The courage and the will to live of Yani, my first German Shepherd, showed me just what a courageous, loyal and magnificent breed the German Shepherd truly is.
Yani had many health problems and despite all my efforts and the efforts of her dedicated vet I was unable to save her.
In her name and because of her courage I now try to help as many unfortunate German Shepherds as I possibly can.
Little did I know how much my life would change when I first picked up Yani. From the moment I first saw this little bundle of fur there was a connection.
She was the only one out of all the seven in the litter that made a beeline for me each time. I could have selected any one of those seven puppies but Yani was for me.
We bought her home and she was quickly accepted by my other two dogs, Kassie and Kayla and became firm friends with a friend’s 4 year old male shepherd.
Our first five weeks were magic. This little puppy and I bonded so quickly. At the age of 11 weeks, she became very ill. She had a severe gastro bug which we treated and hope for improvement. It was not forthcoming quickly; she ended up on an IV drip because of severe dehydration caused by her diarrhea. Things improved as far as her diarrhea was concerned but she became very fussy with her food. I tried her with all sorts’ of tasty morsels; she would either turn her nose up at it completely or eat the food and then throw up. We finally found a food that she liked and one that didn’t cause her to throw up. This took quite a few months to achieve
She was spayed at the age of 7 months and things greatly improved. I thought perhaps the antibiotics given following her surgery had finally taken care of an underlying gastro bug.
She then had her annual vaccinations, a little over a week later she became very ill again. Another gastro bug, antibiotics and treatment and she came right again except she became extremely dog anxious. She would scream when she saw another dog, bark and lunge and things that she had not been previously worried about now were a great source of worry to her. Shapes and shadows terrified her. She began vomiting and having diarrhea again with the food she was on. We changed the food again, things improved.
Life at home was good for a few months; Yani was a perfect picture of health, happy and energetic. In just a few weeks she would be old enough to commence agility training, I was really looking forward to that.
A week following an outing with the family and all three dogs, they all came down with kennel cough even though they had regularly been vaccinated, Kayla and Kassie got the symptoms first followed a few days by Yani. A call to the vet gave us the necessary medication to treat this. Kayla and Kassie bounced back really quickly. Yani took longer. She eventually stopped coughing and to everyone else she looked good.
To me she didn’t. She started to eat as if there was no tomorrow. She ate anything, seat belts, tracking harness, whatever was within her reach. She became extremely anxious again. She even attacked Kassie whom she just loved to pieces because she happened to be passing about 10ft from her food bowl. She would get up on her hind legs to try and get the bowl out of my hand.
I took her to the vet and said, there is something wrong with Yani. Don’t know what it is, she is happy in every other respects, her appetite is extremely good but her personality is changing. I could no longer take her among other dogs. She would literally kill for food. Preliminary blood screens all came back normal. What is wrong? This dog is not right. I would not believe that she was normal. I insisted on seeing another partner at the vet clinic. He ran more tests, Yani was getting thinner.
He did fecal tests. I got a call. Please provide another sample. I got another call. She has over 85% fat in her feces and starch. She is not absorbing I want to do more tests. They are expensive I was warned. “Do them” was my reply. Yani by this time had lost nearly 5kg in 2 weeks. My vet said one of the tests he was doing was to determine her pancreatic function, it was called a TLI, (Trypsinlike Immunoreactivity). We took this and waited. The lab only did these tests on a Friday. Friday came, I was anxious, no results, the vet phoned the lab. They had lost the specimen. It was now just a week before Christmas. Yani had lost another 4kg. Another sample was sent to the lab. The result was 0.03, normal range was 5-35. Yani had EXOCRINE PANCREATIC INSUFFICIENCY, commonly known as EPI.
I had never heard of it. What does it mean? It was explained that her body is not manufacturing the enzymes required to digest her food. Without these enzymes she is not getting nourishment to the body and was literally starving to death. She would have to be on pancreatic enzyme replacement for the rest of her life as without it no matter how much food she ate she would not get any nutritional benefit from it. So she needs daily medication. I can cope with that, no problem. This was my Christmas present. We changed her diet to a food specifically for digestive problems. We started on Viokase as an enzyme replacement.
All through Christmas Yani deteriorated she continually vomited, her diarrhea had become green, her fur was looking like a brillo pad. My beautiful long coat German Shepherd was fading away before my eyes despite my doing everything I could.
We were referred to a specialist. There is only one internal medicine specialist in Auckland and getting an appointment with him is like winning the lottery I was told. However, a phone call from my vet to him on the Friday, got an appointment for the Monday. Could not believe my luck, must have had a cancellation. Yani by this time had lost 11kg in about 4 weeks.
