Overcoming Disabilities, An Inspirational Interview with Denby DogCarleen Coulter
Denby Dog is much like any other corgi. He is absolutely cute, he enjoys lying in the sun, playing with squeaky toys, and he will definitely let you know when he is hungry. He just goes about his day a bit differently from most. Unable to eat or drink on his own for the last 9 years, Denby is fed through a tube. Also diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), a disease that results in degeneration of the white matter of the spinal cord, Denby uses a cart for mobility. But in the face of these obstacles, with the help of a loving family, he enjoys a full and quality life. Through his Facebook page, he shares his life’s joys while providing education about special needs pets.
When I first encountered Denby on Facebook, I was immediately inspired. You can’t read this dog’s page and not fall in love with him. How he and his family confront his challenges is touching and amazing. For anyone who has ever dealt with a special needs pet, or questioned the ability to do so, let Denby be your guide. Denby is also not without realism. As you will see in this interview, his human Mom makes clear that she does not and will not judge the choices others make when facing an animal’s disability. Her decisions in regard to Denby might not be the same others would have made. We all are different in how we approach such difficulties. But I hope for anyone facing these issues, that you will find some hope and inspiration in Denby’s story.
Denby isn’t just a story about special needs. He is also a story about fun. Like many of the pets who have Facebook pages, Denby provides comic relief. He has numerous fun costumes, and it seems that his cart is always in some form of decoration.
Learn about Denby in the interview that follows. I hope that you too find it as educational, inspiring, and heart touching as I did.
Interviewing Denby 1 of 19
Why did you decide to start your own Facebook page? 2 of 19
I wanted pet parents facing difficult medical problems with their pets to know that they were not alone. There is someone who has walked in their shoes and found ways to cope with the challenges they face caring for their pet. I thought that if I could write things that were funny that maybe, just maybe, they would see their pet's challenges the way Mom and I see ours bumps in the road that can be navigated over or around. That's exactly what I do when I am in my cart!
Tell me a bit about your physical challenges eating and drinking. 3 of 19
I haven't been able to eat, drink, or blink on my own for nearly 9 years. Just after I turned 4, Mom noticed I blew bubbles in my water bowl. After seeing lots of doggie doctors, Mom was told that I had "idiopathic" (which means doctors do not know what caused it) nerve damage to my cranial and facial nerves. I can't drink because my tongue doesn't work very well, I choke when I eat, and I can't blink or completely close my eyes. I had my right eye removed several years ago due to a corneal tear as a result of excessive dry eye, but no worries, turns out 1 eye works great!
How have you eaten these past 9 years? 4 of 19
Mom feeds me through my Esophageal feeding tube (E-tube). She mixes up a formula of special dog food and syringes down my tube 3 times a day, and it goes into my tummy. She is sure to give me water through my tube too. Years ago, I found a way to swallow ice chips. I "scooped" up the ice chips in my mouth, tipped my head back and swallowed, but now I am totally dependent on Mom. That's why she can never go away for the day. Corgi's love their food and, trust me, I am no different! Yes, I bark when I am hungry.
Tell me about your DM diagnosis. 5 of 19
Life was pretty normal for me until December 2010, when Mom could no longer ignore the "click" on the pavement she heard during our walks. My back left paw began to "knuckle" under. A trip to my vet's office and a DNA test strongly suggested that I have Degenerative Myelopathy (DM).
Canine degenerative myelopathy is an incurable, progressive disease of the canine spinal cord that is similar in many ways to ALS or Lou Gehrigs disease. It has taken away my ability to walk. I am able to crawl with my front legs, but soon I will lose the ability to do that. I call DM the "silent stalker" of the Corgi breed, although it affects other breeds too. Its symptoms are often dismissed, and it isn't until the dog can no longer walk that the owner gets the diagnosis of DM. DM has no cure, but there are things that owners can do to provide a good quality of life for their dog, including getting wheels for their pet. Some pet parents use a stroller or wagon for their dog but Mom got me a cart.
