Friday, December 30, 2011

Update on Butch

Butch is once again celebrating suppertime, and I couldn't be happier. He won't stick his muzzle into his food dish (maybe it's painful?), but he happily lets me put food in his mouth one spoonful at a time. I had stopped feeding him crunchy kibble sometime last year, but now I'm softening his meals even more. If the next step needs to be mush, we'll do that, too. As long as he's happy and his gum condition isn't going to cause him to starve, I'll do whatever needs to be done to keep him comfortable.

If you can call this comfortable: Thanks to all of you who expressed your concern. He's doing well, and I am SO relieved.

(Partial reprint of a post first published at Velvet Sacks on December 30, 2011.)

Things that are dogging us

December 28, 2011 - 1:46 PM
Butch has been perkier in the last week than he's been in at least a year. He's been so stiff and arthritic that I can't recall the last time he was able to get up on the furniture, but I looked up the other day and was shocked to see him sitting comfortably on the futon in the den. I don't know what made him decide to give it a try on that particular day, but he's been up there several times since then, apparently happy that his attempt was successful. Here he is relaxing on the futon with Lucy:

Butch has also been more social lately, spending more time interacting with people and other dogs and less time off by himself sleeping in another room. He seems to be hearing better than he did for months previously, and if I so much as crack open the refrigerator, he is up and coming into the kitchen to investigate. I've used his interest in food as an indicator that he still finds something positive about life in spite of his blindness, near deafness, and painful joints.

All that sounds good, don't you think? But there's a problem. When I took him for a checkup early in November, the vet commented on one tooth that looked really bad, saying he wouldn't risk putting Butch under anesthesia to pull the tooth (because of his age). He said to watch for any swelling around Butch's mouth or any signs that he was having difficulty eating.

Last night Butch didn't want his supper. He accepted a treat I offered him later, but promptly dropped it on the floor and left it. I pulled his lips back to check the appearance of the bad tooth, and I couldn't even find it. Since that veterinary visit less than two months ago, Butch's upper gum tissue has grown and hangs down to obscure all of his upper back teeth.

I have looked on the Internet for pictures of dogs' mouths that look like Butch's, and I believe what he has is an epulis. An epulis is a non-malignant tumor that occurs fairly commonly in older dogs. Treatment consists of the surgical removal of the epulis. In Butch's case, however, surgery is not an option.

Butch needs to go to the vet, but riding in the car has become pure torture for him. He fights me when I try to get him into the car, and his whole body shakes until he is out of it again. I don't want to make him suffer more than necessary, and I am afraid he may not come home from his next trip to the vet.

I have taken a photo of the growth on his gums and will take it with me when I take Levi today to see if they will/can identify it from the picture. 

If it is what I think it is, and if surgery is the only option that will enable him to eat, I have a decision to make. Should I have Butch put down now, while he's in a relatively happy state of mind, or should I wait until he's in so much pain that death is the only way to make him comfortable? I don't want to deprive him of a single happy minute, but this brave animal has already suffered so much in his lifetime. Is it fair to keep him alive when a long, hard winter may be all the future that lies ahead of him?

I'm praying for answers. What would you do?

UPDATE December 28, 2011 - 4:26 PM The vet looked at the photo of Butch's gums and said the growth does appear to be an epulis of the non-malignant variety. Fortunately, there are some non-surgical treatments that might help, the first being antibiotics to eliminate any possible infection. She gave me a prescription to start him on tonight and said he should be eating better by tomorrow. If not, then infection isn't what's keeping him from eating, and I will have to take him in tomorrow afternoon so they can get a good look at what's going on. She said that without surgery these tumors sometimes grow so long that they completely encase the dog's teeth. Most dogs, when that happens, will simply chew off the surplus. That's gross, I know, but it's an alternative Butch and I can live with.

I'll keep you posted.

(Partial reprint of a post first published at Velvet Sacks on December 28, 2011.)



(First published at A One-Pic Pony on October 9, 2011.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Poor, patient pooch

If I fail to close my bedroom door before I get on the computer at the other end of the house, Levi makes a beeline for the bedroom. He loves to rip chunks out of foam rubber dog mattresses, and all he needs is five or ten minutes' worth of opportunity.

Here's a picture I posted exactly two weeks ago today of Butch sleeping happily on his unblemished bed (the second bed he's had exactly like this):

Well, last night I forgot to close that door, and I got online and stayed there a while.  While I was on the computer, Butch lay on the floor beside me, and Levi was in and out. I realized later he was more out than in, because when it was time to go to bed, I went into the bedroom and found a carpet strewn with foam rubber and a dog bed about one-third of the size it had been earlier.

