Dexter, a 10-year-old, Northern California basset hound is on a mission. Along with his adoptive dog-mom, Virginia Sajac, he is spreading the word that even older dogs with special needs can get a new lease on life.
Addison's Disease is the common name for hypoadrenocorticism, or adrenal insufficiency. It impacts electrolyte levels, especially the balance between sodium and potassium.
It is a sometimes hard to diagnose disease in dogs and can progress slowly with various seemingly unrelated symptoms. If electrolyte levels become too unbalanced it can culminate in an acute life-threatening episode in what is called an Addison's crisis or "crash". According to the Addison Dog's support group, symptoms of the disease may include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, tremors or shaking, muscle weakness and pain in the hind quarters.
Dexter suffered such a crash in 2004 while living in his original home. His disease was treated and he survived but in 2008 he faced a much greater challenge. His owner, a recent widow, was diagnosed with a terminal disease of her own.
Unable to care any longer for Dexter and another basset hound in her home, she faced what every loving pet owner fears, having to give up her beloved animals.
Dexter's housemate was quickly adopted out to a loving home in Marin County. Because of his age and special medical needs however, Dexter's fate was uncertain until Sajac, who lives in the Sacramento area, was perusing the Golden Gate Basset Rescue website and saw his picture. Golden Gate Basset Rescue is headquartered in Petaluma, but serves all of Northern California.
"I had two basset hounds who had died and I was ready to consider getting another dog again," she said. Over and over she kept coming back to Dexter's picture and profile on the site and felt drawn to him for some reason.
By that time Dexter had other suiters who had also seen his picture on the site who wanted to adopt him. Sajac knew if she wanted to claim him she would have to have an edge. She also wanted to know what she would be getting into.
She decided to research canine Addison's Disease and joined the Addison Dog support group asking questions and learning all she could about it.
Golden Gate Basset Rescue was impressed by her initiative and decided to place Dexter in her home.
Now under the care of Dr. Karen Pazzi at La Riviera Animal Medical Center in Sacramento, California, Dexter receives prednisone every day and a shot for his disease each month. Sajac reports he now is doing great and even has an "on-line" girlfriend named Lucy, a Cairn Terrier, who also suffers from Addison's Disease. Lucy's owner and Sajac provide support to one another and have become close friends. The dogs even exchange Christmas gifts with one another.
Dexter's off-line life is full today. He is the dog featured on the May page of the Addison Dog Group's Calendar this year, and was on a previous edition's cover.
Sajac wants to encourage people not to shy away from adopting an older dog or one with special needs. "He is the best dog I've ever owned, so well behaved and friendly towards everyone," she said.
He has also been an inspiration to Sajac herself. After retiring from a career with the State of California Department of Water Resources as a meeting planner and travel coordinator, Sajac decided to return to music, her first passion in life. She bought herself a grand piano and now teaches music to youngsters in her home.
Her students arrive on time because they look forward to seeing Dexter and giving him a treat. He even has his own room where he meets and greets his adoring young fans.
Despite the special medical attention he requires, Sajac said she would do it all over again. His has been an encore performance truly worth cheering about.
Time to take a bow, Dexter.
If you have a story about a companion animal that you'd like to share, post it in the comments section below.