Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Pepper Predicament - Part 3: Pepper's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

After calling our regular vet to confirm they were closed for the night, we hopped in the car and headed to the local 24-hour emergency vet (which, thankfully, is about a 10 minute drive from our house). We'd caught someone at our vet's office before they left for the day, so they were able to fax over Pepper's medical history while we were on our way.

It didn't take long before we were in an exam room. A vet tech came and took care of all the normal stuff: temperature, weight, all that jazz. My perception of time is all out of whack, but I don't think it was very long after that before the vet came in. He checked Pepper over, asked us to tell him what happened (which we had already told the receptionist and the vet tech, so we were pretty good at getting all the details out by then). By this point, Pepper was so lethargic and weak that he was simply lying on the exam table, barely lifting his head. It took everything in me not to start bawling.

We learned a few things right away. The first was that the vet believed Pepper's heart murmur was at a grade 4 or 5. Now, grading heart murmurs can be pretty subjective and it obviously varies by vet, but the last we knew he was at a 2 or 3 so that kind of hit me like a truck. The other thing we learned was that they were going to keep Pepper... for 2 or more days. I HATED the idea of him being away from us, but I also understood the importance of monitoring him and keeping him safe. 

One thing that kept resulting in perplexed looks and confusion was that Pepper hadn't been vomiting or had any nasty shits since getting into the garbage. We admitted that we had been surprised by that as well, and no one was sure if that was a good sign or a bad one. 

We were given a rundown of the tests he would undergo: x-rays and ultrasounds to check for blockages, an echo to see how his heart is doing, etc. He would be put on an IV right away to keep him hydrated, and they would be keeping him in an area that has someone on duty 24 hours a day. They offered to take us on a tour of the facility, which we gladly took them up on. They showed up where Pepper would get his testing done, where he would be sleeping, where the other animals would be... I was glad to see that he would have plenty of space (the crate he had there was bigger than the one he shares with Maxine) and that someone would be there to check in on him. After a lot of fussing and near breakdowns, we left our little man in their hands.

They told us we could call or come over to check on him whenever we wanted. We started taking advantage of that the next morning. I had a dentist appointment that morning (yay cavity) and was originally supposed to work before and after, but with my baby in the hospital, I wasn't able to concentrate on anything else. I got through my dentist appointment, got back home, and asked Hubby what he'd learned. The truth was that there wasn't much to know yet. They had done the echo and the x-rays, but hadn't found anything conclusive. They said he had been walking fine when they took him out around 3 that morning, and again around 8, but that when they walked him at 10 he had regressed, and was back to being unsteady and uncoordinated. They decided that the next step was an ultrasound, but after that they were pretty much out of ideas. They suggested we consider seeing a neurologist.

What Hubby said at that point about killed me. "Putting him down is starting to look like a real possibility."

I wasn't ready to accept that. I called my mom and talked to her for awhile. She helped calm me down and after talking about things, I decided to go the vet to visit. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have reservations about driving in Milwaukee. Hubby drives me damn near everywhere I need to go, and driving in the city makes my anxiety jump through the roof. I'd already had to drive myself to the dentist that morning, and here I was about to drive to the vet. I wish Pepper could understand how much I love him. I was not just willing to drive to see him, I was determined to. You couldn't have stopped me. Because if putting him down was even an option, I was going to spend as MUCH time with him as possible.

I spent an hour with him that afternoon. They put a blanket on the floor for me to sit on, and they opened the crate so I could get close to him. I talked to him. I pet him. I kissed him and hugged him. He was still so lethargic, I could hardly believe he was my little man.

They stopped by to draw blood from him at one point. He was slightly more alert after that (probably because they had taken him from the comfort of his blankies), but not much. He perked up a bit when he heard another dog getting fed, and they told me that he had been eating while he was there, which is always a good sign. I left reluctantly (only because I knew we'd be back later), and managed not to cry until I got into my car.

