Well this is the week. And as we prepare to take Curly in it is becoming very apparent that we made the right call. Although he shows signs of rallying some hours, he's not fooling me. He is doing more things that indicate he is in pain and barely moves all day. And with the wonderful Winnipeg weather we are getting (-25C this morning), even Curly's morning pee is becoming more of a challenge. As a tribute to our furry old senior, we threw a going away party on Friday. Thanks Drew and Kamila for the pound of roast beef for Curly's last week. He's already in heaven. He LOVED it.
So here is Curly's on-line going away party:
I never planned on adopting dog, let alone bringing home Curly, a senior dog, home from the Humane Society. In fact, I had never stepped foot inside the Humane Society before that day. For good reason. I have gone into the Winnipeg Humane Society twice and now we just happen to have two dogs. Coincidence? Not a chance. I don't have the power to go in and not take a dog home. Especially the ones who have issues. My friends are convinced that I get a discount.
I met Curly on January 13, 2005. It was my first week working with Bonnie and Quinn at Lucky Dog Biscuits and I was going on a ride along to our Winnipeg accounts - including the Humane Society. Bonnie convinced me to take a look around. I didn't even get past the puppy cages when I saw this face...
looking out at me amidst the chaos. Under his cage read, "Curly is looking for a good retirement home." Seriously - how could you resist?
Since we had just lost JJ in November, I wasn't sure that I was ready for a dog again. Life was busy and I wasn't sure if it was fair to subject a new (old) dog to our frantic pace. But it really didn't look like he had many prospects. His breath would knock you over from 5 feet away because of the rotten teeth and he barked non-stop during the visit. Ick! Not my idea of fun BUT he was so cute and sad with his head in his paws, and it seemed a shame that someone just gave him away because he was old. No kidding - that's what the file said. Here's the Humane Society ad that came out a day after I adopted him.
I've always been prepared for this time to come with Curly because I honestly didn't think he would live to 13 let alone 15. He had a persistent cough, horrible teeth and more lumps and bumps than a Winnipeg side street. But every time I took him in for a check-up his heart was strong, appetite was good and all the bumps were just fat. (I can relate Curly - I have a few of those too).
He was not a very affectionate dog. I suspect he was treated unkindly in his previous home. He didn't seem to like human companionship and shied away from men for the first year. He's still not affectionate but he has his moments. And we appreciate those moments even more knowing that he is discerning on who gets his attention.
Thanks for being such an easy dog Curly. You really turned out to be an extraordinary pet for such a questionable start. And thanks Leeanne for fixing his teeth and keeping him comfortable in his final weeks.
I just wish we had Curly from the start. I'm sure he would have been a fantastic puppy since he was such an entertaining senior.
Hospice is defined as "providing compassionate comfort care to patients at the end of their lives and also supporting their families in the bereavement process.' That comes, not from a human hospital, but from the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians (AAHABV).
The purpose of hospice is to shift the focus from curing the illness, to making your pet as comfortable as possible during his or her final days. During the time of hospice, it also give you time to prepare for the decision you have to make and the eventual gap left in your life once your pet is gone. Nothing fully prepares you for this and each experience will be different. Each time you go through it you learn something new and you find new ways to deal with the loss.
During hospice, you will likely be faced with changing your home to accommodate your pet. You may need to block access to stairs or furniture that may cause harm to the animal. I remember having to take away JJ's favourite chair after she jumped down and splayed out on the hardwood floors - pulling muscles in the process. Her muscles just got too old to handle the jump. Right now Curly is supervised or blocked from going down the stairs because the codeine makes him dopey and unsteady.
Other hospice functions may include administration of medications. It is important to talk to your vet about the types of medications, how the meds will affect your pet's behaviour, appetite, bowel and bladder function. You may have to administer fluids with a needle, or dress an open wound.
