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A tribute to Popi, living with a progressive chronic illness.

A sad read, but if it helps one person through their journey with their own warrior it has served its purpose.

We overcame a lot in 2 years. Separation Anxiety (Phobia), Severe skin issues, liver issues and oesophageal dismotility to name the key things. But lung fibrosis had us beat!

Leaving pawprints together

I try to share what I have learned from my medical warriors in hopes their journey helps another dog.  This journey with Popi has been full of highs and lows but her story differs from the other's and is incredibly valuable for helping any of their dogs through chronic illnesses. As with any of my rescue medical cases, you have all been a part of the journey in some way, I never count these guys as solely mine, because we all have shared in their journey together.

She was a rather complicated soul and a lot of her illnesses at the start were red herrings of sorts, many due to neglect.  The lingering affects of these red herrings not being treated through her life before she came to rescue were ultimately what led to a very premature goodbye.

Popi's first trip to the beach

When Popi was surrendered to the Red Foundation she was in a bad way, she had been neglected and poorly treated.  She was referred straight for a CT scan which couldn’t be carried out as her skin was so swollen and inflamed finding a vein would have been challenging.  Her foster carer at the time worked hard to help calm the skin issues down and soon she had that scan which didn’t show anything particularly helpful. A course of medication saw the breathing issues improve and the main focus was her skin. The CT showed 3 broken ribs but nothing particularly helpful, at this point she was a complicated mystery and needed a systematic approach to help her medical needs.

Our first cuddle of many...but look at those swollen legs

It became obvious she still needed her breathing issues looking at and she was referred.  At this time she came into my care as, being the little firecracker she was, she was launching herself at the other resident dogs which made things challenging for her then carer.  She had a few episodes of being “spicy” with mine and a few of my dogs took the brunt.  I will never forget Piper, my dobermann, running sideways like a crab as this 5kg beastie charged at her hissing and spitting.  (They did become friends eventually!)

I took her to the referral centre, knowing very little about her or her history and we created a plan.  Investigations flagged up a variety of issues, her liver was inflamed and mottled, her skin a mess and so very swollen, her ears full of wax and infected, her pads would bleed if she walked, her nails overgrown but too painful to cut and her breathing was worrying too. She was in such a state. Where to start?

Add in the complication of severe separation anxiety, closer to a phobia, the impact of being left had a huge impact on her breathing.  Speculation over Cushings disease and thyroid were also raised.  She really was a mess. The cortisol levels were so high in her urine it indicated cushings, however further tests determined these levels were due to stress. These were most likely due to her Separation issues, alongside medical discomfort and neglect.

A careful and systematic plan was created in order of priority starting with her liver.  There were concerns over cancer, however a fluke find on a scan showed her Gallbladder looking rather suspicious, a needle biopsy tested the content and she had a nasty infection in there which in turn impacted her liver.  A long course of anti biotics and other medications resolved this and things started to improve.  However her lungs and breathing were still problematic.  The challenge with this was her skin was so infected, swollen and sore any treatment for her skin would impact any results from lung washes, it was a game of spinning plates.

After careful discussion the referral centre decided to do a swallow study.  This was fascinating to watch back, basically a moving x ray which showed food thicker than water would back up in her gullet and not be moved down by the muscles we take for granted. There was no “fix” for this issue, but management was very similar to that of megaoesphagus.  Raised feeding, and upright time alongside burping her like a baby after every meal. Medications to encourage movement and to line her tummy, and trial and error with different foods to find what suited.  This was after 6 months on a very plain rice crispie kibble to help her liver heal. The condition she was diagnosed with was Severe Oesophageal Dismotility, Basically the muscles that create waves to help us swallow food were very weak and didn't push the food down, meaning it would collect in her oesophagus.

The referral vets were amazing, knowing how scared she was of being left, they took turns to hold her, in between tests to prevent her becoming distressed,  she was a real people person who only ever wanted to be held and loved. They justified each test before carrying it out and carefully considered the approach as she had so many issues initially.

