Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Death Makes An Appointment

When one owns pets, they know the pet has a much shorter lifespan than humans. Some people only own one pet, and when it dies, they decide the pain just isn’t worth it. They feel they can’t go through it again, and eschew any other animals.

Then there are those of us who continue to get pets. Despite the pain and cost, the joy they bring is worth it. And with pets, there are choices to be made: what kind of pet, what kind of food, what kind of training.

Rub my belly? Elvis and his favorite rope toy.

I thought my dog, Elvis, had been gaining weight, so I changed his food. My last dog had died from cancer tumors throughout his body, so when we got Big E, I researched and read up on quality dog foods. I got the best we could afford. So I did a little more research and got him a different dry kibble. That's when he stopped eating. I thought he was just pouting, but when a couple of days turned into weeks, off to the vet we went.

Please note the bell on the door. We taught Elvis to ring it when he wanted out. He usually wanted out during our favorite tv shows. Who trained who?

He wasn’t fat, he had a couple of masses inside him and his liver was enlarged. And the first real clue we really had was when he had stopped eating. It just happened to coincide with the change in his food, so I just wrote it up to being stubborn. The x-rays told the real story. With his symptoms, which also included anemia, panting a lot, and slowing down a lot, the vet gave me a tentative diagnosis of hemangio sarcoma, a type of blood cancer. It’s in the blood vessels, so in reality it is throughout Big E’s body.

We were also given a time frame. Two, three weeks, maybe. Costly exploratory surgery & biopsy was an option where the prognosis was not just grim but very grim, or even costlier regular surgery to remove the masses. But the second surgery could only give him at best another month or two of life, and there was the risk of having to put him to sleep with even the biopsy.

Elvis testing out the wicker couch I repaired and painted for my mother-in-law's Yorkies.

So I brought him home. He knows he is dying. You can see it in his eyes. He knows. He has a different look on his face now. When I get on the floor to play with him, he leans against me and licks my face, no longer wanting to roughhouse. He wants to rest against me. And at night when we go to bed, he leaves his dog bed at the foot of our own and comes up along my side of the bed, lying down so I can lie on my stomach and pet him until I fall asleep. He’s never done that before, and now he’s doing it almost nightly, and of his own volition.

CAT bed? Are you sure, mom?

It's hard to imagine this clown of a dog having to suffer this kind of fate. This is my bud, my companion. On July 4th, while the other dog is cowering under the bed, Big E is sitting or lying on the ground next to me as I shoot photos of the fireworks. The booming explosions don't seem to phase him one bit. In fact, he appears to enjoy the show, turning his head as each color blooms in the dark sky above him.

Kiddie pool king!

He likes to goof around in a kiddie pool. We took him and Cocoa, the 3 legged Border Collie, to the river once. The 3 legged dog leaped right into the river, swimming pretty darn good with only one back leg! But Big E? With 4 intact limbs? Refused to go in any deeper than his chest after dunking his head when he stepped into the deep. But get him in the kiddie pool and he is in and out and in and out, splashing and throwing water everywhere with a goofy grin on his face. That dog is always smiling!

People have asked us what breed is Elvis. We know his mother was an Australian Shepherd, but the dad was never clear. Finally got a clue from one of the dog trainers. She feels dad was a Catahoula. If you look that breed up, there are so many photos that Elvis could have posed for! Many folks have said maybe cattle dog, but Elvis is too long in the body and legs for that. He has a little tail nub that tells his state of mind. It's really a little 2-3" flap that falls down over his back end. When he is happy, that nub is just a'jumpin'! Handy if you can't see the smile on his face.

Flying Frog Dog!

Our backyard is now divided into two sections; the dog’s yard, and the people’s yard. We used to have a huge fir tree right behind the house, but had to have it removed last year when it started to damage the house. I hated to do that, for it was our natural air conditioner, but it finally had to go. With it gone, the back yard really opened up so we could finally have a section that was dog and dog-poop free. I left the gate between them open the other day as I putzed around the people’s side, weeding. When I sat on the edge of the floating deck to take a break, Big E snuck through the gate and came to sit next to me, leaning against my legs and enjoying the sunlight and my hand gently stroking down his back. It was a quiet moment of love shared between two living beings.

