Great Dane Rescue: Angel's Story
Sometimes, a name tells you everything you need to know about a person or in our case ... a dog. It's been that way with our dog, Angel. She's been an angel to us. Life hasn't always been heaven since she came to us, but one look at those sweet, brown eyes make even the tough days seem like paradise.
Great Dane Rescue Angel

This all started in early 2002. That's when I decided that our household needed a dog. I knew I was embarking on a long journey ... mostly uphill. My husband had always owned cats and was taught from an early age that the word "dogs" really was a 4-letter word. But, I knew different. I had grown up with a Lab mix, so I continued pushing the subject for several months until my husband unintentionally opened a door to adding a dog to our family. We were watching a television about neglected and abused animals, and he mentioned that whenever he decided to get a dog he would like to adopt a rescue dog that was older, who needed a good home in which to finish his or her life.

That was all I needed to hear.

I immediately began researching canine breeds and breed rescues. The plan was to find a compromise that would suit us both. I knew I wanted a big dog. I also knew that my husband didn't really want a dog at all and that a big, high energy dog would probably turn him off of the whole deal. Finally, I decided that an older Great Dane might fit the bill for both my husband and me.

I found Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League (MAGDRL) on the internet and was surprised to discover that the North Carolina Chapter Coordinator lived within 30 miles of our home! I contacted them immediately, filled out an application for adoption, received a vet check, had a home check conducted, and arranged a date to visit with some of the available Danes that were housed in foster homes near us.

Angel was the last Dane I met. However, she was the most active dog I'd met all day, which was really not good.

While I spent time getting to know her, it became obvious to me that Angel's activity level was more from desperation than from actual energy. She just ran back and forth, looking at me and anyone else she could find, gazing into my eyes as if she was pleading "I need you." When I got home, I couldn't stop thinking about her so I contacted the coordinator and asked if my husband could also meet Angel.

Angel came to our house for a short visit the next weekend. She met our cats and my husband. I was optimistic, but husband was not. He thought she was enormous and wasn't so sure he could handle a dog that big in the house. He was also concerned about our cats adjusting to a new friend. Although he was still digging in his heels, we decided that having Angel stay over for a weekend might be a good idea.

The next weekend, I picked her up for our trial sleepover. On the ride home, she laid her head in my lap and became totally calm. When we arrived home, she walked in and promptly lay down on the living room floor to rest. I sat with her and stroked her head. When my husband came home, I quickly excused myself to the grocery store so that he could have some alone time with Angel.

When I got back, the house was too quiet. And from what I could tell, empty. Where were Angel and my husband?
As my concern grew to panic, my husband popped his head up from behind the couch. He had a wild look on his face and in a shocked voice he muttered "I love her, I do, and I already told her so!" My husband, the born and raised "dog hater", was lay on the floor behind the couch with Angel, whispering sweet nothings in her ear.

That was it. After finding her place on the couch, Angel was home for good.

Since that time, Angel has become a special part of our lives. She is a gentle, kind, and loving girl. Most of the time, she is incredibly serious and we have a hard time ever imagining her as a goofy little pup. But on the rare occasion that she does cut loose, it is an amazing site to see the spunk in her eyes. Even though she has four legs, fur, and a tail, she is our child. That's why the next several months were especially hard on us.

When Angel became sick, I was attending a camp as a counselor and Angel had the entire week with her daddy. She slept in, causally ate her breakfast, and then went for a long romp in the woods with my husband. Then, they returned home for a bath and a long nap.

Suddenly, everything changed. My husband went out to run some errands and returned to find her crumpled on the floor. She was whining uncontrollably, quivering all over, and had a frightened look in her eyes. He realized that she couldn't move her back legs. Somehow, he managed to pick her up and get her in the car. He raced her to the nearest animal hospital. The staff met him in the parking lot and loaded her onto a stretcher.

As they carried her through the front door, blossoms from a Crape Myrtle tree drifted down and covered her body. It began to dawn on my husband that his might be the end of their journey together. But, he wasn't ready to let her go. Neither was I.

