I will see you old friend when I cross the River.
So we got some bad news about Bodie on Monday. I had been away from Zombie Slayer Central for about three weeks, due to the prolonged battle to recover from major abdominal surgery. While I was gone Pepper did her best to manage the dogs, while working 50+ a week. When I returned I noticed Bodie struggling slightly with certain movements. It wasn’t that noticable, and any one else not as familiar with the stoic bastard would have caught it. But I saw it.
I called my vet Monday morning and got him in that evening. The thing about taking Bodie to the vet is that he’s an asshole. And he hates my vet. Seeing as my vet is both a former horse client, and cuts me a lot of slack on bills (which helps when you’ve got the number of animals as we do around here), I don’t feel inclined to find a vet more to Bodie’s liking. Nevermind he’s been booted out of several clinics because they don’t want to deal with his bad attitude. So I called Fee and begged her to help me with him, Pepper was at work and I at that point in time still couldn’t drive (thank you horrible crippling abdominal pain: note to viewers: never tear a stitch on your insides, its bad.) And I am still on a weight limit with what I am allowed to lift and 68 pounds of powerful onry Aussie is way past that. She thankfully agreed. She took off work early showed up and we loaded Bodie into the back of her Outback.
We show up and the clinic is ready. They have only two female techs up front, and I’ve got his basket muzzle on, just to be safe. I have excellent control over Bodie, but as a personal protection dog he’s been trained to think about who is and who isn’t a threat. Because I can control him 99..9999% of the time, doesn’t mean there isn’t the slim possibility he won’t out when he’s told, so since the vet’s office is a tense place for him we muzzle him just to be safe. I take no thrill in the thought of my dog tearing into either my vet or one his employees.
In the room the new girl who was small and sweet and very nonthreatening stayed on the other side of the exam table while asking what was up. I explained about what I noticed with his back legs. And we agreed we couldn’t ace him for the exam. Normally in the vet’s office we just drug Bodie with the hydroace and life goes on and he’s very cooperative and non-stressed. Today since we needed the vet to exam his functionality we decided to just wrestle him down and hope for the best.
My vet is a large man. So when he walks in the door Bodie is instantly on full alert. He pricks his ears and gives that very intense stare he likes before he makes a decision. I nodded to the vet and Fee and I lifted Bodie off the ground onto the table. I grabbed his head and held it steady while Fee and the tech held the rest of him still. Bodie was stressed, but unable to do any damage and the vet was able to get a look at what he needed.
All in all for a trip to the vet with Bodie it was pretty low-key and uncomplicated. Which is not the usual course of action when I bring him in (which is why my file has a huge neon yellow paper with instructions about Bodie in the front of it, awww aren’t we special. ugh. dog.) However the results weren’t good. We discussed further testing but the vet worked ER for years and has developed pretty good X-Ray hands. He didn’t feel anything in the structure of Bodie to cause the problems I was noticing. He did however find he was slow to respond to nerve tests. He said he felt very confident Bodie was suffering from early stages of LS, but that I was free to take him down tot he specialty clinic (where Pepper works) for an MRI to confirm. I shook my head and said “Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of…”
My vet was clear to indicate it could be a slipped disk that was causing the issues, but said he didn’t think it was likely given the other symptoms. And that again it would require a $1,000 MRI to confirm. I explained surgery was out of the question, not only because of being cost prohibative (it’s well over $6,000 to do back surgery on a dog with the rehab required – and that’s a lot of money to take from other places at Zombie Slayer Central for a procedure that has no promise of working, because a slipped disk is repairable. LS is not.) But also because Bodie does not handle crate rest with any kind of dignity. A few years ago when a head on collision with Murdock (RIP) put 13 stitches in Bodie’s side, he lasted three days on crate rest before trouble started. On the fourth day I opened his crate to take him out to potty and he damn near took my face off. For those of you that know Bodie, you know that …the dog loves me, I’m his favorite (and only) person, but when he’s pissed off, he’s pissed off. It was determined for the general safety of humans at ZSC, the other dogs and Bodie’s mental stability any invasive surgery that was going to require long term rest was out of the question.
So that’s the bad news. Bodie has a degenerative spinal condition that will slowly rob of him his ability to function. We’ve got him medicated and that seems to have done a lot to stave off his symptoms, for now. But really it’s just a waiting game till he’s past the point the meds can handle it. And it is hard to watch your Right Hand Man getting old. Bodie turns nine on Thursday (the 18th).
For a while now we’ve been wondering what we’re going to do about Nutsy. He is 15 years old. And it’s showing. He was showing some signs of cognitive failure and having a lot of difficulty moving around. He has also been urinating a LOT and it’s basically water, he’s not concentrating it. So even though I am still pretty gimpy, and unable to lift more then 5 pounds, or bend over really from abdominal surgery, I got Pepper to take an afternoon off from the clinic and came to help me take Nutsy to the vet. We both walked in there expecting to have not very good news.
