I first met my dog when he was eight years old. I was working serving tables at a restaurant and had started dating one of my managers (tisk risk..). It was when I came over to his house one night that I met Phil, some kind of lab-shepherd-chow mix with the biggest ears and furriest coat I’d ever seen. He was a little maniacal in the way he looked and acted, and to be honest, I was not impressed with him. Now, I am a dog LOVER. All my life I have been fascinated by dogs, their personalities, their treatment. I am a hopefully vet school attendee in the next few years. The only times I find it hard to like certain dogs are when it is clear their owners don’t have a good relationship with them or it seems as though the animal is not very well taken care of. With Phil, it was a little bit of both. He didn’t mind very well and was always acting sort of strange, distracted almost. By looking at him, he seemed a bit mangy too. His fur was dull and shedding like crazy, and he had one eye that seemed larger than the other, and had a cloudy blue appearance to it. He also had a spot on his right front paw that he would lick and bite at incessantly. I promise I’m not a dog snob, but I just knew something was not right with him.
His owner was not a bad person, not in the slightest. He had gotten Phil from a breeder when he was just a puppy (or little bear cub, the pictures are very hard to tell.. haha). He raised Phil with his wife until they got divorced when Phil had just turned eight. But even prior to that, his “mom” was not a big presence in his life, so when the things were divvied up, my boyfriend said he only wanted Phil, and that his ex-wife could take the rest. Phil was his baby. His buddy. His best friend. They spent many hours just the two of them, hanging out and being “guys”. I dated Kyle for a little over a year. During that time, because of my interest in veterinary medicine and animals in general, I examined Phil and noted certain things about him. Having not been to veterinary school yet, I know basically nothing about animal ailments, but I was able to see that Phil was not well. I asked my boyfriend when he last took Phil to the vet and he told me it was probably 4 years ago or so. I told him he should really get annual check-ups, especially since he is getting older, he told me that Phil was perfectly healthy. I asked my boyfriend what was wrong with his eye, he told me that Phil had gotten an eye infection once, was prescribed drops, the infection went away and then came back, they didn’t go back to the doctor, the eye just sort of clouded over, but he was fine. I insisted that Phil couldn’t see out of the eye and that it was bulging, probably causing him pain, and my boyfriend conceded that he did need to take Phil in.
My boyfriend passed away in February of 2014 while we were walking Phil around a lake in Seattle. He was 35 years old. You need this information to understand the type of person he was. He was the most incredibly loving, caring, easy going, amazing man I have ever met, and I promise you I am not just saying that. He had the biggest heart and loved life and everything in his more than anyone could ever understand, especially Phil. He loved that dog like a son. Which is why I know that him not taking Phil to see a veterinarian was not out of neglect or him not caring. If anything it was because he cared too much. He knew that if he took Phil to the vet, he would be told that something was very wrong with Phil. With his boy, his buddy, his son, and I think that scared him. My boyfriend had no children, and he poured every ounce of love into this dog. My boyfriend hadn’t been to the doctor himself in over 10 years. He was a college athlete, but quickly became out of shape after his college years. He was a manager at a Brewery, and boy did he love his beer. He drank, he had a history of smoking, his diet was not the best, and the last time he had exercised was probably up there with the last time he had been to see a doctor. He also didn’t have much money, if any. I learned after his death that he had been falling behind on rent and other bills for almost 9 months. He never said a word to me.
He was a man so full of love, that didn’t have the money or the courage to take care of himself or his dog. Especially when, to him, they were both surviving just fine. They woke up in the morning and were able to do everything they needed to do. What he and nobody else knew (because of his lack of medical care) was that my boyfriend had a weak heart. We weren’t sure if it was genetic, if it was because of his history with drugs and alcohol, or his lack of physical fitness. He had a malfunctioning heart that had collected blood clots, one of which was released from the heart that day while we were walking and traveled to his brain causing a stroke, and the pressure on his heart was too much so he went into heart failure. Right there on the sidewalk.. Right in front of my eyes. Right in front of Phil.
My boyfriend was born and raised in the Seattle area and has many friends and family nearby. The offers to take on the responsibility of his dog, Phil, began pouring in, but I offered to keep him with me at my place while they figured out what to do with him. My boyfriend and I had basically been living together for the last 6 months so Phil knew me and was comfortable with me. After such a shocking loss, I wanted to make him as comfortable as possible. It turned out that Phil was exactly who I needed to get me through such a difficult time. We bonded like I had never bonded to a pet before. He knew I was there to take care of him and that he was there to take care of me. Of course, I was going to let one of my boyfriend’s family members have him if they wanted to keep him closer, but I told his parents that I would be more than happy to take care of Phil for the rest of his life. They were so grateful to me, but also insisted that if I ever changed my mind they would be happy to help find a new home for him, that they would completely understand.
