the smell of my desperation has become a stench

These furry children of ours

This post is brought to you in partnership with CANIDAE. You are going to want to read this one. All the way to the end.

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Last Saturday was National Pet Day, and it happens to be the 13th anniversary of the day a woman walked into the lobby of the ASPCA in Pasadena, California with a five-week-old mutt on her shoulder. That mutt is now 13 years old and has for most of his life been able to balance strange objects on his head.

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Chuck was a rambunctious puppy as most are. Having never owned a dog before he came into my life I just thought he was being awful, like he was choosing to make my life miserable. For example, he’d purposefully flip his water bowl over, look over his shoulder to make sure I had seen him do it and then run like a cheetah around the apartment, bouncing off of the couch and walls. He ate my flip flops and chewed holes in socks. He once yanked on a curtain so hard that the rod came out of the wall and fell on his head. He loved to bite.

A friend in the neighborhood recommended a trainer whom she said was worth every penny of the expense, so I called him immediately. Kevin came over to my apartment and within an hour Chuck was a different dog. Humbled, let’s say. I didn’t know what was acceptable in terms of disciplining a dog, and what Kevin showed me was not physical. It was totally mental: I am the human, he is the dog, and that dog needs to understand the hierarchy.

If a cat had been in the room the cat would have stood up on its hind legs, pointed at me and Chuck and said, “You’re both dogs.”

Kevin also owned a local pet supply store and had me come in to equip me with proper gear. The leash I was using was too long, and the harness I used to walk him was letting him think he was walking me. I hadn’t ever owned a pet, remember? I didn’t know whether or not he was supposed to think was walking me. This is what happens when you don’t do your research.

While I was stocking up on supplies I knew enough to pull Kevin out of earshot from everyone else to ask, “Is there anything I can do about the fact that he smells like a dog?”

Yes. I did. I asked that.

Turns out YOU GUYS that it wasn’t a stupid question. Kevin asked what I was feeding him, and when I shrugged and rattled off something I’d found at the grocery store he walked me over to a specific pallet of dog food. It was called CANIDAE, and he leaned over to whisper in my ear, “I run a business so I can’t sell just one brand of dog food. But if I could this store would carry only this.”

He explained that the reason some dogs smell so bad is because of the crappy food they eat and even promised me that if I fed him this exclusively that he wouldn’t smell at all. So I picked up a bag, slung it over my shoulder and have fed Chuck no other brand since. In fact, when I moved from LA back to Utah I had to call Kevin and ask him if he knew of a place in Utah where I could find CANIDAE. I used to drive 30 minutes out of my way every month or so to buy a bag or two until a small pet boutique closer to my house started carrying it. That’s how loyal I’ve been to this brand.

Chuck and Coco have eaten nothing but CANIDAE their entire lives.

In January I flew out to Southern California for the day to meet with this small family-owned company where every employee’s dog roamed free and greeted me with bellies to scratch. They had reached out to me about collaborating on something having no idea that I’ve been a CANIDAE devotee for 13 years. What I learned there was both simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. I sat down with Scott Whipple, CEO and Owner of CANIDAE and listened to his story, their story.

They are one of the last independent companies making pet food and refuse to sell themselves to some bigger conglomerate because they outright reject the notion that to fulfill demand you have to resort to putting anything into the food that is potentially harmful to animals. Like, say, “chicken” manufactured in China that distinctly resembles styrofoam. Larger pet food brands are manufacturing food that contains things you would not recognize, ingredients you’d never be able to spell, things you’d never want to touch with your hands. And animals are suffering because of it.

This explained so much to me, and it was another one of those moments where I was like DUH!

I’ve taken Chuck and Coco to the same vet in Utah since I moved here in 2002. At every checkup and exam the vets there have always said, “Chuck looks and acts no different than the puppy you brought in here years ago.” His blood work convinces them that he’s at least eight or nine years younger than he is. Yes, he gets walked every day and exercises regularly, but I remember how I felt and how my own myriad ailments cleared up when I stopped eating garbage.

“You are what you eat” applies to your pets, too. This particular bag is what they’ve been eating for the last few years:

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And. So…

Last week I took Chuck to the vet… sorry. Hold on. This is really hard to write.

I’ve mentioned that Chuck has been peeing and pooping around the house lately, and for the last six months it’s been intermittent enough that I thought it was a behavioral issue. I thought that specifically because I’ve seen him lift his leg to pee on the couch because I didn’t give him any of the bacon on my plate. He lifted his leg. That’s not incontinence. That’s young Chuck flipping over his water bowl.