My vet (who is a damn saint and ballsy as hell — he’s the only vet in town who will tolerate Bodie) gave him a thorough exam and drew some blood and urine. I confessed I was thoroughly expecting the bloodwork to come back with kidney or liver failure. My vet assured me that while Nutsy is weak in his back end, it’s not his hips. It’s hips spine startling to deteriorate. Which is fairly normal for a dog his age.
I left with some tramadol and the promise of getting a phone call the next day about bloodwork and urinanalysis results. I left feeling like I was about to get the news that would seal the fate of my dog.
For new readers, Nutsy is a 15 year old shortador (Shorthair/Lab mix) and I adopted him from the shelter when he was 8 months old. That means I have literally had this dog half my life, and my entire adult life. Not having him around is…something I can’t really fathom.
Yesterday the vet called. I braced myself for the worst. Instead I got the best. My vet swore up and down if he didn’t know for certain how old Nutsy was, he would think he was looking at the blood work of a dog half his age. Everything came back perfectly 100% normal. The only thing NOT normal was that his urine specific gravity was at the low end of normal.
Needless to say, I was floored. I couldn’t believe that my 15 year old dog was THAT healthy. The Vet wants me to keep on top of his urinating. And bring in samples for testing every month , because the lack of concentrating his urine means something, just no one knows what yet. So he wants to stay on top of it just in case it’s some weird symptom of something to come. And do bloodwork again in 3 months. We discussed a heavier pain medication and gabapenton was prescribed, both for it’s economic price point and because it was a bit stronger than Tramadol and treats nerve pain which we think is what he’s got.
With the regular pain meds on board, Nutsy is a brand new dog. He’s more focused, energetic and like himself than he has been in a while. And I am beyond glad that for now my ancient dog is healthy as a horse
The dogs and I all went up into the foothills today for a 4 hour hiking session. We had a great time. Have some excellent photographic examples of the things I saw. I might put up a pic!spam at a later date featuring all the dogs, but for now just enjoy some scenery! We sure did!
To Dog it May Concern:
Whoa means STOP. CEASE. DESIST. FREEZE. HOLD. STILL. QUIT MOVING! It does not mean “keep going till we catch the team in front of us and ignore Daddy and get us all killed.” It has only been since November that we were biking everyday, I refuse to believe you’ve actually forgotten all your commands.
The Food Provider who very nearly died in a horrible bike wreck this afternoon.
To Dog it May Concern,
Six AM is not an appropriate wake up hour. Not when your father went to bed at almost 4am. I don’t care if it is light outside. Go. Back. To. Sleep. Or, actually, if you want up so bad…go play outside in the snow! Yes. It is cold. Imagine that. Bed isn’t looking so bad now, is it?
The (sleep deprived) Food Provider
One of the things I am asked often as a dog trainer is “How do you know when it’s time?” This isn’t about teaching a dog to sit, or even about at what age is it appropriate to began formalized obedience training. This isn’t even about the leap from training to competing. This question is invariably about a client’s senior dog, the one with the gray muzzle, cloudy eyes who moves slowly but still wags his tail when you walk through the door.
The truth is; I don’t know. As someone who owns an older dog (Nutsy is 15 years old, he’s not just older he’s down right ancient), I constantly play the game of “Am I doing this for him, or for me?” I think all of us who have older dogs are caught in that merry-go-round of guilt and love.
We spend our days making adjustments to our routine, skipping lunch with co-workers to drive home and let Senior George out to potty. We hire dog sitters to check on them during long days when we can’t make it home. We wash dog blankets daily that have become soaked in urine or dirtied by feces because Senior George relaxed a little too much in his sleep. We build ramps so he can get on the bed. We buy expensive devices to carry in our cars so Senior George can climb into the back of our SUVs with out assistance. We get used to picking up 60pounds of dog to carry them up and down the stairs. We all become masters are giving dogs medication, and gourmet chefs in our food preparation. We have a shelf full of half eaten supplements and powders, given all in the name of finding some combination that will stimulate appetite and help with the arthritis. We shell out absurd amounts of money on special dog foods to help with joints, eye sight or any number of other things. We ignore when we startle Senior George from his sleep and he takes a snap at us. We are all on a first name basis with the staff at the local vet clinic, and their number is on speed dial.
We get up every three hours to let Senior George out to go potty. We don’t raise our voice, or say anything when we have to wash the blankets, AGAIN. We put our dogs in sweaters and jackets even though we swore we’d NEVER be that guy. We find ourselves taking pictures by the dozens because we know documenting the last months, weeks, days of Senior George’s life is going to be important sooner than we’d like. And we forgo sleep, instead spending our nights worrying.
