When I first laid eyes on Henry the Pekingese at the ASPCA in June 2006, I immediately noticed his deformed front paw, shaky back legs and blond eyelashes, in that order. I was still mourning Mr. Chubbs, my elderly Pekingese, who had to be euthanized a few weeks earlier after his lifelong neurological disease escalated into paralysis. As a result, I was wary about taking on another dog with a chronic condition -- but I didn't immediately head for the hills because I LOVE Pekingese.|
The volunteer I was working with suggested the paw could be a food allergy and the tremor could be nerves, but I know canine health problems when I see them. I asked the vets at the pound to give me a proper diagnosis before I would agree to take Henry -- then known as "Sushi." After several appointments that ruled out allergies, viruses, fungi, bacterial infections, cancer, and injury, no definitive diagnosis had been made. Henry kept batting his blond eyelashes at me, and further resistance was futile. I took him home and renamed him after Henry VIII.
The left front paw immediately became a major issue. Ultimately, it was found to be defective in a couple of ways, involving missing ligaments and an excess of cystic tissue. The paw was easily irritated and when it was, Henry would lick it endlessly, which would lead to a worse infection. The only thing that stopped the licking was the cone of shame. After poor Henry was confined to the cone of shame for months on end, a surgeon at the Animal Medical Center adapted an operation usually performed on cystic Cocker Spaniel ears for Henry's foot. Henry still has flare-ups, but he was much improved and only needed the cone of shame and antibiotics rarely. However, on a regular basis, if anyone tried to get Henry to walk in a direction he didn't want to go in, he lifted his bad foot and limped ostentatiously. As soon as he got back home, the foot was all better. Ha! Once I caught on to him, I decided that only indoor limping counted, but he still tried!
While the paw drama was going on, the tremor in his hind legs -- always identified by post-ASPCA vets as some kind of neurological problem -- didn't bother Henry. (I did nickname him "Mr. Shaky Pants" though.) Over time, the shakiness spread to his front legs, but he was still able to function normally until January 2014, when I noticed he was slow to lie down and had some trouble supporting himself when he was eating. Arthritis and/or back problems that can affect older dogs in that way, but I was concerned it was related to Henry's longtime condition, so Henry and I met with the neurology team at the Animal Medical Center. After a thorough examination, they reported to me that he had an awesome personality and was one of their favorite dogs ever. Awww! Then the doctors told me the name for Henry's rare condition was "orthostatic tremor," and that when it is diagnosed at all, it's in Great Danes and a few other giant dog breeds. Pekingese are often described as big dogs in little bodies, but this was taking it too far!
All this time, despite his special needs, he was a wonderful friend to his people. He was also a friend to his older sister, Gigi, a rescued Tibetan spaniel. Yes, once in a while she got moody with him, but she's like that! I knew she loved him because before Henry came home, she was obsessed with dog toys. When Chubbs was alive, she would take his toy ,and then I would give him another. She'd take that one and we'd repeat the process till she had all the toys in front of her. When Henry came home, she wasn't sure of him at first but soon decided that he was her best toy yet and she only played a handful of times with toys after that. Why bother with toys when she had Henry?
In summer 2014, Henry had nine teeth removed for dental disease and came through well. But we soon realized that he had dementia, as he started pacing in a large circle through several rooms of the house. The circles became smaller and smaller, and he paced so much that he went from needing to lose a pound to being 5 lbs underweight. He then developed a deep corneal ulcer, which was successfully operated on in the fall, but in December 2014, his mental problems began to overtake everything else. He paced and paced and got skinnier and skinnier. He occasionally got stuck in corners and tried to go out the back of the elevator. I had to carry him outside and back in and hold him up while he did his business. He also did a lot of business inside -- we put down wee wee pads everywhere and he'd often use them but sometimes go right next to them. We laughed a little over that because he was always a bit mischievous that way.
I tried every treatment possible - special food, ThunderShirts for his anxiety, medicines (including Anipryl, Prozac and Zoloft), herbal remedies. Considering all he had been through, he wasn't in SUCH bad shape physically -- he still loved to eat and to run down the hallway after his walk -- so I hoped if I could counter the dementia, he'd have more years. But nothing worked. Then, in December, he started panting very very heavily while pacing and then continued to pant like that even when he was lying down (on his side, on the rug -- he wouldn't go in his beloved dog bed anymore.) One night at 2 a.m., I thought he would die from it, it seemed so bad. He was lying on his side with his tongue all the way out and his chest heaving. He hadn't been very interactive for some time, but suddenly he looked up at me without moving his head, with a very lucid expression. I felt he was wondering why I didn't help him. I felt he was suffering. Later he got a bit better, but still, after many tears and many nights where I stayed up with him till 6 a.m., just to be sure he was okay and didn't feel lonely, I decided to give him peace on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014. His vet since his adoption, Dr. Jennifer, came to the house so that he didn't have to feel nervous about the vet's office. I remember when I first adopted Henry and was wondering if I should even keep such a special-needs dog, I took him to Dr. Jennifer and she said, "He's SO cute"and was playfully straightening his tail. His tail was very tightly curled back then and we would play with it and uncurl it and then it would curl right back up. He didn't mind one bit. In his last days, he got to eat all the turkey and ham that he wanted. And he'd still eat his dog food on top of that, as long as I held him up.
I will miss his curly tail, his big dark eyes and blond eyelashes, his orange coat that made him look a little like a pumpkin, his loving but but occasionally naughty ways (like the time a friend took him for a long walk when he first came home -- he didn't do anything outside, then, as she opened the door to the apartment, she looked down and he stared back at her, lifted up his leg and very deliberately peed on the door!). Any dog who could make Gigi love him definitely has a special soul, because she's never liked dogs!
When he was groomed, I would have the groomer put a ribbon on each ear. Something "masculine" like blue or tartan! Ha ha! People on the street would say, "Look at the pretty girl," and I would say, "It's a boy!" They'd ask, "Why is a boy wearing ribbons?" I would say, "He's very comfortable with who he is and he wears what he wants!" I've taped his last ribbon (blue and burgundy) to the frame of my favorite photo of him with Gigi.