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Boarding/sitting options for the special needs dog

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  • Boarding/sitting options for the special needs dog

    I feel bad posting this but I have a lot of stress around managing my older dog and I guess I need a listening ear. Please don't judge me for being a bad dog mom—I am one in a family of five humans and eight pets (plus poultry) and we all have our own needs and priorities, so the dog is one of many players in a complex situation.

    Short story: I have a special-needs dog and I can't leave him with anyone. Vets, pet-sitters, friends, boarding kennels . . . none is quite right for his medical needs. I don't think there's any easy answer and I'm frustrated.

    Long story: I am feeling really worried about our dog and our plans, as a family, for a summer of hiking and camping and occasional visits to family. Part of me feels guilty for wanting to be active and get out and about, and the other part feels like it's part of a normal family life and I need to find a way to make it happen. I guess the "right" thing to do is to spend these next few years at home while he gets older and eventually dies, but it sometimes feels like we're just waiting for him to kick the bucket so we can get back to living. That's not fair to him.

    He is a ten year-old deaf, epileptic Aussie with a deformed limb. He's missing his ulna in the right front and is not sound enough for walks (even to the corner and back—he gets too sore). He can't be taken camping and left at base-camp. Not only is it not safe, but he's anxious in new places and he yaps continuously if left behind. He wasn't always so anxious—he had a normal, active puppyhood and lots of socialization, but he had some seven- and eight-minute seizures last summer that changed his personality a bit. He hasn't really been the same since, though he's still loving and sweet.

    His seizures have grown less frequent, now that they are usually controlled by medication. He recently had a big one when we left him with a sitter (a great person for the job, I thought at the time), and when I saw his condition upon my return I was shocked and wished I'd never left. He needs special care after a seizure. If he doesn't get bathed right away, for instance, then the feces and urine that leak during his seizure will lead to yeast-infections on his sensitive skin. (We learned this last time we left him and came back to terrible skin problems). He also needs intervention (in the form of valium suppositories) during a seizure or they can sometimes last up to eight minutes.

    He needs round-the-clock supervision because his seizures usually happen between 11 pm and 2 am.

    He needs a fenced yard because he is deaf and tunes you out when he wants to.

    He needs a home environment because he gets anxious in strange places, including the vet's. Anxiety increases his seizure frequency. I would feel terrible leaving him in a commercial vet/kennel setting, since he gets himself really wound up.

    We spent this year playing with his dosages and getting him to where he's seizure-free most of the time (he's had only one since October) but when he does have one it's a big deal and he has a terrifying, prolonged post-ichtal phase where he needs to be physically restrained or he'll hurt himself. In the past, his seizures have resulted in him falling down stairs, spraining his injured leg, breaking mirrors, cutting himself, bleeding, smashing his head, etcetera. Crating isn't enough—a bear hug is the only thing that helps. I'm thinking of getting or making a "thunder shirt" to see if that helps him. Anyway, when he does have a seizure I basically end up washing away the urine, scooping the poop, then holding him while he thrashes, yaps, growls, salivates, and trembles from midnight until dawn. It's not a typical "dog sitter" duty. He couldn't pass that sort of night alone in a kennel.

    He's chemically-sensitive so I don't want to sedate him except with his anti-epileptic medication.

    I feel like the "right" thing is to never take a trip, never go camping, never visit the in-laws on the other side of the country, etc. but I also feel like that's stressing my family out. I haven't visited my husband's family for three years, partly because of this dog. (They're good about visiting US, though.) We live in a beautiful region and we all want to be able to get out. We live near reliable people who can look after the rest of the animal family and we have another dog who is very portable.

    Money is an issue—I don't have a bottomless wallet by any stretch and we can't afford some of the more expensive prescription medications.

    Several family members have suggested euthanasia and I know I would too if he were suffering every day, but he's usually happy as long as his routine doesn't vary. I've found myself wishing he would take a turn for the worse so we could justify putting him down but then he has several great weeks in a row and I feel like a selfish witch. He is an incredibly loving, smart, kind, and gentle dog and the best family companion one could hope for in so many other ways.

