They told me to put him down. They weren’t even going to give him a chance. All they saw was a 40kg 9-year-old German Shepherd who would never walk again. But I saw my Jethro, my boy, my best friend, my most loyal companion, my child, my shadow, my partner in crime, my prince, my leap year baby, my soul mate, my everything. How could I not give him every chance?
He had fought through so much already …
Three days before Jethro lost the use of his back legs he had been hospitalised and put on a drip after suffering from the second bout of haemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) in 15 days. For those of you who don’t know, HGE is a heart-wrenching carnage; a sudden onslaught of bloody diarrhoea that’s excruciatingly painful – the stomach lining literally peels away and is passed. And very quickly, it can become life threatening.
He pulled through that. My gorgeous boy. My bounding boy. When I picked him up at the vet we were so happy to see each other again that we rolled around on the vet’s floor. But within an hour of being home I knew something wasn’t right. Back to the vet. X-rays. More x-rays. He couldn’t pass his own urine anymore. Catheters. Medical procedure after medical procedure. More questions than answers. A terrified Jethro who wouldn’t let me leave his side. A specialised veterinary hospital. And then … my worst fear … my boy was suddenly paralysed.
That was the day my life as I knew it came to a standstill. The day they told me Jethro would never walk again. That he would never recover. That they couldn’t help him. That I should put him down. My heart screamed no!
I remember Jethro was just coming out of sedation, and he opened his eyes when I said his name. Dazed and confused, he looked at each person in the room until he found me. As he saw me he tried to get up, but I went to him and told him to put his head down and sleep. With that he closed his eyes and put his head in my hand and fell asleep again. I knew then that he trusted me above all else and needed me more than ever before.
My boy couldn’t walk, he had multiple and severe spinal issues, he had swelling on the spine, in fact there were so many problem areas that if they had considered operating on him it just would have been a gamble. It was mind blowing and soul destroying because my boy was so alive in every other way. And when Jethro’s own doctor came to the specialised hospital, she knew that Jethro wasn’t ready to give up either. She knew we owed it to him to give him a fighting chance. And so began a journey of heartbreak, hope, fear, terror, anguish and all the way back to heartbreak, hope, fear, terror, anguish.
I started living on the couch in the lounge so that I could be close to Jethro. I attended to his every need during the day, feeding him, lifting him into his full body harness, taking him to the toilet, and to the vet twice a day to be catheterised (my sweet boy has a girl crush on his doctor, so it wasn’t all bad). At night I would turn him every two hours so he wouldn’t get bed sores.
After a week of total bed rest Jethro started hydro therapy as well as swimming and passive physiotherapy. At first he could only manage two minutes of slow walking. He was tired, unsure, and let’s not forget, paralysed. But he tried so hard. It was painful to watch him try so hard, but heartening at the same time … he hadn’t given up and despite his obvious pain and discomfort he was in good spirits.
And despite another horrendous bout of HGE (yes, another one), Jethro picked himself up again and fought on.
I wish you could see how much progress this brave and determined boy made over the next two weeks. They were small improvements, but improvements nevertheless. He was getting stronger. He had taken to his full body harness like a boss and was heart achingly patient with me as I learnt how to catheterise him myself.
We found a new routine. He’s still always the first to greet me when I open my eyes in the morning, but we used to go everywhere together. Now he couldn’t walk without his full body harness and my assistance. He couldn’t even relieve himself anymore without my help. But we still got some ‘us’ time in the park every day. With his full body harness, I could even walk him or run with him as I supported his back legs with the harness handles so that he could keep fit to a degree. It also helped him keep his mental focus on the fact that he still had legs. With my support he was actually able to move his legs as if he was using them to run naturally.
And then. Another bout of HGE. God I wish I was kidding.
This was by far the worst bout of HGE I had ever seen. And as it hit on a Sunday afternoon and his doctor’s practice was closed, Jethro had to wait it out all day and all night before I could get him to her the next morning. I could have taken him to another emergency 24/7 vet but by this time I didn’t (and still don’t) trust anyone else with him. The word bloodbath is the only way I can describe what I saw over those long hours.
And watching him struggle so, I became tired, scared, and just completely overwhelmed. Am I being unfair to him trying so hard to keep him going? I asked myself over and over. I questioned if he was ‘done’ and I if I was keeping him here because I couldn’t face being without him. By the time I walked into the vet the following morning I broke down completely. It had been a very long and emotionally difficult couple of months and this last bout of HGE took me to the edge.
Once Jethro’s vet had him on a drip and stabilised him, she came to me, took me into her consulting room, got me a cup of coffee and said, ‘You need to get your shit together. Your Boy needs you, but he doesn’t need you falling apart. He draws on your strength and your energy and when you are like this you are doing him no favours.’ She told me that if I was done then that was another conversation to be had but Jethro wasn’t done and because he wasn’t done I needed to pull myself together … and that until I did she would not take me to go see him.
I grew still. Years ago, Jethro was the one who pulled me through after a cycling accident put me in ICU and left me fighting for my life. My body was broken, and when I eventually came home again I had to learn how to use my own body again. Jethro never left my side during all that time. 24/7 he lay by my side and wouldn’t let anyone near me. Every move I made he was there. He never left me. In his own way he was my crutch, my full body harness, carrying me through to full recovery.
I decided then and there, red-eyed and puffy cheeked in the vet’s consulting room that I would be there for him, no matter what. That was my emotional turning point. And Jethro’s.
One morning, not too long after that, my Jethro stood up and started walking by himself. I cried. Of course I cried. I was so completely overwhelmed with love, pride, and disbelieving. If I had not been there to see it for myself, I would never have believed it. I had been told by specialists that he would not walk again, and here was My Boy … proving the world wrong.
I hugged him so hard I remember him coughing in my ear as if to say, ‘Mom you are choking me!’
He started out very shakily in his harness, but he was doing it without any help from me, and as the weeks have gone by he gets stronger and stronger every day. His determination to overcome his challenges has taken him from walking for 2 minutes at a time on a hydro treadmill to walking a solid and brisk 12 minutes! Oh and how My Boy shines! He’s now swimming 400m continuously in the pool too!
Jethro still wears his harness from the time he gets up in the morning until the time he goes to bed, because although he is walking by himself now, it is still on weakened legs and he still has neurological misfiring – which at this time still challenges him with regards to walking 100% normally.
It’s hard to think all this has happened in just four months.
Jethro is a walking miracle.
He is also my biggest teacher. The love, friendship, and bond between the two of us has grown even more than I ever believed possible. The love I have for him is all encompassing, and to say he is my soul mate is an understatement.
Each day we continue on our quest. The quest to regain full independent use of his legs without any help from me or a harness. We are still trying to fight the ever temperamental bladder but are slowly, slowly winning that battle too and I believe one day, in the not-too-distant-future, Jethro will walk, harness-free, into the very rooms of the specialist who told me to walk away because there was no hope. And Jethro will show him what determination and the will to live can do.
So many people, when they hear Jethro’s story, think I’m somehow special because I ‘saved his life’. But they’ve got it all wrong … Jethro is the one who saved mine. His mind, his spirit, his heart, his love … they are unequalled by most humans.
He has taught me to never give up. NEVER GIVE UP!
He is my Magic Man.
Read next: An Open Letter To Pit Bulls