Courageous, noble, loyal, stoic, intelligent, confident, handsome, reliable, steadfast, focused … the list goes on and on when describing the characteristics of a classic German Shepherd dog. And Daniella (Ella) was the epitome of a classic German Shepherd.
Ella was dumped and left to starve in the cattle ranch country of the hills east of Salinas. She was emaciated, neglected, nearly crippled with horrible hip dysplasia, and suffering with a huge necrotic mammary tumor. And she was a senior dog. Given the unbelievably callous act of dumping her, we can only imagine how unbearable her earlier life must have been. And yet, she held no grudges and would not feel sorry for herself.
Ella was found and taken in by a wonderful ‘good Samaritan’ rancher, given a comfortable place to rest, and fed and comforted. He was all too familiar with this scenario, having helped abandoned companion animals for years. Once Ella was safe, he contacted Monterey County Animal Services to come rescue her. When Officer Valiska Lujan arrived at the ranch, she found Ella in terrible physical shape, but mentally alert and engaged. Ella refused to be helped to the truck, walking to it slowly under her own power and with steadfast determination, even though she collapsed at one point. Ella’s courage was immediately obvious.
At the shelter, Ella immediately became a favorite of the staff, always bright and alert, with an enthusiastic greeting for everyone who came up, and she passed at the top of all the temperament tests. But with her medical problems and age, she was not a candidate for adoption, so she was brought into the GSRNC Thulani Program, a program specifically created to care for terminally ill German Shepherd dogs and to provide them a dignified and loving final chapter.
Erica and Loren, former adopters of two GSDs from GSRNC, welcomed Ella into their loving home for as long as needed. But things did not start out well. Ella was miserable, whining, panting, pacing, unable to settle down. She constantly licked her tumor and it was painful to watch her walk. The smell of her rotting teeth and gums was almost unbearable. We all feared that we had come onto the scene too late for Ella, and were preparing ourselves for the worst. Ella finally fell asleep in the early morning hours and slept almost comatose until noon. Then, to everyone’s amazement, she got up, picked up her squeaky ball, began to play, and wanted to go for a real walk. We were blown away by the courage and determination of this incredible girl. “I loved her instantly, she didn’t complain and didn’t fuss, she was grace and strength.”
The downstairs family room was set up for Ella. Friends came bearing gifts for the new girl on the block. Her mom moved into the guest room, along with Ella’s crate so she could keep a watchful eye over her and tend to her during the night. Ella was put on antibiotics and arthritis pills, which greatly helped her enjoy life more. She went through 3 squeaky balls and numerous toys in a matter of days. It was as if she didn’t know she was sick. Yet her family knew she was.
Ella proved to be a finicky eater. One meal devouring canned salmon and refusing to eat it the next. Eventually she got her vegetarian people to buy her roasted chicken and hand feed her. If she finished one helping, she got another. If she turned her nose, a more enticing meal would appear. This would go on and on. Oh these people were push-overs! Yes, they were willing to do anything to get her to eat.
For the lovely Miss Ella, nothing was better than squeaking tennis balls, but other activities such as playing in the grass chasing squeaky balls, riding in the car and taking short hikes on the trails were high on her list. She loved the feel of the grass and the freedom from the leash when chasing balls. She could even catch a second tennis ball while she still had the first one in her mouth. The adventure of exploring new trails with her “pack” brought a smile to her face. Ella stayed right by her people’s side but, if she did venture ahead, she would continually turn her head and wait. Dinners always tasted better after a romp in the grass or walk in the woods! Evenings were spent lying down being brushed. Ella thought this was heaven and she would close her eyes and only open them when the brushing stopped. She would then paw at her people to keep the brushing going.
After gaining some much needed weight and showing signs of being a much younger dog, a visit to Dr. Roos at Adobe Animal Hospital clearly indicated that Ella’s quality of life would improve greatly if the tumor was removed. So with a generous donation from Dr Ila Davis, the veterinarian at the Monterey County shelter who first tended Ella, and generous contributions of time and resources by Dr. Roos and dental technician Ms Jennifer Diwa, the tumor, the right side mammary glands, and 25 decaying teeth were removed. That left 13 healthy teeth with which to eat that roasted chicken. She came through the surgery with typical German Shepherd stoicism, but she had no appetite. She went days without eating anything – all she would do was lie in her crate. Once again, her people spent hours trying to entice her with all sorts of food: canned dog food, kibble and dog cookies soaked in warm water, white rice & cottage cheese, more of her favorite roasted chicken, beef baby food, scrambled eggs, and a selection of cheeses, but she turned her nose up at everything. Nothing was going in her mouth. Getting her to take her various antibiotics was nearly impossible too. Just try to pry open a German Shepherd’s mouth after they have had extensive dental work! Eventually her mouth and the 12″ incision on her belly healed and the odor from her mouth was gone.