By the way, whatever happened to my cranial/facial nerves has nothing to do with my DM diagnosis. It was just an unlucky coincidence for me to have had parents who shared a certain gene that may be responsible for DM. I hope that by reading my story, potential Corgi owners will ask the breeder an important question, do you do genetic testing for DM? It's easy, inexpensive, and may protect our breed from this horrific disease.
I think you are perfect proof that a dog with physical and medical challenges can live a quality life with the right care. Who has helped you along the way with this and how? 6 of 19
Mom and I have always lived by the motto, "Living life as a dog." While it sounds simple, it isn't. Mom has always ensured that I did all the things that dogs like to do: car rides, backyard naps in the sun, lots of toys (squeaky toys are physical therapy for me), and my favorite until just 2 years ago: Frisbee flying (yes, I could fly, in fact, I could reach the sky!)
Who has helped me to be able to live such a happy, healthy of a life as I have for these past 9 years? That's easy, Team Denby led by Dr. Robert Fryer (the head coach of our team) and his staff at the Animal Clinic of Oak View here in California. They have been there for Mom and me from the first step in my journey.
Tell me about your cart. Where did you get it? 7 of 19
Did you know that there are over 10 different doggie cart manufacturers right here in the USA? Mine is from K9 Carts West, but each cart company has something unique to offer the dog and his pet parent. For example, where do you intend to use the cart? Can you easily lift and carry the cart? Because your pet can't go anywhere without it. Will the cart adapt and adjust as your dog loses more mobility as the DM progresses? There are many things to consider before you buy or rent a cart.
My cart started out as a 2 wheeler but now it is a 4 wheeler and, soon, when I can no longer walk on my front legs, it will allow Mom to roll me along. For more information visit the Corgis on Wheels Yahoo Group where you can learn so much about DM and IVDD (a disc disease) thanks to Bobbie Mayer. If it wasn't for that group, Mom would not have met a very, very special friend to me, Cheryl and her now bright star in the sky, Griffin the Lionhearted. Being able to talk to someone else whose dog made the DM journey was a lifesaver for us.
Do you ever get stuck in the grass or mud? If so, what do you do? 8 of 19
I do what you would do when your car won't start, has a flat tire, etc., I call the automobile club (AAA)! Only kidding. Yes, lots of things have happened to me, broken straps, loose wheels, once I just got all tuckered out and Mom had to carry me, my cart, and my sister's leash all the way back home. Would I purposely get mud on my tires? Never! (Is Mom listening?) Yes, I love getting "a little mud on my tires," not unlike a dog who likes getting mud all over his paws!
Do your ever get discouraged? If so, what do you do to overcome that? 9 of 19
From the very beginning of my journey, Mom and I decided that we couldn't change what happened to me, but we could determine how we handle the challenges. It's true what they say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! That's what Mom and I have tried to do every day. Recently, I've had to wear doggy diapers to bed at night (Mom says it's an insurance policy just in case). Now, I'm a very proud Corgi, and I wasn't happy wearing them, so I decided to change how I felt about them and I put some sticky letters on them. I can't tell you what I wrote because Babble likely has censors, but you can see what I wrote on my Facebook page! That's what I do; I try not to see what I can't do as a disability but instead see it as a challenge.
I also remind myself that I have been given a unique opportunity to be a voice for special needs pets. Maybe I can change another dog's life with something that I tell my Mom to write about. Yes, I am the brains behind my page, Mom is just the one who types on the keyboard.
You like to decorate your cart. Do you have a favorite theme that you have done? 10 of 19
Now that is an easy question. My Fireman costume and cart! There is a fire station down the street where I live, and I wanted to honor them and their fallen comrades who gave their all on 9/11. I have a hose with a nozzle, a bell that rings and two ladders to use to rescue kitties from trees with! (Wink, wink!)
On January 1st this year, I decorated my cart for the Rose Parade and won first place. (Well, it was from my friend Tucker the Corgi Master, but still.) And there are my license plates. You name it, I've probably had it on the back of my cart! One of my favorites was "No Tailgating!"
