Tuesday, April 13, 2010


My journey with Sassy began on January 2, 2007, when a compassionate Ohio animal shelter worker put out a desperate email plea to save a bonded pair of Maltese girls. They were approximately eight years old, in poor physical condition and toothless from neglect, and one had a mammary tumor. Destined for the euthanasia room, instead they were rescued and transported to me in Milwaukee for a second chance at life.

The sight of them trembling and clinging together in their transport crate was heartbreaking. But nothing in all my years of dog rescue prepared me for the sight of Sassy’s tumor: it was the size of a tangerine and dragged the ground!

Although I had surgery appointments for both girls the following day, Sassy had already gone into heat. Given her age and fragile condition, my veterinarian didn’t want to spay her while she was in heat, and didn’t want to put her through two surgeries either. So we waited eight agonizing weeks, me worrying and her hauling around this awkward, uncomfortable tumor.

I scheduled Lexie’s spay with Sassy’s surgeries so they could recover together since they were so bonded, but I needn’t have. Lexie recovered quickly and was rapidly ready to resume her new life while Sassy would require around-the-clock post-op care. She was on heavy pain medication, bruised and stitched from her collarbone to her privates, with multiple drain tubes. When you take a 2-1/2 lb tumor out of the chest of a barely 7-lb dog, it looks pretty horrifying. She would have a slow and painstaking recovery, and needed to be kept away from even her sister to avoid injury and infection. I carried her around in a laundry basket to try to give her stimulation and keep her spirits up, but even so she became very depressed. 2-1/2 months in isolation is an awfully long time. But thankfully the tumor, which was very nearly her death sentence at the overcrowded Ohio shelter, turned out to be benign and Sassy was finally free to enjoy her new life.

Having been separated for so long, however, the sisters had grown apart. But even so, they still shared many similarities.

Both were beautiful purebred Maltese, weighing around 7 pounds.

Both won my heart and subsequently the heart of my fiancé; and in the summer of 2008 both moved with me to Maryland to our new lives with a new last name. Both had been given elegant first names (Cassandra and Alexandra) which were never used.

Both share likes (baby food chicken stix, barking at cats, soft beds strategically placed in the afternoon sun) and dislikes (the evil bath mommy, hair bows, cameras).

And heartbreakingly, as we learned just a few days ago, both now share a devastating diagnosis: malignant cancer.

My husband John and I are no strangers to cancer. Lexie was diagnosed with metastatic mammary cancer last year and underwent two tumor removal surgeries in 2009. She is now nine months past her original prognosis of six months to live. While we are very grateful we are also painfully aware the disease is lurking in her tiny body, ready to strike at any time. This is the agonizing reality we live with on a daily basis.

While Lexie’s cancer battle occupied our thoughts and prayers, Sassy on the other hand was quite literally “fat and sassy,” a toothless biter with plenty of attitude! Not even Luke and the Boys were spared from her “gum and run” attacks; in fact, she enjoyed Luke’s visits so much that she would lurk outside the guest room waiting for another opportunity to give him a love bite!

We had no indication whatsoever that Sassy was sick. In fact, during her recent annual exam she got a clean bill of health. But our blissful ignorance came to an abrupt end two weeks ago when her “sassitude” and her appetite disappeared. Our wonderful vet squeezed us in on a busy Friday night. We truly didn’t know what could so suddenly be so wrong but we certainly didn’t expect what we saw on the x-rays, a diagnosis which was later confirmed by the internal medicine specialist. Sassy had carcinoma … malignant lung cancer.

While we struggle with the quality of life issue … aggressive treatment vs. palliative care … we know that these are the bittersweet days, between diagnosis and the inevitable, and that there is no way to know how many of them we will have. What we do know is that time is not on Sassy’s side as we continue to pray for a miracle cure for this horrible disease.

In honor of her “sassitude” that we hope to see again, we have chosen as Sassy’s fight slogan: CANCER SUCKS: BITE BACK!

Cassandra "Sassy" Eckert
Jan 2, 1999 ---- Apr 18, 2010

Our beautiful and spirited Sassy, diagnosed with lung cancer a mere nine days ago, lost her brief battle with the disease today. She left this world just as she lived in it: on her own terms. The Rainbow Bridge will be infinitely richer (and definitely more interesting) with her bright and relentless spirit.

Author Unknown

When tomorrow starts without me,
And I'm not there to see;
The sun will rise and find your eyes
All filled with tears for me.
I wish so much you wouldn't cry
The way you did today,
Remembering how I'd lay my head
In your lap that special way.
I know how much you love me,
As much as I love you,
And each time that you think of me,
I know you'll miss me too.

But when tomorrow starts without me,
Please try to understand,
That an angel came and called my name
And petted me with her hand.
She said my place was ready,
In Heaven far above,
And that I'd have to leave behind
All those I dearly love.
But, as I turned to heel away,
A tear fell from my eye,
For all my life I never thought
That I would have to die.

I had so much to live for,
So many sits and downs to do,
It seemed almost impossible,
That I was leaving you.
I thought about our lives together,
I know you must be sad,
I thought of all the love we shared,
And all the fun we had.
Remember how I'd nudge your hand,
And poke you with my nose?
The frisbee I would gladly chase,
The bad guy, I'd "bark and hold".

If I could relive yesterday,
Just even for awhile,
I'd wag my tail and kiss you,
Just so I could see you smile.
But, then I fully realized,
That this could never be;
For emptiness and memories
Will take the place of me.
And when I thought of treats and toys,
I might miss come tomorrow,
I thought of you and when I did,
My dog-heart filled with sorrow.

But then I walked through Heaven's gate,
And felt so much at home;
As God looked down and smiled at me,
From His beautiful golden throne.

He said, "This is eternity,
And now we welcome you,
Today your life on earth is past,
But here it starts anew.
I promise no tomorrow,
But today will always last;
For you see, each days's the same day,
There's no longing for the past.
Now you have been so faithful,
So trusting, loyal and true;
Though there were times you did things,
You knew you shouldn't do.
But good dogs are forgiven,
And now at last you're free;
So won't you sit here by my side,
And wait right here with me?"

So when tomorrow starts without me,
Don't think we're far apart.
For every time you think of me,
I'm right there, in your heart.

And you are forever in ours
John, Bekye, Lexie, HollyRose and your "love bite" fan club


Neha Wasnik said...

Having suffered my own doggy's death and a torturous one at that from distemper I know what pain it is between the diagnosis and the inevitable....My heart and prayers go out to you and John

Emeralds3@comcast.net said...

My heart breaks for you all. Lexie and Sassy are beyond blessed to be loved by you, John and your family. Please know that I will keep you all in my prayers. Having lost my heart dog (not to cancer) and the 2 legged love of my life to lymphoma, I know tremendous grief is the result of tremendous love. Take care.

jillian said...

Hi, Im so sorry to hear about your baby. I know she was precious. I found your story by googling for pictures of maltese w no teeth.. I recently adopted a female maltese who is older with only 3 teeth and her little sweet toungue hangs out. I was wondering if you have any tips or suggestions for me since I am a new mommy :) and have a baby who needs extra special care. thank you!!- Jillian

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