Just over two years ago, Bradford couple Anna Marie Santiago and Ryan Pucciarelli rescued Kuma, a Japanese Akita puppy after being given away by his three previous owners.
Kuma was originally a gift sent from Japan sent to a family in Canada, but unfortunately were not able to keep him. He had been passed along to two other families afterwards but none were able to give him a permanent place to live.
It was through an acquaintance of Pucciarelli’s mother that the couple found out about Kuma's situation and decided to adopt him and give him a forever home.
Things were going well with the new puppy, until during the holiday season last year when Kuma’s eyes started to swell. He was in severe discomfort, and not knowing what to do, they took him to the emergency veterinary clinic in Newmarket.
At the time, they were not able to confirm the reason for the swelling but sent them home with some ointment and medication until they could figure out the cause of the issue.
It was a few weeks later, after multiple tests and a biopsy that Kuma was diagnosed with Uveodermatological Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease that attacks pigment cells and light-sensing cells in the eye. It causes premature whitening of the fur and skin as well as inflammation in the eyes that most often leads to retinal detachment, lens luxation, blindness and sometimes glaucoma.
“It’s very rare. Our vet basically says this is something you would only see in textbooks. And maybe in 10 years of practice, you’d only see one dog that would have it,” explained Santiago.
Since the diagnosis, Kuma has been on medication to help treat the symptoms, but has already lost pigment around his nose and eyes, as well as his fur.
“His fur is red and white, and now it’s going more white,” described Santiago.
The black around his eyes, mouth and nose have also peeled off, showing the exposed pink flesh.
Just this past summer, the couple noticed Kuma was starting to get clumsy and bumping into things when he walked.
“At first we noticed that he seemed so depressed and that went on for about a week and then we started noticing he was bumping into things, so we were checking his eyes and reflexes,” explained Santiago.
When they brought him in to the veterinary clinic again at the end of August for a check-up, it was confirmed that the disease had claimed Kuma’s eyesight and he was officially blind.
Santiago says that since then, Kuma has been adjusting well despite losing his eyesight.
“He’s so used to how the house is set up, so he can move around no problem, but with stairs, you have to tell him to take a step or walk beside him. He’s a little slower with it but he figures it out. With newer environments he’s obviously more anxious and really careful with his steps,” she explained.
While Kuma has already lost his eyesight, the medication he is currently on contains a heavy dose of steroids, which presents a whole other set of issues and side effects, including loss of muscle tone.
The couple and the vets are hoping that by having surgery to remove both of Kuma’s eyes, he will be able to lessen his dose of steroid medication, and giving him a better quality of life.
“Right now the disease is attacking the eyes but the eyes are useless because he is blind, once we take out the eyes, then the disease won't have anything to attack anymore except the pigment on his hair, which we can help with a lower dosage of steroids or another anti-inflammatory medication,” said Santiago.
The cost of the eye surgery will cost around $6,000, and that isn’t including any of the treatments that will be required post-surgery, including $300 blood tests every two-four months.
The couple have met with a few different specialists in the area to make sure they are making the right decisions for Kuma, explained Santiago.
Kuma is currently being seen by Dr. Derek Boughner at Dissette Animal Hospital in Bradford, who Santiago says has been great to work with.
“He’ s amazing. We love him. He really cares for our pet which is amazing,” said Santiago. “He’s been really good to us.”
Dr. Boughner says the condition is uncommon condition seen mainly in Akita type dogs.
"It is uncommon enough that many veterinarians never see one in their career but it is common enough that we do have information on appropriate treatments, prognosis," he explained.
The couple would prefer to have the surgery done as soon as possible, to get Kuma off the steroid medication and onto anti-inflammatory medication instead.
While the anti-inflammatory medication would still affect Kuma’s liver and require him to have blood work done every few months, Santiago says it is the preferred option as opposed to keeping him on steroid medication which can affect all organs in his body.
"Their prognosis for control of pain after enucleation is excellent however they will still need ongoing medical management of their skin issues, which is the least serious aspect of the condition," explained Dr. Boughner.
The cost of the surgery and post-care treatments associated with the disease have become overwhelming and the couple is seeking help in any way they can.
“We thought we were able to handle it (the cost) in the beginning...but right now it’s getting to a point where it’s overwhelming so that’s why we are hoping to get as much help as we can,” she explained.
So far Santiago says they have received a lot of support from friends, family and the community.
“I am honestly overwhelmed with the help we’ve been getting so far,” she said.
A Go Fund Me Page has been created to help pay for the surgery and treatment costs associated with the disease.
"We just want to give him the best life possible," said Santiago.
To make a donation on the Go Fund Me page, click here.