14th September 1998 to 19th June 2012
Austin was born at the Ternside kennels in Shropshire in September 1998. He was our first Westie. His kennel name was Ternside Happy Man.
We were so very proud when we brought him home. He wasn’t the prettiest of pups compared to our other Westie whom we got a few months later (Harry), but it is those who often turn out to be the most handsome when they grow up. He certainly matched up to this and was a very handsome chap.
We had Austin 4 months when we decided it would be great for him to have a playmate, and when we found out the breeder had a litter from a different bitch, we got Harry in March 1999. They immediately became great friends.
Austin was always a petite little dog, so much so, he might have been mistaken for a little girl! He was never a great eater and always picked at his food. When we got Harry, with the difference in eating habits and also the differences in weight gain, it was plain to see that Austin had a problem. When Austin was about 12 months old, we took him to see the vet who did a blood test and discovered that he had a problem with his liver. He then underwent a liver biopsy to explore this further.
We found out that he had a Portal Systemic Shunt. The specialist at the vets prepared to do a liver shunt operation to close off the shunt only to find out that if he did so, it would have killed Austin. This was on account of the fact that his main vein back to the heart, the vena cava, was completely missing. This astounded the specialist as he couldn’t understand how Austin was alive. It was as if God had given him a chance and somehow nature had found a way of keeping him alive. He was a walking miracle.
After the operation he had to be administered lactulose and an antibiotic (Intacilin/Amfipen/Noroclav) every day to speed up food going through his gut, so that his liver didn’t have to work too hard. The post operative medication would be something he would have to have for the rest of his life.
We were advised that his life expectancy was in the lap of the Gods, and he might only live another 4 years.
He was such a loyal, loving and trusting dog, he never minded having to have a tablet at bedtime, so much so that he knew he always got some special snack treats before he went to bed, having had his medicine. Giving him the lactulose at bedtime, always meant that he was “regular”! So every day in readiness for his mid-day walk, he would always start the reminding process about 11 o’clock, a good hour before he was due to go out. This usually entailed a period of staring and nudging our ankles with his nose as time got closer. Failing that he just wandered over to the kitchen and sat either right by the front door or next to his collar and lead hanging up, just in case we might have forgotten what time it was! Like we could ever forget….
We always made sure Austin had a full and happy life always doing the things a dog should do. He loved his walks with Harry, meeting all his dog friends and eventually after his operation started to thoroughly enjoy all his meals. He never took to normal dog food, and so we had to find an alternative. He was fed on freshly cooked meat every day, just to his liking and he thrived upon it. Well, you would, wouldn’t you!
Sundays were one of his favourite days, always enjoying a trip to his Nanna’s where he was partial to a couple of pieces of Marks & Spencer shortbread …. only the best would do. He would turn his nose up at any other brands!
He had a little party trick when he felt like it, particularly when visitors arrived. He always had a dish of moist meaty chunks in both the kitchen and the office, and he thought it was hilarious to go to the nearest dish and gently tip them over just to show off, flicking them everywhere all over the floor. There is a short clip of him doing this when we got the hoover out on the gallery page. If we put his chunks back in the dish once…. oh, to be able to do that now. He never tired of doing this in the house and enjoyed picking up a chunk, running into the lounge and throwing it into the air to play with it. He even did this on his last but one day.
As the years passed by, we were always grateful every time he reached a birthday. Each one was a special occasion, bearing in mind his condition. He did become slower and more tired as the years crept up on him, needing more sleep, particularly at weekends, when he was always very busy going shopping to his supermarket (the pet shop) and his Nanna’s, not to mention his walks.
When Austin was 10 ¾ years old he lost his best friend Harry to Westie Lung Disease, so he had to live out his remaining years without his faithful companion and wing man.