However, in the last couple of months it has advanced to the point that he is pooping and peeing in the house all the time. In the last two weeks he has peed or pooped or done both in his crate at night 12 times. Something is wrong.

The vet did blood work and ran every test he could think of to check for anything and everything, and then I waited four days for the results to come in. Every day I examined horrible scenarios in my brain that I know better than to examine, specifically diabetes or some sort of kidney disorder. When he finally called he heard me catch my breath.

“Well, I have the results… and I don’t know whether to say that this is the best news possible or the worst,” he began.

“Okay,” I said. “At the moment that does nothing for my anxiety.”

“Oh, I don’t want to worry you,” he explained. “You see, I haven’t ever seen this kind of blood work in a dog his age, not in my entire career. It’s like I drew blood from a dog ten years younger.”

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I think he could hear my eyes blinking very loudly. And all the heads nodding furiously over at CANIDAE headquarters.

“I guess that’s where the bad news comes in. You can’t really fix this.”

“But why?” I pressed. “He’s doing it inside his crate. That’s not normal.”

“I’m certain that it’s his nerve weakness in his hind area. And that just happens with age. There’s really nothing wrong with him except he happened to get old.”

The vet had performed a physical test on Chuck where he lifted both of Chuck’s front feet off of the ground. He pressed one foot in the direction it shouldn’t face and Chuck corrected it immediately. He then performed the same test on his back legs. Chuck never corrected either foot. In fact, he gently sat Chuck back down with his back paw turned under and still, Chuck did not correct it.

Chuck cannot feel much in his hind area anymore. He can’t jump into the back of the car, is very slow to climb stairs, and he can’t run. The vet detected no pain whatsoever due to this nerve weakness, although we’re trying a round of anti-inflammatories to see if it makes even the slightest difference in his gait.

His advice was to continue doing whatever I’ve been doing to keep him so phenomenally healthy at his age and keep taking him on moderate walks.

The Former Congressman is now in diapers for the rest of his life.

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I can be sad about this, feel angry and defeated, even indignant about the daily laundry possessing a stench that could melt steel. Or I can take this in stride and continue to keep the promise I made to this dog in April of 2002: I will take care of you for the rest of your life. The best care possible.

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I will make him as comfortable as I can and do my best to ensure that his blood work comes back as clean as it did last week for as long as he continues to write moody poetry.

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CANIDAE would like to offer some coupons to you and your own pet: $5 off bags, $2 off cans, $1 off treats

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Thank you, CANIDAE, for making food that has nourished my dogs their entire lives and your commitment to every animal you feed. #HealthyPetHappyPet

81 Comments
  • Michael Mathews

    2015/04/14 at 10:50 pm

    My eyes watered, but I am glad it is just normal aging and not a disease process at work. We did all kinds of things for our first cat when he got sick, including learning to give fluids at home, but finally he lost control of many of his functions and looked so miserable that we helped him cross over.

  • Claire

    2015/04/14 at 11:03 pm

    Have you considered veterinary acupuncture for Chuck?

  • Lex Lemon

    2015/04/15 at 7:20 am

    You scared me!
    Thank you for taking such good care of Chuck.

  • Lana @ The Joy Blog

    2015/04/15 at 8:03 am

    That post made me start following your site. It was the funniest thing I had read in a long time! 🙂 Here’s to many more diaper filled adventures with Chuck.

  • Sandra

    2015/04/15 at 8:23 am

    Our dog had the same nerve issue for the last two years. She rarely pied in the house but always pooped. She also refused to sleep on any dog beds and instead was always on the hard hardwood floor. It was sometimes hard for her to get up so we got her dog booties and socks. The booties were great for walks when she sometimes dragged her hind foot. But what helped WONDERS and prolonged her life for another two years was Gabapentin. You should try it for Chuck, it made such a world of difference.

  • Melissa

    2015/04/15 at 9:02 am

    This post hit very close to home…we went through a very similar situation, except not with a dog…we had a rabbit, Knife Fight. For most of his life our bun had free reign of every apartment I lived in (he was litter trained), so he got MUCH more exercise than most house rabbits. Our vet always remarked on how muscular he was, which made me very proud. As he got older he slowed down, of course, and then one day he fell off his little hutch and I got concerned; the vet said that it’s very common for rabbit vertebrae to fuse, causing numbness in the hind legs and also affecting his incontinence. So for about two years we had to take special precautions to keep him safe.

