Daisy is a beautiful, two year old labradoodle and has a cerebellar condition that has yet to be diagnosed. Her symptoms are consistent with cerebellar hypoplasia but her energy and movements are very unique and we have an interesting back story, her and I.
Last October, Jenny and I were in San Diego to facilitate an adoptio and do a few Josh events and school visits. Prior to this trip, I received an email from a novice breeder who wanted help because he had a puppy with cerebellar symptoms. He sent me videos of an adorable chocolate & white fluffy doodle named Belle. I told him that I was headed to California in the next couple weeks and I would be happy to meet up and evaluate her to offer some feedback and we did just that. He brought Belle to our Josh meet up at a park so Jenny and I could spend some time with her. I remember that she was a lot like a wind-up toy that just kept going and going without ever stopping. She was also very aloof, like she was focused on whatever was going on internally instead of connecting with the outside world around her. We chatted about her symptoms and I gave him a plan of action to advocate for her disability as well as how to go about getting an official diagnosis, which I stressed was imperative so he could set realistic expectations for her physical abilities.
When cerebellar puppies are young like Daisy, its hard to tell if they have a static condition, like cerebellar hypoplasia, where what you see is what you get. Or if they have something that will end up being neurodegenerative in which case there is a decline in abilities as time goes on. They are two completely different experiences and I feel that it’s very important for both handler and dog that a diagnosis be made clear so that expectations match abilities. He was on the fence about giving her up so I encouraged him to hang in there but assured him that I had space in my rescue and was willing to take her on if she proved to be too much for him. He hung out for the majority of our meet up, conversing with Josh fans and really getting into the whole Josh vibe, he seemed to get caught up in it and inspired to try to make it work with Belle. He made a small cash donation, bought some Josh merchandise, and went on his way. I never heard from him again.
A few weeks ago, I received an email with a request for help. Someone reached out and said that that her mom had a labradoodle named Daisy with cerebellar symptoms and needed help. I get lots of these emails every week from owners and rescue partners with cerebellar dogs. I typically try to give a few tips for success and offer support and suggestions to make life easier or recommendations of neurologists in their area. I reviewed the videos of Daisy and immediately recognized the movement pattern, but not the dog. I couldn’t figure out what was so familiar because I didn’t recognize her at all and I had never spoken to the owner before. Later that night, after watching the videos again and again, I realized that this unique movement pattern was that same doodle puppy I saw over a year ago, named Belle. She was just older now and her coat was shaved much shorter so I didn’t put it together right away The new owner was a kind and compassionate woman named Elizabeth.
She told me that she had found Daisy on craigslist, which really shocked me. We compared notes and it seems that she had acquired Daisy in the fall of last year, right after I left SoCal. Which means, the previous owner that I met, listed Daisy on craigslist immediately after the Josh meet, instead of surrendering her to me like I had offered. I’ll never know why he did that but it makes me sad that he went that route. Honestly, I was dissapointed in humanity when I had that moment of realization that this was the same fluffy puppy I met over a year ago. Daisy could have met a sad fate via craigslist but thankfully, Elizabeth found her. She has loved and cared for Daisy this whole time to the best of her ability and she shared with me that she felt Daisy needed something more. Her home wasn’t set up for cerebellar special needs and she wanted her to receive more support from someone who understands this disability. After a tearful conversation, she agreed to turn Daisy over to me and I will forever be honored that she trusted me enough to do so. I know that was an extremely difficult decision to make for the best interest of Daisy.
We went to work putting together a plan for Daisy. I knew that I had to leave town for awhile to finalize Ford’s adoption and assist two other cases on the east coast, so I needed to get her into a foster home for awhile until I was able to care for her myself. I had her transported from San Diego up to dog behaviorist and rescue partner, Angela Adan, in LA. I have been working with Angela for awhile now. She’s extremely experienced with special needs and an amazing behavioral trainer. She had been fostering acouple other dogs for me and was coming to Arizona to bring them for diagnostics, so adding Daisy was easy.We had a foster lined up for her and all of her supplies ready and waiting.
As soon as she arrived here in Phoenix, she saw board certified neurologist, Dr. Scott Plummer at the Veterinary Neurological Institute of Phoenix. He felt that she most likely has cerebellar hypoplasia and that he didn’t feel her symptoms were caused by distemper which was my original concern. We agreed to put her in foster and observation for 30 days and then revisit her symptoms to determine if and when we should do imaging.
I was able to spend some time with Daisy here in AZ this past week and aside from her cerebellar symptoms, she is very unsettled and anxious, and as a result, she never stops moving. Physically speaking, Daisy’s level of neuro affectedness is moderate. She has quite a bit of independent mobility but she has severe lateral movement in her gait that makes her a huge risk for falling and injury. A four wheel cart will be extremely helpful to her because it will serve as balance, the way training wheels are to a bike, so that her lateral movement is contained and she’s able to move forward in a straight line. We did get her into an adorable pink chair that fits her perfectly and she was a natural in it, almost immediately. Sometimes the wheelchair in and of itself is the very thing a cerebellar dog needs to increase self esteem and self efficacy so I am hopeful that Daisy will enjoy her new found independence that allows her to roam and explore safely.
With Daisy, my main concern actually isn’t the physical disability but rather her energy. Daisy seems very despondent, like she’s in her own world. Sort of a “nice house, nobody home” coupled with obsessively moving. For me, that’s the piece we need to work on to get her to adoptable status. Angela and I discussed it thoroughly and she agreed that Daisy could really benefit from behavioral training and through that process, we can address her vibrational energy. Not because she’s bad or anything like that, but she needs to gain some confidence and learn how to rest and self soothe. It’s very important for cerebellar dogs to learn these boundaries because it’s essential for their mental and physical well being. Daisy is very neuro affected and falls often. She needs to learn when it’s safe to move around independently and when its not. Right now, she knows no limits and has no fear. Also, CH dogs burn excessive calories and physically work extra hard just to function. It is imperative that they know when to pause and tap the breaks for their own good.
Daisy is going to learn how to do this with Angela’s guidance. We decided not to place her with the foster we had lined up for her in Arizona but instead, send her back to LA for 2-4 weeks of behavioral training. At that point, I will be able to place her in a foster home or bring her back here to Arizona to live with me for awhile. Although Angela is new to dogs with neuro disabilities, she’s a veteran dog trainer and I told her that the number one mistake I see people make with CH dogs is that they focus on the disability too much and forget that at the end of the day, they are still a dog first and foremost. With the dogs that I personally foster, it’s training first and disability advocacy second. The dog must come before the disability or you will have an emotionally imbalanced, anxious, insecure animal. Dogs with cerebellar conditions by nature are prone to codependency with their handler because the handler bridges the gap between disability and capabilities. If that is done in an unhealthy manner that lacks boundaries, the dog doesn’t know how to be happy or at rest without the constant reassurance of their human. Advocacy of mental health is just as important as physical needs advocacy. Daisy has also never been potty trained and I think that alone will help her so much. Essentially, I’m putting her though self esteem school. We are going to teach her how to exist in this world in a confident, healthy way despite her mobility challenges. Daisy’s journey with The Be Like Josh Foundation has only just begun but I have very high hopes for her. I know that she is going to blossom into that beautiful, loving labradoodle that she was intended to be.
A huge thank you to our rescue partner Angela Adan of Deserving Dogs in Los Angeles for volunteering her time and expertise on this project. I know that she’s in exceptional hands.
More to come on this story as it unfolds, stay tuned!