We have two dogs. I don't talk about them much 'cause I'm a totally neglectful dog owner now that I have a child. No need to call the ASPCA on me or anything, I just mean they don't get as much attention now as they used too & haven't really gotten any on my blog. I still love them both to death though.
Audrey is a terrier mutt & is about 10 now. She came to us in the winter of 2004 from my parents. She was the puppy of a two strays my parents took in (oops, guess they weren't too young to mate like the vet thought). When Annie, the female stray, went into labor I happened to be home from college for the weekend. Unfortunately, I was the only one home. Audrey's brother was born first, but only survived about an hour. Then came Peach ("Misses Polly Peachum"), Audrey, & Max, although I don't really remember what order they came in. Luckily, my mom got home shortly after the first puppy was born. Audrey got her name from my Dad, who insists she bore a striking resemblance to Audrey Hepburn as a puppy.
Fast forward many years & Audrey & her sister Scout (from the first litter; Audrey's from the second) started fighting a lot & it got a little scary - Scout got hurt a bit. So we agreed to take Audrey to separate them. I think they're kinda like me & my brother Justin - we get along fine, as long as we're not living together.
When we had Audrey about a year we took her to the Animal Welfare League for some of her shots & John couldn't resist looking at some of the adoptable dogs. Of course, he fell in love with all of them, but I told him no, we couldn't have another dog (I was smart enough to not go look at them!) because we didn't know how Audrey would react. The three or four women at the reception center overheard our conversation and suddenly they all stopped talking and rushing around. There was silence for a second, and then one said, "Well, you could always foster a dog to see how things go." I'm sure my memory of this is not totally accurate, but I think it's pretty close. I felt like I was surrounded by Oompa-Loompas chanting, "Foster! Foster! Foster!" Seriously, it was creepy. They took Audrey from us & led us to a room to show us a dog that desperately needed a foster family; she'd been hit by a car & been surrendered to animal welfare by her family & was recovering from hip surgery. Because Animal Welfare was overcrowded & understaffed, she sometimes didn't get to go out for days at a time & had to use the bathroom in a small room indoors. She needed a family to give her a little exercise and attention while she recovered & Animal Welfare continued her medical treatment.
I was expecting a small dog since Audrey is so small & I'm used to little dogs, but the dog they showed us was gigantic & I was kind of afraid to pet her, let alone take her home. She was actually pretty scrawny, but she was a lab mix so she was much larger than terriers. She was black with a white stripe down her neck and her right hip was shaved & scarred from her surgery. She cowered in a corner & wouldn't let John go near her. She was skittish with me, but terrified of him. And that was it. We were in love.
A week later we brought Audrey for an official meeting before we agreed to take her. They brought out a black lab with a shaved & scarred hip that was INSANE. Jumping around, barking, & scaring the crap out of Audrey. The dog handler assured us things would be better when we got home & were on Audrey's turf, but we weren't so sure. John started filling out paperwork & stopped when he noticed "male" on the papers. Yep, there were two black labs with bad hips in need of fostering & they'd brought the wrong one to meet Audrey. They brought out the male, unfixed, puppy. They brought out Dora next & she was as calm and sweet, and completely terrified of John, as we remembered. She came home with us that day.
Dora was a foster dog for several months. (For those unfamiliar, a foster dog is usually waiting for an adoptive home & is often undergoing medical treatment. The foster family agrees to care for the dog & give them a loving home & the shelter or rescue organization pays for medical expenses until the dog is adopted.) When we first agreed to foster, to try out having another dog with Audrey, I said to the women at Animal Welfare, "This is just temporary, right? I mean, eventually she'll be adopted, right?" She kind of laughed & said, "Well, yeah. The idea is that you fall in love with her and eventually YOU adopt her."
Dora needed another surgery to remove the pins in her hip. She had the surgery, but the pins were flush with the bone & couldn't be removed. She was stitched up after the surgery & had to return to have the stitches removed. She also had a sore on her belly for months that the vets couldn't figure out (it wound up being a staple that wasn't removed from when she had been fixed long before), an ear infection, and an infection from the hip surgery, and then got kennel cough & fleas while she was hospitalized. She was finally done with her hip recovery & open for adoption. John took her for her adoption physical (the first one we had to pay for) & to sign the papers. They gave him the option of a heartworm test & he agreed to have one.
