After they have gone
What can I do to help the research of health issues found in my dog's breed?
What happens to my dog when they die?
Can I make arrangements in advance of my dog's death so that I don't have to deal with it on that tragic day?
Would you consider donating parts of your cavalier's tissue to research, to help other cavaliers in the future - knowing that you will get your beloved dog's ashes back at the end?
I decided long ago that when Alfie passed away, that I would donate parts of his organs to help research into EF and MVD. I even contacted AHT and the Cavalier Collection Scheme in advance so that everything was prepared.
I did all this knowing that I would get Alfie's ashes back for me to keep.
But when that fateful day arrived, the vets weren't used to dealing with such requests. And complications arose due to one researcher not being aware of arrangements with another organisation.
In the end, my Alfie's samples all got sent to one research laboratory by mistake, and it took a while to sort it all out.
So I've created this document. If anyone decides to donate their dog's tissue to research, then please print this off, email it to your vet, or just tell your vet about this leaflet and your decision to help cavalier medical research.
I'm hoping that by creating this, other people's experience will run without a hitch.
Donating your pet to science for medical research
When I took on Alfie in January 2007, he had numerous medical conditions. The people who bought him as a pup from Carmarthenshire the day before reported that he had been coughing, vomiting and diarrhoea all the way back to Berkshire.
It became clear that he had signs of Parvo, along with chest infection, kennel couch, digestive track issues, and had fleas and ear mites. My vets didn't think he would make 4 months, but we persevered.
In the middle of 2007 (with the thanks of the original version of this very site), I managed to diagnose that Alfie had Episodic Falling (EF). In 2012 I heard about the DNA test for Episodic Falling by the Animal Health Trust (AHT). Through my vets, the DNA test confirmed my previous diagnosis that Alfie was in fact Affected with EF.
Over the next 9 years Alfie had a number of medical issues, including suspected poisoning, a fatty growth, a number of tick bites, and a digested system that needed a feeding step to help his food go down. In 2012 Alfie was diagnosed with a 2/5 heart murmur of Mitral Valve Disease (MVD), which rose to a 3/5 murmur in 2013 - so daily VetVit supplements were given.
In 2015 I started to see other signs that suggested Alfie's health was slowly deteriorating, including his suddenly going the wrong side of posts when on a lead - and being unable to understand why he couldn't go forward.
So in September 2015 I took the decision to donate Alfie for medical research when he passed, so long as I got the ashes back afterwards. I contacted the AHT and offered tissue (small pieces of various organs and muscle) for research into EF and MVD. AHT sent me some DNA swabs, which I used and sent straight back so that they had more material to work with. AHT also sent me a tube of RNALater, which I was to give to the vets on the day that Alfie passed so that the tissue could be placed in this special liquid. I emailed AHT asking them to confirm as to exactly what they needed samples of, which they advised on.
I was advised about the Cavalier Collection Scheme, run by Margaret Carter. I contacted Margaret, who emailed forms so that I could register both my dogs onto the Cavalier Collection scheme. I emailed Margaret asking her to confirm as to exactly what they needed samples of, which Margaret provided a list of.
I informed my vets that both dogs would be donated to science on that dreaded day.
So when that dreaded day finally arrived when my Alfie passed on, I had already put in place certain arrangements that would help scientists to continue the research into Episodic Falling, Mitral Valve Disease, and more.
When Alfie died
Alfie died on my bed, with my other dog Lexie by his side. I found Alfie at around 00.15. I instinctively rang my vets, but knew that he had actually gone already due to no breath and tongue hanging out. The vet on call asked me to touch his eye, which I did, and as no movement came then she confirmed that he had gone and there was nothing that she could do. The vet asked that I lay Alfie out somewhere cold, like a garage or shed, and to bring him in to the surgery for 8 am.
I gently laid Alfie in the bath because bodily fluids were coming out. A while later I cleaned him up, put the dogs' towel on the bathroom floor and laid Alfie out there because the bathroom floor is the coldest place that I have. I encouraged Lexie to come and say good bye to Alfie, but his lifeless body seems to have scared her. I wanted Lexie to know and understand that Alfie had passed and would not be coming back. I dislike when someone takes their pet to the vets, where it gets put down and the other pets in the house spend the rest of their lives wondering when the deceased is coming home again. I dislike it to the point that I had been taken Lexie with us on every trip that Alfie had made to the vets over the last few months.
During all this trauma, I managed to email the information from AHT and Cavalier Collection to my vets, so that they would know what tissue to take and send to the two research organisations.
So at 7.30, Lexie and I said a final farewell to Alfie in our home. I wrapped Alfie in a clean towel and put both dogs in the car. At the vets, I took Alfie in and we spoke to the same vet that I had spoken to during the night. I checked that they had seen the emails from AHT and Cavalier Collection, and handed over the bottle of RNALater. We discuss the ashes, and what Alfie would come back to me in.
The vet phoned me an hour later and said that a full autopsy was going to be done by an independent surgery. She asked if I felt up to driving Alfie to the AHT, as they were having the samples. I confirmed that I would drive him anywhere to help. The Vet rang back and said that she had managed to get the autopsy done at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) at Hatfield, in Hertfordshire.
So I printed off the directions to the college, went to the vet surgery and collected Alfie and the RNALater. Alfie travelled in the boot as it was the coldest place in the car. Unusually for Lexie, she never made a sound for the whole trip up to Hatfield. When I handed Alfie over to the mortuary technician, Lexie let out a squeak as if she was saying a final good bye to Alfie. We stopped at the South Mimms services for lunch, and then drove home again. Lexie never made a sound for the whole trip home.
By registering my dogs with the Cavalier Collection Scheme, and getting details from them and AHT of exactly what tissue samples they need from the deceased animal - on the tragic day I was simply able to email the details to my vets and step back. This allowed the vet to make the arrangements for who or where the autopsy would be conducted, so that the correct samples could be correctly taken for research. It is impossible to try and arrange all that from scratch on the tragic day.
Foot note to being prepared - or, something that I didn't foresee but should have done.
I know now that I should have emailed all the details of what tissue samples AHT wanted and all the details of what tissue samples the Cavalier Collection Scheme wanted in one email.
Further, I should have printed that off and taken it with me when I took Alfie to my vets. And I most definitely should have taken a copy of that to the RVC to hand over to reception and to the Mortuary Technician.
Bringing them home again
The sole reason that I decided to donate tissue samples to AHT and Cavalier Collection is because I will be getting his ashes back afterwards. There are a couple of places that I've previously identified as Alfie's favourite places, and I will scatter a small amount of him at those locations. But I have picked out a small wooden casket that I like, which Alfie can sit in on a shelf and watch us watching TV.
Animal Health Trust website DNA tests page - Click on the button
The Cavalier Collection Scheme website - Click on the button
Alfie was so special to me, and I think that my plan is right for us. My plan is for my other pets to be added to Alfie's ashes as they pass on, and then be mixed with my cremated ashes when I go. My wish is our mixed ashes to be scattered from the west side of the Nothe Fort when the wind will scatter us across the Nothe Gardens.
There is now a discussion and information group on Facebook. If you would like to know more, or speak to other people about EF, then please join the Facebook group.