I was excited when CreakyJoints asked me to write about my relationship with my dog.  I thought it would be easy to reflect on our life together, but it wasn’t.  My dog and I have a complicated relationship that was harder to explain than I expected  Not only is she my constant companion and fur baby, Georgia is also a fellow spoonie.

Here is our story:

I’ve been living with multiple chronic illnesses for over 20 years.  My journey into the world of chronic illness life started with Grave’s disease and DSAP (a skin disease) then moved into more painful illnesses of Fibromyalgia and Polyarticular Spondlyoarthropathy.  Through the years I’ve had some relief from various medications, but overall, my pain has been my constant companion since my early 30’s.  I loved animals and always had dogs as a child, but I hesitated to get one as an adult because of my pain and physical limitations. Dogs need to be exercised, bathed, and groomed and honestly, I have a hard enough time doing that stuff for myself. Instead I had two cats and I adored them, but in the back of my mind, I have always been a dog person. So I decided to do some research.  I spent almost a year researching dozens of breeds to find the best fit for me. I finally decided on a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel because that type of dog seemed to fit my lifestyle and my ability level. I noted there were hereditary illnesses with the breed, but having 8 dogs prior and watching my mom manage their illnesses, I figured that I could handle whatever was ahead. I even took out pet insurance to err on the side of caution.  I thought I did everything right.

She was my perfect pet. Georgia was fun and full of personality.  She enjoyed walks that I could manage, was easy to train, and was able to go with the flow when I was flaring too hard to exercise her.  Being single and living with chronic illnesses can be isolating, so having Georgia, with her bigger than life personality, was a blessing and I loved her companionship.  The cats weren’t as thrilled as I was, but my furry family made me happy.

Everything was perfect until she turned two years-old.  It was then that Georgia was diagnosed with Syringomyelia, a painful neurological disorder that is a hereditary Cavalier breed disease (it is also a human disease).  I was devastated but little did I know that this was just the first of many chronic illnesses my dog would be diagnosed with over the years.  You see my perfect puppy was not bred by a breeder who understood the need for hereditary disease testing, and Georgia and I have paid the price for it.  In addition to Syringomyelia, Georgia has (in order of diagnoses): hip dysplasia (abnormal formation of hip socket), luxating patellas (her kneecaps move and dislocate), arthritis (just like her Mom!), chronic dry eye (she doesn’t produce tears in her eyes), chronic ear infections (from all the head rubbing and ear scratching caused from Syringomyelia), chronic dry skin that gets infected, and the latest heartbreaking diagnosis, a heart murmur (heart disease is the leading cause of death in Cavaliers).  My sweet Georgia Grace didn’t hit the lucky genetic lottery….but hey, either did I.  So we make quite a team.

Knowing my dog was in pain devastated me.

I live my life in pain and was determined my sweet, funny, smart little dog was not going to live like that, too. I was told she would probably not live past age three, so I decided to make what little time I had with Georgia as happy and pain free as possible.  I celebrated her third birthday with a BIG party thinking it would be her last.

Little did I know that my knowledge of chronic illnesses and Georgia’s unbreakable will would allow her to see four more birthdays, and hopefully many more.  Georgia continues to battle her illnesses with grace.  I have contemplated euthanasia twice over the years when things got really bad, but new treatments have helped us overcome many challenges. Georgia, like me, has good and bad days, but overall, her quality of life is really good.  She is a very happy and well-loved dog.

Ironically, many of our health issues have mirrored each others over the years.  One of my drugs caused kidney issues and I needed to start blood pressure medication. Two years later, Georgia had the same issue.  When my autoimmune arthritis flares, I get a fever.  When Georgia’s Syringomyelia flares, her temperature goes up, too.  We both broke our legs days apart from each other and each of us had to have surgery.  People see us walking now and remark how we both limp the same way.   Furthermore between her headaches and my joint swelling, we can predict the weather better than any meteorologist on TV.  We were obviously meant to be together.  Honestly, it’s like I actually like I gave birth to her!

My own experiences living with chronic illness may have caused me to go overboard on Georgia’s treatments.  She currently sees two regular veterinarians, a holistic Tao Vet, a neurologist, and will soon meet with her new cardiologist.  She takes 15 pills a day, including canine cannaboids (a mini miracle!!) and various supplements that support her immune system joints, and kidneys.

Georgia also receives acupuncture and laser treatments every 4-6 weeks.   I have to work a part-time job, in addition to my full-time job just to pay for what she needs. The financial stress of being Georgia’s mom is definitely not good for my health, but then I look at that sweet face, a face I will only get to look at for a few more years (hopefully) and I keep going. She’s worth it.

Although caring for Georgia can be difficult and stressful, I would never trade a moment with her for the world.  Her genuine love of life and quirky personality makes her endearing to all who meet her.  Georgia lives with diseases that would topple most people, yet she never complains. In many ways, she inspires me to be better, try harder, and never give up the fight with my own health. Her purpose on this earth is to love and be loved and she does it well. Lucky for me, I am the one who gets to love her the most.