Dog Blog: A Westie with a pacemaker

Mary Lou Mooney is a true dog lover — literally from the heart.

Mary Lou's previous Westie, Murphy, was tragically hit and killed by a car at age 3 when they lived in Massachusetts. In Murphy's short life she won Mom's heart and Mary Lou knew that she would always have a Westie in her life. After the grieving period for Murphy, she was ready to welcome another Westie into her life, and answered an ad in the Boston Globe for Westie puppies from a family that had the mother and father as their family pets.

When replacing a loved one it does run through your mind: "I loved [in this case Murphy] so much, how can I feel the same love for another?" Believe me, you can — so for those of you who have lost take the chance to love again.

Enter Tucker — another West Highland Terrier (Westie).

Tucker is all but tuckered out — although that is how she got her name. When first adopted in her eighth week of life and becoming part of Mary Lou Mooney's family, she tipped the scales at 3.5 pounds and was a ball of energy.

Mary Lou had been struggling with a name and relied on some of her friend's feedback. Upon Tucker's homecoming all of the neighbors came to ooh and coo her.

"Lucy" was the first consideration but Mary Lou's best friend poo poo'd the name — possibly because she may have secretly reserved the name for her next pet.

When Mary Lou first brought Tucker home she displayed classic puppy traits play — play, play and then sleep, sleep, and sleep. Invariably, when her friends would drop by to meet the new family member, Tucker would have just finished one of her frantic play sessions and be "conked out." More than one friend commented, "Oh, she is all tuckered out," hence the name Tucker.

Tucker is 16 years old and this ol' gal is also a three-time winner, two first places and one runner-up trophy at the Laguna Beach Pet Parade.

Part of her winning personality is enjoying being adorned with all the costumes and fashion accessories that mom comes up with—but please nothing on the paws! Her costumes have included a Mini Cooper complete with vanity plate, Las Vegas show dog and the best costume in 2008 — a scuba diver swimming in a school of dog fish (picture that).

Tucker is the quintessential ambassador of goodwill, she loves to meet and greet other people and dogs.

She is now a true California pooch but mom comes from the east coast and until Tucker was grounded two years ago, she would accompany Mary Lou to Cape Cod for an annual 10-day vacation. When Tucker was flying she flew first class and had the opportunity to meet comedienne Kathy Griffin. Always the star, this one is. Where are the paparazzi!

A typical terrier trait, she has selective hearing — so a command is merely a suggestion.

In her youth, she regularly ran with Mary Lou, completing multiple 5K races. It is obvious that Tucker's lifelong commitment to fitness and a pacemaker (yes, a doggy pacemaker) has helped her reach a healthy 16 years.

Tucker had a pacemaker implanted in December 2009. Bet ya didn't know there was such an opportunity for doggies, well, there is.

As with human seniors, she developed a heart arrhythmia that caused her heart rate to drop dangerously low. Mary Lou woke one morning prepared to go for their daily morning walk when Tucker suddenly collapsed and lost consciousness. She was unconscious for what seemed an eternity but was probably less than a minute, within 10 minutes she had recovered and was up and about as if nothing had happened.

Mary Lou's immediate response was to head to the vet. The vet listened to her heart and thought he heard some pauses. He referred Mary Lou and Tucker to a veterinary cardiologist in Tustin — both now suffering from heart failure — and yes there are veterinary cardiologists. Tucker underwent a diagnostic workup that included wearing a 24-hour Holter (heart monitor) which confirmed her frequent heartbeat pauses. Her treatment options included medications — which was the first plan of attack but they turned out to be ineffective — the second was a pacemaker implantation.

Having worked in the medical device industry for 10 years in her earlier career, Mary Lou was familiar with the procedure and knew it would "cure" Tucker of her heart problem.

There are about 200 pacemaker implants performed annually in dogs, and these are the same pacemakers that people receive — there are no dog-specific models. It's an option that probably a lot of dog owners don't know exists and, although not inexpensive, it costs no more than some of the typical orthopedic surgeries performed on dogs.

The pacemaker is a new procedure for dogs but pacemaker has a shelf life that, when implanted into a dog will last their projected life expectancy.

The surgery took about two hours and is a relatively simple procedure. A small incision is made in the neck and the pacemaker lead is fed through the vein down into the heart. The back end of the pacemaker lead is then tunneled under the skin to a spot on the back below the shoulder then another incision is made there and the pacemaker is connected to the lead and placed under the skin. Mary Lou dropped Tucker off in the morning and she walked out under her own power the next afternoon — a winner again.

After Tucker had the pacemaker implanted, Mary Lou's neighbors and friends all marveled at the dramatic change. Tucker's bounce was back and she was back to her ol' self and she didn't look or act a day over 10. We should all have such a blessing after a procedure (yuk, yuk).

She still plays with her favorite toy "baby" taking it to bed with her each night, running around like crazy after a bath.

She still hangs with the big dogs being the cool chick she is, or she just may think she is a big dog too. Endurance walks are no longer her thing, she is a little more retiring and prefers to stop and smell the roses — all of them.

She also needs a lot of beauty rest these days after those "no fur" post-surgery days and of course, ever the champion, she is now is a champion sleeper.

Mary Lou's words of wisdom are: no matter what the day or life deals, there is nothing with a stronger healing power than a Westie's kisses. Both Mary Lou and Tucker have been through many good times and a few bad ones for the past (very good) 16 years.

Tucker epitomizes the motto "carpe diem" (seize the day) and Mary Lou follows her lead every one of those days!

A side note: The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine has established a non-profit organization that serves as a repository for donated pacemakers for doggies.

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