The Big Ask

Half Moon is asking to go pee. No big deal, right? It is to me. Halfie has intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) and has been urinary incontinent since we adopted him from an overwhelmed client four years ago. In the time that he’s lived with us, he hasn’t shown any awareness that his bladder was full and needed to be emptied. This revelation is a testament to the body’s ability to adapt and heal. For him to recognize the need to pee and to ask for relief is a huge step! 

We’ve developed a new routine:  He asks and I open the door. He scuttles out into the courtyard and sniffs until he finds his spot. I kneel and remove his belly band. I know from talking with his first family that he wasn’t a leg-lifter, he was a stretcher so I put my hands around his hips and extend his rear legs back and out of the way. As usual, he has a full bladder. It feels like a firm balloon under my fingertips. I gently squeeze, applying soft but consistent pressure to his bladder and out it flows. I keep his back feet out of the flow by moving his thighs back with my pinky fingers. I watch his face as I empty his bladder. His eyes are soft, his ears relaxed, and his nose taking in the smells of the earth around him. When his bladder is empty, I put his belly band back on and allow him to skitter back inside by himself. 

Would it be faster to pick him up, carry him out, go to the same spot, and just squeeze? Yes, but he’d miss out on the independence of meeting his own needs. That independence is just as important as making sure his bladder is completely empty. Not meeting both of those needs presents its own sets of problems. Dogs with IVDD are more likely to have urinary tract or bladder infections because they can’t fully empty their own bladders. I’m careful to express as much as possible, but it’s always a risk. Infections mean discomfort and antibiotics, both things I try to avoid if possible. 

Not allowing him the space to make his own decisions about when, where, and how to eliminate is just as troubling. He deserves the opportunity to listen to his body and act accordingly. There are so many basic situations in his life where he isn’t physically able to execute simple movements like jumping on a couch or running on four legs to meet me at the door when I get home. It feels unfair to take this away from him for my own convenience. 

Sometimes I think he wants me involved in his elimination process, maybe because I’ve always been part of it. I didn’t know him when he was fully able and his disease is the reason he’s part of my life. Peeing and pooping is a team sport for us. He makes it and I help him get it out. I keep him clean so he stays comfortable and healthy.  We both have our roles to play.

As Halfie scuttles back to the door and lifts himself over the threshold, I stand and watch him balance with his front legs wide, elbows locked, and back legs dangling from his rear end, toes tickling the rug. He’s just defying gravity to get a drink and restart the process all over again. Meet you back here in a few hours, buddy. Let me know when you’re ready.

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