Oh god oh god the dog is sick.
June 9, 2014 8:15 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday my family adopted a companion dog for my elderly grandmother. Today, the vet says the dog has a long list of medical concerns. I am not sure if it is best to keep the dog and deal with his health problems or return him to his rescue group (which makes me a little sick to my stomach but might be best?). We only have a few days to decide.

Col. Nicolas J. Furry is a four-year-old Shih Tzu intended to be a buddy for my grandmother, with actual feeding, watering and other maintenance supplied by me. I've dog-sat before but have never owned a dog. We specifically looked for a low-key, reliably house-trained, happy little dog to make his and our lives together work. On Sunday, we knew that Nick Furry only had one good eye, which was fine.

At the vet today, we learned that Nick Furry needs a lot of dental work, treatment for an ear infection, twice daily heart murmur meds, a biopsy on a suspicious lymph node that might be a result of the ear infection or might be doggie cancer, and, the real kicker, probably needs to have his one good eye removed due to glaucoma. The official vet and a random friend who is a vet both think he only sees light/dark with that eye right now as it is.

I have NO IDEA what to do. We can monetarily afford all the medical care, but it would be stressful for my sister, who has current custody of Col. Furry, to arrange in the short window before they both travel here from out-of-state to deliver him to his new home. I'm fine giving the heart murmur pills but don't know anything about what it would be like to have a blind dog. I'm a little worried that his sweet, low-energy temperament may be partially a result of the fact that he can't see anything and his head hurts like a motherfucker. I'm a lot worried that my grandmother won't find him cute without eyes, and that as a result of her dementia I'll spend the rest of little Nicky's life explaining where his eyes went.

On the other hand, returning him to the rescue because he's defective seems evil. I sort of feel like the personal intercessionary god I don't believe in sent me an imperfect dog to make me more comfortable with an imperfect life, or something. I'm relatively certain that, once we get him healthy, he could have a perfectly nice life cuddling with my grandmother and listening to interesting sounds and smelling interesting smells.

What to do, AskMe? What is life with a blind doggie like? How much post-surgical care will my sister have to do if he gets the vet-recommended surgery bundle- ear treatment, eye removal, biopsy, and teeth pulling, under anesthesia, in one day? Should we return him to the rescue because this is too much? (Like I said, this seems evil, but it's okay to have limits...right?) Oh halp.
posted by Snarl Furillo to Pets & Animals (25 answers total)
Best answer: It's not evil to recognize that you have limits. I don't know about this vet care, but you need to prioritize taking care of your grandmother. It's ok if you don't have the emotional and logistical resources to take care of the undisclosed requirements of a special needs animal.
posted by mercredi at 8:20 PM on June 9, 2014 [17 favorites]

I work with blind humans all day long; blind doggies do a much better job of navigating their space without vision than humans do. He's an animal, so don't think of his vision loss from the perspective of a human. He has whiskers and a great sense of smell, he's low to the ground, and he will be fine and happy. He will continue to sniff dog butts with no problem, which is always a #1 priority.
posted by Sal and Richard at 8:26 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My very first thought was, "what if the blind dog trips your (presumably elderly) grandmother?". I mean, ANY dog could get under foot, but a blind dog is much more likely to do so.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 8:27 PM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm concerned that this rescue group didn't have a vet do a physical on the dog before giving it to you. How long had he been in their care? I'm not sure I would feel good giving the dog back to them, if they could have overlooked or ignored so many varied health problems.
posted by emyd at 8:28 PM on June 9, 2014 [18 favorites]

He was supposed to be for your ELDERLY grandmother. Surely the rescue knew this?

Please return him now because he is not a good match for your grandmother's needs.

Frankly, I am very disappointed with this rescue group. They should have known better.

Donate a little extra $$ to them if it makes you feel better, but really, his health problems should have been disclosed, full stop.

I don't know where you are, but surely you can find an awesome rescue dog where you live. These eager companions are not in short supply, I assure you.

You have nothing to feel guilty about. Although, he is a cutie and I fell in love with him, too! But nope, there is zero chance you can successfully care for him and your grandmother. So sorry.
posted by jbenben at 8:28 PM on June 9, 2014 [21 favorites]

Best answer: A completely blind dog who has recently lost his sight (and thus has not adjusted) does not seem like a great companion for an elderly person. I say this mostly because a friend's grandmother tripped over her cat (who was disinclined to move out of the way) and broke both of her arms in the fall.

I'm also suspicious of the rescue group Col Furry came from: reputable rescue groups are extra careful to warn prospective adopters of known health issues AND have a return window of more than a few days. They should not be foisting dogs needing large amounts of expensive vet bills onto unsuspecting adopters.
posted by jamaro at 8:29 PM on June 9, 2014 [20 favorites]

Oh man, this is such a tough situation. My heart goes out to you and to Col. Furry.

