Dog trains man

Monday, February 4, 2013

Celebrate Life With Cliff

Today I hand the blog over to Thomas, as promised in last week's Hovawart TV: Cliff's Smile. Thomas' Hovawart Cliff suffers from degenerative myelopathy. and they share their story on how they continue to fight back, and celebrate life against all odds. 


"Take him back!"
We always had dogs in our lives. Akki, a Siberian Husky. Mickey, a cross between a large and small Munsterlander. The story of Cliff the Hovawart actually starts with Pepper, our Dalmatien. Pepper was incredibly lively and couldn’t do anything at a walk – his slowest gait was a trot. In 2003, when Pepper was 6 years old, we got Cliff.

My daughter and I wanted to have a second dog, although my wife was not so sure about this. Our vet’s wife raved about the Hovawart breed and so we searched the internet for information before deciding that a Hovawart it would be. We preferred the black and tan markings and we definitely wanted a male. Finally we found a breeder in Saxony-Anhalt. There were two males still available – the strongest of the litter, a black one, and the slightly smaller blonde one, Cliff, who immediately pounced on my wife before she could even take her coat off. Who picked who? Four weeks later he moved in with us.

Young Cliff at 2 years old
Pepper was not so amused, his eyes said: "Take him back!" But after three days, they bonded and became firm friends. From the start, Cliff was very eager to learn and he has always been a wonderful dog – even as a young dog, he wasn’t particularly naughty. He has been content with his status as "beta" dog, and that only changed when Pepper was no longer so good on his feet and going a bit senile.

In the summer of 2011 we noticed that Cliff’s rear right leg wasn’t quite right. His claws seemed to be dragging on the floor at times, and they were shorter than those on his left foot.

Our vet found nothing, but as a precaution, he took an x-ray – everything was okay – no hip dysplasia, no spondylosis, nothing obvious could be identified. Then we noticed the dragging was getting worse, and when standing still, he would stand on the toes of his right foot rather than on the pads. The vet now referred us to a clinic for a CAT-scan and further investigation. Again all seemed well, and in the recovery room the vet confirmed that they could find no hip dysplasia, no herniated disc, no spondylosis – we breathed a sigh of relief. Then, the bombshell.

Because he was showing these symptoms, with no obvious cause, there was a high probability that Cliff had degenerative myelopathy. The vet's description of this condition didn’t fill us with hope, and when we went home and researched the internet we could only reach one conclusion. Shit! Shortly after the CAT-scan, Cliff’s foot drag even caused a claw bleed – he was very sore, very sad and his eyes said “I’m not moving now”.

We found a company called SABRO and ordered their Toffler Paw Protection Shoes. Two days later, they arrived – Cliff gave the shoe a thorough examination while we told him he would be able to run better with it on. He looked at us and I swear he understood every word. We put the shoe on his right foot – he looked at it once and that was it – “Yippieyeah! I can walk again!“

It didn't last long. Seven or eight weeks later, he had problems getting up, he could walk a few steps, but then his right hip would collapse, his right foot would cross over to the left and he fell over. He could no longer lift his leg to pee and reverted back to a puppy position for that.

In early January 2012, I therefore became more and more interested in buying a “dog wheelchair“. I found the German forum for disabled dogs “Behinderte Hunde Forum” which is well worth reading and I highly recommend it. All disabled dogs are represented – blind, deaf, three legged, dog in wheelchairs.

I found that the wheelchairs were expensive at 400-800 euros so I spoke with a friend, showed him some photographs and we decided to build a Dog Ferrari ourselves. Take a look at the photos and video to see the result.

During the building of the cart, Cliff had to have fitting sessions to make sure it was exactly the right size and shape for him – he was never scared by this strange thing, and in the middle of March, it was ready. We went out with Cliff into our courtyard and sat him in his “driver’s seat“. My wife, daughter and I were very excited at what he would do. He stood still, looked around at us, and I swear we saw him smile before setting off on his own exploring and sniffing every corner of the courtyard. An hour later we had our first little walk with him out in the fields. Once again he was a happy dog, free to go and sniff wherever he wanted.

Since March 2012, Cliff has gone everywhere in his wheelchair and we have only had one negative comment from a woman who had a hovawart girl and had to let her go due to her age. She said she would not do that to her dog. Everyone else so far has been very positive. Other dogs look suspiciously at the wheelchair at first, then sniff the tires, and that’s it!

