Welcome to our feature on someone we’ve come across who is a hero for animals in this world. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, all colors, and walks of life. Our heroes could be clients of ours, or someone we meet in the many communities we serve and the places we visit.
At HousePaws, we celebrate the human/animal bond every day in our practice. We love finding people (and animals) who show the strength of that bond. We find them inspiring and hope you will, too!
HousePaws Q&A with Ellen Daulerio
This month’s Animal Hero of the Month is Ellen Daulerio, a HousePaws client who recently lost her beloved dog Perks after a long illness. Ellen’s dedication to Perks and willingness to help other people and their pets who may experience similar circumstances reminds us of the kindness that is around us in the world, and inspires us to share the story of her care for Perks. Dr Lisa Aumiller has seen other cases similar to that of Perks, and feels that “Perks lived an extra good year or more because of home oxygen therapy. Thirty minutes a day changed Perks’ world…” and that “the integrative healthcare approach led to both an increase in quantity and quality of life for this patient.” Dr Lisa is particularly grateful to the Daulerios desire to honor Perks’ memory by donating the equipment so that other pets and parents can benefit from their investment, which was substantial.
Q: Ellen, you recently said goodbye to Perks after a long illness. What made Perks a special dog to you?
Perks was my “Miracle Dog!” For many of my adult years I deeply desired a dog, but there was always a practical reason why not to have a dog! Career, living an expat life abroad, time, resources, etc etc. In 2006, I was diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease. For the next seven years I rode the “symptom roller coaster,” ran a medical marathon, became socially disconnected and lost my sense of purpose and passion in mid-life. Finally I realized getting well and having a dog were not mutually exclusive! I was tired of putting my dreams on hold.
In 2012, I started the search for my “Miracle Dog!” White, fluffy, hypoallergenic, non-shedding, less than 10 lbs, healthy young-middle aged dog. In March of 2013, my dream dog popped up on Pet Finder’s … A double coated shedding senior dog with heart disease, chronic Lyme disease and parasites named “Patrick” … he “had me at the grin”! That big ol’ ear-to-ear grin that was to become his captivating signature smile !! He was perfect! He was renamed Perks for “Perky Pomeranian” … his spirit was insatiable! Perks was also belovedly nicknamed “Pretty Boy” (complimented always for his good looks!), “Cover Boy “ (won 2 calendar cover contests!), “Funny Boy” (made everyone laugh!), and “Lover Boy” (would request a belly rub from anybody!)
Perks was in every sense a “Miracle Dog”, my gift from God providing unconditional love, unwavering loyalty, purpose, zest for life, and a whole new social network … from his dog walker, dog trainer, dog sitter, veterinarians, groomer, photographer, pet store owner, and dog-loving neighbors and friends. In that year, my health started “evening out” with more good days than bad, treatments easier to endure, and a renewed sense of hope. He grounded me and inspired confidence in what is possible. In 2017 after 19 years of unemployment, I started a new career as a holistic health coach supporting clients affected by Lyme disease and persistent illness. Together we achieved our next “bucket list” becoming certified as a therapy dog and handler! Life was good and he was the “Love of My Life!”
Q: How did things go for Perks as a result of your treatment choice? How did it go for you? Would you make the same choice again?
In January 2018, Perks had progressed to Stage D (end stage) MVD. Our cardiologist informed us that there was nothing more that could be done except to continue to tweak his “cardiac cocktail” of 7 drugs and consider home oxygen therapy. He did not recommend heroic measures such as CPR if Perks arrested or MVD surgery currently available in Japan and England. He said “good bye” to us and that every day would be “icing on the cake.” We decided from that day forward on palliative care only. There would be no more veterinary emergency room visits; they were entirely too stressful for Perks and us. We purchased the Buster ICU Cage, a collapsible oxygen chamber from Jorgensen Labs and an oxygen compressor from Pulmonary Professional Services in Woodbury, NJ. We scheduled routine House Paws mobile visits with Lisa Aumiller, DVM to monitor his heart and lungs, provide acupuncture, B12 injections, and communicate with the cardiologist when necessary. Phyllis Kimmelman, DVM of HousePaws rotated visits so more than one vet would be familiar with his heart sounds and any changes. Judy Morgan, DVM of Clayton Veterinary Associates was consulted for holistic nutrition and Chinese herbs. Ray Derman, DC, CVCP provided mobile chiropractic care to correct spinal malalignment from his persistent coughing. Gretchen Abdullah, of Ahead of the Pack groomed him at home to allow for his comfort and intermittent rest periods. It truly was a wonderful team effort!
