Jakey Foo's Battle
Pemphigus. If I never heard that word again, I’d be happy. Then again, my path in life would look very different today if I didn’t. Pemphigus was something that turned my world upside down. But it also gave me a great deal. To fully understand, I need to start at the very beginning.
It was October 2003, somewhere in the hills of Amish Country in Lancaster, PA. In a dark and cold barn, there sat one lone bulldog in a puppy mill. He was going to be mine. I was going to rescue him. Little did I know at the time, this 8-pound bulldog helped rescue me, as well as many others.
The smell in this barn was like nothing I had ever smelled before. To this day, I can recall how it burned my nose and lungs. I picked him up. He looked at me with these big brown eyes and, in true bulldog fashion, gave me some puppy stink eye. I was in love. He shivered, not quite sure of what to make of me. As I carried him out to the car, I instantly felt a love for him like I had never known, and my motherly instincts kicked in. Although I could sense his fear, I also felt a connection to him and that he trusted me just like that.
And in that moment, as strange as it may seem, a bond was formed. One that would continue to grow through love, trust and friendship. Our journey together lasted 12 years, 2 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days. And I wouldn’t trade any of it.
Because Jake was bred in an Amish puppy mill, he was not bred for any reason other than a profit; his puppy mill could care less about breeding standards. Jake didn’t even nurse with his own mother, he was nursed off a recently lactating Basenji. He was one of 11 in his liter and the only pup to survive. His liter mates all suffocated. And somehow, Jake managed to survive. He was a fighter before he ever came out of the womb, and this was a quality that would serve him well in his senior years.
From the time he was about 3, Jake began suffering with allergies, getting worse with each passing year. His flare ups becoming more frequent and infective. Fungal and bacterial infections started to appear, and the typical cocktail of antibiotics and steroids were prescribed. I’ll be honest, back in 2006, when his allergies first started to really flare up, I knew very little about natural and alternative medicine; however, as I started to research the use of steroids, I knew I needed to find alternative methods. Jake was always a trooper, never complained, and was always such a good boy at the vets, even when they poked and prodded. He was in good hands. And I think he really knew that. I would never give up on him. It’s just not in my nature.
As the years passed, Jake’s immune system had really taken a beating. The Catch-22 of taking repeated rounds of antibiotics and steroids is that it calms the system in that moment, but it harms your overall system in the long run. In early 2013, Jake started to show signs of what appeared to be a typical allergy flare up (redness, itching, and some inflammation). The usual cocktail of meds were prescribed, but his symptoms only received a small break, only to reoccur within a month or so, and then with only weeks in between episodes. In April of 2013 I knew that this was not a typical flare up. His body was not responding to treatment like it usually had. Something was different. But what?
I had him tested for everything, his vet mentioned the possibility of cancer. My heart sank. But the tests all came back negative, and it was chalked up to being a bacterial infection on his skin. Thousands of dollars later, numerous visits to the area’s top dermatological specialists, and I was no closer to a resolution than when we had started.
Jake July 2013, prior to being diagnosed. The sores on his head and the edges of his ears were very telling to someone with knowledge of Pemphigus and how it presents. To his uneducated doctors, it was diagnosed as allergies and bacterial infections.
He was prescribed a medicate shampoo and I was told to bathe him with it every 3 day. By our second bath, his skin and hair were literally coming off of him. And that was when I knew that something was terribly wrong. Bacterial infections do not cause skin to wash off in the bath.
And so I took to my computer and started researching, devouring anything and everything I could. One day, I came across a blog, took one look at this dog and knew that Jake had the very same thing. Otis, a boxer, who I believe lived in the UK, had an autoimmune disease called Pemphigus Foliaceous. While not a fatal disease, it can be if left untreated. Jake’s head, where the majority of the scabbing was located, looked exactly like Otis. How could he look like this dog and not have this autoimmune disease?
As an aside, I owe a great deal to Otis and his mom. Because had I not come across this blog and seen his photos, I am pretty sure that Jake’s journey would have ended much sooner. To learn more about Otis’s journey with Pemphigus, you can read his story.
Jake looked just like Otis!
Armed with photos and information about Pemphigus Foliaceous, I stormed into my vet’s office and demanded they test Jake for this. I just knew he had this. A skin biopsy was performed and I had to wait 1 very long week for the results. When the vet’s office called, I just knew they were going to tell me the biopsy was positive and that we could begin the recommended therapy to treat Jake for his Pemphigus.
Shut. The. Front. Door.
The biopsy was negative.
What? How could this be? Jake and Otis looked SO much alike. I demanded another biopsy be performed, this time wanting a board certified dermatologist to read the biopsy and not just a lab tech.
Another week goes by.
Shut. The. Front. Door. Again.
Defeated. Deflated. Hopeless. Helpless. You name it, I felt it.
How on earth could this be? Somehow, in my heart, I just knew he had this. But the tests said something very different. I refused to give up on the Foo. I demanded they treat him for it even though the biopsy was negative. My vet informed me that she couldn’t do that as the medications for Pemphigus are designed to suppress the immune system, and should he have something else, it could kill him.
So we continued on with a regimen of steroids, anti-bacterials and baths. But it was getting worse. It’s important to note that while Jake was on prescribed medication, I also fed him home cooked meals, added supplements, and gave him herbs to help flush his liver from the toxins that the medicine created.
A few more months go by and more of the same bad advice from more vets and specialists.
October 5, 2013, I awoke to Jake breathing heavy. Struggling for air. Not to mention that his entire body was covered in this crusty scab that these vets kept assuring me was just a bacterial infection. Now, I’m not a vet, but do these photos look like it’s JUST a bacterial infection???
