A Part of the Family by Sharon O’Donnell
Our beautiful little red long-haired dachshund had back surgery on Friday of this week. Dachshunds are prone to back problems because of their long backs and short legs, but our Fenway is only 7 years old — a bit young it would seem for such problems to happen. Even in dog years, he is only 49 — my age exactly — but come to think of it, I did have back surgery myself 3 years ago.
But with dachshunds, back problems can be very serious, and believe it or not, 6 or 7 is the average age of these problems occurring. I had a dachshund when I was growing up, and he lived until he was 16 with never a back problem or other health problem at all. Despite Fenway having doggie steps onto two of our couches and up to our bed, he still developed the problem.
He first started having symptoms of back problems this past August when he suddenly didn’t want to walk. My husband had done research on the web, and he knew that when back problems develop, it is important to get treatment immediately. We took Fenway to a local university vet school clinic where they examined Fen and took x-rays. They could tell that Fenway had some mineralization along the discs of his spine, but they couldn’t tell if a disc was actually herniated; an MRI would be able to show it, BUT they said that spinal surgery was so tricky that they would not recommend such surgery if the dog was still able to walk — even if an MRI showed a herniated disc, they still would recommend conservative therapy – where basically the dog is carried up and down steps and not allowed to jump, etc. For the most part, we did that for the past 4 months. In the rain or the cold, we still carried Fenway down the stairs to his gated-in area off our deck and would then wait for him to do his business and carry him back up again. When we first got Fenway, we had steps built for him that were small without much rise in height between each of them so that there would be less strain on his back. However, perhaps that any kind of steps would have been too much strain.
The conservative therapy seemed to be working. Fenway gradually got back to his old self, although he was really spoiled, having grown used to us carrying him up and down the steps. Then four days ago, I noticed he was hesitating when having to get up to walk. We called and made another appointment for the university vet clinic for the next day. This time my husband insisted on Fenway having an MRI even though it was expensive; and if the MRI showed it was a herniated disc, we wanted to seriously consider surgery. Our college son came home and went with us to take Fen to his appointment. They kept Fen for the day to do the MRI. That afternoon, the results were back, and yes — it was a herniated disc. They said surgery might help – but it was still risky as any spinal surgery is. The also said that if the disc had been herniated for a while, it would be difficult or impossible to remove. They also said they could decompress the herniated disc as well as the other discs in his back so that there would be more room around them in the spinal canal. Or we could put Fen on pain meds and more conservative therapy. We opted for the surgery. It was scheduled for the next day, but we took Fen home with us for the night.
That night it was more than obvious Fen was in pain. He had trouble moving and reluctant to walk. His breathing was more labored, as if it hurt to breathe. The next morning, his breathing was worse, almost like he was groaning or snoring every time he took a breath. He was in pain, and it was incredibly painful for us to watch. My husband had to take Fenway in for his pre-surgery prep at 7:30 that morning. Our 11-year-old son broke down in tears as he listened to Fenway’s breathing, such an obvious sign that Fenway was hurting. Our whole family was a wreck. Our middle son, a senior in high school, had to get to class, but I know it was hard for him to leave Fenway. I saw later he’d texted, “Good luck in surgery, buddy.”
Fenway is like part of our family. Forget the simile. Fenway IS a part of our family. He is very loyal and cuddly and playful and can make us forget our worries and concerns in no time. Just being around him makes us better people. Fen has a special relationship with everyone in the house, but he has a super special strong bond with my husband, Kevin. When Kevin is out of the house, Fenway guards Kevin’s belongings all day, growling at anyone who comes near. It’s actually kind of strange and overboard but that’s Fenway. Most of the time, Fenway is a very laid-back dog who loves to relax, but when his is ready to play, he plays hard.
Yesterday afternoon did not bring the news we’d prayed to hear. The disc had been herniated for a while, making it impossible for doctors to actually remove the disc; however, they did decompress the disc and the other discs so there would be more room for in the spinal column and thus would alleviate the pain. But still — it wasn’t the best case scenario. Time will tell what will happen. Using pain meds off and on will also help him if needed. It hurts to think he won’t be able to roughhouse with my sons the way he has for the past 7 years — we’ll miss that so much, and I wish I’d taken some videos of it. I think I took one last year, but it was brief, and I’m not even sure where it is in our stack of small video tapes. Ironically, in the beginning of November, we bought a brand new video camera that records without tape — primarily to record Fenway. But we’ve been so busy that we didn’t get around to taking one.
Even though he won’t be quite his ‘old’ self, we know we are blessed to be able to bring Fenway home tomorrow. I went and visited him this morning, and he was very wobbly but able to walk and seemed very ready to come home with us. Hated to have to leave him there. His back is bare, now, his beautiful red hair shaved with staples along his spine. It’s odd to see him like that. Kind of funny to look at though, and that is the approach we will take when my 11-year-old sees him. Kind of a revers Mohawk.
We can’t wait to bring Fenway home in the morning. Home. Back where he belongs. With us. Part of the family.