His eyesight started to worsen when he reached about 12 years old, but his other senses kicked in more so, sniffing more & more on his walks and hearing the quietest noises. We were so proud of him that he was still going strong considering he was a living miracle. As he got older he found it harder to run upstairs and so we started to carry him up, although he could get down the stairs when he wanted to! We took to lifting him into the car as well – he could always put his front paws up on the sill/seat, knowing that the drill was for his bottom to be lifted up. He never missed a trick! He also did exactly the same when he wanted to sit on the armchair in the lounge. He was growing old gracefully which is what anyone would have wanted for him.
Then one day in June 2011, our worst fears happened. Surely lightning wouldn’t strike twice? One quiet moment just at bedtime, Neil was lying on the floor next to Austin, and could hear a very faint crackle in his breathing. We were already familiar with what this could be, and it spread fear and desperation immediately. Surely our boy, having survived all these years with his liver shunt problem wouldn’t succumb to Westie Lung Disease as well. He didn’t deserve that.
Having heard this early symptom we were in denial for a few weeks, knowing that with Austin’s liver condition he could not be treated in the same way as Harry with oral steroids because of the invasive way they affect the body’s organs. It would have seriously damaged Austin’s liver in a matter of weeks. Having gone through the heartbreak of Westie Lung disease with Harry, we were faced with the prospect of having to go through it again with Austin.
We took Austin to our vets to get a more qualified opinion and he confirmed that there was some “noise” in his lungs suggesting the early stages of Westie Lung Disease were present. He agreed that the standard treatment of steroids was not an option for Austin and had to try to think of an alternative way of controlling the development of the fibrosis. We knew all along that it was not curable but were determined to help him live as long as possible and live as normal a life whilst he fought the condition.
We all know that when humans have lung problems, they often have an inhaler which directs the medication directly into the lungs, getting straight to the problem without harming or affecting other organs as a by-product of the treatment. We were advised to try a canine version of this inhaler, know commercially as the “AeroDawg” (please click on the link to read more). This was a small chamber with a latex mask at one end, and an air-tight seal at the other which accepted the inhaler “puffer”. It had a brilliant valve on it which enabled us to determine exactly how many breaths he had taken. See the inhaler demonstrated here (please click on the link to watch the demonstation).
The steroid inhaler he was prescribed was Flixotide 125mg Evohaler.
After the first couple of days, Austin took to the Aerodawg like a duck to water, as he knew he always got a treat every time he took his “puffer” inhaler. He was such a good boy and very trusting. But there again, he had been so good all his life – we really didn’t have to worry about him accepting this treatment.
The steroid inhaler seemed to be doing the trick very well. We started the treatment in late August 2011 and it soon became evident that the aggressive progression of fibrosis that Harry suffered, just didn’t happen. Whilst we periodically had to increase his “one-puff”, from once a day at the start, to two a day after 4 months, up to three times a day after 7 months the aggressive progression was kept at bay as best it could. His quality of life was maintained – just the usual age related issues were kicking in, like poorer eyesight and generally getting slower. He was just so trusting knowing that we were always trying to help him all the while. What a big boy – we loved him all the more.
His ability to recover his breathing after activity was almost immediate, unlike when the condition took hold of Harry. This continued right up until he died in June 2012. We never stopped him doing the things he wanted to do because every day was precious, as we just never knew when he would do something for the very last time, like lying upside down in his very cushy bed (which he stopped doing at the end of May 2012), or hiding under the duvet to warm himself up.
He didn’t experience any of the side effects that go with oral steroids, other than one great benefit of helping his skin, which he always struggled with when his new coat came through each year. We feared that with Westie Lung Disease and his new coat coming through in early 2012 would be excruciating for him, despite having a natty range of t-shirts which protected his skin if he scratched himself. The scratching process always made him cough, so the steroid actually helped him quite considerably.
The inhaled steroids didn’t make him get fat, didn’t make him scrounge for food as oral steroids did with Harry, and his other organs remained seemingly unaffected by the inhaled steroids. We were very pleased with the way he was responding to this treatment.
