09 January 2010

The Case of the Vanishing Inner Ear


Every day - well, at least twice a week - I tell myself I must update 'Postcards' but there's so much to tell that it becomes overwhelming...and so I do nothing. There's the Irish wolfhound who refused to come into the house, the dachshund that drove me insane with his barking, the labrador pup who is staying for 5 months and I don't take puppies... There's never time to sit and tell it all and so I don't write anything.

Of course there's always time - let's say I'm disorganised. But caring for other people's dogs takes time (although I do take less dogs than I used to) and there are my three photo blogs (two are updated daily) and now, as some of you know, I work as photographer and one of several journalists for a great new Monaco and Côte d'Azur website, providing articles and photographs. Take a look CITYOUTCotedAzur - it's currently in Beta and goes into full mode in March.

So, a new year and time to wish you a very happy one and to update you on my own dogs, Beau and Mia. Beau has been incredible sick - let me tell you.

Beau is the Bruno de Jura who came to live here about 4 years ago. He was living, at the time, in a dirty caravan at a refuge in the Var and was in a sorry state. Enormous abscesses under each ear and it was obvious nothing was ever going to be done for him. After three weeks of antibiotic treatment he underwent massive surgery - four and a half hours on the table - where he had both eardrums removed. The idea being it would remove the source of infection and it helped a little. Even so for the next two years a massive abscess appeared, every four months, on one or other side, below the closed ear cavities. We must have kept the pharmaceutical companies in jam with the amount antibiotics he consumed. Eventually after two years one side healed but the other side got worse in that the abscess became an 'open abscess' that is to say it never healed and 'ran' pus all the time. The vet said this was no bad thing as it would eventually drain. It never did and it stank. Poor Beau.

The vet agreed to open him up and see what he could do. By this time he'd been operated on twice. When I went to collect him my vet told me he'd opened him up, taken one look at the mass of scar tissues with nerves wrapped around it and realised he could do nothing as he only had to damage a nerve and Beau wouldn't shut his eyes again or be able to swallow. So that was that.

By now, he was totally unresponsive to all antibiotics and so I tried the homeopathic way. Changed his food, gave him all sorts of weird and wonderful homeopathic remedies. Nothing helped. And then about 3 months ago it was obvious he was in pain. I'm told that hounds have the highest pain threshold of any dog. Did you know that? I didn't. This meant poor Beau really was in pain.

The vet said the only way we'd discover the depth of the problem was to give him an ultra-sound which he had a few days later. That showed a large fistula running from the ear towards the throat but it didn't show a clear enough picture of what was going on deeper into his neck and head, so a few days later he went to Cagnes-sur-Mer, just along the coast from Nice, for an MRI - the nearest place on the Côte d'Azur with such a machine for animals. The next one is at Marseilles.

Meanwhile Beau was on morphine and quite happy in la la land. I wonder what visions he had and how many sangliers (wild boars) he chased.

Beau after the operation

The news wasn't good. His inner/middle ear was full of pus - an abscess - and the vet said it would be a massively invasive operation that had its dangers - again, the risk of his not closing his eyes for instance but it was that or put him to sleep and I knew he wasn't ready for that, despite the pain. It seemed to me that this poor dog had been in pain - less or more or at least discomfort - for most of the four years he'd lived here. Maybe this operation would finally give him a pain-free and comfortable end to his life. Beau is a wonderful dog, takes such a joy in life, is patient and kind and he's so funny he has me in fits of laughter at times. Would it work?

So off we went to Nice early one morning. I brought him home that evening, one very poorly dog - so poorly, he scoffed his dinner in five seconds. The next day most of the stitches broke open even tho he was wearing one of those protective collars. He'd not scratched the wound, it had simply not held because the flesh was so rotten from the years of abscesses. There was nothing to do - it couldn't be re-stitched. I had to clean the wound four times each day. I can tell you I did this with my eyes half closed. The wound was enormous and I seemed to look into his brain (I exaggerate of course but it wasn't much fun and far less for him, I'm sure).

Apart from wearing the protective Victorian collar, he also had one of his beautiful long ears fixed up over his head to allow air to get to the wound. This bothered him as it needed plaster on the inside of the ear flap to keep him up. Put a dressing there first and the ear immediately fell down. However, apart from a little discomfort from this plaster pulling a bit, he was - even from the day of the operation - so much better because the pressure inside his head was gone. The vet had removed the whole of the inner ear.

It took a long time to heal and it was a month before the vet removed the remaining few stitches.

Now, he's a new dog. There is no guarantee the infection won't return as Beau is riddled with staph and strep infections and always has been - at least since he came here - but for the moment it's pretty much healed, occasionally weeps a little fluid but not the dreadful pus we had before, so he's a happy camper and so am I. People assume he is totally deaf but if the other dogs bark, he is up with them. If I call him in a high voice, he doesn't hear. In a lower voice, he does. Perhaps to do with vibration but he hears and amazingly (!) he knows when the biscuit tin gets opened. Aren't dogs clever?

And what of Mia, I hear you say. Time flies. It is exactly a year since she and Mistral arrived. Mistral had to be put to sleep after three months as you know, leaving Mia behind. You can read about Mia's trials and tribulations and the dreadful Hell Hole she came from, by going back on this website. But just to tell you - and you can see it on the photos on this page, she is in amazing condition now, no physical problems at all. Of course she is still terrified of people and when I have a visitor she rushes outside, past the dreaded intruder and down the steps. Then she comes back to the French windows and barks endlessly. I leave the door open and she puts her head in but isn't brave enough to enter the house. This isn't fun in winter when it's cold and the door should be closed. But if I close it the barking starts again. Have you heard a hound bark? Huh! The solution - there is always a solution - is to go outside with a lead and the second it's on her, she pulls to get into the house. Go figure. Then she hides in a corner and occasionally, when she knows someone well, will come up to them, sniff and then lick their hand but then she runs back to her corner again.

When we are here alone she is the most contented adorable dog. Snuggles up to me on the sofa and when I come home, unlike most dogs here who just rush out into the garden, she always puts her big wet nose in my hand and wants me to fuss her.

It used to be I couldn't leave her in the house as she wrecked the place but lately I've tried it a few times and it's working. She's a terrible thief tho, but at least she isn't wrecking the place anymore. Oh happy day. Her thievery goes back to the days she was starved so I need to remember to put any food away. The first time I left her in the house with the others she got hold of a large pot of powder that a kind client had given me - something to help cleanse Beau's system. The dosage was a teaspoon a day. Mia ate the lot and worse once it got wet, it stuck to her ears, her legs, the sofa...great fun!

Mia is very attached to Beau but Beau could live without Mia. No matter - it works fine - two wonderful dogs.

Anyone who thinks it's not worth taking a rescue dog, she's an example of how wonderfully worthwhile it is. They both are. And whilst it may seem I've done a lot for these two dogs, believe me, they've done far far more for me.

Mia, showing off her double chins
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