The specialist, Mark Robson, was an amazing man with a true affinity towards animals. Yani, even though she has a problem with other dogs, is an absolute gem with people, including children. Our consultation was lengthy, the prognosis was not good. My dog was dying, she did not have long.
What did I want to do? I want to find out what is wrong. She may be dying, but she may be able to be helped. He suggested gastroscopy and endoscopy. Had she eaten today? No, I had not fed her thinking she might require some sort of procedure. I spent the day with her having enemas after enemas to clear out her bowel. Leave her at the clinic and we will do the procedure in the morning. No. I wasn’t prepared to do that. I will bring her back in the morning. No food. My god, this dog will not be happy. We survived the night with me feeling like the worse person in the world depriving her of food, knowing how hungry her disease made her.
Over to the specialist the following morning. She was allowed to stay with me right up until the time the anesthetic took effect. Her premed was given and she dozed in my arms. By this stage she was very weak and looked a wreck. She looked like she was dying. They took her through and did the procedures. When they had finished they brought her back to me, she was still asleep and they gave her the anesthetic reversal so that when she woke I would be the first person she saw. I took her home and waited until the biopsies returned.
We had a meeting in the specialist rooms when the results came to hand and viewed the video of the gastroscopy and endoscopy. The report was not good. In addition to the pancreatic insufficiency she also had moderate/severe gastritis, eosinophilic duodenitis, moderate/severe colitis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, eosinophilic in nature.
The specialist said there were two types of IBD and the eosinophilic variety that Yani has was the hardest to control. He said that he did not hold much hope for her survival but he also was positive in that we could make her remaining time comfortable and if I was willing to fight her problems he would be right there with me. I was ready to fight. My dog was only 18 months old. She deserved a chance. We were issued with all sorts of medications. I have never seen so many pills just for one dog.
Despite all the pills and potions we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere except she was not losing any more weight. She really didn’t have anymore to lose anyway. Yani consumed my life. She was the most important thing to me. I worried the other two might be feeling neglected. I still catered to their needs, but they had lost that one on one time, I was feeling guilty. I had to get that back to them, which I did and that helped.
I could not understand why she was not putting on any weight. She was still eating like there was no tomorrow; she was throwing up something awful, great tubes of food. Through a list I was on I came across Sue, she had a dog Tonk, also a GSD, who had the combination EPI/IBD. She sent me a bottle of Prozyme – a plant enzyme. Within a couple of days, Yani was showing signs of life. I had finally found something that worked for her. This product however was not available in NZ. I ordered some from the States. Please send one bottle ASAP and the rest regular post. I waited and waited nothing arrived, Yani ran out of the bottle I had. I then got a letter from border control saying that they had detained my shipment; it contravened the agricultural import laws. I would have to get a license and a permit before they could release it, it would take 15 days. However, if I did not collect it within 7 days they would destroy it. How can you collect something in 7 days when you won’t get the permit for 15. I was beside myself. Yani was deteriorating rapidly. The Viokase was not only not working but making her sicker. I begged, I pleaded, Photos of before and now were sent with captions, “only you can save me now” “please help me, let me have my medicine” I finally got a compassionate person who put his job on the line. He said on the Friday, two days after the letter arrived, if you can be here by 6 o’clock I will release it to you. Wellington won’t know what is on my self. The time was 5 o’clock. I had one hour to travel to the airport, a journey that takes 45-50 mins on a good run. This was rush hour traffic, through central Auckland and the motorway. I’ll never do it but I was going to have a damn good try at least. It was an unbelievable journey, every traffic light was green, there were cars behind me for miles, but none in front to hold me up. Any lane changes were instant, nothing to wait for. I made it at 5.55pm and got my parcel. It took me 3 hours to get home because of the traffic.
Yani was started back on the Prozyme by Monday morning she was starting to pick up again. By the time the paper work came through and they rushed it, Yani’s journey to better health was on its way. In order to have all the paper work approved Yani has now been declared a biochemical hazard. All her details including pedigree, microchip number and tattoo number are now held by border control. I am not allowed to relocate my family without their permission. She is not to be sold or otherwise disposed of without there permission. Each time I need to reorder we have to go through all the same red tape.
My second shipment created more problems. I was told that I could have a license valid for a year, but for only for a single shipment. So I forwarded the application to the appropriate Government Department requesting a 12-month supply. They turned me down for that amount because, they said, she would not survive longer than six months so I could only have 6 months supply. They were concerned as to what I would do with any of the product that was no longer necessary.
