My dog has a peeing problem. But I love him anyway.

Jones, asleep on his small bed, while Kona hogs the giant, expensive bed that I hoped they would share.

I have a secret: My dog, Jones, is incontinent. And his incontinence rules our lives.

It started happening about six months ago, and initially, we blamed it on poor Kona. She was from Hawaii, she’d never been an indoor dog, she’s weird, etc. It never occurred to us that the culprit could be Jones. But then we started putting it together:

  • A year ago, the week before Christmas 2014, Jones ate three stuffed animals. We were totally gobsmacked. Jones loves to eat broccoli and salmon and anything else that drops on the floor, but prior to that incident, had never shown an iota of interest in anything that wasn’t food. We hoped it was a one-time deal and moved on.
  • Also about a year ago, our inexhaustible ball dog became noticeably slower, and stiffer. We’re not entirely sure of his age, but we assumed it was arthritis, which an expensive trip to the vet confirmed. We put him on daily pain medication.
  • Over the last six months, we’ve noticed Jones pacing in circles, and sort of … staring. You can’t do cognitive tests on a dog, but we assume it’s mild dementia. And dementia is often accompanied by incontinence.

This past Christmas, during dinner, Jones unleashed a torrent of urine right in front of our guests. It was mortifying, but not totally unexpected, since his inside accidents had increased to the point where we were having him wear a diaper. In fact, we now own five diapers, the washing machine is always going, and my laundry room smells like pee.

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Jones at the vet, after pooping on the waiting room floor.

The day after Christmas, I took Jones to a new vet. What if there was something neurological going on? Or what if Jones’ stiffness was making it hard for him to make it outside in time to do his business? As we were making our way from the waiting room to the exam room, Jones pooped all over the floor.

The vet did a thorough examination and reviewed the voluminous records I’d had sent from our other vet. Jones’ blood work is perfect, with no sign of cancer. His vitals are great. His x-rays confirmed arthritis, but no other masses. We opted to do an ultrasound, to rule out an abdominal mass, and we consulted with a neurologist.

There’s nothing in Jones’ stomach that would be causing the incontinence. We don’t know if he has a brain tumor without an MRI, and both the vet and our neurologist steered us away from that. It’s expensive, and even if there is a tumor, there’s not much we can do about it. It’d be more for confirmation purposes. So at the moment, we have no definitive diagnosis for Jones.

The neurologist recommended a course of steroids, to reduce any inflammation in his spine that could be preventing his brain from communicating with his hindquarters. We started those a week ago, and while Jones’ mobility is slightly improved, the steroids make him drink more water, and hence, pee more.

On Friday, I was answering e-mail when I heard his nails going tap, tap, tap, tap on the hardwoods. By the time I got downstairs to find his soaking wet diaper, he’d tracked droplets of urine all over the downstairs — in the playroom, on the hardwoods, on the area rugs. I was supposed to go to a training to be a health room volunteer at Bini’s school, but instead, I scrubbed carpets and washed dog diapers.

“I give up,” I texted Steve during the clean-up. (Which, by the way, I’m very efficient at.) But that’s not true. I can’t give up on him.

I’ve had well-meaning friends talk to me about Jones’ quality of life, and I get it. Sophie, my beautiful German Shepherd, died of blood cancer three years ago, and it was an awful death. We kept her alive too long, because we just couldn’t bear to let her go. It’s a fine line most pet owners will have to walk at some point. I wish vets handed out a decision tree to help make this horrible choice easier (If incontinent + healthy –> keep alive. If incontinent + immobile + confused –> let go). Our vets aren’t advising anything, though. I suspect they don’t want the liability of a bereaved, deranged pet owner.

Is Jones ready to go? His lab tests indicate that he’s healthy and cancer-free. His appetite is great, and he gets around fine, albeit slower than he used to. He doesn’t bound and play like he once did, and he wears a diaper, but he’s old.  We don’t kill our grandmothers when they get old, so I’m not going to put my dog to sleep because he’s an inconvenience. I’ll grit my teeth and wash soiled linens and come to terms with the fact that I will need to rip up the carpets in my nearly new house at some point. Because what else can I do?