And I almost forgot, I have a "punkin" cart. In October, I grew some BIG "punkins," and I tried to deliver them to my Facebook friends back east but it was just too difficult for me to do, but I did try my Corgi best!
What is your favorite outfit you have worn? 11 of 19
Why do pet parents insist on dressing us up? I have been a doctor, a king, Superman and a Super Denby. I've gone to "Infinity and Beyond" and have been a pirate who really did need a patch. I've worn reindeer antlers too! I think I have been very patient with Mom, don't you?
What 3 things should people know most about you? 12 of 19
I want them to know that despite what I can no longer do, there are many things that I can still do. Lying in the noon day sun never gets old, nor does feeling the wind in my face when I am in my cart or stroller. Being outside and going for walks means so much more to your dog than you think. The next time you take your dog for a walk, watch his face. And didn't you ever wonder why we sleep in the sun?
I also want them to know that Mom and I will never judge decisions made by others regarding the care of their pet. Whenever people contact us for advice, the first thing we tell them is that we respect any decisions they make now or in the future for their pet. The decisions made by my Mom and Dr. Fryer may not be what someone else wants to do or can do (but I am sure glad the two of them decided to do it!)
I also want them to know that I will stay "Corgi Strong" as long as I can, but Mom and Dr. Fryer have promised me that when I can no longer smile and "Corgi On," they will love me enough to let me go and join all the bright stars in the heavens.
Is Sammy Sue your sister? Tell me 3 interesting things about her. 13 of 19
Are you talking about that perfect little 9-year-old Shetland Sheepdog that lives with me? Yes, she is my sister. She is always perfect, every hair in the right place. She never takes a bad picture, and she is very good at doggy obedience (whatever that is)! What Mom doesn't know is that we love each other very much and that we have a bond. If Mom took the time to notice, Sammy is always nearby me, watching and protecting me.
Tell me about your Facebook friends. 14 of 19
While I wasn't lucky to have so many health challenges, I have been the luckiest Corgi ever because I have the best friends in the whole wide world! In fact, they were all in your "21 Corgis to Follow on Facebook!" They have all changed my life in one way or another, and it all began when I met Wilson Waddlepants.
I bet you could never guess one of my favorite parts of Facebook? I get to do so many things thanks to them. I've gone to weddings (the bachelor parties are the best part), I've flown planes, ridden in trucks, been the Corginator's football team mascot and that was just in the last few months! I have also been left on a rooftop, but let's not talk about that.
What do you like best about having your own Facebook page? 15 of 19
Changing minds and opening hearts about special needs pets. I receive so many messages from pet parents who have pets with difficult medical problems, and they are scared, worried, and just need someone to talk to so they don't feel so alone.
What is your favorite hobby? 16 of 19
I've had many, because I have to keep finding new ones when I can't do the old ones! No more Frisbee catching, no more squirrel chasing (darn if I don't miss that one lots), but I can still squeak a squeaker and yes, you can hunt gophers from a wheelchair. Just like a cat, I can sit there forever and wait for them to show their face!
What is your biggest talent? What is your favorite toy? 17 of 19
I can eat while I sleep! (That is an absolutely true fact!) And any toy that has a squeaker.
If you were giving advice to others on dealing with their pet’s physical disability what would be the first thing you would tell them? 18 of 19
Don't give up, don't just assume that your pet can't adapt and find new ways to do things. Give him a chance and give yourself a chance to adapt as well.
If you were interviewing yourself, what else would you ask and what is the answer? 19 of 19
There are three questions I would ask myself: Have you had a happy life? Would you have changed your journey if you could? Are you scared about what will happen to you in the next few months? I think you already know my answers to these questions. Yes, no, and I know I am loved "to infinity and beyond," so I am not afraid. I only hope that my Mom will remember these answers when my journey is completed. May you and your best friend Corgi On!
Follow Carleen and her corgis on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and find them at the blogs Beauty and Fashion Tech, Snack Rules, and Puppy on a Roomba. You can also follow Puppy on a Roomba on Facebook.