Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Con man

Do you know how much it costs to fix a dog's broken back? No? Well, let me tell you. It's just a shade over twenty jillion dollars. So when we were trying to pick up the pieces after Chickenbone's accident in November, we decided to be prudent and offset that cost by skipping a big vacation this year.

This plan seemed all well and good until about March, when after two months of two full-time jobs, a full-time baby and a dog bladder that needed full-time expressing, I realized it wasn't going to work. So one evening I sat Sal down. "Hi!" I told him. "I'm losing my shit over here. We NEED a break."

I didn't have in mind anything huge or expensive. Maybe just a nice weekend in our favorite place on earth, Santa Barbara. Just the three of us - me, my husband and my daughter. Well, let's just say this wasn't a hard sell. Sal's wiped out, too. So it was settled! And the next day I gleefully started calling around to make a boarding reservation for Chickens.

Five calls later, I hung up the phone and burst into tears.

Because, you see, it's difficult to find accommodations for a dog who can't pee on his own. Three boarding facilities flat-out refused to take him, and two vet offices said they could do it, but their employees go home at 6 and don't return till the next morning. Chickens just can't go that long without a pee.

Panic welled up inside me as I began to realize the situation we were in. That any "break" we could take would be limited to five hours, for as long as this FOUR-YEAR-OLD DOG shall live.

I've since been banging my head against a wall trying to figure a way out of this. Lots of friendly professional pet-sitters are willing to come stay at our house, and a few even offered to learn how to express his bladder. I wish it could be that easy. But it took me two solid weeks of expressing him five times per day to get good at it. Same for Sal. It's quite a special talent! One that takes lots of patience and lots of practice.

Then it hit me. There is, in fact, another solution. And that would be a little something I like to call THE GOD-DANGED DOG PEEING ON HIS OWN. Wacky, I know! So I did a little research, starting with a wonderful web site called Dodgerslist, which is devoted to dogs who suffer from IVDD. And I read that when a dog is able to use a leg to scratch his head, that's a good sign that neurological function has returned to his back end. Well, guess what. Chickens can do that.

So I sent an e-mail to one of the site moderators, an angel of a woman who has offered her advice and encouragement to us many times in the past six months. And I said, look. Chickens can scratch himself. He can walk fairly well. He spritzes pee on bushes and trees when we go around the block. What gives? How can we get this dog to empty his bladder on his own?

She replied with a question: "Is there a reason you're still expressing his bladder?"

To which I replied, "Um ... "

Is there? I don't know! We just are! It's not like we've seen him trot into the back yard and take a whiz on a tree - but then again, when would he have had the chance? We've been expressing his bladder morning, noon and night for SIX FREAKING MONTHS!

She wrote back and asked me a bunch of questions. Like, was his spinal rupture in his back or his neck? (His back.) Does he ever leak urine? (Thankfully, no.) Does his tail raise up when you express him? (Every time.) Do you ever have him him diapers? (Dear god. NO.) I answered all her questions and waited anxiously. And then I got this reply:

"Amy, congratulations - Chickenbone has bladder control!"

She said she's never seen a dog regain the neurological function that Chickens has without also regaining the ability to go pee. "When he marks like that, it is sure-fire proof that nerve messages are traveling to and from the bladder and brain through the spinal cord," she wrote. "The brain tells the bladder to release pee to mark, and the bladder releases." This is also in line with what Chickens' surgeon said at his last checkup, which is that it's rare for a dog to be able to walk again but not pee.

In other words, he's been scamming us!

Then she offered advice on how to retrain Chickens to pee on his own. She suggested that we get another dog to come pee in our back yard to trigger his marking instinct. Then we need to bring him outside regularly, encourage him to pee, and give him lots of treats and praise if/when he does. This will not be easy - he is just so accustomed to being expressed now. And ironically, just expressing him is actually easier for us than taking a bunch of time for training.

But whether he can pee on his own or not, one thing's for sure - we are getting awfully tired of carrying him up and down those steps in the back yard, especially when there's a dog in one arm and a wiggly baby in the other. Also, I suspect that if Chickens could get to the grass by himself, we might have more success with all this. So! This weekend my father-in-law came over and built us a spiffy new handicapped-dog ramp! It is excellent. And the moment it was complete, Chickens raced up and down it several times.

Next comes a trip to the neighbors to borrow some dog pee, and then we're going to solve this nonsense once and for all.

The jig is up, little buddy!

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Unless you walk around with a camera in your hand all the time, it's next to impossible to catch a "first." But luckily my keen mommy instincts kicked in this morning when I suspected Mia was going to accomplish the daredevil baby stunt known as ... BACK-TO-FRONT!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

First Mother's Day

I was laying in bed this morning when Sal brought in the laptop to show me one of my Mother's Day presents:

He followed it up with a beautiful card and a fat gift certificate to my favorite nail salon. Well done, husband.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Quality of life

I'm part of an online moms group - a bunch of us whose babies were born in October 2009 - and this week I was heartbroken to read about a family whose dachshund suffered a back injury just like Chickenbone's. The mom wrote that her 8-year-old daughter accidentally dropped the dog, who could not walk the next morning, and she wanted to know how to keep the girl from blaming herself for what happened.

The mom also wondered about the dog's suffering, and whether it would have to be put to sleep. For a moment, my mind flooded with the terrible memories of the night of Chickenbone's injury, his surgery, and his long road to recovery. I vividly remember us sitting in the vet hospital exam room as the surgeon explained that lots of people think paralyzed dogs are better off being put down. But she said even if Chickens recovered no leg function whatsoever, he could still live a long and happy life using a little wheeled cart. So that's the worst-case scenario we braced for, and we went ahead with the procedure.

For a long - and, you'll recall, mostly miserable - five weeks, we saw not even a flicker of leg movement. Even when he did begin to move them, it still took months before he stood properly, and more months before he became a real walker again. Now he runs, scratches himself and whips around in little circles when he's excited about something. As I wrote my advice to the mom, I realized that it has all been 100 percent worth it. Which I suppose is another way of saying that a few times along the way, I wasn't so sure about that. But Chickens brings such joy to our house, and particularly to our daughter, and I just couldn't imagine our life without him.

But an important concern for us is whether HE is happy. Chickens was an incredibly self-sufficient dog before his injury, and he had many ways of entertaining himself when we weren't around. Most of which involved jumping up on furniture. Well, obviously that's a thing of the past. But even though he has to remain on the ground, we have figured out a few adjustments that help him enjoy his favorite things from his "old" life.

Old Chickens loved to hop up on the couch and doze in the sun.

Now, when we see a "sun spot" on the floor through a window or the front door, we drop a blanket down and he races over to lay down and catch some rays.

Old Chickens also liked to jump on the loveseat and stare out the window all afternoon.

Sal used a bunch of couch cushions to invent the "soft shoe" (explanation on that term here) so that he can still enjoy the view, and the pillows create a barrier that keep him from leaping off the couch when a cat wanders by.

Luckily for Chickens, there's someone else in our house who's on the floor a lot, and even has toys to share.

When she's not on the floor, he just needs a little boost to give her a kiss.

And now that it's summertime, we can just plop him down in the back yard where he can sniff the grass, chase squirrels and take long afternoon naps. I'd say this is a dog who's glad he stuck around, wouldn't you?