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!

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