When the Unthinkable Happens

Aransas Pass, TX

Amanda’s family are BIG dog people. So, when she graduated from high school, her family gave her Ellie, a German Shorthaired Pointer puppy, as a gift. To say that she was thrilled would be an understatement.

As a young woman working two jobs to financially prepare for nursing school, Amanda lived at home but paid her share of the bills. Her primary position was with a nursing home. Her second job was as a waitress at a local restaurant. When she came home from either job, Ellie would run to meet her.

It was a lot like Christmas for the young dog and the gift was Amanda. Playful and talkative, Ellie often “talked back” to her, running around Amanda’s legs, and play biting her, tail wagging.

When you’re working two jobs, you need a little levity in your life! Ellie was that lightness. Much like a service dog, when Amanda wasn’t working, Ellie went with her everywhere.

And rotten? Don’t even go there. Ellie was completely spoiled. So, when Amanda came home from her nursing home job, she was mystified that Ellie did not gallop to greet her at the door. At 2 ½, she was a ball of energy.

When she found Ellie, the dog wouldn’t move. Amanda reached out to touch her companion but Ellie turned her face away. At first, Amanda thought Ellie had something in her mouth she didn’t want her to see.

When she was finally able to touch Ellie’s jaw, it popped, and her dog screeched in pain. Immediately, Amanda took Ellie to her vet. He put Ellie on antibiotics until he could figure out the problem.

Finally, it was determined that Ellie’s dog had Masticatory Muscle Myositis (MMM).  An autoimmune disorder, MMM is an inflammatory disease that affects the muscles of the jaw, causing them to become swollen and painful, preventing a dog’s mouth from opening.

As the disease progresses, the muscles begin to atrophy causing a sunken appearance. MMM is more common in large breed dogs like Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, but not German Shorthaired Pointers.

That’s why Dr. Novak did not consider it a possibility. In fact, less than 5% of dogs, even those prone to the disease, ever get it. If the disease wasn’t halted, the left side of young Ellie’s face would sink and her eyes would swell. Worse, she would lose all motor function on the affected side of her face.

Without effective treatment, Ellie would either have to be placed on a feeding tube or face euthanization. Neither of those options appealed to Amanda.

Dr. Novak started the dog on steroids with the goal of getting her into remission. Generally, if the disease does go into remission, the dog may never have another flare up. Steroids are effective at treating the disease but they are very hard on the body, animal or human.

Because Ellie was so young, Amanda felt it was worth the risk to save her dog from a premature death. For six months, she was on the drug, and it worked!

The disease went into remission. But there were complications. Ellie, who normally weighed 50 pounds ballooned to 90. She also developed secondary infections of the eyes but those were treated with antibiotics.

All in all, Amanda counted herself lucky. Then, due to Ellie’s weakened immune system, a growth formed in her mouth on the affected side. Dr. Novak extracted fluid from the area and found that Ellie had developed a salivary mucocele.

In other words, a salivary gland was working non-stop, producing so much saliva that the gland had formed a sac in her mouth. As these sacs grow, they become highly disruptive. Dogs have difficulty eating and drinking. That was the case with Ellie.

As a temporary measure, Amanda had the salivary gland drained. A painful procedure, it was a short-term method for relieving Ellie’s pain. Because these salivary mucoceles get worse if left untreated, Amanda scheduled Ellie for surgery to remove it.

Then the unthinkable happened, Hurricane Harvey. In preparation for the storm, the staff at the nursing home where Amanda worked spent five hours evacuating 150 residents, moving them four hours away to safety.

Amanda’s family boarded up their home, and her parents boarded up their business, a custom gun shop. Like everyone in South Texas, they and their dogs prepared for the worst. At the same time, one of their neighbors threatened to put down their own German Shorthaired Pointer because she “was just too much trouble,” so Amanda’s family took her in, too.

Pull Quote: Harvey took almost everything except the family’s grit and Texan pride.

The building that housed the family’s business remained intact, but everything inside was ruined including machinery.

The nursing home was completely destroyed, leaving Amanda without a primary source of income. Now she only had her part-time waitressing job. In fact, she and one other family member were the only people in her family that had jobs at all.

Power was out for 14 days and there was no running water. Looting became rampant and a mandatory curfew of 9 p.m. was instituted. During this unprecedented time of upheaval, Amanda did what she could to keep Ellie comfortable. “Everything was at a standstill,” Amanda told us. “We had no other choice.”

Ellie still carried the additional 40 pounds from the steroids and there was no air conditioning. As you can imagine, the dog was miserable. But considering that Amanda’s family actually had a roof over their heads, Ellie’s discomfort was only a minor inconvenience. She was eating, drinking, and mildly active. That was the best Amanda could hope for.

Harvey’s devastation may have wiped out life as South Texans knew it, but it could not kill their determination.

“We’re doing what we can,” Amanda said. “It’s hard to be overly upset because we literally have people in our town sleeping in tents. We’ll be okay.”

That resolve was reflected in Amanda’s family. A tightknit clan, everyone made financial contributions to their ultimate survival. Amanda was no exception. “I put in my college savings.”

Once the storm was behind them, everyone affected by Harvey began rebuilding. For Amanda, it meant resuming getting treatment for Ellie.

She started a GoFundMe page and a You Caring page, hoping to raise funds for Ellie’s surgery. “There was no response,” Amanda told us. “Everyone was in such a state of shock, and there simply were no funds to pass around.”

Like so many others in her town, she tried to get a loan from her bank but the answer was no. That’s when she started applying to animal non-profits online. Pull Quote: Of all the organizations Amanda applied to, The Mosby Foundation was the lone response.

Having worked to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, we wanted to do what we could for Amanda and Ellie. We knew that if Harvey hadn’t happened, Amanda would have shouldered this responsibility and gotten Ellie the help she needed.

But Amanda, and all of South Texas, didn’t expect the unthinkable.

That’s why we made a generous $3,000 donation towards Ellie’s surgery. “I am so grateful,” Amanda told us. “Bridgett was so amazing. I just want to say thank you!”

With The Mosby Foundation’s pledge, Amanda had three-fourths of the total she needed. Surgery was then scheduled for a Wednesday but the surgeon delayed it until Friday. Why? It turns out the salivary gland to be removed was one of the rarest salivary glands to become hyperactive. It was so rare that the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital of A & M wanted veterinary students to observe the procedure.

The surgery went extremely well, and Ellie won the hearts of the staff! Now she can look forward to a lifetime of fun and play with Amanda.

What drew The Mosby Foundation to help this twenty-year-old woman was her love, courage, and absolute resolve in the face of overwhelming adversity. Her young dog contracted Masticatory Muscle Myositis, and then a salivary mucocele, followed by a killer hurricane that wiped out her town, and drained her college savings for nursing school– all at the same time—and yet she persevered.

Amanda refused to let her circumstances steal the opportunity for treatment for her dog. She also pulled together financially with her family to get through Harvey.

This young woman’s service is also a testament to her strength, courage, and determination. The nursing industry is lucky to have her.

And Ellie is one lucky dog!