It was a Saturday, and off to the ER Vet we went. While I have some choice names for the on-call vet, I will refrain from using them here. But suffice it to say, the ultimate recommendation was to put him down.
Put Him Down???
What? Why on Earth would I put him down not knowing what he had. I kept telling them he had Pemphigus but nobody would listen to me. They just didn’t care. The ER vet told me has had Congestive Heart Failure. Then I was told he had Lupus. Neither of which he had; it was like they were throwing darts on the wall. I asked that they give him a blood transfusion to stabilize him, and I brought him home.
Two days later, after a few people had mentioned the University of Florida at Gainesville, Jake and I took a 3-hour drive north. Dr. Dunbar Gram, the head of the vet dermatology department, walked into the exam room. Little did I know at the time, but Dr. Gram was going to save Jake. He asked me what was going on. I described, in detail, everything we had been through over the past 6 months and that I was convinced Jake had Pemphigus but nobody would listen when the tests came back negative.
Jake on October 8, 2013, at the University of Florida where they saved his life and he was FINALLY diagnosed with Pemphigus.
Dr. Gram looked at me and asked if I had a medical background. Uhm, a medical background? Nope. Just a penchant for research and a crazy, deep love for the Foo. He asked me this because I was right. Without so much as performing one test, other than a visual exam, Dr. Gram knew he had Pemphigus, which he confirmed with his own biospy.
We’re not outta the woods yet!
Due to misdiagnosis for over 6 months, the infection had gone septic. His white blood cell count was dangerously low. And it wasn’t certain that he would make it. The first 72 hours while he was in ICU were some of the scariest days of my life.
Dr. Graham meticulously reviewed 6 months of Jake’s vet records. And he caught what 6 other doctors and specialists failed to catch- both biopsies gave a false negative because at the time of the biopsies Jake had been on steroids, prescribed by THEM!
Don’t poke a sleeping bear.
I was furious! The momma bear in me came out. I dialed every vet and specialist we had been to and read them the riot act, and reported each doctor to their respective board. What they had missed was SO simple, and it almost cost the Foo his life.
These pictures show Jake on October 8, 2013 and a few days later while he was in the ICU. The biggest “tell” that your dog has Pemphigus is the way in which the crusts form and where. Pemphigus, often confused with mange and other skin conditions (top left and bottom left while he was in ICU), has a very specific appearance, crusting on the head, bridge of nose, outline of ears, and paw. The infection can certainly be located on the body, as it was with Jake; however, the majority of the initial crusting appears in a very specific way. The photo on the top right shows him about 2 weeks after he was released from ICU and the bottom right was 12 weeks later.
It took 8 days of Jake being in ICU and fighting with everything he had to walk out of the ER. I cannot put into words the happiness I felt in my heart when I was told I could bring him home.
And this was when the real journey would begin.
I refused to put the life and care of my boy in just anyone’s hands again. I was going to find a proper vet who would work with me and Jake and get him back to good health. I found an amazing vet not far from where we lived who worked with Jake’s team of doctors at UF and, most importantly, me. He listened to me. He didn’t pretend to know everything, and I appreciated that. The bond that developed between me and Jake over the next 15 months can’t be described with mere words. Here was this very independent, stubborn bulldog, who liked things on his terms, completely surrendering to me, knowing that the love I had for him would push me to do anything for him. And I did.
I cared for him night and day. I spent every waking second I had with him, knowing how close I had come to losing him. So I continued to research and find natural, holistic options for him also. As long as he wanted to be here, Momma Foo would fight tooth and nail to make sure he could be.
Because Jake needed to be on immunosuppresant therapy for the rest of his life to combat the Pemphigus and get him into remission, I knew there was a strong chance that the medications would ultimately hurt his organs, specifically his liver, and possibly create a whole host of other problems.
And so more research.
From foods and oils and supplements and vitamins. I was going to make sure that he was healthy.
I fed Jake fresh salmon and veggies, cooked in coconut and safflower oil twice a day. I added spurilina powder, yogurt, apple cider vinegar and a calcium supplement. He continued with his bromelain and milk thistle to help cleanse his liver of the chemicals from the medications he took. I started making different ointments and salves to put on his skin to reduce the inflammation and promote healing; I had been making them for his allergies for years, only this time I needed something different, something to soothe his skin. I soaked washcloths in a mixture of almond oil, lavender and chamomile to keep him fresh and clean, without having to traumatize him with a bath. He hated baths, and that’s a story for another day
I had been reducing our chemical imprint for about 5 or 6 years at this point and had become fairly well versed in natural alternatives, and I am certain this knowledge helped. Our culture has become so obsessed with quick fixes and medications. Why not simply walk out into nature and find some of the most amazing and healing ingredients there are?
Jake fought the good fight for 15 months and 11 days from the day I rushed him to the ER. He had gone into remission, with a few flare ups here and there, but, ultimately, his body just got too weak. Prior to getting sick, Jake weighed in at 72 pounds. When he was released from ICU, he weighed only 48 pounds, where he would remain, give or take a pound, until his transition. We were together in his final moments and I cannot express the eternal gratefulness to the almighty Lord above for that.
I have often said that if you don’t know the love of a dog (any animal really), you are missing out on something so wondrous and spectacular. Don’t believe me? Just look at this photo below and it is all the proof in the world you will need.
I miss this kid beyond measure.
I know that I was handpicked to be Momma Foo, and I will be forever grateful to have walked this earth along side hi, and to have experienced such a deep love. While Jake is no longer physically with me, I feel his presence around me and know that he would be proud that his story and his journey continue to help and inspire others, while providing dogs with truly natural alternatives to skin care and overall well being. And just like that, with the Foo looking on, Jake and I have taken another journey together. And while different, I am proud of every step forward that I take in his name.