when a pet passes away: a pet sitter perspective

One of the most difficult parts of being a pet sitter is when a client's pet passes away. Over the course of my pet sitting career, I've had to experience this more times than I'd like. Only once has it actually happened in my arms. A handful of times I've let my client know that it might be time when it was too hard for them to let go. But, mostly, the pets I care for pass peacefully with their families. This has happened more than once over the last couple of weeks, and I must say that my heart is breaking. 

When a Pet Passes Away: A Pet Sitter Perspective

When a Pet Passes Away: A Pet Sitter Perspective

I always say that my greatest qualification as a pet sitter is my love of animals. Sure, it takes a lot more than that to be a professional, but if love doesn't motivate one to do a stellar job, I'm not sure what will. You can't learn to love animals. It's just in you or it isn't. 

So each time a pet I've cared for passes, a little bit of my heart goes with him or her. I've spent quality time with these magnificent creatures. We've bonded and shared love. They come to depend on me in their owners' absences, and I depend on them because they deliver the best part of my job. They deliver the joy that makes me love what I do for a living.

Since we're a small family business, my children sometimes come with me on pet sitting visits, so they, too, become bonded with the pets we care for. These past couple of weeks have been really rough on them, too. Though they have now had quite extensive experience in pet loss at such a young age, it still hits them hard every time. 

My clients understand the love we have for their animals, and they usually keep me updated if their pets have a serious health issue, even if we aren't caring for them at the time. The humans who hire us understand and appreciate the bonds we share with their pets. We are so grateful that they take us into consideration. The fact that they are dealing with difficult decisions and sadness but still take the time to keep us in the loop is amazing.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a text from my client, Liz.* She let me know that their mixed shepherd, Clayton, had taken a turn for the worse. Over the past several months, I'd been taking care of Clayton as the family traveled, giving him supplements, medication, and special food, and keeping an eye on his overall health as he battled an insulinoma (cancer of the pancreas). I helped care for him after surgery, and the family and I were in regular communication about his condition, even when they weren't traveling. 

Clayton, circa 2007, at the Maricopa Mutt March, a community event I co-founded.

Clayton, circa 2007, at the Maricopa Mutt March, a community event I co-founded.

Clayton and his family will always hold a special place in my heart. They became clients of mine when Clayton was just a puppy, soon after I moved to Arizona and opened my pet sitting business ten years ago. Their family gave me a sweet little Dalmatian stuffed animal for my son, Porter, when I was pregnant with him...something he still cherishes. After a couple of years, they moved out of my service area, then we moved a couple of times, then they moved again, and just a few months ago, I got an email from Liz..."remember us?" They were back in my service area, and I was reunited with Clayton. To say that these people and this dog are special to me would be an understatement. 

A couple of weeks ago, when Liz let me know that Clayton had taken a turn for the worse and that the veterinarian was running some tests over the weekend, it didn't sound good, but we hoped for the best.

Come Monday morning, I received a text from Liz letting me know that the cancer had spread to Clayton's bones and had made them so brittle that they could break at the slightest pressure. If that happened, the bones could not heal, and he would be in a great deal of pain. There was nothing more to do. There was really only one choice to make. Liz let me know that the vet would come to their home that evening at 7:00 PM. 

Campbell took the news about Clayton particularly hard. Our dog, N.A.S.H.A., tried to comfort her.

Campbell took the news about Clayton particularly hard. Our dog, N.A.S.H.A., tried to comfort her.

I thought about Clayton and his family all day and watched the clock. I broke the news to my children, and they were devastated. We'd spent a lot of time with Clayton over this past summer, and they had really bonded with him, too. As the clock struck 7:00 PM, we stopped what we were doing, had a group hug and a moment of silence for Clayton. 

About an hour later, I received a text from Damon, Liz's husband, letting me know that Clayton had passed peacefully.

Over the next few days, I exchanged quite personal text messages with Liz and Damon. They sent me a picture of Clayton enjoying the back yard just a few hours before he passed. Their family was struggling, and so was ours. I tried my best to support them. After all, it was their dog. Even so, they somehow understood our deep loss, as well, and considered our feelings. They even offered for my children to choose one of Clayton's toys as a keepsake, as her children had. This was truly a remarkable relationship. 

A couple of days ago, a card came in the mail. It was addressed to the "Junior Pet Sitters." 

The thoughtful message to my Junior Pet Sitters.

