By Dawna Pederzani
Special to the Observer
At Vermont English Bulldog Rescue, we face immense challenges with nearly every dog that we save. Although this breed is popular because of their cuteness, kind nature and reputation for being great family dogs, the English bulldog can be (though isn’t always) a condensed container of significant health issues brought on by indiscriminate breeding for profit. The sought-after look can negatively affect the dog’s quality of life and ultimately shortens it by years. These health issues will cause an owner to spend more time with a vet than anyone else in his or her life.
The dog’s health issues may also cause an owner to have a checking account and credit card just for this purpose, sometimes empty or maxed out. English bulldog ownership is not for the faint of heart. It is a daily battle that owners wage keeping these dogs healthy or something akin to it.
One such health issue that we had not dealt with yet as rescuers was megaesophogus. It was one of the “Grim Reaper” disorders, rare and foreboding. We had dodged that bullet, or so we thought, until Gus.
Megaesophagus is a condition in which the esophagus becomes enlarged and its communication with the controlling nerves is impeded. When this occurs, the esophagus loses the ability to move food and liquid through the esophagus into the stomach, causing it to sit in the esophagus unable to move. It is then at risk of regurgitation and possible aspiration into the lungs, with resulting pneumonia. Once a death sentence, dedicated owners and veterinarians have formulated ways in which to manage this disorder. There is no cure: this is simply management.
What does management look like? Most importantly an affected dog must eat and drink in an elevated manner and remain elevated for 20 to 30 minutes, allowing gravity to do the work of moving food into the stomach.
Bailey was a mixed-breed dog who had been diagnosed with this disorder, long before there was much in the way of treatment. He lived with managed care to just shy of his 13th birthday, thanks to the help in part of a special eating arrangement: Bailey’s owner designed the Bailey chair, a food bowl and seat that’s elevated to chest-height, and helps the dog stay put while eating and for a short while afterwards.
There are medications which can help this process such as stomach acid reducers, motility drugs and anti-nausea drugs. Feeding canned food, which digests more quickly, can also help, but keeping a dog upright when ingesting food is critical.
Enter Gus. Our little Gus was rescued in Vermont, after having been neglected and abused, and we took him in to find he was diagnosed with this disorder, too. This little 40-pound trooper has already undergone three major surgical procedures and a bout with pneumonia. As if he had not overcome enough, he is on all of the types of medications available to help with it, and being hand-fed.
We realized he needed a Bailey chair, and began to do our research into that. We put plans in place to build one, and then reality hit: my recent shoulder surgery made building this simply out of reach in the near future — and Gus couldn’t wait. Solution? Off to my second home, Home Depot. I took Gus with me in his Christmas best and planned a meeting with Corey Shanteau, the manager.
I gave Corey my best pitch, and then waited. To my surprise, he gave us a resounding yes. I had to get the plans back to him and the chair would be built in one or two days, he said. We were teary-eyed and nearly speechless, which is a lot for us. Feeling immensely grateful that a former stranger would care enough about this little guy to want to help out, we brought the plans to Home Depot.
Now, the chair is finished, and our work teaching little Gus to accept it as a part of his life has begun. We are filled with gratitude for Corey and Home Depot — who said that big box stores are impersonal? That was not our experience, and we’re grateful that Williston, our hometown, is filled with generous helpers.
Our last challenge remains — covering Gus’s medical costs. Any donations would be greatly appreciated and may be made securely through our new website, vermontenglishbulldogrescue.com. As a 501(c)3 not for profit, all donations are tax deductible.
Dawna Pederzani is the founder of Vermont English Bulldog Rescue, located in Williston, which has been rescuing dogs since 1999.