Then on the evening of Tuesday 29 May 2012, being the rascal that he was, always sniffing and checking out smells on his walks, he found something to have a dig at, and in a split second we believe he eat a bug (probably a wood lice, something which he could sniff out very easily). We thought nothing of it, as he quite often sniffed and dug up bugs from grass and from the base of trees, but after eating his lunch the following day on the Wednesday (30), that was the last time he actively eat a full meal.
On the Thursday 31 May 2012 he woke up a different dog, very lethargic, breathing heavily, elongating his neck and generally lifeless. He didn’t eat anything all day and didn’t drink any water. It was as if the bug he picked up allowed the fibrosis to take hold that bit more and he couldn’t fight both at the same time. We took him to see the vets later that day and, whilst his temperature was fine, he was prescribed a course of Baytril antibiotics (different and stronger antibiotics from the other Noroclav antibiotics he took each day for his liver shunt) and Frusemide to encourage him to drink water but also remove excess fluid in his lungs as they sounded a bit “gurgly”. When back at home he was immediately sick, but we thought that at least the “thing” in his stomach was probably out – better out than in. He started to drink water and started to slowly pick up his general demeanour but he still didn’t eat.
He was sick again, twice, on the Friday and with the help of Antepsin, his stomach settled down, but still he didn’t show any interest in food. After a couple of very bad nights with him on Friday and Saturday, breathing heavily and elongating his neck, we really thought we were going to lose him during the night.
The stomach ache started to calm down during Sunday 3 June, and we thought he’d started to turn the corner, but his breathing was still heavy and his neck was still elongated. The vet agreed that he should take a bronchodilator and once on that, his breathing calmed down and he stopped stretching his neck. He was a lot brighter that evening and showed an interest in walking about.
Over the next few days, he improved a lot in his overall demeanour, wanting to do normal things, apart from eating. He was still off his food, and began to lose a fair bit of weight so we resorted to hand feeding him, just to get some food into him. Whilst showing occasional interest in a few treats, his appetite seemed to have gone. We even invited his friend Jess the collie round to see whether having another dog there as competition for food would help his eating. It did work on the day but unfortunately he didn’t pick up his appetite again. His breathing remained calmer, and we thought we’d got the fibrosis back under control again. During that week his improvements continued and he began to eat little bits of food off a plate, but we still maintained his hand feeding to keep his strength up and give him some energy.
All this time, he still wanted to go out for his two walks a day (albeit very short), wanting to do his normal business. He was very bright and tried his best to do all the things he used to do.
On Sunday 17 June, he had a great day. Just like Harry, we now know that this was his “swan-song” day. He tipped his biscuits up, went digging in the garden, played with his chunks, was interested in everything going on and generally to anyone looking at him, looked a perfectly healthy dog. Just like a sweet little old man. He met one of his friends Finty on his evening walk and seemed quite bright and pleased to see him. He was a bit thinner owing to his lack of appetite, but other than that, everything seemed fine. However, later on during the evening, he got a bit restless, his breathing got a bit heavier and became uncomfortable when trying to lay down. He managed to go to sleep fairly quickly upstairs as normal, because he’d had a busy day and was quite tired.
It was on the Monday morning, 18 June unbeknown to us this was to be Austin’s last day. We woke up in the morning to find him breathing quite heavily and he had to concentrate quite hard to just focus on breathing and catching his breath. It took us back to when Harry was struggling during his bad times. Our very worse fears had now been confirmed. It looked like the fibrosis had really taken over and his lung capacity was quite low and he was losing the battle against it. The hardest thing for us to take was that he was still inquisitive and nosey, and still wanted to do normal things but his body wouldn’t let him.
