I have a dog. I call him Eli. Gabriel calls him eee-yi, which is close enough for us.
Eli is a papillon. The papillon breed is the descendent of a type of spaniel, which gave me a chuckle when I learned it because historically I have not like spaniels at all, and yet I love the breed and I really love my own little guy.
Papillons are a tiny breed, and as such they are plagued with common tiny breed problems like bad teeth, bad knees, and a propensity for yapping. Eli is no exception to any of these, though he’s come a long way on the yapping front. (Most days.)
Eli is deep into middle age. The expected lifespan of a papillon is stated about 15 years, though in my experience most of them go to about 12 or 14. Eli is 8, halfway to 9. He’s slowed down some in recent years and the health issues come with a little more frequency than I’d like. Every time I sense something’s wrong, I get a sense of doom – a feeling that “this is it” and this is the end and it’s time to say goodbye.
Like many of his tiny, slim-legged kindred, Eli has a bad knee. It’s called a luxating patella and that means the kneecap doesn’t always stay where it’s supposed to. The problem gets exacerbated as he ages and the cartilage around the kneecap wears down. At some point it becomes bone-on-bone action and that doesn’t feel very good at all. There’s not a whole lot that can be done to alleviate the issue, especially as he gets older. Anti-inflammatory diets help, as does good, regular exercise. Keeping inflammation down, body weight as low as is healthy, and muscle tone strong all work together to keep the knee from degenerating, but it will only take him so far.
Eventually the knee will become so bad and the pain so great that surgery becomes the only possible treatment. Surgery is expensive and hit-or-miss, with a 10% “failure” rate in terms of relieving pain. Amputation is also an option, and while it’s never really the desired option to remove a back leg, a lot of dogs do thrive on three legs.
With Eli being as old as he is, it’s just a matter of time for some of the “senior” health issues to start cropping up – namely, the bum leg. And it seems like, lately, it has gotten worse. He has been limping a lot, yelping a little, and generally living what seems to be a more constricted, more painful life in the past couple of days. He doesn’t jump on the sofa nearly as much and he spends a lot of time hiding under the table or behind my office chair. He can still get to where he needs to go, most of the time with relative ease, but his carefree, tail-up preening and patrolling has been placed on pause until this painful bout subsides.
I’ve been giving him some leftover anti-inflammatory pain meds from a past procedure, and they have helped. But those will run out at some point, and then I will still need to deal with the underlying problems. I’ve started looking into supplementation, and canine chiropractic is also an option – or it would be, if I had the finances to swing it.
The hard part in all of this is that I am approaching the point of having to make choices between finances and his health. I’m not in the position to take him to the vet with any concern and say “do whatever it takes to make him feel better.” I carefully weigh whether I can take him to the vet at all, whether to get him the intensive care that could help him have a longer, happier life. I frantically look for more work to add to my already overloaded schedule, just to scratch together enough to feel secure that I could take him to the vet if and when he really needs it. I give him as many cuddles as he’ll tolerate and I tell him I’m trying to help him. I pray for him. I spend spare moments educating myself.
Eli has not been the perfect dog. He is not my best friend or my soul mate or the dog I will miss forever. He’s cranky. He barks out the window. He doesn’t like it when people come into his house. A lot of times his fear-aggression has been a real pain in the behind. But he’s my buddy and he’s been my buddy for 8 years now, and I love him. He’s been there for my entire “real” adulthood, and his presence is a comfort. We’ve lived in three states together, we’ve seen other people and other dogs come and go from our lives, and we’ve slept in the same room the vast majority of nights over the past 8 years. He’s been my ornery, sometimes loud, furry companion and I promised him, when I brought him home, that I would take care of him. Now he’s getting older and it’s time to make good on that promise, however that ends up taking shape.