The next several days were excruciating as we waited to hear about test results. Angel was diagnosed with a Fibrous Cartilage Embolism (FCE) otherwise known as a spinal stroke.

A piece of cartilage had dislodged from somewhere in her body (probably her neck) and as it migrated through her body, it became wedged against the main blood vessel for the spinal column cutting off the blood supply to the lower half of her spine. This caused the motor neurons in her rear legs to die, which was why she was suddenly exhibiting paraplegic characteristics. The prognosis was nothing to hang our hats on.

Some motor neurons can regenerate, some can't. There was no way to know which type had been affected in Angel's case. This left us with three possible scenarios. Angel could be paraplegic for life, she could maintain very limited mobility, or she could make a complete recovery. We were told that to have any chance of regaining motor skills, she would have to be transferred to a rehabilitation clinic. There they would attempt rehabilitation and if she made no progress, she would remain a paraplegic for life.

We weighed all of our options, which, in reality, were very few. Our thoughts kept returing to Angel. She was still our Angel. Even if her legs weren't working, her mind was. And although we doubted our emotional, financial, and physical ability to handle this type of situation; we were not going to give up on her. We had to give her at least a chance at recovering. So, we made the decision to have her transferred to the rehabilitation clinic.

Rehab was a bumpy road at first. Because Angel needed constant supervision, she was admitted to the clinic for 24 hour convalescent care. This terrified and confused her. As we tried to calm and reassure her, our presence worsened her behavior. We had to make the heart wrenching decision to limit our visits to once per week. We felt so helpless and worried that she would feel deserted. We wondered if she would ever trust us again or if we had shattered our relationship forever by pushing her physically when she needed us emotionally.

But, Angel gave us the answer we needed.

Within one week, she had begun to regain some sensation in her left rear leg and was trying to stand on her own! By the third week, she had some feeling in both rear legs and was trying to take steps! And by the fourth week, she was able to walk with assistance although her rear right leg was lagging way behind in progress. It was time for Angel to come home.

Once we had her home, where she felt comfortable and where we could give her a steady stream of love and affection, Angel's attitude improved and she began to make wonderful progress. We continued taking her to rehabilitation three times a week for another three months. During that time, Angel learned to stand, lie down, and climb and descend stairs with very little assistance. (Of course let's be honest, the first thing she really learned to do was hoist herself onto her favorite couch!) It was apparent that her gross motor skills were on the road to recovery but we still had some work to do on fine motor control. The final month of rehab focused on fine tuning.

Almost 5 months to the day from her initial catastrophe, Angel graduated from rehabilitation. We now suspect that she has suffered some permanent nerve damage in her rear right leg, which will never be 100%. It means that Angel will always need some assistance with squatting and will walk with a limp for the rest of her life. But in the grand scheme of things, it is a small price to pay. I have grown incredibly fond of Angel's sassy new swagger. And who cares if my neighbors think I am weird because I support Angel's buns while she potties? I sure don't!

And what does Angel think? Well, I can tell you, that although her previous sleek running sprint has been replaced with a bumpy bunny hop, Angel still has an enormous amount of spunk in her eyes as she cruises around the back yard! But best of all, Angel has returned to one of her favorite activities: on January 31st of this year Angel made her official comeback as a Dane Ambassador for Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League. She is once again a regular representative for MAGDRL at public events.

Angel can now be seen modeling a donation dog coat and working the crowds for MAGDRL while proudly showing off her sassy new swagger! As a Dane Ambassador, she is always quite a lady and is very gentle to everyone. While donning the donation dog coat, she is not only able to attract a nice crowd but also draws quite a few donations.

I believe that others can look into Angel's eyes and see her determination. I believe that Angel is able to communicate the message that she never gave up and that we never gave up on her. That is the ultimate message that we try to live up to every day in Dane rescue. She is our angel and we have become hers.

Meg van Staveren
Special Projects Team Leader
NC Chapter of Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League