shih-tzu dog wearing a bandanna
Theo, our sweet shih-tzu pup


As many of you know, Theo has a chronic back problem; he has herniated discs which can act up from time to time.  The last time it did, it was January 1st, 2012. Late at night, I noticed he was experiencing the symptoms that I recognize. I am so attuned to this dog, I can tell from his facial expressions (yes, dogs emote) and his demeanor. Usually it begins with a look I can recognize. It then manifests to either trembling, or an indescribable feeling I get when he is out of sorts.

January 1st, I gave him the meds I have on hand for him: gabapentin (known as neurontin), a potent liquid that helps calm the inflamed nerve endings in his back. I give him methocarbomol, which we know as Robaxin (or Robaxicet, without the acetaminophen). This is a muscle relaxant. That night I also gave him a tramadol (morphine-based pain killer) because he was obviously in pain.

But nothing helped and by 3 in the morning, he had vomited. I stayed awake, trying to get him into a comfortable spot but he was wandering. I carried him downstairs, didn’t help. Carried him back up, didn’t help. By 5 in the morning I was at the emergency vet, being seen and given meds for both the nausea he was experiencing as well as an injection of cortisone to help with the inflammation. By the time I came home, I had 1/2 hour to get Sam up for a hockey training session he had in Kahnawake. Suffice it to say, I was exhausted that day. But the meds I had Theo on seemed to do the trick and within a couple of days, he was back to normal.

Today, he began to exhibit symptoms again. Immediately I was able to secure an appointment with his vet who would see him to assess him, and then prescribe a new round of meds. I brought him to the animal hospital where he sat on my lap while we waited.

When we walked in, the doctor was already there. She adores my dog, and he – ordinarily – responds to her. But every dog is out of sorts when at the vet. I put him down on the metal table, at which point he attached himself in a sitting position, to my upper body, and literally buried his face in my shoulder. Just his actions had me swelling with love and sympathy.

The doctor soothed him, touched his back and he snapped – not with teeth, just a warning bark. Theo will not bite. Ever. But in pain, he wanted to let her know he didn’t want to be touched. At that point, I stood him on the table, with his head facing me. I took his little face in my hands and put my face right in his. Because I knew that as he trusts me, so do I trust him. I soothed him with kisses, I talked to him, and he allowed the doctor to palpate his spine to see what was going on.

When she reached the vertebrae that was obviously most inflamed, he growled very very softly. She nodded and continued her examination. When she was done, she patted his head and told me that yes, it was his back.

She said, “It’s amazing.” I said, “That I caught it this early? I have a connection to him.” She said, “yes, but more. See, he is in pain. I could feel how tense he was when I was examining him. But he fought through that pain because he trusts you so deeply that he knew, if you are there, everything will be okay. It’s amazing.”

She actually made me tear up. I know Theo trusts me. I have this incredible connection I never had with the other 2 dogs I had loved. Maybe it’s because I was older when I got Theo than I was with Sandy (I was 16) and Toebi (22), or maybe it’s the amazing personality of this dog. But the awesome (in the true sense of that word) feeling of responsibility and protectiveness toward Theo, validated by the vet’s observation, filled me with a sense of wonder and gratitude for the presence of this little guy in my life.

I brought him home and began the regime of meds. It can take a couple of days but at least I know he is on track to feeling better. And all I can do is make sure he knows I’m here for him. I do not take this lightly, he is such a part of my heart.

The pattern is for his demeanor to remain quiet, and very dependent (moreso than usual – he’s quite attached). He’ll sleep a lot, which is good. But his tail stays up when I walk him, and wags happily when he gets his meds (he gets cheese with them!) and treats. And he wags his tail whenever he gets attention (which happens to be frequently). But it’s hard to see him so quiet.

UPDATE October 19, 2012:

Today, for the first time since this post began, Theo is feeling better. He barked when the front door opened, and he hasn’t barked since the back acted up (which is something I only realized when he did bark this evening). There is an exhilaration about seeing and knowing my dog is feeling better. I could not be more grateful!

1 thought on “Unconditional

  1. Very good to hear Theo is doing better. Always sad when a pet is sick. Our Rocko cat (who turned 19 this year) had some teeth issues the last few years and needed surgery to repair them. The pain he was in was hard to watch, plus making it hard for him to eat.

    Hope Theo continues the recovery.

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