Right now, Curly is on codeine which dopes him up and can also constipate him. To deal with constipation, I add a tablespoon of pumpkin puree to improve the situation. My biggest challenge with the pill is getting it down his throat. It must have a bitter taste and he has learned to spit it out of just about everything except a really sticky batch of dog food I made up.
Other hospice items may include special bedding, elevating the dog's food and water for easy access and setting out some paper or puppy pads for middle of the night (or day) accidents.
And have an emergency number handy. Know what clinics are open 24hrs and if your vet has a person on call. You don't to be stuck flipping through a phone book, or in some cases trying to find a phone book, in the middle of an emergency.
You can get more information of hospice here and here. And I really recommend reading a book such as "Caring for your Aging Dog". There is an excellent section of the book which deals with hospice and the final stages. I believe that knowledge helps you make better decisions and as tough as it is to read, you won't be caught off guard especially if this is your first experience with losing a pet. In fact, it is probably better to read this book long before you are faced with any decisions.
As I've said, Curly's appointment has been set for November 30. I made the appointment for later in the month to give friends and family a chance to come by and give him a last scratch behind the ears. The down side is it gives me lots of time to flip-flop on my decision. There are days that he doesn't look too bad BUT I don't want to wait until some traumatic event forces me to make an emergency decision. It really doesn't need to come to that.
This is the one time it really pays NOT to humanize your pet. By that I mean, it makes the decision easier, for me at least, to look at him and think that he is oblivious to my decision. His last day will seem like the day he hit the jackpot because he will get lots of treats and not have a clue what his day will bring.
For humans, we're in an unfortunate situation in which if we knew what day would be our last, we would sit back and reflect on what we would miss, what we didn't accomplish yet, what we wish we could still do. For Curly, he will wake up that day, get a HUGE breakfast with all of his favourite things - steak, sardines, and maybe even a little chicken. He'll get a walk and a rest. He'll get some fresh baked Peanut Butter and Saskatoon biscuits, followed by a light meal of more steak. He will get to go for a car ride with a pillow on the seat so he can stick his nose out the window - one of his favourite things. He'll get another walk once we get to the office. And then he will get a super drug that will dope him up, make him comfortable, and make the pain and anxiety go away. He'll get lots of pets and kisses and then his jackpot day will end. And he will never be in pain again. He won't have regrets. He won't miss anyone. He will just have the best day of his life.
And yes I will be sad but it is the last thing I can responsibly do for him and it is my honour to do that. And I won't look back because I could second guess this but it won't change anything. He's not getting better and I have the power to stop his suffering.
So the decision has been made and I am determined to stick to it. November 30, 2007 will be Curly's last best day with us and I will enjoy every bit of that day with him. It's the least I can do for him.
Curly is still alive. sorry Mom and other readers if you thought otherwise. See - here he is:
OK, he doesn't look great because he is on codeine which makes him really dopey, but he is resting comfortably.
The reason I went on the rant was because so many people in the variety of parks that we visit would either see him, or ask about him, and then launch into these comments. And I was anticipating the other comments after he was gone - which I believe caused the confusion. I guess I didn't word it very well. I appreciate that people care enough to ask but I could really do without some of their responses. I have found that there are no end to the people who believe that helping means offering advice. Sometimes it is just best to say, I'm sorry to hear about Curly and move on.
Anyway, Curly is still here but we have spoken with the vet to make his appointment. Curly has been spending most of his day lying in his bed and the wag is gone when I suggest that we go for a walk so that says to me it is time. November 30 is his appointment day.
I guess the rant was a plea to anyone reading who knows Curly to please not offer advice on how I can keep him around or comment that he looks good. I am having a hard enough time convincing myself that this is the right thing to do. And I'm hoping that by talking about this and recording the process will help anyone else who is struggling, or knows someone who is struggling with the same decision.
So sorry for the confusion but we have a plan in motion. And I am OK with it, for now...
