*Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian or licensed to give medical advice or diagnose anyone. If you suspect your companion animal has a medical issue, please see your veterinarian immediately. This blog is only intended to share a personal experience.
We recently celebrated a very special day - Buster’s 1 Year Adopt-a-versary - which reminded me that I have never shared Buster’s complete story from homeless puppy to forever home. I also have not shared in much length outside of our social posts, the intricacies of his disabilities and the standard of care required to keep him thriving.
It wasn’t on purpose, but the reality is Buster’s care is 24/7 and with 5 dogs - including 1 declining senior and 2 neurologically disabled – plus real life, I don’t have a lot of time to sit down and share as much as I’d like to, but sharing Buster’s story is important to me for a couple of reasons.
First, I want to help shine a light on the people who came together to save Buster. Often we get a shortened narrative on social media about what it takes to rescue an animal in need and get them adopted. It takes skill, logistics, funding, a million phone calls, a zillion volunteer hours, and a little luck to organize and complete the rescue then adoption of one animal.
Second, I want to share our experience with Buster, what we’ve learned about his neurological disorders and the care routines we have for him to help anyone who is seeking to gain knowledge about a dog similar to Buster. When I was looking for stories of dogs like Buster, I could only find one story. The dog in this story had all of Buster's symptoms including immobility, unfortunately he also had seizures and the people caring for him had to make the tough decision of euthanize him.
I did not want this to be Buster’s story, and I was surprised that I could not find any similar stories of a dog like Buster living a full and happy life. But now, there will be another story out there – his.
The Beginning: From Hugo to Squeaker to Bust A. Moves
Buster was in his mom’s tummy when she entered an animal shelter in Texas as a stray. Unbeknown to the shelter at the time, Buster’s mom was ready to give birth. Overnight, when no one was at the facility, Buster was born.
Sometime between his birth and the next operating day of the shelter, he got separated from his mom. The shelter reached out to Patty at My Chi and Me for help. She said yes and named him Hugo.
It is important to understand that most shelters are not equipped to care for puppies or neonates and the risk of catching disease is greater for them the longer they are in the shelter. So, it is proper protocol to get puppies, kittens, and neonates to a safe and sanitary environment with dedicated caretakers. This is one of many reasons why animal rescuers and fosters are so critical.
Right away, Patty noticed that this little guy was a runt, showing signs of failing to thrive, and early motor skill delay. She was fostering two other dog moms with new litters, so she hoped Hugo would latch on to eat. Unfortunately he wasn't able to do it so Patty began bottle feeding.
Knowing that as a bottle baby he needed around the clock care she sought help and mutual rescue support from Stephanie of Chinless Chihuahuas, who specializes in fostering bottle babies.
Once Hugo was in her care, she told me that in the beginning she was “literally just trying to keep him alive.” She was up every 1 to 2 hours to feed him, stimulate him so he could go to the bathroom, change his potty pads, keep him warm, keep him clean, syringe him water, and work with him to try and reach those puppy milestones. It was during this time that Stephanie renamed Hugo to Squeaker.
Squeaker was more than an appropriate name because he squeaked for EVERYTHING. Food, water, potty, cuddles, you name it, he squeaked for it. :)
Patty and Stephanie were in continued contact with the shelter in hopes of locating Squeaker's mom. Locating his mom was very important to them both. Not only is it the right thing to do, but they were worried she may need medical care and recovery time. They also wondered if she would be able to nurse Baby Squeaker. The shelter did locate mom and Stephanie immediately arranged to rescue and foster her. She named her Trixie.
Trixie was unable to nurse because she had nothing to give - a common issue when dogs have not been properly cared for during their pregnancy. Stephanie started feeding Trixie nutrition loaded meals and was able to help her produce a little milk, but it wasn’t enough. Bottle feeding continued for Squeaker and Trixie settled into her new foster home, decompressing and spending snuggle time with her baby.
Squeaker continued to thrive and Stephanie noticed that his motor skills were not developing as they should. He wasn’t standing or walking, and he was prone to rolling. Knowing these were signs of possible neurological issues she decided to start working on strength and balance right away. Her family even built Squeaker a wheelchair out of Legos to help him practice standing.
It was the video of Squeaker in the Lego wheelchair that got my attention on Instagram. I shared it to our stories, and then realized that Stephanie had messaged me. She had been following Boogie for a while, and wanted to know if there were any other exercises or tips I could share to help out this teensy-tiny-wobbly guy. She knew what she was doing and then some. She and her family were going above and beyond to help Squeaker show them what he was capable of doing.
I left our chat feeling so happy that this little life was saved, and I wondered who his forever family would be. Afterwards, I didn’t think much about it until I was going through our stories the next day and watched Squeaker’s video again. Something stuck with me. There was something about his little back legs that reminded me of Boogie. I made a mental note of how similar they were, showed my husband and then went back to my daily grind. The next day I found myself watching his video over and over and over. I couldn’t stop wondering about this dog and I realized that we might be the family for him.
My husband and I talked about it and told each other adopting another dog was crazy, that 5 dogs would be too many. As we said those words, though we both had this look in our eyes and a doubting lilt in our voices that we both picked up on. And then we both agreed:
Who are we kidding? Let’s apply. We can handle it if it’s meant to be.
I filled out the application for us and at the same time was fielding tons of potential applicants myself. Several people who were applying to adopt Squeaker knew of Boogie too, so a lot of people were reaching out to me to ask about the care level of a dog like Squeaker. I happily shared everything I could about our experience with Boogie; knowing that I had applied too, and Squeaker may go home with someone else. I had no expectation or attachment. Just a lot of gratitude to those who saved him, and a lot of love and support to share with those who were applying to be his forever family.
A few weeks later we found out we had been approved to adopt Squeaker and he made the trip from Texas to California, and into our home. When we met him for the first time, we couldn’t believe how tiny he was, and we could already see the spunkiness in his eyes. We named him Bust A. Moves (a.k.a Buster) because he was wobbly just like Boogie and we couldn’t wait to see his dance moves!
*A note about Trixie: When we were in the application process I made sure to tell the rescue that if Trixie and Squeaker needed to stay together, to please find them a home where they can do that. However, as Buster grew, Trixie pulled away from him and wasn't thrilled to have other foster siblings, proving she would do better on her own as a single dog. Luckily, her perfect adopter came along and Trixie found her forever home around the same time as Buster did.
The first few days Buster was with us I didn’t get any sleep because I was just too excited. I was running on adrenaline and spent all my free time just observing him, holding him, feeding him, playing with him and just being in a puppy puddle of love. Shortly after, I made appointments with our veterinarian and the neurologist and started in on what therapies / activities I knew helped Boogie in the beginning. Here's where he landed on those:
Standing up. I would hold him up with my hands and position his feet under him but noticed they weren’t really instinctively falling into place. I also used a sling to support him while standing and tried to encourage him to walk but it seemed like a leg or two on one or both sides might be weaker and was dragging behind.
Crawling for treats. I would place Buster at the end of a towel and encourage him to crawl (end goal being stand and walk) to me. He couldn't get. his feet under him and just kept rolling over.
Finding a Diagnosis
Our initial neurology appointment went well but it was a real wakeup call about the reality of what Buster was living with. At the exam, our neurologist said he suspected Hydrocephalus and other possible brain issues, and he confirmed Buster was visually impaired. He recommended we schedule an MRI to fully diagnose. Since Buster was still barely one pound and an MRI required anesthesia, we decided to wait until he gained more weight before we did the scheduled.
During our appointment he explained that there is a shunt surgery for Hydrocephalus in dogs but that it can be very risky, especially on such a tiny dog. And, the risk of infection afterwards can be pretty high. Meaning, he could perhaps survive the surgery but not survive the recovery. Or vice versa.
