We are a family of seven – Mom, Dad, and five young children, ages 11, 9, 7, 6 and 4 – who, over the past year, have experienced both joy and heartbreak with relation to our family dogs. The story is a long one, which over its course has included incredible support and compassion from our community of Stittsville.
It is this demonstration of care and willingness to be involved that has encouraged me to share our family’s story, which has expanded to directly include two other area families and their dogs, as well as countless other Stittsvillians. I’d like to share with you our experience, and ask for the community’s consideration of my most heartfelt, sincere request for support.
In February 2017, our family said goodbye to our senior labrador retriever, Connor. Adopted from the Ottawa Humane Society by my husband Omar and I, Connor lived a happy 17 years with us and our growing family, spending his last years on the farm we moved to in early 2016. With so much love and joy to give, shortly after Connor passed away, we soon began looking for a new dog to share our home.
Our search started with a post on the Stittsville Moms Facebook page, inviting anyone who knew of a pet in need of a new home to contact us. I received quite a few responses but nothing worked out quite right – until early July, when we witnessed one of the most incredible acts of selfless love, an inspiring feat that our family will never forget.
The Ultimate Selflessness
Through my posts on social media, as well as word of mouth, I was put in touch with a fellow member of our Stittsville community. This person obviously adored their dog, having provided a loving home, the most incredible environment possible. This mom contacted me about my post, stating that although she and her family adored their dog, they worried he wasn’t getting enough exercise, and was alone too much during the day.
The family involved their kids in the decision to re-home their dog, teaching their children not that abandoning animals is okay, which was their worry about the messaging their act would send, but that sometimes, in order to love someone/a pet the best way you can, you have to let them go. That keeping them for you may in fact not be the best for THE PET, and that although it may break your heart, you are doing the ultimate kindness by recognizing and meeting their needs.
We met twice for playdates with their dog and the kids, and really hit it off as friends: even partners in finding the best home for their dog.
On July 3, I watched their hearts break as they entrusted their dog to us, and watched my children’s (and my husband’s and my) hearts expand to welcome this beloved dog into our home.
Brody was incredible. We spent two blissful months falling in love with our new pet, until suddenly, at the end of August, we learned the unimaginable. On September 2, with his original owners by our side, we had to let our adored family friend go. Within a period of 10 days, Brody went from healthy and happy, to unable to walk, eat or drink. He had terminal cancer. He was 2.5 years old.
We were all distraught. In the days leading up to our dog’s death, our two families were completely united in our grief, and in our determination to not let him go without a fight. There was no ‘yours’ or ‘mine’: Just two families loving an amazing pet with all of their hearts.
I still don’t understand the ‘why’. It sure felt incredibly unfair. Having to put our children through not the loss of one pet, but two within 6 months, was unbelievably difficult. It was a tough lesson in giving, loving and letting go.
And then there was Nukka.
Shortly after Brody’s passing, I was contacted by another member of our Stittsville community who had heard about our story with Connor and Brody, and reached out to let us know that if we ever considered adopting a dog again, she would be thrilled if we’d consider meeting her foster pet. Her foster dog had been surrendered by a family unable to care for her, and a six-month search had ensued for the perfect placement for this angel of a dog. She was specifically looking for a home with lots of children and open space, full of love and fun.
I was unsure of my capacity to welcome a new dog at the time, still so raw from losing Brody. However, we knew we wanted a family dog to love, and quickly decided that meeting this potential addition was right for us – turns out, we were smitten. Nukka, a giant 1.5 year old ball of affection, joined the Sultan clan in early September 2017, as we opened our house and hearts to love again.
Additionally, as with Brody’s owners, we had met another ‘kindred spirit’ family – cementing a relationship that is solid and true, despite its short duration. Entrusting an adored animal to the care of another is no small undertaking, requiring incredible amounts of love and trust. The bond fostered between two families (or individuals) who undertake this act is considerable.
At the time I was not aware, but the Mom told me later that she purposely brought her two young girls with her to meet our family, see our house, and observe how Nukka responded to us. When they left after that first meeting, her daughters immediately commented to their Mom on how our house and our family was the PERFECT match for Nukka; how after months of searching for the right home, they could let her go, entirely confident that she would be loved and nurtured, spending her days cared for and cherished.