Days after we adopted Dora, they called to tell us the test had come back & Dora had advanced heartworm. The vet was shocked because you'd never know Dora was sick from the way she acted. She was VERY active and she'd quickly gotten over her fear of John & become his best friend & playmate. Because of how bad it was they believed she was probably born with it & had just never been tested for it before (which can be very dangerous for a dog undergoing multiple surgeries). The Animal Welfare League agreed they'd pay for all her treatment since she'd obviously had the disease before we adopted her.
Treatment for heartworm is absolutely awful. It involved several shots, a hospitalization, weeks of confinement to a cage, and months of restricted activity. The first week of treatment Dora was really sick & perfectly satisfied sleeping in a cage. John had to carry her down our deck stairs into the backyard for her to use the bathroom. After that, she was back to her normal self, but still had to be severely restricted. John had to walk her on a leash outside to use the bathroom & then bring her right back to her cage. No extra walking or activity, and absolutely no running (which is the only thing all labs want to do). The danger is that while the drugs are breaking down the heartworms, increased heartrate can push the heartworms out of the major blood vessels & into the lungs & cause congestive heart failure. Try to explain that to a 2-year-old lab.
Months later, Dora was proclaimed cured & able to resume normal (insane) activity. She was officially ours, healthy, and her hip was much better than we thought it would ever be. She was even jumping up on our guests! We were so excited (not so much the guests though).
We did decide to find a new vet. Dora just had too many problems & missed problems while she was treated at the Animal Welfare League. So we started taking both dogs to VCA, which we adore.
(Let me make this clear: I don't blame the Animal Welfare League for anything that happened to Dora. They are AWESOME. Unfortunately, they are understaffed, underpaid, overworked, and overpopulated, which leads to things being overlooked. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have Dora. And if it wasn't for them, I don't know where Dora would be now, but she would not be as happy or healthy as she is. We changed vets because we thought it would be better for Dora & Audrey's health & because we could afford to go to a more expensive vet & wanted to leave the limited resources at AWL to the dogs & people that need the free & cheap services.)
Dora's now about 5. Last Saturday John was petting Dora & noticed a lump in her lower belly. Dora & Audrey were (over)due for their shots, so I made an appointment for both of them for Tuesday evening. Audrey got her physical & shots, but the vet decided not to do shots for Dora. I mentioned the lump and she felt Dora's neck to start her physical. As she's feeling her neck, she's asking me all the same questions she'd just asked about both dogs: How has her appetite been? Any changes to pee or poo? Any behavior changes?
And that's when I start to worry.
She tells me Dora's lymph nodes are all swollen and the most common cause is Lymphoma. No sugar coating & no alternative causes suggested, she just starts talking about chemotherapy.
We got the confirmation Wednesday; the tests came back that Dora has Lymphoma. I met with the oncologist Thursday to discuss options.
Dora has Stage IV Lymphoma. The vet assured me we are not negligent dog owners - the swelling in the lymph nodes likely developed within the last week. Lymphoma is the cancer in dogs most responsive to chemotherapy, but it's not curable. With aggressive chemotherapy (treatment every week for six months at a cost of at least $5,000), the median survival rate is one year. It's not a question of if the cancer returns, but when. Some dogs are able to go into remission multiple times (with aggressive chemotherapy each time they relapse), and some don't go into remission at all. There's a less aggressive chemo, which would only be once every 3 weeks for 6 months. And there's steriods, which will possible put her in remission for a short period of time.
Unfortunately, aggressive chemo just isn't an option for us financially. Although even if it was, I don't know that it would be a good thing for her.
We decided to treat Dora with steriods and a single dose of chemo. It's most effective right away & before the steriods, so she had it at the oncologist's office & started steriods. We were told to expect the swelling in her lymph nodes to decrease a lot in the next couple days, and for her to feel a little better. She will hopefully have a short remission. It'll give us a chance to really spoil her for a while.
We're back at the oncologist again next week, and hopefully Dora will be her regular self & in remission by then. But then her lymph nodes will start to get swollen again, and within the next couple months, or maybe month, we'll have to decide when is the right time to have her euthanised. The oncologist assures me that Lymphoma in dogs is not painful, it just makes them feel fluish & sick, but she won't die peacefully in her sleep, so we'll have to determine the right time.
And my heart is breaking.