How We Almost Killed Our Dog in League With Veterinarians

“This is not my epitaph.” – Rotor (1999 – )

Here’s the backstory, from 5 weeks ago with time flying: Dog Shit: Enzymatic Pancreatic Deficiency (EPI) and Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome.

For the TL;DR crowd, the story is that several days prior, our 14 1/2 yr-old Rat Terrier, Rotor, was found laying on the floor at 1:30am, unable to get up and limp as a wet noodle. Could not even raise his head that was drooped over my arm. Took him to the 24/7 hospital thinking this was the day. They kept him a couple of days and diagnosed it as “Old Dog Vestibular.”

It wasn’t.

But, I was bright eyed and irrationally exuberant when I wrote that post. Shame on me, though I forgive myself for it. I love the little guy and it’s easy to do when you’ve walked the equivalent of 4 times across the USA with this one. I know his every move and manner. And he knows mine. But, I considered taking the post down. It was painful to see and think about in the ensuing days, because nothing was going as I’d expected.

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As the days passed and passed, we knew it was not some simple matter of “dog vertigo” and he’ll be better in just a few days. Beatrice spent hours Googling and watching YouTube videos. “I think it’s a stroke,” she eventually said. He still could do nothing but hold his head up, and scoot just a bit, with two legs on his left side that had become functional.

We were a solid week into the ordeal, and Bea had to be away for an evening for a teacher conference in Napa. “I’ll handle it,” when she offered to cancel. We knew it was likely his last few days and my friend, Robert—who walked with us hundreds of times in our six years in the lofts—came over for the evening and we got drunk, smoked marijuana, and spoke of good times with our mutual friend.

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Before Robert headed over, I decided to light a fire in the pit we have on the patio.

I didn’t realize when I lit it that Rotor does not like fire even a little, but can’t move now. He wants to always be a comfortable distance. But he could only scoot a little. Had Beatrice been here, what was to happen would never have happened. She’s the babier, I’m the asshole; yin-yang. Long story short, Rotor immediately scooted to the steps that go into the house via the sliding glass door. …And then I sat and calmly watched him torture himself and struggle with everything he had over a solid hour to eventually work himself over two steps and into the house to a safe distance of about 2-3 feet into the house…all the while, with visions of physical therapist-torturers doing what they do with stroke victims.

But in a sense, it was too little, too late; and it wasn’t like there was huge improvements to quickly follow. That was just a thing. Bea and I were both coming to the realization that this is not a human, we have lives too, and it’s eventually somewhat weird to not be able to make all the distinctions and decisions appropriate to people without unlimited time and resources. And plus, this was no life for him. On the other hand, there was no big rush.

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  The right front is compromised from a break as a baby, the right hind non-functional now

She decided to take him to two vets back-to-back two days later, about 10 days from the original event. The first was his vet over 6 years when we lived downtown. He asked, “He hasn’t walked in 10 days?”

“Nope,” Bea replied.

“Why doesn’t he smell? They always smell.”

The backstory to that is that’s when Rotor did his scotting. He hates pee, or worse, on him; and he scoots away, or to position himself for least damage. Nonetheless, he got sprayed off and wiped down numerous times per day.

The vet recommended putting him down. He was ready to go get “the cocktail” immediately.

“I’m not ready!”

And Bea was off to the other vet, the one over the last three years. Same recommendation. But she offered to come over to our house to do it in the backyard on the grass, under the tree.

…I do not begrudge or even criticize these veterinarians their opinions. They deal with the reality of end of life and coping—or failure to cope—every day. It is merely a matter of time for one, and two, I believe they also fill that role of trying to help people face reality and let go. I get it. …In fact, I get it so much that when Bea brought Rotor home and gave me the news, I felt it was time to play the yang to her yin, and advised her that it was over. It’s time—for me to play strong.

…Instead, we decided to have a party! Suspecting it was a stroke, she had scheduled an appointment with one of only a couple of veterinary neurologists in the Bay Area, for the following Wednesday. It was Friday. Like I said, no rush.

She got on the phone to get people, and I went to the store and we did ribeyes and other stuff, and Rotor got plenty of scraps and maybe some ice cream, which he loves. Of note: other than the very first night of the incident, Rotor’s appetite was as strong as ever. It was a great evening: Rotor had a lot of people around him and very unlike our female, Rotor loves people, loves to be around them, loves to be in the center of all activity (it’s a good food acquisition strategy).