Worrying that tonight will be the night, we’ll wake in the morning and he’ll be gone. And part of us wants it that way, part of us would feel blessed and lucky if we didn’t have to make that final trip into the vet’s office. If we were given the chance to cry all our tears before wrapping him in a blanket and asking for private cremation. And part of us knows if this were the case it would take weeks, maybe even months, before we could face the room, the place, where he was last with us. And we chide ourselves for thinking of such things, like to give a voice to the constant worry is to give it power and jinx our beloved, old friend.
So when a client asks me “How do you know when it’s time?” I don’t have a good answer for them. I tell the all the rhetoric about ensuring that his quality of life is still good, that he isn’t in constant pain. I tell them about making sure that he is still happy, and that more than not he is the dog you remember. But while saying all the proper things, the right things that we’re told in seminars is the best way to handle worried clients; I look at myself and have to ask the same questions. At this stage in my career and experience I should be immune to the emotional ties that make saying good bye to a loved one so hard. I, of all people, should be able to distance myself from sentimentality and make a tough call for the betterment of my dog.
But I can’t.
I get up every three hours to let Nutsy out to go potty. I stand in the freezing cold at 4am and make sure he does his business. I lift all 55pounds of him in and out of my truck. Up and down from the bed. I have a sling I wrap around his belly to help him walk on ice. He has an array of sweaters and coats for every manner of foul, unpleasant weather. I hand feed him dog food slop when he refuses to eat. I have a whole shelf full of supplements and powders just for him, trying to ease his old age some how. I have a pillbox full of his medications that out weight his vitamins. I have become a master at hiding pills in pieces of cheese, hotdogs, catfood and even twinkies. I have given up correcting any bad behaviors, and ignore it when Nutsy is grumpy and snaps at me or the other dogs. I force Pepper, the Roommate, to help me bathe him, or to let him in and out of the house. I make certain the house is never with out a human for more than 3 hours, because he can’t hold it any longer than that. I wash his blankets daily. I have become entirely immune to the smell and feel of urine soaked blankets. Because Nutsy sleeps on the bed with me (and has since he was 8 months old) I have lined my bed with special sheets, meant for children who wet the bed. I lie at wake at night wondering if he’ll be alive in the morning. I panic when he’s deep in sleep and shake him awake. I pray he doesn’t make me decide it’s time for him, and that he goes peacefully in his sleep. I pray he won’t, because I know if he dies in my bed, his bed, I’ll never be able to sleep there again. I tell myself the compromises are temporary, and that if I were a thousand years old I would want someone to make them for me and let me eat whatever I wanted even if it wasn’t good for me (like red jello). I hate myself because I shouldn’t think of how little time is left. I make concessions in my life, and I tell myself I’m doing the right thing. Because what choice do I have?
The truth is there is no right answer for when it’s time. I believe firmly that the dog will tell you. It will be in his face that one morning you wake up and he just won’t get out of bed. It will be in the way he looks at you when he’s had yet another accident because he can no longer control his bladder. And more importantly it will be in your heart, because you and only you will know when you can’t do it any more. When the sleepless nights can no longer be battled with coffee. When the worry interferes with work and daily life to the point you are afraid to leave the house. You will know, in your heart of hearts, you will know. Because any other belief would mean everything we do for our senior pets is just madness.
So when a client complains to me about sleepless nights with Senior George, I smile at them. I pat them on the back and I say “Welcome to the club.” Because I know, just like every other dog owner knows, when Senior George (or in my case Nutsy) is finally gone, we will miss those sleepless nights. We will find ourselves awake in the middle of the night wishing we could stand in the freezing cold with a cup of coffee in one hand and a flash light in the other watching our old friend find the exact right spot to potty. Because no matter the sleep deprivation or the compromises, or the money or the time, nothing could be worse than losing our friend.
So if you find yourself hating the world at 4am as you stand in the dark clutching a warm cup of coffee, wondering is global warming really is a hoax because -3 doesn’t seem all that warm to you…Rest assured: you are not alone. All across the world you are joined by other Food Providers wishing you had opted for the fleece pajamas and were wearing socks inside of your slippers while standing in the dead of night waiting for Senior George. And you do this because you have been his entire world for his entire life, and you owe it to him to suffer a little shrinkage so he doesn’t have to endure the humiliation of wetting the bed. When you find yourself out in the dark in the middle of the night, desperately bouncing up and down in place to keep your toes from freezing, raise a salute to yourself, and for everyone just like you, because you would do this for the rest of your life if it means Nutsy will never cross the rainbow bridge.
This post has been brought to you by Pine and Nutsy and 4am.