The thoughtful message to my Junior Pet Sitters.

The kids smiled and got a little teary, as did I. Included inside was a gift card for them to get some ice cream. That made them smile, and–I think–made us all feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Times are sad, but we can always find joy. And what better joy than ice cream, right? I plan to take the kids for ice cream this week and use it as a time to remember all of the things we loved about Clayton. 

I couldn't be more thankful to have these people, and to have had this dog, in our lives. Bonds like this go beyond the "business" of pet sitting. 

I am looking forward to the day when the Ashcraft family brings a new dog into their lives. They are remarkable pet parents, and I have confidence that our partnership in pet care is far from over. It may take some time, but we'll be here when they are ready. 

R.I.P., Clayton. You will always have a piece of our hearts.

Junior Pet Sitter Porter enjoying cuddles from Clayton.

Junior Pet Sitter Porter enjoying cuddles from Clayton.

Clayton and I liked to cuddle.

Clayton and I liked to cuddle.

The many moods of a morning walk with Clayton.

The many moods of a morning walk with Clayton.

Clayton enjoys a good brushing from Junior Pet Sitter Campbell.

Clayton enjoys a good brushing from Junior Pet Sitter Campbell.

Smooshing in for a selfie.

Smooshing in for a selfie.

*All names are typically changed in the interest of client anonymity, but I have been given special permission from my clients, in this case, to use their real names. I wanted to honor them properly.

ready for a furever home: the "lost our home" cats

Each week, the littles and I volunteer at the cat room at our local PetSmart taking care of cats available for adoption through Lost Our Home Pet Foundation. For the most part, the littles get to play with and cuddle the cats while I scoop litter boxes, but I'm not bitter. I get an occasional cuddle, too. We see cats come in and out, and some stick around longer than others. We get to know those better, and sometimes we just can't understand why they wouldn't be snatched up immediately. I thought I'd highlight a few of the regulars in hopes they might find a forever home. Check out these sweethearts:

Calypso is a two-year-old dilute calico female. She's absolutely gorgeous and has been hanging out with us since mid-January. She was found pregnant in a feral colony. It was obvious that she didn't belong there, so she was moved to a foster home where she had four beautiful kittens. Her kittens have been adopted, and now sweet Calypso is looking for her chance. She loves cat trees (both for hanging out and scratching), and she loves to be brushed. She gets along with kids and most other animals, so would be a beautiful addition to most homes. 


Keegan is a one-year-old female flame point siamese. "Keegan" means "small flame," so she is named after her beautiful siamese markings. A nice couple found her as a stray and cared for her for several months before bringing her to Lost Our Home to find her a permanent home. Keegan is "all siamese," meaning she's talkative, social, and loves heights. She has been in the cat room since mid-November! We can't believe it! 



Lightening is a two-year-old black and white female domestic short hair. She is named after the unique shape of her tail, which is charmingly crookedish. She is very social and sweet. She'll nuzzle and curl up in your lap. She has been in the cat room since mid-December, but has been with Lost Our Home her whole life, waiting for the right family to come for her. She'd love nothing more than to sit on your lap and cuddle, if you have room for this sweet girl. She won't let you down. 



If you're local, please stop by and pay them a visit. They would love to snuggle with you!

Click here for Lost Our Home Pet Foundation's adoption application.


phoenix family makes huge sacrifice for their pets

I read a post yesterday on Facebook that caught my attention. A client of mine reported that a friend of hers was in need of some camping gear. But not because she was going on a vacation. This woman and her family will be homeless as of the 30th of this month. They need camping gear to survive as a newly homeless family.

You see, money is tight for them like it is for so many others. This family has beloved pets, some of which are service animals, and their apartment gave them a mere thirty-days notice that they would no longer be accommodating animals. The service animals could stay by law, but the others who provide them so much emotional support could not. So the family had to make a choice: get rid of the animals or move.

They can't stay, and they don't have the money to move. They won't sever ties with their furry family members, so they are making a huge sacrifice. They are starting over, Little House on the Prairie-style. They are saving every dime and waiting for their tax return to come. Through the generosity of others, they have secured a large tent and a few other necessities, but they need so much more. 

Now before you judge...not that you would, but some might, and I know how these things go and what questions might be asked:

• If they don't have any money, why do they have pets?

• Why don't they just get rid of the pets so they can have a safe place to live?

• Why don't they get a better job that pays more?

Let me fill you in.