I've shown you that kind of stuff before, so I didn't even bother to take a picture. And, as it was quite late, I decided cleanup could wait until morning. Levi was locked in his crate by then, so I left Butch alone and went to brush my teeth. When I returned, I found this scene and decided it was photoworthy:

Poor baby! Bless his little put-upon heart.

In spite of that pitiful photo, there's another part of this story that makes it at least a little bit funny. You see, even though I hadn't cleaned up the mess, I had taken a minute to retrieve the last, mostly-intact dog bed in the house and put it in the spot where Butch's bed normally is. And I'd watched him sniff it, climb on it, and begin circling and pawing the bed like he does every night before he lies down. He was circling and pawing when I left to go brush my teeth.

That means that at some point in the going-to-bed process, Butch changed his mind and made a choice to sleep on this ragged little piece of a bed bunched up in a corner.

Hmm. I guess it's still pitiful, any way you look at it.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on July 27, 2011.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I used to tell you stories regularly about Butch's courage, his loving nature, and his antics. Butch has changed a lot in the past couple of years; anything I'd write about him now wouldn't be as funny as some of those earlier stories. He's 13-1/2 years old now, and the years haven't treated him too kindly. He still shows moments of incredible sweetness or great heart, but his senior years have brought out new aspects of his personality. He is stubborn. Bull-headed. Demanding. Those in my family would probably know what I mean if I said that Butch now reminds me of Daddy.

My stepdaddy, in the latter years of his life, could be charming when he wanted to be, but he didn't often see the need to turn on the charm. Butch is the same way. Daddy complained a lot, and Butch has adopted a shrill whine as his means of communicating when he wants a treat or when he wants me to let him outside or inside. If Daddy thought Mother's cooking was a little too salty, he was sure to tell her about it. If the treat I give Butch isn't the kind he had in mind when he begged for it, he spits it out, whines some more, and waits for me to try again. Now, don't misunderstand me: I loved Daddy, and I love Butch dearly, but both of them fit clearly into the category of "grumpy, old men."

Like Daddy, Butch sleeps a lot now that he's older. If I were to guess that he sleeps 20 hours a day, I wouldn't be far off. He gets up for mealtimes (his and mine) and when he needs to go outside. He usually gets up when we have company, and when that happens, he acts like his sweet, old self for a little while. It's rare that he stays awake much more than an hour at a time.

The whining began near the end of last year, back when Kadi was so sick. For every trip Kadi took to the vet, Butch took another one. I thought then that the whining meant something was hurting him. We checked out his ears, because ear infections have plagued him since he was a pup. We checked out his arthritic hind legs and began medicating him in case they were the problem. We checked his behind, where his anal-gland surgery had left him with some residual problems. Even though no new health issues were discovered, everything that could be medicated was medicated, just in case. Still he whined.

As Kadi became sicker and sicker, I began to read everything I could find about how to know when it was time to euthanize a dog. Almost every one of those articles stated that the dog's quality of life should be the determining factor. That threw me for a loop. Kadi was obviously sicker than Butch, but she was also happier than he was. Until her very last days, she was pleasant and engaged. Butch, on the other hand, had begun to isolate  himself in the bedroom and to whine through many of his waking hours. What kind of life is that? I didn't know which dog I would lose first, and the thought of having to put down both of them at or near the same time was horrifying to me.

In Kadi's final week it became clear that her illness had reduced her quality of life to an unacceptable level, and seeing her that way helped me to see a clear distinction between her health and Butch's. I knew then what I had to do.

In the days after Kadi's death, I concentrated on Butch and started Googling "why does my dog whine?" I expected to find information about hidden medical conditions that might be troublesome to an animal. What I found instead were training techniques. It hadn't occurred to me until then that Butch's whining might be a behavioral issue. I realized then that I had been rewarding his bad behavior by fussing over him when he whined.

So, I made some changes in my own behavior. Butch's whining hasn't stopped, but it has decreased to a point that no longer drives me insane. I also changed my expectations once I connected the dots between Butch's whining and Daddy's complaining. That helped me to understand better where Butch's attitude is coming from. He's old and he's tired. He's achy sometimes.

