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Friday, January 24, 2014

When I first laid eyes on Henry the Pekingese at the ASPCA in June 2006, I immediately noticed his deformed front paw, shaky back legs and blond eyelashes, in that order. I was still mourning Mr. Chubbs, my elderly Pekingese, who had to be euthanized a few weeks earlier after his lifelong neurological disease escalated into paralysis. As a result, I was wary about taking on another dog with a chronic condition — but I didn’t immediately head for the hills because I LOVE Pekingese.


Mr. Chubbs and me in 2003. Click for original post.

The volunteer I was working with suggested the paw could be a food allergy and the tremor could be nerves, but I know canine health problems when I see them. I asked the vets at the pound to give me a proper diagnosis before I would agree to take Henry — then known as “Sushi.”  After several appointments that ruled out allergies, viruses, fungi, bacterial infections, cancer, and injury, no definitive diagnosis had been made. Henry kept batting his blond eyelashes at me, and further resistance was futile. I took him home and renamed him after Henry VIII.


Henry when he first came home in July 2006.

The left front paw immediately became a major issue. Ultimately, it was found to be defective in a couple of ways, involving missing ligaments and an excess of cystic tissue. The paw was easily irritated and when it was, Henry would lick it endlessly, which would lead to a worse infection. The only thing that stopped the licking was the cone of shame. After poor Henry was confined to the cone of shame for months on end, a surgeon at the Animal Medical Center adapted an operation usually performed on cystic Cocker Spaniel ears for Henry’s foot. Henry still has flare-ups, but he’s much improved and only needs the cone of shame and antibiotics occasionally.  However, on a regular basis, if anyone tries to get Henry to walk in a direction he doesn’t want to go in, he lifts his bad foot and limps ostentatiously. As soon as he’s going where he wants to go, the foot is all better. It’s a miracle!

While the paw drama was going on, the tremor in his hind legs — always identified by post-ASPCA vets as some kind of neurological problem — didn’t bother Henry. (I did nickname him “Mr. Shaky Pants” though.) Over time, the shakiness spread to his front legs, but he was still able to function normally until very recently, when I noticed he was slow to lie down and had some trouble supporting himself when he was eating. Arthritis and/or back problems that can affect older dogs in that way, but I was concerned it was related to Henry’s longtime condition, so, this week, Henry and I met with the neurology team at the Animal Medical Center. After a thorough examination, they reported to me that he had an awesome personality and was one of their favorite dogs ever.  Awww! Then the doctors told me the name for Henry’s rare condition is “orthostatic tremor,” and that when it is diagnosed at all, it’s in Great Danes and a few other giant dog breeds. Pekingese are often described as big dogs in little bodies, but this is taking it too far! Yet the symptoms all add up:

  • Progressive generalized tremors are usually noted only when affected dogs are standing, at rest.
  • Tremors increase in amplitude when the dogs try to lie down.
  • Tremors tend to abate when the dogs walk, lie down, lean against objects, or when the dog is lifted off the ground.
  • Tremors start at a young age.
  • Physical and neurological examinations are normal.

The neurologists told me there are a variety of medications — some of them meant for epilepsy — that might alleviate the symptoms. The first on the list has to be given three times a day and I was warned that, at the beginning, Henry might seem a little drunk. I hope the drunkenness passes quickly because it’s already an adventure to walk Henry in New York City. I’m not talking about the paw and the shakes. The challenge is dealing with the concerned citizens who aggressively express concern for my dog, as if I’ve never looked at him myself: “He’s hurt!” “He’s cold!” “He’s scared!” “He needs to go inside!” Some people do inquire politely. But others practically accuse me of neglect, and a small subset of those won’t even believe answers like “He’s got a birth defect” and “He’s got a neurological problem.”  It’s true that a doctor once said, “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras,” and that’s good advice. But that doesn’t mean that zebras don’t exist!


I photographed these zebras in South Africa, where I also saw an “impossible” swimming monkey. Click for the monkey story.

Orthostatic tremor occurs in humans too. Like the canine version, the condition is very rare, though possibly underdiagnosed. It’s much more debilitating in people, plus there’s social stigma. People who suffer with OT have to cope with everything from stares to accusations of drunkenness and drug use. And that brings me to the real reason for this post. My experiences with both canine and human health conditions are a never-ending reminder to me that I am not an expert on everyone who walks down the street.


OMG, look at Henry’s runny nose.

It’s worth remembering that slow walkers could be awaiting hip-replacement surgery; “scary skinny” people could be suffering from gastrointestinal disease;  nonsmokers do get lung cancer; coughers could be suffering from asthma, not the flu; shaking people aren’t always high; and wobbly dogs aren’t necessarily being abused or neglected. Everyone’s got his or her own story, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote more eloquently in Hyperion: A Romance, “Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.”

Other times, we say a dog is blowing us a raspberry, when he is only showing off his gorgeous pink tongue.


Henry likes to relax with his tongue out.

Henry knows he looks cute doing that!

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20 Responses to “Henry the Dog Is Special”

  1. Henry is just adorable – what gorgeous eyes and fur. I can see that you obviously take good care of him, and that he gets tons of love. Hoping his “drunkenness” clears up soon, Wendy!

  2. Henry has the best Momma in the world!

  3. déjà pseu says:

    Henry is certainly a cutie pie. Pink tongue and all.