Of course, one of my first acts as a new dog owner (and first-time dog owner too!) was to get him checked out by a veterinarian. That is what really frustrates me about my boyfriend. If he would have told me he didn’t have the money to get Phil looked at, I would have paid for it! I would have been happy to! I didn’t even know money was an issue.. anyways, that first visit was a scary one. The vet told me that Phil had genetic glaucoma, probably from his chow genes, that had caused such an increase in eye pressure that the optic nerve had essentially died. He was permanently blind in the eye and had been for a few years. The pressure of the eye was so great still that it was causing him constant migraines, which was why he licked at the spot on his paw and a lick granuloma had formed. It was his way of dealing with the pain. The other eye most likely had the same condition but hadn’t been affected yet. She said they could remove the eye for a hefty sum of money and start him on medications to prevent the same thing happening in the other eye. I left the clinic with way more information than I could handle. Over the next couple weeks I weighed my options.. I could take out a loan and get him the surgery, or try to save up as much money as possible for the surgery, or maybe ask my parents for the money? I didn’t know what do to but I knew Phil needed this. He was in pain and miserable! It’s what my boyfriend would have done, if he had the means to.
I spoke with my boyfriend’s parents regularly the next two months, updating them about Phil (glaucoma and all, to their dismay) and helping to plan a memorial service to be held in April to give friends and family across the country time to get to Seattle. I was still working on saving up the money for Phil’s enucleation surgery when my boyfriend’s father informed me that the family wanted to pay for it in full. They had been taking donations from various family members and friends over the last few weeks, and presented me with a check that would cover the surgery and allow for a prosthetic as well, so Phil’s eye wouldn’t need to be sewn shut! I was in awe. I almost couldn’t accept it, but I didn’t have a choice. Phil’s retina had detached and his eye had started to fill with blood.. so the surgery was scheduled!
After the surgery, recovery rough. Mostly on me.. I felt so bad for him, his eye oozing blood and fluid, having to wear the cone of shame, having to be on pain medications, but it all got better. In just a week he had his energy back. In another week, even more so than he had before! The hair grew back around his eye, the swelling went away, and the cone was able to come off. To this day the transformation still blows my mind. If you took the dog he was after that surgery and compared him to the dog I first met, you would think they were complete opposites. He no longer licks at his paw (because he is no longer in pain), the lick granuloma has disappeared, he acts about 5 years younger, his coat is magnificently shiny and soft (he still sheds quite a bit, but it seems healthier now). His big old ears are perkier and his demeanor is just brighter. It really is a miracle. My heart wants to explode with how happy it makes me knowing that I was able to do this for him, to be his advocate, and that my boyfriend’s friends and family cared enough to help me do it.
Now, almost 11 months after Phil’s enucleation and prosthesis, the glaucoma has started to affect his other eye. There are occasional spikes in eye pressure which cut off blood flow to his optic nerve, rendering him completely blind for a few days at a time. He is on two eyedrops three times a day to try to help keep the pressure down and save his vision for at least a little longer, but it’s looking like we might be at the end of his eyesight. He is having a very hard time, tripping over and running into things. He will only eat if I walk him to his food and stand there with my hand on him, encouraging him to eat. He seems very anxious and unsure about his movements. He is now 10 years old but still loves to play and has the energy of a 5 year old! He is the smartest, most loving and understanding dog I have ever encountered and it breaks my heart to see him have to reluctantly start slowing down, to see him lose his confidence as he loses his sight. I have recently begun doing research on at home remedies for glaucoma in dogs. I am waiting for a few things to arrive that I am going to try including Earth Animal Vital Eye Organic Herbal Remedy, Integrative Therapeutics Bilberry Extract, and a Taurine supplement. These were all formulated for dogs and ordered off of pet health care websites.
I hope that Phil’s story can highlight the importance of regular veterinary exams and preventive medicine, as well as understanding health predispositions that certain dog breeds have. I also hope that my journey in caring for a blind dog helps someone else work their way through the process.. fingers are crossed that maybe he hasn’t lost his sight for good, but if he has fingers are crossed even tighter that I am able to help him through this transition relatively smoothly. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
Kelly & Phil