When Lucy first started to show signs of neurological issues, we had no idea what was going on! Our primary veterinary office suggested Lucy was experiencing arthritis, but one day Lucy just stopped walking with her hind legs and that was it. We were in total shock.
I still remember taking her to a neurologist in the area who matter-of-factly examined her and told us that she was not a candidate for surgery, that she would likely develop recurring urinary tract infections and that, ultimately, those infections would be her undoing. It was a devastating experience made only slightly better by the fact that Lucy's bladder expressed at the end of the exam spraying urine all over the exam table and his white lab coat. (Lucy was a big personality. And that doctor was a jerk.)
We've had a lot of time to consider the many ways that Lucy changed our lives. She taught us so much and was largely responsible for my rash decision to quit my non-profit management job and step out into the canine massage frontier.
So, what did we learn from Lucy?
- Question your veterinarian! Just because they are your dog's doctor does not mean they have the definitive answer on what your dog is experiencing. Look for second and third opinions and talk to other pet parents. Diagnosing conditions is hard work and people make mistakes. Weigh all of your options and gather a team of experts around you. Educate yourself.
- Urine scalding is a real thing and it sucks. When a dog is neurologically challenged in the hind end, the bladder is often involved and when urine leaks it can scald the delicate skin of the pelvic area and legs like nobody's business. Bathe your differently-abled dog frequently.
- Every day is a new opportunity to educate. It is highly unusual for the average person to see a dog's bladder being expressed in the grass on a busy residential street during morning rush hour. You'd be surprised (unless you have shared this experience) to know how blunt people can be in their questioning. What's wrong with my dog? Nothing. She is paralyzed and I am helping her urinate because she is not able to do that on her own anymore.
- Old pillowcases have many uses. If your dog is paralyzed and drops poops with little warning and in her sleep, using an old pillowcase as a sleeping bag is a handy way to prevent said poops from ending up in your own bed sheets. And while I'm on the topic of sheets, did you know that you can use an old sheet as a sling to carry your (small) dog with you around the house?
- Don't forget about sunshine! We took Lucy on lots of excursions after she lost mobility. Just because she couldn't walk didn't mean she didn't need the benefit of time spent in the sun.
- Be patient. There's a learning curve for the whole family when a dog's mobility or health status changes. Be patient with yourself and your dog. Chances are good that they are just as distressed as you are during the transition. Accept the unknowns. Embrace your dog and tell him that he is loved and that you will get through this together. Which brings me to the next thing we learned from our Goose Nut...
- Talk to your dog. This is not revolutionary thinking, I know, but talking to Lucy and expressing our thoughts to her really helped us cope with her new disabilities and later hospice care. My rationale was that, even if we made some mistakes along the road, as long as Lucy knew how much we loved her, she would forgive us for our human failings.
- Hydration is key! When your dog can't walk and can't even slither to a water bowl, it becomes more and more difficult to ensure proper hydration each day. Think of it this way - 70 percent of a dog's body is made of water. A dog who's health is compromised in any way will be significantly affected by inadequate water intake. Make hydration your mantra. Soak kibble. Feed your dog extra soupy re-hydrated food. Swap out dry treats with dog-safe slices of moist fruits or veggies.
- No pity parties! People can be insensitive. We were asked some pretty startling questions from time to time. Some of my favorites: How much time does your dog have? Are you going to just let her waste away? Why don't you put her to sleep? I didn't always handle these questions with grace. All I really knew for sure was that Lucy didn't need pity - she needed love and around-the-clock care.
- Celebrate each day together even when it's hard work. I remember Lucy's last night with us like it was yesterday. It was snowing out and Lucy had been lacking an appetite for about a week. We hopped in the car to get coffee and I brought Lucy and Ethel along, Lucy wrapped in a bunting like a little baby. That night we slow roasted some grape tomatoes with herbs de Provence. Lucy ate them enthusiastically. When we settled in to sleep for the night, Lucy fell asleep on my chest and we giggled as she snored like a hibernating bear. She passed away there on my chest in the middle of the night. When I think back to that last night with her, I feel so blessed that our final night together was so joyful and full of so much time together as a family.