Friday, October 30, 2009

The Greatest Dog in the History of Dogs — Huckleberry Finn by Laura Tidwell

An old friend knew of my interest in owning a Great Pyrenees and alerted me in the summer of 1998 to a couple of Pyr pups who had just been rescued. I understand that folks had been trying to catch the mother and her pups wandering on some old farm land. The mother got away, abandoning two of the puppies. The pups were only about ten days old; they were malnourished; and they were infested with parasites, internal and external.

I made arrangements to meet the puppies in their foster home (foster parents Lynn Provident and Jeff Davis are two of God's protectors of animals here on earth), and I had an opportunity to bottle feed the four-pound puppies, cradling them over my forearm. Over the course of the next few weeks, I diligently attempted to convince the puppies' foster parents that I was worthy of adopting one – the mischievous one then called "Rex." Before he was ready for adoption, though, Rex's health took a nosedive. He was hospitalized, and the vet wasn't sure he would live. But his foster mom never gives up when it comes to the life of a dog. She persevered; he persevered; and finally he was ready to come home with me. Oh, how I loved that dog; we were as close to soul mates as a dog and a person could be.

I named him Huckleberry Finn, and he proved himself remarkably like his namesake. I like to say he was “delightfully rotten,” certainly capable of civility, but occasionally delighting in absolute mischief. A typical Pyr, he was an independent thinker. You'd tell him to do something and could see him considering whether that was something he actually wanted to do. When we signed up for obedience class, my colleagues wagered how quickly we'd be expelled. (In the end, we did graduate. In fact, we got a standing ovation during our final exam when I commanded Huckleberry to come and he came!) When we were in public, he was remarkably well-behaved. He was friendly with other dogs, loving with humans, and extremely gentle with children. I later fostered another Pyr puppy, and I adopted him as a result of, in large part, Huckleberry's love for him. Huckleberry and Klondike became inseparable. They wrestled and played, they lounged on the couch, they snuggled on the hearth. Huckleberry lived in a wonderful balance of good behavior and mischief – resting his head on the dining room table during dinner, relaxing at concerts in the park, stealing a hot dog from my boss' hand at a company event, serving as a terrific companion on long walks. (Klondike was lacking in mischief; he was just along for the ride.) It was a pretty good life.

Our Klondike had always been a bit "sickly," so although he was younger than Huck Finn it wasn't a great surprise that we lost him first. My sweet Huckleberry had a very human reaction to Klondike's death. The two of us moped and mourned for months. Right around the time Huckleberry returned to "normal" I came home to find pools of blood all over the floor and splattered on the walls, and the blood was coming from Huck's nose. We consulted our vet, and we suspected that Huck had broken a blood vessel in his nose. Things were fine for a few months…until it happened again. Our vet did probes, x-rays, biopsies, and blood work, all of which were inconclusive. Ultimately, we went to University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine for a CT-scan. There, clear as day, was a massive tumor literally consuming his nasal passages (nasal adenocarcinoma).

After many tears and much discussion, my husband and I opted against radiation. In the end, I couldn't bear to abandon him for nearly two months while he was undergoing what seemed to be unbearable treatment. Instead, we tried to combat the spread of the tumor with medication. The UT Vet told me he wouldn't last a month, but I didn't believe them. I knew our time was short, and I did everything I could to give him as much enjoyment as possible. We went to the dog park; we went for countless rides in the convertible; we visited his human friends; we went on long walks; I prepared a myriad of home-made food to help him keep weight on, and when he tired of that, we went to the McDonald's drive-thru for plain hamburgers; and, of course, he had a gob of peanut butter with every pill he had to take. His quality of life was pretty darn good. Huckleberry Finn gave me a wonderful birthday gift that year – hanging around long enough to spend the day with me. Five days later, though, his body decided it had enough. Huck Finn died on November 21, 2008 more than a year after he first showed signs of cancer. He was ten years old.

I love my other dogs immensely, and I'll always have dogs. But I doubt I'll ever love another dog the way I loved Huckleberry Finn. He was the greatest dog in the history of dogs.

Solar’s Journey by Michele Handte

When he was just shy of 3 years old, Solar came to live with me. Prior to that, he lived with my best friend, Kate, who happens to be his breeder. Solar always loved me from when he was a little puppy and would turn himself inside out when I showed up. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to be near the show ring when he was being shown because he always tried to leave the ring to get to me.

When he was just over two and had finished his championship, which in itself was a harrowing experience, Kate decided that she was going to place him because he would get more attention in another home. I had always told her that I wanted him if she ever decided to do that. Well, the time came, but I wasn’t in a position to bring him to my house with the six dogs I already had. So very reluctantly, I told her to give him to the other home she had for him. I knew the person, as did Solar, and knew they would take good care of him.

It was important that Solar go to someone with whom he was at least familiar. Why? Well, when he was being shown in conformation, Kate let a handler take him home for the evening because he was showing Solar all weekend. She thought it would be a good chance for them to get used to each other, and she was staying in the area. When the handler tried to take Solar out of his crate, Solar bolted and wouldn’t come close enough for them to slip their hands under his collar. By the time Kate got there, he had run off into the woods. For six days they looked for him. There had been sightings of him near the high school, which is where he seemed to want to stay. The kids started throwing food to him, but he would always run away if they tried to approach him. And of course every time Kate went to the school, he was no where to be found. Finally, on the sixth day when Kate was making one final loop before having to drive back to Pennsylvania for the night, she spotted him at the edge of the woods. When she called him, he hesitated and then realized it was her. Talk about jumping for joy!!! He was SO happy to find someone he knew!

As it turned out, Solar’s new mom ran into some tough times about six months after taking him and had to give Solar back to Kate. Kate had him for a couple of months when I decided that I needed another agility dog because Jagr absolutely hated the ring, and I just couldn’t put him through it any more.

It was at that point that Solar came to live with me and became my competition dog. He absolutely loved to do anything with me, whether it was obedience, agility, Rally, herding -- it didn’t matter. He was my dog and my dog alone. Getting along with the rest of the pack wasn’t an issue. He always respected every one of them and never offered any challenges.

For some reason, he decided that he liked to bark at my husband, Jack, when he would come home or if Jack got up to move around the house. I joked that Solar was obsessive compulsive, just like Jack. Jack really isn’t except when it comes to exercise. You don’t want to live with him if he hasn’t had his workout! But the two of them loved each other in a unique way. Jack always said that Solar’s last breath would be woofing at him.

Solar went on to be a great partner in competition and earned his OA, OAJ, NJP, NAP, CD, RAE2, PT, JHD, CGC and TDI. In addition to competing, he was a therapy dog who visited nursing homes routinely. He even did agility and obedience demonstrations at the nursing home in the summer time out in the courtyard. The smiles he brought to the elderly residents were priceless. It was so difficult to go back there after Solar passed because they all wanted to know where he was. Solar and his son, Shaman, were quite the hit with all the folks there.

Solar retired from herding (sheep) and agility in 2007 when arthritis started to creep up on him. We were still herding ducks and working on a started title when he had to have his leg amputated. Solar’s ducks haven’t been worked since.

On December 7, 2008, our world changed. We were out for a potty break at an agility trial, which I was chairing, when another dog tried to grab him by the neck. Solar tried to get away but slipped on the ice and let out a yelp. He came up lame on his back right leg. I thought it might have been a pulled muscle because he had been limping but responded well to massage therapy that weekend. Besides the initial yelp, he never cried or whined. So we went home and iced his leg and tried to keep him quiet. By Monday morning, it was very evident in his eyes that I needed to see a vet right away. So off to our vet we went. She asked to put him under so she could get better films. I agreed, so that meant I had to leave him. Then the call came – Solar had a badly fractured femur; and we needed to go to Pittsburgh right away.

