For some reason, the dog could never figure out how to propel the wheelchair forward, he kept pushing with his front legs and making the wheelchair roll backwards uncontrollably. I tried quite a few tricks and nothing worked. Removing the front support made it even more difficult for him to keep balance and not roll backwards. I had to constantly supervise and direct the wheelchair. I called it quits when I looked away for a second and he rolled backwards off the back deck (less than a foot fall, but no, not again).
I’ve figured out a few things related to wheelchairs. One – wheelchair is a temporary solution in my eyes, I don’t believe that a dog should live in a wheelchair, it should just be used to get them by while they are recovering. Two – in the wheelchair, the rear legs are tied out of the way, so they are not moving, making the dog getting used to not using them, seems counter-productive during treatment and only appropriate when completely giving up on walking again. Three – since I had to constantly supervise my dog with the wheelchair, I figured that I might as well just exercise with him by using the harness, that way we would work different muscle groups and specifically concentrate on re-learning how to move legs instead of having them dangle out of the way. Another thing is that the whole “doggy wheelchair” idea is great, but all the designs I’ve seen are clunky and cheap Chinese metals, I could weld up a way better one in a few hours, but not going to for the reasons stated above. Not to mention that the way these wheelchairs strap on can only be comparable to a human running around with an office chair duct-taped to their back. Good luck learning to keep balance or walking like that even without an injury. So, long story short, I’m afraid that a wheelchair is not going to work for our situation : )
You know, you are kind of working with 2 curves right now? There is the neurological healing curve and the natural aging curve, and he is living at the intersection of the two. If he was 11 when he was injured, then he must be 12 now, and that is approaching the lifespan for a standard poodle. But the thing is, to me anyway, it all matters. Every little bit he has got back this past year matters to him, it's a gift, every atom of improvement, even if he is not walking. I hope the clock won't run out on him before he walks, nobody knows the future, but right now I am sure that on some level he can feel the improvement trend in his being even if he is working against the clock.
At this point, if he is beginning to feel his age, he is aging loved and in good spirits, that is everything. To me, everything you have done, the therapy, the exercising, brainstorming for more ideas, selecting a cart and tweaking it and fixing it, the right sling, the right boots, giving him the time and care and companionship, the physical aspect of dealing with a 95 lb dog, many things you do not mention like cleanups and bed changes and laundry, and all the things that go with having a large down dog, it all matters.
I once heard a story of a pioneer family of 3 generations who got in a covered wagon and set out to go west. Halfway across the prairie one day, the grandmother sat down under a tree facing west and breathed her last. She didn't make it, but she was still looking west when she passed. And your dog is going to continue to do what is natural to him, recover a tiny bit at a time. He is happy trying even if the ultimate goal is not a guarantee, I don't think you'll ever regret that you set out on that journey together.
And if you asked him, it is possible he might say this has been one of the best years of his life, because of the time you guys have spent together. He is probably not thinking, "Boy I wish I could run around the yard", he is probably thinking "When is my buddy coming home and what will we do today?". It's just good. It's the definition of good.
You know, I’ve been completely perplexed as to why the dog seems so eager to go outside, but when he gets there, he just wants to stand, or tries to head back inside. What you said above changes my perspective. In fact, today was the first sunny day here in Oregon in a while, so when I took him out on lunch he looked so happy just standing in the warm sunshine with his tongue sticking out : ) And then we started walking around and he got tired pretty fast, wanting to go back home. Definitely not a young pup any more.
P.S. by the way, I went to a fabric store for the first time in my life, found out that canvas is not nearly as expensive as I initially thought, got some for roughly $2 per linear foot and made a new-and-improved version of the exercise stand that featured in my very first post. Way better than a redneck stretcher for standing around on the back deck : )
He knew. He just never showed it. It was natural for his personality, to never let his moods get low, he was (almost) always a very happy dog. And he gifted us with his happiness. He was very smart. He definitely understood many human words. And he was the only dog I personally know that was able to develop a set of physical “sign signals” to tell me what he needs - that being water, or food, or need to pee, or be turned over, or to wait patiently – in the last few months, I knew exactly what he needed when he wanted to communicate it, we most definitely had two-way sign conversations. Call me crazy.
There is one thing that bugs me and will take some thinking to overcome. It feels like it was up to me to “fix” the dog and now it feels like I had failed. I doubt that any generic statement about “doing the best I can” is going to change that. I really feel like I've done just the minimal when I know that I did quite a bit. I could have done more. I could have spent more time and more thought into the recovery process. I know that I did a few things right and that's cool. But it clearly wasn't enough. Not blaming myself. But just sayin.
By the way, I kept thinking for a while now how much I miss having a decent lunch out of the office, which hasn't happened since the dog went down. I felt like I was missing out on something important to myself. And yet here I am today, on my lunch hour, back in the same spot where I got used to come to exercise with the dog in the last couple of years. No interest in getting lunch today really. Would much rather take the dog outside as usual.
I’ve said it before I will say it again. This sort of a task - to recover an injured dog - is definitely NOT for everyone. I guess it depends on the extent of the injury and some cases might be quicker and simpler. But I'm talking about serious paralysis such as described in this thread. If anyone is going to attempt to do something like this, they have to not only be fully READY for the commitment, but they also have to be fully ABLE to have a deep understanding of dog thinking and dog training. Injured dogs will do weird things to keep on keeping on, some of those things might be hindering overall healing progress, so it’s up to the owner to first recognize those behaviors and then appropriately react to them in order to train the dog correctly.
You can’t exactly explain to dogs in recovery why they have to keep exercising their muscles, for example, or why they have to re-learn certain things they used to do before they were injured. Not only is it hard to get the dog to understand, but it’s also hard to notice and properly explain to yourself their behavior, so that it elicits proper training follow up. I feel that I wasn’t quite best at that, I’ve learned dog care from scratch pretty quick and improvised the rest, but there’s much more to it and it seems to need a professional.