And so started our routine of feeding and morning cuddles as we carried her around in our arms after eating.  Cuddles were Popi’s favourite past-time and she loved this time of day.  She got herself into a routine to seek people out if she needed help to burp too and would sit upright in our arms, I loved these moments, she knew we were there to help her, but goodness I've never heard burps or botty burps like it from such a small dog!

As time went on this routine was reasonably fixed, she'd eat of a custom made stand and between us, one person would carry Popi around until she’d had the biggest of burps and her tummy relaxed.  This might take 5 minutes or 50 but was a key part of managing her condition.

Imported stand for raised feeding

As time went on we found a rhythm, she would have bouts of aspiration pneumonia, and on most occasions I caught the signs early on before it progressed.  She was a very stoic individual, and looking at her previous veterinary history I could see she’d learnt to just muddle along without treatment. She didn’t make a fuss.  Last year was her worst occurrence, her and Spesh were incredibly poorly at the same time.  But she pulled through.

Both warriors battling pneumonia Feb 2023

Overtime she accepted the other dogs and would even seek them out. Even sitting on top of them.

Not like there aren't other beds to relax in!


After a year of determination from the standard smooths she would go to bed, roll onto her back and have a smooth carefully wash each foot and only Diva was allowed to was the ears. Over the last 6 months everyone took part, even darling Fudge.... This was Popi’s Pamper Parlour.  They all loved her.

Popi's Pamper Parlour

When she felt poorly she got a bit grumpy, but most of the time she took comfort from the other dogs, although she was still mostly a people person.

Spot the dot!

She even made friends with the cat!

We worked on her separation issues, and we nailed it. My professional training and knowledge came in handy and she helped me find short cuts which I have passed onto clients, although I have yet to meet one who's issues manifest in the same way as Popi's did.    If I was home, she would know it and have a tizz at wanting to be with me, this was a non issue and something that didn’t bother me, she could be with me whenever she wanted.  Many people would have met her during zooms and courses and generally she’d just curl up on the bed by my feet or on my lap.  Over time, and lots of consistency and repetitions she would settle without issue when I went out, but we soon learnt not to put the phones on loudspeaker if I called as she’d think I was in the building and start looking for me.  Over the last 2 months of life her separation issues surged somewhat, I think sometimes you just need your mum.  On evening zooms she started to become very restless, initially I thought she could smell food, but now I think she just wanted me to take her to bed so we could snuggle.

She fell asleep in the toy box!

About 4 months ago we had the devastating diagnosis of lung fibrosis, a degenerative condition where there is no treatment, only medications which would ease the progressive symptoms.  I remember worrying back then how I would know when it was time, how bad would it get.  I expressed this to my vet, who is fantastic and I think he knew my biggest worry was her suffering. 

You all know I will fight when there is a fight worth having, when they can be happy and pain free and ultimately it's in their best interest.  But, I’d never cross a line where they would be in pain or suffer.  Its one thing if its  a brief illness but if the prognosis is they will struggle and be unhappy I just couldn’t do it. My biggest fear, leaving it too long because I’m not ready.

Of course like most people I jumped onto Dr Google, scoured the research and anecdotal stories and the consensus was I had between approximately 6-18 months with her depending on the progression of her symptoms.  Nothing really told you about that tipping point when she may go into crisis with her breathing. How would I know? I shouldn't have worried really, you just do!

What I didn’t expect was for that progression to be so very subtle it would be unnoticeable, or rather you get used to it.  I found myself questioning what I was seeing.  Thankfully I video a lot – lots of hindsight to reflect on and no rose tinted glasses, I could see the changes.  But ultimately, this is where trusting my vets to help me came in.  I had to rely on them to help me do right by her.

In our 2 years together time, the stroller came into its own, it meant she could still come out but could rest, and it gained her lots of attention too, which she loved. She came shopping, went to the beach, ate churo's, enjoyed life.