On the drive down, I had a terrible feeling in my gut that he had cancer; but I tried to think positively. When Dr. Payne came into the room after looking at the x-rays, my worst nightmare came true – osteosarcoma. He explained that the only way to make Solar comfortable and try to stop the cancer was to amputate the leg. I didn’t hesitate. He couldn’t live in the severe pain he was experiencing, and there was no way I would put him down because of this. By this time it was late afternoon so they put him on a morphine drip and did the surgery the next morning, December 9, 2008. His chest x-ray was clear then.

Just a month prior, Dr. Payne had looked at x-rays sent by my vet and diagnosed osteoarthritis in his hips. Solar had been limping off and on for a couple months, and I wanted to find out why. When I reminded him that he had seen x-rays 4 weeks ago, he said he knew and just looked at them again that day. There was nothing that indicated OS on those films. My hope was that we caught it early enough.

On December 22, 2008, he had his staples removed, and we met with the oncologist. She would do 4-6 rounds of carboplatin, chest x-rays that day, half way through and at the end of the treatment. So Solar started his chemo with a clear chest x-ray on December 22, 2008. His next treatment was January 13, 2009. On January 21, 2009, I was concerned about panting at night so requested another chest x-ray. It was still clear. On February 4, 2009 Solar was scheduled for his third round of chemo, but his blood levels were too low. We waited another week, and he was able to have dose three on February 18, 2009. Dose four was March 5, 2009 and dose five was March 26, 2009. The final dose was scheduled for April 15, but his blood count was too low. Worse than that, they found three lung mets ranging in size from .8 to 1.3 cm. Our options were a couple of rounds of reduced dosage of adriamycin or go with the Metronomic protocol (Metacam, doxycyclinel & leukeran). I say reduced dosage because Solar’s MDR1 gene was mutant/normal, thus he couldn’t take all types of drugs. Adriamycin is one of the drugs on the list to avoid. After much thought, I decided it was too risky to do that and I thought I wanted to go with the Metronomic protocol, but then decided that a purely homeopathic route was better for Solar. I made that decision because of the change in his attitude when he came off the chemo. He seemed so much happier and had a great appetite. I just wanted him to be happy and continue to eat well for however long we had with him.

We started acupuncture on him, which he really seemed to enjoy. That’s the only vet from whom he wouldn’t try to hide behind his mom when the vet came into the room. We continued those treatments about every 10 days up until five days before he died. He also enjoyed his massage therapy and Reiki with his buddy, Maria. Every time she worked on him, there was such a complete calmness and contentment that came over him.

Solar went everywhere with me and missed a trip only once. That wasn’t a happy weekend for him or Jack. From the moment I left, he lay in front of the door and wouldn’t move. He wouldn’t even go to bed with Jack. Then it started ... He howled most of the night at the door. When he finally stopped howling, he whined. I promised him I would never leave him again, and I didn’t. He went to St. Louis several times with me and made many weekend trips to lots of different places. He would never leave my side. Even when Kate, my best friend, would try to take him out, he wouldn’t go. He would only leave with me.

His last trip was to Pittsburgh with Jack and me. It was a very special weekend just a couple of weeks before he left us. It was on that trip that I knew the end was coming soon. I could see him slowing down tremendously. We spent a lot of time just sitting by the river watching the boats and people go by. He was really content and happy.

On June 22, Kate and Solar’s girlfriend, Riot, came to stay overnight with us. I asked her to come and say goodbye because I knew the time was coming soon. Solar had a good day that day and enjoyed seeing both of them. Riot and Solar gave us Shaman four years ago.

It was the next day when Solar struggled to walk and started walking in circles that Jack and I discussed letting him go. His vet knew how much he hated going there so she agreed to come to our home. The decision was made and the appointment set for Friday, June 26, 2009.

Solar had a horrible night on Thursday. He just couldn’t stop coughing and wasn’t able to walk at all. We tried to reach the vet to come that night, but she wasn’t around. But I guess it was meant to be that way. Once the coughing settled, he had a peaceful night. And I had some very quiet and reflective time with him on Friday morning. It was so peaceful. I told him how very much I loved him and how much I was going to miss him, and we talked about all the fun things we’d done together and about him being able to see Jagr again. There were so many things to talk about in so little time. I could feel him hugging me as he pressed himself against me on the couch. I told him it was ok to leave me and that he would always be alive in my heart. Then it was time. He passed peacefully in my arms with his dad by my side.

The most beautiful picture of him is hanging in our family room watching over us every day. Nothing can replace his love for me, but seeing that picture helps. I have never had a dog love me with such intensity and with all his heart and soul as Solar loved me. I hope I was worthy of that love.

I love and miss you with all my heart, Solar.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Salty’s Badge of Courage

It's rare that people who post to our blog share the graphic nature of their dog's treatment in photos, and I'd like to thank Lonna Coleman and Salty for their permission to allow us to post some of Salty's radiation photos. They might be disturbing for younger readers but we feel they are necessary. All too often veterinarians can unwillingly downplay the effects of radiation (and chemotherapy). As Lonna wrote to me in her email, "While considering radiation as one of the cancer treatments for Salty, I really wanted to see photos of the effects of radiation on the skin but found nothing. So, I was determined to document it during Salty's treatment with the intention of sharing it with others. Our experience has been that vets tend to downplay pet cancer and cancer treatment, possibly for the sake of pet owners. But with me and everyone I've met along the way who have pets with cancer, the fear is 'fear of the unknown.'"

Thankfully, Salty is doing very well, as you'll see in his photos. We can all learn from his experience, and I thank Lonna for contributing this detailed blog of his treatment.

A Tail of Courage over Cancer By Lonna Coleman and Salty

At 7 years old, a lump became visible on Salty’s right hip. My heart dropped! From observation only, our vet diagnosed it as a Lipoma. A sense of relief! A needle biopsy revealed a few round cells. Despair!!! Histopathy of the lump, after removal, reported it as a Grade 1 Soft Tissue Sarcoma, a tumor originating from the nerve sheath. Utter despair!!!!!

Because of the location, the right hip, one of the most common sites to administer a vaccine, our vet believes a vaccination was the cause of Salty’s tumor. [Lonna adds that, "Since Salty's tumor was caused by a vaccine, I've been doing everything possible to support The Rabies Challenge Fund.] I’ve since learned that, in regard to cancer and injection sites, it is extremely important to have our vet map out injection sights on our pet’s chart each and every time they administer a vaccine.

Because Salty’s tumor was in a difficult position, the surgeon was not able to excise the tumor with wide enough margins, typically curative for peripheral nerve sheath tumors. So, radiation therapy was recommended.

We were left with a decision to leave it and have it return within a year as a much more aggressive tumor (possibly a Grade 2 that could metastasis to his lungs), or treat the tumor with radiation, giving Salty only a 16% chance of the cancer returning in 5 years.

We soon discovered that deciding on a treatment was much more difficult than receiving the diagnosis, realizing that our decision would determine Salty’s life span and possibly affect his quality of life.

At times, we were leaning towards diet and supplements alone. But, with the exception of using Maitake mushrooms to successfully treat Lymphoma, there’s insufficient research using diet and supplements in treating cancer.

After considering these facts: Salty’s age, research proving that radiation treatment will give Salty an 84% chance of the tumor not returning within 5 years, and knowing that Salty jumps into everything head first with all of the joy and enthusiasm he can muster, we opted for radiation as well as diet and various supplements (with the exception of antioxidants and wormwood) to aid his body in its fight against cancer. We were told by our vet, as well as the oncologist, that both antioxidants and wormwood can block the effectiveness of the radiation.

In Salty’s case, the oncologist recommended 20 treatments in a period of 5 weeks. Our vet’s only concern was that Salty wouldn’t be the same dog after being anesthetized 20 times, once for each radiation treatment. But, after talking to the oncologist, our vet was extremely happy with both their procedure (an injection of Propofol, intubation and isoflurane gas), and the experience they have gained from performing such a vast number of anesthesias.

