Monday, March 31, 2014

Every day's a gift with Albi

We've had Albi for more than 10 years. She's 17, at least - when we first saw her, in August 2003, her animal shelter profile said she was 6 1/2. I've always chosen to celebrate her birthday on Christmas Day.

As of 2011, Albi is completely blind, and partially, but not entirely, deaf. She eats with a ferocity that frightens me, an intensity that reminds me of Buster - this from a dog that, until 2011 or so, was an oh-so-picky eater, having to have a bit of wet food mixed in with her dry food or, no way, she wouldn't eat it, and even if she did, it would be oh-so-delicately. She also didn't care much for treats. Now, she inhales her dry food, and is angry if her 3 treats don't show up immediately after she finishes breakfast or supper.

Because of her the hip and shoulder dysplasia, she needs help getting up about half the time, but can usually do it on her own if she's completely on her bed or on carpet. She pulls herself up by her front legs - her back legs hold her up once she's standing. We've put a mix of carpets everywhere, so that Albi won't have to be on the laminate floors at all if she doesn't have to be. And I lead her around to those carpets - she has a day place to sleep (the living room) and an evening place to sleep (the kitchen), and she knows what time of day it is when she's lead to a particular area.

Until a year ago, she went to bed around 8 and slept a full 12 hours - sometimes more. It was rather awesome. But a few months ago, she started getting up at 3, 4 or 5 in the morning, needing to go outside. She also now needs to go outside a couple of times during the day. Those internal organs have, at last, started to wear out. That's why she sleeps in the kitchen: it's quicker to the side door, and I usually wake up because I hear her tap dancing on the vinyl kitchen floor. I now sleep in something appropriate for a quick walk outside at 3 in the morning.

I miss the mornings after we first moved in to our home here in Forest Grove, when she would sleep by our bed, and I would wake her by getting on the floor with her, petting her, and telling her how gorgeous and wonderful and perfect and completely rotten and spoiled she is, singing a song or two, and then, when she deemed she had been appropriately worshipped - and sometimes after a bite into the air just to remind me that she's still my feisty girl - she would get up and I would lead her through the house and out the door.

I also miss our longer walks. Even 9 months ago, we'd walk up two blocks, say hello to Ravi Shankur (the cat, not the singer), then cross the street and come right back down Birch Street. There was also a sweet golden retriever that didn't mind at all if I maneuvered her in such a way that I could pet her head while Albi got a nose full of her butt - something she relished. That .3 mile walk took about 20 minutes to do. But for the last four months, we just walk down to our corner, cross the street, walk up half a block and come right back home - enough time for her to do what she needs to, and to smell a few pee spots, but no more. And we've often not been the only ones out even at 4 in the morning - sometimes there are joggers, sometimes there are people walking to the bus stop for a job somewhere, and once, a cop stopped us, asking us if we had seen a guy walking around. I said no, and then almost ran back to the house, terrified at what guy was out walking around being sought after by the cops at freakin' 4 in the morning.

After Albi's frenzied breakfast, where I sneak in half a pain pill, she gets 3 Costco dog treats. For most of her life she got a full cup of regular dog food in the morning and again in the evening; that's been cut into just 1/2 cup in the morning and 1/3 a cup at night, and she's now eating low-fat food. The severe reduction in her walks have meant she got quite overweight, and her back legs just couldn't handle that. She lost a LOT of weight in 2013, and there's no doubt that weight loss extended her life and improved its quality - it's why she's been able to get up on her own.

It used to be such a struggle to get her to drink water. Now, she drinks frequently. To the point that I worry. But she had full blood work done in January 2013 and again in January 2014, along with a look at her urine - both times, she came back with very healthy numbers.

When she wants water, she stands up and doesn't lay back down. She just stands there. That means, "I'm thirsty, lead me to my water bowl." Her favorite time to do this is when I'm on a Skype conference call.

There are no more car rides. When going through the trauma of getting her in the car to move here to Forest Grove, I knew that was probably her last ride in a car. I was wrong by one - in January, when we took her to the vet, we carried her on her bed, like Cleopatra, and placed her in the back of the car, drove to the vet, then lifted her bed out of the car onto the drive way, and we helped her up so she could walk into the vet on her own.

