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. . . If you change your Bullie's food, make sure you do so over several meals and several days. Add a few tablespoons of the new food the first time, increasing the amount with each meal until you are feeding only the new food.

Bullie Owner Spotlight
February 2003 - Kris Richardson and Maggie


In this edition of the Bullie Owner Spotlight, we feature the inspirational story of Bullie owner Kris Richardson and her Bulldog, Maggie.

Maggie was born with a spina bifida type condition. Spina bifida is a developmental abnormality where some vertebra are malformed and do not fully cover the spinal cord, thereby exposing it. This leaves the spinal cord susceptible to injury and damage. Spina bifida can occur anywhere along the spine but is most common in the lower back.

The clinical signs or symptoms of spina bifida vary with the severity of defect. With minor cases, the dog many not show any signs at all and the owner may not know of the condition unless an x-ray is taken of the area for some other reason.

If the defect results in the spinal cord itself being affected, the signs can range from weakness in the hind legs to paralysis, and urinary and fecal incontinence. With this type of severe case, the evidence is apparent early on when the pup starts walking.

In general, there is no treatment for such spinal malformations. It appears that for dogs with limited symptoms, reconstructive surgery may be helpful, though this is not commonly done. It is not uncommon for dogs diagnosed with spina bifida to be euthanized.

Maggie on her first day with Kris
Maggie on her first day with Kris

Maggie's story began several months ago. Kris tells us that Maggie was rescued, along with several other dogs, by a local vet clinic employee at an auction for animals from a puppy mill in Missouri. She was placed in foster care at 10 months. Kris read about Maggie on an Internet forum for Bulldog owners.

Kris adopted Maggie through The Animal Placement Bureau. Kris tells us that, "Her foster Dad actually drove her ALL THE WAY FROM MICHIGAN to NJ twice. The first time they were going to take her to a sanctuary, but changed their minds when they received more details about the facility. Once approved for the adoption, Maggie's foster Dad drove her back to NJ again! The rest is history!"

Kris told us that she was advised to euthanize Maggie early on, but she opted not to do so.

We interviewed Kris about her life with Maggie via e-mail. The interview appears below:

How long have you had Maggie?

Kris: Since October - so that is four months now.

LGBD: Did you know anything about spina bifida prior to adopting Maggie?

Kris: I was familiar with the disease and how it affects humans. I knew a girl in college who had it - but appeared 100% normal. She was a model, actually.

Daddy and Maggie at play
Daddy and Maggie at play

LGBD: Has your family supported your decision from the beginning? If not have they changed since Maggie's arrival?

Kris: My boyfriend was totally supportive and wanted her as much as me. The rest of my family was supportive as well. Since then, I have had close friends tell me I am nuts.

Have you owned other Bulldogs before Maggie?

Kris: Our first pup, Dyna was put to sleep in October at three months. She was diagnosed with distemper and that whole situation was incredibly difficult. We have a lawsuit pending - we are pursuing the breeder. We got Cammy, our second pup soon after Dyna left us. So Maggie is our third in a very short amount of time.

LGBD: Is Maggie limited in anyway with regard to the activities she can perform?

Kris: HA! Not really…she keeps up with Cammy well!

Cammy and Maggie wait for treats
Cammy and Maggie wait for treats.

There are only a couple noticeable things - she has problems jumping and putting weight on her hind legs, and she can't sit normally - she leans to one side. She shows a partial ataxia - a little waddle in her gait. Her abnormality is near her pelvic area of her spine.

LGBD: Do you ever worry about Maggie injuring herself and making the condition worse?

Kris: At first, but after seeing how she rough -houses with Cammy, if she hasn't done it by now …I don't think it would really be possible. It is my understanding that she is "fine" and won't deteriorate.

LGBD: Were/are there any special training difficulties that can be attributed to Maggie's condition? If so how did/do you address them?

Kris: She is incontinent - and that won't change, so she can't be housebroken. Other than that, we plan on taking both for formal obedience training soon. So far, she is extremely obedient for never being trained.

LGBD: With a situation like yours, there are no doubt highs and lows. Can you tell us about some of the highs and lows?

Kris: Everyday is a high with her! She really is a joy. She is very affectionate. I am very proud of her adjustment that she made to us so quickly. I was worried that she would be aggressive - being that she came from a puppy mill and was only in foster care a few weeks. Her foster mom advised me that she had been food aggressive, but within a couple of weeks, I saw NO signs of any aggression to anything or anyone. That is amazing to me! As for lows, middle-of-the-night emergency diaper changes are tough, but that is once in a while now. Maggie also has some food allergies and some sensitive bowels. It was pretty frustrating for a while to get to a place where we knew what foods were aggravating her. But we seem to have the hang of things now.

LGBD: Do you have a plan in place for Maggie's care, should she need to be away from you for an extended period of time?

Kris: We both decided that we will not leave her with anyone unless it is totally necessary. In the event that we would have to, we are still considering some close friends with bully and special needs experience.