I spoke to Dawn, the matriarch of the family. She told me about her husband, Michael, her daughter, Kim (19 years old), and her daughter, Deanna (18 years old). 

Dawn suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS). Since our mutual friend who connected us also suffers from it, I am somewhat familiar with the disease, but, from what I understand, the symptoms and problems that arise from EDS are plentiful and infinite, and differ from person to person, so I would never claim to know all about it. The Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation describes it as:

"Individuals with Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) have a genetic defect in their connective tissue, the tissue that provides support to many body parts such as the skin, muscles, and ligaments. The fragile skin and unstable joints found in patients with EDS are the result of faulty or reduced amounts of collagen. Collagen is a protein which acts as a "glue" in the body, adding  strength and elasticity to connective tissue.

"EDS is a heterogeneous group of heritable connective tissue disorders, characterized by articular (joint) hyper mobility, skin extensibility and tissue fragility. There are six major types of EDS. The different types of EDS are classified according to their manifestations of signs and symptoms." 

I could provide you with the list of symptoms, but you'll probably move on to another post in your feed within the first...eh...twenty pages or so, so I'll let those of you who are truly interested in exploring more check out the link to the EDNF web site and see for yourselves. I encourage you to do so. In summary, it's like something out of a horror story. 

What Dawn has been able to achieve is remarkable. She beat the odds and got out of a wheelchair she had been sentenced to for life because of her EDS. She was in that wheelchair for thirteen (YES, 13) years. She describes her victory: "I was on my way to hospice when I said I needed help. I could ask an animal for anything; people much less so." Then along came Bella. Bella was a neglected and abused animal before she connected with Dawn. The two are inseparable. As an untrained rescue dog, Bella learned 53 commands and became her service dog. "Bella made me want to walk and fight and so much more. I have been out of a wheelchair for three years and pharmaceutical-free. I recovered both kidneys and my liver that thirteen years of medications had all but killed off. I did it all with my pets, for my girls, husband, and myself."

Not to be chiché, but they seem to be the definition of "rescuing each other." 

Dawn's daughters, now young adults, both have EDS. Now that they are both over 18, their Social Security benefits (like the kind people really need) are greatly reduced, so money is tighter than ever. To make matters worse, Deanna has autism. She will be filing for disability as a young adult, but these things take time.

So what about Dawn's husband, Michael? Where does he stand? 

Dawn filled me in. "Mike and I were teenage sweethearts...we are disabled family...Mike also has a connective tissue disorder that the doctors are trying to diagnose. He is barely physically able to work part time."

Despite all of these tribulations, the family devotes their time to and has been glued together by animal-related causes. Dawn told me that she doesn't remember a time when she wasn't rescuing some sort of creature (I could relate), and that she holds a special place in her heart for the bully and shepherd breeds–the underdogs. She says "so often they are overlooked, but they are wonderful little souls." Even though their family needs, they give to animals. Dawn reflects that "I have been trying to save every animal I could, since my first memories. Rescuing reptiles, dogs, cats, birds, and whatever helpless being heeded me...our rescue driving has been grounded, as the van has over 160,000 miles on it now, and we can't afford to replace it. All we ever asked for our transports is gas. We did the rest on a limited budget as a family."

Sometimes those who need the most give the most.

So what about their pack? Let's hear about their awesome animals! 

Seven: A therapy cat for Deanna. An elderly orange tabby.

Sweetness: An ESA/therapy dog. Helps the family to alert when Deanna is at her worst. This chihuahua also loves to cuddle with Michael.

Bella: Dawn's "pride and joy," as described. A five-year-old Anatolian Shepherd.

Monty and Snauters: leopard gekos.

Dawn let me know that with her husband's health decline and loss of part-time income due to his condition, they have financially slipped to the point where difficult decisions have to be made. She says "I am not taking my children back to low income housing where we were victims of crime multiple times...I looked into shelters, but none could keep us all together given our daughters' ages and the pets...So yes, we will be homeless, but only for a bit. I will not settle for this for my family."

