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?

Seven days ’til China: Chaos, panic and horrible cats

You know how I’ve been all calm and stuff about going to China and becoming a mom again? Yeah. We leave in a week and I’m FREAKING OUT.

There’s the little issue of my house. As I mentioned yesterday, we’re having new hardwoods put in one room, can lights going in in our crypt-like basement family room, painting in said family room, and built-ins for the same room, so that we can, nine months after we moved in, completely unpack.

This is my downstairs room, with fans running. I should mention that this house is about 18 months old.
This is my downstairs room, with fans running. I should mention that this house is about 18 months old.

Hardwood guy gets here this morning after flaking on Monday, rips up the carpet and calls me in. The subfloor is wet, from my most recent pet-stain-removal effort. He can’t put hardwoods on a wet subfloor, so he brings in two fans to run overnight. We also discover little patches of black mold, which I immediately want to scrub with bleach (except that I’m out of bleach).

“Don’t even bother,” he assures me. “There’s this product called Killz and it’s an anti-bacterial. It kills everything. I’ll just roll it over the spots tomorrow.” He goes on to tell me that this product is often used in dilapidated houses where the previous owner was perhaps a heavy smoker, or a crazy cat lady.

Awesome. These are apparently my people.

While this was going on, the electricians came, and installed the six can lights and a dimmer. Indeed, that room looks decidedly less funereal, but in order to get past the duct work, they had to cut out five additional holes. Or I think that’s what they said. I kind of stopped listening when I saw the five extra holes.

Deep, cleansing breaths.
Why yes, those are holes in my ceiling.

ANYway. On the kid front, I’ve been torturing myself about preschools for Kid X. I have two choices: First, there’s the rather sterile Montessori that I visited a few weeks ago. It was sparkling clean, beautiful facility where no fun seemed to be happening. Still, their schedule works for me — two days, 8:45-3. I could go back to doing freelance, or even do a part-time job somewhere. They also have a two-week summer school thing, so X could start getting acclimated.

Or, there’s the sweet preschool that’s about a 1-minute walk from my house. The teachers are warm and nurturing and it’s in a house, so it’s a little cramped. But the stuff the kids were doing the day I visited looked super fun — lots of options with clay and dress-up and awesome toys. However, it’s a co-op, and I’d need to volunteer once a month. Also, the school year starts later. And, it’s only 9-11:30 am, although there’s an option to extend to 2:00.

You’re probably catching the strong sense that I want some semblance of “me time” once we become the parents of two. Yes. That is true. I could make excuses and say that I didn’t become a mom until I was in my late 30s, so “me time” was all I had (I’m thinking maybe this shouldn’t be in quotes). And, that I’ve gotten used to having time now that Bini’s in school. But really, I just remember that I had a really hard time adjusting from having full-on me time to having none when Bini came home. I got used to it, but it was a rough re-entry.

My cats' bowls, defiantly full. Little shitheads.
My cats’ bowls, defiantly full. Little shitheads.

OK, non-sequitur of the day: My cats are on a hunger strike. We bought this food one night because the fancy pet store that sells their goddamned Royal Canin was closed, and they hate it. It’s three weeks later and they still stand next to their full bowls and yowl. This is not a battle I’m going to fight right now. You win, horrible cats.

Other non-sequitur (kind of): I like to vacuum. I’ve been popping Rescue Remedy pastilles like an addict today, but after I got a look at our growing to-do list tonight, I went and got the Dyson. I vacuumed the areas of my downstairs that aren’t covered in drop cloths and hardwood flooring. I vacuumed even though there will be more people tramping through my house tomorrow. It calms me, vacuuming. I wonder if I can get my hands on a vacuum in China.


It’s been a year since my best friend died.

I loved her so much.
I loved her so much.

It was a year ago today that my beautiful Sophie died. A whole year. I’m another year older, my kid is in kindergarten, I’ve been to Paris. But my Sophie is still gone.