LGBD: There are almost certainly those who would question, maybe even criticize the wisdom of your decision against the euthanization of Maggie. These people likely feel strongly about their belief. How do you respond them?

Kris: First let me say that I plan to go back to school soon to study veterinary technology, I want to work in that field or in rescue somehow. I have no problem with euthanasia when an animal is suffering and /or will lead a poor quality of life. I completely will not and cannot support those who euthanize an animal purely out of laziness or hardship. This is the USA and we have loads of opportunity here. I just can't take the idea of a little soul dying because we have given up on it. I am extremely opinionated on this topic.

Maggie and Kris
Maggie and Kris sharing a hug.

I believe most people who "thumb their nose up" at situations like Maggie are egoists. They are comfortable in a disposable society. Everything has to be perfect and revolve around their whims. Perfect cars, houses, kids, faces, dogs - when it is less than perfect, it is undesirable. There are many who don't want to be inconvenienced -"it is only a dog," they say. Caring for a disabled animal to them seems impractical. Some only want perfect dogs to do what they want them to do, act how they want them to act, etc. Maggie is a special soul. She is who she is - like it or leaves it alone. She is happy and she doesn't care that she has a problem, believe me! Why shouldn't I go that extra step for her?

Are there any days when you second guess your decision?

Kris: I second guessed the decision before I met her. I put a lot of thought and prayer into it. After we met her, NEVER! She has given us so much joy - I wonder if she would second guess herself for coming to us!

LGBD: If you had it do over again, would you have done anything differently concerning your decision to take on Maggie?

Kris: Nope. In fact when we have the facilities we would love to take more dogs with SB and will encourage and support those who do also.

LGBD: In your opinion, what is it about Bullies that makes them so special?

Kris: Bullies are so loving and loyal. I read some place that they "just love life" - and that is true. Anytime we are depressed or annoyed - they always make us smile and forget whatever the issue was.

Maggie's winning smile
Maggie's winning smile.

They are here to love us and remind us how great life is. They have beautiful expressions and awesome personalities. They are fat little angels!

LGBD: Maggie is obviously a very special Bulldog, but what is your favorite characteristic or behavior of hers?

Kris: Maggie is learning English very well. She has many phrases and words that she knows. She knows her name, "treat," "toy," and her most favorite thing is "outside." When she hears one of us say it, she goes nuts! She starts dancing around and running towards the door. She tap dances and jumps off all fours in circles. You can't help but laugh. Then as soon as you open the door, she freezes and locks eyes with a squirrel and then takes off!

We asked Kris to describe Maggie's typical day for us.

Okay - Maggie is NOT a morning person! Cammy, our pup wakes us up full of joy for the morning, barking, sniffing, and wiggle-butting. Maggie, we literally have to wake-up. Usually we make coffee and feed Cammy before attempting to persuade and roust Maggie from her spot in our bed. (I joke and say that Maggie is truly my dog, because I am not a morning person either.) So, it takes her about 20 minutes to get going!!! She has the cutest "disgruntled" expression.

Maggie gets two pills in the morning smooshed in a "puddy meatball" of wet food. She gets a Pet tab, and I spoon feed her approx 3 tablespoons of pumpkin mixed with a little wet food. Since being "detoxed" from the mill, she is a picky eater and I don't trust her to eat all the pumpkin. The pumpkin is to firm her stool. The pills are both antibiotics that we give her to help her to not develop any infections from the diaper situation. From having repeated UTI's that went untreated a recent ultrasound revealed some significant kidney damage. We aren't taking any chances.

After I have some coffee, I change Maggie's diaper. Normally, we put her in the sink and rinse her butt 1-2xs a day depending on the damage. We use a special antiseptic ointment and desitin to keep the fecal from aggravating her skin. I also use a medicated powder. She wears Huggies size 6 with the reclosable tabs. We also follow up with a stylish diaper cover….no lady should go out with her knickers showing!!!

Maggie and Cammy engage in some ferocious play time followed-up by napping and begging. That is the days' events typically! Our favorite toys are anything Cammy is playing with. Our favorite chew is a bully stick.

Maggie and Cammy enjoy a birthday treat.
Maggie and Cammy enjoy a birthday treat.

We usually take both girls out together for two walks. Cammy gets some extra time outside, so Maggie gets a few extra treats now and then. She loves to snack on cheese and peanut butter.

Diaper changes are as needed or about every 4-6 hours. I guess this is the only extra time or treatment she receives. I do have to chase her a bit - when she sees something white in my hand, she usually starts walking away! (I don't think she appreciates that I express her bowels now and then!) But for the most part, she is very complacent. We think that she knows what it's for and is grateful for our patience.

Bedtime is a favorite. As soon as I turn out the living room lights she knows to go to the bedroom door. She cries until someone puts her on the bed and then she falls asleep on her side between us, with her head between our pillows.

Kris told us that she has started a group to give support, advice, and help to owners of pets who wear diapers. You may visit her group at the link below: