 1/2 tablet Pepcid AC morning and night

Weight: 14.5 pounds

My dog eats her dinner in a highchair. What of it? She eats milkshakes for every meal too. And she never gains weight. I guess she’s pretty special. Granted, she doesn’t eat out of the highchair because we think she’s a Princess (she is royalty however, we don’t just think, she is), and her milkshakes aren’t chocolate ice cream and malt like the ones my dad used to make, but those are just details.

Duchess Dustine von Bahm (Dusty for short) is a purepred Princess. She’s also extremely ill, but don’t tell her that. She thinks she’s mighty special, what with getting hand fed wet food blended with goats milk in her tripped out pink padded Bailey Chair. We aren’t trying to explain her disease to her. As far as she’s concerned, we just feed her there so she can be away from all the common folk (that is, our three year old German shepherd Smokey and four year old housecat Apollo).

Dusty had six days with us before we introduced the Bailey Chair. They were a pretty bad six days. After we brought her home from her littermates and the rest of her family in Ohio, she began to throw up after every meal. Sometimes she would throw up two or three times after eating, as quickly as a few minutes later to as long as a few hours. The food was always undigested. We worried, but we talked to several people and assumed it was stress. After all, she had gone through a lot in a relatively short period of time. She went from her cozy home with her Ohio family to being shoved in a car with strangers for a ten and a half hour trek out of her homestate back to Philadelphia. That meant a new yard, a new house and new people. The next morning, at 10 a.m. she was introduced to her new, much grumpier brother, who just wanted to play with his mom and dad without a puppy getting in the way. She had a lot to be anxious about.

But as day two turned to day five and the vomiting seemed to be getting worse, we decided it was way past time to get a medical opinion. It didn’t help that she didn’t seem to be getting any bigger and all of her littermates in their pictures seemed to be growing daily. It wasn’t like we didn’t want her to stay a puppy forever, of course, but she was starting to take on the body of a full grown shepherd (that is, lean in the belly and rump) without being full grown. Her puppy belly had all but disappeared, and quiet frankly, I had just about had it with pulling the steam cleaner out every thirty minutes.

We went to the vet disparaging over costly vet bills, not even thinking it could be something serious. We cursed our stupidity – did we really need to stop at that somewhat shady rest stop in central Pennsylvania? What if she had picked something up? Her tiny immune system, though vaccinated, wasn’t protected like an older dog’s would be. How could we be so dumb?

As it turns out, it wasn’t our stupidity, but a freak occurrence, some sort of strange genetic anamoly that plagued our Dusty. Our vet told us that she wanted to do radiographs on her, and I shook my head while Joe (Dusty’s Daddy) stared at me, dollar signs flashing behind his eyes, “She didn’t eat anything. I mean, we watch her constantly, and when we’re at work she’s in the bathroom which has been stripped of everything except her water, toys and bed.”

The vet smiled, “That’s great, but that’s not what we’re looking for.”

What she was looking for was a dilated esophagus. Well, she found it. That makes Dusty a Mega-E puppy, i.e. a dog diagnosed with a condition called “megaesophagus”. It also means that a lot about our life had to change pretty quickly. Don’t get me wrong, we were not this upbeat about it at first, nor was Dusty. The vet suggested euthanasia, and Joe and I both cried. We talked to the breeder, who was as devastated as we were. We talked to our families and friends. We went through the motions of people who have already put their puppy under the ground. We cried and ate and stayed away from her, refusing to look at her, eventually leaving the house.

And then we talked about options. We had several to begin with. We could (a) put her down, like the vet was ever so gently suggesting (b) send her back to the breeder (c) keep her and try to figure out what to do next. A lot of tears and a lot of Chinese food later, we decided that the only option that would work for our family was option C. We couldn’t send her back to the breeder for a lot of reasons, the primary one being that we were attached to her, as was Smokey and maybe Apollo, just a little. But we also didn’t want Dusty to get put on a plane and ripped out of an environment she was already accustomed to. We also couldn’t imagine putting her down. She was still so full of life. She played and chewed on things and ran around the yard. She chased butterflies for goodness sake!

So, despite the advice of many wizened people, we decided to try and battle the disease. As my father so eloquently put it, “You love that pup until the end, whenever that may be”.

We researched. It didn’t take too long to find the Bailey Chair. The other research I will probably touch on later, because my mind is still processing a lot of it. But the Bailey Chair we were sure about. For one thing, Joe is very handy and enjoys building. For another thing, I am pretty artistic and enjoy painting. When we saw the Bailey Chair, Joe said, “I could build that,” and I said, “That thing looks like a medieval torture chamber”. So we went to work. Joe built it, and I hooked it up. I’m pretty proud to say that our Dusty has the most pimpin’, blinged out Bailey Chair of any dog I have seen (and at this point, I have seen a lot).

Unfortunately, dogs don’t see in color, and I don’t think that Dusty’s aesthetic sense coincides with mine (even though it’s my kitchen that the device is displayed in), and she refused to stay in it for more than thirty seconds after eating her meal. That is unacceptable for several reasons. Primarily, it’s unacceptable because Mega-E dogs should stay in their Bailey Chairs in the vertical feeding position for 20-30 minutes after mealtime to ensure that the food has made its way down the broken esophagus into the stomach to prevent regurgitation. Secondarily, it’s unacceptable because we worked hard to build it, and she should appreciate that!

So it began, the great battle over the Bailey Chair. Dusty fought valiantly, screaming and struggling and yelping like the pistol that she is (I hear that she gets that from her father, a dog who was so appropriately named Luger), but eventually, I prevailed. And now, Dusty knows her first command:”chair”. We are currently working on “sit”, and I am confident she’ll pick it up quickly.

Day three is mostly over (by the time this is posted, she should have 3 of her 5 small meals started), and so far so good, no regurgitation! I hear that things won’t always be this easy, that she’ll have bad days right along with the good, but don’t we all? In the end, I think we made the right decision, and when my family (two and four legged) is lying in bed all together at night, I’m content, even if I don’t have all that much room on the bed anymore.