The hardest part is making the final decision. When do you call it quits? When do you sign the death paperwork? You literally have to sign off on the killing at the vet. It seems that it would be easier to do when the injury happens at first, all still in crisis and in shock, but then again I don’t really know. What I do know is that after caring for a dog for such a long time, it becomes a much more difficult decision to make and especially if the dog is kinda okay. He wasn’t in pain, he wasn’t physically suffering, he was getting plenty of attention and care.
But he wasn’t able to function like I'm sure he wanted to. He could not go to sleep where he wanted. He could not roll over to stretch. He could not get to his water bowl without assistance. He could not pee without a diaper. He could not get out of his own poop until someone noticed and picked it up. He could not go sniff things outside alone, or fully interact with outside people and animals, or chase those darn cats and squirrels. He was like a resident. Lights on when we say, lights off when we say, no option of wondering around the house. He simply could not be a full-functioning dog any more. He didn't really have a choice. It's indignant. I've given it a LOT of thought. He’s made lots of progress overall. But after a certain point, the progress slowed, and then he simply wasn’t getting any better.
In the last month, his bladder started getting harder to manage, with him “signing” me that he needed to pee 4-5 times in 24 hours, including times when he just went recently. He also wanted to spend less time when I took him outside and pulled me back towards home a lot quicker than a few months ago. His health was quickly deteriorating with age I guess.
And then his tail stopped wagging. It was mostly tucked in between his legs for the last few weeks. That was the final sign that “did it” for me. We postponed going to the vet until the very last possible minute. And after they brought him back into the room prepared for his final IV shot, as soon as he saw us again, his tail started wagging in circles all over. I almost called it off then. I really didn’t know how to interpret that. Maybe he was happy to return back to us after getting prepped in the back of vet’s clinic for just a few minutes. But maybe he was happy that he was finally ready to go to a place where he can run around and do things that normal dogs do. I keep telling myself that it was the latter. But I’ll never know for sure.
He went to sleep at 2:30 AM this morning. I stayed up till sunrise looking through photos and stuff. We were always a late-night family. After I got a couple hours of sleep, when the usual alarm went off at 7 AM, I was not yet fully awake and the first place I stumbled to was the place where the dog laid for the last year and a half. That was where every morning started. Same place where every night ended. Imagine my feelings when the dog wasn’t there. And never will be. But he’ll always be in my memory. Rest In Peace: 01/20/2005-06/06/2017. His name was Niki. “Who is a good dog? Niki is a good dog! Oodles of poodles.”
But I don't think he was goal-oriented, he was you-oriented, dogs mostly seem to live in the moment, and he would probably hate to think he in any way let you down. Neither one of you let each other down, you both made the best of the situation, and that is the best anyone can do, and you did it for him with more sacrifice and effort than anyone who hasn't done it can begin to imagine. You said you could have dedicated more time and effort. Are you sure about that? I wonder, because every post I saw from you sounded like someone who was willingly giving his full attention at the expense of a lot of other things, a whole former life really, and I admired it. Some people will do this, many won't, but I think the ones who do are special. Maybe we could all do more, but it sounded to me like you were doing way more than usual and with better focus and that's why you succeeded as much as you guys did. You may not have fully accomplished what you set out to do, but that's not your fault, and the way I look at it, it's not the goal, it's the journey, and it ended how it ended. You took such good care of him, he got some of his ability back, and he was happy, and he was just...old.
Please look back at the pictures, at his face. And reread your last post if you haven't, because it says you made the decision with him in mind. Yes, partly it will hurt forever. But it wasn't you, or anything you did or didn't do, I think it was just him aging, and we can look at the average lifespan of different breeds but you're never sure how old your dog really is, chronological and physical do not always match. I think you got the best outcome that could be had, and you should hang onto that knowledge. What do they say, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Many people close to me said similar things as in the above post. My mother is grateful that we were able to “gift him an extra year and a half of life” and I could go with that. I started doing this for her. Then I got used to caring for the dog. And it’s true, the dog and I had more good times during the last year and a half that he was down than in the previous 11 years, and we’ve connected on a whole nother level than ever before. And I know there were lots of days when he was quite happy to see company, happy to stumble to the sunshine outside, happy to just BE and be interacted with. He accepted the change in his functioning and made it work. But me, I’m thinking that I did not fully accept it, I wanted to fix him and change everything back to how it used to be. That’s the fundamental mistake that I’ve made. It didn’t really affect things in a negative way back then. But it sure seems to haunt me now.
I am having the most difficulty with the fact that I gave up. That’s how I see what had happened. I did not want to do it no more and I said “basta” one day just because I had to skip work. Granted, I justified it by saying that it’s also best for the dog, that it would be cruel to keep him living like that. That probably is still the truth, however, it’s so hard to dismiss all the “what ifs”.
My best friend has been working with dementia patients for over a decade and told me quite a few stories of getting attached to his residents and then having to let go. He’s learned to accept various justifications and move on to the next patient. He texted me last night “You did him a solid in both rehab and a chance to let it go. He made that decision and that is a decision that only the very old, like him, can make and it be okay for him to let go. You just went along with his wishes.” I hear that. And yet it’s still hard to swallow.
I’ll give it some more time and maybe my thinking might change. Deep inside I know that I didn’t do wrong. But there is that tiny little voice in the back of my head sometimes. There are days when I get busy and totally forget about the empty spot on the floor by the back door. But whenever I happen to walk by there, the habit takes over, then I just whisper to myself “Who is a good dog?” Don’t have a reply any more. Cuz the dog is gone. I don’t want to present selfish. So “best for him” it is. I guess. Eh…