A Few Words from Carolyn, Toby’s Mother and Guardian Angel….

If you are looking to adopt a dog but are afraid a special needs dog will be too much work, please think again. I fell in love with a picture on the North Shore Animal League America website and only after inquiring about her did I find out that she was special needs. I was too much in love with her face to give up so I asked to find out more about her.

First the scary part:

Her name was Nelle then (Zoe now) and she has megaesophagus. That means her esophagus muscles don’t do their job of pushing food into the stomach. In a “mega,” the food just sits in the esophagus until the dog regurgitates it or, worst case scenario, inhales it into the lungs. This can lead to what is called aspiration pneumonia so it needs to be avoided at all costs. Megaesophagus can also make it hard for a dog to get enough nourishment and maintain a healthy weight. Zoe weighed 14 pounds when she first came to the Animal League and 27 pounds when I met her.

Now the not-scary stuff:

She sits in a special chair to eat (canned dog food with water added), which holds her upright on her hind legs and allows gravity to move the food and water into her stomach. She stays in the chair for about 15 to 20 minutes after she finishes eating. And that’s it! Otherwise she is completely normal.

She jumps up on her chair to let me know she’s hungry or thirsty and now that she’s an old hand at it, just naps while she waits for the time to pass. She doesn’t need supervision so I use that time to get my own stuff done. Zoe currently weighs 38 pounds (down from a too-chubby 41) and wants nothing more than constant love and a good bully stick.

Zoe can’t have treats so food can’t be used for training and when she’s out for a walk, you have to be careful she doesn’t eat anything off the ground. But if she sneaks something, I just put her back in her chair when we get back home. I let her drink water at the dog park on a hot day and just take her home to her chair shortly after. I can’t leave food and water out for her but I make sure she’s well-hydrated before I leave and I keep an air conditioner on in the summer.

Dealing with a “mega” takes a little more vigilance but other than that it’s not a big deal. In fact, I recently adopted my second “mega” from North Shore Animal League America. Toby, a Chihuahua Mutt-i-greeâ„¢ (mixed-breed dog), had been there for several years off and on and been through a few major health crises, including pneumonia, hepatitis and tooth decay. Every time I brought Zoe for a checkup I would ask about Toby, hoping that he had been adopted. Finally, after two years I decided I had to give him a real home (even though he was showered with love at North Shore Animal League America).

Zoe and Toby met and a month or so later two staff members drove him to my house, with his toys, his bedding, his medicine and plenty of his special food. Toby is still on medicine to help move the food down and he has skin allergies (therefore the special food), but otherwise he is an energetic, feisty, typical Chihuahua. He has an identical chair to Zoe’s except smaller and he gets his pills with his food but otherwise the routine is the same.

Keeping a “mega” healthy is the key, but once you get the hang of it, it’ll seem as normal as playing fetch.