Even at this bleak time, Dawn maintains a positive spirit and a great deal of hope. Once they receive their tax return, they plan to purchase an RV, some land, and build up a home with their own hands. She pictures it:

"We'll build up chicken coops for eggs, a barn for a goat for milk products, and places to grow fruits and vegetables year-round. Maybe even plant a small orchard for nuts, avocados, and olives. We will have to build up solar panels for power, and a water cistern for bathing and drinking. We will build planters and fill them by hand composting and building soil. Adding in greenhouses and cold boxes for a year-round natural food supply. It's going to be hard. Many would think impossibly so, but I have come back from death's door and proved many experts wrong with just that one act. I was also not supposed to be able to carry children, or to ever walk again. Being told something is hard or even impossible has never stopped me from giving something my everything until another path opens or I progress. The only futile thought is not even trying."

If that's not inspiring, I don't know what is.

So while they wait for their tax returns so that they can start the next chapter in their lives, they'll be camping. Right now, the family is working on gathering the essentials and minimizing expenditures as they spend their last week in their apartment. They are still in need of quite a few things, so if anyone local or otherwise can provide any of the following, they would be forever grateful:

• foster home for their elderly cat, Seven, who would not fare well in a tent.

• campfire cookware

• small camp stove or solar oven

• a few good warm, low temperature sleeping bags

• camp cots

Dawn says "anything will help, and everything is appreciated." 

She didn't ask for it, but I would be happy to facilitate any monetary donations that could go toward purchasing what they need in this transitional period. If you would like to donate, we've established a funding page.

When learning about this family's situation and the sacrifices they are making to keep their entire family together, it makes me cry and smile at the same time. While some people treat animals as if they are last year's fashion accessory, easily discarded, this struggling family is making a huge sacrifice to honor the commitment they made to their pets. They may not have much, but they have each other, and sometimes that's all a family needs to come out sparkling on the other end. 

Connect with EDNF on Facebook and Twitter.

"the dog story: a journey into a new life with multiple sclerosis" book review, #giveaway, and author interview with matt cavallo

Matt Cavallo's wife, Jocelyn, became a friend of mine through our local MOMS club. We had some fun experiences together, and her boys, Mason and Colby, are sweethearts. I was always happy for my kids to play with them. I thought Jocelyn was a cool cat. Totally real, funny and fun, and over-the-top nice without the sickening sweetness. But I didn't realize how cool she really was until after she called me to her home to take care of the family dog, Teddy. 

The Cavallo family. Photo courtesy of Matt Cavallo.

The Cavallo family. Photo courtesy of Matt Cavallo.

The consultation was the first time I'd been to her home. She showed me where all the dog stuff was, and we talked about how Teddy would be for me on walks, which would be very important during our visits. She explained to me how Teddy was used to being walked twice a day by her husband, Matt, whom I'd actually never met. "Teddy is really Matt's dog," Jocelyn explained. "We all love Teddy, but Matt is super attached to him, and he's probably nervous about having someone come in to take care of Teddy while we're away, but we totally trust you." 

Most people who take the time and money to hire a professional pet sitter are pretty devoted to their pets, but this seemed different. I didn't want to pry, so I took what she said at face value and reassured her that Teddy would be fine. "Please let Matt know that I'll take great care of Teddy, and I will walk him twice a day, like he's used to."

I think Jocelyn felt like she needed to provide me with further explanation. "I don't know if I told you, but Matt has MS," she blurted. 

"Wow." What could I say? "I...had no idea. Is he...okay?" 

"Yes, he's okay. I mean, as much as you can be with MS..." Jocelyn went on to tell me a small portion of Matt's story just as Matt pulled into the driveway, home for lunch. "He actually wrote a book about it," she concluded before he made it into the house. It's called 'The Dog Story,' if you're interested." I gathered that there was more to Matt's relationship with Teddy. And, yes, I was interested.

After just hearing the news about Matt, I was a bit nervous as to what to expect, knowing he'd be coming in any second. I mean, he could drive, so he must be somewhat functional, right? Matt came in and Jocelyn introduced us. I don't know what, exactly, I expected, but Matt looked totally normal. Not at all like what MS looked like in my imagination. He was friendly, yet slightly aloof, probably trying to play it cool in the face of this stranger who would care for Teddy in a few short weeks. Matt made himself a sandwich, and I excused myself so he and Jocelyn could enjoy their time together. 

I took care of Teddy shortly thereafter, and we got along famously. He was happy to see me, fun to walk, and well behaved. Matt survived the ordeal. 

I purchased a Kindle copy of Matt's book, "The Dog Story: A Journey into a New Life With Multiple Sclerosis," and before beginning, I sent Matt an email letting him know I was setting out. He responded warmly, saying "I hope you enjoy it. It can be difficult to read in parts, especially since you know Jocelyn." 

