Exhibit Documents Montana Dog’s Life, Illness, Recovery at WSU Vet Teaching Hospital

For 10 years, photographer Lauren Grabelle and her Weimaraner, Sugar, were always on the move. In New Jersey, Grabelle entered Sugar in lure coursing, agility and flyball, sports geared toward burning off Sugar’s seemingly boundless energy.

Montana photographer Lauren Grabelle and her 12 ½ year old Weimaraner, Sugar. Photo by Lauren Grabelle.

Once settled in Bigfork, Mont., the pair hiked daily in the forests around their home. Grabelle once calculated that they had walked or hiked more than 10,000 miles together over the years.

More than her hiking partner, Sugar is the subject of many of Grabelle’s photographs, a co-creator of Grabelle’s artistic expression. So when Sugar’s back legs became paralyzed in the fall of 2015, Grabelle documented that odyssey too, which ultimately led them to the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital and Sugar’s full recovery.

An exhibit of Grabelle’s work, called “Sugar Rising,” opens on Thursday, Sept. 7, at the WSU Animal Health Library and runs through January, part of the WSU “Art in the Library” program. An opening reception is planned from 4-6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7, in the Animal Health Library, Wegner Hall 170.

The twice-yearly “Art in the Library” exhibit features animal-themed works, typically from artists with a connection to the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine. For more information, visit http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/news/art.

From big city to big country

Grabelle purchased Sugar from a Weimaraner breeder in 2005.

“Living in the suburbs of New Jersey, it’s hard to get out in nature, so I wanted to bring nature to me,” she said. “Weimaraners are very active, so the breeder made me promise to be active with Sugar for 10 years.”

From the moment Sugar arrived, Grabelle loved photographing the puppy. She entered photos of Sugar in a contest judged by William Wegman, the photographer who famously included his own Weimaraners in his whimsical images. Grabelle’s photos earned first and third place.

“The very first time I took photos of Sugar, it became a form of art,” Grabelle said.

In 2010, Grabelle moved to Bigfork on Montana’s Flathead Lake, the polar opposite of New Jersey’s hustle and bustle, to give Sugar more freedom and space to run. On daily explorations behind their home, Grabelle said “the relationship with Sugar and photography deepened.

“Your life is stripped down to a few elements, and that’s where creativity comes from,” she said. “Sugar and I live this kind of feral existence here.”

Unknown decline—and then an answer

Grabelle and Sugar continued their daily active lifestyle in Montana for five years until Sugar started to avoid hiking down the trails they used to walk on regularly. She also couldn’t bend her neck down to eat food from her bowl. A local vet diagnosed her with a form of arthritis common for aging dogs and prescribed medication. But Sugar’s stiffness and pain persisted, until the day she couldn’t move her back legs.

For two weeks, Grabelle carried Sugar everywhere, bought diapers for her, took Sugar to more vet appointments and had more X-rays taken to try and determine a cause for Sugar’s paralysis. One veterinarian suggested taking Sugar to the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, six hours away. They managed to get a neurology appointment the day after Grabelle called the hospital.

Instead of another X-ray, WSU neurology intern Dr. Tom Jukier ordered an MRI, “the best test for spinal cord conditions,” he said. The test revealed not arthritis, but a bacterial infection of the spinal discs. Two days after starting antibiotics, Sugar was standing again.

“I love sharing this story with people,” Grabelle said. “I got lucky. With this technology, I got an answer that saved Sugar’s life.”

Today, Sugar walks with Grabelle on the trails again. And while the Weimaraner is slowing down with age, she’s still Grabelle’s muse.

“Creating art with Sugar is my therapy,” she said. “She connects me to the wilderness.”

NOTE: For another article about Sugar, go to http://giving.vetmed.wsu.edu/giving-opportunities/mri-campaign/the-need/patient-stories. To see Grabelle’s photographic work, go to http://www.laurengrabelle.com.

—Story by Nella Letizia