Despite what I said they would not budge in what they would allow me to bring in. Because of the quantity I had to be GST Registered. This was overcome by proving that it was my vet, not myself who had applied for the import license. Nevertheless I still was required to pay Goods & Services Tax on the price of the produce plus the price of the postage. My six bottles of Prozyme have now cost $1,580.00. Not too bad for a product that sells for $80.00 a bottle.
The road back to health has been a long one. She will never be “healthy” the best we can hope for is stable. Along the way we have also discovered she is Vitamin B12 deficient which not only makes her anemic but also gives her malabsorption syndrome. We have also discovered she has an animal protein allergy that is why she did not respond to the Viokase which is manufactured from pigs. She is totally fat intolerant and cannot have animal fats. She currently is managed on a hydrolyzed soy product call Purina CNM-HA, Prozyme, Imuran, Prednisone, Tylosin and Zantac. With the addition of Pepto Bismol, another life saving gift from a lister, Jane & Eric, in the States as that also is not available in New Zealand. Yani has not only survived an 8-month journey to hell and back, though probably longer looking at her early gastro problems, she is now thriving. Being on the Imuran makes her susceptible to infections and we have had respiratory infections and bladder infections all of which have responded to treatment.
Our road is not an easy one, it is one that we take one day at a time, but it is a road we will take together until Yani tells me it is time. Through Yani I have come to “know” people I would never have met. People whose kindness has saved my precious girl and also saved my sanity.
Yani… my precious, precious girl, you have taught me so much with your trials. You have opened the eyes and hearts of many people. You have taught me the meaning of life.
She has come a long way but still has a way to go.
Together we will make that journey.
UPDATED December 28, 2001
Just when I thought Yani’s troubles were at an end and life now was starting to look good for her more problems developed. The magic weight gain was going as her weight was now dropping again dramatically.
Just a few weeks later a blood test showed that her platelet count was low. Abdominal exam also showed that her spleen was enlarged. Her weight was 28kg now. This was monitored very closely with platelet counts being done weekly. On Thursday 30th August it was obvious Yani was not well. Her weight was 26.5kg. She was taken to the specialist who did an ultrasound. The spleen did not look too bad on ultrasound, the enlargement was not great, there was a shadow at the top of the intestine though not obviously blocking things. Cautious observation was recommended as the surgical risk for her was too high. We got through the weekend and on Monday a check at the vet showed not a great deal of improvement but no deterioration other than her weight was now 25.9kg. The question of splenectomy came up and the risks discussed. If it was bad she would require blood transfusion. Most dogs can accept a universal donor but not the case for Yani because of her animal protein allergy. A very close friend offered his GSD for cross matching. There was a relationship between his dog Henny and Yani. Henny’s grandfather was Yani’s great-grandfather. The results came back as a perfect match. We had our necessary donor. Thursday I could not stand it, they might not think there was a deterioration but I did. I saw the same vet on the Thursday as I had on the Monday (my regular vet was overseas). As soon as she saw Yani she phoned the specialist and we had to go straight over. Once again Yani had got to the point of near death. The specialist took another ultrasound and blood tests. He said he would ring me with the results. I had just walked in the door when the phone rang. Yani’s platelets were under 100,000 her spleen had grown a lot larger I had to make a decision there and then whether I would let her have surgery first thing in the morning. The odds were given to me as less than 20% chance of surviving the surgery and less than 50% chance of getting through the post op period which would be lengthy due to her being on Prednisone and the delayed rate of healing it causes. Without the surgery Yani was not going to last the weekend. I decided to give her a chance albeit slim. She was taken into surgery the following morning. She might need to be transfused they said if there is a problem. We had a blood donor all set up and he was to accompany her to the hospital.
I phoned at mid-day, no there was no answer she was in surgery. I phoned at 3pm, no there was no answer she was still in surgery. What was going on? I said I wanted to speak to the specialist. I was leaving work and would be home by 4 pm. At 4.15 pm I had a call, come on over quickly we don’t think Yani is going to make it.
Once again I was looking at a 45 minute trip on a good day, once again it was Friday 4.15 pm Rush Hour through central Auckland Motorway system. Why don’t things like this happen when there is not traffic.
On my arrival I was taken through to the post-op area where Yani was on the floor on a hot water bed, they had drips going through her with warm fluid, drips with antibiotics, she was hooked up to an echocardiogram, she had a clip on her tongue. The specialist took me aside and said that her platelets had dropped to 65,000 she required a blood transfusion before surgery that is one of the reasons it was so long.
(Yani and her blood donor "Henny")
During surgery she was resuscitated twice, I later heard from one of the vet nurses that Mark Robson really went all out to save Yani the second time, saying that if a dog deserved to live this one did. They had called me because her heart rate was not getting over 20 and they had been giving her atropine injections to keep it at that rate. So far she had had 5 atropine injections.
