Why Ignoring The Vet’s Advice To Put My Dog Down Was The Right Decision

by Laura Curley Pendergast

How did a woman who couldn’t go camping without a blow-dryer end up caring for a special needs dog in a wheelchair who needs to be catheterized twice a day, can’t relieve himself on his own and needs 24/7 care?

Oh, and did I mention it’s been the most spiritual journey I’ve ever been honored to experience?

Years ago, while suffering the setbacks associated with infertility, a good friend, saddened by my constant grief of not having a baby, insisted that I rescue a dog and marched me down to The Humane Society.

The journey of unconditional love between our Lab, Junior, who is now 11 years old, and our family began on that lovely summer day in June.

I was immediately drawn to Junior because he attached himself to me like the forlorn, homeless pup that he was.

I am sure he did this to everyone who came to adopt, but like a dummy, I fell for it.

Courtesy of Laura Curley Pendergast

I went home to my husband and begged him to go down and take a look at this awesome dog before someone else snapped him up. My husband, who at the time was enjoying his newly found freedom after retiring, was not onboard with getting a dog.

Still, I dragged him down to The Humane Society in hopes that Junior would work his special brand of magic. Lo and behold, a few days later, Junior was ready to be picked up amidst many threats of “If you get that dog I am telling you right now I am not walking him.”

I thought, “Easy enough. What can be so tough about walking a dog?”

Little did I know that five years later, our precious pup who had become our “baby” while helping me though four more years of infertility, who was there when our daughter was born, to guard her crib like a mother bear, and who let me cry all over him when my beloved father died, would become unable to walk on his own.

We were on the beach on our evening walk when all of a sudden, after playing a bit roughly with another dog, he started to wobble. We left and walked over to the local lobster pound. On the way, Junior’s legs just dropped out from under him.

As a dog owner, and for others who love their pets, the shock of watching such a graceful and dignified animal fail right in front of one’s eyes is a sight I would never wish on anyone. At the time, our daughter was 17 months old and still in diapers. She just kept saying, “Po’ Ju-ju. Po’ Ju-ju,” which was “Poor Junior” in baby talk.

Courtesy of Laura Curley Pendergast

After a trip to the emergency room, we were in a state of shock as the vet told us that he had “suffered a debilitating stroke, injury so bad he probably won’t walk again. He has no feeling in his hind legs or bladder..won’t recover…probably should be put down.”

We just stared at her in disbelief that this animal who pranced and swam all over the New England coast would never walk again, and even worse, she was telling us to put him down. There was no way I was going to lose my father and my dog in the same year, so we began our campaign to help Junior recover the use of his hind legs.

We were told by the vet that 65 to 75 percent of dogs who suffer this kind of stroke do recover. However, it takes 12 weeks to see if recovery is possible.

Junior stayed in the hospital for a few days to stabilize, and after agonizingly sleepless nights, we decided to bring him home. It was even more apparent that we didn’t have the heart to put him down when we went to pick him up at the vet and she recommended again that we euthanize him. She said it would be just too hard to take care of a 110-pound dog in a wheelchair.

“As hard as you can imagine it will be, it will be 10 times worse,” were her parting words.

Courtesy of Laura Curley Pendergast

After a few days at home, we quickly learned that we needed help with Junior. With his incontinence and his inability to feel when he needed to poop, he was in a constant state of panic at having soiled the house.

We took an area in the garage and made it into Junior’s home, and spent many hours there with him so he would not be alone. We got a vet tech to teach us how to catheterize him, took him to acupuncture, water therapy, massage, got him lots of shots to help the inflammation and were there for just constant care.

Still, there was no improvement, and the worst part was that he was hiding under a big bush in our front yard just as depressed as I have ever seen any soul. We knew we had to do something to keep him moving.

It was at this time we decided to invest in a “wheelchair” for Junior, a decision that was harrowing and hopeful at the same time. We just couldn’t watch him sit under that bush, immobile for 12 weeks, while we hoped that he would get well.

We put Junior in the new cart and he just sat there whining. He would not move and he did not understand why we were doing this to him. It was not a happy day.

Courtesy of Laura Curley Pendergast

The next morning, my husband, who said he would never walk the dog, started the treacherous task of training Junior to walk in the cart. Again, he would not move and just sat there whining. My husband decided to bribe him with treats and walked him from one telephone pole to the next all the while dropping treats like the witch from Hansel and Gretel. It was tough in the beginning and we couldn’t help but wonder if this was the right decision.

After a few weeks of this painfully slow process, our wonderful vet tech brought her dog down to our house to meet Junior. This brilliant move on her part was the turning point for him. Instead of whining and crying when we put him in the cart, after he saw Paige the dog running down the path toward the ocean, Junior’s instincts kicked in and he went running down the path after her, wheels and all!

This was the first time Junior understood that the cart was for his independence and freedom, and he became, without a better explanation, a dog again!

He took off after his new friend and, for the first time in months, began running and playing on the beach. He played with her, swam in the water with her and even got his mojo back. Unfortunately, the wheels don’t allow for much romance, but they were inseparable and she didn’t seem to mind his “special needs.”

Courtesy of Laura Curley Pendergast

Then, the miracle happened. Every morning and night when we walked Junior in his cart on the beach, we were stopped by everyone who saw him, to talk about him. Most people were in awe of his incredible spirit.

There was an elderly man who walked on the beach each day with a cane, and every day when he saw Junior bouncing along in his wheelchair, he would yell, “Junior, we made it another day!”

We run into people every day who stop to tell Junior what they are trying to overcome in their lives, and his love and inspiration are contagious. My father called it “canine charisma.”

At the end of the twelve weeks, we took Junior back to the vet and received some devastating news. Junior would never get well, and again she advised us to put him down. At this point Junior had friends, he was running and swimming on the beach and in the ocean, and was as cheerful and happy as a clam. It was very hard to look our loyal family member in the eyes and make a decision to put him down because of his disability.

Courtesy of Laura Curley Pendergast

At this point we decided to let him live out the rest of his natural life. This decision has not been in vain. Junior has now become a “comfort” dog for all walks of life: the elderly, people with debilitating disease, children and adults who need wheelchairs, and even people who have spiritual issues to overcome.

He is a regular at different programs where he goes to meet kids in need, many of whom are in wheelchairs or suffering from emotional issues.

Today he is a happy, beautiful, 11-year-old lab, who is known by all of his neighbors. Junior’s incredible spirit, kindness, love, and his unquestionable lionheart have helped so many people who have obstacles to overcome, whether they are physical, mental or spiritual. Junior has given hope, inspiration, and love to everyone meets.

Laura Curley Pendergast is an actress, playwright, and “corporate climber” on hold. She has put all of that fun aside to stay at home, be a wife and Mom and blog about it.