  4. Gail says:

    Ah, you are a wonderful pet Mom! My kitty Wally, gosh. I adopted the unpopular (but absolutely adorable) kitty not realizing that his “letting you know when he’s had enough petting” and needing to watch for overstimulation with play mean would turn out to be crazy aggressiveness – play, predatory, and just plain aggression. Not just a little nip here and there. Prozac and a lot of behavior modification has done wonders. Yes, I kept him against everyone’s advice to rehome him. He has since been diagnosed with a life-long dental disease (has already had surgery and extractions and he’s not even 3) and colitis which may lead to a crazy expensive procedure. If I tried to re-home him, who would take him? One potential owner (who wanted an aggressive cat companion for her own aggressive cat) said no to Wally when she heard about the dental disease. I didn’t have to tell her he had this, but this guy needs to get the care he needs and I wanted to make sure he got the dental surgery he needed within the next 2 months (that I still would have paid for). With all this, we have formed a special bond, he is mellowing, and he is a wonderful little guy and friend. Do people think I’m crazy at times for keeping him – yes. Do I fret about possible really expensive, and already expensive, procedures – yes. Would I let anyone have him who wouldn’t give him what he needed or bring him to a shelter where he might stay for a long time because of his issues – no. Yeah, he exceeds the cute limit which helps me put up with the rest. He’s crazy lovable at times and just plain crazy at other times. I’ve had to adapt after 15 years of having two cats who didn’t have a mean bone in their bodies, but I did spend a fortune on in their later years (cancer, kidney disease). Sorry for babbling, just always nice to meet a parent of an animal with “challenges”.

    • WendyB says:

      You’re good to put up with an aggressive cat! My rescue dog Gigi is aggressive towards most other dogs but not humans, luckily! She accepts Henry but she was very violent towards Chubbs, who was the dog I had when I first got her. I didn’t want to keep her for Chubbs’s sake because of the aggressiveness, but she turned out to have an insane medical problem that prevented me from rehoming her (I talk about it a bit here http://wendybrandes.com/blog/2.....sary-gigi/). I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone else to cope with her problems.

      Gigi has mellowed out a lot — not totally — and we do love her! But when I got my cat FitzRoy a couple of years ago, I just couldn’t bear going to the pound and getting another problem child, so I got him from a breeder. It’s delightful to have a normal animal!

  5. Henry is indeed special – adorable and so smart (a bit manipulative with the selective limping?). I love how you take the best care of him – we try to do the same for our cats. We still laugh about the time we rushed Mellow the Cat to the vet, thinking she had a growth on her ear. It was a freckle. She was mad all day.

    Live long and prosper, Henry. xox

  6. Nola Rice says:

    My little guy Sammy Spanky Dog also does the tongue thing and it does make him look hilarious. When he first came home to me he sat down and looked at me and barked for about 15 minutes. I swear he was telling me his story. And so far, he is my first one with only a slight problem. He has IBS, just I do-so I understand completely.

    • WendyB says:

      That story about the barking is so cute in hindsight … but I bet while it was going on you were wondering, “What if he never stops?” LOL.
      Once he caught you up on all the events in his life he could relax.

  7. Christine says:

    After I read about Henry, I went back to your post about Gigi. I’m having big problems with Eli. Not only is he going to lose his vision, my daily care (ok, his eyes need care every hour or so, or his eyes dry completely out.

    Eli also has “issues” which usually mean he barks at people. I put a muzzle on him sometimes and since he’s a Golden, no one believes he’s aggressive. So I’m the mean puppy mommy of Long Island. One noisy mom called the ASPCA, so they came around. He was fine with them, but they still suggested keeping the muzzle on, just in case. One bite and he’s in serious trouble.

    My family is concerned he’ll attack me and really do some damage. I am doing everything I can — making his food, a trainer once a week, and training from me. MY first dog was very aggressive and I worked my tail off (haha) to take care of him, and make him a nice dog, and he did become an amazing pet and was really fond of Nick when he was born.

    Eli has bitten me, but where the pain stops and the behavior takes over is hard to define. But would you throw out a child because of behavioral problems? So, thank you for giving me hope and thanks to Gail too. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

    I have to send him to my ex in Denver while I have my back surgery and I”m in the physical rehabilitation facility. I’m not happy about it, because I don’t think he’ll have the time to take proper care of him.

    I’ve loved all my rescues as well as my purebreds, but with my back, I can hardly do much with him. I guess my next dog will be from a breeder.

    Take care

  8. stacy says:

    You know how I feel. I wuv them all. I’m so glad you finally got a diagnosis on shaky pants. Even better knowing that it isn’t painful. Now you just need to fix that chapped wittle nose. I cannot even take these pictures! Too freaking cute. Mr. Chubbs was really a chub! Great face. Very stylish striped tee as well 🙂


  9. Lady Harriet says:

    My best friend’s family had two shelties. Her mother loves to bake bread, and one day she put a bowl of bread dough out on their back porch in the sunshine to rise. (There’s a point to this story, I promise!) When she came back for the dough later she was surprised that it had risen less than usual, but she went ahead and baked the bread. As the day went on, their dog Rusty started acting very strangely, staggering and falling down all the time while seeming very out of it. They took him to the vet. It turned out that he had eaten a bunch of the bread dough, which then fermented in his stomach. Rusty really was drunk! Definitely not something you think will happen in a dog. 🙂

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I hope the new medication helps Henry. I don’t like to think of him ailing or in pain or unable to get around or live comfortably.

    You treat him like the King that he is, so he is never wanting. He has a very comfortable home and lounging area (the front hall).

    I wonder if it would be possible to re-think/re-design the “Cone of Shame” into the “Crown of Glory,” by possibly decorating it with jewels, crystals, etc., so that it would become a fashion accessory in addition to a much-needed assistance device, instead of just a plastic appendage that incites strangers to butt in?

    I love the photo of him looking at you as you work on your computer. That is quintessential cute.