GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (FOX) - If you see her outside, ‘Tink’ looks like any other dog in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
"She fetches things in the water, she plays Frisbee, she goes on walks, she licks people to death,” chuckled her owner, Tom Sullivan. “She cuddles. She does everything."
But wait until you see her at dinner time. Tink has been eating out of a 'Bailey Chair' since she was 9 weeks old. It's basically a high chair for a dog.
“She came home and one side of her stomach was flat and the other one was distended and that's when the emergency vet had told us maybe this is megaesophagus."
Megaesophagus means when Tink eats or drinks, the food and water never makes it all the way to her stomach.
“The esophagus, how it works is it kind of squeezes the food and water down in a wave-like motion. We call that peristalsis,” explained her vet, Dr. Jeremy Hutchinson. “And because she can't do that, when she eats or drinks, the food just stays in the esophagus.”
And when it sits there, Tom says, "her body will reject it. She'll regurgitate it. It's like a burp up and it just comes up."
So the chair keeps Tink in an upright position and gravity does the work her esophagus can't.
Tink eats four times a day. And after mealtime, just like a baby, it's burping time.
“After she sits in her chair -- this is a normal thing -- for about five minutes we typically burp her, as crazy as that sounds,” Tom continued. “And then we do a throat massage, too, where we get in deep to the esophagus and just try to help move the food down.”
Also like a baby, it's a lot of work and take a lot of patience. Most people just don't have the time.
"What ends happening is the animal might be euthanized because the owners can't handle or can't dedicate the time and effort it takes, or they suffer from malnutrition,” Dr. Hutchinson said.
Caring for Tink is tough, but the Sullivans say it's all possible thanks to online support groups and tips they get from other owners of dogs with megaesophagus.
"I cried for at least four days straight trying to figure out what was going to happen and how much money we were going to put into her, but every penny has been worth it. I wouldn't change it for the world."