It was a gorgeous, early spring day, March 25. Steve and Bini had left, it was preschool day, and I was racing out the door to go somewhere. Steve had fed Sophie; her bowls were downstairs. She was downstairs all of the time in that last year. She was too weak to make the trek up the indoor stairs, so she was alone a lot. She slept most of the time.

That morning, I found her collapsed, next to her food and water bowls. She looked at me, bewildered, and I remember thinking, “No, no, no, no NO. No, goddammit. I’m not ready. ” Because I knew this was It. She’d been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma seven months prior, and the dog oncologist had told us four to six months. I didn’t listen. I believed she’d beat it, somehow.

I was hysterical, the way you are when you find your best friend in a really bad way. I tried to coax her to eat, but she couldn’t stand. I tried to hold her up, but her legs kept buckling. So I called Steve and shrieked out something, and he rushed back. Thank God Bini was at school that horrible day. Steve and I were not fit to parent.

It didn’t go well at the vet. This is a pretty horrible story, so if you don’t feel like crying today, I might skip it. We got her to the vet and they examined her and told us that she was bleeding internally. She was dying. If she came home with us, she’d die a terrible death. If we left her there they could keep her alive for maybe another day, but she’d be without us. So we decided to put her down.

If you’ve ever done this, you know how it goes: They give you time to “say goodbye.” It’s ludicrous. When are you ever ready to say goodbye? But we did our best and we cried so much that we went through a box of tissues. Then, they sedated her and we sat with her as they gave her “the shot.” And here’s the truly terrible part, the part that still keeps me up at night: She didn’t die. She had no circulation in her legs, where they gave the shot, so the drug didn’t get to her heart. They had to try several times before it took, and during that time, I was like an insane person, raving that I wanted to stop, that I wanted to take her home. I truly lost my mind for a couple of days. But that’s what happens when you kill your best friend.

I still see her, lying there. My glorious, gorgeous dog. If you’d ever met her, you’d agree — she was magnificent. A year later, I still can’t think about my sweet Sophie on the cold, hard ground without completely going to pieces.

Grief has weight to it. It takes every bit of your energy. Those first few days I felt like I was trudging uphill with rocks in my pockets. I did the bare minimum, begging off from everything that I possibly could. I kept her bowls as they were, with her uneaten food still in it. I buried my face in her blankets, trying to remember her smell, the feel of her fur. I created a shrine on her extra-large heated dog bed, with her well-loved stuffed toys. One day, about a week after she died, I came in to find Jinx, our cat, sleeping there. I started screaming “Get off her bed! Get off!” Jinx scampered off (and knowing her, probably peed on my shoes). I felt like I was losing my mind. Who grieved like this for a pet?

There were people who got it, who called me and wrote me e-mails and left care packages on my front doorstep. My mom, who adored Sophie, wrote a beautiful poem about her. My good friend texted me that she was going to get my son from preschool and keep him for the afternoon. She knew I was in no shape to be any kind of decent mother. Another friend told me that she went to a grief support group when her dog died. It made me feel less insane.

There were those who didn’t get it, who asked me things like “are you still upset?” when I clearly was still upset. I pulled away from those friends and I’ve kept my distance. Thankfully, I have more people in my life with empathy than without.

Two months later, we got another dog. I found Jones on Petfinder and I knew, just by looking at his silly face, that he was our dog. Some people questioned whether it was too soon, and in truth, it might have been, a little. But we needed a bit of joy in the house. Sophie’s long illness and our intense grief had left us wrung out and empty. We needed something to fill that void.

Jones is a different dog than Sophie, in pretty much every single way. Where she was regal, Jones is goofy. Sophie didn’t go in much for playing fetch; Jones’ singular obsession is the Chuckit. Sophie gently gnawed on her stuffed animals; Jones eviscerates antlers. Sophie was a dignified, once-a-day pooper; Jones passes gas all day long, and quite unselfconsiously. Sophie loved the snow; Jones high-steps through it like he’s walking on tar. But that’s OK. I’m glad Jones isn’t like Sophie. I couldn’t replace her if I tried. How do you replace your best friend?