The total cost of Salty’s radiation treatments was $5562.40. And, because we didn’t have the money, it was a consideration, but definitely not the determining factor. We ended up applying the entire amount to our credit card.

Salty always entered the Portland Veterinary Oncology Center taking the place by storm, rushing in to meet and greet everyone in the building with his whole body wagging. And then, he led them down to the room containing the linear accelerator saying, "AWOOO" (his expression of ultimate joy) just before they "knocked him out". This “ritual” continued through all 20 treatments.

Each treatment took approximately 30 minutes, from the time Salty went with them until the time he was returned to me (ready to walk out of the building and jump into the car). The bulk of the time was taken up with putting him to sleep and waking him up (the radiation itself took only a matter of seconds).

The last 3 radiation treatments and the following two weeks were the hardest part for both Salty and I. When Salty started experiencing a lot of pain in the irradiated area after his 17th treatment, it was very hard to bring him in for the next 3 treatments, knowing it would hurt him even more after it was already hurting him so much. Salty was also beginning to show signs of a 2nd degree burn in the area of the incision where the tumor was removed. Over the next 3 days, this spread over the entire area. The extreme skin tenderness and the 2nd degree burn were the only side effects Salty experienced from the radiation treatments.

Several times a day, I needed to soak the area with Epsom salts and apply an all purpose salve from Wise Woman Herbals. It was too painful for Salty to accept the salve in the beginning, so I sprayed the area with refrigerated Aloe Vera until I could apply the salve.

Our greatest challenge was preventing Salty from licking the irradiated area, and it was vital that he didn’t so as not to affect the healing process. We were told that it was very important to prevent him from scratching, licking or chewing, since the skin in this area is easily injured. After several days of frustration and sleepless nights, I came up with a solution that worked, an E-collar AND a No Bite Collar because neither one of them worked alone!

It took almost 3 weeks after the final radiation treatment for the entire area to heal, and the only thing we are presently applying to his skin is Vitamin E. We were told that the side-effects of the radiation on the skin and coat of dogs receiving the same treatment can vary with each dog. So, we can only wait and see, but Salty’s hair has been coming in on the outer edges and slowly working its way towards the center (causing the area to become smaller as time goes by).

We’ve never regretted our decision, especially after meeting and talking with a lady who was going to the Oncology center during the same period of time. She was having her cat treated with radiation for a Soft Tissue Sarcoma as well. Her vet removed it once, it returned in 6 months, her vet removed it again, it returned in 3 months, her vet removed it again, it returned in 1 month. At that point, she opted for radiation treatment. I was told that Salty would have had the same case scenario if we didn’t choose radiation. After radiation, there’s only a 16% chance that the cancer will return in 5 years. We’re hoping that Salty will be within the 84%!

photos from top to bottom:

Salty at AKC Central Point 2009
Salty and friend
Salty's surgical/radiation wound
Wound healing nicely
"Open Jumpers"
"Open Weavers"
"I AM A Cancer Survivor!"

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kava and Taz by Laureen Straw

I had the pleasure of meeting Luke, Murphy and Hudson at the Berks County Animal Rescue League's "Carnival for the Animals" in the Reading, PA. area on October 11. Poor Luke didn't even have a chance to sit down at his booth with the boys before I approached him and bombed him with questions. He was very gracious and answered every one of them. I only recently learned about his adventure and the disease he is bringing so much attention to...cancer. I lost one of my Schipperkes, Kava, in June of this year and I have another one, Taz, who's days with us are numbered.

Luke asked that I email my story so here it is as best as I can tell it.........

My husband and I adopted Kava in March 2001 from the Berks County Animal Rescue League. I'll never forget the day I saw him. I went in to donate supplies and walked through to see the animals. There he was in a kennel as soon as I walked through the door. He had a squeaky toy in his cage and brought it over to me and dropped it at the door with the biggest doggy smile I had ever seen. I fell in love instantly and my husband and I adopted him. It was obvious he had a rough life until then. At the time, our vet estimated he was about 8 years old. When we brought him home, he and our other Schip, Taz, became buddies and our favorite thing to do was to go for walks together along the trails of Blue Marsh Lake.

Last October, Kava developed a tumor on his paw that was surgically removed and disintegrated so they could not conclusively tell if it was cancerous. After that, his weight started dropping and he managed to stay with us until June of this year. It wasn't proven but we are all pretty sure it was cancer. He was always such a happy boy and gave us so many years of joy. Above is a picture of him from October of last year at Halloween.

Now, Taz has a large inoperable tumor on his side and is also losing weight rapidly. Today is his birthday...He is 17 years old! Here is a picture of him with his party hat right after having some special treats to celebrate. We know our time with him is limited and every day is precious as it was with Kava. We take comfort in knowing Kava is waiting for him at the Rainbow Bridge where they will be together again.

I lost both parents and other family members to cancer. It is a disease I would like to see a cure for in my lifetime for both people and animals. As I told Luke I admire him and the boys for drawing awareness and support for a most worthwhile cause. I wish him, Murphy and Hudson a safe journey!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bon by Linda M. Scarborough

I wanted to share the following story about my faithful companion. I became aware of you and your efforts today and I can't thank you enough for what you are doing for canine cancer. It is a passion for me and Malcolm's story has touched me deeply. I hope my story will inspire you and your efforts! Thank you!!!

My golden retriever is nine years old now. March 13, 2009 was his second anniversary as a cancer survivor.

In January 2007, I came home from work one evening and was sitting in my computer chair. My dog, sitting facing me, was still excited that I was finally home. As he was panting with his mouth open, I noticed a lump between his cheek and his jaw on the inside of his mouth. I called my husband to the room since I had never noticed this before. Upon getting a second opinion from my husband, we made an appointment to see our vet that weekend. Our vet said the lump needed to be removed and biopsied. Following the outpatient surgery, he said further steps would have to be taken if the area grew back. We watched and waited. The report on the biopsied area came back "inconclusive." Bonham Lance, "Bon" as we call him, returned for his check up after a few weeks and the vet confirmed that the lump was growing again.

Our veterinarian referred us to the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. I started talking with my friends and family that had experienced treatment with their pets at that facility. Based on their experiences, I prepared to spend several hours meeting with experts that could hopefully diagnose and cure my beloved pet. A young student named "Maggie" seemed very compassionate as she examined Bon. Then a young man examined him and didn't hesitate to tell us that Bon would be staying with them. He would have surgery the following day to remove his lower jaw. They told us that they would try to leave his left canine tooth if possible. I wasn't prepared to hear that we would be leaving him and that surgery would be performed so soon. My emotions got the best of me in that stark examining room and the tears continued to flow as I drove back home without my dear dog.

Once I got home, I began to research canine mouth cancer online. I saw some photographs that showed dogs with their tongue dangling out of the side of their mouth. I also read that they would drool and slobber as a result of this operation. I am thankful that I prepared myself for the cosmetic changes that could occur as a result of this operation.

As I sat nervously at my desk the next day, Maggie called frequently to give me updates on his surgery and his recovery progress. I just kept telling myself that "he is young and strong and he will be okay." Maggie finally revealed that they had to remove his canine tooth in order to get enough of a margin on each side to assure that the cancer had been completely removed.

Bon continued to make great strides with his recovery and we were actually able to pick him up a few days earlier than expected. It took about two weeks before we received the official results of his surgery, but we finally learned that all of the cancer had been successfully removed.

The next few months were learning experiences for all of us. He wore a "lampshade" as we called it, but it was actually an "E-collar" to prevent him from scratching his mouth while it continued to heal.

When he was a puppy, we had struggled to find a food that he liked. He had a sensitive stomach and sensitive skin and we settled on a special dry food that seemed to agree with him.

