Sleep Apnea and Talented Multiple-Alert Service Greyhound
by Therese Skinner
It was a hot September night in 2000 when I got the call to meet a hauler at the Woodlands Race Track in Kansas City, Kansas. The hauler was bringing in a fawn brindle girl named Nitro Lil Ashley who had been “pre-adopted” to another family in our group.
The hauler was expected to arrive at 10:30pm at the guard gate but it was late. Finally, at 12:30am, a beautiful large hauler pulled in and came to a stop at the guard gate. A man hopped out of the cab and walked over to me. He asked if I was there to pick up Ashley as he handed me her paperwork to sign for his manifest. As he reached into one of the holes, a beautiful large fawn brindle girl appeared with ears that curled back perfectly, huge deep brown eyes and half a tail. He said she was a terrific girl that was going to make someone a great pet.
Her separation anxiety was severe. Her parents tried everything. Someone suggested crating her while she had to be alone. She ate a vari kennel leaving the metal parts and a few remnants of plastic behind. She broke her teeth in a wire crate. She peed and pooped everywhere in the house when she was left to have free reign while they were gone. The final straw was when she ripped a door off it’s hinges and chewed the door frame moulding. They finally called me asking for help. The only help I could offer them was to re-home her myself or adopt her as my own. That decision was easy. My words to them were “Bring her to me and she can live with me.” I already had two Greyhounds of my own, Jackie age 6 and Heisman age 6. Ashley and Jackie were good friends anyway so it seemed right to adopt Ashley into our family permanently. Ashley became a member of our family on July 21, 2001 at age 3 1/2.
We had some adjustments to make for awhile but no signs of separation anxiety at all. She made it clear to everyone that she was finally happy. She was thunderphobic but that seemed to melt away the longer she was with me. She was a happy girl and loved playing with her best dog friend and adopted sister, Jackie.
Finally, in 2003, my boy Heisman was diagnosed with Wobbler’s disease and a week later, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and Restless Leg Syndrome. Heisman was my medical alert service dog for mobility issues but I retired him due to his failing health. My girl, Jackie, wasn’t well suited to become my service dog for several reasons so I turned to Ashley. She was young, obedient, good around people, had a knack for knowing when I needed help and was always by my side. She wasn’t as smart as Heisman was but she was food motivated making service dog training easier.
By November 2005, Ashley finally earned her status as a full fledged medical alert service dog. Service dogs can be owner/handler trained and be legally recognized as a medical alert service dog as long as they can demonstrate their duties in aiding their person. She wore her medical alert service dog badge on her collar at all times and took her new job very seriously. Her main duties were to alert me when I started to have a TIA (transient aschemic attack), to alert me when someone was approaching the door and to assist me in my mobility if needed. She would also detect where new lesions were forming in the brain from the Multiple Sclerosis by sniffing my head all over alerting to specific spots where later MRI’s confirmed lesions in those areas. She was always by my side waiting for the moment I needed her assistance.
In early 2006, Ashley started doing something strange – waking me up in the middle of the night almost every night. She would gently paw me and whine until I woke up and said her name. When she heard me speak, she would return to her bed and fall asleep again. This puzzled me. Why would she do this all of a sudden? I finally spoke to my neurologist about it. I told him that my Greyhound, Ashley kept waking me during the night almost every night between 3am and 5am. He thought it was kind of odd so he scheduled me for another sleep study exam to see what was happening if anything during those hours of sleep.
The results were back in a few days after my second sleep study. I stop breathing approximately 40 to 60 times between 3am and 5am. Strangely, it was during the same hours that Ashley was waking me up! My doctor was astounded that she picked up on such a thing! He diagnosed me with a secondary sleep disorder Sleep Apnea. Although I don’t snore loud – just some subtle faint snoring, it was the only sleep disorder that fit into that category.
In 2007, we lost her best dog friend and sister, Jackie, to cancer of the heart. Although Ashley became very depressed, she still continued her duties like always except this time, she actually got to sleep with me. That helped her until we adopted LuLu. Now, she had to focus on training LuLu as well as keeping an eye on me.
A few months after losing Jackie, we lost Heisman to end stage Wobbler’s and Ashley fell back into a depression again. It wasn’t as severe as the first time. When she finally realized that she earned her top dog status in the house over LuLu, she began to play again in her “off time”.
In 2008, she welcomed a new brother into the family. She liked Patrick and Patrick liked Ashley. He often helped her with LuLu and stayed out of her way when she had to help me. The depression she slipped back into when Heisman died was finally over with when Patrick arrived. She liked having a brother around again.
Ashley continued to do her job very well until her age caught up with her in early 2010. By this time, she was twelve years old and she was slowing down. Although I decided to retire her, she still thought she was on duty most of the time. Her eyesight and hearing were starting to fail. She was also a bit shaky in the rear end now and then, too. While stroking those gorgeous, silky curled ears of hers, I calmly told her that it was Mom’s turn now to care for her. She loved snuggling next to me on the couch for hours since no one else had furniture privileges other than her. I wanted her to enjoy her remaining years with me however long that was. She earned it and then some.
By the time her 13th birthday arrived December 21st, 2010, I knew something wasn’t quite right with Ashley. She was still eating but she seemed to sleep a lot and she lost a little bit of weight, too. At first, I chalked it up to her being a senior but something kept nagging me deep inside. Some days she would do well and other days really concerned me. She would often get up on her love seat and sleep for hours.
January 2011 rolled around and a severe blizzard hit. Ashley did well at first but the day after the blizzard was over, she went down and couldn’t get back up. I ran to rescue her in the deep snow and halfway carried her back inside. That’s when I took four days and shoveled many paths in the back yard to help her. A week later, another blizzard hit but it wasn’t as severe. She was a trooper through it all accepting my assistance when she needed it.
Finally, the night of February 13th, 2011 Ashley rose from her dog bed to go outside and drops of fresh blood start dripping from one of her nostrils. Upon examination, I did not see any signs of trauma to her nose. My heart sank. I knew fresh blood from a nostril was not a good sign. She went outside to potty, came back in, ate her bedtme cookies all the while her nose bleed was getting worse. She soaked a towel with blood and the comforter she was on was bloody, too. Since I couldn’t get the bleeding stopped, off we went to the emergency vet. I knew in my heart that she most likely would not return home with me. It was extremely hard to hold back the tears so I tried to remain calm for her sake. I didn’t want to upset her. By the time we arrived at the emergency vet, blood was dripping worse from her nose. She walked in under her own power and they took her in immediately. After an examination, the veterinarian confirmed my suspicions – adenocarcinoma of the nasal cavity deep inside. It had ruptured. I had no choice but to make that decision that every one dreads to make. I had to let her go before the next symptom appeared – violent seizures. That was something I could not let happen to her. I wanted to keep my promise – to love her, care for her and to let her go when it was time. Sadly, it was time while she was in no pain and not suffering.
With me laying beside her, holding her, stroking those beautiful curly ears and whispering to her that I loved her very much, she slipped away peacefully. She left me with 9 1/2 years of beautiful memories. I am ever so grateful for her years of dedicated assistance and love. As I recall those wonderful memories, I realized she knew she was meant for me right from the moment we met and she saved my life many times. She can never be replaced by another. Ashley Nicole will forever be my heroine in brindle.
Original article for Greyhound Articles Online 4/21/11
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