One thing that strikes me as a little strange is that his rescue group didn't have him evaluated prior to adopting him out to you. In my experience that's a no-no for rescuers for this exact reason. He's not defective -- he's just got a lot of stuff that would be hard even for a seasoned pet owner to deal with. I would talk with the rescue group and ask them why you weren't made aware of these concerns before he was adopted out to you.
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:29 PM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh dear. Wow that is a tough position to be in. However I would suggest that you do not get discouraged easily by this challenge. You could of course return the pup but make sure you get a better idea of exactly what the costs and effort are going to be. The poor guy has probably been thrown out many times when others who adopted him saw this problem. If you are in any financial position that makes you think you may, financially, be able to help him, it would mean the world to this pup. The poor guy has no choice. You do. No one would blame you for doing what is right but please think of him also and give him a fair chance before you decide to give him back.
posted by jbean at 8:32 PM on June 9, 2014

Best answer: I've had a vision impairs dog and a blind cat, both have gotten around fine but they were not good at getting out the way you had to dodge them. As sweet as he might be he would not be a good choice an elderly person that might get confused or be a trip risk.
posted by wwax at 8:39 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The ear infection can happen to any dog, but the other health problems are a bad sign in a dog that's only 4. Sounds like he might be the product of a puppy mill with disreputable breeding practices, sadly. It likely will get worse and that is a big burden to put on your grandmother - not only the long term care, but the high probability that he may not live long. Take the poor thing back and get a different dog. Hopefully they will find him a more suitable home equipped to handle his issues.
posted by cecic at 8:42 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

A very similar thing happened to my nana back in the day, with what was meant to be a 4 year old poodle in perfect health - except he was a twelve year old poodle with a HUGE number problems. For the rest of his (short) life, he was a huge cause of stress and worry for my grandmother, not to mention expense. Take the dog back, or to another shelter.
posted by smoke at 8:56 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The mission you started out with is to help your grandmother. Adopt this particular dog and the mission will become all about the dog.

Presumably you're a good person and you don't want to abandon a lovable dog with serious problems. But this is not the dog for your grandmother.
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:19 PM on June 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

Aside from maybe the ear infection, none of this sounds urgent enough to need to be taken care of before your sister brings you the dog.

Dissecting everything:

1. a lot of dental work

Is this elective or mandatory? Dental work is expensive, and plenty of owners decide not to pay for expensive procedures for aging pets. If feeding soft food is an option going forward, I would consider doing that, especially considering all the other much more serious health problems.

2. treatment for an ear infection

This should be just a short course of antibiotics, no? May need to be ear drops, and not all dogs are OK with having their ears messed with, but it's only for a few days.

3. twice daily heart murmur meds

This is one of those things where you're going to have to decide whether you can do this or not. If you're not up to twice a day meds for a dog, then I would consider returning him.

4. a biopsy on a suspicious lymph node that might be a result of the ear infection or might be doggie cancer

OK, so there are two possibilities here. A) the swelling goes down as soon as the ear infection clears, or B) the dog has cancer and is going to die. Probably soon, if it's in the lymph nodes. Tumors and cancer are another one of those areas where plenty of otherwise reasonable and humane people choose not to go through with expensive procedures for an aging pet who won't enjoy the benefit of a long and happy cancer-free life. So does this biopsy absolutely have to be done right now? I would absolutely defer this until after the ear infection clears up, at minimum.

5. probably needs to have his one good eye removed due to glaucoma.

This is another one of those "is this mandatory or elective" things. What would happen if the "good eye" was not removed? Is it causing him pain? Is it infected? Is there a reason you need to make a decision about this now, and not down the road at some point?

Re the prospect of a blind dog, to me, that and the daily meds are the only real questions you need to ask yourself in terms of your ability to care for the dog. I'm ready to agree with everyone upthread who said that a blind dog doesn't sound like an ideal choice for your grandmother, but ultimately that's your decision to make. I personally couldn't handle a dog with that many medical problems, and I'm youngish and able-bodied. Returning the dog would not be a bad thing, even though it might feel that way right now.

My main concern, too, is that it's clear that this dog is on the downswing of life, at this point. None of these expensive medical procedures are going to "fix" the dog so that he can live a long happy life. At best, you could hope for a lack of pain. Some people are interested in working with older dogs which are in poor health. For other people, that's just not an option.

