17th January 1999 to 14th May 2009
Harry was our second Westie, but we are putting his story first as he developed the fibrosis disease before Austin.
Harry came to us when Austin was 6 months old, when we decided and it became clear that Austin needed a playmate. Harry turned out to be just that – he was such a playful Westie, never far from his infamous squeaky red ball.
He was born, like Austin, at the Ternside kennels in Shropshire, from a very pretty litter. His kennel name was Ternside Village Native.
If you look at his pedigree you can see that Harry’s father was Austin’s grandfather, and also Harry’s grandfather on his mothers’ side was also Austin’s father so they were very closely related. This will be mentioned again on the Westie Lung Disease page.
Harry was a completely different pup compared to Austin, in that he was a very chunky lad, very well built with a barrel of a chest. There again Austin did have his liver shunt making him smaller by comparison – see Austin’s pages for details on that. He was very playful always encouraging us to play with him and his red squeaky ball. He would relentlessly want to chase and return his ball squeaking it as he ran. If we dared not to throw it, he politely reminded us that it was there and ready to be thrown by nudging it with his nose squeaking it yet again. You could never fail to notice that Harry was about. He loved his ball so much that when he broke the squeaker in his ball, we had to scour endless pet shops for an exact replacement because poor imitations were simply not good enough for young “H”. Austin quite often used to get tired of Harry’s exuberance and reminded him when he’d had enough by having a grizzle at him, as a gentle “Shut up Harry”!
Harry loved being the guard, and look-out for us all. For instance, when out in the car, he insisted on standing on the back seat with his front paws on the front centre arm-rest making sure we were going the right way to the park or his Nanna’s. Austin meanwhile couldn’t really “give a monkey’s” and relaxed on the back seat enjoying the ride, scoffing a few meaty chunks to while away the journey.
Throughout Harry’s life he had precious little medically wrong with him. His skin was quite dark, as opposed to very pink like Austin’s, and so he never suffered from skin problems. It helped that his fur was quite soft, unlike Austin’s which was more wiry but easier to strip out by hand. When he was 9 years old in January 2008, he had his teeth cleaned at the vets because he wasn’t very amenable to us brushing them at home. Some of his teeth were in need of a “scale & polish”! Whilst at the vets he must have had his heart and lungs checked in order to undergo a general anaesthetic but nothing untoward was made known to us while he was there. Our hope and belief was that there was nothing to report and that he was fighting fit at the time.
In the summer of 2008 he started to puff and pant a bit on hot days particularly when out on walks, but we merely put it down to the fact that he certainly wasn’t a “slim Jim”, and was a bit chunky since birth. We used to call him the Chumpster on account of his stocky build. In November 2008 when taking them both out on winter lead walks, it was noticeable that Harry used to periodically cough when he pulled and his collar pressed on his windpipe. Naively we just thought that this was down to him pulling too much. It was a very dry cough but began to be more recurrent as the days went by.
Thinking that this was nothing too serious we took him to the vets in early December 2008, when Austin went to have his annual booster. Our lives changed from that point onwards.
The meeting with the vet was a bit of a blur really. It was as if we didn’t want to hear what she was saying. We were merely told that Harry had the early stages of “emphysema”, and the vet never really explained much of the condition to us, what it meant or what lay ahead for Harry. She said that she had seen a lot worse, giving us the impression that his condition at that time was fine adding that she’d seen dogs on oxygen with tongues that were nearly blue. Little did we know how misleading that was. We came out of the consultation in the belief that he was ok but armed with prednisolone steroid tablets thinking it could be controlled and that he could live with the condition for anything up to another two years.
We tried to find out more about the condition but we didn’t even get told the veterinary medical name at the time of diagnosis. Looking on the internet and through our countless books we own on the Westie breed, there was hardly any information available about what our little Westie was about to go through. There were a couple of very cold clinical websites, which were precious little help or use.
The steroids didn’t seem to suit Harry at all. In our eyes the disease seemed to take effect a lot quicker within weeks of taking the tablets. His condition and health took a step backwards and his body soon started to change shape quite quickly after starting the tablets, as well as them increasing his appetite significantly. He was very unsettled, being sick, struggling to get used to the steroids. Over a period of 4 – 6 weeks he became very susceptible to a variety of bugs, bad stomachs and general ill health as a side effect of the steroids. It was a very worrying and upsetting time.
He was also prescribed diuretics to help relieve fluid build-up in the lungs, but naturally this made him drink lots of water, and made him want to go for a wee all the time.