I began, and a couple of hours later, I sent Matt another message: "OMG. I can't put it down. Your writing style is so approachable, and your story is really compelling." Matt responded humbly with a simple "thank you." 

It's true. I couldn't put it down. I know that's totally chiché. Maybe a small part of my interest was the fact that I had a personal relationship with these people. After all, rarely do we get to hear such raw, unveiled stories from people we haven't known our whole lives. But it wasn't just about hearing the dirt on people I knew. Anyone who reads this book will feel as if they intimately know Matt and Joceyln. I thought a story about a MS diagnosis would be a total downer, but Matt is funny, and somehow he makes you happy through a very sad story. I felt the impact he conveyed as he shared his story, but I never felt sorry for him. The journey to his diagnosis was rough, but Matt is almost as strong as his wife, and (spoiler alert), together, they have made a wonderful life, despite Matt's tragic disease. 

Although Teddy's picture adorns the cover of Matt's book, I kept waiting for him to make an appearance as I read. I had to wait a long time.

I contacted Matt after I'd finished the book and asked if I could interview him for the well minded blog. He was happy to oblige. 

WM: Matt, I read "The Dog Story" about your journey to a diagnosis. While, initially, it doesn't seem to be a book about a dog, I walked away with the feeling that while your childhood dog helped you find your identity growing up, Teddy has helped you find your identity to live your best life with MS. Is that the message you intended?

Photo courtesy of Matt Cavallo.

Photo courtesy of Matt Cavallo.

MC: That is a great observation, Kristen. I definitely believe that Teddy has not only helped me cope with my diagnosis, but has also helped me live my best life. The title of the book is a bit misleading. "The Dog Story" is not the story of a dog, rather it refers to how I got my dog. A major theme throughout the book is timing. Getting a dog was a debate my wife, Jocelyn, and I had over and over again during the beginning of our relationship and into the early years of our marriage. While I am a dog person and have had a dog my entire life, she never really connected with dogs. To her the timing was never right. We had major life events like getting married, graduating from college or moving to Boston, and a dog was not in those plans.

Then, in the midst of those plans, I had this major health event where I lost the functionality of my legs and got diagnosed with MS. A month after my diagnosis was my 29th birthday. On that birthday, I was handed a present, and it was a book. When I tore the wrapping paper off, looking back at me was a book about dog breeds with a soft-coat wheaten terrier on the cover. I opened the inside cover and there was a handwritten note, saying that a litter had been born, and I was getting a male from the litter.

At that moment, my heart dropped. Now the timing was right to get a dog? I could barely walk on my own and had just been diagnosed with a chronic illness. How was I going to walk and take care of a dog? I wanted to thank Jocelyn and tell her that while I really appreciated the present, that I couldn't possibly raise a dog at this time.

Then, I realized that the timing could not have been more right. At that point in my life, I needed a dog more than ever. Getting Teddy was a major turning point in me starting a new chapter of my life as a man with a chronic illness. I promised Jocelyn that day that no matter what was happening with my MS, that I would walk the dog twice a day. It's been eight years now and I've kept that promise.

WM: Can you tell me more about your relationship with Teddy?

Photo courtesy of Matt Cavallo.

Photo courtesy of Matt Cavallo.

MC: Teddy is more than my best friend. He is more like a caregiver. He has been in my life for almost nine years now, through the good times and bad. He knows when I'm feeling sick and comforts me. He also nudges me and keeps me honest with our daily walks. On the days when I just don't feel like getting up and doing anything, his cold, wet nose prods me out the door.

WM: So Teddy is really important to your quality of life.

MC: Teddy is a great motivator. He keeps me going. I think that he has played a big factor into why I have sustained such a great quality of life despite living with MS.

WM: What is your routine like with Teddy?

Teddy on an early morning walk with me. I kept my promise, too.

Teddy on an early morning walk with me. I kept my promise, too.

MC: My routine with Teddy is the same as it was when I made the promise over eight years ago. I walk him twice a day whether I feel like I can or not. The only difference is that we have two boys now so I now schedule Teddy's walks around the kids' schedule and activities.

WM: How important is regular exercise for you? Would you say Teddy helps you more in the physical sense or the emotional sense?

MC: Teddy helps me both physically and emotionally. Physically he keeps me moving and emotionally he understands my bad days. Exercise is important, but often times I am too fatigued to move. That is where having to take care of Teddy really pushes me to keep walking.

