Friday, October 21, 2011

My Dog Scamp - a long story of a short week of a bumpy emotional roller coaster

Exactly a week ago, we were anxiously waiting for 1pm to arrive on Saturday. It was at that time that if all went well, we would be able to adopt Champ from a rescue. We adored him from the moment we saw his two photos on the website - in one, he's upside down, smiling (no, really!), and in another photo, he's joyful in someone's arms. There are so many awesome qualities about this dog and when as we took him home, we decided to name him Scamp - close enough to the name the rescue had given him but with our own family's spin on it.

Though I have pets, I'm not an animal lover. In fact, I'm really more of an animal disliker (hater is too strong of a word). This dog has changed me. Now when I see a person walking a dog, I pay no attention to the human, but only the dog. I want to get down and ruffle the ears of every dog I see in Petco. I want to get one of those dog paw magnets for my car. I want a keychain that says "I love my beagle". I want to go to the dog park. And guess what? I even bought a halloween costume for Scamp.

After just a few days of bringing a dog into your home:
  • You learn that he likes to drink a few sips of water before starting on the food.
  • You know the treats make him crazy happy.
  • The family settles into a routine of letting the dog out, going on walks, and feeding the dog.
  • You learn that he likes to walk to the left side of you.
  • You are accustomed to hearing little footsteps on the hardwood floor.
  • At the end of your work day, you wish you could teleport home to see the dog.
  • You open the front door and there sits the happiest living being to see you (a banging of happily wagging tail against the wall).
On Wednesday, 4 days after we adopted Scamp, I got home and noticed his back legs were sort of wobbly - and he was dragging one back leg a little bit. I called the vet suspecting that maybe he was having a reaction to the lyme vaccine he'd received the day before. She did an exam and some x-rays, and suspected it might be a ruptured disk that couldn't necessarily be seen on an x-ray. We got a steroid shot just in case it was a lyme vaccine reaction, but she was really leaning towards something else. She suggested keeping him there overnight in a "quiet place", but I insisted that I'd take him home and promised to keep things quiet. By the time I got home and carried him in to the living room, his back legs were completely paralyzed and he was dragging himself across the floor. There was something so completely grotesque, and horrendously sad about that sight and the only reason I kept from bursting into tears was that I was trying to stay composed for my 13 year old kid in the room. I called the vet who told me to go to the animal hospital.

The animal hospital is amazing. The immediate care and compassion you get there is better than the care and compassion you'd get at any human facility. The ER vet did several tests and drew me several pictures and proposed several possibilities. She leaned towards a ruptured disk. So here's what happens, the disks start degrading at age 12 months for these low and long dogs. Any little tweak - jumping off a couch, going down the stairs, can rupture a disk. The disk stuff gets pushed up and pushes against the spinal cord, rendering the animal at least temporarily paralyzed. An MRI or CT scan, and then back surgery can possibly fix the problem. She told us that there was a very narrow window of opportunity to perform the surgery or else he would become totally paralyzed. Scamp went from wobbly to paralyzed in about an hour, so we definitely needed to act quickly. In Scamp's case, we were given a 50-70% chance of being able to walk again. Of course we'd do surgery. We love this dog, I told her through tears.

The vet told us that surgery would cost 6,000-8,000 dollars. This is when I called my husband an had a lengthy and tearful conversation about all implications ethical, moral, financial. We've only had this dog for 4 days. But we love this dog and he's a member of our family. It doesn't matter if it's been 4 days or 4 years. We can still give the dog back. The rescue gives a 20 day window, and they have other "special needs" dogs. But you don't adopt a dog and then give it back. But we don't have any money! But is it worth it to take a loan? He is considered a member of our family, and you don't throw away a 50-70% chance of walking. But the x-rays showed he has a large heart (but no murmur). What if he has a heart condition and we spend 8,000 and he has a heart attack next month. But then again, you never know what will happen in life and this little dog has brought us so much joy, and he is the absolutely sweetest dog. He doesn't deserve to be paralyzed and then possibly put down just because of money. But how stupid are we to take out a loan for 8,000 for an animal?! But do we really consider animals throw aways? Scamp is so perfect but maybe he's really a dime a dozen? But could we just say forget it and then adopt another dog and feel good about that? But the vet said about 10% of dogs who rupture a disk will rupture another one, and we've just paid off debt that we've been carrying for 15 years! But what if we do the surgery and he's still paralyzed? We adopted a dog for the kids to grow up with - not to enjoy for 4 days before taking on this huge burden of a paralyzed dog with a possible heart issue who cannot control his bodily functions. And Scamp is in the back room paralyzed while the clock is ticking, and I'm sobbing on the phone, completely unable to make a decision.