    Thanks for listening!
    My ears hear a symphony of two mules, trains, and rain. The best is always yet to come, that's what they explained to me. —Bob Dylan

    Fenway Bartholomule ♥ Arrietty G. Teaspoon Brays Of Our Lives

  • #2
    Talk to your vet. Often, the techs that work at vets' offices do in-home pet sitting on the side (some will sleep at your house, if you're comfortable with that). A vet tech would recognize and be sensitive to your pup's special needs.


    • #3
      I would opt for euthanasia. I know it sounds harsh, but I do not see that you have any other options based on your post. I cannot see being tied to this poor dog because of all his health issues. While he may appear happy, I cannot imagine how hard his life/existence is. Let him go peacefully and with love.
      We do not have an overpopulation of dogs, we have an under population of responsible dog owners!!!


      • #4
        Originally posted by tarynls View Post
        Talk to your vet. Often, the techs that work at vets' offices do in-home pet sitting on the side (some will sleep at your house, if you're comfortable with that). A vet tech would recognize and be sensitive to your pup's special needs.
        Yes. This.

        The woman I use for pet sitting is a vet tech with a ton a skill. She comes to my house--I've never had her stay, but she's offered it as an option. She's incredibly inexpensive and I always end up paying her 1.5x or 2x what she asks me for, because I think it's what her services are worth.


        • #5
          I agree, talk to your vet and see if they have any ideas. It's possible that, for the right amount of money, a tech might be willing to keep your dog in their home/stay in your home and maybe be able to bring the dog to work with them.

          FWIW, we have had our travel plans restricted for years because of our, now elderly, ACD mix. She can be very aggressive/defensive and is VERY particular about who she will allow to handle her. She would not let a pet sitter in the house, she wouldn't let a pet sitter keeping her in their house, back in their OWN house, the vet would have tranqed her for the duration, no boarding kennel would take her. To date, she has ONLY been willing to accept my mother as her dog sitter, she'll stay in my mother's house while we're out of town and be happy enough.

          Most travel has been done by car, so we could take her and we'd find dog friendly lodging and keep her with us. When we had to fly, she stayed with my mother.

          When my father was ill and my mother couldn't take her, DH and I had to travel separately, so one of us could stay home with the dog. Now, that my father is gone, my mother can take her again, but my mother wants to go with us sometimes too . One of the three of DH, me or my mother has to sit trips out if we cannot bring the dog along.

          I still don't know what we're going to do this spring, my oldest son is graduating from college out in Wisconsin and we'd all like to go...I won't put an elderly dog in the cargo hold of a plane, so I'm still mulling this one over trying to come up with ideas for her.


          • #6
            I am totally against convenience euthanasia, but I think that based on this dog's needs, I would probably euthanize. The dog has issues that prevent normal quality of life issues like walking around the block. People cannot be expected to NEVER have to board a dog or have a dog sitter if the dog cannot come with. The deafness, epilepsy, leg, anxiety could be managed individually, but combined, they greatly reduce quality of life in a "Normal" household, where dog sitting, boarding might be needed occasionally.


            • #7
              He is a ten year-old deaf, epileptic Aussie with a deformed limb.
              After having a dog with sever epilepsy (no longer controlled by medication) die because we went out for a few hours, she had a seizure and inhaled her vomit which eroded her lungs and despite all veterinary intervention nothing could be done for her (she was 11)...Sounds like he's had a wonderful 10 years of life.

              It's not like he's going to get any better, or recover from old age. It may be hard but I've learned it's kinder to let them go in good health then wait for bad.
              "For some people it's not enough to just be a horse's bum, you have to be sea biscuit's bum" -anon.
              Nes' Farm Blog ~ DesigNes.ca
              Need You Now Equine


              • #8
                We have a crippled up corgi that thankfully my mom watches. However after last years vacation I realized it was to much for my aging mother. I am dreading trying to go any where this year. We do thankfully have a friend with a daughter who is a vet tech and will board a few dogs at her house. She only takes "special need" pets. We are going to try her for a weekend and see how it goes. Ask your vet and their vet techs. Also if you know of anyone with a special needs pet they might be able to point you in the right direction.
                Pamela Ellis


                • #9
                  Talk to the vet. At my clinic the vet techs will do home sitting IF they know you, you're close and a "liked" client.... and you slide enough cash across their palm.