    We just lost him unexpectedly to a respiratory infection on December 29th; he was 10 years old. It’s heartbreaking business, taking care of our senior pets, but also an honor! <3

  • Yvonne

    2015/04/15 at 9:39 am

    Hi Heather, you may want to have your vet checked if Chuck has Degenerative Myelopathy (DM).
    “DM is a progressive disease of the spinal cord in older dogs. The disease has an insidious onset typically between 8 and 14 years of age. It begins with a loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind limbs. The affected dog will wobble when walking, knuckle over or drag the feet. This can first occur in one hind limb and then affect the other. As the disease progresses, the limbs become weak and the dog begins to buckle and has difficulty standing…..”
    I have a corgi and corgis are quite prone to suffer from DM when they get old. It is indeed painless. If a dog has it, it will eventually lose the mobility of their hind legs, and for corgis, most owners will attach wheels on them when it happens, so that they can continue walking and wonder about. There are a few companies making wheels for dogs, I’m sure you will be able to find a suitable one for Chuck if he needs it.
    Good luck!

  • Mindy Clark

    2015/04/15 at 9:43 am

    We went through this very same thing a few years ago with my husband’s dog of 14 years. She was perfectly healthy, except she wasn’t. I wish you the most enjoyment with Chuck, and I wish you comfort and clarity when it’s time and your heart is breaking. Big, creepy, internet hugs.

  • Q

    2015/04/15 at 10:59 am

    Gah! The feels. Someone is chopping onions. I had a dachshund who needed back surgery. She basically lost the use of her hind legs. The vet said we can operate or we can euthanize. Without blinking, I asked when could we schedule the surgery. I didn’t even care how much. She lived another 3 beautiful years after that. But toward the end, she needed diapers, too. Teeny tiny diapers. It was heartbreaking and adorable at the same time.

  • Chatie Kase

    2015/04/15 at 11:22 am

    I had a dog who needed diapers toward the later stages of his kidney failure (which was brought on by his meds for CHF). He needed subQ fluids every other day which caused him to pee SO much. The best advice I can give is to choose diapers with good, stretchy elastic around the legs. While they’re “cuter” the intensity of homemade diapers is for shit and they will just fall off. Sticking 1 or 2 incontinence pads in there will seriously cut down on your laundry load. I wish you nothing but the best. I love hearing about other people who will also do whatever it takes to keep their pets healthy & comfortable.

  • Becky

    2015/04/15 at 11:58 am

    I volunteer at a shelter-and Chai_bella is right. So many people would give up their animals over this. Thank you for loving him whole-heartedly. I feel like I know Chuck and want him to know he is rocking those doggie diapers. Sending love.

  • wb

    2015/04/15 at 12:18 pm

    Let me get this straight. You wrote a SPONSORED POST about your dog in the last stages of his life, and we’re supposed to be patting you on the back for this? Not to mention Canidae is shit food and Chuck’s coat reflects that.

    Sorry, you’ve lost a fan. This crosses a big line for me.

  • Kara

    2015/04/15 at 1:31 pm

    I always hoped Chuck would be the first ever immortal dog. He was about 4 when I started reading your blog. I’m so glad he has you to love his old diapered ass <3

  • Misty, Handbags + Handguns

    2015/04/15 at 2:39 pm

    I’m with a commenter below. I wanted Chuck to be immortal. At least he is living out the healthiest and happiest of doggy lives with you.

  • Matilda

    2015/04/15 at 3:03 pm

    O.M.G. My dog was diagnosed with this yesterday! </3 He is a 13 year old mastiff (which is like 960, as mastiffs go). My heart breaks with you. But we can do it! For them.

  • Matilda

    2015/04/15 at 3:05 pm

    This is what my dog has. It’s so sad.

  • Lynn

    2015/04/15 at 3:39 pm

    HEATHER…Definitely ask the Vet about Rimadyl. If his internal organs are all functioning well then it shouldn’t be an issue to give to him. It’s a GREAT supplement that is used for dogs with weakened hind legs and hip dysplasia and has lengthened lives for several years. Recommended it to a friend who had a German Short Haired pointer who hated walks and didn’t like the stairs and he turned into a pup like dog again, walking long walks, playing… p.s. I love you and your dogs! You’re a good woman.