Both Austin and Harry slept upstairs with us. At bedtimes Harry took longer to steady his breathing to settle down to sleep, taking a good 5 – 10 minutes to calm down to catch his breath, panting as if the air conditions were poorer at night. Whilst he wanted to run up the stairs it would always cause him problems breathing and so we began carrying him up the stairs to help him as much as possible.
On his walks, because he was the guard, he used to keep looking back to check whether the coast was clear, but we could tell that part of this was simply down to the fact that he felt very vulnerable now that he felt unable to run or move quickly at a moment’s notice. So as not to affect Austin’s walk, we used to carry Harry around for about half the walk, but he didn’t mind at all. He used to jump into your arms as if he wanted the help.
Between January and late February 2009 we carried on like this, but his breathing condition continued to deteriorate. To try and assist his breathing, we were given Corvental tablets (bronchodilators) which opened up his airways a little more.
We couldn’t quite accept that this was happening to our little lad and could see the once fun loving, playful and bright eyed little boy disappearing slowly before our very eyes. We felt that we were being passed from pillar to post with our existing vets, seeing five or six different vets in a period of 4 – 8 weeks. So much so, when seeing yet another vet, they started to give up on Harry and suggested that his quality of life wasn’t very good and we should consider what we felt was “the unimaginable” deed. Horrified that we felt they just didn’t want to know anymore, we sought a second opinion in March 2009 at a new vet who had just opened up in our area.
He was very helpful and took the time to listen to Harry’s condition, listened to us, and explained exactly what was happening in his body. Whilst we now understood exactly what was going on, we became acutely aware of how precious little time we had left with our “H”.
He took Harry in for some tests and found that he had started to develop an enlarged heart. The vet explained that the fibrosis scarring was certainly one explanation of his breathing problems, but it could also be as a result of having a heart condition. It turned out that the fibrosis was causing Harry’s heart to struggle, and as a result of trying to work harder to get oxygen around his body, had become enlarged on the right hand side.
Whilst continuing with the steroid tablets, bronchodilator and diuretic tablets, Harry was immediately prescribed Vetmedin, a pill to assist the heart pump blood around his body. It certainly gave him a boost and gave us an extra 2 very precious months with our boy.
Apart from his final week with us in May 2009, he was enjoying life despite his condition. We continued to help him on our walks with Austin, and tried to keep him cool by having fans blowing where ever possible. He loved lying out in the garden on the grass cooling his tum. Externally he looked such a beautiful boy, and when calm, looked a picture of health.
On 10 May 2009, H had a bad turn, and had a bout of sickness and diarrhoea and was quite poorly with it. It accelerated his breathing problems again and he was quite uncomfortable that night not being able to lie easily and sleep soundly. He went off his food as a result of the latest illness.
On Tuesday 12 May 2009, he had what we now see as his “swan song” day. He really picked up his appetite, was quite comfortable,
and seemed to take most things in his stride. However his “walks” in this last week were merely being carried to a favourite area of grass enabling him to have a good sniff and lots of wees etc.You can see from the short video (click on the link) that his walking habits had become more guarded and he was quite insecure. He was literally walking in short bursts.
On Wednesday 13 May 2009 we knew in our heart of hearts that his time with us was coming to an end. His eyes were becoming more distant, dull and tired. He just wanted to sleep all day, but getting him off to sleep was very difficult. When he did get off to sleep, we didn’t want to wake him as at least he was peaceful despite breathing very heavily.
As the afternoon progressed, he was awake but very distant. The vet told us about a tablet called Vivitonin which was more a case of a last resort. Not wishing to give up on our boy just yet we got some Vivitonin from the vets and hoped that it would have a positive impact. Throughout the evening he slept quite calmly and solidly for 3 hours, and when he woke just before bedtime, he seemed to be punch-drunk, and a bit lost in himself.
We carried him up to bed, but he was very restless and couldn’t settle, starting to pant again for air. He asked to want to go out in the garden and he trotted around the garden having a wee, but losing his balance in the process. Bless him, he also pooed but passed some blood at the same time.
When brought back upstairs to bed, he still couldn’t settle and around 2am his back leg just quivered and he flopped over on to his side with a big sigh, and passed away very peacefully. Being with him at that time we were able to tell him what a big brave boy he was, and it was a real comfort to us (and hopefully Harry) that we were all together as he went to Rainbow Bridge.
In our view this was an unfinished life, taken from us far too early by a cruel and avoidable disease, as Harry was with us for only 10 years and 4 months. He should have been with us for another 3 years at least so that both Harry and Austin could have grown old together as two little old men. The only crumb of comfort now, in June 2012, is that Austin has joined Harry to carry on their playing and running around together.
We think about you every day Harry, Our Bravest Boy.