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Jack, the free-wheeling Dobe


James has owned Jack since he was a puppy in 2006 and recalls that Jack quickly grew into a magnificent male Dobermann who became the ‘alpha’ dog in the family.

In October 2011, Jack suffered an acute spinal cord infarct (an embolism which damages blood vessels within a section of the spinal cord causing haemorrhage in the cord and irreversible nerve damage). This left Jack paralyzed in his hind legs, and unfortunately also affected the nerves responsible for bladder control so Jack could not urinate normally.

Jack was admitted to ICU, and for the next month or so, James took time out of his busy work schedule to drive back and forth every day from the OVAH to Hartbeespoort dam to visit him. Unfortunately though, after intensive supportive therapy for several weeks, Jack could still neither stand nor urinate on his own, and with the prognosis looking bleak, James was faced with that hardest of all decisions: to euthanase his happy, devoted Dobermann.

However, in spite of his condition and the hopeless prognosis, Jack’s friendly, loving disposition charmed everyone involved with him, and the sheer joy he exhibited whenever James visited him made James determined to give him more time – especially as Jack was in perfect health aside from his paralysed hind legs, and lack of bladder control. James took Jack home a month after he was admitted to ICU, and he recalls that that was a very good day!

The real journey had just begun though… Friends either applauded James or turned their backs on him and charged him with cruelty and selfishness. And James had many questions for which he had no answers: would his other two Dobermanns accept Jack or try to harm him? How was James going to express Jack’s bladder six to eight times a day (regular manual emptying of the bladder is extremely important in spinal patients) while still running a company that was not based at his home? Was this really a life for Jack – or for James? Was the decision to keep Jack alive based on James’s need for the unique affection and warmth that Jack offered, or based on a real desire to meet Jack’s needs and sustain his hunger for life? James researched and read hundreds of articles all of which gave him little comfort, and made it clear that his life would never be the same, and that his decision to keep Jack alive needed to be level-headed indeed.

Jack’s exuberant nature shone through it all though, and his enthusiasm for life touched many people – in fact two months later he received far more Christmas and New Year good wishes than James, such was the interest and warmth he drew from James’s friends.

James initially used a carrier sling to support Jack’s paralysed hind legs, and recounts how he laughed until he couldn’t see straight when Jack pulled him at speed through a nearby game farm because he wanted to chase a herd of zebra. While Jack was in ICU, his veterinarian had mentioned to James that small-breed dogs (Dachshunds, Pekinese) often do quite well in canine carts (the equivalent of a human wheelchair) but that Jack was much too big for such an option. This made James think, and after some research, James struck gold and found a small, willing company in Kylami who designed and manufactured a cart for Jack. To James’s knowledge this is the first time in South Africa that a cart has been designed and made for a large-breed dog (Jack weighs over 40 kg). After a couple of initial adjustments, Jack took to his wheels with typical enthusiasm, and by the end of January had ‘walked’ 500 kms since being discharged from the OVAH.

Early in the New Year, James and Jack again regularly travelled through to the OVAH in order for Jack to receive physical therapy at OARS (Onderstepoort Animal Rehabilitation Service). This included gait pattern training on the underwater treadmill and other physical exercises.

Life is much easier for James and Jack these days now that they have both adjusted to the daily routines necessary to keep Jack in good shape. James learnt, over time, to express Jack’s bladder efficiently, and also has a wonderful housekeeper who is as skilled at the task as he is. The other Dobermanns love Jack and he is still very much the ‘alpha’ dog when they all go for a walk together. All in all, James says that he is surprised at how well the four of them have coped and adjusted.

James maintains that he will never forget the honour of being so close to such a magnificent spirit as Jack, and sums up the requirements for what he terms ‘a happy life for both parties’ as follows:

# Lots of linen savers
# A good cart (see pic of Jack in his cart)
# Lots of padded beds in different areas.
# No water after 7pm (or no-one sleeps well!)
# A good quality, simple diet 3 times a day with few treats (to ensure nice firm stools!)
# A local vet who understands the situation and can perform house visits if necessary
# Friends who know what to do in case of an emergency
# Patience (lots of!)
# Unconditional love

James modestly forgot to mention unselfish and sacrificial caring. James lives alone with his dogs, and has no family to share the tasks, so there is a lot of careful organizing and compromise required to ensure that Jack remains a happy, healthy dog. James feels he is blessed to have Jack in his life, but I’m sure everyone who reads this will agree that Jack is equally blessed to belong to such a devoted and committed owner as James!

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