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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Maya – her story – the final chapter

By the end of 2009 we noticed Maya slowing down a bit in her everyday activities and the heart disease had progressed to moderate a bit more quickly than we hoped. An air of inevitability set in as I started sensing she didn’t have years left. She became a permanent fixture sleeping on our bed as I wanted her to have as much enjoyment as possible and that was heaven to her. In the winter she’d like to sleep under the sheets next to Jim and didn’t move all night long. By 2010 we certainly noticed that Maya wasn’t running the speed she used to, even at the lower jump height of 8,” but she wasn’t too far off in speed and still beat the other dogs in her class in AKC and USDAA. Some days she was still dynamite and beat dogs in the other classes too. By the middle of 2010 I could see she had less verve and stairs went from a moderate to slow trot or walk (she used to dash up the stairs in younger years). Dr Woodfield upped the blood pressure medication. Surprisingly as Maya got older she became more interactive with other people, cuddling up to a gentle guest at the house and even warming to those noisy children.

Maya (facing the camera directly) is with Dinke and other pups.

By January 2011 her heart disease had progressed just a bit further with resting respiratory rate constantly around the danger zone of 30 per minute and she started scaring us with occasional coughing fits. Dr Woodfield started her on the diuretic Furosemide, which increased her energy. I decided that if we wanted to get a Performance Agility Championship title in agility now would be the time, so we entered a few more trials and completed our title in April 2011.

PACH bar

Maya and me with her PACH bar. I'm also wearing a black and tan agility Cavalier tee-shirt with her image on it. The shirt was not created by me. Someone else found that image online and created the shirts.


Maya's last AKC certificate for agility.

In May 2011 Maya went back to Dr Woodfield for another checkup, where more progression of the disease was seen and her medication increased again and Vetmedin added. Maya ran her last ever AKC trial in Sequim in June 2011. It was very hot for June so she just did the first run and had her rest in the cool car, even though she ran like the wind. Later in June I brought her to our local vet as she seemed especially fatigued with more frequent coughing and the x-ray showed pulmonary edema.

Results from Maya's last agility trial

Results from Maya's last agility trial. She beat all dogs in the 8" and 12" classes that day.

We seemed to bring the edema under control with increased Furosemide and Maya tried to do what was meant to be her retirement run in USDAA in early July. I could tell after the first few jumps she was having trouble maintaining speed and then she stopped on top of the A-Frame and gasped for air. I pulled her straight off the course and decided we’d enjoy full retirement after that. By early August we were finding her energy level varied day to day and sometimes her breathing was quite labored. One night her breathing was very labored and she was very restless. This was not completely unexpected as she’d grown increasingly uncomfortable at night over the last few months, often shifting many times during the night. Also in the evenings when we all usually relaxed together she found it uncomfortable sitting on the couch and went off to find a cool piece of floor by herself. By this time it had been years since she wanted to sit in someone’s lap.

In the morning she seemed a little better but by the time we got home from work Maya was breathing at about 70 breaths per minute. Her walking was slow and weak and I knew we had to go the emergency vet. I had hoped through careful management of medication we’d be able to keep her comfortable despite progressive and irreversible heart damage and that no “heroic measures” would be needed. However, when I saw how much better Maya was on oxygen we proceeded with the intravenous Furosemide. Two mornings after the incident she was ready to come home, much weaker than before but with increased verve and spirit as if she knew there was another chance. I realized that in my efficiency to get the weekly pills and supplements measured out that I’d forgotten to include the Furosemide for the 2.5 days leading up to the emergency. Apart from feeling rotten about my mistake it also made us feel that there was hope with increased meds and Spirnolactone was added to the mix.

Maya's medication

Maya's medication list documented for everyone in the family to make sure we had it correct.

A real cough set in this time with the extreme heart enlargement and pressure on the trachea but Maya couldn’t cough as hard as before. We added Hydrocone for the cough but I’m not sure it ever made too much difference. And to my mind her breathing never really returned to its pre-emergency state. In the last 6 weeks with increased medication Maya enjoyed wandering in the garden occasionally and wanted to be more interactive than before, although as Dr Woodfield warned the brief summer heat caused fatigue. She battled a urinary infection and struggled with stabilizing her breathing such that we successively upped her diuretics, but still managed to maintain them on a twice daily schedule. I worried constantly about her breathing and brought her into work when it seemed bad to make sure I’d be there if she started suffering.