Know that, whatever your choice, everything is going to be OK. Nobody is going to judge you as a bad person for prioritizing your own life over the prospect of caring for this dog.
posted by Sara C. at 12:44 AM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honestly, the rescue group are better equipped to deal with this dog than you are. With this list of medical problems, it's not a gift to your grandmother, it's a burden. If you'd had it since puppyhood, I would argue you have a clear responsibility but a dog you've owned for a day? No, just no. Regretfully take it back, and don't feel guilty - this was not a fair thing they did to you, and it was the group's responsibility to know the dog's medical history and make you aware. I would get another dog, but not from them. Once burned and all.
posted by Jubey at 2:38 AM on June 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

All good advice but I'm also getting the impression that the vet is taking you for a ride. Talk to another vet?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:14 AM on June 10, 2014

Another vote for taking him back. My dog was blind for a long time, and it was not a problem. But the operation to remove one of her eyes was a really big deal, and with the heart problem on top of it you might be babysitting a very unwell dog or indeed-- I am sorry to say it-- losing the dog. My small dog got a huge shock to her system and was dehydrated after this surgery; I had to take her in to get saline injections and do a bunch of other stuff. And all in a big hurry, on an emergency basis. Admittedly my dog was elderly; I feel I have to mention that for completeness's sake, but I don't think it's all that different, with what this dog has going on.
posted by BibiRose at 6:31 AM on June 10, 2014

Best answer: He seems like a very nice doggie, but not for your Grandma. Return him to the rescue and explain, "Nicky just isn't a good match for my Nana. She needs a self-sufficient companion, without a lot of issues from the get-go."

It sucks, but there it is. The Rescue group had NO BUSINESS giving a special needs animal to a special needs human. Someone in the relationship needs to be at 100%.

This doesn't make you a bad person.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:55 AM on June 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A couple of years ago, I got a sweet, low-energy shih tzu from a rescue, and a few weeks later I took her in to get her heartworm preventative and a well-dog check-up and the vet tech noticed that she seemed to be anemic. Two months and $10K in vet bills later, she had died of a horrible, horrible form of bone cancer.

There are already a zillion things wrong with this dog that you know about and there could be more that you don't know about. A rescue that would adopt a dog out with a whole host of problems that were easily discovered in a single vet visit is not trustworthy. I know a lot of them are running on shoestrings and don't have a lot of money to do things like dental work, but at the very least, their dogs should be checked out by their own vets so they know what treatment the dog is going to require even if they can't afford to do it.

Take the dog back to the rescue. Do not feel personally guilty about that -- these people have pawned off an epic crapload of problems on you. Whether they were deliberately misleading you, totally negligent or merely underfunded is not your problem to solve.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:11 AM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Get a 2nd opinion. The dog may not have to have all that work. if the dog really needs a lot of expensive, work, don't feel bad about contacting the rescue organization and taking the dog back.
posted by theora55 at 9:29 AM on June 10, 2014

I'd return the dog in a heartbeat. To answer your ethical question, the rescue company gave you a sick dog. Without proper disclosure, either through their ignorance or malice. In either case you are completely ethically OK bringing the dog back and say it's not working out. Any reputable pet adoption service has some sort of "bring the pet back within X weeks no questions asked". If you feel particularly bad you can make a donation to the rescue agency to offset your guilt.

Get a healthy dog for your grandmother.
posted by Nelson at 9:40 AM on June 10, 2014

The rescue org did you a huge disservice by placing this dog with your family. Either they didn't do a full vet check or they did and didn't disclose to you. A rescue is supposed to be good at placing dogs in the right homes. This dog sounds sweet but high-maintenance, not the right fit for an elderly woman. Return it to the rescue so they can find a more appropriate home.
posted by radioamy at 9:47 AM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: On the other hand, returning him to the rescue because he's defective seems evil.

You're not returning the Colonel because he's defective. You're returning him because this mission is the wrong match for his skill set.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:29 AM on June 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

I sort of feel like the personal intercessionary god I don't believe in sent me an imperfect dog to make me more comfortable with an imperfect life, or something.

If you decide it is unpossible to dissolve your karmic bond with Col. Furry, you might instead adjust your expectations:

I'm relatively certain that, once we get him healthy during his periods of relatively good health, he could have a perfectly nice life cuddling with my grandmother me and listening to interesting sounds and smelling interesting smells.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:39 AM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding getting a second veterinary opinion. Sometimes vets "upsell", especially on dental treatments. Look for one with a reputation for honesty and conservative care.

Also, it sounds like some of these things could be spaced out a bit if they are, in fact, necessary.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:21 AM on June 10, 2014

Response by poster: My sister's roommate is a small-animal vet and also diagnosed the ear infection and the eye issues. The vet-vet described the dog as "a project" and the roommate-vet said, "This is an interesting dog."

I just do not think we can do it. Over a few phone calls, my sister and I have each alternated talking the other out of returning the dog. He's just so sweet and adorable and we were so close to having a good dog and it's not his fault. But my grandmother finds new and creative ways to fall every year, so I don't feel like it's safe and that pretty much has to decide it, I think. The only thing worse than my grandmother adopting the dog is probably me adopting the dog, honestly- then the dog still lives with us, but I have a dog I can't afford, and my grandmother has no companion dog.

I hate sending the little guy back to a rescue that has obviously not been looking out for him, but we cannot keep him and I don't think we're up to organizing taking him to another rescue. This sucks.

Thanks, everybody.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:46 AM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

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