So as I am working through this process of making a decision about Curly I am noticing there are a number of DUMB things people can say. This usually happens at the dog park - that great social forum akin to a children's playground. So for the sake of others who are losing or have lost their pet, I am going to rant (just slightly) about inappropriate things to do or say when someone is making this type of decision:
And after the decision has been made :
All you have to do is say that you are very sorry for my loss. That's it. SIMPLE. SINCERE. SHORT. I know it is a hard thing to talk about because you have to face the same thing some day. And sometimes it catches you by surprise so you aren't prepared to respond appropriately.
Don't assume everyone wants to be treated the same way that you want to be treated. The best quote I've seen on that is from our ultra talented, ultra smart designer in a piece she created for her Love Life book. She stated:
So true Kal, so true...
NOTE: Curly is still with us. He's on a bit of a rally at the moment. The "not to say list" is a combination of things people say to me as I debate the final decision and things I've heard people say to other people who have lost their pets. Curly dude is still here but is on codeine at the moment.
Well Curly scarfed down breakfast and supper and is looking at me for more food so maybe it was just a bad morning the other day. I was looking over the pain list again and thought I would add a couple of my own.
Pacing: I guess this technically falls under "agitated" for behaviour changes but to me it is an unexpected reaction to pain. When I'm in pain, I lay on the couch and moan loudly for someone to fix me, or bring me something that will help shut me up for a while, or if it is bad enough, I ask for someone to shoot me. If it wasn't illegal I'm sure someone would oblige after listening to the racket. I DO NOT make 20 laps around the house before settling into the exact same spot I have been lying in for the last hour. Curly has been pacing a lot lately.
Licking - when there is no wound: Dogs will lick sore spots. It's a bit like when you slam your finger in the door and immediately start sucking on your finger to alleviate the pain. Come on - I can't be the only one in the world that does that! At least I don't do that to a stubbed toe. Anyhoo, dogs will lick sore joints in an attempt to make it feel better. But I've seen other types of licking before with JJ. It was more of an obsessive-compulsive licking of her front paws. And on a white dog, that creates noticeable patches of brown when it happens often enough. I noticed she would obsessively lick when she would get an ear infection. She had weird allergies that we didn't recognize as allergies until her third ear infection when our vet suggested that some dogs with allergies get chronic ear infections. Who knew?? She started licking as she got sick from old age too. I'm not saying that this is a scientifically proven fact because I have only observed it with one dog, but it seemed to occur when she was uncomfortable. So if licking is not a usual behaviour, something may be up.
I am thinking of signing Curly up for a little acupuncture this week. It's worth a try and to be honest I am a bit curious to see if it will help. Personally, I've had acupuncture and it didn't help. I'm not saying it can't help, it just didn't help me at the time. I want to see if I notice a difference on the little man. The worst that can happen is I will be out a few dollars. On the up side, it may make him a little more comfortable while I get a little more comfortable with my impending decision.
Curly didn't get up for breakfast today. I had to prod him out of bed and carry him outside. That is VERY unusual. Breakfast is his favourite part of the day. That reminded me that I promised everyone a little overview of pain and pets. I was going to type out a list of all of the symptoms but in my research I came across a site that says it all and more. It is the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) and if they don't know animal pain, then I don't know who would.
Here are some highlights that I think are really important:
So that said, I'm thinking my little guy has taken a turn for the worse. Maybe he is just having a bad day today - that can happen, so I will continue to monitor him. But I will also be emailing the vet (it's a nice option with my vet) to see if I can up his meds or get something stronger. I know he's not going to last forever. BUT I would like him to last just a little bit longer. I know when he gets bad enough I will have the power to call it. He's just not that bad yet - in my mind anyway. If Curly could talk he may have a whole other story for me. I always have in the back of my mind, my grandmother chiding me about my other dog JJ (who was 15 years old and sick but I just wouldn't admit how sick she was). This is JJ in her later years.
I told my grandmother that JJ didn't want to get out of bed one day when we went to visit. Grandma said "She can't tell you that she is in pain" meaning recognize the signs you dummy (not that grandma would ever call me a dummy) and do something about it - whatever it is. I hung on with JJ far too long.
