When Roscoe was fairly young still, about four years old, he began limping slightly on his back legs. Because of the way he lays down, on his belly with his legs out to either side, I assumed he had dysplastic hips. I don't know why I simply decided this was the case, but I distinctly remember being told by someone who had a dog with hip dysplasia that this was a common way of laying down for dogs with that condition. I figured Roscoe would eventually need surgery, just not yet, and that was good because it would give me time to save money.
A couple of years ago it became apparent that he was in a worsening state of pain. I thought maybe I could afford a surgery by then, so off to the vet we went. The vet noted the beginnings of atrophy on the leg he uses the least and took X-Rays.
The news was not so great: Spondylosis.
Spondylosis is a chronic and degenerative condition in which bone spurs begin to form in the spine. Over time these spurs grow in size and begin to bridge betwen the vertebrae. At first the dog begins to lose flexibility, but as the condition worsens it becomes quite painful and can have a serious impact on quality of life. There is no surgical cure that has been shown to successfully relieve the condition.
Standard treatment, and where we started with Roscoe, is a pain reliever. We were given Rimadyl for him. Mostly we gave it on the days he seemed in pain. He would typically be stiff and painful a couple of days out of the week, nothing too bad and nothing the pills didn't seem to help him with. I was told, however, that eventually the medication would no longer be enough to control his pain, and at that point we would have to consider putting him on injectable steroids. This would relieve his pain, but also seriously shorten his life because of the other side effects, so it would only be a last resort.
The last week or two, despite his regular medication, Roscoe began showing signs of getting worse. It started with him soiling his crate, a typically rare event. We thought maybe he'd gotten a bug or eaten something that disagreed with him. I didn't piece it together until I got home Tuesday night and he was lying on the floor of my bedroom, crying, and he had made a very large mess right in front of my closet. He couldn't walk at all, and the pain had made him incontinent.
We went to the vet. I was terrified that I was going to be told there was nothing they could do for him, and girded my loings for the worst. I was so relieved when the vet assured me that we could definitely get him feeling better. She increased his dose for the pain reliever, added an opiate, and told me that if the additional pain relief didn't help with the incontinence issues she could prescribe a hormone therapy.
As soon as we got home I gave him both of his meds and within a half an hour he was playing with T-Bone like nothing had ever been wrong the day before.
I don't think I'll ever be ready to say goodbye to Roscoe. When Hercules passed, there was no decision to be made -- his heart was seriously enlarged, he couldn't breathe, and the many medications they gave him to try and help weren't doing anything. He was so afraid and so sick, letting him go was the kindest thing I could do. But with Roscoe's condition, his health comes and goes. When he's in pain he is obviously miserable, but he can seem almost miraculously better in a matter of hours if he gets meds or a massage or just rests long enough. If you'd asked me about his long term prognosis on Tuesday night I would have replied that he was near the end of his capacity to cope. That night I spent much of the evening curled up with him on the floor, crying and whispering stories in his ear. Wednesday morning, after he'd spent the night on my bed snoring gently into my ear, he was walking on all four legs. He was limping, of course, but nowhere near the crippled puppy he'd been the night before.
We've been through so much together, Roscoe and this family. I fell in love with him through a picture in an email. He moved from North Carolina to New Jersey and then he moved all the way from New Jersey to Washington State with us, and of the three dogs that made that move, he is the only one still alive. He survived being shot. He has gently welcomed every new member into our household. He's seen me through divorce, through dating, through remarriage and through the lonely times when SG is on the road. He and I have a lot of history between us. With a good vet, the right medications and a lot of love, I hope we have a lot more.