WM: Do you believe in the healing power of animals?

MC: Yes, I do believe in the healing power of animals. While they can't speak our language, they can communicate and sense our emotions. I was in a deep depression when I was first diagnosed, and it wasn't until I got Teddy that I was able to pull myself out of it.

I took this photo of Teddy during my first visit with him. He was great for me, but, clearly, he missed Matt. Just look at those puppy-dog eyes.

I took this photo of Teddy during my first visit with him. He was great for me, but, clearly, he missed Matt. Just look at those puppy-dog eyes.

WM: I understand that you have been traveling a lot lately as a motivational speaker. How do you keep motivated when you can't walk Teddy, and how does he do while you're away?

MC: Traveling had been hard on me. I would like to take him with me whenever I go. I am always trying to make sure he can't see me pack my suitcase. Jocelyn thinks I infer way too many human traits on him and that he is fine when I'm away. The truth is that I am the one that is not fine with being gone. I need to keep my promise.

WM: Have you considered the possibility of Teddy becoming a service dog for you?

MC: I have, but Jocelyn is pretty sure he would flunk out of the training school! He is also an unneutered male who marks everything, so I'm am not sure how well-behaved he would be in public places. He is definitely lovable but lacks some of the social refinements you would expect from a service dog.

WM: Do you have any plans for any more books?

MC: Jocelyn and I just completed our second book, "Seven Steps to Living Well With a Chronic Illness." It's a self-help book for people seeking guidance for living well despite being diagnosed with a chronic illness. Some of the topics covered in the book include tips on navigating the health care system, emotional and physical healing, and, of course, the healing power of a companion animal. The book is due out this spring.

I, for one, can't imagine a better couple to tell the story about living well under dire circumstances. Matt and Jocelyn are upbeat, positive people who continue to conquer their life's challenges every day. 

Matt has generously offered to send a personalized, signed copy of his book to a well minded reader. Regardless of whether your life has been touched by a chronic illness, Matt's story is an inspiring look at overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles, made better with the help of a dog.

Please enter this very special giveaway.

Connect with Matt at mattcavallo.com.

living with canine addison's disease: kermit's story, part four (the disease and the end)

So what is Addison's Disease, exactly? PetMD describes it:

Mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids are hormones normally produced by the adrenal glands, which are located near the kidneys. Both of these hormones are critical to the healthy functioning of the body, and an abnormal increase or decrease of either of these hormones can lead to serious health problems if not addressed in time. Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison's Disease) is characterized by a deficient production of glucocorticoids and/or mineralocorticoids. Deficient production of both these hormones can cause a number of symptoms like weakness, dehydration, low blood pressure, depression, heart toxicity, vomiting, blood in feces, and weight loss...

A sudden and severe (acute) episode of hypoadrenocorticism is a medical emergency requiring immediate hospitalization and intensive therapy...

After the initial recovery, your veterinarian will calculate the dose that will balance your dog's hormone deficiency. The dose of these hormones may need to be increased occasionally, especially during periods of stress like travel, hospitalization, and surgery. 

After being diagnosed with Addison's Disease at the age of four, Kermit did quite well on his meds. The vet would adjust them up or down depending on what his blood work said. Giving Kermit meds became part of our routine. The same time every morning, and the same time every evening. 

When we knew he would experience stress, we gave him half a dose more leading up to the event and during the event. The stress could be positive or negative. Having out-of-town guests stay with us for a few days was always a happy, exciting time for Kermit. But the thrill of it all could send him into an Addisonian Crisis, so we'd have to up his meds a bit. Overall, his quality of life was great for a couple of years. We could do this thing.

We thought all was as well as it could be, but then Kermit suddenly collapsed one day. We initially thought it was an Addisonian crisis, but this time, it was different. His body stiffened, his mouth froze open in an ugly attack-like position, and then he started convulsing. It seemed to go on forever, but he came-to after a few seconds, stood up, wandered around a bit, pooped, then drank a ton of water. Then he ran around, perfectly happy. 

We rushed him to the vet, despite his seemingly perfect appearance. Seizures are not normally a symptom of Addison's Disease, so they ran test after test. They found no cause of the seizures, so on top of the Addison's Disease, Kermit had "Non-specific Seizure Disorder," which is a fancy way of saying "we don't know what the hell is wrong with your dog." They speculated that the seizures could be his body's way of reacting to the toll the disease was taking on him, but they couldn't be sure. They said he might never have another seizure. Or he might have many. They couldn't predict what would happen. They kept him on his course of meds and said that if his seizures became unmanageable, we could look at treating them, but that treating them would be invasive, likely consisting of regular injections. 

