2013-07-31 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Britain has a new prince, but Long Island has a new princess. Congratulations to Princess Gabby Cohen CGC. This Pit’s American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen title is official. Gabby overcame incredible obstacles to receive such recognition, thanks to her enduring spirit and a group of supporters who refused to give up on her when her future looked bleak.

Earning a Canine Good Citizen certificate is an accomplishment for any dog. For sweet Gabby, this title was close to a miracle. After spending nearly two years in shelters while suffering from supposed seizures and drug side effects that turned her into a zombie, a visit to a neurologist and an MRI (made possible by her friends) put Gabby on the road to wellness, and closer to an amazing adopted home sent from the dog gods. Here is Gabby’s story:

In February 2011, Gabby came into Hempstead Town Shelter as a stray. After six months kenneled there alongside 100 other Pits, she developed what was thought to be a seizure disorder. The shelter vet put her on phenobarbital twice a day. She moved to a crate in the front hallway for closer observation. Most felt stress in a crowded environment triggered the disorder, but we will never know if her symptoms were new or just discovered later in such a busy kennel.

Gabby shows off her AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate. Gabby shows off her AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate. Pleas for rescue went unanswered until Gabby had been at the Town shelter 14 months. Now overweight, she moved next door to Last Hope Animal Rescue in April 2012 wearing a t-shirt to protect her skin from flank alopecia. The meds plus prolonged confinement probably contributed to her weight gain and baldness.

We hoped she’d do better in the smaller Last Hope environment with more volunteers to monitor her. Instead, her tremors became more frequent (or more eyes were noticing them) especially when Gabby was excited. She saw several more vets who increased her phenobarb dose and added potassium bromide. The drug cocktail did not stop the shaking but did zone her out more. Some Last Hope folks (including me) thought we were torturing the practically comatose dog and suggested putting her to sleep.

Gabby and Mike Gabby and Mike However, Gabby had fans at Last Hope who were not ready to call it quits. We have a dedicated volunteer medical team. Mark Schwartz, a retired RN and epidemiologist, had seen lots of people’s reactions to seizure drugs. He, as well as others, felt her meds were making her catatonic and questioned whether she had true seizures. Several volunteers offered to help pay for a costly MRI for Gabby.

Gabby’s trip to the neurologist and MRI in July 2012 changed everything. After an exam and asking Mark to video tape Gabby when she had the shakes, Dr. Gina Barone noted that Gabby could easily be distracted out of an episode, didn’t lose consciousness, “paddle” or eliminate while having tremors. She diagnosed her with a benign idiopathic movement disorder rather than epilepsy, and recommended a procedure to wean her off all anticonvulsants slowly. Over time, Gabby regained her spunk and the tremors became infrequent.

Throughout this ordeal, Gabby was choosing her special someone. Last Hope leases the former Bideawee shelter. Michael Cohen had been a Bideawee volunteer for six years until it closed. He came back as soon as Last Hope opened the Wantagh adoption center two years ago. He has wonderful canine rapport and makes sure he spends time with the dogs that need the most. When he began walking Gabby, she took an instant liking toward him, howling and barking as she realized he was there. Volunteers would tell Mike that Gabby loved him because she made a fuss when he pulled into the parking lot.

As Leslie, Mike’s wife, likes to say, “Gabby “Sadie Hawkins-ed” Mike.” She chose him. The Cohens owned Bravo, a senior, rescued Whippet that was quite ill, so they weren’t looking to adopt. Mike took Gabby home several times for short visits, but it wasn’t until October after Bravo passed away that she became their foster dog. They adopted Gabby in December 2012.

That’s when he began taking her to Monday obedience class in Baldwin as he had done for years with Bravo, who when younger, also earned a CGC certificate locally, as well as a lure coursing title in NJ. Gabby’s trainer, John Pierce, knows Mike quite well. He is impressed with how connected Mike is with Gabby. “He has a good innate sense about dogs on a different level. Mike is patient and positive. He knows what dogs are thinking,” Pierce said.

Gabby anticipates the fun and gets jumpy when Mike put on his fanny pack with her beef jerky training treats. She knows she is going to school. Mike said, “She loves the interaction with other dogs at class, and is calm and oblivious to drama when other dogs act up.”

The Canine Good Citizen program, developed by Dr. Mary Burch, a certified applied animal behaviorist, has been used by the AKC since 1989 to foster owner responsibility and to reward dogs that learn good manners. The test, administered by an AKC certified evaluator, consists of 10 tasks, such as accepting a friendly stranger, walking through a crowd, coming when called and more. This year the AKC changed the program so dogs passing all 10 tests are awarded the “CGC” initials after their name as in other canine competitions like agility or formal obedience. Gabby had the most trouble with the “sit and come” because she feared Mike was leaving her. Heaven forbid.

Gabby’s CGC certificate arrived last week. In June, Mike sent Gabby’s friends at Last Hope this email: “Thought you would like to know, with the help of Gabby’s obedience class trainer and a loyal cheering section, Ms. Gabby passed her AKC Canine Good Citizen test this past Saturday. In addition to the title of Princess, she will now have the CGC title designation added to her AKC title record (we recently registered her with the American Kennel Club’s canine partners program). Ms. Gabby was very pleased with her accomplishment.”

And because Dr. Burch and I have a mutual friend, she learned of Gabby’s success the same day as Last Hope, and is also quite proud of the CGC princess.

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