“That dog’s in a wheelchair!” exclaimed my Mama human Kathie. Puzzled and gob smacked, my Papa human Ken replied with uncharacteristic brevity “what?” “There’s a dog in wheelchair” mama continued. “Well, it’s not a wheelchair but some sort of harness or assistive device (Mama is an Occupational Therapist with a specialty in wheelchair configuration, hence the technical term). “The dog doesn’t seem to have any legs.”
Closer inspection revealed to us that the dog did indeed have legs; they were scrunched up in part of a strap support mechanism holding the dog firmly in the device, itself made necessary for mobility due to injury or disease. The dog was amazingly mobile and in good spirits. It could run about with ease and obvious delight–no sprinter for sure, but lively and fun loving.
After some conversation with the owner (we met both owners in subsequent days) I was formally introduced to 12-year-old Finnegan who lost the use of both rear legs due to an FCE. We can all be forgiven for not knowing what an FCE is, but Mama knew immediately. One of my predecessor Gray Family dogs, Marley had exactly the same condition.
FCE stands for a Fibrocartilaginous Embolus. Fibrocartilage is fibrous connective tissue; an embolus is material that travels through the circulation and blocks a blood vessel. Therefore, a fibrocartilaginous embolism is a blood vessel obstruction caused by fibrocartilage. Accordingly, an FCE is the acute death of part of the spinal cord, caused by an embolus of fibrocartilaginous material. The material blocks arteries and/or veins in the spinal cord and may originate in an intervertebral disk or the marrow found within a vertebral body.
Finnegan, and Marley before him will have experienced a quick onset and disturbing loss of function in the rear quarters. In Marley’s case Papa had risen early on a Sunday morning as usual to prepare for church. Marley was just fine, until a few minutes later when she was paralyzed, unable to walk or stand. A visit to the vet hospital identified the problem as an FCE. For days we put a sling pillow cover under her tummy so we could assist her carriage. In all other ways she was fine; she just couldn’t move. The situation eased slowly and mostly over a few days, but she never again recovered strength in her rear quarters.
The Vet had only seen the condition twice in twenty years of care. It’s rare, possibly because no one can remember its name. Finnegan’s humans did investigate with an MRI which only confirmed the diagnosis. They learned of the walking device from a neighbour who had received it from another dog owner who had obtained it from their vet. Finnegan is the third user of a wonderful prosthetic device which gives him mobility, life and a capacity for play.
Both Mama and Papa are no strangers to such devices which help those living with special challenges to live as full, beautiful and enjoyable a life as possible. I was amazed watching Finnegan scurry about the field; he interacted with me amongst a half dozen other dogs of all sizes and attitudes. The field was his to occupy and enjoy.
May this be so for all dogs (and as required, cats). May life be full and rich for all creatures including humans. My Papa lives with vision challenges and Mama’s career and continuing attitude blesses the lives of so many who simply require assistance and innovation.
Finally, thanks Finnegan. It was a blast meeting you. Till we meet again. Juno.