A few weeks ago she was very poorly, we don’t really know why, her issues are so complicated that it could be one of the things lying dormant triggered a pancreatitis episode.  The community helped to support the rescue in paying for her care, the love you shared gave me strength and she rallied. I really thought we were ok.  However I think this then took its toll on her other issues and her breathing started to deteriorate, nothing too obvious, but enough where you could see she was tired.  She wasn't suffering but she was tired.

I took her in for a check up, and the vet told me plainly that we were probably on that knifes edge between comfortable and tired vs struggling and in pain.  In all her trips to the vets, she had never looked tired.  She did on this day.  I knew it, and the vets did too.  The 48 hour med trial ended on Saturday 9th March 2024, a date a year before where I’d had my heart ripped out, a year since losing Spesh, a day I was dreading.  As soon as the vet said it I knew we were there, we all did.  He had absolutely no idea what meaning that date had to me, I felt my heart break again as he said it. 

Spesh was calling her, my angel pack were calling her, the bridge was calling her and her time with me was complete.  I had been blessed to hold her and love her, and now she was needed elsewhere.

The day before, we took her to the beach, I carried her whilst we walked and she snuggled into my coat. She had a few romps in the rocks and a paddle in the sea and enjoyed her favourite place to be.

At 12pm on 9th March 2024 she took her last breath in my arms, her favourite place and slipped peacefully from this world.


Why am I sharing this? Well, a) its my therapy. The guilt of not sharing her story when I have shared the stories of the other warriors was getting me down, she was wonderful and deserves part of her story being shared.    b) someone else will be in this painful scenario of not knowing when to say goodbye and c) As with all my rescue medical cases, I had the privilege of calling her mine, but really, with all these dogs they are ours.  Without everyone’s kindness, generosity and support she wouldn’t have had 2 years of love where her previous years lacked it.

I have previously shared how I have made a decision with an older dog (Gucci), and how I coped with the sudden loss of Spesh, but dealing with a middle-aged dog with a chronic and progressive illness is incredibly challenging.  You just worry the whole time, and you buy time with them, each moment so valuable.  But ultimately, if like me you find yourself taking them back and forth to the vets more, you start questioning whether they have deteriorated again, and you start holding them a little tighter you’re probably nearly there.  And, if like me you struggled weighing up whether you are there, talk to the vet who has supported you through their journey.  It is better a day early than a day late, and if you are only buying a few days by delaying, weigh up whether those extra few days will be comfortable for your little one. At this point, it is our emotions clouding our judgement, and that isn’t in their best interest.

Popi had 3 vets that knew her well, Jon who saw her a lot at the start and towards the end Ben and Alicia.  I trust all 3 implicitly.  I trust them when it comes to helping me and explaining things as many times as I need to and helping me make the hardest of decisions. 

At the end Alicia even handed over her stethoscope for me to listen to her lungs, what I’d only heard from the outside.  She kindly worked around my arms holding Popi tightly whilst I was kissing her head and ears. She explained every single step, and whilst I’ve done this far too many times, it was reassuring for the others in the room to be talked through it. Especially Kieron, it was his first time being present, he loved his little Popski.

The explanation kept the tears at bay so we were all calm and composed.  The kindness and understanding that I needed to make sure anything I did was in Popi’s best interest was phenomenal. I am so incredibly grateful to them and everyone at the centre for helping me through.

Popi left this world surrounded by love, my parents and Kieron, a vet who gave her the greatest gift of kindness and my arms around her.  She left with her in all of your thoughts.  She left loved and now she shines so brightly above us all. That makes up for the emptiness we are feeling now, the huge changes to our routines, the feeling of being somewhat lost without her, and gosh I miss her amazing cuddles and waggy tail. But I'll take that short time together over never having loved her at all. She was worth every single moment and so many more.

Thank you all for reading to the end, and for sharing our journey together. If you ever get an opportunity to share your life with a special one, do it. It's a privilege.


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