Before I begin the story of the beautiful little dog in the picture, Lady Clairabella, I have to tell the back story of how I came to fall in love with the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed. A few years ago, I purchased a beautiful Blenheim Cavalier puppy who we named Betsy. We fell in love immediately. She was the sweetest dog with the best temperament. We loved her desperately. We didn’t know much about Cavaliers at that time. As Betsy matured, she started gaining weight and became lethargic. I sensed she was sick, but veterinarians couldn’t find anything wrong. Finally, I was working one day and Betsy was lying behind my chair. I heard something and looked down. Betsy was having a grand mal seizure.
What happened from that point is a long story, but Betsy was finally diagnosed was syringomyelia, a genetic defect that occurs in only a few breeds of dogs. Her condition was quite serious. There are different degrees of the condition and she had the worst of it. Only a few months later, I had to have Betsy put down. I laid on the floor of the emergency clinic. She died licking my face. To this day, I’ve never gotten over Betsy.
For a long time, I didn’t think I could ever have another Cavalier, but finally, I decided not to deprive myself of a dog breed I loved so much. There are breeders that want to rehome their female dogs after their show and breeding careers and I decided to see if I could find an adult Cavalier who needed a retirement home. Enter Lady Clairabella.
I found out about Clairabella through some breeder connections. Her breeder sent her pictures to me and, of course, I was in love. What I knew, at first, was that she was six years old and her breeder was AKC-sanctioned. So far, so good. Then, the red flags started popping up. This breeder only bred Cavaliers, she didn’t show them. Not really a good thing. Clairabella had had litter after litter of puppies that had been sold for profit. The puppies had not been raised “underfoot” in a home environment. Instead, they were raised in a kennel on the breeder’s property. Clairabella had lived her life in a kennel run having puppies.
Her breeder had purchased her from an Amish puppy mill. Thank goodness she had done that. Clairabella was a year old at that time. Unbelievably, the Amish had removed Claira’s voice box. She couldn’t bark, whine, or make any sound at all. She hated children after being teased by the Amish children and would not only bite them, she would chase them down and bite them.
Claira’s breeder was ready to rehome her and if she couldn’t find a home for her, she was going to place her with rescue. Despite all the red flags, I rescued Lady Clairabella.
That was a month ago. With my husband and I, Claira has the same temperament as Betsy. She is sweet and loving. She loves blankets, stuffed toys, and snuggling. With Tucker, my Cardigan Welsh Corgi, she’s bossy and steals his toys. If he gets in her space, she quite viciously chases him off even though he is three times her size. He doesn’t quite understand. Claira has never had anything of her own and she is protective of her things.
Claira also has a mild form of the same condition, syringomyelia, that killed Betsy. It will not take Claira’s life, but it occasionally makes her uncomfortable. We can deal with that with medication. Up to 70% of all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels now have this condition.
Last night, for the first time, a neighborhood child visited us. We did not let him near Claira, but she did see him and she wanted to come right through a glass window to get at him. She must have been terribly hurt in the past.
We will love and care for Claira the rest of her life. We will make sure she has her own things and her own space. We’ll try to make up for the injustices done to her, but we know she’ll never forget. Maybe time will heal and someday, when she leaves this world, she’ll know that, at least for a little while, she was well loved.