Brandy, Our Inspiration

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On July 17, 2001, I received a call regarding and elderly Bullmastiff in a kill shelter in Brooklyn, New York. She was dropped off by her owners, who claimed that they no longer had room for her. Time was running out, and the shelter staff was desperate to find a home for her. The next day, I picked up Brandy.

The staff had told me that she had some minor problems - I was not prepared for the dog that they brought out from the cages. This poor old girl was virtually blind and mostly deaf, coughing, barely able to walk the few feet from the cage to the visitors' room, but she bravely greeted everyone, including the resident cats, with a wagging tail and happy expresstion. Her nose worked just fine, and she sniffed out a friendly hand, coming to rest her weary body against my legs. I filled out some paperwork and went out to load her into the van. The shelter staff accompanied us, tear-eyed, but happy that Brandy was going to a safe haven. It took a couple of tries, but with some help, she managed to crawl up into the crate in the back, and she snuggled in for the ride to New Jersy, contentedly gnawing on a selection of chew bones after she carefully arranged the stuffed toys around her. Before we left New York, this old girl had won my heart. The next obstacle would be convincing my husband that we should keep her, not just foster her.

When we got home, Brandy stepped out into the cool grass under the shade of a pine tree and had a drink...and I had an opportunity to examine her more closely. What I saw was very discouraging. Her eyes were very nearly crusted shut; when I managed to get a brief look at them in the sunlight, it was obvious that her corneas were badly damaged, and I assumed she had cataracts in addition to an awful case of entropion. Her ears dripped with foul smelling, black ooze, a sure sign of a very serious ear infection. She appeared to be mostly toothless, had several large and unsightly cysts on her head, legs and body, and I suspected a urinary infection. All of her feet were very inflamed, two were infected, and she limped badly on her left front. She hacked and choked and coughed almost constantly. Still, she waggged bravely and licked my hand. As I led her down to the barn for a bath, the most troubling sign appeared. She could walk only a few feet before lying down, and I sadly assumed she had a serious heart problem on top of everything else. But, she persevered, and settled in for an afternoon nap, clean and sweet=smelling, in a huge crate with a deep mattress and lots of toys.

When Patrick came home, he went in to meet the new "foster child." Much to my relief, he reappeared a while later, talking about how he would have to build her a ramp so she could get in and out of the van more easily, and an elevated food dish so she wouldn't strain her neck, and he immediately went to work. That night, Patrick took her for her evening stroll. there was no question. She was his dog, and she was staying, and her trip to the vet the following day for a thorough examination was made much easier by the custom-made, carpeted ramp that allowed her easy access to the van!

The vet's findings were as I expected: severe entropion that resulted in the horribly scarred eyes (but no cataracts), a terrible eye infection, and even worse ear infection, a urinary infection, severe kennel cough, and gingival hyperplasia -- a condition characterized by swollen, overgrown gums. Most amazing, though, was that her cardiac exam was excellent. There were no signs at all of a heart problem Some pre-surgical bloodwork was done, and she was put on a course of antibiotics to clear up all of the infections before the operation. The blood panel showed that her kidney and liver functions were good, her thyroid was within the normal range, and the surgery was scheduled in two weeks. We opted to correct the entropion, and the vet suggested that the removal of a couple of wrinkles from her muzzle might make her breathing easier. We also had a cyst on the top of her head removed, as well as one on her front leg that was dangerously close to an artery, and she had some dental work done. Brandy came through the surgery with flying colors, and returned home to her new Bullmastiff friends, Ted and Goyle, for a few weeks of recuperation and TLC.

She looked a sight, with a line of sutures that ran from the edge of her lip, up over her muzzle, and all the way down the other side. Then, of course, there were the stitches around her eyes. as she began to heal, though, we noticed an amazing thing - she was regaining her sight! Wile we had opted for the surgery to prevent further damage to her eyes, no one had ever expected that her vision would return. However, she had such excessive wrinkling on her muzzle that it pressed her eyelids up over part of her eyes, which in turn protected part of her eyes from the constant irritation of the inward-turning eyelashes. She could see out of the bottoms of her eyes!

Brandy made almost daily progress, getting fitter and fitter from her walks to and from the barn, and she began to accompany us to agility and obedience lessons. At first, she just watched, but when she was a little stronger, she started to participate just a bit, wanting very much to be part of every activity. Unfortunately, while the ear infection was resolved, her hearing did not improve, so her participation was somewhat limited. But, her vision got better and better, and she rejoiced at being able to actually see her new environment. Trees, grass, birds, horses...virtually everything was a new experience for this city girl. Her very favorite sight, though, was her dad's truck pulling into the driveway.

