When my husband was diagnosed with MS some 13 years ago, it was a shock, from which in some ways, we are still to recover. The problems that sprang immediately to mind were how his mobility would be affected, could we cope financially and would it affect our animals.
Having owned German Shepherd Dogs for the majority of our married life, we were used to the strenuous exercise and mental stimulation that this particular breed required. Zak (our GSD at that time), was a mere youngster and was already enjoying the prolonged walks and regular training that Doug provided. We were sailing into the unknown and as anyone who suffers from MS will testify, it is a relapsing remitting condition. This makes the symptoms variable and unpredictable, and you are forced to face the uncertainty of when new relapses will occur.
In the years that followed I noticed a big difference in my husband. In some respects his life with Zak became almost regimented. A strong bond between dog and owner had already been forged, but Doug had become to rely on the regularity of their walks and even lengthened their duration! Zak’s devotion was uncompromising and it was almost as though Zak’s presence increased Doug’s determination to remain well and throughout their years together our dog remained a real focus for him to retain his mobility. Despite setbacks, Zak’s walks took priority and remained so until we eventually lost him some 15 months ago to cancer.
Our grieving for Zak had pushed us both to our emotional edge, but I will always be mindful of the wonderful gift that our dog had given Doug and the determination to continue as normal a life as MS would allow.
We now have our fourth German Shepherd whom we have named Luika. Ironically he also has health problems, being diagnosed with cow hocks at an early age. This condition actually limits the amount of exercise that he can enjoy, which in some sense is a little comfort. I have now taken over the training, but Doug continues his walking duties, with all the enthusiasm and gusto he shared with Zak. Luika is but a year old, yet already I am beginning to see those early signs of blind devotion.