We spent probably 30 minutes on the phone flip-flipping, being realistic and logical, and trying to be responsible adults - there is simply no way we should even be entertaining the idea of doing this surgery while we're just breaking even every month. We have kids and no savings or emergency fund. But in the end, we both decided that there was only one decision that we felt would be the right thing to do, and that was to take out the loan and do the surgery. This would be the only option that would allow us to sleep at night, to feel like we've fulfilled our responsibilities to Scamp when we took him home.

The vet neurologist performed the surgery that night and said the rupture was big (whatever that means) but that the spinal cord looked good (whatever that means). He increased the prognosis to an 85-90% chance that Scamp would walk. However, the recovery will be a long process. He will have to be cage confined for 2 weeks and it typically takes several weeks before he may start walking. During that time, he'll be on wee wee pads because he won't be able to control the peeing and pooping (the animal disliker in me used to scoff at the wee wee pads when I saw them on the shelves. Now I know one reason why people buy them). There are all kinds of therapies available (we saw a dog doing hydrotherapy today - with a life vest on and swimming in the water to gain strength), but I'm pretty sure the vet neurologist said that wouldn't be necessary for Scamp.

I've been a blubbering mess for the past couple of days. Yesterday I cried almost all day. I was trying to determine if it was a hormonal thing, but no, definitely not. There are two main reasons why I'm so sad about it. I'm really sad to think about how incredibly sweet and innocent this particular dog is, and sad because he doesn't deserve all this shit. Another thing that makes me ridiculously sad is to think about all this approximately 6 year old dog has been through. Where's he been? Who has cared for him or lost him or abused him? He was with a foster, Earl, for about a month. Earl really loved him, and then we took him away from Earl. The first two nights with us, he chose to sleep on the first floor on the futon. The third night, my husband carried him up to the dog bed in the girls' room. Funny because he stayed there for a long while but went back down to the futon in the middle of the night. The fourth night, he started off on the futon (we figured that would just be his place, so we left him), but in the middle of the night, he decided to come up and slept on the floor of our bedroom. It felt like he was finally settling in and realizing we were his new family. And now he's in a kennel. We've tried to visit him twice a day since he's been there so that he knows he hasn't just been dumped again. Though he's been a little dazed and confused from the drugs, and though he can't yet move his legs and wag his tail, I'm sure he knows it's us, his new family, visiting.

Tomorrow we bring him home. I've turned a corner and finally stopped crying (well, crying all the time - but typing this has obviously brought up a lot of emotion again). I fixed up a borrowed crate, lined it with a dog bed covered in trash bags, put blankets around each edge, and hung pictures that my 6 year old made for Scamp in the corner walls of the kitchen where he'll spend his time recovering. I feel more optimistic after setting up the area, but I'm really scared - scared about how to get him out of the crate, scared that we'll hurt him accidentally (he has a quite large incision down his back), scared that he won't walk again, scared of what kind of decision we'll have to make if this is the case, scared that he'll recover but then rupture another disk, scared of the stairs and the height of the futon, scared that he'll keel over and die from a heart attack, geez there are a lot of fears. I guess starting tomorrow, we'll just have to take it one day at a time.

One thing that helped me feel better (though it's sort of sad that it has to be), was to hear other stories about pets getting really sick or injured and then getting better - especially recovering from a ruptured disk. In the past few days, I learned the vet tech's dog had 2 surgeries for this, my daughter's piano teacher's dachshund had this back surgery, and the dog of a woman in the waiting room of the animal hospital had the surgery twice. This woman had her other dog there for cancer treatment. I felt bad because when I started talking to her (and was crying), she started crying too. We were like crazy people. I told her about the money dilemma and she said she understood and that people think we're crazy, but it doesn't matter.

Anyway, I'm labeling this "completely unrelated" because I don't often diverge from gardening topics, but if you have a positive story to share about a pet, or if you have experienced this and have advice about the recovery, I would love to hear it - it really helps!!!


  1. Welcome to the club! But i envy you because you are in the US where pets like that can be easily cared for. We are so behind in terms of animal welfare, much more so because our house is far from the city and vets and we just give home remedies to our dogs. We also give a lot of crying for our dogs, and we already have many since I was young. All our dogs are very intelligent and very caring for us and our other pets like cats, chickens and goats. Sometimes we think that they think they are humans too. Or maybe we think we are dogs too! Don't worry Wendy, everything has a reason, it is easier for pets because they can be euthanized when they are already in so much pain. Whatever happens you will move one. Now you made me so sad of our dog who passed away a few months back, because of peoples cruelty to dogs, which our pet unfortunately experienced. God bless our pets Wendy.

  2. Wow, I'm so sorry to hear about the little dog. All I can say is that my wife and I have had to deal with similar situations and I understand how difficult these choices are. You did what you thought was right and his prognosis sounds very is precious. You possess a kind soul Wendy.