I went to her side and knelt on the floor and held her head in my lap and cried. I stroked her and talked to her trying to let her know I was there for her. The nurse said, her heart rate is dropping again. I lent down to her ear and talked to her, the nurse gave her another atropine, it is 20 again, but her body temperature is too low, they bought more blankets. I kept talking to her, saying that she had fought so hard, please be brave I love you so much but if you need to go, if you are tired you go I won't stop you, but I am not ready so please fight all you can. The nurse then said her heart rate is 36, keep talking to her she is responding. I sat with her for hours and hours, she did not need anymore atropine, her heart rate at 11 pm was 58 and her body temperature was rising.
I was reluctant to leave but was reassured that she would have someone monitoring her all night and they would phone me and gave me their cell phone number in case I was worried about her, and please call (which I did).
8 am the next day saw me there again. Yani was in a large area with her drips in and awake. She had been to the toilet outside. They could not get over her getting through. She was very weak and needed to stay in hospital. I spent the day with her just sitting and talking and she got better and more alert as the day went on. After two days in hospital she was allowed home. They gave her morphine for the trip home and for at least a week. Her weight was 23kg.
I then got the info on the surgery. Her spleen had weighed 8lb. It had extended down to the pelvic outlet. By the time she was in surgery she only had a matter of hours left to live. They opened her stomach while they were there and discovered bits of tennis ball covering, plastic, and eye from a dog toy and numerous unidentified foreign objects. None of which would have passed through her system.
Mark had told them that there was no way he was going to let this dog die. He had never seen a dog more cherished than what he had witnessed with Yani’s care and he was not going to let her go without a fight.
Her post-op period had it’s ups and downs, but we got there. It is now 3 months since surgery and she is starting to grow her hair again and her weight is 27kg.
We have had to find an alternative enzyme for her as the anthrax scare has put off bringing in Prozyme. No powders are allowed, they will break the seals. After many, many phone calls a company called Solgar said they had an enzyme in their range but it wasn’t on the NZ listings but they would see what they could do in getting it in. This was to my favor and they were able to bring it in. They now phone me each month to see if I want some and they get it in for me. That is one problem solved.
It is now 2 days before Christmas. One year since the shattering news that Yani had Pancreatic Insufficiency. Despite all that has happened and the money it has cost, I don’t regret one penny or one minute of the time spent to get her well. We have another Christmas together, something I did not think would happen.
Whoever says miracles do not happen… has yet to meet Yani.
(The final chapter May 6, 2002)
Christmas was a happy occasion. Yani was well and enjoying life, playful and happy. She was delighted with her new “baby” Hogan whom we got at the end of October.
I was worried at first, thinking she might resent him and agreed to take him on a trial period to see how it went. I was realistic enough to realize that Yani would not have a long life expectancy and I could not get a replacement I would rather have an addition and that is how Lord Hogan of Buckrobyn entered our family. I could not have been more wrong. Yani idolized him. It was almost as if he was “her” baby. They loved each other’s company and over the first three months of 2002 I saw a Yani I never believed I would see again. It was magical.
Even though her fur did not seem to want to grow back I was not too worried, it was summer and it did help to keep her cool and her coat condition had improved dramatically.
She was doing so well we attempted to reduce the Prednisone. Her diarrhea/loose stools were still a major problem. I then heard of success with a product called Diabac but as per usual, customs stopped my attempts at bring this into New Zealand.
Two members of the IBD list, Lynn and Judi, both took a big risk and smuggled Diabac into NZ for me, guised as “essential oils”. The post office in America must think I run a massage parlour or something. The Diabac worked and finally… we had a visit from the “firm poop fairy”.
At the beginning of March Yani started losing weight again. Her poops were the best they had ever been thanks to the Diabac. The HA that was in the freezer had started to crumble so I did not want to continue with that. Gradually I weaned her over to the Ultra ZD and she finally seemed to tolerate it. She was not sick, her poops were fine but she still was losing weight. Her blood tests showed elevation in her liver enzymes prior to the attempted reduction of the Prednisone. They started to reduce when the Prednisone was reduced. As she began to decline I had to decide what to do. With the lower dose of Prednisone she was not happy, she acted like she had a tummy ache. When we increased the Prednisone back she became happier and more playful. I decided then that quality of life was now more important. For two weeks Yani was really happy
On Monday the 18th March she developed some sores on her mouth, they were just by her two canines on her upper jaw. I thought she might have rubbed them. Later that afternoon on checking her mouth, it was full of tiny red spots, “petechial hemorrhages”. I took her to the vet who soon realized that Yani was now at a point of total immune collapse. Her liver was enlarged and she was in a bad way.
