Monday, August 9, 2010
I have loved and been loved by many dogs, but, even from the Bridge, Hendrix is my heart and soul and forever dog. His mother was a Border collie mix stray in rural east Tennessee and I suspect his father was somebody’s hunting dog who loved loving more than hunting! Hendrix found us shortly before my mother was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and I’ve always believed he was Heaven sent to help me through that terrible journey and the rest of life’s challenges and joy.
Through the Tennessee mountains, we explored trails, cool streams, brilliant autumn leaves and Hendrix always reminded me to stop and sniff the … well, whatever. On one snowy winter day, we spotted several does on a hill behind the Prince of the Forest. We all stood still watching each other. Hendrix took a step. Prince took a step. I gave thanks for the command, “leave it” and so we did! Another encounter turned out not so well as Hendrix, who was quite afraid of turtles, but not snakes, was nailed on the leg by a copperhead. We were blessed with a huge yard and we spent afternoons together in the wooded patch and with Hendrix’s “project” of excavation of an old wall in search of chipmunks.
We spent rainy afternoons together as well. I am a great fan of books by Dean Koontz and when I told Hendrix we were going to “read some Koontz,” Hendrix would leap onto the bed next to me and lay on top of one of my hands. I would read with one hand under his warm furry belly and the book propped against my knees.
Hendrix always loved his food (or anyone else’s) to the point it was almost a joke, but he began to go through the garbage when I was not at home. I couldn’t keep his water dish filled as he would drink it all so quickly and he seemed to be panting around the clock even in cold weather. The vet diagnosed Hendrix as having cognitive dysfunction and sent us home with a prescription for xanax. It took two doses of xanax for me to realize that it was the cause of extreme “garbaging.” The second time, Hendrix tore through our pantry, somehow able to reach food he had never been able to reach before, including a pound and a half of chocolate. The chocolate included some York mints, which not only helped by taking up chocolate space, but made the hurl produced at the vet clinic smell “minty fresh,” as the grateful vet remarked. Realizing that the situation was getting worse, I asked the vet for a referral to a specialist. Our local vet helped and referred us to a specialist in Knoxville.
Hendrix’s appointment with the specialist was scheduled for the same day as my divorce. Dr. S spent 2 ½ hours with us and, though she was unable to do the correct blood test as Hendrix had “garbaged” in the attorney’s office while we were in court, concluded that Hendrix did not have cognitive dysfunction, but probably Cushing’s disease and suggested my local vet perform the tests for that. Canine Cushing’s disease is a pituitary cancer and can be a tumor either on the adrenal gland (which is operable) or on the pituitary gland (non-operable). Hendrix’s tumor was on the pituitary gland. As I read more about Cushing’s disease, I realized Hendrix had several other symptoms typical of “cushpups.” In addition to the extreme drinking and panting, his coat had thinned to the point that, in what had been a lush plumed tail, I could see the outline of the tail bone. His face had a skeletal appearance and he had a pot belly. Hendrix had begun to fall quite frequently and I realized this was due to the wasted muscles in his hind legs, also a Cushing’s symptom. Hendrix had been gorging because the adrenal glands were working over-time and he was ravenous.
After consultation with Dr. S, the local vet prescribed Lysodren. For us, it was indeed a wonder drug. Virtually all Hendrix’s symptoms disappeared and his coat returned as lush as ever. Our daily walks, in addition to bringing us such pleasure, helped build back Hendrix’s hip and hind leg muscles. Lysodren is a hideously expensive drug, and I am blessed that I was able to squeeze out the money for it.
As Hendrix and I learned to live with his cancer, we received a call from the supervisor of elementary education in our county. She asked if we would be interested in becoming a therapy dog team and reading with school children. I’d always wanted to do that, but it was one of those things I never quite got around to. Obviously time was now precious, and Hendrix and I took on the challenge. When Hendrix passed his Therapy Dog International evaluation, my heart almost burst with a sense of triumph both for passing our test and for doing it as a small victory over the cancer. Hendrix spent the next few months of the school year reading with second graders in three elementary schools. I was a public school teacher for over 15 years, but the experience of reading with Hendrix and the children was in so many ways the high point of my experiences in education. At one school, Hendrix read with four little boys with a variety of reading abilities. Hendrix knew instinctively which boys needed him more and the more difficulty one of his boys had reading, the closer Hendrix lay. In one of his other schools, his little girl was speech, vision, and motor impaired and reading with Hendrix allowed her to feel so, so special.
Toward the end of the school year, I noticed Hendrix was coughing from time to time. I took him to the vet, but the vet didn’t find anything amiss. Once the school year ended, the cough seemed to come more frequently and then Hendrix, who had loved his food so dearly, seemed to have less of an appetite. He also began to fall again. We took a walk with corgi friends of his and that afternoon Hendrix seemed like his old self again. He even had a moment of mischief, disappearing, and then circling back to join us from behind! He was worse again the next day, however, and a return visit to the vet revealed that Hendrix had blood clots in his lungs. He went to the vet clinic during the day for IV heparin, but I was allowed to take him home at night after being taught to give the heparin. He seemed so sad and, once so stoic through all the Cushing’s test and retests, snapped at the vet tech who was giving him his shot. During the night, Hendrix would shift constantly from side to stomach and was restless. He was unable to get down the stairs without falling. I called the vet and made The Appointment. We were waiting for the vet and a friend of mine came by to say goodbye to Hendrix. Hendrix’s “Uncle James” always had a treat for my boy, and when Uncle James appeared, Hendrix leaped off the bed and sat before James to get his treat. I canceled the appointment, but the next day Hendrix just seemed worse and tired and at night so uncomfortable, so I called and scheduled the vet visit again.
Hendrix passed to the Bridge from my arms in the yard he loved so well, the warm sunshine and the lilac June blossoms paving his way. Though Hendrix will always be my soul, I have adopted two dogs since then, Hope, a deaf, arthritic senior girl and a young houndador, Sabbath, who is continuing the reading program my Hendrix began and, so, as they say in my tradition, Hendrix’s memory is indeed for a blessing.