We all appreciate the efforts of the DISA team when it comes to providing help, support and education to dachshund owners. However, there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes that not many people know about. My little Joshie was the benefactor of an incredible “behind the scenes” opportunity that we haven’t been able share until now. It’s been a hard secret to keep!

Joshie suffered a 2-disc prolapse in June 2014. Despite having surgery and months of physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, Joshie never recovered and has been completely paralysed since then. While I always hoped, he may someday have a miracle recovery, I had gotten to the point where our focus was on his quality of life rather than trying to make him walk again.

I was contacted by the team at DISA in November 2015 with an unbelievable opportunity. A DISA brochure had landed in the office of Sam Long, head of neurology at the University of Melbourne Veterinary Hospital. The university was undertaking a ground-breaking steam cell trial in dogs, and there was an opportunity for one of the DISA dogs to be nominated to be part of the trial. The trial would involve injecting pre-coded human stem cells directly into the dog’s spinal cord, with the hope that these would help to heal and regenerate the part of the spine damaged by the prolapsed discs.

There was a specific set of requirements for the trial which fortunately Joshie and I fit into. After a LOT of questions to Dr Long supported by the knowledgeable ladies at DISA, we decided to go ahead with the trial.

In December, we headed down to Werribee for Joshie to be put under general anaesthetic for an MRI and the stem cell injection. I was so full of hope and excitement, something I had long ago let go of that my little super dog may one day walk again. Or even just be able to toilet himself. Let’s face it – I’d kill just to see him wag his tail again to tell me he’s happy!

It was a very worrying time for me because my biggest fear was that under MRI they might find worse damage than expected, or some other hidden horror I didn’t know about. It brought back lots of horrific memories of THAT night in June 2014. However, the long-awaited call came through at 3pm that all went well and the stem cell injection had been completed, and he was ready to be collected

He was one sorry boy when I bought him home, took himself straight to bed under his special blankie. Then at 3am all hell broke loose. Vomiting and diarrhoea began and would not ease up until the following afternoon. We initially thought this was due to the trauma and anaesthesia, however time would prove that it was in fact the anti-rejection medication we had to give him to stop his body rejecting the stem cells.

Each month I took Joshie back to spend a day at Werribee for them to perform neurological exams and gait tests. They also tested his bladder function to see if there was any improvement. At best we were told we could hope to see results after 2-3 months. However, as each month passed hope started to ebb.

Each few weeks Joshie would have another bad reaction to the medication resulting in lethargy, more vomiting and more diarrhoea. Like all IVDD families, we got used to this too and came up with our own solutions to manage the carnage and try to make him comfortable. After a few months Dr Long became concerned about Josie’s weight loss due to the reoccurring sickness so we had to start supplementing his food so that he wouldn’t be further weakened.

At the 12 month mark (December 2016) Joshie had his final visit to Werribee where they undertook another MRI to see if there was any improvement in his spinal condition. The MRI confirmed what we had already ascertained – it was not successful.

There are a number of reasons the trial may not have worked. The most likely answer is that the anti-rejection medication which made him so sick did not work and his body simply rejected the stem cells. It is also possible that because Joshie had already been paralysed for more than a year, it was simply “too late”.

The university will continue its research into stem cell therapies and are considering emulating successful trials undertaken in the UK whereby a dog’s own stem cells were harvested and pre-coded, then re-injected into the damaged area. We have developed a strong relationship with Dr Long, who has asked to keep our information on file so that if another trial is undertaken we would be able to take part. Dr Long and his department coordinator were incredible throughout the year and made many comments about how much they loved having Joshie in for the day. Dr Long said it was like having a therapist in because he’s such a loving, smoochy boy.

Apart from his bouts of sickness throughout the trial, Joshie was always and remains as lively as ever, living life to the full despite his numerous handicaps. Although the trial was not successful we are so grateful to Sam Long and his team who are working so hard to find a cure for paralysis in dogs. And we are even more grateful to the team at DISA who opened this door for us and have always “had our backs” since the very beginning.

A heartfelt thanks to Amy Sherwell (owned by (Joshie) for contributing this story and for making such a brave decision, we know how difficult this was for you.  The Team at DISA had all paws crossed for you and your little man during this trial and despite the outcome Joshie is and always will be our little hero.