Maya resting in bed in mid-August 2011. Sometimes she let me get a spot too.

We had stopped the Prednisone after the emergency but had to reintroduce it as she was being driven crazy with scratching. The Prednisone also seemed to help the coughing after the initial bad morning burst but I’m sure wasn’t helping her heart. She also became very demanding barking at the fridge for treats and wanting to get involved in puppy tussles just like the old days, which made her cough and gag. I even caught her chasing a bird and then lunging and barking at the other dogs coming in from the potty spot to show them who was boss, just like the old days, except it wasn’t the old days anymore.

In the last 2 weeks I was in contact with our vet Dr Rice or at the vet several times culminating with a visit to confirm the pulmonary edema I was hearing. We decided the diuretics needed to go up to 3 times a day so I brought Maya back to work. Between that last visit and the next morning we had given her another 20 mg of Furosemide making the 4th dose that day to try and dry everything out, but she continued to struggle and wheeze with every breath.  When Maya screamed in pain the following morning along with her regular coughing fit, Jim and I felt we had reached the end of our capabilities to keep Maya comfortable at home. Faced with another visit to hospital, time in an oxygen chamber, an opinion from Dr Woodfield that it may not help, and medication that no longer seemed to help enough we made the difficult decision to say goodbye on September 16, 2011. Maya was 9 years and 2.5 months old.

Thankfully the end was very peaceful for all of us. Maya happily munched on cheese. Her fur was really soft and fragrant as we’d washed her the night before, not expecting this to be the day. She looked so gentle and beautiful as we walked out the door wanting to keep the memory of how she looked forever in our minds.

Maya chewing

A photo of Maya from 2006 with her favorite chew treat that she enjoyed her whole life. This photo shows her wonderful soft coat.

Maya – her story – the later years

Maya at Christmas 2007

Maya at Christmas 2007. Shh don't tell her it's really a cat costume. She's already suspicious.

After the diagnosis in 2008 we remained cautiously optimistic about Maya’s health. We started consulting with Dr Woodfield, our local cardiologist to have her monitored every 12 months. Statistically she was somewhere in the middle – we knew that 50% of Cavaliers develop Mitral Valve by age 5. Her prognosis wasn’t as bad as a very young Cavalier with Mitral Valve disease but it would play more of a factor in her health than Cavaliers who developed it later in life. She continued to eat, sleep, run, and enjoy life without any additional medication. I was busy with additional dogs in the house so the subtle signs of heart problems crept in slowly, e.g., she started to get uncomfortable sitting on laps.

Maya and gang in 2008

Maya eagerly awaiting Bella's first birthday cake along with the other puppies.

Also, during this time we brought our own Cavalier puppies into the world. Beth and Denzil, another great agility Cavalier, produced 3 lovely ruby girls, a black and tan boy and and black and tan girl. Again I had hoped to keep only a black and tan boy for breeding and showing but when my surprise black and tan girl showed up last of the litter I just knew she wasn’t going anywhere. And it’s no surprise that she’s sitting on my lap now 3 years later as I type.

Minnie and Granger shortly after birth

Minnie and Granger our younger generation of Cavaliers shortly after birth.

Maya continued to compete in agility and again got invited to the AKC Agility Invitational in California at the end of 2008. With other dogs in the house now competing in agility, knowing that her fastest years were behind us, and that we’d soon have 2 new human daughters in our house I prepared for this to be our last big competition. Maya did great and still ran the fastest times out of all the Cavaliers there, but a missed contact kept us out of the finals. One of the highlights for me was meeting the father of our puppies Denzil in the flesh, as the breeding was done through AI.

Maya in the garden

Maya in the garden with her characteristic long ears and coat

Over the years Maya’s coat got quite thin with the long term Prednisone treatment but she always had a long straight coat with long, long ears that looked magnificent.

Long Ears

Another picture from what I call the "really long ear period." Some people claimed the long ears gave her an unfair advantage in agility.

During the first part of 2009 our lives very much revolved around our daughters who arrived home with us from Ethiopia in February 2009. I concentrated what little time I had on training my new black and tan girl Minnie and my Pumi Bella. With 6 MACH titles under her belt Maya didn’t have to prove anything more about her agility skills. However, she really still enjoyed getting out and running agility, barking madly at the start line the same as she ever did, so I thought let’s finish out our MACH 7, which we did at the Evergreen Golden Retriever trial on August 30 2009.

Maya with her cool coat

Maya with her cool coat on which she wore during trials in the summer

By summer 2009 Maya’s heart disease was being classified as moderate and the murmur was about grade 3. She was on Enalapril now as well as Prednisone and after MACH 7 I prepared to hang up the agility leash forever. But Maya seemed bored and depressed without anything to do so we gradually brought her back into agility competition at a lower height.

Maya – her story – the middle years

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.

Lucy, Kyle, and Maya 2003

Our original Cavaliers Lucy (left) and Maya (right) with Kyle (middle), a long term visitor in our house from 2003 - 2004.

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.


Beth our ruby Cavalier girl at 8 weeks in grandpa's arms.

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.”

Beth and Maya cuddled up

Beth and Maya cuddled up

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.

Maya in the snow

Maya sees her first snow in the winter of 2004

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.

Maya's first MACH

Maya's first MACH

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 .

Maya and Karen at AKC Agility Nationals in January 2005

Maya comforting me after a disappointing run at our first nationals.

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.

Maya relaxing on a couch in Florida

Maya relaxing on a couch in Florida between competition days

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.

Zoe with Maya and Beth

A very young Zoe tries to muscle in on Cavalier territory with Maya and Beth.

Maya with Jim at Dinner

Never one to be out of the action in those days, Maya would install herself at the table every night after dinner was eaten.

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.

Do not approach

Do not approach, I repeat do not approach

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.

The Queen

The Queen in her finery.

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.

Maya – her story – the first year

Maya was our second Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Born on 6/30/2002 she lived over 9 years with a debilitating disease, Syringohydromyelia, that we had no idea existed until it hit in May 2003. She was also diagnosed with the ubiquitous Cavalier malady Mitral Valve Disease in 2008 and lived with it for over 3 years. But first the story of who she was and why we loved her …


Maya in her first year

Lucy our blenheim girl born 3/6/2002 and brought home on 5/20/2002 was our first Cavalier and quickly it became clear that she needed a companion. I had seen both ruby and black and tan puppies in our initial search and was very much in love with the idea of a ruby girl but also intrigued by black and tans. At the very beginning of September we located a local litter with black and tan girls and visited them. Two of the 3 girls were running around and chewing on Jim’s shoe laces. At that point with Lucy in the house we had determined we needed a “sensible” puppy. We noticed one little black and tan girl hanging back but when Jim approached she stood up and gave him a lick. From then on she became our girl Maya.

Maya and Lucy as Puppies

Maya and Lucy as Puppies

In the beginning there was no indication of any problems – Maya romped and played like another other puppy and enjoyed life. She was smart, loving, paid attention and loved to please. Her nickname was Magoo and she wagged her tail so vigorously wiggling her whole body that we joked she must be in the band “The Wiggles.” Maya took to dog agility and loved to snuggle with us in the evenings. We took the puppies everywhere – on walks through the neighborhood, into Downtown Seattle, to friends’ houses, and out to parks. Jim and I laughed recently as we remembered how washed them every week using special shampoos and conditioners. Maya had such thick black fur in those days and really needed the grooming.

She enjoyed her first winter with sweaters (sometimes) and quickly became a favorite of grandma, who looked after her while we were in Japan for our winter vacation.

Maya in her sweater

Sheepskin and sweaters, oh my.

Maya and Grandma

We joked that Maya had grandma wrapped around her little finger/ paw. While Jim and I were in Japan Maya insisted that she snuggle with Grandma each night despite our "no dogs in the bed rule." I believe Grandma spent some nights on the couch ...

Lucy suffered from luxating patellas from about Sept 2002 onwards and had surgery at the beginning of 2003. That was an ordeal for us to diagnose and treat and she was in such a lot of  pain until surgery. At that point we breathed a sigh of relief that Maya was in good health. We started to see some early signs of SM in spring 2003 – neck pain during grooming and bathing and then a reluctance to chase after her favorite toys. I also remember some early scratching when we tried to use a slip collar on walks. It culminated in May 2003 with scoliosis of the neck.