Peeing and pooing whilst in the wheelchair is so easy for him too – he discovered he can just keep walking and his “trademark” is now a zigzag line on the road!!! Then in September /October 2012 his right rear let began to drag on the ground so we tied that leg up with a cord and he continued to walk in his cart with three legs. Then his left one also began to lose power and at the beginning of December 2012, we started to tie his left leg up too. Sadly, he is now unable to wag his tail...... We had reached the stage of needing to help him around the house.

He cannot use his cart indoors as he is unable to lie down when it is attached. I started to look for a harness for helping disabled dogs. After much research I found one in the deep depths of the internet, in the USA. It is called a Hartman’s Harness. He can wear this harness all day and it has a handle above the hips, rather like the handle of a suitcase. So, we can carry his back end while the front end is running – and I mean running!

He had to learn the meaning of the word “slowly“! Most of the weight of a dog is at the front, but the back end of a 40kg Hove is not exactly light – and 15 kg is a heavy load when it is moving forward at speed!

In summer 2012 I was looking for a second dog again, a while after Pepper passed due to old age. When I saw Cooper I fell in love. It took some persuasion to get my wife even just to go and see the puppies. It wasn’t that she didn’t want another dog or a puppy, but she was very worried that she would not be able to care properly for Cliff and also look after a new puppy, and make sure that neither were neglected in any way. It was a huge comittment and we had no guarantee that Cliff would be able to cope, either.

We talked at length between ourselves and also with the breeder, and finally decided to go and see them. Cliff came with us, and he was the first strange dog the puppies saw. He lay outside the puppy-area, behind a fence and looked at them. He was even nose to nose with one of them, but that wasn‘t Cooper. The next day my wife agreed.

Two weeks later, we drove back down to see the breeder and Cooper came home with us. Looking back, the first six to eight weeks were certainly very hard, but we have all adapted and grown used to one another, and even Cooper is more sensible now! He is very different to Cliff and announced his arrival on the first day in his new home by standing on the stairs outside barking at some pedestrians passing our property.

Cliff sometimes plays a little bit with him and sometimes even licks his nose. But when Cooper gets too wild, Cliff shows him his teeth. At the same time, however, Cooper can be very careful around Cliff. He brings him some toys and wants to play with him.... and Cliff obliges!

I don’t think Cliff loves him much, but he does accept him. For now, Cliff seems content and he is happy when we tie on the Tofflers and go for a walk with his wheelchair. We all hope that his condition doesn’t get any worse.

Degenerative myelopathy is an incurable, progressive disease of the canine spinal cord.


Update May 22, 2013:

Late yesterday the news reached us that the lovely and beautiful Cliff passed away. We are so glad to have got to know him - although never in person - and his owner Thomas. For us Cliff will always be the one that taught us to celebrate life, even when it is against the odds. Run free, Cliff. You will be missed and we will always remember you. We wish Thomas Moers all the strength to cope with his tremendous loss.


  1. Thank you for sharing Cliff's story and for giving him a wonderful life on wheels.

  2. It's so hopeful story of the love that can overcome all difficulties, and Cliff looks really happy no matter the disease. Respects for all you've done for Cliff Thomas.

  3. It's a wonderful story, Thomas - and I love the photos - he looks a proud dog. And you should be proud too of the time and effort you have put in to give him a good life when many would see it as hopeless. I have huge respect for you.

  4. Good for you for letting Cliff still enjoy his life! I once cared for a Boxer named Joe. I loved Joe. He was an amazing dog. He also suffered from degenerative myelopathy. While I was sad to see him going through it, I loved that he still enjoyed life. He also had a wheelchair and loved going for walks. His joy made me appreciate what I had in my own life. It's all about perspective isn't it?

    Wishing you all the best adventures Cliff!

  5. Wonderful story and sorry to hear he has this condition. I have never heard of that breed of dog before but he sure is handsome! I also love the harness that you use to help him around - it looks very helpful. Wish we had something like that at the vet clinic I worked at.

  6. Thank you all, for your posts. I wonder every day, how he can be so lucky,
    but when you see his smile and his behaviour, you know. he is !

    1. Hi Thomas! Glad you stopped by. We all think it is wonderful what you do for Cliff. Thanks for sharing your amazing story with us.

  7. Thank you for sharing Cliff's story. My heart is breaking because I share the exact same story with my big, beautiful blonde boy. So loved, RIP Cliff & Gunther.


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