Hello, my name is Rae McStay! Well, here we are. Summer is in full swing. Hopefully everyone is enjoying their days, in between raindrops and deluges! After 2 months of writing blogs for All Pet, I felt it was time to introduce myself and give a better understanding of my background in pet care and nutrition. I am sure a few people have wondered, “Where did this Rae character come from and why does she think she’s an expert?!”
Well, I certainly do not claim to be an expert, I consider myself more the “Heloise” of the natural pet world! (did I just really date myself there?) However, I do pride myself on doing a lot of research, taking multiple classes and staying up to speed in the ever-evolving world of pet nutrition. Last year I had the opportunity to attend a very informative raw feeding conference in Chicago, with some of the top names in the industry and veterinarian community. I will start from the beginning of my journey, and hopefully this stays a blog and does not turn into a novel!
I cannot remember a time in my life where there weren’t pets around me. My first pets were a white bunny, named Connie and a “mutt” named Bandit. They were the best of friends and played chase together. Like every young girl, I dreamed of having my own pony. At age 10 I experienced the BEST Christmas gift ever, when I went out to our empty barn and it was empty no more! When I heard that first whinny, I was in love without even seeing his face! It belonged to an old, retired barrel racing Appaloosa named Adolf (I didn’t have the luxury of naming him! We called him Dolf, for short) He was a small horse, just over “pony” size and he was so much fun! He taught me the value of hard work and the meaning of the animal/human bond. Owning a horse is not easy. There is a lot of care involved and my parents made sure I understood he was my responsibility. They made me clean stalls and help care for our neighbor’s horses every day for a year before even considering allowing me to have my own. I really feel like my strong work ethic started with Adolf’s care. When we got Adolf, we already had our Lab mix, Buddy. The two became good friends and would hang out in the pasture together. In between age 10 and 40-something, there were quite a few cats and a couple of dogs, mixed in with a tortoise, some fish and a hamster or two. We also lived next to our family friend’s farm, so we were required to help out on the farm in the summertime. I milked cows and cared for many chickens, ducks, geese and pigs. All of this before I left home for college!
When my husband and I met, we adopted two stray cats. They were brother and sister and lived until the ages of 13 and 14, respectively. Once we bought our home we decided to rescue a dog. And into our lives came Brody. He was a Beagle/Springer spaniel/”Heinz 57” mutt. And he was PERFECT! We enjoyed 4 3/4 years taking him EVERYWHERE we went. My husband was beginning to train him for agility. And then came October 2006, a month before his 5th birthday. We went to work that day, leaving what appeared to be a healthy dog at home, and returned to a dog trying to greet us but having no mobility in his hind legs at all. He was dragging himself across the floor trying to reach us. We thought maybe he had a stroke. We were scared and confused. I still was not very familiar with the area we were living, so I grabbed a phone book and called the closest vet to our home. Luckily for us and Brody it was a progressive holistic/conventional animal hospital. When we arrived, Brody’s entire body was shutting down from his legs and working up to his head. He had no use of his rear legs and was becoming paralyzed fast. The vet compared what was happening to him to Guillain-Barre syndrome in humans and his was progressing at an alarming rate. She needed to get it to stop before it affected his swallowing and breathing. But beyond that, we needed to figure out what this was and how it began in the first place. The vet believed he was suffering from Coonhound paralysis. But the only place to run a blood test for it at the time was University of North Carolina and we did not have time to wait a week for results to confirm it. So she treated him as though that was what was happening. He needed aggressive treatment. Unfortunately he needed very high doses of steroids and a host of other medications. Fortunately, he was also placed on raw goat’s milk to help detoxify his body from both the toxins from the disease as well as from the steroids. It was also providing him sustenance, since chewing was becoming increasingly difficult for him. This was where I was first introduced to the wonders of goat’s milk and I never looked back. Brody was hospitalized for 10 days, before stabilizing enough to be released to us. Those 10 days were very tough and scary at times. Then came the challenge of helping teach Brody to walk, eat and drink again. We had to hold him up with a sling and carry him down the steps just so he could go to the bathroom outside. We had to put yoga mats all over the floors so he had traction. We had to make sure he did not stay in one position too long to avoid pressure sores. It took about a month before he regained muscle mass enough to start moving and walking without being carried. But within 6 months you could barely tell anything happened. There were countless vet visits with chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture in between. It was not easy or cheap but we do not regret our choices at all. My only regret is not having CBD available for his recovery.