We were told to continue doing what we were doing until we were ready for the MRI. He prescribed Buster a steroid to help drain the fluid and relieve the head pressure, and explained the possibility of seizures and what to do if Buster had them between now and our next appointment. The possibility of whether he would ever walk on his own was still an unknown.
Hydrocephalus (from the Greek, meaning water on the brain), is an excess of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that has leaked inside the skull, leading to brain swelling. CSF is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, providing both nutrients and protection. Build-up of CSF can occur in the brain if the flow or absorption of CSF is blocked or too much CSF is produced by the body. This leads to increased pressure within the skull that presses on the sensitive brain tissues. Increased intracranial pressure can lead to permanent, irreversible brain damage and death.
Signs of Neurological Disease in Pets: explained by VCA Animal Hospital
Altered consciousness (e.g., depression, disorientation, coma
Complete or partial paralysis
Neck or back pain
Generalized weakness or weakness in one area of the body
Incoordination or imbalance
Gait or stance abnormalities (e.g., straddling or shuffling of rear limbs; crouched position)
Loss of sensory function (sight or hearing)
Fecal or urinary incontinence
Getting the MRI
Lucky for us, Buster grew like a weed!! It was pretty obvious that he wasn’t meant to be a tiny 2 pounder like Boogie, and I was SO RELIEVED. The bigger he got, the stronger he got, and as a result everything felt a little the less risky.
We had the MRI and a CAT scan done, and afterwards the neurologist told me that Buster handled the anesthesia very well. (Yay!)
The imaging showed the following:
- A very tiny cerebellum
- A large area occupied by Hydrocephalus
- Other abnormalities that could be lesions caused by a stroke, birth injury, or something else.
I asked if it was safe to say he had Cerebellar Hypoplasia like Boogie and she said no, that his cerebellum is too small - barely there - and that there really wasn’t a “name” for what that particular issue.
She also said he wasn’t an ideal candidate for the shunt surgery because of the surrounding neuro issues and that there really wasn’t any further testing that would yield answers or any "cure" or treatment outside of what we were doing.
When I asked about the potential for him to walk on his own, she said it was very unlikely. We then discussed his daily activity schedule and everything else we do, and she said, that was great, to keep doing that, and as long as he’s happy, eating, and seems to enjoy himself that we were doing everything right. But, if any of that changed to let them know. She prescribed him a second medication to help with the head pressure, we said goodbye, and I celebrated.
I've never been more relieved to NOT have a formal name for something or have a concrete "fix". It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was so happy that he a) made it out alive from the MRI; b) didn’t have to have literal brain surgery and endure the recovery of that and all the risks; and c) that we were doing everything right and should keep in doing it.
Would it have been amazing if there was a surgery or medication that could have made him walk and stand and get around on his own? Sure, that would have been one way the path could have gone. But instead, it stayed like it was and we were fortunate enough to already have a routine in place that worked for him and for us. Plus, we were already in love with him - we didn’t care what his diagnosis was because we were his forever family and just wanted to keep him safe and happy and with us.
Buster’s Routine, Medications, and Therapies
Buster is always “on” and always needs something to do. Boogie is the exact opposite; he sleeps late, and we basically have to bribe him to get any movement or play out of him. Boogie is as chill as it gets but Buster needs enrichment activities and a lot of exercise. He is also very whiney (or squeaky), and this is not bad behavior per se. Yes, he squeaks for food, water, a toy, my attention, but he also has a different noise that is more like a whine. The whine we were told, is most likely him having pressure in his head from the Hydrocephalus and other issues. We’ve learned that when he is making this noise he likes to be held and compression really calms him down.
