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Losing a best friend

Five years ago this week, on May 16, 2011, I stood outside my rented row home and watched as my best friend left with his new family for his new life as Henry in Indiana. His name was Axel and he was my baby. A special wire fox terrier. He was the love of my life for six wonderful years.

My love of wire fox terriers began when I was 11 years-old and living in South Africa. One day I informed my father that I wanted a puppy - a Maltese poodle. As the only daughter and baby of the family, I usually got my way with Dad! Dad said I could get a dog, but only if it was a wire fox terrier. A what? Who had ever heard of a dog with that funny name! I pictured a fox with an aerial in its head! He explained that when he was a little boy his best friend had a dog of that breed, and he was the best dog ever - full of spunk! I sulked the big sulk which I had mastered many years before - but Dad would not budge. And so a few weeks later, Georgie the wire bitch became a member of our family and life was never the same again. My love affair with the breed was born. I was utterly devoted to Georgie and she to me. She was the craziest, hyper, clownish dog who escaped at every opportunity, tried to attack dogs three times her size, ate bees and lizards and swam underwater in our large pool to retrieve objects we threw in that sunk to the bottom. When Georgie died at 15 years-old (a heart attack at the beauty parlor), I swore I would have another wire as soon as I was able.

The first time this became possible was in 2005 when I was engaged to be married and living in a rented row home in Philadelphia -- right next to Lemon Hill and lots of wonderful park area. A few months later, we brought Axel home - an adorable male wire fox terrier pup - named in honor of my Dad who had a company that manufactured axles for trailers. My fiance had never seen a wire before and he and Ax became instant buddies and best friends. As my fiance/husband worked only sporadically - he managed most of the walking/dog-care. Axel brought so much joy to our lives and as we became more involved in the wire fox terrier community - he brought us many new and wonderful friends.

In 2009, my marriage became insufferable and I left me husband. There was no question that I would retain custody of Axel. It was a huge comfort to have Axel at that difficult time in my life - I lost my father in that same terrible year - but it was also very hard to be the single parent responsible for all his care and exercise. Around the same time. I noticed my legs were weakening*. Slowly over months, it felt like it was getting harder for me to walk Axel, to hold on to him when he pulled on the leash to chase a critter, and especially hard to manage in snow and ice in Winter months.

Then one afternoon, as I was walking Axel on our street, a woman came by with a large dog. Axel was particularly territorial on his own block, so he went beserk trying to "attack" the canine imposter on his street. Axel never harmed another dog in his life - it was all bark and bluster - but the woman didn't know that. I lost control of Axel and fell onto the concrete and he bounded across the street. The woman became entangled in her own dog's leash and tripped and fell trying to protect her dog from Axel. After what seemed like an hour, I managed to get up and pull Axel away. I apologized profusely of course and crossed the street.

"You never have fucking control over your dog!" the woman screamed at me in tears, her knee bleeding and her hands shaking.

Her words cut me deeply. I knew she was right. I think I'd known for a while but just been unable to admit it to myself. I sat down on the sidewalk and wept holding onto Axel. I knew it was time for us to separate, that it was just too dangerous of a situation for me and for Axel and for anyone we encountered on our thrice daily walks. It was one of the most painful moments of my life. My SEPN1 had always presented challenges in my life, sad times. angry feelings, self pity - but having to give up my Axel because my legs had betrayed me felt for a time like this bloody disease had destroyed my world.


Axel, aka Henry (as he is now called) celebrates his 11th birthday this week. His family are close, precious friends and we have been in regular contact for the past 5 years. He is loved and happy, and he has visited me twice over the years. He has never forgotten me and I of course could never forget him. My sweet Axie Paxie boy.

* I feel it important to point out here that around the time I felt my legs getting progressively weaker, I was taking a statin medication for high cholesterol that runs in my family. Four years after taking it, at the time I noticed a significant difference in my leg strength I did my own research and found out that people with neuromuscular disease should NEVER EVER be prescribed statins. I will never be able to prove whether the statins hastened or exacerbated my weakness, but it is enough for me that the specialists at the NIH told me that it is a strong possibility that they did. The painful lesson here is always be your own advocate and do your research. This information was clearly stated in the contraindications - my doctors should have known better.

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