Hubby and I came back that evening to talk to the vet. Little had changed, but we were going to try something new. We were going to put him back on the thyroid medication (the stuff we had tried in June for a couple of weeks), because it appeared clear to the vet that the thyroid issues were the predominant concern at the moment. After spending some more time with Pepper, we left, hoping the morning would bring some better news.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Pepper Predicament - Part 2: We Have a Pepper Down

Most anyone who has or has had a dog knows that they love to get into things they shouldn't. Miss Maxine first got into the kitchen garbage within a week of adopting her (which is why we quickly changed to a lidded can) and ate some Arby's wrappers. She once stole some very expensive cheese - this stuff costs about $20/lb - while we were still in the room. She ate 90% of a bacon-wrapped filet before we caught her, has eaten June bugs (ewwwww), and has tried to eat several bees (but hasn't been successful). Sgt Pepper is much the same. In the 6 months we've had him, he has chewed up 3 pairs of shoes, chewed on Hubby's baseball glove, has gotten into the living room trash at least once (I think it was twice), and now the kitchen garbage twice. And those are just a handful of things he's gotten to, I'm sure.

So knowing this, and having experienced similar happenings in the past, when Pepper got into the trash, we expected some kind of... reaction. To put it bluntly, we figured he would puke and/or shit because of the things he had ingested. Especially with the beef trimmings being so fatty, we were sure some doggy diarrhea was in our future. So we waited. He might've had some digestive issues from the first time in the trash, I don't really remember. But the second time, there was nothing. It happened on a Monday evening, and all Monday night he was fine.

When he was a little slow on Tuesday morning, we figured maybe it was catching up with him. I woke Hubby up at about 6:30 to come see him moving slowly and awkwardly, concerned he had eaten something toxic. But he went outside nice enough, did his business (which was normal), and came back inside. No real problem.

Until we tried to feed him. He took a few bites and then went to bed. Now, that may not seem like a big deal. Maybe he was still full from his all-you-can-eat garbage buffet, right? Well, you haven't met this dog. Dogs are motivated by different things. Some are motivated by praise, and simply making you happy is enough to get them going. Some love treats and toys. Pepper is food-motivated. He is never more animated than when he's about to get fed. And once you drop that bowl, all bets are off. Your fingers better be out of there, lest he consume them in his haste.

I followed him back to his crate and watched him. I knew he needed his heart meds, which were mixed in with his food, so I brought it out to him and spoon fed him. I fed him his whole breakfast. He hadn't lost his appetite at all! He was just too lethargic to stand there and eat. Same thing happened with dinner. All day he was a little slow, a little off, but we figured things just had to run their course.

Wednesday morning he was doing better. He went up and down the steps by himself, ate some breakfast from his bowl, etc. Things were looking up! So Hubby and I planned to go to the State Fair that night after work and things were business as usual.

Until we were about to leave. We always try to take the pups out before we go anywhere because Pepper has such a hard time holding it. So out we went... except something was wrong. Pepper was walking like he was drunk, stumbling around and uneasy on his feet. Eventually he went to lift his leg to pee and down he went. He just fell over! Right then I decided the fair could wait; we were taking Pepper to the emergency vet NOW.

To be continued...  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Pepper Predicament - Part 1: Pepper, Destroyer of Kitchens

So to help you go through this the same way we did, I have to start with the Wednesday before everything went down.

Hubby and I went to the zoo for Sunset Zoofari (something our zoo does in the summer where the zoo closes like normal at 5 but reopens from 6-9). When we go places, we tend to leave Maxine in the living room and Pepper in the kitchen. See, Pepper is an old man and has some separation anxiety. Put those together and you tend to come home to a lot of piss and shit. Literally. So while Maxine is free to roam the (carpeted) living room, Pepper is confined to the (linoleum) kitchen. We close the bedroom and bathroom doors, leave out a few pee pads, give him toys and treats to curb some of his chewing, and we have a nice bed in there for him to rest on. 

So on this particular Wednesday, to help Pepper's separation anxiety (and partly due to laziness), we kept BOTH the pups in the kitchen. We thought Pepper might feel better if Maxine was there to hang out with. Well, that and they hadn't finished eating yet, so rather than waiting or forcing Maxine to go without the rest of her dinner, we just put the baby gate up and left. When we got home, we realized this may have been a mistake:

You know you love the '70s floor.
Yes, we came home to a disaster zone. The garbage and recycling were both tipped over (a first in the almost 6 months we've had Pepper). The floor was littered with boxes, paper, coffee grounds, food containers, you name it. An old shoe was used as a chew toy (not a huge deal, but still). Pepper (and possibly Maxine, who knows?) had peed everywhere (both on and off the pads) and took what I call a walking dump (where he takes a shit but can't squeeze everything out in one go, so he keeps trying and in the process ends up wandering a bit, leaving little dollops of crap all over the place). Since Pepper is a tiny little thing (17 pounds) and not always the most active dog in the world, we figured this was a collaboration of sorts. There was, after all, a motivational component to this: a bone from the pork Hubby had made the weekend before was in the trash, along with remnants of aluminum foil that no doubt smelled (and probably tasted) like tasty, forbidden meat. Oi.