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We eventually got wise and rather than have to clean a lot of bedding, we’d set him out on the grass. Almost no mess. But then something happened. He began standing up and falling down. Standing up, taking a step, and falling down. Standing up, taking two steps and falling down. He’d eventually make it back to the house from the corner of the yard.

Wednesday, we went to see Dr. Filippo Adamo, DVM, DECVM. This is him, a local news report about his pioneering disc replacements in dogs for $500 (2.5 min).

And if you think that’s a steal, his consultation for a solid hour and much examination and testing, even outside on the grass with Rotor: $130. Then he spent a half hour writing his summaries of examination, conclusions and instructions. He advised against all expensive procedures and tests. Instead: “just wait.” He went on to tell us his best guess, without imaging, was a stroke in the brain or right side of the spine; or, a tumor. In the case of a stroke, 95% of dogs recover fully. If he stops improving and gets worse, probably a tumor. Wait and see.

And so we did. Can you spare 50 seconds?

I think that the meta message—for me and Beatrice, anyway—is that you really can’t trust anyone who doesn’t live and love your own values. It’s not their fault, really. We just expect too much of people in advisory or professional capacities and are often too ready and willing to substitute their mind and judgment for ours…or our lack of same, or laziness, or painfulness in getting to it.

It’s completely silly to love our dogs the way we do. But that’s easy. I really don’t give much of a fuck what anyone thinks anyway.

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  1. Bill on July 23, 2013 at 17:09

    Rotor still has a quality of life. Ambling about and enjoying sniffing and scenting. You will know when his quality of life is so diminished that it’s the one way trip. Best wishes for a longer time than you anticipate.

  2. marie on July 23, 2013 at 18:15

    “It’s completely silly to love our dogs they way we do. But that’s easy. I really don’t give much of a fuck what anyone thinks anyway.”
    My oldest pup (14) has had 2 strokes in last two years. Comes around after everyone eventually, is frisky and affectionate, but during recovery has needed a pee-diaper. So I’ve been changing doggie diapers. I don’t give a damn.
    Best wishes for Rotor’s full recovery and a longer time together.

  3. Karen on July 23, 2013 at 18:21

    Glad to see him getting around so well and that you didn’t race into any final decisions. Just for my knowledge in potentially trying to tell the difference between vestibular disease and a stroke, were his eyes doing the ‘spinning’ right after the incident? I’ve seen that with vestibular but I’ve never had a dog have a stroke so don’t have a comparison.

  4. Richard Nikoley on July 23, 2013 at 18:32

    Nope, Karen, and in fact, that was one of the several usual symptoms he didn’t really have at the time we decided that we were on our own.

  5. Doug McGuff, MD on July 23, 2013 at 18:53

    My favorite mantra is….”Don’t just do something, stand there!”. We must always be cautious about intervening when mother nature is not taking her course as fast as we would like it. The greater your sense of urgency to act, the more you should wait.

  6. Richard Nikoley on July 23, 2013 at 19:08


    For many years I have told people: “Remember, one of your options is to DO NOTHING.”

    Cheers, bro from a different mo. :)


  7. john on July 23, 2013 at 21:54

    Richard, from the bottom of heart, thank you for this post. My girl is a 13 yo jack russell with occasional severe gut episodes and the occasional epilepsy episode . Would you believe, 2 g of resistant starch with the chicken and broccoli and a handful of cold rice has appeared to significantly improve the gut .

  8. Helene stovall on July 23, 2013 at 22:49

    Our 16 year old llaso apso had a stroke last year. It took about three weeks and he was limping around. Now he is a fine old man.

  9. Pauline on July 24, 2013 at 01:29

    I love this story! I have been sick for almost 4 weeks now. Taken anti-biotics for eyes, sinuses, throat infection, cleared then came back again this week. All in the middle of the longest heatwave in the UK. The impulse to do more to fix it, whether through natural remedies or medicinal, still the body won’t be rushed and has its own time. Life stresses don’t make this process quicker either. I always think animals have it right, when sick they sleep and rest, maybe eat less and just give their bodies time to heal.

  10. Susan on July 24, 2013 at 05:25

    My four-legged family is just that, my family. They are loved and cared for and when they leave us it hurts like hell. I don’t see any problem with expressing your love for your family.

  11. Richard Nikoley on July 24, 2013 at 06:43

    John, yep. I give rotor about a tsp every few days. Poops better than ever.