At first our local vet thought it was a muscle strain and prescribed muscle relaxants but that didn’t help. I was desperate for answers and started searching online. My main source of data was a Yahoo group for what seemed to be a Chiari-like malformation in Cavaliers and the emerging research of Claire Rusbridge in England. No one was exactly sure of the cause at that time but it was becoming clear that fluid filled cavities in the spinal cord near the brain seen via MRI were causing extreme pain in some Cavaliers. Caudal Occipital Malformation (COMS) where there is malformation at the back of the skull was also theorized to play a role as was the relatively large size of the cerebellum (back part of the brain) in many Cavaliers that seemed to cause the brain to squeeze out the bottom of the skull and obstruct the flow of spinal fluid.

I took everything I found to our vet at the time Valerie French and she referred us right away to Veterinary Neurologist Sean Sanders. Luckily he had just come back from a conference in New York where Syringohydromyelia was discussed and he saw Maya’s symptoms right. An MRI confirmed the diagnosis and she had decompression surgery in June 2003 to remove the suboccipital bone and allow the spinal fluid to move freely.  Conservative treatment through Prednisone alone was considered not likely to be successful long term and the recommendation was that early surgery was more successful than waiting.

Maya's first MRI

Maya's first MRI

I’ll never forget seeing Maya for the first time post surgery. She was dazed, wobbly, and unfocused. I wondered if I’d ever get my old Maya back but then I saw that look in her eyes and realized she was.

Maya – Life and Times of an Agility Cavalier – The Beginning

Maya, our first black and tan Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was an unlikely agility dog and we were unlikely dog agility handlers. In 2002 we’d never seen or heard of the sport and thought weekends were for wine tasting, shopping, socializing with friends and other activities perfectly reasonable to accomplish when not at a dog agility trial.

From the age of 8 weeks Maya showed she was quick, physically and intellectually. She picked up running up and down stairs in one day despite never having seen them before and she delighted in retrieving toys thrown down the hallway.

Maya was actually meant to be Jim’s dog and at 12 weeks or so he took her to puppy preschool while I took Lucy to intro to obedience at Seattle Agility Center down at the old site in Renton. While I was battling Lucy sniffing at every square inch of the carpet in her class, Maya was having none of that socializing in puppy class so she hid under the table.

One of the other Cavalier owners suggested we try agility as her dog was shy too and she though it helped with confidence. Somehow it transpired that I (Karen) would bring Maya to agility class, which I started when she was 16 weeks. Wow, from day 1 she really took to everything – delighted running through tunnels, jumping the low jumps, and finally learning the a-frame during those first 6 – 8 weeks. I remember our first instructor – a kind lady who ran Shelties – who had infinite patience with the baby dogs and made a wonderful salmon treat with eggs, wheat germ, and flax seed that I made for years afterwards.

From there we progressed with Karen, Diana, and Doug through the next levels of agility class and moved to the large green agility center along Hwy 900. I have fond memories of extra practices on the weekend and everyone marveling at how fast Maya was running until SM was diagnosed in May 2003. After her successful surgery everyone was thrilled and surprised to see us back training after a couple of months and we progressed towards our first trial. Things that stick in my mind from our early training was a seminar with Bud Huston where he was teaching us turns at 180 degree jumps with blind crosses – must have been before blind crosses were removed as a legal handling move for a few years. That was my first agility seminar in the cold, wet, fall mud and Bud was impressed with Maya’s enthusiasm and speed.

Our very first agility trial may have been NADAC at Argus Ranch as I vaguely remember getting the registration and running 12-inch jumpers. However, the first trial I really remember running with her was the Boston Terrier trial at Elma at the end of 2003. I know we had taken the pictures and written up the justification for AKC that she was really a Cavalier and received our ILP # 100535.  Somehow for this first trial I had convinced myself and Jim that we needed a place to stay at trials that wasn’t a hotel and was sturdier than a tent so we purchased our first popup camper. With 2 king sized beds and a pop out dinette it was super comfortable for 2 adults and 2 Cavaliers, if a bit chilly in the NW winter.

The trial at the Gray’s Harbor Fair Grounds was overwhelming – lots of rules about run orders, walk throughs, course maps, and I was as nervous as could be. Despite Maya’s brilliance, in the first 3 runs we failed to qualify even once. Uncharacteristically she was too afraid to go through the chute so we rigged up one inside the trailer using the shower curtain and practiced. And on the very last of our 4 runs for that trial in Standard Maya and I got our first Q and that’s where her agility career really got started.