DM – One Owners Perspective

> This post was originally written and posted to Corgi-L August 15, 2010. Since that time we find ourselves facing DM once again in our now oldest Corgi Helen. My thoughts haven’t changed.

I’ve been fairly quiet on the topic of DM ([Degenerative Myelopathy](http://en.wikipedia./wiki/Canine_degenerative_myelopathy “Canine Degenerative Myelopathy”)) since Guido passed
away early last year. In part, it’s the grieving process,
and in part it’s taken me that long to get my head around
the issues and understand where I wanted to land. I actually
wrote the majority of this months ago, deciding to let it
sit to make sure my thoughts were clear and emotions
reasonable.

My perspective is simply as a pet owner, and in particular
as a pet owner who’s had a DM dog progress through the
disease from start to finish, as well as having had other
dogs over the years. And as a pet owner with enough science
and engineering background to understand a few of the genetic
issues as well.

DM Testing
———–

In my mind this is the simplest: testing is good. The
engineer in me easily accepts that more data is good. I
actually see no reason not to test other than, perhaps,
whatever cost might be involved in doing so. Even so, the
cost is minimal compared to the other costs of caring for
our pets.

My concern, of course, is how that information gets
interpreted, misinterpreted, used and abused.

DM Itself
———

I’ve heard many people refer to DM as a horrible disease. I
don’t want to minimize the impact of DM, both on the animals
that are afflicted with it, as well as the families that
care for them. DM is a disease that can have incredibly high
impact to the lifestyles of both. I get that, deeply,
because I lived that.

However.

One of the things we must accept by choosing to bring into
our lives these creatures with lifespans so much shorter
than our own is that someday they will die, and that we will
experience that death in whatever form it takes – perhaps
even helping it along in a final act of kindness.

My experience is that when it comes to sickness and death,
there are much worse things than DM.

Guido had over three years of what I to this day consider a
*very* good quality of life from the time we realized that
there was a problem to his death. Three years. A slow
progression during which there was little pain, and in
comparison only occasional frustration on all our parts. He
was a happy dog, and he was “all there” until the end.

Contrast that with our Jerome who lasted one month from
diagnosis of lymphoma to being euthanized.

Personally, I would have chosen 3 years of DM over the one
month we had for Jerome as well. In a heartbeat.

Personally. Others may feel differently. I can understand
that.

Like I said, I don’t want or mean to minimize the impact of
DM – or ignore the fact that not all dogs will react to it
the same way, or ignore the fact that we were very blessed
to have the resources and lifestyle to accommodate and
support Guido during his decline. There are dogs and
situations for whom DM is significantly more traumatic. But
there are also many situations like ours, where a DM or
otherwise “disabled” dog can lead a long and happy life.
Guido did. Others do.

Things are simply not that black and white.

DM is awful, but then so is cancer. In fact, so is
whatever it is that will eventually kill all of our pets.
The end result is the same, it’s the journey that matters.
Some paths are more difficult than others, but DM does not
in and of itself necessarily imply a horrific journey or a
horrific end.

Breeding Out DM
—————-

I believe that awareness of DM, testing for DM, and
factoring those results into a breeding program makes
absolute sense.

My belief, however, is that over-focusing on *any* trait or
characteristic in a breeding program is a massive mistake. I
believe it can only harm the breed in the long run.

The risk is simply this: while focusing so closely on a
single trait breeders may allow into the breed some other
trait that may result in different, or perhaps even worse
issues for our dogs of the future.

That’s why I say it needs to be *factored in* – along with
all the other characteristics that breeders look for for a
healthy breed overall. It’ll do the breed no good if, in 10
years, we find ourselves fighting some other major issue or
issues just so that we can say “but at least they’re all DM
clear”.

Honestly, I personally would now avoid a breeder who focused
excessively on eliminating any single characteristic, be it
DM or something else. It’s not that I don’t want DM
eliminated – I do. It’s more of a concern about what else
they’re missing and allowing into the breed in the single
minded quest to eliminate a single trait. I want a breeder
to factor in everything that makes sense and make a
balanced, rational decision that’s appropriate for the breed
as a whole. I don’t want them to focus on any single
characteristic to the potentially unhealthy exclusion of
others that may be equally, if not even more important.

Like I said, the issue simply isn’t that black and white,
and I’d be concerned by those treating it as if it were.

Obviously what we as pet owners do is ultimately up to us.
If, particularly after experiencing a dog with DM yourself,
you feel that you can’t deal with that again then you
shouldn’t have to. That’s actually one of the reasons I do
support DM testing – not only is more data good, but
individual data can help potential owners make more
informed, more intelligent decisions. But I hope that as
potential owners we, too, know not to focus too heavily on
any single characteristic, and not allow ourselves to be
unduly swayed by those who are.

We’ve come to see that our 11 y.o. Helen is
starting to show a little weakness in her hind end. We’ll do
the genetic test – it will not tell us if she has DM,
that’s still not possible – but it could rule it out, and if
that’s the case, we’ll know to investigate and treat a
somewhat narrower range of possibilities.

But even if it is, she remains a happy (and somewhat
demanding πŸ™‚ ) girl. I’m grateful for whatever time we have
had with her, and also for what we have left with her, which
we hope will be measured in years.

DM or not.
———-

Me – I want a dog that will live a long and happy life. If
part of that life has wheels, then so be it.

It beats so many of the alternatives.