The Magical and Tragical
Life lessons from our dog, Kayla.
In memoriam.... ____?____1991 to January 20, 2001
In April of 2000, my wife, Julie, found our family dog Kayla lying on our beach apparently having a seizure. At least that's what we assumed. She had seizures occasionally ever since receiving a Lyme tick vaccine some years earlier. When she failed to recover in the usual time we rushed her to the vet where we discovered she wasn't seizing but had hurt her back and had no feeling in her hind quarters. We rushed her to the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital where, many hours later and after x-rays and a myelogram, we were informed that Kayla had somehow broken her back between the 11th and 12th vertebrae and severed her spinal cord. It was strongly recommended that we "put her down." Aren't the euphemisms we come up with for killing a creature odd? "Euthanize;" "put down;" "put to sleep." That last one is what we used when I was growing up. I'm amazed we didn't have more trouble going to bed at night.
So they described to us in great detail how difficult it would be to care for a disabled dog, all about incontinence and the need to express their bladder and how even one of their vet techs had attempted it with her own dog and found it too challenging. Our response was, "Yes, that all sounds very complicated and we imagine it could be very hard. We just aren't willing to end Kayla's life based on our imagination. We'll have to experience it, and see." So began our journey into disabled dog land. By the following morning all the U.F. vets had done a complete turn around. Kayla's alert attentiveness had won their hearts and the plan was to fuse her vertebrae to make her strong enough for a set of wheels.
It was challenging adjusting to our beloved Kayla going from a vital, athletic, playful companion one moment, to a disoriented, immobile, and dependant creature the next. Her she is prior to her accident balanced on the deck of Julie's kayak. (click blue bordered pictures to see them larger.)
Here Julie is doing her best to keep her (and Kayla's) spirits up in intensive care.
A few hours on the internet turned up five companies who specialize in the manufacture of dog carts, and a host of support sites for people with disabled pets. The internet is amazing in the way it so effectively connects people with similar interests and challenges. A heartfelt thanks to all our "cyber buddies" who immediately sent Kayla healing energy, and us such kind words of support and encouragement.
After surgery and a week in intensive care (where she was instantly promoted to Queen Canine, not in a cage on the perimeter, but in a padded playpen in the middle of the room greeting all who came and went.), Kayla came home to begin our shared learning curve regarding our new lives together.
Here, Dr. David Grant delivered Kayla to us in her new sling. (Which proved not very functional however.)
Julie kicked into high research gear to find or invent ways of caring for Kayla that we all could live with.
There was the beach towel sling. A little hard on Julie's back.
The kids life vest, that allowed Kayla to feel more stable in sitting positions
Kayla spent much of her first few days in and out of a friends red wagon.
Julie and Kayla relax after a long day of adapting....
It occurred to us that the initial sleepless nights and dealing with pee and poop and diapers might just be the Karma of choosing not to have children.
As some of you know, we live in probably the safest place possible for pets, surrounded by nature and far from any paved road. And yet, in spite of all our efforts to maintain a safe controlled life, our beloved Kayla somehow succeeded in paralyzing herself. My friend Gamble Roger's old saying returns, "Life is what happens to us while we're making other plans."
After feeling our way through our grief, it was time to see what form of lemonade was hiding in this lemon life had delivered. The first miracle was Kayla's attitude to the situation. She had none of our human psychological baggage. She felt no self pity, no "why me?" and apparently spent no time recalling herself when she was "whole." She was her usual alert, inquisitive self who seemed determined only to discover what her new limits were, and then to push them. During Kayla's convalescence, Julie was able to take Kayla to her kindergarten class with her, where her kids quickly became involved in learning about backs and operations, skeletons and compassion. After a month of healing for her back, she was ready for her first set of wheels, and her first of many new nicknames, "The Wheel Thing."
In no time she was fishing and swimming and playing with Elvis, her Golden Retriever boyfriend down the road. Her wheels brought Kayla even more attention than she used to get, and meeting the folks who responded strongly to her was very interesting. Some expressed great pity, others commented on how lucky she was, or how lucky we were. All seemed amazed at how "normal" she seemed. It was obvious that she was as happy as she could be.
We acquired Kayla's cart from some nice folks in Oregon, Doggon Wheels. We chose them because they make carts with large "all terrain" wheels essential for our lake side home. Kayla took to her cart almost immediately and was able to walk, run, go over curbs, down stairs and even ran into lakes, rivers, and the ocean with it. The return of such simple pleasures was sweet when they were almost snatched away. Appreciation of simple things was one of the gifts of this journey.
We took Kayla on a vacation of over 4000 miles in our motor home from Florida to Maine. She was the star of the show and catalyzed many valuable connections. She was still the vigilant fisher dog.
Here she is trying out for junk yard dog position in South Carolina.
Resting underway, between destinations.
Sailing at the Mystic Seaport Wooden Boat Show.
Always a kid magnet... a spontaneous "wheel thing" workshop...
Kids were curious about Kayla, and not too shy to ask.
After hours of the boat show, she would crawl into Julie's lap to rest.
The occasion rawhide bone snack renewed the spirit!
Kayla taught herself to body surf,
and rolled in the sand between waves.
She wasn't half bad at rock climbing along the coast of Maine either.
After trying all kinds of disposable diapers, many of which chaffed and caused rashes around her legs, Julie came up with this little invention. She adapted adult Depends using the elastic they come with as little suspenders that went through nylon loops that snaped into her cart harness. Since they were more like a loin cloth then a diaper they never chaffed her.
There was an opportunity that we thought might be one of the greatest gifts of the whole experience. At one point we learned that some dogs in Kayla's condition became "therapy dogs" who visited disabled children in rehabilitation facilities. Kayla seemed like a natural for this. If I were a person adjusting to life in a wheelchair, I think the presence of a dog on wheels... merrily trotting, licking and sniffing her way through life, would be a real inspiration. Kayla died before getting to enjoy that pleasure, though she still brought much joy and inspiration to many in her final days on the planet. She was a great beast and we feel honored to have spent time with her.
The kind folks at the University of Florida School of Vet. Medicine provided Kayla excellent treatment for her disability and during her later complications. Kayla suffered numerous urinary tract infections which is common with her condition, and also Cushing's, facial paralysis and laryngeal paralysis which probably were not related. This is Julie and Dr. Alexis Sequin during Kayla's last visit.
Thanks so much to all of you who sent such kind thoughts to us following Kayla's death in January (2001). We were blessed with almost 10 years of her gentle companionship, and whether running, swimming or wheeling she taught us some powerful life lessons. In the months following her paralysis, Kayla manifested a courage and vitality that impacted countless lives. She is dearly missed.
For those of you who share your days with an animal... give them a hug and a scratch behind the ears from us.
Yours in the tragical and magical mystery of it all...David & Julie (& Kayla)
When loved ones come home always run to greet them.
Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joy ride.
All the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
Let others know when they've invaded your territory.
Take naps often, and stretch before rising.
Run, romp and play daily.
Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
On warm days, stop to roll on your back in the grass.
When you're happy dance around and wag your entire body.
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
Eat with enthusiasm.
Never pretend to be something you are not.
If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.
If life takes something away, enjoy what you still have.