Ted had qualified for a national agility competition in Minnesota in September, so Brandy packed her suitcase and headed off with the rest of us, taking life on the road very much in stride, making new friends wherever she went. At the competition, there was a photographer who was captivated by her sweet face and Brandy posed happily for a number of professional photographs. We re-told her story again and again, and, at one pint, while discussing her apparently permanent hearing loss, a listener opined that Brandy could certianly hear and squeaked a toy to prove it. Brandy's hearing had returned!

One more round of surgery awaited her when we got back to New Jersey - the removal of the five remaining cycts. Brandy valiantly endured all of this with just a local, and now the only remaining health issue is the state of her feet. Several courses of antibiotics have brought the condition under control, but the irritation and sensitivity remain, so Brandy wears little red boots if she has to walk on uneven terrain and that seems to make her more comfortable. It appears that the limp in front is permanent, though not particularly bothersome to her.
Once she was finally healthy and hearing, her serious obedience training was scheduled to begin, with the hope that some day she could work as a therapy dog.

Well, in true Brandy fasihion, she surprised us by already knowing all of the necessary skills to pass the TDI test, and on October 14, 2001, not quite three months after narrowly escaping death, Brandy became a certified therapy dog. Every Wednesday morning, she visits a local nursing home, spreading cheer and offering a sympathetic ear to the residents, who so look forward to her visits.

The poor old girl that struggled to walk out of the shelter is no more. We have a vibrant, healthy girl living with us. While we don't know exactly how old she is, she most definitely is not yet nine. Several months of life outside of a crate, breathing country air and eating a healthy diet have made a new woman out of her. The horrible calluses that covered every joint are smaller and smaller with each passing week, and her chiropractor and personal masseuse are slowly working out the kinks created by a lifetime spent in a very small crate. With daily exercise, she is getting stronger, though it will be a long, slow road bringing her back after all those years of confinement. The joy of watching her finally learning, at her age (whatever that may be), to run and play, more than compensates for the efforts we have made to bring her to this point. Every day is a new day and a new adventure for our girl, and we love to watch her new life unfold as she gallops through our fields, free at last and finally able to realize all of the joys of being a healthy, vibrant, safe, comfortable, and happy Bullmastiff.

EPILOGUE

On May 18, 2002, 10 months to the day from her "rescue," Brandy went Best of Opposite to best Adult from the Veteran Bitch class at the Delaware Valley Bullmastiff Club's annual sanctioned match!

August brought some discouraging news -- Brandy had developed a mammary tumor. But, the surgical excision was successful, there appeared to be no spread, and we will watch her carefully, with follow-up chest x-rays every 3 months to be sure that there is no metastasis.

In early October, she competed in her first official agility trial, running in NADAC tunnelers classes both weekend days and she flawlessly completed both courses. Later that same month, Brandy went to the American Bullmastiff Association National specialty in Delavan, WI and competed in Novice B Obedience, where she charmed the crowd with her enthusiasm and courage. She also led the Rescue Parade and won the Costume Event, which she attended dressed as Cleopatra accompanied by her dad disguised as Marc Anthony.

In April 2003, she earned the first of three legs needed for an APDT Rally Obedience title, and looks forward to competing in the fall trials in an effort to complete her title.

Over the summer, she made an appearance in NYC's Central Park at the Mayor's Alliance for Animals event, where she showed spectators all the wonderful advantages of adopting an older dog.

Late September brought another challenge for this brave girl. She toppled over getting out of the van and severely injured her arthritic back and hind end, resulting in a temporary paralysis. Just a few days after regaining some mobility, Brandy wound up having emergency surgery for a second mammary tumor. Once again, clean margins were obtained, and there appears to be no lymph node involvement and no spread to her lungs, so the prognosis is pretty positive.

On October 11 and 12, Brandy competed in her second Rally Obedience trial and attained scores sufficient to give her the two final qualifying legs that she needed. She now holds the APDT Rally Obedience title of R-1!

2004 found Brandy working harder than ever to promote rescue. She has developed a line of greeting cards, and is putting the proceeds toward helping other Bullmastiffs in need..

Come summer, she again represented ABA rescue at the Mayor's Alliance event in Central Park, this time arriving in her custom-made chariot, a bright red wheeled conveyance to carry her through the park to the staging area, where she spent the afternoon charming the public, eating doggie ice cream, and comforting a frightened, one-eyed Maltese.

Sadly, on October 24, 2004, she suffered a seizure, probably caused by a brain tumor. Two days later, she had another. We lost her on Friday, October 29, 2004.
She's buried in the garden, one of her favorite spots, with her two dear buddies, the Scoobys.