It’s true. Sometimes you just ‘know’.
Words cannot describe the amazingness that is Nukka, a Bernese Mountain Dog/Labrador Retriever mix. She is constantly smiling – the most trusting, faithful companion one could ever hope to meet. She is gentle and kind, a never-tiring playmate for my children. Nukka stays by the side of ‘her people’, always wanting to be close – despite her 107lb size, she considers herself a lap dog and won’t hesitate to cuddle right in :).
Two weeks ago, Nukka started having trouble walking. It started with her not wanting to walk long distances, but progressed rapidly to not being able to go up stairs, to stumbling while walking, and finally, literally collapsing while standing in place. Her back legs give out. She can’t always get up anymore. It is breaking our hearts.
Although still traumatized by recent losses, and dreading the bad news that could come, we of course took Nukka to the vet. The exam was thorough, and ruled out physical issues such as hip dysplasia. Bloodwork confirmed a normal CBC and the absence of Lyme disease or other infections in the same family.
The vet did notice a major swelling and muscular injury/problem on her back left leg. Nukka demonstrates knuckling on both paws on that side, and the same flank of Nukka’s body does not respond to touch the same way. It’s as if it’s numb.
The vet suspects a neurological cause to Nukka’s symptoms. It could be a pinching nerve bundle, or possibly a cyst in her spinal column. A response to a traumatic injury that may have occurred in her past is also a possibility – we don’t know if she may have experienced something like this before coming to live with our family.
Nukka is 22 months old.
Tears falling and in utter disbelief, I listened to the vet tell me that without further tests, the cause cannot be confirmed, and the problem can’t be fixed.
The recommended course of action is a CT scan, plus an MRI, to determine the cause of Nukka’s problems. A consult at the neurological vet is $450. A CT scan is $1000 and an MRI is $2200. Then, depending what is found, a decision will need to be made. If the cause is a disease, it is likely not fixable. If it is pinched nerves or a cyst, it is treatable, with surgery that could range from $3,500 to $10,000.
Nukka’s symptoms indicate that the problem is physical (nerve or cyst) as opposed to a degenerative disease; therefore, the prognosis is rather positive. This is likely treatable. It’s just incredibly expensive.
We’ve brought her home for now on pain medication while we decide on next steps. I cannot imagine telling our children they are going to lose Nukka too.
I struggled with whether to post this story or not. I am not one to hold my hand out to ask for this type of support. It’s difficult to do. Those of you who know us know that we work hard to make ends meet for our family of seven, on one income, as Omar has stayed home with our children. The cost for this testing and potential treatment is just impossible for our family.
In speaking with many friends and family, whose opinions I value and trust, I’ve been persuaded that creating a GoFundMe campaign to attempt to raise funds for the treatment Nukka requires is not a demonstration of greed, or irresponsibility, but of love. This decision is based on three major points.
- The affection I have for this amazing dog, who is truly the best companion in the world. Nukka is just incredible – one of a kind. You should come meet her: she loves new friends.
- My children and their relationship with their Nuney. The devotion between my five kids and Nukka is deep and true, and I will do everything I can so as not to have to break their hearts. Again.
- The two ‘strangers’ in this story, one being the first family who gifted us Brody and the second who cared for Nukka after she was surrendered by her original owner, until she could find Nuney the most loving of homes. Both of these ‘strangers’ – now life-long friends of our family – have giant hearts of gold and they’ve inspired and encouraged me to try this campaign, stating that when people hear our story, there will be those who will want to help Nukka and our family. I do so very much hope this will be the case. Despite feeling somewhat uncomfortable about this, I’m going to try it, for both my canine bestie, who is my constant shadow, and for my babies.
Thank you for reading this and for considering helping us to save our Nuney. Your generosity will not go unappreciated; rather, it will be the key to ensuring the love between our family and Nukka can continue for years to come, and will enable a happy end to this incredible journey.
The GoFundMe campaign is at https://www.gofundme.com/nukkasultan
Jessica Sultan, on behalf of the Sultan Family