Over the next couple of years, Kermit's seizures were inconsistent. He would have one every now and again. We'd call the vet, and they would tell us there was really nothing we could do besides comfort him, unless we felt it was time to treat him. We didn't want to subject him to the treatment, and since his seizures were so sporadic and he seemed fine, otherwise, we opted to leave him untreated.

N.A.S.H.A. would often keep Kermit company when he wasn't feeling well.

N.A.S.H.A. would often keep Kermit company when he wasn't feeling well.

As his life progressed, the seizures became more consistent. Unpredictably, he would have cluster seizures, a group of seizures that would occur over the course of a couple of days. We couldn't understand what would set these off, but we noticed a pattern. N.A.S.H.A. would stick to Kermit like glue periodically. And she wouldn't stop licking his eyes, but only sometimes. When we started to really take notice, we recognized that she exhibited this behavior for a day or so only just before a seizure cluster. N.A.S.H.A. could predict Kermit's seizures! 

Still, there was not much we could do, but at least we knew, and there was some comfort in knowing what was coming. And I'm sure Kermit was somewhat comforted by N.A.S.H.A.'s care. He always tolerated her eye-licking, and even seemed to enjoy it. A little love goes a long way.

Kermit's seizures also followed a pattern: He would suddenly drop to the ground, stiffen, seize, then moan and lay there for a minute and wet himself. Then he'd get up and wobble around a bit, falling a few times, then he'd walk around in a daze (the seizures caused temporary blindness for a few minutes), and then he'd poop, drink water, and be fine again. Our role: to keep him from hitting objects that could cause injury, comfort him, and then try to escort him toward the back door so he could relieve himself outside rather than inside. The seizure clusters happened approximately monthly, and he would have five or six seizures over the course of two days.

Kermit would occasionally hit something on the way down and bleed from the mouth...his gums had begun to deteriorate, and the vet advised us not to put him through the anesthesia it would take to treat it. His tooth decay was likely a result of his weakened immune system.

So why did we choose to prolong his suffering? Because other than the two days he was having seizures, his quality of life was wonderful. He was normal Kermit. He ate and played and cuddled. It was really hard to think about euthanizing him when he was seizure-free. 

Kermit started to show signs that his mind wasn't all there. After so many seizures, his brain was damaged. We affectionately called him "mashed potato brains." Perfectly potty-trained Kermit would now stare us straight in the eye and lift his leg on the corner of the couch as if it was a fire hydrant. He had just lost his mind. We purchased him some reusable belly band "diapers," and after hearing our story, the lady who made them sent Kermit a custom band with Kermit the Frog on it. Kermit wore a belly band all the time to prevent our house from becoming a urinal. He came to enjoy the attention a diaper change brought, and when we'd release him from them for a naked romp outside, he'd prance around, free. Kinda like taking a bra off at the end of the day, I suspect.

Everyone always says "you'll know when it's time."

We knew it was time when Kermit's mashed potato brains led him to injure himself. He began to chew on his left front leg. At first, it was a little nibble, as if he had an itch that wouldn't go away. When he drew blood, we bandaged him. We took him to the vet, and there was nothing wrong with his leg. He would chew the bandage off, so we put him in a t-shirt. It seemed to help, but he could still get at the leg. He chewed and chewed, and chewed. And he wouldn't snap out of his daze. Our Kermit was gone.

It was time. We all cried, and we all hugged Kermit. My husband honored the agreement we made when we married. I told him "there will be lots of animals in our lives, and I won't be able to 'do the deed' when it comes time. If you marry me, you have to agree to take care of it." Brennen scooped Kermit up and put him in the car. The littles and I watched out the window as they drove away.

For weeks after, I didn't know what to do with myself in the mornings. There was no medicine to administer and no diapers to change. There was just nothing.

Kermit was a special dog with a rare disease that had a huge impact on our lives. Was it all worth it? Without a doubt. I hope he'd think so, too.  

Further reading:

living with canine addison's disease: kermit's story, part one (the adoption)

living with canine addison's disease: kermit's story, part two (our lives before the disease)

living with canine addison's disease: kermit's story, part three (the diagnosis)