How do you know it's time?

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[music: Always Be by Jimmy Eat World]

My entire life, I have wanted a dog. The way that some women coo at babies was the way I was when I saw a wagging tail in public. After Chris and I got married, I was determined to add a little dog to our family, and the weekend before our first Valentine's Day together, I got a call from a dear friend offering me a baby dachshund for free.

It was time.

Once dubbed the hummingbird of dogs, our sweet little Jimi Hendrix Adams was a bundle of energy. Romping, trotting, and obsessive about ball fetching, our lives haven't been the same since the February afternoon Jimi came home with us. He's been our fierce guard dog, a cuddly space heater in our winter bed, and the wet nose and big brown eyes that greet us cheerfully and faithfully every morning. He's always been there to lick away my tears and to wag his tail during our celebrations. He was here when Jude was born and gingerly sniffed Jude's tiny toes and gave him a little lick on his head upon their first meeting.

I first noticed something was wrong when I thought he felt lighter. When I could make out his backbone a week later, that's when I took him to the vet. He had lost a pound, which isn't a lot on its own but is 10% of his body weight. I took him back a few days later when I could see his ribs. I took him back again when he refused to leave his pillow. His fourth visit in two weeks was this afternoon when his back legs suddenly no longer worked. He has lost two and a half pounds, total.

The diagnosis isn't good. At best, he has some kind of gastrointestinal disease and Intervertebral Disc Disease, which is a sad but somewhat common issue with dachshunds. With this best case scenario, there are only two options: medical rest and surgery.

We can opt to do the medical rest which is eight weeks of very strict crate rest. With this, there is only a 50% chance that he'll walk again. But during that eight weeks, if he continues to get worse and loses pain sensation in his feet, even an emergency back surgery won't help.

If we opt for the back surgery (that, truthfully, we cannot comfortably afford), his prognosis for being able to walk again goes up to 90%.

When he lost control of his bowels on my lap during our car ride home from the vet, I got a glimpse into our future. No more romping, trotting, or obsessive ball fetching. Because incontinence usually accompanies back pain, I was taught how to palpitate his midsection to empty his bladder for him, but as his disease worsens, he will “leak” and have more accidents. He can no longer walk to the door to scratch, which was his way to alert us that he needed to go out.

In a matter of days, my sweet puppy with boundless energy has been replaced by a contemplative dog who has a cloud of sadness on his face. My heart breaks as he seems to look at his legs dragging useless behind him and then to me as if to ask, “Can't you fix this?”

I can't.

We'd consider other options if he were a ten year old dog who had a long, full life, but because he's only five (turns six on Christmas), we're just not ready to let him go. For us, it just isn't time.

In the morning, we'll make an appointment for him to see the surgeon. As of this moment, his tail still wags and he's still our cuddly space heater. We just can't imagine our life without his wet nose and big brown eyes greeting us good morning.

UPDATE [6:30 a.m. Tuesday 2.8.11] In the middle of the night, he seemed to take another bad turn. He can no longer feel his feet or go to the bathroom so we are now considering the other option. Maybe it is time. Ultimately we'll do what will make Jimi feel best. Thank you so much for your outpouring of love and support during this sad, sad time.