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 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 “” 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.

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.


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.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Turbo by Linda Schroeder

Turbo has been fighting for his life for 11 years. The runt of a litter of purebred Australian Cattle Dogs, no one wanted him. Then, all the wrong families wanted him. He was passed from home to home every year until he reached age 5. At that point, I heard about him. He was out of control and spiraling down toward euthanasia. As a trainer, I volunteered to help. And drove home with him in the back seat of the car.

For weeks, Turbo raged at my other dogs. He would not let me pet him. Slowly, gradually, he started to trust. The first night he placed his head on my shoulder to sleep, I knew he had ‘come home’. That is where he has slept for 6 years now.

Five weeks ago, Turbo was diagnosed with lymphoma, Stage 3+. Given his age and condition, there was nothing we could do but try to control the symptoms. He had four to six weeks, they said. Not one, but three vets and countless tests later. Six weeks.

Turbo is in Week Six. He has highs and lows. On his low days, he does not eat. Nothing entices him. All he can do is look out at the world with sorrowful, sick eyes. I apologize on those days and force his medication down his throat. I cry. I rage at this disease that comes with no warning. I cry.

On his high days, he turns in to his old self, “Mr. Fun Police”! No one else can fetch, run, play, or have any kind of fun at all! He guards his food from the other five dogs, and eats it all. I believe in my heart he will live forever on high days.

But there is a trend. The bad days are worse, and the good days are not as good. The swelling increases in his lymph nodes, and I see his legs bow out to compensate. I increase his pain meds so he can walk with me.

Stubborn and with a strength of character to be envied, Turbo continues to fight. When he stops fighting, he and I will have to make the final decision. And when that happens, I will miss him. Forever. For Turbo found his way home….and his home is in my heart.

Shortly after we posted his story, Turbo lost his battle with cancer and was given rest. Linda wrote, "I miss him already. I could not ask him to stay just for me."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cupcake by Heather Neil-Rice

Cupcake was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a week after her 2nd Birthday, just 9 months ago. Cupcake is my heart and it literally broke when my vet called to tell me that the ovary he removed during her spaying was indeed cancerous. He had already researched the odds and options and told me that with surgery alone there was a >90% chance that the cancer would return with a large risk of metastatic disease. He suggested seeking evaluation at Angel Care Clinic with Dr. Kathy Mitchener in Bartlett, Tennessee, almost 3 hours from home.

In some ways I suspect our visit to Angel Care was unusual, because I already knew my precious girl had cancer. I desperately needed a hope of treatment and a potential cure. The staff at Angel Care, from the front to back door, is so understanding and compassionate. Words cannot express the immense gratitude I have for Dr. Mitchener, Peggy and Jessie.

Our evaluation appointment turned into the first round of abdominal chemotherapy. My "take" on this is that Cupcake had IV fluids for 30 minutes, then sedation (Toradol) by IV, an ultrasound with the chemo injected into her belly and then she got shaken up like a milkshake, returned to me for more IV fluids - all of which took about 3 hours. She got pills, pills, and more pills, a new diet regiment, and this yummy liquid called FISH OIL. This new EVO dog food without grain was not known to be sold in Arkansas so Cupcake and I left that first chemo session heading across town to get the food that "cancer does not like!"

About 5 minutes down Stage Road, Cupcake started screaming like a traumatized child, and 5 minutes later she was still crying and yelping in the Ethan Allen parking lot. So thank goodness Dr. Kathy had given me her cell phone number to call her just in case something occurred on my 3 hour trip home, by myself with Cupcake. Hysterical, I called my husband and he could hear her crying and yelping, and started getting upset that I agreed for her to have this treatment in the first place. Dr. Kathy advised me that she felt like Cupcake was having a reaction to the Toradol and to walk her and talk to her and see if she will drink. I did so and things appeared better, so we continued to head to the store that has this dog food that "cancer doesn't like!"

I kept focusing on this as it is something I can get and it will help her get better. At the pet store the gentlemen realized my dog was sick and anxious and that I was near to loosing it completely. Food purchased, nose blown, Cupcake a little calmer, we headed out now towards Little Rock . . . and the screaming started again. Dr. Kathy called to check on us about 20 minutes later and heard Cupcake and told me to turn around and come back to the clinic. Bottom line is that Cupcake and Toradol don't mix.

For the four additional rounds of chemo, Cupcake got a gas mask without IV sedation and did amazing. My sacrifice was that she was not sedated in any way for the IV fluids after chemo and I had to hold her and rock her and entertain her so that her IV would not obstruct.

Now she is 9 months out from diagnosis, chemo complete and she is in remission with a clean abdominal ultrasound, taking her vitamins, curcumin, fish oil, eating EVO dog food - ALL like she was born to do so. Oh and let’s not forget we combat the constipation from the EVO with pumpkin pie filling and Metamucil. Most days her coat is orange and she smells like a stinky seal from the fish oil. She often wears pink bows to proclaim her cancer survivor status and I cherish every day we have together.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Keyeagan by Dawn Donelson

This story is being written for my mother as it is a new pain that they are dealing with. My mother has always taught me to fight and to believe. She has tried her hardest to protect me from any and all pain. To see her go through this awful disease, bone cancer, makes my heart ache. I can't help her or heal her heart. I can only watch as she continues to believe but is so helpless.

Keyeagan, a 6 year old Great Dane, was diagnosed with bone cancer a year after my own dog had passed from this dreaded disease, and only a month after her 11 year old Great Pyrenees had been diagnosed. A disease that we all were hoping to have seen the last of has somehow grabbed tightly onto our family.