Throughout the first seven years of his life, he had never really had a big appetite like most dogs. Changes followed his operation. The Blacksburg vet hospital sent us home with canned food and instructed us to make the food into small balls for him to eat. It was very discouraging at first as he struggled to learn how to chew and manipulate this new food in his mouth. His mouth would go one way and his tongue would go another. It reminded me of a young child eating solid food for the first time. It was not a neat process. He didn't seem to have any desire for water and we worried about dehydration. After consulting with the vet, they instructed us to put chicken broth in the water to create a stronger desire for him to drink. We were also told that he was actually getting a sufficient amount of water from the canned food and that he may not drink as much as when he was eating dry food. We eventually weaned him off of the chicken broth and now he drinks regularly and has the best appetite that he has ever had in his life.

I found myself always looking for easier ways for him to eat. I purchased a kitchen gadget used for making melon balls and I use this to scoop his food into edible meatballs from the can. I also discovered a large plastic, elevated feeder with two wide bowls. Not only has this made it easier for him to eat, it has made it easier for me to clean.

We had been living in Roanoke, Virginia during this time. A week after Bon's surgery, my husband found out that we would be relocating to Richmond with his job. My first thought was that we would be forced to leave our wonderful vet. We moved to Richmond in June 2007 and I spent the first few weeks in our new city visiting dozens of veterinary facilities throughout the area to find the perfect place that could accommodate our dog for boarding and care. I am happy to report that we have been very pleased with our final decision.

Last year on one of our daily walks following his surgery, a lady yelled at us to see if our dog would like a drink from her water hose. While we had quickly adapted to his dangling tongue, it was apparent that others, like our neighbor, thought he looked extremely thirsty.

Most recently while we sat in the waiting room at the veterinary office, one man commented to his wife that our dog had the longest tongue that he had ever seen. We never stop to elaborate on why our dog has a long tongue as we have come to overlook this characteristic that makes him look a bit different than other dogs.

We will celebrate his tenth birthday in November and hope to have our wonderful companion around for many more years to come!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Meggie’s Story by Cindy Taylor


I was in a meeting at work when a colleague tracked me down, phone message in hand. Call your doctor, it said, and further down the note was the phone number of my veterinarian, Dr Debbie Cowan (NCSU DVM - 93). A chill went through me. Three nights before I’d felt swollen glands under my nine-year-old golden retriever’s neck, the next morning, a trip to the vet’s office, then a fine needle aspirate. With tears in her voice, I heard Dr Cowan say, “Meggie has lymphoma.” It was January 2008 and the next week a biopsy confirmed the results. Without hesitating, we had an appointment with the NCSU vet school oncologists and Meggie’s journey began.

Meggie was my son’s dog. Chosen from her litter at 4 weeks old, she came to live with us a few weeks later and this family of two suddenly couldn’t remember what life was like without a golden retriever to share it. Now nine years later, my son was a sophomore at NCSU and Meggie had become my dog, my reason to come home each day. I wasn’t ready to face life without her.

The oncologists were straight to the point; no treatment meant Meggie had 4-6 weeks to live. Unacceptable. Steroid treatment alone could give her a couple months. Not enough time. Full chemotherapy followed by half-body radiation treatments was the best they could offer at the time. A year, maybe more if we were lucky. “Go for it,” I said.

Meggie‘s chemo was complicated by her heart murmur and a difficult reaction to one of the chemo drugs. Also she was diagnosed t-cell lymphoma, the more aggressive form, but her remission came fast and it stuck. By the summer of 2008, Megs had finished radiation and though her beautiful coat came out by the handful, she was by all accounts, well and cancer free.

By the fall of 2008 her coat was coming back and the itch she’d developed in the hot summer months was subsiding. Still during the weekend of Thanksgiving, I knew something was terribly wrong. An emergency trip to Raleigh found Meggie admitted to ICU with aspiration pneumonia and a diagnosis of megaesophagus. Had her lymphoma returned undetected? Oncology resident Dr Angela McCleary-Wheeler worked tirelessly, questioning, researching, and looking for an answer and a treatment. No lymphoma was found, but a neurological condition, myasthenia gravis, was later determined. I was told that megaesophagus dogs don’t usually live long, but with new methods of feeding Meggie, we adjusted and amazingly Meggie’s energy returned to pre-cancer levels. The weeks of questioning had brought about a realization: Meggie was alive 11 months after a diagnosis of t-cell lymphoma. “A miracle,” the oncologists said.

With Meggie’s renewed spirit I began to count the months. Her year anniversary came and went and we decided it was time to think about giving back.

Ironically, the month before Meggie was diagnosed, I had read of Morris Animal Foundation’s Cure Canine Cancer Campaign. I ordered Meggie a dog tag that contributed and learned of the connection between canine cancer and human cancer. A cure for one is a cure for both.

Knowing that our local American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life would be held in the spring, I wanted Meggie to walk the Survivor Lap. Would a dog be allowed? I emailed the organizers and found the reaction overwhelming. They would be thrilled for Meggie to participate! I immediately created her a Relay event page and posted it on the Golden Retriever Forum, whose members had been my emotional support during Meggie’s treatment. Within minutes, donations began to add up. What fun, I thought; Meggie can raise some money for cancer research.

Within twenty-four hours, Meggie had exceeded her $200 goal and still the donations came. People began donating in memory of their beloved dogs lost to this devastating disease, and in honor of the dogs that currently shared their lives.

Soon a new idea evolved; Meggie’s Survivor Lap would embrace the memory of the dogs on her fundraising scroll. Her purple survivor shirt was altered to fit and it began to quickly fill with names like, Bailey, Chance, Tess and Riley.

One member wrote a news release and shared it with local and national media. The Winston-Salem television station, WXII, picked up the story and posted it on their web page. Meggie was invited on their morning show the day of the Relay and the evening news covered her lap, which she proudly led as the Stokes County Relay for Life official mascot.

Meggie collected donations from 28 states, Canada, The United Kingdom and Australia. The $3907 she raised was the highest of any individual to walk in her event this year.

The messages from people telling me how much Meggie means to them, by surviving the odds, walking Relay, being an ambassador of hope, helping educate others on the connection between canine cancer and human cancer keep coming. The evening of the Relay, Meggie rode into the high school stadium in her wagon lovingly decorated by people involved in the event, people we had never personally met. All around we heard excited voices saying, “There’s Meggie!” “Meggie’s here!” and “I saw her on the news!”

Meggie is now 11-years-old and maintaining her remission. She is still my reason to come home each day and I am greeted with joy and bouncing and golden smiles. But she no longer belongs to just me. I share her with the people around the world who call her their hero. And for one special night in May, I shared her with the people of Stokes County, North Carolina.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bailey by Sarah Fairbrother

Bailey came to our home as a foster dog through Rudy's Rescue, a Labrador Retriever rescue in Rochester, NY that rescues dogs from kill shelters all over the country and gives them a second chance at life by finding them forever homes. Bailey’s owners had decided to move out of state and left her off the packing list.

She was in rough shape, even for a 10 year old Lab. She hadn't been vaccinated properly in a few years; her teeth were worn and yellow; arthritis caused her to hobble; and she had two softball-sized fatty growths, one on her side and one in her groin area, both of which hampered her mobility even further.

In the beginning she could barely make it up and down the four steps on our porch to go outside for the bathroom. She spent all her time in her crate, often refusing to come out. She was sad, confused and depressed.

Thinking the growths on her side and groin were merely fatty deposits, we still decided that removing them could do nothing but improve her quality of life. We soon heard back from the vet that the growths were malignant Grade 3 tumors. We were devastated but wouldn't know more about her prognosis until we could get her in a week later for a chest x-ray.

In just a week and a half after her surgery, Bailey blossomed and her personality was finally shining through. She would excitedly jump around and play with our two other dogs, even play with toys and bring them to us to tug or throw for her. So the bad news that we assumed was imminent was going to be tough for us to swallow. Here is this dog that finally started living after what we can only imagine was a string of bad years being neglected and unloved… We knew one thing for certain. Regardless of the news we were about the hear, we would do everything in our power to make her remaining time the best it could be, whether it be years or just a few days.