Watching him and his chest moving in and out so very hard was heartbreaking for us having gone through this for very lengthy periods with Harry, and knowing the inevitable outcome. We both agreed that we wouldn’t let Austin struggle on like this for days or possibly weeks. We still remained positive that morning though, as this was the first hard attack of this fibrosis and we were hoping that he would pull through given some time to settle down. We took him to the vets and he gave Austin a good examination. His findings were that his lungs were very noisy and, whilst his heart was working hard, it sounded good, with no murmurs.
Looking back now, we believe the vet knew that Austin’s condition was getting quite serious, but he knew that we weren’t ready to give up on him yet. As Austin was still off his food, he felt that it was worth having a try at taking the oral steroids on the basis that the inhaled version had probably held off the fibrosis as much as it could. It had been amazing in comparison with how Harry responded to the oral drugs. The tablets should have helped his appetite for food so we left the vets with the Prednisolone tablets to take over where the inhaler left off.
Austin, not wishing to miss an opportunity to go for a mooch in the woods opposite the vets, went for a little walk. Once home, Jane spent the afternoon with him and he had a really good sleep for a few hours. When he woke, he was very bright although his breathing was still heavy. He never panicked over his breathing, taking it all in his stride, but it was us who were upset seeing our boy having to struggle.Having woken, he wanted to go for a wander around the garden for a sniff and a wee and waited faithfully by the garden gate for his dad to come in, having gone back to work just whilst he was asleep. It was a sweet peaceful, non-panting Austin who greeted him at the top of the drive as if nothing was wrong. However once back in the house his breathing became heavier and he started to become agitated and unsettled. As the evening progressed, the oral steroids weren’t having any noticeable effect on his breathing or appetite. however he started to do some strange things. He began doing things which he hadn’t done for a while and made one purposeful and pointed wander over to the back gate waiting for it to be opened. Wondering why, we opened the gate and his friend the cat was there, and they stood nose to nose, Austin wagging his tail. He stayed there a while as if to say his goodbyes and signing off, telling the cat that he wasn’t well.
We hand fed him some mashed up chicken and evaporated milk to give him some energy in the firm hope that the steroid would soon kick in and that maybe tomorrow would maybe a slightly better day. Neil carried him across to the green across the road for his bedtime wee and he duly obliged but showed very little desire to walk or move around at all.
We were all worried about Austin given the day’s events but went to bed in the normal way as we’d done for the past 13 or so years. Austin was tired and so were we with the stress of the day and the worry of looking after our boy. We put the fan on, in the same way to keep him cool and provide him with as much air as we could. He was sat up with his chest going in and out heavily as it had done during the day. He didn’t seem to want to settle for long periods but was trying to lay down nonetheless wanting to sleep. After a while he did eventually lay down on the floor with his head on his pillow cushion. Jane patted him goodnight in the normal way and after listening out for him for what seemed like ages, we drifted off to sleep exhausted.
Jane woke with a start at 1.30am, not knowing why, but sensing something was wrong. Her immediate thoughts were to Austin and where he was. He wasn’t next to her nor on his other bed on the other side of the room. Neil got up and went to look for him only to find him laying on the landing in front of the fan as if he’d dropped off to sleep there. Having put the light on, he immediately realised that he had gone to see his brother. He had become an Angel, something which we’d dreaded all along.
Whilst he had gone through a difficult day on Monday, it all seemed too sudden. In the hour and a half we had been asleep he had suppressed any pain he was in, kept it to himself and had died, we hope, peacefully on the landing. He would normally wake us at the drop of a hat if there was anything wrong, but we can only hope and believe that he didn’t want to trouble us at that time and we thank you Austin for that. But we will always regret not knowing to be awake for you in your final hour.
Maybe if you had struggled on for several days we would have been left with little option but to make the awful decision to let you go, and we would have been with you at the end to say a proper goodbye. But you were a true gentleman and spared us from having to do that.
You were a Special Little Man.
Both our boys are irreplaceable and have left a huge void in our lives. We hope that one day there will be a cure for this horrible Westie Lung Disease, and that other loving owners can avoid going through the pain that we and countless others have gone through.