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Ruby Roo, I'll see you.

So. This is going to be a hard one, but an important one.

Ruby & Dad
11 Years ago, Roo found her forever home.

This week Great & Small said goodbye to our old faithful, our retired stooge, our Office Hall Monitor and most importantly, our friend.

Ruby has been with me for eleven years, just over. I adopted her in April 2010, from RSPCA Brighton after she was seized from a "breeder" keeping 37 Dachshunds in a two-bedroom flat. Thankfully, they all eventually found loving homes with families out in the world but Ruby, Ruby was a troublemaker. I took her in as a foster since apparently, I like a challenge and Ruby had already proved herself to be one. Thanks to the "home" she'd come from, she was incredibly scared and nervous. It didn't take long for her to lash out. Then lash out again. It was clear she wasn't coping in the shelter, despite the hard work and loving care the staff there tried to provide. We found, eventually, she'd never been walked, socialised, or otherwise seen the outside world. She was terrified of everything. But I'm nothing if not stubborn, and after a few weeks fostering this angry, troublesome, snappy demon the entire family had fallen in love. Foster no longer, Ruby found herself in her forever home.

Worlds ugliest sofa
I didn't pick that sofa, I swear.

There were various road bumps on our journey together both when I had her under foster and the years after I adopted her. The black lab: He didn't do anything, but by the gods was he big. Ruby, having never experienced this, unsurprisingly panicked, surprisingly, slipped her lead, charged, barked, panicked she'd left me, froze up and got completely overwhelmed, setting us back months.

People: Oh, people. Especially ones doing weird things.

Human, why are you running? Stop that immediately.

What's that big, loud, long thing under you? I must chase it! (A cyclist, in case you're wondering)

Human, what are you doing?! (Reaching down to say hello, as it happened)

Small humans? So loud! No thank you.

Bright colours: Oh, those too. A charity football match, and one player in particularly colourful boots. Not okay, I found out, as she slipped the collar and spent the next 20 minutes chasing the poor soul around the pitch while I tried to keep up and catch the old girl.

She watch. She wait. She charge.

Yes, I am a trainer and a behaviourist. Alas, no, my dogs are not perfect. Ruby was the epitome of this, for years. But, with time, patience, slow and gentle, R+ rewarding training, she learned that the world isn't quite as scary as it once was. Eventually, she became a rock, a steadfast, unflappable lighthouse in my training unruly teens and playful puppies. So much so, she helped countless others learn the way of the world. Ruby gave back so, so much more than she ever took, and despite how hard it was, how close to the end of my tether and what a nightmare it was bringing her into the world... I'd not change one bit of it.

From there, she had a long and (I hope) easy life, working with me as one of my stooges before getting on the older side and retiring to a comfortable life overseeing my office, napping and generally scowling at everything that made too much noise, got too boisterous, or otherwise got on her nerves from the comfort of her sofa.

Ruby and the worlds ugliest carpet
Yes, I know, that carpet is horrendous. Blame Dad.

Stubborn, strong-willed, occasionally inconsolable and always, without fail, ready to help herself to your pizza, Ruby was a constant in life. From my days working with the RSPCA through to founding Great & Small, she's been there, somewhere... usually scowling. I have so many memories of her, both good and bad (again, Mr Orange Boots, I am so, so sorry) but I will cherish them all. Roo, I'll miss you.


Now Ruby left me at around 17, but it's the manner in which she left us that I really, really want to talk about with you all.

Let's go back to 2015. We started noticing oddities in her behaviour - Frantic toe chewing, back feet licking and worryingly, head tremors. We saw the vet, of course. They chalked it (quite reasonably) up to nerve damage from a surgery she'd had the year before. It happens, and I monitored it accordingly.

Roll on 2016. Grand Mal Seizure. I left work, she needed me after all. My vet of the time couldn't pinpoint it. couldn't refer it forward, couldn't really offer much at all. So, same as before, monitor and come back if it got worse.

Ruby doing her best to not enter the kitchen
Give food now? Please?

Skip forward with me to 2018. I started to notice her spiral downward, the tremors got worse, the chewing exasperated. she'd sit up, as if suddenly surprised, at random. My concern was growing (Who's wouldn't, huh?) We started seeing a new vet when the practice changed over to new hands and started fresh. Recording, monitoring, reporting, hoping it wouldn't get worse.

Let's keep moving though, 2019. The panic attacks start. If you've never seen a dog have a panic attack, please, count yourself lucky. It's horrible. There was no cause, no explanation, she would just lose all function and... well, you can imagine what that looks like. Finally, at the end of 2019, at long last and after much debate and a little bit of raised voices on my part, we got the referral she so badly needed. She was to be seen by Fitzpatrick Referrals, AKA: The Supervet. They started with a MRI of her spine and brain. Nothing wrong with her spine, yes! But no, her brain. Canine cognitive disorder reared it's head. It's a horrible, debilitating illness that slowly eats away at the dogs brain. Sound familiar? Sometimes its called Doggy Dementia, and it bares a striking similarity.

Unfortunately, this didn't explain everything. Fortunately, the team at Fitzpatrick are literally amazing, and without me even asking for further testing the vet team had been working in house to figure out what was going on with Roo. One of the team there put forward the theory that Roo could actually be showing the early signs of Lafora Disease. I'll be forever in that vets debt for the sheer determination they showed to narrow down such vague symptoms to such a unrecognised and generally bit rare disease. Most documented cases however, are - you guessed it - Wirehair's.

she hunger. she anger.

So, now what? We had a idea of what was happening, so let's fix it right?

It's quite a complicated disease but in a nutshell, it relates to how the body processes starch. Sounds so inoculus, no? Alas, it's not. Over time this starch builds up and interferes with the nerves and symptoms include OCD behaviour, body jerking and that big one, dementia. Some even go blind. If caught early, it can be managed and the dog can leave a relatively normal, happy, pain free life.

However, it's also incurable.

Eventually, the damage was done and the stroke came. Her mind was gone, she'd lost too much and the stroke just did too much damage. We took the inevitable yet impossible decision that her quality of life had fallen to a point where it wasn't fair on her.

We fought on for as long as little Roo could. She was, as ever, unflappable and unstoppable. From Day one to Day end, she was just her. Little Roo. She might've been losing her mind, but she still looked after mine, right up until the point she didn't recognise me.

But you know, the worst thing about this?

Lafora is entirely, 100% preventable.

A vet can run a simple test and tell, in minutes, if a dog will suffer this graceless demise. Heck, to be KC registered Wirehair breeders have to have their parents tested.

There are others out there, without doubt, suffering this. If you have even the slightest inclination your pup may be heading down this road, please, get in touch. I'm here, I've seen it, and I will do everything in my power to help you and your puppy.

This diseases should not exist. This disease COULD not exist. All we have to do is stop breeding parents with this small, detectable anomaly.

I owe Roo so much, to the point Great and Small wouldn't exist as is without her. The least I can do in her memory is scream from the rooftops about the thing that finally broke the unbreakable, in the hopes her story can save even one other out there. And by all the Gods old and new, you can bet I will.

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