Tania Ledger could not have anticipated what would happen when Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick stepped in to try to save the life of Molly, her nine-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Molly is sprightlier than she’s been in months thanks to the pioneering surgery but Tania, who runs the charity Cavalier Matters, which raises awareness of Cavalier health, has found herself busier than ever.
For much of her life Molly has suffered from a serious neurological condition called chiari-like malformation (CM) and syringomyelia (SM). This affects many Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and made the procedure to remove a cancerous tumour from her skull all the more challenging.
“Although sadly very widespread, many Cavalier owners and even some vets know very little about CM/SM and its many symptoms,” says Tania.
“Molly’s appearance on Channel 4 prompted many people to get in touch or visit our website to find out more. Cavalier Matters is a small charity, so it has been all hands on deck.”
CM/SM is a lifelong condition caused by Cavaliers being bred with skulls too small to accommodate their brains properly. This can affect the brain, spinal cord and the fluid that circulates around them. If the pain this causes cannot be managed, euthanasia can be the kindest option.
For most of her life Molly has been under the care of Dr Clare Rusbridge, Head of Neurology at Fitzpatrick Referrals.
“When I noticed a small lump appear on Molly’s head, we made an appointment straight away to see Dr Clare. Her swift intervention undoubtedly saved Molly’s life,” believes Tania, who now shares her home with six Cavaliers, all of which have CM/SM and other health issues.
In the recent episode of ‘The Supervet Bionic Specials’, views saw Noel Fitzpatrick remove the cancerous tumour from Molly’s skull and undergo a reconstruction using a titanium mesh made to fit her skull exactly thanks to 3D modelling by bioengineers.
“This was only possible thanks to ground-breaking technology and Noel’s team,” says Tania.
“He is such an amazing advocate for animals, pushing the boundaries of science for them to have the same medical advances as human patients, and it is through his determination that we have our beautiful Molly now. We will never be able to thank the team enough for saving our precious girl.”
Molly is particularly special because she was Tania’s first dog and the reason she set up Cavalier Matters.
“Our world fell apart when at just 18 months Molly was diagnosed with CM/SM,” she reveals.
“Information about the condition was very scarce. I was struck by how hard to understand most explanations of CM and SM seemed to be. Written out in veterinary language, they were next to impossible for a pet owner like myself to understand. There was also a distinct lack of support for people with poorly dogs.”
Through further research, Tania realised how widespread CM/SM was.
“This along with a heart disease called Mitral Valve Disease, which is the biggest killer of Cavaliers worldwide, seemed like a ticking time bomb, so I set up a website explaining the condition to pet owners and offering support to them. We started attending large dog evens and in 2011 Cavalier Matters became a registered charity.
“Cavalier Matters not only works with but helps fund the work of some of the world’s leading experts in genetic conditions affecting Cavaliers,” says Tania. “Although I am extremely proud of what has been achieved, Cavalier health still has a long way to go. Life expectancy is declining in the breed, as breed-related illness takes its toll. We need to get more breeders on board and health testing for these conditions must become compulsory.”
Although it has meant putting in plenty of overtime, Tania says Molly’s appearance on The Supervet has been incredibly positive.
“We were delighted she was the poster girl for the episode. It has meant Cavalier health issues have been placed in the public eye and will help Cavalier Matters do even more to make a difference to these very special little dogs.”