  • Amy Lee

    2015/04/15 at 4:07 pm

    What a sweet old guy, he’s so lucky to be part of your family.

  • ckaye

    2015/04/15 at 5:34 pm

    Heather, a veterinary acupuncturist might be able to really help here. Sure won’t hurt and I’ve seen impressive gains in this sort of situation. Also, watch his waist for rubs from those underwears…I’ve used them on girls in heat and wound up with some SERIOUS sores. PetSmart makes a softer version.

  • Rylla

    2015/04/15 at 6:18 pm

    Oh my god….I used to feed my cats the best cat food ever….Felidae. And then, suddenly, I couldn’t find it anymore! For the last few years I have been going through all these different types of cat foods and the little bastards will eat it for about a week or 2, then will start refusing to eat it. It looks like I have missed the boat and Canidae just changed their packaging and name on their cat food. Damnit…..all those half eaten bags of cat food…all those moments of me begging the little furry freaks to just please, eat a little bit more…

  • Ellere

    2015/04/15 at 6:44 pm

    Oh, I’m glad someone else noticed. They’re not good. If you read a lot of tumbler there are plenty of people who use reaction gifs very artisticly, they can add a ton of humour. Saying you are embarrassed and then having a random person looking embarrassed is, uh, not really the point.

  • Katybeth

    2015/04/15 at 7:02 pm

    I’m sorry. This is the absolute worst part of dog ownership. It truly sucks. But you know he’s still pretty regal in those diapers and no more modesty patch! Sometimes it’s hard to know when it’s time to let go but Chuck will let you know and when he does you’ll help him move on because you love him too much not too. And it may be too hard for him to let go. But until then you’ll love him forever. Canidae is a wonderful food. But so is any food that your dog does well on and you can afford to feed them consistently. Pats for Chuck. If he wants a New Mexico deer antler let me know–on the house for both of your precious furs.

  • Erika

    2015/04/16 at 8:55 am

    I do believe our dogs may have been siblings in a previous life. Our Cooper is 11 years old, had 3 seizures out of no where last month (like Chuck) and is now suffering from the same hind leg loss of sensation & function. She can no longer jump up onto our bed at night so we gladly lift her up there as she has slept with us for all of her 11 years (BTW, she’s a 70# lab). She’s slow to climb the stairs now, taking one at a time, and her moments of real spunkiness are becoming fewer and farther in between. She has not lost any bowel/bladder control yet but I feel as though this is coming. I, too, will manage that if/when it happens. We know what is inevitable, but she is the “original baby” of this household & we love her like a child and will take care of her until we feel that she is uncomfortable & no longer finding any enjoyment in life. Like you said, we make a promise to these animals when we bring them home & taking the easy way out for us is not an option. And to Chuck, no shame in those new pants you’re sporting, you wear those things like a badass!

  • Jen

    2015/04/16 at 10:18 am

    My 13yo golden retriever is having a mysterious kidney issue. He’s “leaking” a bit. Because he’s a male, they don’t think it’s a true incontinence. It’s definitely not an infection (we ran a couple tests). Other than the leaking, he’s in great shape, so the vet doesn’t think it’s a neuro/nerve thing, but it’s possible it’s in very early stages.

    Like Chuck, he’s otherwise in pretty good shape despite his arthritis. Everything in his bloodwork test looks great. We walk, albeit slowly, half a mile daily. On his good days, he’ll go farther. We play quite a bit. Just this morning, he was romping up and down the hall playing with his chosen toy of the day.

    I feel you. It’s so hard to see a companion who has been there for you over the years, through all the drama, the downs and highs of your life…dwindle. I have a hard time imagining my life without him by my side. I’ve been trying to prepare myself for that inevitable future, but…well. I’m just not ready for it.

