Tank, a 7-year-old German Shepherd, was recently diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy (DM), a progressive and fatal paralytic disease. His Okaloosa Island owner, Chris Page, was told two months ago that Tank has eight months to live.
OKALOOSA ISLAND — Chris Page has dealt with anxiety and other issues through the years, causing panic attacks and thoughts that, at times, led him to consider harming himself.
But through it all, Tank — a 7-year-old German shepherd — has been there to comfort Page and keep him from spiraling.
Now, it's Page's turn to be there for Tank, who was diagnosed this year with degenerative myelopathy (DM), a progressive and fatal paralytic disease that is similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in humans.
After receiving the diagnosis locally, Page sought help from veterinarians in Dothan, Alabama, who told him Tank would need surgery to treat a slipped disk. Tank walked into the surgery, but Page said he was unable to walk out.
Page is determined to keep Tank around for as long as possible.
"He's saved me before lots of times with lots of people," Page said.
Tank entered Page's life about four years ago in Indiana.
"I was not in a real good place," Page said. "It was right after one of my other dogs had gotten hit by a car."
Page said he searched several shelters. One search immediately paid off. A show breeder who had gone out of business brought Tank to a shelter near Page's home.
"She brought him in at the same time I showed up," he said. "He didn't even get put into the system or anything. I just took him right there."
The pair spent time together, and with the help of Page's mother and sister, Tank was trained to become Page's service dog. They would go to the zoo, school, parades, pretty much everywhere together, which Page said helped tremendously.
Tank even chased a burglar down the street who was trying to break into Page's home, he said.
Because of a job opportunity, Page and Tank moved from Indiana to Panama City, where Page attended Gulf Coast State College studying marine biology. But Hurricane Michael wiped out Page's apartment and forced them to relocate to the Fort Walton Beach area.
After the hurricane, everything changed. Page said he began to notice a slight limp in Tank's walk and decided to seek medical attention.
Page was first informed by Tank's trusted local veterinarian that he had DM.
"Basically, that's like a death sentence; I didn't really accept it," Page said.
Page continued searching for answers and treatment options. He applied to universities working on experimental treatments, he said. Regardless of the amount of money, Page was determined to find help for Tank.
"I have to have him," Page said. "It's not even a choice in my head."
That's when the procedure in Alabama complicated things further.
Nearly two months after the surgery, Tank is still unable to use his back legs. However, Tank doesn't let his condition keep him from chasing his toys in the yard or cruising waves.
"He's slowly getting better. When he gets real excited, he'll start using his back feet," Page said.
Page and Tank live on Okaloosa Island, across the street from the white sand beaches and turquoise water, where they spend much of their time.
Although Page still tries to keep Tank active, he said they are limited where they can go because Tank is unable to control his bowels. Tank's medications also make him a little less obedient than normal, Page said.
"It's tough, too, because I see him changing," Page said. "I feel bad because I see glimpses of how he really is."
As for what's next, Page said he has accepted the outcome of Tank's fatal disease. Two months ago, Page said Tank was given an eight-month prognosis. However, dogs with DM can live with the disease for up to three years after diagnosis.
For now, Page focuses on improving Tank's quality of life through regular medication and physical rehabilitation. Page also purchased a life jacket so Tank could swim and a $300 wheelchair in hopes to ease some of Tank's pressure and pain.
"I'm not going to give up because he certainly wouldn't on me," Page said.
This story originally published to nwfdailynews.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.