What would you do?

Today, I totaled up my dog’s vet bills. That was a bad idea.

Jones, modeling his new Bite Not. I don't think he likes it.
Jones, modeling his new Bite Not. I don’t think he likes it.

That, over there, is Jones the dog. He’s wearing that contraption, a cone alternative called the Bite Not, because he’s chewing the hell out of his hindquarters. He’s on antibiotics and prednisone for the third time since we rescued him six months ago. In two weeks, I will take him to a dog dermatologist. He’s itchy.

Just for fun, I thought I’d tally up what I’ve spent at the vet in the past six months. Are you ready for this? $1,405.91. And that’s not including the private sessions with the trainer, or the obedience classes he’s in now. Or all the treats, or the Chuckit to replace the one he gnawed past the point of usefulness.

Our Jones is a particularly expensive family member, although he doesn’t hold a candle to Sophie, our German Shepherd who passed away in March (and shattered my heart into a million pieces). Her vet folder is seriously four inches thick. For Sophie, we did acupuncture and dog massage and aquatherapy. We took her spleen out. I took her to a dog opthamologist, even though she was four months into a terminal cancer diagnosis that the vets said would give us six months, max. What can I say? She was my best friend.

Both Jones and Sophie (and our cat Dexter, for that matter) came to us with problems. Sophie, a Hurricane Katrina rescue, had five different types of worms, including heartworms. Jones’ first vet visit revealed hypothyroidism, giardia and a skin infection. Dexter, who was not named for the HBO-series serial killer, had pneumonia when we adopted him. I remember calling the rescue organization, furious, but it’s not like I was going to give him back. I already loved the little guy. For the first two weeks, Dexter was quarantined in our spare room and our other cat, Jinx, tormented him with the paw-under-the-door thing. (Jinx’s vet file, by contrast, is very, very slim. Jinx will outlive us all.)

Dexter had pneumonia when we adopted him. But he was too cute to give back.
Dexter had pneumonia when we adopted him. But he was too cute to give back.

Actually, I’m glad I didn’t know about Jones’ myriad health issues when we rescued him. I might have passed him over, and I don’t like to even think about that possibility. Jones had been in rescue for nine months, and when I say “rescue,” I’m being generous. The organization is actually a woman who loves dogs and has a lot of property and asks her adult kids to help out. She’s overwhelmed, with 30-something dogs running around. Once the word gets out that you’re a rescue organization, people just dump their animals at your doorstep.

And so, for the nine months that he was in rescue, nobody inquired about Jones, who was originally named Popeye. The only reason I found him was because they changed his name to Anderson, in an attempt to get him more attention on Petfinder. It worked: The alphabetical search put him at the top of my list. Once I met him, I was in love, and stopping me when I love an animal is like trying to hold back a speeding freight train. It just ain’t gonna happen.

My beautiful Sophie. I loved her so much.
My beautiful Sophie. I loved her so much.

We needed Jones as much as he needed us. Sophie was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma a year ago, and her final months were agonizing. I never knew, when I woke up in the morning, if I would find her dead on her heated dog bed. She would rally, and then falter. It was devastating for everyone. And when Sophie died, it left a giant, gaping hole in our family. It was too big to stay vacant.

Jones brought happiness to the house again, with his goofy demeanor, his floppy ears and his happy, half-Pit, half-Lab smile. I find it incredibly calming to throw him the orange Chuckit ball, over and over and over. He loves to go on long walks and hikes. He hops up on the couch and rests his head on Steve’s lap most nights. He likes broccoli and apples and kale. He hates celery, like me. (Look, there is NO WAY I could have influenced a dog to hate celery. He’s just smart.) He’s terribly flatulent, but it’s almost endearing. He’s a different dog than Sophie, but I adore him. We all do.

I wrote this post because I bought my dog a cone alternative for $47.98 this week, and it had me questioning my sanity. But also, because my friends lost their miniature Italian Greyhound, Joey, on Sunday. She was a fighter, and they fought for her, until the point where her little body was exhausted. I know they’re heartbroken. I know their vet bills surpass even mine. But I also know that they’d do it all over again, many times over.