In late October, a Labrador named Buck was taken in by Team Edward Labrador Rescue, a small, Nottingham-based group in the United Kingdom. The dangerously underweight young dog was having a difficult time digesting food and just kept getting thinner.
After lots of testing, Buck was diagnosed with a rare condition called megaesophagus, where the esophagus is enlarged and is unable to move food from the mouth down to the stomach to be absorbed.
On Nov. 15, the rescue explained his condition, then sent out a plea for help on a Facebook post:
PLEASE PLEASE HELP US.....We need to feed him using gravity, from a height, to encourage food to go into his stomach rather than regurgitate it back. He's on drugs to help push the food back down and settle the tummy acid. We all hope he puts on weight as sadly megaoesophagus has a guarded prognosis. His anatomy doesn't allow the food he eats to enter his tummy...Our fabulous foster family have been trying to feed him from a height and on small teaspoons to help.
The rescue was desperately looking to purchase something known as a Bailey chair, which keeps dogs with this condition upright while they eat. That allows food to make its way to the stomach more easily without being regurgitated. The problem was that all the companies that make these chairs weren't taking orders until after Christmas, and Buck needed one right away.
Fortunately veterinarian Emma Drinkall and her fiance Nick Rowan, an engineering expert, saw the post.
"As a qualified veterinarian I could see how severe Buck's condition was and understood his condition and what was needed to help," Drinkall tells MNN. "My fiance previously worked for a charity creating solutions for people with disabilities and is now a senior lecturer in product design and engineering. Between us we are keen 'makers.' I built my Land Rover with my dad, Nick builds his own guitars, and we’re currently working on a canoe. We knew it would be hard to figure it out without actually meeting Buck, but we hoped we could make it work!"
Drinkall, a teaching associate at the University of Nottingham’s school of veterinary medicine and surgery, and Rowan, a senior lecturer at DeMontford University in Leicester, created the chair in a day.
"The chair helps Buck by sitting him up so his food can move with help from gravity down his esophagus," Drinkall explains. "He sits in it for a little while to allow it to move down into his stomach so it can be digested. Without the chair, Buck's condition causes him to regurgitate his food, which we think is why he is so skinny."
Buck has only had his chair for a week, so it's still early in his training and adaptation to the chair. But it seems to be helping.
"His foster family are doing all the hard work to help him, but they tell me he has quickly learned that his chair means he’s going to get his dinner!" Drinkall says.
Dogs with Buck's condition face additional health risks such as aspiration pneumonia, so Buck will require lifelong medical attention. So far, the all-volunteer rescue has spent several thousand dollars on his vet bills, says founder Wendy Hopewell. "Team Edward are committed to do everything that we possibly can for him without question," Hopewell tells MNN. "However long he is showing he is fighting we will never give up." (To donate to Buck's care, visit the rescue's website.)
Buck's story and sweet demeanor have made him a bit of a social media star. He was featured on a segment by the BBC, below, and now has supporters all around the world.
"I hope that Buck can fight his health challenges and that the chair we built might help reduce his risks," says Drinkall. "Team Edward Labrador Rescue and his foster family are amazing as is his vet Laura at the Lawrence Veterinary Centre, so he’s in brilliant hands and the team are doing everything they can to help him."