After surgery, Ella lived on the main floor of the house and slept in the master bedroom with the rest of the pack. Ever the “Determined German”, she quickly became accustomed to the hardwood floors and learned that the stairs were not her friend. Her rear end was quite weak, but her mind didn’t know this and she would try to do things a young/healthy dog would do (run, move quickly on the hardwood floors, jump in/out of the back of the SUV) and in the process, fall over. But she acted like it was nothing. Getting her to lie down and rest was almost impossible. Ella was making up for lost time!
Soon she was ready to get back to her hikes. She happily played with soft, plush squeaky toys and the smile on her face told us she was the happiest she had been in a long, long time. But again, her appetite disappeared. Why wasn’t she eating?
Panic set in. A small part of her nylon dog collar was discovered downstairs where Ella had resided before her surgery. The rest of the nylon collar was nowhere to be found. This meant only one thing … Ella had eaten it. Did she have a blockage in the stomach or intestinal tract and was this why she wasn’t eating? Dr. Roos indicated that it would most likely pass. Eventually the nylon collar did return to us, but in an altered state. Of course, this whole episode is what probably caused the colitis issue that came next. Diarrhea, a lot of it, everywhere, inside the house and outside the house, for days and days. More pills were prescribed and butter became the magical agent with which to disguise the pills. Once the diarrhea episode ended, the finicky eater was back. Her mom then resorted to rolling canned dog food into 2″ balls and throwing them to Ella to catch in her mouth! She loved this “game” and would often eat the entire can this way.
Even so, by this time, Ella’s weight had plummeted to around 56lbs and we expected her energy to be zapped–but no, she acted like the courageous, noble German Shepherd she was. Nothing was going to break her spirit. EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency) was suspected, as it appeared she was not absorbing any food. Soon pancreatin enzyme was being mixed with water and added to all her meals. Other medicine was added to the regime as well. She began to gain weight.
Upon having an ultrasound (thank you Dr. Sarah West), it was discovered that Ella was an intact female with an ovarian cyst. And soon thereafter, she went into heat. One more thing to add to the mix!
On April 14, Ella woke up with a swollen right rear leg. No sign of trauma was detected. We could only assume the edema was from the cancer spreading to the lymph nodes. Later that morning, she experienced her first seizure. She would have more and as the swelling in the rear leg worsened, the front right leg showed signs of edema as well. Ella also developed a cough and uncharacteristic panting.
On April 21, 2012, Ella lost her battle with the myriad of medical problems she had. When the time was right, she was given many blessings before peacefully crossing over to the Rainbow Bridge. Ella was able to leave behind a body that was diseased and of no use anymore. But her last chapter was spent in a loving and supportive environment, one in which she gave as much (or perhaps more) as she received. Now, she is truly free. “The dogs in my life have not been with me long enough … the better side of me came from having them in my life.”
Ella’s final chapter was written by a long list of people who unselfishly devoted their time and resources to help this incredible German Shepherd. The following partial list illustrates the human element of Ella’s story
Officer Valiska Lujan, Monterey County Animal Services
Barbara Allen, Monterey County Animal ShelterStaff at the Monterey County Animal Shelter
Dr. Ila Davis, Monterey County Animal Shelter, and generous donor for Ella’s surgery
GSRNC Thulani Program and its volunteers and generous donors
Erica and Loren Walden, foster parents
Dr. Dave Roos, Adobe Animal Hospital, Los Altos, surgery and medical for Ella
Ms Jennifer Diwa, dental technician, Adobe Animal Hospital
Dr. Bill St. Lawrence, Village Square Veterinary Hospital, Portola Valley
Dr. Bill Klein, Village Square Veterinary Hospital, Portola Valley
Dr. Sarah West, West Radiologic Services, Oakland
Dr. Karen Blount, Mid-Peninsula Animal Hospital, Menlo Park