The day we went back to get the results of the chest x-ray was tough. The week leading up to her appointment felt like an eternity, not knowing what we were going to hear, but preparing for the worst. Dr. H. walked into the room and delivered the news. He was shocked at what the x-rays had revealed. He could not be happier about what he saw–nothing! He was expecting her to be riddled with nodules of tumors throughout her body and that just wasn't the case. She was tumor free. He explained to us that the tumors were mast cell tumors, a form of sarcoma that was localized to the growths themselves. It's hard to say what the progression of the tumors were since we don't know how long they were there, but we do know that they are history!

We truly believe that Rudy's Rescue saved Bailey's life. And we are very proud to be a small piece in the puzzle that makes it possible for Rudy's to operate and continue to save the world, one dog at a time. Bailey looked cancer square in the face, saw the new lease on life that Rudy’s granted her and kicked its butt. And now she's running and playing and loving life, and certainly not looking back. TAKE THAT CANCER!

We hope to find Bailey a forever home so she can live out the rest of her retirement and get all the belly rubs, ear scratches and love she could ever possibly want. Her profile and information can be found at www.RudysRescue.org where she and several other Labs are awaiting the loving homes that they deserve.

We hope that someday Rudy’s Rescue will no longer be needed and every animal will have a place to call home, but in the meantime we will continue to be the voice for these animals and let them into our hearts and homes so that they can have a better life.

Rocky’s Story by Kathy Tristan

Valentine’s day 2001. Our daughter, Eileen, who was a junior in high school, brought home a black and tan ball of fur with huge paws and announced she had bought a Rottweiler. My husband, John, less than thrilled, asked who was going to take care of him. Eileen said “I am. He’s mine.”

It didn’t take long for the whole family to fall head over heels in love with the fur ball who came to be known as “Rocky” or “Rocky Boy” or “Rockers” or “Rocky Poo.” He was obviously intelligent. We all got involved with his care and training. For the first couple of weeks I took him to work with me and kept him in my office while I taught my P.E. classes at a local elementary. After a bit I came home during the day to let him out and play with him for a while. Eileen got a real taste of “motherhood” when he wouldn’t sleep at night and she had to take care of him and get up in the morning for school.

Time went on and the boy grew. AND THE FEET KEPT GROWING! By the time he was finished growing he was 122 pounds and his feet were bigger than the palm of my hand. He was a gentle giant and oh so loved.

The true test of Eileen being able to take care of him came on July 11, 2007. Eileen and I took Rocky to the vet a week earlier because we noticed he was limping yet it didn’t seem to slow him down much. The vet, not wanting to get too invasive, thought maybe he had strained his ankle joint from all the hard running and cutting he did or was developing arthritis so he prescribed anti-inflammatories and said if it didn’t look like it was getting any better by the following Monday to bring him back in and he’d take an x-ray.

It didn’t get any better. In fact it seemed to be getting a little worse. So, back we go to the vet. Dr. Craig Meyer of Lake Travis Animal Hospital in Austin, Texas took the x-ray and came back to show us, “The last thing I thought this would be…”. He truly thought he would see some arthritis but he said the word…OSTEOSARCOMA. I knew immediately what he was saying but knew I had to hold it together for Eileen who was now a senior in college. In fact she was in her last semester. She waited to hear him explain what this meant. She held it together pretty well until we went to check out. She gave me her wallet and she took Rocky outside and cried like she had never cried before. Upon leaving the clinic we both were sobbing.

I called John and he was devastated. Eileen called her boyfriend and he was in shock. The hardest part was yet to come. Telling Eileen’s siblings who were 13 and 19. As soon as we got home, Brianne, the 13 year old, asked what the doctor said. I held her and then told her that Rocky had cancer. She immediately started to scream, “NO!” and fell into a lump on the floor. Ian, the 19 year old wasn’t home. I called him to see when he would be home. He was at lunch with his girlfriend. He also asked what the doctor said. I told him I would talk to him when he got home. He insisted I tell him. I kept insisting I would tell him when he got home. Finally, he broke me and I told him Rocky had bone cancer. The line went silent. In 5 minutes Ian came in the front door. And immediately went to Rocky and bawled like a baby. He and his girlfriend had immediately left the restaurant and come home.

We then told the family of the options and prognosis. Eileen called to make an appointment with the Texas Veterinary Oncology Clinic in Round Rock, Texas, a short 8-9 mile drive from our house. We insisted they be frank. The doctor explained that amputation and 4 rounds of chemo were the protocol. Eileen asked if that would cure him and she said, “More than likely not. It would actually stimulate the cells to spread.” Kind of like when the cat’s away the mice will play scenario. Amputate the source and the cells get even more aggressive. But Eileen heard the words 4 weeks if you do nothing and 9 months if you do the protocol. That’s all she needed to hear. Yet, she had a very difficult time making her final decision. She didn’t want to make the wrong decision. After all, what if Rocky didn’t take to only having 3 legs? She didn’t want him to be mad at her.

I took the other road and started surfing the web. I found a Yahoo group called “www.bonecancerdogs.org.” I found this group to be more than helpful yet I couldn’t get Eileen to look at them. It was as if she wanted to avoid dealing with the whole thing. Yet she knew she had to make a decision. Finally, after many conversations with her, one night while she was in the shower I printed and placed on her bed excerpts from the site. I think the most compelling thing I put in the document was “Whatever decision you make it will be the right one for you and your dog.” She came out to tell everyone goodnight and turned to go to bed and sat down on the step in our living room and began to cry. I asked her what was wrong. She said, “I know Rocky needs the surgery. I don’t want him to be in pain.” Of course, in my mind I’m screaming, “THANK GOD. We finally have a decision.” But it had to be her decision. After all, as she told us 6 ½ years earlier he was her dog. So, we began to think of how she could pay for all of this. Remember, she is a senior in college. We gave her a car for her graduation so she decided to take out a bank loan and put her car up for collateral.

July 24, 2007. Surgery day. Rocky goes in for the amputation. He ended up staying until the 26th. He wasn’t up and moving like they wanted him to be. They assured us he would be back to his old self in a few days. HA! Rocky was depressed, wouldn’t get up for anything. Water was brought to him to drink and food was literally shoved in his mouth. This went on for almost 3 weeks. The first weekend in August, Brianne and I were going out of town and Eileen had a weekend babysitting job, leaving John to care for the depressed pup. He was scared to death because he didn’t want anything to happen on his watch. He was able to get Rocky to eat though. He made him some chicken and rice and he gulped it down so when I got back we made some more and he wouldn’t touch it. So, I did something I swore I would never do. I started making him doggie versions of people food. Chicken liver meatloaf. See, I didn’t want him to get used to this diet because our budget just couldn’t afford it. So, we gradually weaned him from the special diet and mixed his regular food into it until the special food was all gone. He was still moping around and was on and off his food.

One night at about 1 am (I am off in the summer and I am a night owl) the kids and I were watching TV when Rocky stood up and started staring in the direction of the fireplace and dancing around. We looked but didn’t see what he was looking at. Finally, Ian said, “Mom, he’s looking at his leash.” As soon as I picked it up Rocky went nuts. Jumping, dancing, barking, panting. So I moved towards the door and opened it. He flew out the door and kept going. We had finally reached the turning point. He didn’t ever get that leash on him that night. I jogged with him. We came back and everyone was so excited. Rocky was back!

Rocky did quite well through all of his chemo treatments and all his chest x-rays were coming back clear. The oncologist was even excited. She told us at his last appointment that he no longer needed to come in for x-rays. At that point even she thought he had a chance. This was in April 2008. The nine month mark since his diagnosis and amputation.

In December 2008 he wasn’t eating much and was lethargic. I called Eileen and she made an appointment with Dr. Craig. He didn’t see anything at this point. He had only lost about 3 pounds but his weight was still over 100 which we were told was the weight we wanted to keep him above. See he dropped from 122 to 116 right after the surgery and finally settled in at 106.