So with that in mind, Curly will not have to suffer even though I'm not ready. I'm getting ready so hang in there buddy - just a little longer.
Check out the IVAPM website for all of the signs and treatments for pain.
Well the old guy (Curly that is) is on the final countdown. We suspect that he has Cushing's disease or Cushing's syndrome and after a visit to the vet yesterday, we have gone over our options. We've chosen not to do the tests required to confirm the diagnosis because the treatment, if positive, is essentially chemo and/or surgery and we are not doing that to a 15 year old dog.
Cushing's syndrome, also called hyperadrenocorticism, is a disorder in which the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. The causes for overproduction can include a tumour on the pituitary gland, problems with the adrenal glands (tumours or overactivity), or steroid treatment. Since Curly isn't on steroids, it is likely that one of the other causes is the problem.
So far it all just sounds like a old dog slowing down. But what makes us think it is Cushing's is:
Advanced symptoms include:
It's the panting that got me. He's been doing a lot of that and very little exercise to warrant the panting. And he has his first ever ear infection. A surprisingly bad one at that.
On the up side, it is a slow progressing disease that does not cause a lot of pain. We will have to monitor him closely for signs of infection or pain. Pain is a tough one because animals don't express pain the way we think they would. There are the obvious pain signs - yelping, whimpering, limping. Since Curly seems to have an incredible pain tolerance, I believe the signs will be more subtle. I am reading through a book called "Caring for Your Aging Dog" and when I get to the chapter on pain, I'll share some details. Or as my vet, Leeanne puts it, I am caring for an "aged" dog. He is past the aging stage and is now firmly placed in old age - 83 is the estimated human age for his size.
I will keep you posted on our progress. Although it isn't a pleasant subject, it is all a part of having a dog and as a company that aims to educate, as well as feed your pets, I think it is important to recognize and address all stages of life, even the unpleasant parts. So come along with me on this part of the journey.
Curly is officially showing his age after 14 and a 1/2 years. I've been through this a couple times now with other dogs. The cloudy eyes, the slow and unsteady walk due to arthritis. And then there is that first heart stopping tumble down the basement stairs. Yes, he fell from the top step right to the bottom. He does these stair everyday but for some reason he just couldn't get all limbs working and down he went. Fortunately it was more of a slide than a tumble so nothing is broken. He just staggered to his feet and wandered away. This time...
So I finally put him on some drugs - meloxicam to be exact. I'm still trying some natural food supplements like MSM/Glucosomine/Chondroitin combo, fish and flax oil, and eliminating tomatoes (which used to be added to his food for prostrate health) but I was finding he still was walking with pretty stiff legs. So I asked our vet to prescribe some anti-inflamatories. These drugs can be hard on the dog's stomach and are not recommended for long term use, but at 14 and a 1/2, how long term are we really talking about? He's been on them for a month now and the wag is back in his tail. That's how I can always tell when it is time, when the wag is gone. Even when their favourite things are presented to them - car rides, walks, treats- nothing says unhappy like a dog that has no wag left.
The results from the drugs have been amazing. He has turned into a 12 year old again. He dances around at the prospect of going for a car ride. And by dance, I mean actually catches airtime - both feet off the ground, leaping and prancing around. And he willingly goes for walks again. I thought it was all good until I witnessed the tumble. So now all of his downstairs trips will be supervised. It may soon be time to put up the baby gate which will frustrate Cooper to no end. There is nothing like having two dogs of a different age to complicate the dynamics of the home. But more on that another day.
So I am still trying some natural remedies and will attempt to wean him off the meds just to give his stomach a break, but when that wag leaves again - back on the drugs he goes. I'll get back to you on some of the natural things to try. From what I know about them so far, it is better to start them before the problems occur (prevention being the key) and there are differing opinions on forms of supplements and quantities. More later. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for Curly that his tumble was just a momentary clumsy accident and nothing more. Getting old is tough business.