Before cutting down....

...AFTER cutting down. Note his favorite toy, a horseball. Best when half-eaten.

Some days he doesn’t feel like eating, and that is worrisome to me. I mean, doesn’t food cure all? Depression, anxiety, etc. And chocolate is the ambrosia of curing food. Since it is poisonous to dogs, I eat his share. Yes, I know food doesn’t really cure cancer, but I want him comfortable, dang it. I’m pulling all the guns in my arsenal out on Big E. Rice cooked in chicken stock, canned food that actually looks yummy enough for ME to eat, liver cooked by my own two hands. Pedialyte in the drinking water. That one didn’t work so well, as evidently they can actually taste the flavorless stuff. Sigh.

Master of the "Pathetic Dog" look when wanting inside. Used with a 90% effective rate.

I took him by the groomer yesterday so she could say goodbye. She was wonderful with him, never afraid of his big growl and bark, knowing immediately a big chicken when she saw him. Yesterday she almost broke into tears. Almost. She paused, then told me she wasn’t going to cry until we left. Bless her. She also gave me a suggestion about getting Natural Balance food roll and feeding it to Big E. That really has done the trick with him! He ate a big 4” cut off the roll, and this morning ate regular canned stuff like he was starving. Can’t get him to eat the dry kibble, though at this point I don’t really care. I just want to spoil him rotten.

Doesn't he look like he knows a secret or two?

The newest cat in our family is a black female that I rescued last October, along with her 5 kittens. They stayed in my garage in a large dog run until the kittens were old enough to go to the Humane Society. I wanted to see if the mama was dog friendly, so I let Elvis into the garage and kept a VERY close eye on them in case mama was overly protective. What did she do? Walked right up to Elvis and head-butted him! Poor dog jumped like he'd felt a cattle prod!

After the kittens were adopted, we decided to keep mama, and renamed her Sake, after the Japanese drink. She is in LUV with Elvis, and Elvis just isn't sure how to handle that! He's not used to a cat actually liking him, wanting to hang with him. Heck, she even sleeps next to him when she can!

Elvis and Sake.

Last night, as I was sitting on the floor next to Elvis' bed and loving on him, Sake strolled up and lay down right up against his back. She just wants to be close to him. I don't know if she can sense what is happening with him, or if she really just wants to hang with him. I DO know it makes Big E just a tad nervous...

He knows he is dying. Just look into his eyes and you can see it. He looks worried when he looks at me, like he’s not sure he should be leaving me. I have my husband, and three cats, and Cocoa, but he knows I don’t like her much. We rescued her, and she repaid us by fighting with Big E every chance she could; big, nasty, bloody fights. At one point they were both going to doggie day care. Elvis even got an award for being a "social butterfly" with his doggie pals. But the good folks at the day care asked us not to bring Cocoa back. Seems she kept cutting Elvis out of the dog packs, not allowing him to play with his canine friends. So she has never been my favorite fur baby. Big E always tries to get her to play with him, but she ignores him. He never stops trying, however. He is a poster dog for the saying: Hope springs eternal. I do play with her and treat her, but Big E is my favorite.

Modeling the homemade pet car seat belt.

Sometime last year Elvis started howling when the phone rings. At first it was puzzling, then irritating, and now just something he does. Friends and family understand to wait a few seconds for the howling to die down when they call. It's actually quite funny to see. It started suddenly and we have no idea why. We've had the phone for two years, so for it to suddenly hurt his ears is a puzzle.

A rare serious expression.

I cry each night now. I don’t know which is worse: having a pet die quickly, or knowing a longer time frame. One minute I think that being given a time frame is horrible, having to watch him waste away, and the next minute I’m grateful for the chance to keep spoiling him.

Look, Ma! It snowed!

Today is the one week anniversary of when we learned of Big E’s death sentence. Yet life goes on. I’m making dinner for my hard working husband, taking care of the diabetic cat, playing with the other cats and dog. I’ve done laundry, washed dishes, gossiped with my neighbor over the backyard fence. Been online, played online games, sewed and crocheted. And in between I sit on the floor with Big E’s head in my lap.