After Christmas the lack of appetite continued as well as the lethargy. So, we took Rocky back to Dr. Craig. He did a CBC and an x-ray. His white cell count was not where it should be and the x-ray showed fluid in his lungs as well as what appeared to be some masses. These masses also appeared on his upper heart and liver. He went ahead and drained the fluid and said to keep an eye on him. It was a Friday evening just before closing time. He said if we needed anything to call him during the night. If we felt he needed more fluid drained to come back and they would take care of it. We went back the next morning. Dr. Jason Foster took Rocky and drained a liter of fluid off his lungs. Jason was direct as I had asked him to be. He said we needed to say our goodbyes over the weekend and expect for Rocky to leave us during the next week. Eileen was the strong one this time. I completely broke down crying. Eileen said, “Mom stop.” We drove home in silence. This day was exactly 18 months since his diagnosis.

I spoke with Dr. Craig during the week about how to handle the euthanasia. I told him Eileen wanted Rocky buried in the backyard and he agreed to come to the house at the end of the day on January 15, 2009. The night of the 14th Rocky hardly slept because he had such a hard time breathing. Eileen woke me at 3 AM and I told her it was time to put him out of his misery. She agreed. I told her I’d call Dr. Craig first thing in the morning to alter our plans. We would now take Rocky to the clinic and then bring him back home. The family wanted to be there. All except Brianne who went on to school. I think she didn’t want to see him after he was put down. So, I called Dr. Craig but he wasn’t in yet. He called me back as I was taking Brianne to school. He said he would still come to the house as soon as he could rearrange the schedule. So, I called home and told John and Eileen. What I didn’t know was they had already coaxed Rocky into the car. Poor baby. So, now they had to take him out and get him back into the house.

When Dr. Craig got to the house Rocky was lying on a sheet on the living room floor. We all circled around him. We each had a hand on Rocky. He looked at all of us as if to say, “It’s been a fun ride, thanks for all the love and thank you for doing this for me.” Dr. Craig began the cocktail. I held Rocky’s head in my hand and he peacefully drifted away to The Bridge where he had 4 legs and was once again healthy.

After Dr. Craig left we carried him in a wagon to the spot waiting for him under his oak tree. We told him goodbye one last time. He was lowered into the crevice in the ground facing the tree. Eileen tucked his favorite toy under his remaining front leg, we gave him a few more pats and touches, then covered him in the sheet he was carried out in and began to cover him with dirt. Understand, we live in the hill country in central Texas so the dirt doesn’t run very deep. We bought bags of top soil to cover him. Ceremoniously, we placed the dirt over him. Mourning doves flew from the tree at that moment. WOW! What a sign.

My hardest day was the next one when I went back to work. Having to keep it together all day. I came home and went outside to sit by Rocky and the tears just flowed. I sobbed for a solid half hour. I’m sure my neighbor behind me thought I was nuts. Oh well.

The days have slowly gotten easier but even sometimes seeing his picture in the digital frame in the living room can cause me to get teary eyed. Brianne finally dealt with it in her own way. We were in the backyard pouring more dirt over Rocky and I asked her to come help. She poured the last bag over him and the tears finally began to flow. At that moment she decided we needed to build a sitting area around Rocky. Kind of a meditation spot. A place to go and think. So, we have made plans and cleared the area of the kids old playscape. When the weather cools down from the 100+ we are now having we plan to really get started on it.

Dr. Craig has been a godsend. Not only did he care for Rocky but he visited with me at school on occasion to see how everyone was holding up. See, Dr. Craig is the husband of one of our teachers and also a parent at my school. Thank you for all you did to make this journey more bearable.

Most of all, thank you Eileen for bringing this beautiful boy we called Rocky into our lives.

Rocky
January 7, 2001 – January 15, 2009

Lexie by Bekye Eckert

We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan. - Irving Townsend

Lexie came into my life after I received this email from an Ohio shelter’s rescue coordinator on January 2, 2007:

Snowball and Baby Girl are both eight years old. Neither one has any teeth. Snowball has an underarm tumor that needs veterinary attention. Their owner is now in a nursing home and has not been able to properly care for them for a long time. They are both in need of a grooming. Neither dog has ever been around children. If you can help with either of these two girls, please contact me immediately.

One look at the picture attached to the email and I was determined to move heaven and earth to save those little girls! They had arrived at the shelter filthy, matted, toothless and terrified. Baby Girl (now Lexie) had a crude tattoo in her ear, indicating she might have been a breeder dog in one of Ohio’s many puppy mills. Her companion’s “underarm tumor” was the size of a tangerine! Given their age, lack of socialization and deplorable physical condition, their chances of being adopted were nil. In fact, many dogs who arrive at shelters with tumors like Snowball (now Cassandra, nicknamed Sassy) had, would have been immediately euthanized.

The small dog rescue group I founded, New Beginnings Shih Tzu (& Friends) Rescue, accepted both girls into the foster program. My friend and fellow rescue volunteer Sharon Hines in Columbus coordinated the intake and temp fostered them until transport to me in Milwaukee. When they arrived, Sassy had just gone into heat, so we had to wait 8 nail-biting weeks before her tumor could be removed, and both girls spayed. Thankfully the tumor was benign. By the time these tiny diamonds in the rough blossomed into the beautiful gems I knew they were, they had totally taken up residence in my heart. In 2008 the girls and I moved to Maryland to join my fiancé, John, and Sharon adopted them for us as a wedding present. Hence they have names that weigh more than they do!

In early 2009, nearly two years to the day since Sassy’s successful mammary tumor surgery, we noticed a small hard lump on Lexie’s abdomen. Lexie was as bright-eyed, perky and happy as ever, but knowing the increased mammary cancer risks of dogs spayed later in life, we opted for surgical removal even though she was ten years old. My vet discovered two other, smaller lumps during the surgery and all were biopsied. We weren’t particularly worried as Lexie did not act sick, so the biopsy report was unexpected and totally devastating: malignant metastatic mammary cancer with lymphatic involvement. I cried for days; the very thought of this beautiful little girl’s body being invaded by such a horrible disease was just so awful.

John and I are no strangers to cancer. John’s late wife, Peggy, a passionate advocate for the animals and longtime cat rescuer, battled with cancer for four years before it extinguished her life far too young. I do senior and special needs rescue and have lost seven precious little ones to it: Harley in 2003, Lady Jane and Hiker in 2004, Tiki and JJ in 2005, Blaze in 2007 (two months after Lexie’s rescue), and Franklin in 2009 (two months after Lexie’s diagnosis). But I don’t care how many times you lose loved ones, it never gets easier. And it’s especially heartbreaking watching one as incredibly sweet and loving as Lexie truly need a miracle.

Lexie recovered rapidly and well from her first surgery. As soon as I would let her out of the “sick bed” (a portable soft-sided playpen I keep for dogs in recovery) she immediately returned to her first alert duties, barking at the outside cats and running to the door to announce the arrival of just about anything or nothing at all. She was lively and playful and still did not act sick.

We began supplementing Lexie’s diet with Colostrum, Missing Link and fish oil capsules, which Lexie didn’t mind so long as they were presented properly: surrounded by copious amounts of Braunsweiger. (Ick! says me, the vegetarian.)

In late June 2009 (four months after the original surgery) the evil disease reared its ugly head again. We found a small hard lump on her shoulder and another one on her abdomen near the original surgical site. And to compound the terrifying turn of events Lexie, who was never a big eater anyway, was starting to lose weight. John and I were so scared for her that we couldn’t even talk about it. Our vet ran her through all the tests (again) to determine her suitability for surgery (again). While we both know that with her diagnosis all we were doing was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, we and Dr. Gividen agreed that if surgery could give her additional time/quality of life, it was worth it.