The following Monday we went to dinner with a friend. This time we returned to our normally scheduled programming and left Pepper in the kitchen and Maxine in the living room. When we got home, we expected to clean up the standard P&S package that Pepper so thoughtfully leaves for us on a regular basis. Instead, we came home to an almost identical scene. This time the recycling bin stayed upright, but the garbage was down, there was P&S everywhere (including the bed, which we have now just thrown away), it was gross. It took awhile to come to terms with the fact that this little dog (who even on his hind lefts isn't as tall as the bin) had created such chaos. Then we realized there had been beef trimmings in the trash. If there is one thing in this world that motivates Pepper, it's food. And apparently he simply could not resist the temptation any longer. We gave him the opportunity, and he ran with it. Totally our bad.

Going forward, we decided to put the trash can in the bathroom (with the door closed, of course). That decision was not a hard one to make (although I'm still pulling for just getting a bigger, heavier trash can, because one of these times we WILL forget to move it, I just know it), and it has been working pretty well for us. Problem solved, right?

Come on, you know better than that.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Pepper Predicament - Prequel

Part of adopting a rescue dog is being uncertain of the past. Miss Maxine, as you may recall, started as a mill dog who had a litter or two very young. Then she was a farm dog, fed only scraps of people food and (probably) given no real love. Then she was adopted by a couple who brought her back within a month because she wasn't the right fit for them. While we know the general outline, we don't know any of the specifics. With Pepper, it's even less clear. All we know is that his owner died, he was transported from Kentucky to Wisconsin (in the dead of winter), and now he's our little man. Who knows what happened during his 10-12 years of life before us?

Part of adopting an older/senior dog is being uncertain of the future. Maxi was probably about 2 when we adopted her almost 5 years ago, so she's about 7 now (maybe as young as 6 or as old as 8). She still thinks she's a puppy sometimes, and she's always full of energy and excitement. We figure she's got a decent amount of time left with us, and we'll do whatever we can to make sure that's the case. When you adopt an older dog, every day going forward is more precious, but less certain. Pepper is our old man. The people who first rescued him thought he was about 7 years old. Then the vet in WI took a look and decided he was more like 10-12, but probably closer to 10 since he's still pretty spunky. This past week, we were told he was more likely on the upper end (more precisely, we were told he was "older than [we] thought"). We've had him for almost 6 months now, but we have no idea how much longer he'll be in our lives. He's in heart failure, has thyroid issues, urinates ALL the time, and is a crotchety old man. And even though we don't know everything that the future holds, we do know that we're in it with him all the way.

Part of adopting ANY dog (really, any animal at all) is love. Unconditional, intense, instant, everlasting love. If you don't love your dog, it's not the dog's fault... Our dogs can drive us absolutely insane. They steal our food, make messes in our house, demand attention at inopportune moments, bark their fool heads off for no real reason, need to be taken out in all kinds of weather, and frequently act like our desire to cuddle them is an annoyance at best. But we wouldn't change a thing. We chastise them for stealing our steak, but still share our bacon. We clean up their messes and blame ourselves for being inattentive. We shirk our responsibilities to make sure our pups know they're loved. We let them bark, take them out in a foot of snow or the dead of night, and we force them into cuddling even if they squirm the whole time. And we do it all because we freakin' love those little furballs more than we can even explain.

And it's that love that means we'll do anything if we think it will help them stay in our lives even for one more afternoon, one more walk, one more cuddle. We know they won't live forever. We might hope and pray that they will, but somewhere inside we know that they will leave us eventually. And as heartbreaking as it is to lose a family member - furry or otherwise - we know that we're better off for having had them in our lives at all. And if we've done things right, we know that they were better off for having been part of our family, no matter how briefly.

This may all seem obvious (especially if you have a pet that you love with all of your heart), but I felt it necessary that I explain all of this before diving into the events coming in the next few posts.

To be continued...