She will not relax in the back yard. She used to love laying on grass in the sun. Now, I think she's terrified I'm going to abandon her outside. I've walked her around the yard a few times, but she won't relax. Last summer and into the warm Fall, we would take her onto the back porch and she'd lay on her bed there for a few minutes if we're there too, but now, she really wants to stay inside.

Even with her poor hearing, she often knows when Stefan has come home. She immediately leans against him if he pets her, and will pretend to try to bite him if he stops sooner than she likes.

She also growls and howls if she realizes the neighbors dogs are at the front door - or if she thinks they are, because she hears our neighbor's voice. It is hilarious. She will growl/howl, then slowly, ever so slowly, get up off her bed, then slowly start walking and barking towards where she thinks the front door might be. Picture a woman with a walker, pushing it slowing in front of her as she walks and shouts, "You kids, get off my lawn!" and you will have an idea of what it looks like.

For 2013, and most of this year so far, she's been comfortable and happy. She's had her dignity and her full personality, despite the blindness and the hip and shoulder dysplasia. And I have relished it, as I didn't think she would make it to the summer of 2013, let alone through it. Hell, I've prepared myself for losing her with her first cancer scare in 2008 and her second one in early 2010, just a few months after we arrived in Oregon. Every day has been a gift with Albi, especially the last two years. And I know that, had I worked outside the home, this last year in particular probably would not have been possible.

Last night, we had a huge scare: we were more than halfway through Cosmos, and she started walking around - her indication that she needed to go out. So I put on some shoes and put her leash on her and we lumbered out the side door. She peed in her usual spot, and then we crossed the street, to walk to the corner and then cross back to the house. But on the sidewalk across the street, Albi collapsed. She does sometimes stumble and lay down and then need to lay there for a few seconds to get her bearings, but I knew this time was different almost immediately - she tumbled forward rather than back onto her legs. And she was not responsive. I got down on the sidewalk with her. Her breathing was labored. And then I thought it stopped altogether. She didn't flinch at my holding her front paw - something she loathes. I started to panic, and cry. Just when I was thinking I was going to have to leave her and run across the street, a car was passing - it slowed, and there was one of my neighbors, asking, "Do you need me?" and I said yes, please go get my husband. She stopped the car and did just that. They both came over and I did my best to say what was happening. I really did think she was dying right there, right then.

After we knew she was breathing and, while not her normal breathing, it was stable, Stefan went and got her largest dog bed. Together, we lifted her and put her on the bed - something she would NEVER tolerate under normal circumstances, as lifting her at the shoulder is terribly painful. But she didn't flinch - she let us do it without making a noise. We carried her on the bed into the house. After petting her and talking to her for a while, and watching her breathing, Stefan suggested we try to give her water. So we presented her with her water bowl. And she couldn't get her tongue to work - she kept biting at the water, something she used to do only when standing in a moving stream. For the next two hours, we did our best to get as much water down her as possible, as she was incredibly thirsty. Finally, at around 11:30, we went to bed - I slept in the kitchen, next to Albi.

Albi slept really well after that, but she’s not at all comfortable this morning. Since 4:30 a.m., she’s been out to pee four times. She’s also pooped twice. She’s drank an extraordinary among of water. But as of 9:30 a.m., she’s obviously uncomfortable - she’s making her version of a whine, where she breaths hard and there’s this little, tiny bit of a whine in it. She’s up on her front legs, ears pointed, like she’s listening intently or wants me to do something. But I can’t figure out what she needs. With all that peeing and pooping, I would think she would feel better. But she just cannot get comfortable.

Per some online research I did last night, I think she had a "doggy stroke": the sudden onset of symptoms of vestibular disease. It's a fairly common condition in older dogs, and most dogs gradually improve. If I've diagnosed her correctly, I should be able to tell by tomorrow morning if she's truly getting better.

I've decided not to take her into the vet. With such recent blood and urine analysis, there's really nothing he could tell me if it wasn't in those tests just 9 weeks ago. Even if she has had the sudden onset of vestibular disease, there's not much to be done, other than maybe giving her prednisone. What I have to decide, if she doesn't get significantly better, is if this is it - if it's time to make the decision every pet owner dreads. That's a decision that you can't take back. While I know I did it at the right time with Wiley, I also know I did it WAY too early with Buster, and that regret burns in my gut every day. I will not make that mistake with Albi.

I’m just really tired and trying to think with a clear head about what’s best. I don’t want to be pressured into anything.

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