It's been six years since Butch lost his eyesight, and in the past year or two he's gone almost completely deaf. He can hear the phone ring, and if I speak loudly, right in his ear, he seems to hear that. He gets disoriented more frequently, but he thinks he knows more than he does, and he thinks he knows more than I do. He thinks he knows exactly where he is and what he needs to do to get from Point A to Point B, but he's often wrong about that. If he's about to walk smack into a wall and I grab onto his collar to steer him in the right direction, he digs his heels in and refuses to budge until I let go. Then he walks into the wall, corrects his course, and sets out again, often in a different wrong direction.  Sometimes he bumps into every piece of furniture between the bedroom and the back door rather than let me guide him.  He usually bumps them gently, though, as if he expects them to be there and "test bumps" to be sure. The only way he will let me lead him is if I put him on the leash, but even then, if he doesn't want to go (outside, for instance), he digs in his heels and stands his ground.

Riding in the car, something Butch has always hated, has become almost impossible to get him to do. I needed to take him to the vet last week for another ear check, and he wrestled me so long that I had to stop trying at one point and call the vet's office to let them know we'd be late. He's heavy enough that it's difficult for me to pick him up, but even after I managed to do that and get him on the backseat, he jumped out before I could extract my arm and shut the door. Do you know how dangerous it is for a blind dog to jump out of a car onto a concrete driveway? I finally lured him into the car by sprinkling the seat with his favorite treats. He refused to eat them, but they distracted him long enough for me to get the door closed.

Fortunately, Butch's sense of smell is still strong. He can sniff me out anywhere in the house and is quick to do so when he wants something. Then, when he finds me, he whines. If I'm at the computer, he uses his nose to bump my hand off the mouse. Usually when he seeks me out it's because he wants a treat. He still tries to con me by asking to go out and back in several times in a matter of minutes. He gets a treat the first time he comes in, and I'm willing to let him go out the second time just in case he forgot to do part of his business while he was out there the first time. He gets a little treat the second time he comes in, too. But that's all. I've learned to be firm when he asks the third time, to stand between him and the door and make him back away so he knows the jig is up.

Butch used to spend whole evenings on the sofa beside me with his head in my lap. Now he's too stiff-legged to get on the sofa by himself and too hard-headed to let anyone help him. If I try to pick him up, he panics and fights me. My own bad knees make it difficult for me to get on the floor to give him the doggy massages he used to love, but I try to give him as much stroking and petting as I can when he's awake and erect. Sometimes he'll lie down in front of my chair, where I can rub his belly with my feet and enjoy the kind of sweet moments we used to take for granted. Last night he ate his supper, then stood right next to me for half an hour, not whining, while I ate mine. I suspect it was the scent of the  chicken on my plate that kept him there, but I enjoyed his company regardless. Still later, instead of retreating to his bed, Butch followed me to the computer and napped on the floor beside me. I feel so honored when the interaction between us is his idea instead of mine.

As Butch's personality has changed, so has his physical appearance. Both of his ears used to fold over, but for the last few years the right one has always stood up straight. There's a little bump in the middle of his forehead that we think might be a cyst formed around a bone chip, possibly from one of his harder head bumps. It's never seemed to bother him, and the vet doesn't think it's anything to worry about. His left eye socket bulges with fluid that stretches the skin tight, fluid from a gland that has apparently reactivated itself in the years since his surgery. The vet who did the eye surgery told us ahead of time that that could happen someday, and the vet who treats Butch now agrees with me that draining the fluid for aesthetic reasons could unnecessarily open the door for infections.  The swollen area is ugly, but it doesn't cause Butch any pain. He doesn't mind at all when it's touched or rubbed.

Butch has several new skin tags, including the big, black, mole-like one on top of his head. Last year one of his top front teeth began to turn grey and receded behind the other teeth. Last week I noticed that the tooth was no longer there. It, too, may have been a casualty of one too many bumps.

Butch is heavier than he's ever been, though I can still feel his ribs, so I'm not worried about him. It seems to me that his pleasures are few at this time of his life, and while I'm willing to cut back on his food and treats a little bit for health reasons, I'm not inclined to cut back so much that he notices.

These days, when I think about the quality of Butch's life, I know it isn't an easy one, but I think he's okay for now. He's had more than one dog's share of troubles and has faced his struggles with a lot of courage and character. His life isn't as interesting as it used to be, nor is his body as strong and resilient as it once was. I think he has reason to complain about his current state of affairs. And, remembering how long Daddy lived as a grumpy, old man, I believe Butch will be okay for a while longer. He's making an effort to live with the hand that's been dealt him. If he's a little disgrunted about it sometimes, maybe he has a right to be.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on July 13, 2011.)