I’m grateful but quite surprised that Petey lived to be 15 ½, considering his long list of health issues. Throughout his lifetime, he ended up in the vet’s office for some of the strangest problems, most of which I had never even heard of in dogs. Here is the quickest (really) rundown of them that I can give:
Since our first week together, Petey threw up on a near-daily basis. Some episodes had clear causes. He couldn’t hold down corn or corn products. If he ate his food too fast, he would throw it back up. In either of these cases, his pile of vomit often would appear much larger than the bowl of food he had eaten. If he swallowed something he couldn’t digest, like a piece of a toy, he would walk around heaving, leaving a trail of yellow bile behind him, until he hacked it out. Other times, though, there was no explanation. It got worse as he got older. First thing in the morning, he’d jump out of bed, and clear liquid (sometimes with a few whole pieces of kibble) would just fall out of his mouth. This would be followed by a major snorting session that would wake up everyone in the house. Petey’s vets throughout his lifetime would prescribe different foods and perform various tests, but none of them would identify a definite cause until he was about 14 years old, when an X-ray revealed a narrow opening between his esophagus and stomach.
Yeah…a dog’s penis is always quite the conversation starter. But I’m writing about Petey, so what did you expect? When Petey was about three years old, the tip of his penis turned outward. Trying to assert his alpha-maleness, he had gotten into the habit of humping Ben while I was out, and his penis had gotten stuck out a few times. It even became scratched and started bleeding once. That whole process, I guess, led to the prolapse. It looked like a little red ball at the tip of of his penis. When my Fresno vet first saw it, he freaked out. “That doesn’t look normal at all!” he said. To make that clear, he showed me Ben’s unit, which was pink all the way through. The vet warned me that we should be concerned about cancer. He wanted to send me to a specialist in Sacramento. Single and having just moved across the country, I of course became hysterical and desperately sought another opinion. A second local vet did more research and identified the condition. At the time, urethral prolapse had only been reported in some tiny percentage of dogs, including–surprise, surprise–one Boston Terrier. The second vet called in a board-certified surgeon, who normally worked on horses, to correct the issue. He used a purse-string suture to pull the urethra back to normal. (This was the first time Petey had to wear the Elizabethan collar, by the way. When I picked him up from the vet that evening, he stuck his head in a corner and cried like a newborn puppy. He hated that thing.)
Petey would never have issues with the prolapse again, but that’s not to say he didn’t try. He’d continue to hump Ben if left alone with him, and and his lipstick would still get stuck out. When I got home, I’d have to apply ice to it to shrink it back down and put vaseline on it to help it slip back into its sheath. I tried separating the dogs whenever I left, but Ben knew how to jump over baby gates, and he didn’t like to leave Petey’s side. When Rob and I moved to the Bay Area, we tried putting a belly band on Petey to stop him from marking his territory in our new home and to hopefully stop him from humping. That only led to more fun. He’d pee in the band, then wriggle the thing off, probably by mounting Ben, and then get his penis stuck out again. Rob captures the whole problem best in a 2-page, typed, single-spaced document that he left for his parents, our dog sitters, when he and I once went to visit my family in Florida. Don’t let the kids read this excerpt:
If Petey’s fire engine is left out of the garage, so to speak, then you can ignore it and put the dry belly band on him. OR–and this is asking too much, as far as I’m concerned–if you are feeling particularly daring and/or generous, you can apply an ice pack to his groin to shrink the fire truck after a few minutes. If that doesn’t work, you can apply vaseline to the fire engine in the hopes the garage will move over it. (Both dogs love to eat the vaseline, though I try to prevent them from doing so.)
Once again, this is the above and beyond call of duty section of your handout. Having done the job, I will not judge you in the least if you decide not to touch a dog’s cock.
That’s my Rob. By now, you’ve probably guessed that I met him in graduate school and that he wooed me, in part, with the power of language.
That issue would persist into Petey’s senior years.
When Petey turned seven, I noticed a soft, moveable lump on his hind quarter. Another developed on his front shoulder. The vet biopsied them but, because of their texture and shape, told me they were probably benign fatty tumors, which are not uncommon in older dogs. The biopsies would confirm this.
Common in Boston Terriers, many of Petey’s teeth had to be pulled as he got older. It was harder to brush the teeth toward the back of his mouth, where it was more crowded, so some of them decayed. His front teeth were much smaller and prone to getting fibers and hair caught in them; this led to some gum recession and made the teeth loose. The vet once had to remove six teeth in one procedure. I thought this would mean feeding Petey soft food for the rest of his life, but the vet said I could continue using the same kibble I’d been using. Sure enough, the night Petey got home from his first procedure, he went straight for his bowl. Dogs, like humans, figure out how to chew on different sides of their mouths when necessary.
So far, I’ve only described the health issues Petey had. They don’t even cover the mischief that prompted vet visits or at least nervous phone calls. Once, on a trip to my mom’s for the holidays, Petey, about a year old, ate a piece steak fat out of the trash can. This lead to severe vomiting and diarrhea, and I had to rush him to the vet, who chastised me for giving him table scraps (there was no use explaining that I didn’t give him scraps or even know there had been steak fat in the trash). Once, I called Poison Control and then induce vomiting when he and Ben had gotten into my own trash and eaten some old deli meat. I called Poison Control another time when I’d stepped out of my apartment for just a few minutes and returned to find an entire tub of butter–which had been sitting on my dining room table–empty on the floor. And, one weekend in Fresno, a pair of stray Rottweilers knocked down our front gate and attacked Petey, who was barking to protect his territory, in our own yard. Rob scared off the dogs just as one had grabbed Petey by the scruff and was about to shake him. There was no outward bleeding, but afraid there was some internal damage, I rushed Petey to the emergency vet, who prescribed some anti-inflammatories and rest.