She was determined to be as good a surgical candidate as she could be given her age and disease; however, the weight loss was a concern. We started giving her Pepcid to quell nausea and “doggie junk food” to tempt her palate, and even resorted to hand-feeding her when we couldn’t inspire her to eat any other way. She obligingly gained back nearly half of the pound she lost. When you have a 7-lb dog with malignant cancer, you celebrate even the smallest of victories.

Lexie underwent a second surgery on July 24 to remove the new tumors, which we had biopsied. The report confirmed our worst fears: more malignant metastatic cancer which had spread either through the lymphatic or vascular systems. The margins weren’t “clean” so the devastating disease is still in here, lurking, waiting to strike again. Every day is bittersweet … full of gratitude that she is still here and enjoying quality of life, but tinged with the sobering knowledge of the inevitable.

John and I celebrated our one year anniversary on August 1, 2009, with our precious little Lexie still bright-eyed, happy and loving, and diligently performing her first alert duties. We agreed to serve on the committee for a Blessing of the Animals to be held at our parish on October 4, and we hope our Lexie will be there with us to be blessed at that ceremony. We know time is not on her side or ours, but we continue to pray for a miracle cure for the devastating disease of canine cancer.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chance – A Bond That Will Never Be Broken by Christin Lynch

Where do I begin with Chance? Well, it all started about 10 ½ years ago when I received a phone call from a friend who had a puppy that she could not keep. I had just moved out of my parents’ house and was missing my pets from home. What was the harm in looking, I thought. Well, it was love at first sight. There before me was this tiny little bright white pup trying to climb onto the bed. He was way too small to get up there, and danced around hopping on his back feet till he noticed that there was someone new in the room. He was the cutest thing that I had ever seen and we instantly hit it off.

I took him home and was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to take care of him so I called my mom and asked for help. She told me to schedule an appointment at a local vet, find a local pet store and stock up on chew toys ‘cause he was going to need them. Then she asked me what I had named him. Name…hmm. I hadn’t thought about that until I remembered that there was this cute dog in a movie that he looked like and his name was Chance. Chance sounded like a good name too but it was a shame he would never really know that he had a name.

After a couple of months I had noticed that he never came to me when I called his name. Sure, he came when I motioned him to come but I never put the two together. So I took him back to the vet and there I found out that my cute little pup was deaf. They had told me that his ear canals were not fully developed and that I was in for some hard work.

Chance being deaf never really was that difficult to adjust to. We started off slow with hand signals and we had so much trust in each other that it almost came naturally. Before I knew it, he would come, sit, stay, shake, and lie down. He also never would go further than maybe 20 feet before checking to see where I was. So it all worked out and I never really thought too much about it. I talked to him, called his name when I motioned for him to come; it was, dare I say, easy for us.

Over the years we shared many memories that I will cherish forever. From camping trips and lake visits. Oh yeah, he even rode sea-dos with us at the lake. We covered many miles together. One of Chance’s favorite places was the beach. He loved to swim. It didn’t matter where we were – if there was water he was in it. My mom had a swimming pool and he would never get out of it. He loved jumping off the diving board, especially onto your head. If you were floating on a raft he would make every effort to get onto it too.

All these great memories were much needed because on May 21st the worst news was delivered to me and that was when he was diagnosed with lymphoma. I had noticed some hard small balls in his throat and when I had made an appointment with our vet she knew that what I had said would not come with any good news.

I opted for an alternative approach with Chance because I had heard so many mixed things about chemo. We decided that a quality of life would be better than quantity. My regular vet prescribed him some prednisone and our holistic vet started him on herbal supplements and tweaked his diet a little. It seemed like things were going well but about 3 weeks into it his lymph nodes had gone up again, so we tried a higher dose of the prednisone for a few days and it worked but didn’t work for long. We weren’t sure how far along he was but it wasn’t looking good. I made the best of it and spent every moment I could with him making new memories.

What made things easier for both of us was Chance was able to go to work with me and the support that I had from my co-workers and friends was amazing. We lived every minute to the fullest until he looked at me with those huge brown eyes and told me that it was time. The hardest part was trying not to be selfish and keep him around even though what I wanted for him was peace and comfort. I made the hardest decision of my life but it was the best for my friend and loving companion of 10 ½ years.

I think about him every day and even though he is not here physically anymore he lives inside me and I can feel his presence everywhere. I love my Chance and I thank him for making me a better person and am so happy to have shared part of my life with him. I grew up with him from that excited nineteen-year-old girl and that 7-week-old puppy, we formed a bond that will never be broken.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lily of My Heart by Rebecca Forrest

We had a dog that died of cancer. She was our sweet Lily girl, a black-and-white and speckled border collie.

Lily lived a courageous life. She was diagnosed with diabetes when she was about two years old. From then on, she got two insulin shots a day and had hundreds of blood tests.

She was wonderful through all of that. She never flinched from her shots, and if we were late in getting one to her, she’d remind us. She might have been looking forward to the treat she got after each injection—the only treats we could give her.

In addition, Lily ended up with intermittent seizures. She even got good at letting me know when one was coming, so I could often get her outside in an open grassy area where she (and the carpeting indoors) would be safest.

But all through that, she was a fun, demanding, mischievous, playful, and affectionate girl. She loved to chew on the toughest toys—she destroyed Kongs regularly. And she also liked the difficult puzzle toys that smart dogs thrive on. One of her greatest joys was to unwrap presents on Christmas and eviscerate a bunch of plush squeaky toys.

She went on for more than nine years with her diabetes. She was with me through the loss of my husband Steve and the long lonely years that followed. And she was with me when I met and fell in love with Virgil, now my husband and best friend. I think she loved Virgil as much as I did.

Finally, late in November of 2008, Lily had what looked like swollen glands in her throat. When we took her to the vet, she was diagnosed with lymphoma, but the outlook was good.

However, she was almost unable to tolerate the chemo treatments. After the second treatment, when she was dreadfully sick, we said “That’s enough.” We couldn’t put her through any more. Fortunately, the chemo had been partially effective at reducing her tumors, so she recovered enough to go on for a couple of weeks.

As December progressed, I bought and wrapped presents for her and for our other dogs, 12-year-old Alex (a black lab) and 10-year-old Glory (a red fawn greyhound). Lily was slowing down, but still seemed bright and willing to go on a little further.

We really hoped that she would make it to Christmas day so that she could unwrap her presents. Each day, we weren’t sure. But the days finally passed.

On Christmas morning, we had all three dogs and Lucy, our tabby cat, in the living room with us by the tree. Lily and Alex each opened multiple presents. (Glory and Lucy prefer to observe.) Lily bounced around, shaking the toys, and going first for the juicy squeaker. She and Alex flung white fluff all around the room, until it looked like there had been a snowfall. Oh, they had such fun. Lily played and played, going from one toy to another.

Virgil and I didn’t even think of opening our own gifts or even having breakfast. We stayed in the living room with the animals for hours, until Lily was finally worn out. She fell asleep in a nest of white fluff and torn-up toys.

Well, that was Lily’s last good day. Two days later, we had to let her go. Oh, how we both miss her. She was my heart dog. My sweet Lily Minkle.

I do think she would be proud to know that we have since opened our hearts to two greyhounds, brindle Logan and black Zelda.

I’ve included some pictures of Lily in my arms as a puppy, Lily and Alex together, red fawn Glory, tabby Lucy, Logan, and Zelda.

Marley and Me by Jennifer Walton


This is my story of Marley Rasta Dog, my best friend and co-pilot in life.

Eleven years ago my life changed forever. I was living in Baltimore and working at a little pub in Fell’s Point, also going to college at night. I was 23 years old and on my own. As I came home one night I was startled to see a shadow moving through my trash can out front, and upon closer inspection realised it was a dog. Now I was always a cat person until this point, and had never had a dog of my own. I had no idea the deep and spiritual connection one could have with an animal – but my heart went out to this guy. He was young, and shaved to the skin. Someone had spray painted him with green paint, the words “Cops Suck” down his sides. He had a huge chain choker on his neck, but to this day remember the huge silly grin he gave me as I looked down at him. I was hooked. I opened my apartment door and he ran straight in and plopped down as if at home! Being unsure of what to do I left the door open a jar, in case he just wanted a moment’s reprieve. He looked at me and bounded back out the door, as if wanting to play or chase something. I followed and watched as he ran straight into the street and was almost hit by a car on the busy street.