Let me mention before I continue that I was raised on a farm. I love my pets but I am also a realist. And I will never put them through anything for my benefit alone. The first question I asked the vet when this crisis began was, will Brody be able to lead a happy life if we go through all of this? He had the spirit to, but I needed to know he would still have a good quality of life on the other side of it. She strongly believed he would, as most dogs with Coonhound paralysis do, so we proceeded.
Now there are many controversial theories on why this may have happened to our pup. I believe, as does the holistic vet, that it had to do with the horrible diet I didn’t know I was feeding him (Beneful), recommended by our previous vet. We also felt a contributing factor was a very bad reaction to a vaccination a few months prior. It was given by our previous vet who refused to take me seriously when I told him there was something causing Brody pain and swelling at the injection site 6 weeks after the injection. I was told “it happens sometimes. He will be fine.” I was still naïve enough at the time to believe him and not seek a second opinion. Since we could not prove either, I took it upon myself to begin exhaustively researching better options for my pets. And with the guidance of the holistic vet, we began “detoxifying” our entire house and reading labels. When you actually have someone sit down with you and record just how many chemicals we expose ourselves and our pets to on a daily basis it takes your breath away- sometimes literally! I have much less bottles and boxes of cleaners to buy and store and it is great, even my husband’s allergies rarely flare up. You’d be amazed how much you can do with white vinegar, baking soda, Dawn dish soap and lemon juice-but that’s for another blog! Also another blog- lawn chemical exposure. I’ll fill you in soon. But if you use this, PLEASE do some research. The cancer rate in dogs is skyrocketing. And the leading theory of what is causing it are lawn chemical exposure. White vinegar is a safe and effective weed killer. There are also lawn services that are “green”.
As for food, I researched as best I could, with the small amount of knowledge I had at the time. That is when I met Ann Straub, owner of the Holistic Pet Nutrition Center in Harmony, PA. She took her time teaching me more about biologically appropriate foods for Brody (and for our cats).
I chose a clean, USA- and humanely-sourced kibble with some canned food mixed in for added protein and moisture. He had lost a lot of weight during his sickness so we were trying to “fatten him up”, so to speak. The changes in him were almost instant, and nothing short of remarkable. First and most importantly, he finally ENJOYED eating! For 4+ years, no matter what store brands we would try, we had to either sit next to him while he ate, or sometimes even hand feed him. We used to joke and say “Whose turn is it to ‘sell’ the kibble to the dog?” All that time he was smarter than me, knowing it made him feel like I do if I eat Burger King and he didn’t want it! Beyond enjoying his food, within a month his fur was softer. He shed less. His stool was finally a normal consistency (this is a huge telltale sign of your dog’s health. I often know what you are feeding them based on the appearance of their stool!) He had SO MUCH energy- even just a couple of months after being so sick! We were astounded and thrilled at his progress! As I learned more and he aged, his diet evolved until he was onto a total raw diet. That is when we saw the REAL changes! It was like we added 5 young years to his life.
Brody continued to amaze us for the next 7 years. He was a little creaky in his old age but he still walked 2 miles a day and accompanied us everywhere. But around 12 he was not acting himself. After a visit to the vet, we got this: “Brody either has Cushing’s disease or cancer. But probably both.” After discussing what “options” were available if this was the true diagnosis, we were unwilling to treat him that way. So we chose not to put him through the rigorous testing needed to be conclusive. Based on his blood levels, and already-elevated liver values we chose a natural approach. What we called “doggie hospice.” He got lots of goat’s milk, lots of CBD oil and LOTS of love and attention. We had an army of neighbors and family to spend time with him while we worked. He was taking some supplements and was being monitored weekly by our vet friend, whom he loved and was comfortable with. We were able to manage a good quality of life for him for another year and a half, until he let us know he was ready to transition. And then we made the toughest, most honorable decision for him.
As difficult as it is to discuss, it is necessary. And it doesn’t have to be horrible. We chose to have the vet come to our home so Brody could be comfortable at home and we could have privacy. It helped us heal better that way. Having the support and guidance we’ve had during Brody’s life, and especially in the final years, has spawned a passion in me to assist others with their aging dogs. I am working to develop an in-home “pet hospice” service. Until I have all of the details figured out I am offering Senior pet consulting. This could be tips on how to “senior-proof” your house, tips for easier mobility for your senior, tips and tricks to stimulate waning appetites- anything you have questions about. It is $45 for an hour consultation. Or $80 for an hour consultation and an hour follow up.
I am also offering a general food and nutrition consultation. It is $45 for an hour consultation. This can be by phone, email or in person.
I hope you found this interesting and still like me, even though I got controversial! Please contact All Pet and Home Care if you would be interested in any of my consultation services. Keep loving your pets! Rae