After Maya’s successful decompression surgery everything seemed to progress like a dream for the first few months. I remember close to the end of her 4 weeks of confinement and drug therapy that she started tearing around the backyard with Lucy like we hadn’t seen her do for months. Of course we were cautioned that the outlook would be uncertain. SM could return and the damage that had already occurred that we could see as tissue death on the top left of her spinal cord in the MRI would never heal. After that she walked on leash, ran, played, and even restarted in agility. Sean Sanders our neurologist was supportive of trying agility again and moderating activity based on symptoms. Others told us Maya should never do agility again. We began our life of post-operative uncertainty.
Maya progressed in her agility career going from an uncertain beginning to starting to be competitive in the highest class in AKC Agility. By this point I’d fallen hopelessly in love with the Cavalier breed and looked to find a strong and healthy girl that I could do agility with in the future. We became friends with Sandy Robinson, a local Cavalier breeder, with the most beautiful Ruby Cavaliers I’d ever seen. With their fantastic bone structure and beautiful flowing red locks I felt certain they were the dogs for us. Sandy kindly entrusted us with one of her boys Kyle, who I trained in agility.
In late 2003 a litter arrived a Sandy’s house – 3 ruby girls born to Dazzle. We had been holding out for a ruby boy, convinced that would be the way to have a successful show and agility career. However Sandy called us up in January 2004 and said I think you should come over and look at one of these ruby girls. There’s one who is running so fast around the house that she’s jumping over the backs of the adult Cavaliers.
Thus Beth entered our family. She quickly learned that Maya was boss and cuddled up to her to see what she could learn from “the master.”
Maya did not have the classic SM neck scratching before the operation but did have afterwards, and the scratching wasn’t too bad for the first year. However in the early summer of 2004 it became clear that the other SM symptoms were returning again. She started slowing down in agility and just seemed to withdraw a bit from life. I remember driving to agility trials at the time wondering if this would be her last one.
I took Maya back to Sean Sanders, who did another MRI that showed the fluid had returned. He prescribed a low dose of Prednisone, which I had been so happy to avoid after surgery, but now seemed our best option. I didn’t want to go to gabapentin as I knew that could make her quite groggy, so we persevered with the Prednisone and added MSM. We played with the dosage to mitigate the scratching as best we could but it was always there when she got excited but never when she ran in agility. We also tried Omeprazole and Cimetidine at different times but those seemed to make her tired and out of sorts. We stabilized with Prednisone and things felt good. Shortly after Maya’s medication was stabilized Jim and I remember her just taking off one day after a trial and chasing down a flock of birds down at Vancouver Park and loving it.
Knowing that SM progression was unpredictable I only planned one goal at a time – first it was Maya’s Master Agility Championship, which we achieved in March 2005 at Seattle Kennel Club in the Exhibition Center in Downtown Seattle.
In the summer of 2005 I had another MRI done that showed the syrinx had subsided again. I was cautiously optimistic knowing how the condition could wax and wane depending on the weather (always worse when a cold snap hit) or just randomly change. Next we went to Agility Nationals in 2005, thinking that we might not get another chance, and then we just kept on competing and competing with 5 MACHs by 2007 .
Over the years we got used the modified routine of a dog with SM – medication in the morning and suppliments in the evening and maybe an extra Prednisone every once in a while when things seemed bad. Maya couldn’t do regular walks on a leash. After a short while any type of collar or harness was too irritating and believe me we tried every one on the market. From time to time we’d insist she walked because it seemed inconceivable that she’d train hard in agility but couldn’t go for a walk, and then she developed an alarming spasm in her front right leg if she walked too long, so we lowered our expectations about walking.
During these middle years Maya enjoyed life. She traveled to Florida, California, and Arizona for dog agility.
She was my constant companion. I could not close my office door without Maya needing to come in and sit curled up in my lap as I typed. We were a team in every sense of the word. She snuggled with us on the couch in the evenings and generally kept our growing herd of dogs in line.
She was the undoubted boss of the family guarding the house and the car from unwanted and wanted visitors. The other dogs took their cues from her and never dared cross her especially if she had a rawhide or food.
She was fearless and she especially like to rush at men in big black coats, including one of our VPs at work 🙂 She was the queen and we thought we had her health under control.
After perhaps our most exhilarating moment in agility ever where she was televised in the finals of the AKC Agility Invitationals, I remember sitting with Maya in the stands. She was ecstatic standing on my lap wagging her tail furiously and licking my face. She interacted with her adoring fans in the stands who just saw her fun and they thought she was incredible. I remember thinking that she was taking a while to catch her breath, but who could tell in such an exciting moment. Also, I remember being worried before the event that she was slowing down just a tad from the fastest she could run but she was still brilliant.
At Maya’s annual exam in early 2008 her heart murmur was first found – grade 1 – 2 but nothing that required treatment at that stage. I remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach knowing that’s what would get my special girl in the end, not SM.