Each time a major incident struck, I was convinced Petey would die. I figured that, with each treatment or surgery, we had used up one more free pass and that we’d soon be out. Nothing, however, would make me fear his mortality like the issues that sprung after the children came along.
When I got pregnant with Henry, the pupils of Petey’s eyes took on a bluish tint. My vet told me that cataracts were forming. He said I might consider surgery to have them removed, but that procedure ran a couple thousand dollars that I did not have. Since Petey, now 10, seemed get around fine with his decreasing vision, I decided against the surgery. That decision would haunt me–and my credit cards–for the rest of Petey’s life.
Two months after Henry arrived, my family was spending President’s Day weekend at home when Petey’s entire right eye suddenly turned bluish-white. He squinted and cowered, clearly in pain, whenever we came near him. Monday morning, I took Petey to my vet, who–thankfully–was open on the holiday. He ran some tests and, startled at Petey’s high eye pressure, sent me to an animal ophthalmologist (which I’d never even known existed!). The specialist confirmed that Petey had secondary glaucoma. It had probably been caused by the cataract coming loose or uveitis, irritation caused by a foreign object. The only option was to have the eye removed. I had my vet, who charged about half the price as the ophthalmologist, perform the enucleation.
Before the procedure, my vet told me that Petey would take on a new life after this. We’d see his energy levels rise, and he’d revert to his playful self. We were doing the best thing for him. That afternoon when Petey got home, though, both my husband and I cried; his beautiful right eye, one of the reasons we’d fallen in love with him, was now gone, and his eyelid was swollen and stitched up. But my Petey was still there. That evening, after putting Ben on his leash and situating Henry in his stroller, I started out for my daily walk. I just assumed Petey would stay home with Rob. As I walked to the gate, though, Petey routinely followed close behind us, confident and ready to go; no question about it, he was coming, too. So Rob put on his shoes and pushed the stroller and walked Ben while I led Petey around. It was a short walk, but boy did Petey prove our tears unnecessary.
The left eye
A subluxated lens
After removing Petey’s right eye, the vet had me regularly apply anti-inflammatory drops to the remaining eye to keep it from developing uveitis and subsequent glaucoma. This worked out for about two years. Three weeks after I had Veronica, though, the cataract in that eye became loose, causing Petey to yelp, and making the appearance of his eye change (sometimes the cataract appeared to go away, and other times his eye looked like the right one did when it had glaucoma). My vet immediately sent me to another animal ophthalmologist. The specialist told me that Petey had a subluxated lens and, unless removed, it would continue to shift and could cause glaucoma in that eye, too. He performed the surgery a couple of days later. For the rest of Petey’s life, I would have to take him in for regular visits and, at home, apply eye drops and ointments to the remaining eye daily. But Petey still had an eye, and once again, his quality of life improved.
A hole in the cornea
I thought that if I followed the prescribed treatment plan, I’d keep all of Petey’s eye surgeries behind us. About 18 months after the lens procedure, though, I was applying eye drops when I noticed a round indentation in his cornea. It was Sunday, and I called the ophthalmologist on his cell phone. He told me to bring Petey in the next day. This left Rob and me a brief window of time to contemplate the next decisions we’d have to make. What if this eye needed to be removed? Petey was about to turn 14. At his age, would we want to put him through that again? Would it be fair to make him live the rest of his life without any eyes? When Monday rolled around, we decided to take our questions to our regular vet before heading over to the specialist.
After a quick look, our vet thought the specialist would suggest another enucleation, but he was much more optimistic about that possibility than we had been. He said he had seen elderly dogs get along just fine without eyes and that, by now, Petey was mostly blind in that eye, anyway. He said removing it wouldn’t make much difference. Petey could go on for another two or three years, happily. Relieved, we took Petey to the ophthalmologist, who said that the eye was about to rupture. He went over our options: He could save the eye, patching the cornea with pig intestine. He could remove the eye altogether. Or he could put Petey to sleep. Had we not seen our vet first, we probably would have considered that last possibility. But having already accepted the idea of removing the eye, we were glad to find out about the less drastic option. We had him patch the cornea.
While Petey recovered from his final eye surgery, I had to keep him closed off in the kitchen for much of the day to avoid any complications. He even had to sleep in there for a while. The specialist said, though, that he still had some vision in that eye. And this became evident at home. Once Petey fully recovered, he climbed onto the back of the love seat, like he’d done so many times in his youth, and watched us all proudly, reclaiming his throne.
After Petey’s final eye surgery, I think–I can’t remember exactly when–Petey started vomiting more than usual, and clear liquid would sometimes even come out of his nose. This is when the vet conducted some X-rays and discovered the small opening between esophagus and stomach, in addition to some cloudiness in his lungs. He said Petey most likely pneumonia and prescribed some antibiotics, which eventually improved the symptoms.
During follow-up visits, another vet (who was new to the office) discovered a heart murmur and said that Petey’s mediastinum, the space between his lungs, was enlarged. None of these issues seemed like much cause for concern and, because we already had so much going on, just got pushed aside. On some level, we just had to accept that Petey was getting old, and we had to let him age in peace.