Friday, October 30, 2009

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.


GoldenTracks said...

What a beautiful tribute to such a neat dog.

Cindy Taylor said...

Thank you for sharing Solar's story. He was one special guy and it shines through in your tribute.

San.M said...

A very touching tribute by Michele that it brought tears. Solar was so very special and his love and bonding with Michele was great. He will always be treasured.