Keyeagan was the sparkle in my parents’ eyes. The new child, if you would, in the house. He went to bed with my parents and awoke with them. He proudly took his stance at his food bowl at breakfast and would enjoy anything he could convince you to feed him, without being caught of course, from the table.

Keyeagan always wanted to play but never quite understood his enormous size. He would playfully chase the cats and dart around the grandchildren as if they were road cones, being very careful not to bump them. He was the human dishwasher/trash compactor. Anything that was left unattended on the table would disappear without an ounce of a trace, leaving the plates clean and shiny as if they had been washed. He seldom got caught doing this.

As I am typing this, so many memories fill my head. Keyeagan did so many things to make us laugh. You know those priceless moments...

For instance, once my parents were playing badminton with their grandchildren and he was running back and forth trying to catch the birdie. If he got it we had to chase him around until he dropped it.

I can remember another time when we were covering the swimming pool. Keyeagan was watching and thought this large cover was going to hurt us so he leaped clear over the side of the pool on top of the cover to attack it and save us. Memories of those funny moments fill your head while at the same time break your heart.

Keyeagan was a protector, a cuddler and a joy to my parents. He was their happiness and there comfort at the end of a long day. Losing him has broken my parents’ hearts and seeing the tears fall from their faces crushes my own heart. Knowing I cannot stop their pain hurts but realizing that Keyeagan is not in pain anymore brings comfort.

Woof by Andy Donelson

An odd name for a dog some might say but he was proudly named by our daughter when she was 2 yrs old. You see, she referred to dogs as woof-woof and when she was asked what to name him, she proudly said "Woof."

I clearly remember the day we went to see the litter of pups. He knocked us over by jumping onto our laps. When we asked to purchase him, the breeder told us that he was not perfect. He had a spot on his nose that might not fill in with the black coloring. How silly to say this...Woof was every bit of perfect to our family.

He was a lover, a protector, a companion, a playmate and my best friend. He has been gone for a year and a half and I still sleep with his teddy bear and cry thinking about him. My heart still aches and has an empty spot which has not healed. I had never had to experience any type of cancer. When he was diagnosed with bone cancer, I was sure he would beat the odds because our love was so strong. His eyes told a story...and that story was for us to be together forever. I had never hated anything until I had to live with this disease.

Woofie, as he was called, was spoiled. He had a party on his birthday, was visited by Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and was constantly given little love gifts. He slept with us. No, not on the floor...right beside me in the bed all night long. I kissed him goodbye when I left for work and hello when I came in the door. He was and still is my baby boy.

We have so many memories that I don't know where to I will just start with something that he loved. Woof loved the snow. Whether it be running and diving head first into a snow bank or simply eating the snow. We'd stand outside and he'd eat his way around the yard. Looking at me every now and then for approval. And boy when he didn't want to do something forget it. He had such a stubborn streak. I can remember having to push him with all my might to get him to move somewhere. Also when he was mad at you or even jealous for some reason, he'd lift his leg with just a squirt to say who's the boss. And he knew what he was doing. What I would give to see that look today.

He was a smart, loving friend and he can never be replaced.

Woof taught me the value of love. True unconditional love. And he showed me determination. We fought as hard and as long as we could with this disease. And we did it all together. I am to believe his soul is still here with least that is what I tell myself so I have the strength to continue. Like I said in the beginning, Woof was always perfect to our family. And he is so greatly missed. But you know what? I'd do it all again just so I could have him in our life to love. And to be loved by him...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Woof -- a Poem by Dawn Donelson

Everyone says I will know
When it’s time to let you go,
But how can I just say goodbye
And live on without you by my side?

For 10 great years you were my friend
So how come now it has to end?
You brought so much joy into our life
And I know you thought I was your wife.

The times you gave a back off bark…
Remember all those times at the park?
My protector, my baby, my best friend
Endless love that knows no end.

So many memories fill my head
I smile inside but tears I shed.
All those memories will be kept in my heart
And never be forgotten.

You will always share a part of me
And I will think of you quite often.
When we see flurries falling from the sky
I will get tears in my eyes.

Remembering how you loved it so
And how much you enjoyed just eating the snow.
The kids grew up with you right there
I hope you know how much they cared.

If I’d had known we’d part like this
There’s so much I would’ve changed.
But sometimes life is thrown at you
And you are left with pain.

I hated having to give you a scold
When you didn’t do as you were told.
Your stubborn way was so true
And I will miss that part of you.

The looks you gave, your gentle smile
That warmed me inside out
All those looks of trouble and even the looks of pout.

The playful way you bowed your head
While waiting for a treat
And all those nights of hogging the bed
Or just laying at my feet.

Your snuggle time was dear to you and something I will miss.
It’s something I would ask for if I could have a wish.
I never could stay mad at you my big ball of fluff.
And boy when you wanted, you could sure be tough.

But you always knew when I needed a lift
And lifted your paw when you want to be pet.
Now your foot is too sore to lift up
So you rely on your mommy to take care of her pup.

Our house will be no longer a home
Without you there with us to roam.
I will miss your bark, your smell, your eyes
I will feel lost without you by my side.

Your bed, your bowl, your teddy bear
Will be all that is here with me.
You kept us safe,
Because you cared.

You guarded our home when we weren’t there.
Time passed quickly and your love had no limit
I always knew you cared…
So once again I ask myself,
How can I live with you not there?

There will be nothing to come home to
No smile or wagging tail.
No one to remind me that someone always cares.
Everything will be so empty
Without you being here.

And those who once felt protected.
Will now have to deal with fear.

I do not know how to find the strength
Or even where to start.
To pick a day to say goodbye
And the day to break my heart.