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.
January 7, 2001 – January 15, 2009