To facilitate this, I used to swaddle him like a baby, but it happens so often that I can’t swaddle him all day. I found a baby sling/carrier called Baby Katan, that has changed our life. While it isn’t made for dogs, it is surprisingly the perfect fit for Buster’s needs. It keeps him in a swaddled position and provides enough compression for him to get through those pressure episodes. And it allows me to be more hand free, so I can do other things like, you know, work!
Below is a breakdown of his medication routine, the therapies we do with him, his “daily schedule”, and a list of “real life” basics that are modified due to his disability.
Omeprazole + Prednisolone to help drain the excess fluid and relieve pressure - He does not have seizures, and is not on seizure medication
Veterinary Appointments Required
Walking with a sling
Physically moving his body for him/with him
Buster's Daily Routine
Wake up/go potty
Sit with Dad while we have coffee
Have breakfast (on a snuffle mat)
Go potty again
Play with his toys (I play with him until he gets busy and doesn’t need me)
Take an AM walk on his Ginger Lead or his wheels (We do laps around the coffee table)
If he doesn’t fall asleep after this, he will either spend time lounging with the other dogs in the sun, playing with toys, or get restless and spend time in the Baby Katan.
NAP (about 2 hours)
Wake up/go potty
Works on a Kong Toy (I usually stack it with peanut butter & his food)
Outside walkie time with the GingerLead or wheels (Usually we stay outside with the whole pack so everyone can “play” at their own level with us)
Either a nap or he will get whiney and get back in the Baby katan
Dinner in his wheels/ water + meds
Wheelchair time (free play with the pack or structured depending on his motivation, but it is always supervised, he is never left alone in his chair)
Chills in his playpen with another chew toy or puzzle toy (this is when the humans get our workouts and dinner in!)
At night we take one more stroll around the den in his GingerLead or wheels, then either he’ll play with toys or sit up on the couch with us and he always falls asleep by 7 or 7:30 pm (another few hours for the humans)!
Bed-time potty & Nighty night!
Real Life Things
Buster weighs only 4.5 pounds and cannot stand or walk on his own, so he has to be helped and physically supported to accomplish basic dog things like:
- He responds to his name & nicknames
- Come (he will flip flop over to me in his playpen when I say this)
- Outside (he perks up and moves his front paws in a play stance way)
- Ready to Eat? (squeaks galore)
- Kissie (he will give kisses!!!!)
- Stay (continually working on this one but he can do it and it is very helpful in helping him control his body)
Bathroom: We carry him outside, help him get “into position” for a potty, then bring him back inside. Every time. He can use the bathroom while using his wheelchair, but he hasn’t chosen to do that yet. He is fully potty trained though, which is something that "they" tell you hydro dogs can't master.
We call Buster our little unicorn because he is so unique and special in every way. Everything he does is a whole flashy production, requires a trusty assistant, and leaves the audience amazed. We are honored to care for him, and that the universe chose us as his family. All we want to do is love him and give him a full life. We are more in love with Buster today than we were when he first arrived. Most days we ask each other how did we ever live without Buster? Because we can't image our life without him.
Many thanks and much gratitude to everyone who helped bring Buster into our lives, the veterinary professionals who treat him with extraordinary care, and to those of you who follow this site or our social accounts and love Buster as much as we do.
How to Help
If you are considering adding a pet like Buster to your family, I hope this blog post helped. And if you have any further questions for us, send us a message on social!
If you are a rescue organization or foster of special needs pets, thank you times one billion. Your work is valued here and we know how that words can rarely capture the intensity level at which you work every day to save lives.
If you cannot adopt or foster right now, I encourage you to donate to the organizations in mentioned in this post (tell them Buster and Boogie sent you!), or to an organization close to your heart. If donating isn't something you can do right now, consider volunteering and/or give them a follow on social media, subscribe to their newsletters, share their posts. Every little bit helps!
© Alicia Bailey | Little Boogie Shoes 2021
If you interested in sharing or publishing this piece please contact us at littleboogieshoes.com
Follow Buster on Faceboook and Instagram @bust.a.moves