  • Jancave

    2015/04/16 at 3:22 pm

    Long time reader and big fan of the Congressman. My heart stopped when you’re story started. I’m sorry Chuck is getting older but happy to hear his condition is workable and you’ve received so many wonderful suggestions for alternatives. I’m facing the mortality of my own companion Diva Margaret Frances. My Maggie is a lab mix who was a Katrina dog, something I thought was cool until I saw a documentary on the animals from Katrina. she has some quirks; she rarely barks, if you try to pick her up she screams, she still enjoys a meal of fresh squirrel or rabbit and protection is not in her job description. Her favorite snack to steal is supplements, she has eaten entire bottles of fish oil supplements in a single sitting. I think I have them secured but she seems to find them with some help from the cats. I used to think the worst smell on earth was fish oil dog farts and belches. The hang time is amazing. That is, until one cat also knocked down a bottle of cinnamon which she ate as a chaser to the fish oil. Two days of cinnamon flavored fish oil dogs farts and belching and I don’t believe I will ever be around cinnamon again. Sadistic bitch that she is, she will climb on the bed while I’m asleep and belch in my face. I had to sleep on the couch that night. My bathroom has no exhaust fan, she seems to know this and will stand in the doorway and belch, knowing the ghastly stench will float in my direction. Her tail wags as she walks away leaving me unable to breath in this small chamber of vile stench. And yet, I would give her a kidney if she needed one. She is, as a friend described, the dog of a lifetime. Her health is very good, and like Chuck, she has always been fed high quality food. Not the same brand as your Chuck but I read labels on pet food also. She is 11 years old and showing signs of age, she’s developing fatty tumors and her eyes are discoloring. My Vet says her sight is unaffected, it’s just age. And she’s developing a tremor in her leg. She had a rough beginning so I’m not surprised but dread the inevitable. I’ve added a probiotic to her diet. She eats the grass and I have chemical sensitivities so I don’t use chemicals on the grass. A neighbor thought he was helping and put weed killer on my grass without my knowledge. I yelled at him until he started crying; I said you are killing us both because you don’t like dandelions? When I first got her we spent a lot of time at a friends horse farm where she ran for hours chasing horses and climbing the hay bales in the barn chasing the barn cats into their tunnels in the hay. That space isn’t available to us anymore and dog parks around here are fraught with disease so her running is limited to the back yard. So I send love to Chuck and Maggie adds a cinnamon scented fish oil fart should he need inspiration in a poem. Blessings to you and your commitment to those you love.

  • Magatha

    2015/04/16 at 6:07 pm

    Every situation is different, and I think sometimes we feel we get it wrong. In recent years, people I’ve spoken with who’ve had to put their beloved animals down tend to say that they wish they hadn’t waited that extra day or week, but you know, each of us does her best, and self-recrimination is kind of inevitable.

    So you do your best, and you try to answer the question: is what I am doing prolonging my pet’s life, or is it prolonging my pet’s death? As you note, this is not Chuck’s situation yet. But it’s always going to be hard to know when the exact time comes. Sometimes they tell you, when their breathing changes or when they start refusing food. Sometimes, like with your cat, you are able to see, by the diagnosis, that there is no cure, that she’s had a good life, and maybe you realize that your wish to have a few more weeks or months is because you can’t bear to say good-bye, and that’s when you realize that you are prolonging her death, and so you choose to spare her that even as you risk the pain of self-doubt. I think you got it right.

    All I’m saying is that we do our very best, and if we feel that we got it wrong somehow, we have to forgive ourselves. I walk dogs and pet-sit. Right now I am sitting for a 20 year old cat who is frail but not in pain, and is still enjoying her cat life. But eventually her time will come, and her humans are going to have to make that hard decision.

  • susanfishy

    2015/04/16 at 6:18 pm

    That is extremely helpful to me. Thank you. Especially the distinction between prolonging a pet’s life or prolonging their death. All the best.

  • amboslambo

    2015/04/16 at 7:10 pm

    As embarrassing as the diapers may be, I’m so glad that is all that is wrong with Chuck. The second I read he had been to the vet I braced myself and burst into tears. I’m 7 months pregnant and I definitely have a soft spot for mutts like Chuck. I have a 12 week old puppy (because I’m really smart, and why not have a puppy and a baby at the same time?!) and you have totally convinced me that her food is so important. I’m off to intermittently sob and think of Chuck for the next 3 hours or so. And to teach my puppy to balance things on her head.

  • Jane

    2015/04/16 at 10:52 pm

    Love how much you love Chuck. Teared up … because, oh boy. You’re doing an amazing job and I love his face in those last pics. Sweet boy 🙂

  • Jodie Kingsbury

    2015/04/17 at 5:10 am

    Because of this post, I started my dog on Canidae yesterday. Thanks for the coupons. She wolfed her bowl of food down yesterday and today. I hope she continues that way. Its the only food that doesn’t reek when I scoop it up. I love reading your blog every day.

  • Sarah maddox

    2015/04/17 at 6:21 am

    Damn you for making me cry on my lunch break Ms Armstrong. Poor Chuck. I love him.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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