If you have time to read only one posting, click the following link to read the entry for the last day of our journey.


I got Leben (German for "life") and Erde (German for "earth) in May 2001. Two months later, when they were four months old, I tossed than into my Defender and we headed to Alaska.  The main purpose of that trip was to spread my previous dogs Sonntag's and Kessie's ashes over the tundra of the North Slope at a site Sonntag and I overnighted at on our trip to Prudhoe Bay.  (The site turned out to be in one of photos in the National Geographic story about Sonntag in January 2002.)  Before we got to Alaska, we took a side trip of a few thousand miles to Inuvik, NorthWest Territories, Canada, and while en route Leben started limping.  After consulting with a vet at North Pole, Alaska, and Sonntag's own vet, Dr. Jodi Korich, we continued the trip.   When we returned home, Leben was diagnosed with an ununited anconeous. The vet performed an ulnectomy and six months later his anconeous was declared united.  Unfortunately, a year later, when he started to limp again, he was diagnosed with a fractured coronoid process and OCD (loose cartilage) and was again operated on.  He underwent additional surgeries for the loose cartilage again in 2005 and 2010. In 2010, he was also diagnosed with a hyper-extended carpus, the result of a poisonous spider bite, and worse a brace for the next two years.

Shortly after his 2010 surgery, I noticed that Leben was always sitting down at every opportunity and his rear legs were beginning to splay on slippery floors.  The vet could find nothing wrong orthopedically with him.  I again asked to vet to look at this in 2011, but the result was the same.  In May of 2012, I noticed that Leben was beginning to lose control of his defecation function and he was having trouble running after a few feet, always favoring his right rear leg.  On  July  11, 2012, an MRI showed he had two serious disc ruptures in his mid and lower spine.  In looking at the ruptures on the  MRI, it could not be determined if they had calcified (which would have reduced  the chances of a successful surgery), but it was clear to me that he would probably would become paralyzed over the next two years unless something was done to arrest further decline.  Although Montag's (my first dog) and Sonntag's similar spinal surgeries were unsuccessful, I decided to go ahead with Leben's surgery because in case case we would be catching it before he became lame or paralyzed.  The unknown was whether the disc ruptures had calcified.

On July 17th, the day of his surgery, Leben was able to leap up into my vehicle and walk on his own.  The operation lasted four and a half hours.  Unfortunately, the ruptures ha calcified and there was little the vet could do except proivde some decompression of the spine by opening up a window to the spine and chip away at that calcified stuff for most of the time.  His recovery from the surgery over the next few weeks was pure hell for him in me.  That alone was reason for me to decide never to put any dog of mine through that surgery alone.  Eight weeks after he surgery, Leben could get up on is own and barely walk except with a serious wobble. Since his healing period had ended, not knowing what the future held for him, I loaded him and his sister Erde int my Defender for another road trip to Thunder Bay, Ontario, and if all went well, to Banff in the Canadian Rockies.  It was a lot easier to manage Leben on the road then it would have been at home. Then, one morning at Pukawasa National Park on Lake Superior, Leben could not longer get up on his own or walk.  The operation had paralyzed him by chipping away at critical nerves and exposing others to the wear and tear of normal activity. We ended our trip at Thunder Bay and headed for home, where I ordered two wheelchairs for him from K-9 Karts (East) and Eddie's Wheels.  It took Leben weeks to adjust to his new situation, but eventually we both made it and life goes on.

In retrospect, it was a serious misjudgment on my part to put Leben through that operation.  I should have taken my chances and waited to see if he became paralyzed on his own and , if he did, put him into a wheelchair right away.  The odds of that kind of operation being successful are very low, unless you get to it within days of the disc rupture.  I did not know this before because Montag and Sonntag were already lame or paralyzed when they received their surgeries.  Leben's symptons started to show up two years before his surgery so he was really not a good candidate for the operation. He was also not a good candidate because of his age, size, and other issues (front carpus and elbows). In the future, I will know these things.

Leben has adjusted quite well to his new life.  We do everything he did before, just a little more in moderation and little different in style.  But the truth is, when I push him around in one of his two strollers, I actually think he enjoys it and thinks that he is finally getting the treatment he always deserved. If the latter is the case, he is right.

In 2002, the National Geographic article about Sonntag labelled his trip, "An Incredible Journey," and it was. This upcoming trip for Leben (and Erde) will be just as incredible, just a little bit more  difficult for one of us.

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