In honor of Zinnie
Help us Advance IBD Research in Dogs
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Megan and Jack Czerwinski
Last car ride
Last picture of Zin
Zinnie "Young Zinfandel" Czerwinski
Zinnie was our first baby. He was born on February 15, 2019 in Front Royal, Virginia. In the lead-up to bringing him home, we excitedly tracked the litter's progress through pictures and "Movie Mondays" posted by his breeder. Jack would immediately email this content out to our entire family, and Megan would show the videos to her fifth-grade class as a reward at the end of the day. To say we were excited to be dog-parents is an understatement. In early March, we went to go pick him out. We walked up to an outdoor pen filled with seven little floof balls rolling around, barking at one another, and playfully biting any limb, ear, or tail nub in close proximity. There was one exception to the adorable chaos - a tiny blue Merle sitting in the corner quietly watching. Being the introverts that we are, we were drawn to this little sentinel, and once the breeder described him as an "old soul" we knew he was the one. We named him Zinnie (affectionately referred to as "Young Zinfandel" by his Uncle Chris) and knew that our hearts would be his forever.
Zinnie was a typical Aussie in that he was wicked smart. We would joke that he was almost too smart to the point of being manipulative - he knew when we had treats and would choose to listen (or not) depending on their presence. Being the overachieving parents that we were, we were quietly proud when he quickly and easily mastered each of the skills in his puppy kindergarten class. We talked about enrolling him in Canine Good Citizen and maybe even having him trained as a therapy dog. He was also impressively athletic. Watching him run after balls or his frisbee was endlessly entertaining. He was built like a wide receiver, and once a projectile was in motion, he would tear after it with such determination and singular focus that nothing (including other dogs or even physical barriers like fences, ditches, or trees) could get in the way of him catching that toy. We looked forward to starting herding training when he was old enough knowing that he would absolutely love the physical and the mental challenge - a dream that was sidelined by COVID and later by Zinnie's ailing body. What was most special about Zinnie, though, was his personality. He really was the sweetest boy. He could read personalities, and temper his response to the individual. He was gentle with kids and old dogs (like his Uncle Rudy), playful with his neighbor Mike and the shopkeepers at the Wine Cabinet, distant and respectful with people who were afraid of dogs, and an absolute lunatic with his best friend Mily. His kindness was palpable and infectious. Even non-dog people knew he was a very good boy.
Zinnie suffered from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) symptoms for most of his short life. IBD is an autoimmune disease that is like Irritable Bowel Disorder in humans that causes gastrointestinal discomfort and results in chronic bathroom issues. Understandably, many dogs who experience IBD also have problems eating. Zinnie was no different. In his early days, we explained away his symptoms as typical puppy ailments - he must have eaten something funny, he had giardia, he was overheated, he had run too much. We modified his diet moving from one prescription food or home-cooked remedy to the next. We ran through probiotics, antibiotics, anti-anxiety medication; we still have a veritable pharmacy in the box of Zinnie belongings that we haven't brought ourselves to get rid of yet. After suffering symptoms for years, he was officially diagnosed with IBD after a colonoscopy and colon biopsies confirmed a severe case in September 2021. We started treatment, which consisted of Prednisone, a steroid immunosuppressant.
At that time, he was 45 pounds and could still run and chase his frisbee or play with his Uncle Ace and Mily. However, Zinnie declined slowly but noticeably over the next nine months. As his body atrophied, his coordination declined to the point he could not run after a ball anymore and would trip instead, so we downshifted his activities to match what his body could handle. Instead of runs at the dog park and long hikes on the weekend, we would toss the tennis ball for him to catch in our living room and take a slow lap around our neighborhood. His energy level eventually fell to the point he couldn't do much of anything but snuggle his parents and look out the car window on rides around town. In the last two months of his life, he could not make the walk up and back the stretch of grass next to our house or go up stairs -- we carried him. Our world shrank in a way, but it also brought into focus what mattered most. Despite being limited in what he could do physically, Zinnie remained a happy boy until the end. He cared most about being with his people and showing us that he loved us - for that we will be forever grateful.
Despite the excellent care that he received from a team of veterinarians at Great Falls Animal Hospital, specialists at VCA SouthPaws, and a canine nutritionist at Cornell, Zinnie died from complications from his IBD on May 16, 2022. He hung on long enough to meet his baby sister and was just three years old and 29 pounds when he died.
To understate: this was a very difficult journey to take together. But we wouldn't trade any minute we had with Zinnie and know how blessed we are to have had even a few years with him. With this study, we know that Zinnie's impact won't end with his life and will extend far beyond just the people and pups who knew him.
Thanks to all for visiting this site and learning our poor boy's story. We appreciate your understanding and compassion for our family during the difficult aftermath of this trauma.
We hope you enjoy a glimpse of our life with Zinnie in the gallery below.
Special thank you to Dr. Laurie Cook and Lisa Forgrave at Great Falls Animal Hospital for everything they did for us and continue to do for dogs in our community.
Study on Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Sadly, IBD affects a large number of dogs in the country each year, and, while usually not as aggressive as the version that afflicted our poor boy, makes life uncomfortable for dogs from all breeds. However, most canine health research focuses on the big ticket issues like cancer. That means state of the science around IBD is not as advanced as it could -- and we think it should -- be. This is a gaping research gap we are hoping to address by raising funds for more focused study of this disease. We are hoping to raise $75,000, which would allow for a comprehensive study with the ability to include some clinical activities.
Two examples of immediate research needs are driving toward a better understanding of what causes or perpetuates IBD as well as increasing the number and type of treatment options. Currently, little is known about the causes of the disease and, while there are theories about certain bacteria that are/are not present having an impact, further information is sorely needed. Similarly disconcertingly, we learned that a particular subset of immunosuppressants are the only effective way to treat IBD. However, their use comes with nasty side effects and Zinnie experienced them firsthand. During his final months, we had to move him from Prednisone to a much more aggressive drug called Cyclosporin. This immunosuppressant seemed to help the IBD symptoms for a short time but also decreased his overall immune response so much that he lost his front bottom teeth from a quick, freak infection and dealt with sores on all four of his legs for months.
We are honored by your consideration of a donation to the Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) through the link at the top of the page. In Zinnie's memory, we hope to drive advances in understanding canine IBD so that vets have more diagnostic and treatment tools at their disposal. We hope to raise funds to pursue new research though MAF over the next few years and are proud to share that the preliminary research topic is likely a deep dive into the microbiome and gut health so that doctors have more options available to them for early diagnosis and treatment.
Morris Animal Foundation is a nonprofit organization that funds science to advance the health of animals around the world. Since its founding in 1948, the Foundation has invested over $155 million in more than 2,700 studies that have led to significant breakthroughs in diagnostics, treatments and preventions to benefit animals worldwide.