                  If you can't find a sitter, I think you're at the end of the road. From your description it sounds to me like this dog's quality of life is actually not very good, nor is yours. Puppy is 10 years old. This isn't going to get better. And there's something about how you describe it that makes me wonder if the wheels are starting to come off and it's getting worse.

                  I sympathize, though- he's not telling you he's ready, and it seems like a selfish choice on your part to decide if he's ready or not. I guess the question is going to be is he's quite old and the seizures sound very traumatic- would the next one take him? Or harm him in a way he has to linger a bit? Perhaps it may be better to let him go on a nice day, when he's stable and happy, instead of waiting for it to all fall apart. Because it sounds like it's a situation that could go bad very quickly.
                  "The nice thing about memories is the good ones are stronger and linger longer than the bad and we sure have some incredibly good memories." - EverythingButWings


                  • #10
                    I'm in a similar situation with a cat. His only conditions are old age and bone degeneration but I don't feel comfortable leaving him. I have, and he does well, but his days are numbered and I don't feel right about it. Thankfully, my husband only cares about a few IL obligations and his sisters and I aren't BFF so we usually split up for those events. We got the cat (in July of 2010) after both his parents had died and none of his sisters were getting along so it seemed like a good time to have an excuse to stay home.

                    How old are your kids? Mine are 8, 6 and 6. One or two ALWAYS want to stay home with me to take care of the animals and I don't think that's a bad way to be. They've never complained about not making it to the beach for the entire week or missing out on Disney World but they they would be devastated if the cat didn't get the care he needed while they were gone.

                    All that said, I do think you need to consider euth. For his sake and what sounds like the strain it's putting on you. Halfway between now and and the first time you'd like to leave is a nice middle ground. If you don't think that's the right answer, then find a qualified person you trust or stay home. Anyone who cares about you will understand why you need to be there.


                    • #11
                      I'm able to leave home with DH because one of my previous technicians sit for me. So definitely check with your veterinarian. Otherwise, I have recently learned that zonisamide is available inexpensively at Costco and Wal-mart.


                      • #12
                        His conditions sound very serious and I certainly think that I would consider euthanizing this dog, especially given the seizures. I've dealt with mobility issues and deafness, so those are not always insurmountable, but the seizures sound very severe and stressful for him. As always, though, it's a decision for you and your vet to make. It's impossible to recommend over the internet, but the seizures sound like a turning point for me personally.
                        I do know people who've had success with vet techs as pet sitters.
                        Though I have to say that in recent years, I've just about stopped travelling. The reason? I started a more conservative vaccination regimen, so there isn't really anywhere to board, and I've always been afraid that without me there, the dogs wouldn't accept a sitter coming in to take care of them.


                        • #13
                          OP, there are two things that strike me:

                          1) The seizures and worry about the dog must be extremely wearing on you, as the owner. I adore my dog, who does not have huge health problems, but whenever I've gone on vacation a little piece of me relaxes because I get a break from thinking about her needs. You're not getting that, and it has got to be taking a toll.

                          2) You're getting some pressure, even if well-intentioned, from family to choose one course of action over another, ie, to euthanize. It's doubtlessly well-meant, but the argument being used - that you're sacrificing the whole family's happiness to this one dog's well-being - is a little silly. There are no perfect families with perfect situations, and it's not unfair to ask the healthy to sacrifice some extras to extend the life of the ill.

                          I agree with the people who suggested looking into vet tech caregivers. Even if just for a weekend trial, it might give you enough distance to make up your mind to keep going or euthanize, and make peace with whichever you decide.