For the next 14 months, Perks needs dramatically increased. He had to be carried up/down steps including the access to our home; gates were installed to prevent him from stair climbing; sleeping in the crate was abandoned for beds in every room and a trail of pee pads were laid out at night to accommodate for the high dose diuretics. The latter he accepted begrudgingly, but indoor bowel movements he refused! He simply had to go out and be a dog! This too became a “balancing act”; walk far enough to go and not too far to faint! Defecating in end stage disease can actually cause a syncopal episode or a cardiac arrest. Unfortunately Perks had a least a dozen “episodes” in the last year with his Dad sprinting home in his arms and directly into oxygen tank which gratefully revived him every time! Perks was then ready to eat and Dad was ready to have his own “episode!” Perks’ Mom opted for a stroller which was useful in extreme weather or if he fatigued before we got home.
How did it go for you?
The last six months or so were honestly the most difficult and emotionally stressful of my life. Sleep deprivation set in as the night time coughing and restlessness increased. Meals increased to 6 per day with divided doses of medications. Oxygen therapy was 3 or more times a day as necessary. Pottying every 3-4 hours. Dr Lisa came every 1-2 weeks. Grooming was clipping only, no bathing as it is too stressful. Perks also developed severe separation anxiety as his disease worsened. After exhausting multiple calming strategies, in the end just being with me 24/7 was all that could calm him. Friends came a few times a week to help and provide some respite. It truly was a labor of love.
The greatest challenge was staying the course with him until he died. It was our hope that we never have to make the decision for euthanasia. Our parish priest visited several times in the last year to anoint him and pray over us. As a matter of fact, Perks received ashes on Ash Wednesday and an “Anointing of the Sick” two days before he died. On March 8, 2019 Perks gave us his final and greatest gift … he calmly walked into the bedroom and died on his own releasing us from that final dreaded decision.
In the weeks that have followed, I practice gratitude and contemplate how I can reincarnate myself and my life without Perks. Gratitude for the amazing life I shared with Perks and the gifts he bestowed on me. Reincarnate a better me for the life lessons learned from Perks. As part of reconciling his death, I do a little something daily to memorialize him … walk his favorite routes, work on his photos/mementos, talk to him in prayer, journal our life together.
Would you make the same choice again?
Yes I would make all the same choices again with the exception of more serious consideration of mitral valve replacement surgery. Our cardiologist advised against it due to Perks’ advanced age, stage of the disease and potential poor prognosis to survive the travel abroad and the extremely complicated surgery. However, in the year that ensued our last cardiology visit, the survival rates, information and travel procedures for surgery abroad have greatly improved. This spring the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine finalized an agreement with the surgery’s creator, Dr Masumi Uechi to bring the surgical procedure to the USA. Perks desire to survive and thrive may have been an underestimated advantage.
Q: After losing Perks, you’ve decided that you’d like to help other HousePaws clients care for pets suffering from similar conditions. What did you decide to do and what was it that made you decide this?
We decided to honor Perks’ memory by donating his ICU oxygen chamber and oxygen compressor to House Paws clients with similar needs. The chamber is large enough to allow a small – medium size dog to move freely; the oxygen compressor converts room air to an oxygen flow rate prescribed by the veterinarian. Oxygen therapy can be delivered at home safely, effectively, and economically. As evidenced with Perks, serious breathing difficulties can lead to cardiac arrest and death. Immediately placing the pet in the oxygen tank after an acute event can often resuscitate them and prevent death. Long term use can provide a better quality of life and increase longevity.
My inspiration for the donation program was the strong belief and personal experience that home oxygen therapy was the key distinguishing factor that kept Perks alive with a decent quality of life well beyond expectation. It is my hope for Perks’ spirit to live on in other animals with similar medical needs. Allowing them and their families to live and love a little longer! Perks actually died of a “heart too big” to fit in his little chest (see X-ray). I think this is a perfect legacy to his limitless love.
CARI’S CANINE PROS https://cariscaninepros.com
AHEAD OF THE PACK https://www.aheadofthepackpets.com
VALERIE BRUDER PHOTOGRAPHY https://www.valeriebruder.com
JUDY MORGAN, DVM https://www.drjudymorgan.com
RAY E. DERMAN, DC, CVCP https://horse-chiropractor.com
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON MITRAL VALVE DISEASE SURGERY, VISIT “MIGHTY DOGS PROJECT”