  12. Shayne on July 24, 2013 at 12:20

    I’m a veterinary specialist. Some of the best advice I ever got was not part of my formal education but from an old practitioner who cared for our family pets when I was growing up. He told me everything I learned in veterinary school and residency was great…but in reality that if I could keep from killing them with treatments that many would improve on their own.
    Glad things worked out for you.

  13. Ulfric Douglas on July 24, 2013 at 12:48

    Do you think the top-drawer food from the barbecue had anything to do with the recovery?

  14. Frank on July 24, 2013 at 15:38

    So weird to read this. We have a small (and plump) 9 year old rat terrier that woke up one day with no front left leg function. She’s always had a wonky back leg so she was basically immobile. The vet said it was probably a damaged spine, and it would be $$$$$ to fix so we may as well just put her down. My wife and I work from home and being childless this is one of our kids so we did a bunch of research and decided to just pamper her and see what happened. We narrowed it eventually down to nerve damage from an overweight old dog jumping off of the couch too many times. Long story short, she’s back to 80% now and slowly improving as long as she doesn’t push it too much.

    I also don’t blame the vet though. He was willing to let us sink thousands of dollars into her but since it didn’t seem to be getting worse and she wasn’t totally paralyzed we decided to just see what happened with some R&R and being attentive to her trying to jump/run.

  15. Richard Nikoley on July 24, 2013 at 15:41

    I’m happy for you, Frank. I’m giving you a wink, because I know you know what it means. ;)

  16. LeonRover on July 24, 2013 at 23:37

    Shane said:

    ” . . but in reality that if I could keep from killing them with treatments that many would improve on their own.”

    Precisely the same applies to Doctors & their human Clients as Doug McGuff also note. A relation is being advised to “maybe get a stent”, however, he is resisting this while waiting to see whether medication improves his symptoms.

    Good luck with Rotor.

  17. Jack on August 1, 2013 at 17:15

    Wishing Rotor well. I love my pets like you do. Awhile back when I was single, this woman I was dating asked me for some stupid reason, what I would do my house was on fire and I could only rescue her or my dog. I looked at her without hesitation and said the dog for sure.

    We broke up shortly after that.

    One more story – when I got divorce, my ex and I made an easy settlement. She took everything, except the dog. No doubt, I got the better half of the deal.


  18. Regret A Vet on August 3, 2013 at 19:47

    Oh thank God you didn’t rush into any final decisions. Anyone who brings their sick pet to a veterinarian and the vet suggests euthanasia make sure you get AT LEAST a 2nd opinion. It doesn’t matter if it’s been your vet for decades or did 100 tests!
    Some people who say:
    “Oh my vet is wonderful he would never… BLAH BLAH BLAH!” end up learning the hard way that BAD VETS they thought were God like really are money grubbing pigs that don’t want you to walk out their door without putting a decent amount of money in their pocket. Euthanasia and cremation makes them money. When they know your going for a 2nd opinion BAD VETS will gladly kill your pet to make more money than you walking out with just a basic exam fee.
    I once had a vet who blew a gasket when I went and got a 2nd opinion. He actually hung up on me when we were on the phone after telling me that I insulted him by getting a 2nd opinion and then told me to never come back! (Like I really needed him to tell me that!) With all the stories in the news about BAD VETS rising in the news we literally need to warn each other who to stay away from. People make mistakes and I understand that. But there are consequences. Since vets usually get NO PUNISHMENT for sometimes even killing a pet why should they care about cutting corners that you will never know have been cut.
    Just like other professions veterinarians like to get off work and out of the office A.S.A.P.
    Not many people AT ALL check their vets disciplinary record with the state before putting their pets life in the hands of what could be a negligent veterinarian. I didn’t. I never even thought of it! Like most people do I just Googled and picked one with 5 stars! And if you are set on going to a particular vet and they have been reprimanded for bad record keeping please dig deeper because they usually lower horrifying violations down to bad record keeping. Just as the courts drop a felony charge in exchange for pleading guilty to misdemeanors.
    Here’s my dogs horrible story (Warning Graphic Pics)
    and here’s our Facebook page –

  19. No Miracle | Free The Animal on March 10, 2014 at 16:42

    […] think it might be it for Rotor, my buddy. He made a great recovery from the spinal stroke last summer that kept him immobile for […]

  20. Linda on March 12, 2014 at 19:35

    I’m sorry to hear about Rotor. Here’s to keeping him comfortable and you making the decision you are comfortable with, or can at least tolerate the best. It’s never easy.

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