That is all it took for me to decide it was no longer HIS choice what he was going to do, but mine. In the subsequent 10 years, admittedly tables have turned, and he has had his way more often than not! But this was a big decision, keeping this dog. At first I thought I would only keep him until I could find a good home! I was naive and did not realise that was my first day as Marley’s mom. So, there I was with a dog that was shaved to the skin, slept no longer than 15 minutes at a time, was on constant alert, and already tickled me to death. Bob Marley was playing on my radio, and therefore, Marley was born, my Roots Rock Reggae dog.

The following months were hard as I also realised Marley was prone to attacking children, or essentially anything under 3 foot tall. It was seen as a threat and I believe it has always been because he was abused at some point before I found him at around the age of 2. He also had trouble being around men, but not to the extent that he was around children. I thought to myself over and over, how can I keep a dog that displays such violent tendencies! Always on alert and never sure what he was going to do next.

As the years passed, Marley calmed down. I worked with him a lot in those years, constantly re-enforcing good behaviour, but mostly just giving him lots and lots of love. There was a dog park we frequented in Baltimore, and I will never forget the day that I ran into a woman that we had seen a couple of years earlier at the same dog park. She came over to me after a few minutes of watching Marles and commented, “ Is that the same dog you used to bring to this park? He seems like a completely different animal! You have done so much with him. He is so much more happy and relaxed. I can not believe it is the same dog!” I was a proud parent, and realised what a lot of love can do for an animal that came from such a rough beginning. Not to at all ignore the fact that the things Marley has taught me over the years are of any less value. I have learned from him that if you are determined to do something, than never give up! I learned this one day as I watched him chase his 1 millionth squirrel in the park, always vowing to catch one, never has!, but has also never given up trying! I have learned the value of unconditional love most of all. I have learned the importance of taking care of someone else, because what you get back is far greater than what you bestow. I have learned what it means when they say man’s best friend.

Marley is an amazing friend, and has been fiercely loyal to me for his entire life. Boyfriends have come and gone, friends have disappeared, but he is a constant. I have etched in my memory every moment we have shared. I have had to pick him up from jail on 2 occasions! I have had numerous run-ins with animal control. But I have also held him in my arms to keep warm on cold camping nights. I have woken up before dawn to take walks in the rain before work and never once thought twice. We were a team.

Last week Marley went to the vet for a routine check up. When I got a call the next day saying his liver count was 3 time what it should be, I felt numb. I was not ready to hear this. I guess we never are. This past week has been a roller-coaster for me. I am sure that Marley also is wondering why his mom is crying and weeping and holding him closer than ever. He still looks at me as if to say, “you are embarrassing me, do not hug me in front of the other dogs!” I still do not know the outcome of the results, as we are on different medicines. But I do know this: I have for the first time been confronted with the inevitable death of my best companion. Whether that be next week or next year I have faced what that moment will be like. I am living the roller-coaster of trying to let go, as well as be strong. I am telling myself I gave him the best life I could have, and he returned the favour. But, as is life, when it is time, it is time. We have no control over that. I will always have my memories, sometimes bittersweet. I also know that I can never be touched the same way again. He was my first. I wanted to share the story of my dog Marley. Of our friendship and our bond. I am lucky enough to have a friend who is a photographer who has documented our life together since the beginning. I smile thinking he has been in almost every picture with me taken over he last 11 years.

3 YEARS LATER

I lost my Marley. It has been 2 weeks and 2 days. Today is the first day I am able to sit and try to put into words the terrible sense of loss and grief. First, let me backtrack. Marley 3 years ago was diagnosed with cancer erroneously. He ended up having Lyme’s disease, which is treatable and the medicines worked wonders. The whole ordeal was a scare as I thought I was saying goodbye to my man then. Miraculously the vet had a misdiagnosis, and after a few days Marley was back to normal and life continued on. Well, with the nagging whisper in my head that I would have to face this again one day, the inevitable end. But, time has a way of healing and forgetting and soon it was just like old times, trips to the seashore, playing in the surf, strange hotel rooms, and always shotgun in the convertible, wherever we went. Life was good.

Then a few months ago a routine trip to the vet, as Marles had a nagging, hoarse cough. All his blood work looked good, and the cough was the only persistent symptom we saw. Because Marley was part husky, his neck was strong and thick and full of muscle. It made it very difficult to feel the tumor growing there until it was very large and un-moveable. X-rays from our vet showed a huge mass in his throat, and because of the size and position it was not able to be surgically removed. X-rays also showed small white nodules in his chest and lungs. The diagnosis – thyroid cancer.

So, here it was, back again, but this time no misdiagnosis. Marley had a cancerous tumor and it was growing around his larynx, slowly causing him to be unable to breathe. Dr. Prowell, Marley’s vet, knew that the options were few. But I highly respect her opinion, as she is always very honest and straightforward, not talking in circles. She gave us the two options she saw – let Marley live his last month(!!) with the aid of anti inflammatory drugs to ease breathing and let him go when his quality of life became challenged. This she said would be difficult because he will still want to eat, go on big walks, wag his tail, but he will begin to have issues with sleeping through the night and being comfortable. It is hard to say goodbye to a pet when they still want to walk and eat and kiss you!

The second option – take Marley to a specialist, a radiologist / oncologist for treatment ideas. This is what we opted for. So began the deluge of doctor’s, x-rays, trips to veterinarians 2 hours away, and through it all trying to be brave and hear what our options were for our boy. We met one of the leading specialists in canine cancer in the United States today. He looked at Marley’s x-rays and sonogram and looked into his eyes. His diagnosis — intensive radiation treatment followed by chemotherapy, to try and reduce the size of the mass as well as fight the nodules in other parts of his body. His diagnosis was Marley has a few weeks left with no treatment and perhaps a year with pursuing the full course.

So, big decisions to make, and of course time and money play a factor, a big one. But the most IMPORTANT factor for me was to approach this so that I knew I would have no regrets and that I had done everything I could, whilst keeping the quality of his life intact. I know Marley, better than anyone else alive, and I know that a sick Marley on chemotherapy would not be a Marley that would even want to live. My Marles lived for 2 mile hikes in the woods, chasing squirrels, barking at neighbours' cars. If these things were taken from him, his quality of life would suffer. Therefore, chemo – not an option. Radiation was less intrusive, and had a good shot of working. So we signed up for radiation therapy. Marley would have to go to 18 daily radiation visits in Virginia, over an hour’s drive away.

It was our only hope. So began the new part of our journey. We drove every day together, Marley shotgun, to Springfield Virginia to the clinic. I would wait as Marley would be taken into the back and treated, and about an hour and a half later stumble back out to me, still drunk from being anesthetized. I will not go into the entire treatment, although I will point out the important parts of these journeys. We made some really amazing friends at the clinic. Marley started off his sessions having to be carried to the back as he did not want to leave his mom (this was the hardest thing for me to watch) to trotting back after a week’s time with his new friends Miss Jen and Miss Becky. They were lifesavers and the work these women do is inspiring and commendable. They are good people. We always stopped and got a treat on the way home at McDonalds and a huge walk when Dad was done work. Through it all, fingers crossed that this was working and we were doing the right thing. We got a lot of funny looks as Marley was completely shaved around the neck, and answered many questions as honestly as we could.

In the end, the treatment did not work for us. Perhaps the tumor was too large; perhaps we found it too late. But we did all we could. Marley was so brave throughout. Marley was laid to rest May 18, 2008. He will always be loved and remembered.