    "Pets are humanizing. They remind us we have an obligation and responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life."
    - James Cromwell

  3. That is one lucky dog to have a family that loves him much. All he sees is the happy smiles and faces of your family and I bet he knows he is very special in spite of what all he is going through. You are a very kind person, Wendy.

  4. You are very strong and very kind Wendy!

  5. Dear Wendy, this is a heartrending but absolutely uplifting story. I understand, Potter is my 'fur child', she enriches our lives. Your children are getting an amazing experience of love and compassion. I hope it all turns out OK. Keep us in the picture. Good luck. catmint xx

  6. I am finished crying now...I pray that Scamp has a wonderful recovery and that he walks again soon. What an amazing thing you did for him. Your kids making him pictures is just so touching...please keep us posted...we had a little man named Cash...miss him like crazy.

  7. Oh... I'm so sorry to read this and see how difficult it's been on you. I'd have done the same thing. I joke around a lot about my 'Bad Dog' but he's such a bright light. And he's been suffering with hip problems. So, my time is coming. Hang in there and I hope it all turns out wonderfully. The great thing about dogs is that they never hold a grudge. So, even if you do hurt by lifting him, he'll howl a bit and forgive you a second later...

  8. Wendy, Scamp is so much like part of your family now, so I understand how you feel. You have shown kindness to animals in the way your family cares for Scamp. Now I don't have pets at home because of wheezing and athsma in my children but when I was little, my grandparents and parents took in stray cats and dogs, even runaway/lost children. My Taoist father taught me that animals' lives should be valued as much as human life as we belief in reincarnation. If we have spent our hard earned money and time on saving a life, human or animal, we have saved a valuable life on earth. We will enjoy a clear conscience, also abundance in mind and spirit. The Almighty takes care of us in surprising ways. You will find enough resources e.g. money, help to make it through and when in your time of need, help will come. This is for you:

    " I could not have slept tonight if I had left that helpless little creature to perish on the ground" - Abraham Lincoln said this in reply to friends who chided him for delaying them by stopping to return a fledging to its nest. (I read this from a book).

  9. My heart breaks for you, Wendy. Although I'm a cat person and never had to undergo this kind of decision making, I can totally relate to being so bonded with an animal that you'd do just about anything for them. It's very, very hard to see them suffering. Please keep us posted on Scamp's recovery. From everything you've said, I'm sure he knows he's loved and this is the most important thing. Blessings.

  10. Wendy, you are now a member of the dog lovers' club!
    As the owner of a dachshund, I am all too aware of the potential for back problems.
    "Dodger's List" is THE resource for everything relating to back injuries, disc disease,etc.
    I keep it bookmarked and at the ready.
    Best you can't wait to get your hands on your little guy when he gets home....

  11. You may be losing money, but gaining Karma...and setting a grand example for us all.

  12. Oh Wendy, I feel for you. What a tough situation for all of you. Scamp is a very lucky dog. I have a strong feeling he will make a full recovery with all the love around him. Good luck. (Our dog, Joey sends Scamp his best regards.)


  13. Oh no Wendy!! My heart goes out to you and your family. I'm glad Scamp is looking better. What a heartbreaking thing to have to go through. I hope the surgery was a success and Scamp will be scamping again soon!

  14. Oh Wendy. I'm so sorry to read this post! Hope your lovely dog recover fully and jump while you do your gardening!

  15. Aww, man. Poor puppy dog. :-( I sure do hope he starts walking again and lives a long, wonderful life with his new family. He's so lucky to have you all!

  16. I found your blog from another blog link, and have to comment here.
    Last November, we had to make the decision to put my beloved doberman to sleep who was suffering from a similar condition. Intervertebrael disc disease. He had a couple flare ups that we treated successfully before it completely paralyzed his back legs.

    I know the longer dogs are more prone to sudden ruptures. But the larger breeds like kane (he was huge, 105lbs), have progressive disc degeneration where the pulp in the vertebrae bulge out on the spinal cord and can then rupture.
    After trying every treatment possible, his condition worsened and suddenly paralyzed his back legs. He had a lot of calcification in other areas of his back, making him more prone to the same thing happening again. And again. And that was with a poor prognosis from the vet even with surgery.

    I wanted so badly to try the surgery.. but ultimately we decided not to put him through all the pain and slow recovery when it was very likely he'd have to go through it again. And unlikely he'd even walk again after surgery. I didn't want that to be the end of this life. Pain, not being able to walk, and stuck in a cage.

    Making the decision to put him to sleep was so hard and is one of the worst losses I've ever felt. I miss him every day and am thankful I had such an amazing dog in my life for 8 years.


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