Tink, short for Tinkervol, is a gorgeous silver Labrador Retriever from Michigan. While this pup has all the qualities of an Instagram star, her adorable face isn’t the reason that she’s making headlines. This darling doggo has got a life-threatening condition that her family wants to inform dog lovers everywhere about.
Tink suffers from Congenital Idiopathic Megaesophagus. Megaesophagus (MegaE), is “a condition in which the neurological connection between the brain and the muscles of the esophagus are not developed or a paralysis occurs,” her owner Tom Sullivan told People. “Without muscle function of the esophagus, food will become trapped in the esophagus and the body will reject it through regurgitation. Malnourishment and normal weight-gain and development are also problems associated with MegaE and regurgitation.”
The Sullivan family started noticing problems with Tink when she was just nine-weeks-old. They brought Tink home on Sept. 17, 2016, and immediately became aware that she had trouble holding food down. So, they brought her to the vet and received the unfortunate prognosis. “One week after bringing her home we took her into the emergency vet when she was vomiting constantly and knew something wasn’t right,” Sullivan wrote on Tink’s Go Fund Me page.
“We finally got some information by 2 am that wasn’t promising and a huge vet bill for the tests and procedures. X-rays showed that Tink had an enlarged esophagus that wasn’t contracting to help push food to the stomach. She was regurgitating everything that she would eat because of it and not getting any nutrients down … which explains her being the runt of the litter,” wrote Sullivan. With that diagnosis came a hefty-price tag, and the costs will continue to add up.
The Sullivan’s had a big decision to make in terms of what to do with Tink. They sought help from a specialist at Michigan State University who told them dogs with MegaE only have a one in five shot in making it to adulthood. However, they were determined to beat the odds. “We chose to give Tink the best life that we possibly could, accepting that the disease was out of our control, but that we could try our best regardless,” Sullivan said.
Sometimes, dogs can grow out of MegaE, with about a 20 to 46 percent success rate. But, Sullivan admits that those percentages are a bit optimistic. By caring for Tink, the Sullivan family are accepting all the challenges that come with MegaE. Tink is under the constant threat of aspiration pneumonia. She will need regular vet visits and chest X-rays. She will need costly high-calorie food to get her weight back on track. Finally, she will need a special high chair to help her keep her food down.
Tink’s adorable high chair is called a “Bailey Chair.” The Sullivan’s had it custom built for Tink. The vertical position allows gravity to help the food down to Tink’s stomach. They hand-feed Tink. After she’s done eating, Sullivan will burb her and massage the food down her esophagus.
Tink has grown to love the Bailey chair, because of its association with dinnertime. “She loves it because she knows she gets to eat,” Sullivan said. “If the chair’s open and she thinks it’s time to eat, she’ll g climb in and stand in it until we come close it and [then] she’ll sit down.”
And Tink is making incredible progress. Looking at her now, you would never assume she was the runt of the litter. “At 9 weeks she was 5lbs. and looked frail and fragile, and was losing fur everywhere. It was a very slow and steady climb, but she’s now [1 year and 4 months old] and 50 lbs. She has always had tons of energy and loves playing and loving on people. It’s been a ton of work, but that dedication is what’s kept her in the right track,” Sullivan wrote.
While MegaE is a rare condition, Tink isn’t the only one suffering with it. Hundreds of people have shared their stories of caring for a MegaE pup. Last year, Eli the seven-month-old German Shephard pup from Boise, Idaho, made headlines after his owner got him a custom Bailey Chair, too. “For once in his life, he’s getting a full stomach,” said his owner, Savannah Amberson.
This past August, Patch’s family abandoned him at a vet’s office because of his MegaE. Patch was starving and on the brink of death, but a Bailey chair helped him get back on the right track. He was luckily adopted by a kind woman named Lulu Jenkins. Patch was doubly lucky, because he was in the percentage of dogs who had their MegaE clear up. Patch no longer needs a Bailey Chair.
While some dog owners with carpentry skills might try their hand at building their own Bailey chair, there’s a company that will make them for you. Bailey Chairs 4 Dogs makes custom high chairs, large and small, for your pooch suffering from MegaE. Some of them honestly look pretty regal and have incredible designs.
As for Tink, she’s not out of the woods, and at this point it’s unlikely her MegaE will clear up on its own. “She will continue to eat out of her Bailey Chair for the remainder of her life, which we hope is as long and normal as possible for a Lab,” Sullivan said. They will continue to feed her every day, and they hope that her story will spread awareness about her condition
But, Tink doesn’t even know that she’s sick. She’s just a happy puppy with a loving home. “She loves to cuddle, swim, play fetch, run, jump, and play just as much as any other dog out there,” Sullivan said. “She’s 100 percent normal in every other way except for the way she eats. We could not picture life without her and we couldn’t be happier to have chosen her from the litter. People often ask if we rescued her, and our reply is that we rescued her without knowing it.”