                          • Original Poster

                            Thank you all for the suggestions. I think it's too soon to euthanize but I do think it's time for my family to have a frank talk—with our four, seven, and 11 year-old daughters included—about how many more seizures we will put him through before euthanizing. Other than his limp, he's very lively most of the time. He has had some ataxia since we adjusted his medications and he falls a couple of times a week, so that's a bit scary! Sometimes he's normal for days at a time and it's hard to view him as "sick", but it is incredibly stressful when he has heightened anxiety (an hour or more of pacing, barking, searching maniacally for something that doesn't exist, and not wanting any comfort) or a seizure! We haven't pulled out all the stops with his meds., so there's a little more room there. Thanks for the tip about generic zonisamide.

                            Don't get me wrong—I'm not getting "pressure" to P.T.S. so much as I am getting gentle "permission" from people who know I'm frustrated about Paisley's growing health problems. The suggestion is always given with sensitivity and love. My husband was suggesting euthanasia last night, at two a.m., just after a seizure when the dog and I were sitting in a puddle of urine thrashing about. I wasn't willing to hear it at that time but I woke up after a restless couple of hours sleep almost wishing it was true. Wishing that it WAS time. I just don't see it, though! He seems so happy 80% of the time.

                            I will look for a vet tech. sitter, and see if I can find someone who understands these issues. If our attempts to leave him behind provoke seizures, as they did in 2011, I think we will have to euthanize him for his sake as well as for our family harmony.

                            I do believe 100% in "better too soon than too late," but it's hard to explain that to myself and to my children at those moments when we've got a joyful, smiling dog at our feet.
                            My ears hear a symphony of two mules, trains, and rain. The best is always yet to come, that's what they explained to me. —Bob Dylan

                            Fenway Bartholomule ♥ Arrietty G. Teaspoon Brays Of Our Lives


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by didgery View Post
                              I do believe 100% in "better too soon than too late," but it's hard to explain that to myself and to my children at those moments when we've got a joyful, smiling dog at our feet.
                              This is me too. Another thing you could do is talk to your vet (if you haven't already) about the course these seizures is likely to take. If it might be that they get worse, or one kills him, you could take that into account in deciding if/when to euthanize. That definitely is a case of better too soon than too late.

                              You sound like an exceptionally caring owner.
                              Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/peonyvodka/


                              • #16
                                Living with an epileptic dog is the hardest thing I ever had to do...I dealt with cancer and alzheimers in family members, but it didn't compare. Adding the deafness and cleanliness issues, along with the anxiety, your life must be incredibly stressful. I lived with my severely epileptic dog for over 6 years and when she got pancreatitis from the medications she was on I decided we had both had enough. It was the hardest thing I ever did, but I let her go...
                                The bond we have with sick animals seems even stronger than the one we have with our children.
                                I wish I had a good answer for you, but I know that it took me a long time to recover from those 6 years....and I will never be able to recover the years I sat at home with her while my family vacationed and did family things....
                                You have my sympathy....
                                Sue Myers


                                • #17
                                  You've received some good advice but I'd come sit for him if I wasn't all the way across the country Many jingles for you and your family--I know whatever decision you will make it will obviously be out of love for him, nobody could possibly doubt that!


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Originally posted by irkenequine View Post
                                    You've received some good advice but I'd come sit for him if I wasn't all the way across the country Many jingles for you and your family--I know whatever decision you will make it will obviously be out of love for him, nobody could possibly doubt that!
                                    Thanks everyone! Irkenequine, you're one of those online friends with whom I WOULD entrust my dogs . . . and having you say this cheers me up, despite the distance. You're so sweet.

                                    Paisley has had a wonderful couple of days—it snowed here this weekend, and that's his favorite weather. He'll spend many happy hours on the porch breathing in the cool air on a day like this.
                                    My ears hear a symphony of two mules, trains, and rain. The best is always yet to come, that's what they explained to me. —Bob Dylan

                                    Fenway Bartholomule ♥ Arrietty G. Teaspoon Brays Of Our Lives