A bittersweet day today

Friday, February 21, 2020

A bittersweet day

From the first moment I rescued Donner on October 30, 2015, I wondered if he would suffer the same fate as my three other male German shepherds, Montag, Sonntag and Leben, and go lame in his rear legs. For two years I watched carefully for any downturn, but none showed up until I one night when I walked with him in Central Park in NYC in November 2017.  I noticed then that he was favoring his right rear leg.  I watched it for several months and when there was no improvement,  a trip to the orthopedic vet confirmed that he had multiple spinal issues and, as luck would have it, hip issues, too. The hip issues could not be resolved by surgery since the spinal issues would pose too much risk, and the spinal issues were too several and unlikely to be cured by surgery.  With surgery not an option,  I resolved to manage him carefully and hope that I could either postpone the day he would go lame or avoid it completely.
For the last two years, I religiously carried out my resolution and managed Donner very carefully: I never let him off the leash to run or chase after dogs; I took him swimming every week; I gave him two pain killers daily, and never missed a day.  I gave him Dasuquin and fish oil supplements.  I lifted him from our Defender instead of letting him leap out. But I made an extra effort to have him meet every dog who came within nose distance of him, to make up for his first four years chained in back yards in Los Angeles, and to compensate for any restrictions on him if he did go lame. My guess is that be befriended more than 800 dogs -some repeats- over the last two years, from DC to the Arctic and all points in between.
Unfortunately, although I might have postponed the inevitable, I did not avoid it.  Over the last few months, as I saw occasional signs of his experiencing some difficulty with his right rear leg, I made adjustments to my management of him:  I cut back on our walks; I put a carpet down in the bare kitchen floor so he would not slip on the ceramic floor as he went to eat, or to see what I was eating; I started to lift  him onto high places instead of allowing him to jump up himself; and, just last week, I ripped out the front passenger seat of our Defender to let him walk freely from his rear bed to his bed in the front instead of having to climb over the console. Despite these changes, this morning, when he emerged from the bedroom, he could not walk on his right rear leg at all, and he was wobbly on his left rear leg.  Although I suspected what the vet would say, I made an appointment immediately and drove to Baltimore for the appointment.
The vet reconfirmed that surgery was not an option.  He did prescribe another powerful pain killer for the next week to see if that alleviates his pain and gives him some mobility back,  and suggested, if that does not help, to return for tests to see if a bone infection is causing his immobility.  I intend to do so.
As soon as I returned home with Donner, I started the process of reorganizing things around my condo to accommodate Donner’s new life.  But the first thing I did was to make the same vow I made with Sonnatg, and then Leben, when they became lame:  this dog is not going to be put down just because he cannot walk. He will do everything he did before.  However, instead of putting him into a wheelchair right away, I will give him some time to acclimate to walking on one -albeit wobbly- rear leg and do what I have to do to keep his quality life, and with it his spirit, up. When the now-more-inevitable happens, I will order his wheelchair.
I entitled this posting “a bittersweet day.” Why bittersweet? Where is the sweet?  Because there was a great sense of joy I felt that had Donner, then Thunder, not been abandoned into that high-kill animal shelter more than four years ago for me to adopt him, today would have been the last day of his life. What a feeling of joy I now have that he is with me to live out his full life, first during what will be a tough transition to a wheelchair, and then in a wheelchair.  Sure, what a lucky dog he is; but what a lucky guy I am that this job has been handed to me. I got joy from all of my dogs, but having rescued Donner the joy was extra special. Now it is even more extra-special.
Needless to say, because I am posting this on our OTR-11 blog, what happened today does nothing to the planning for that road trip. In fact, it makes it more certain than yesterday that there will be one.
ED (and Donner)