We had to decide what was fair to her. Her mouth was sore she could not eat properly. She had EPI which made her forever hungry and she was unable to eat. We discussed things as I held her close and we all realized the time had come for Yani to find peace.
I took her home to say goodbye to the family and I was to ring the vet when the time was right.
This was so hard. I had fought so hard for her. She had tried so hard. I wanted to do more. I did not want to let her go.
Yani had been responsible for many great friendships. She had become part of many people’s lives. Not to have her with me anymore was the hardest thing to accept. She as part of me, part of my very soul. Now I had to do what was best for HER, not me. Watching her that afternoon and seeing how she labored without complaint and just wanting to be close confirmed my decision and I made the worst phone call of my life.
Mike, my wonderful vet, would visit the following day, and with her family present, those who loved her the most, we would together send her on to a journey of peace and tranquility, never to suffer again.
I spent the following day holding her and stroking her, apologizing for not being able to help, asking for forgiveness in this deed I must do. Those eyes of her locked with mine as if she understood.
When Mike came to the home with his nurse Kathy, we all talked and examination confirmed this was the right thing.
Yani was lying on the carpet with her head on my lap. Mike went over to get his bag and as he did that Yani got up and went and lay on her bed. Like she knew.
I had hoped with all my heart that she would just slip away quietly once the injection was given.
Unfortunately this was not the case. As Mike inserted the needle, Yani struggled, she screamed, was she telling me NO, don’t give up on me, please try harder. I held her head in my arms and talked to her as she struggled to get up. My heart and soul were breaking, I felt like a murderer, forcing her to lie as I killed her. Then she went limp and those eyes of hers locked with mine for the last time and as I told her I loved her, her head dropped gently into my arms and with one final sigh she was gone.
Mike was heart broken, apparently this occasionally happens, about one in every 200 or so… Why Yani, why was it not peaceful like when my cat went to the bridge. The sounds of her last moments were unbearable. I could not get them out of my head.
I could not let them take Yani with them, I must have just lain there with her for a couple of hours, my heart was broken. Her life was ended. Never again will she load her flybox and press the pad for the ball. Never again will I see her carry her food bowl down the hall or paddle in her little wading pool.
Her bed is empty, the pool put aside. The house is empty. Hogan is lost without his mum. He tried to wake her up by nudging with his nose and whimpering.
Finally we took Yani up to the vet so that an autopsy could be done and for her to be sent for cremation.
Mike stayed behind at the surgery and performed the autopsy and the following morning when they came to collect Yani for cremation, the nurse later told me, that Mike personally carried Yani, wrapped in her favorite blanket, to the waiting vehicle and gently lay her in the back. He was crying as he did this. Yani had become so special to everyone.
Yani now sits on my cabinet, she is in a wooden casket with a plaque on it that simply says, Yani 28.5.99 – 20.3.02. Around the box is her collar and tags, and I small rose is inserted into her collar. She will be with me forever. When my time comes, Yani will be placed in my hands and once again we will be together.
Only once in a lifetime is there that “special gift” and Yani was mine.
I thank everyone who had a hand in helping Yani. From countries far away and those who live close.
I thank Brian & his GSD Henny, without their support and unselfish friendship Yani would not have been able to have surgery for her spleen. Henny was her blood donor. Brian’s support and love of Yani equaled my own. My husband Rob, for being there to feed Yani when I had competitions that Yani was not able to travel to.
To EVERYONE on the IBD list, to EVERYONE on the EPI list and EVERYONE on the Long Haired Shepherd list. Your messages, support and love during the time that Yani and I were part of your groups were amazing. You all gave me the courage to go on when those in my own country were saying “you have done enough”, put her down she is only a dog.
My instincts were what originally alerted me that all was not right, despite no real visual clues. Just the uncomfortableness that “something” was wrong.
To all of you who care for dogs, never doubt your instincts. You know your dog better than anyone. If you feel strongly that “something” is wrong, don’t be put off by a wait and see approach.
With the help of my specialist Mark Robson, my wonderful vet, Mike Small, and in his absence Louise, Tiffany and Kevin, Yani had much longer than we originally thought. She knew nothing but love and comfort. Her life was meaningful. She taught many so much in such a short time. She went from being healthy to a shadow of herself in just 16 months.
The 20th of March was already etched in my mind as it is my wedding anniversary, now it is the anniversary of one special little girl's passing. A little girl who was meant to be, and always will be
You may no longer be with me my angel, but once again thanks to the kindness of strangers I know what you look like with your “wings”.