On the old deck, happy-go-lucky.

My husband knows I’m a basket case when a loved one dies. Heck, I cry watching television shows! I'm just an emotional creature. He knows how I was when my dad died, and while my dad and I weren’t close, it was still very hard on me. My husband sees me now, and knows what I feel because he feels it, too. He promised me that I would die before him, just so I wouldn’t have to go through it with him. Think I’ll keep him.

He, too, loves Big E. But his grieving process is much different from mine. While I’m looking at puppies already, he’ll need time. When our first dog, Gizmo, passed, it took him six months before I could talk him into a pup. And that’s how I got Big E. I guess good things do come to those who wait. Whatever pup I get will not be a replacement for Big E. NOTHING can replace Big E. Just as Big E wasn’t a replacement for Gizmo. I just have the need for a dog. My world is complete, then.

Elvis says, "MY gardening glove!" I don't think we've yet found all the gloves he has stolen.

In a few weeks, or maybe just days, my little cosmo will come crashing down around me. Elvis will finally refuse to play ball. He will refuse any food, even my home cooking. Then we will make one last visit to the vet. My husband will help pick me up and start the healing process. And when Big E crosses the Rainbow Bridge, Gizmo and my old cat, Alley, will be there to greet him. I hope they show him how to visit me. They stopped in, just once, after they had passed. I know it was them, as no other animals in my house had those exact colors! So I know there is a Rainbow Bridge, and I’m certain there will be a crowd waiting for me when I get there!


  1. What a special special friend and companion he is for your both. And he is thoroughly loved and he is feels that, don't ever doubt it. You will ease his way in this transition, and by doing that it creates a scared space. (((hugs)))

  2. Ahhh, now you got my tears flowing. Cancer sucks. For both humans and dogs. No dog will ever replace Jayda. No dog will ever replace Elvis. Such good friends they have been to us. There is a hole there that nothing can fill. But weren't we so lucky to have had dogs like Elvis and Jayda? Just do your best to enjoy your last days with Elvis. He loves you.

  3. Oh Tena! I am so sorry! You're helping Elvis make this transition, and it sounds like he's helping you too. I'll be holding you tightly in my heart.


  4. Tena, of coarse I have tears in my eyes. We lost Sandy last year and it broke our hearts. We went to the SPCA in October to look for another and found Caesar. He can never replace Sandy but is now the love of our life too.

  5. A beautiful tribute to Big E.

  6. Tena, I am so sorry. Guys like Big E come into our lives and are too soon gone, regardless of how long they are with us. Another friend just had to put her Lanie girl down this morning. Lanie had been battling cancer for some years now. Hang in there.

  7. ah honey,
    so sad and yet filled with so much love....
    Elvis knows you love him and I think that he is trying to help YOU through his leaving.
    Give him a big hug from all of us out here in cyberland.........
    bless you both

  8. As mankind grew in sophistication and science, it became harder for the species to believe in miracles or heavenly beings. So God changed all the angels into dogs, and sent them to the people who needed them the most. And each of these angels had the ability to protect, to cajole, to enchant, to console, to entertain, to cheer-up, and to always take the part of the down-trodden without question.

    But in his wisdom, God gave each of these angels a term of 10 to 12 years on earth... Lest humans determine that this was heaven enough. As I write this, I am looking through the collar of an angel that was recalled five years ago. It is the first thing on my desk that the morning light shines through.

    Please accept our condolences... No dog can ever be replaced... But few puppies can be refused.

    Leslie and I are thinking of you both.

    Jack Riepe and Leslie Marsh

  9. Tena you got me thinking of my ole OscarMayer who also died of cancer gosh thats was nice story of Elvis..I'm bawling!
    May 19th marks 3yrs since he crossesd the rainbow ridge as you call it. Oscar now in my backyard & sometimes I might holler out to him. He has tennis ball as the marker. His favorite toy. Elvis was beautiful big dog! Polly H/nationwider alumni : D