Saturday, October 30, 2010

Forever in My Heart

Just after midnight I said goodbye to my best little buddy, my guardian, my sidekick for the past nearly 11 years.

On February 10, 2000, I felt an inexplicable and unrelenting need to go to the local animal shelter, somehow knowing there was a dog there waiting for me. After nearly three hours of visiting what I thought was all the dogs, I still hadn't found THE one, so made one more pass through the kennels. That is when I saw him. Huddled at the back of Kennel D30 where he had lived for the previous month and a half, an adorable 5-month-old Pointer mix had given up hope of finding his forever home. I went in to visit him and one look into those eyes and I knew he was the one who had beckoned me. It was closing time, so Steve and I told the ladies up front that we wanted to adopt the dog in D30, but knowing they were closing, we would come back in the morning to pick him up. But they told us they would stay late to process the paperwork, since that puppy would not be there the next day, as his time was up and he was scheduled for euthanasia. We filled out the paperwork, naming our new dog Spyder, and brought our sweet boy home, where we've shared almost 11 wonderful years with him.

Spyder has been my best friend and protector, always by my side, with a boundless joy and  enthusiasm for life unmatched by anyone. He's traveled to mountain bike races in multiple states with me, where he earned respect from mountain bikers everywhere as an "Awesome Trail Dog" who could easily keep up with the best. He's gone hiking with me on trails all across the state, played at the beach, delighted the neighborhood kids at Halloween wearing his leopard costume, and made me laugh even when depression threatened to drain the life out of me. In fact, I don't think I rescued him at all - I believe HE rescued ME all those years ago.

Five weeks ago tonight, he was given the presumptive diagnosis of osteosarcoma - bone cancer - in his left shoulder. Despite that, he had been doing reasonably well on his medications, remaining his usual happy and active self, and was even getting along pretty normally tonight up until about 11:40 p.m., when he suddenly became weak and unable to stand, with staggering, panting and labored breathing. After an urgent call to the veterinary emergency hospital, Steve gathered Spyder up in his arms and we rushed him to the doctor. By the time we arrived just after midnight, Spyder had already become limp, cool and pale, with shallow respirations and almost imperceptible heartbeat. Dr. Sherrod told us he was at the end of his life, and he in fact passed away before a decision could even be made about euthanasia. Spyder died the same way he lived - on his own terms - and was active and happy up until the very end. The probable diagnosis was a stroke or heart attack caused by a blood clot from the cancer tumor. He will be cremated, and we were given a clay imprint of his paw as a memorial.

My heart is breaking at the loss of my sweet boy, even though I know he had a wonderful life most dogs only dream of, and there will never be another like him. He was one of a kind, my special little man, and he made my life complete. I miss you, Spyder, and will always love you. Rest in Peace little one. Until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge. Your Pawprints are Forever on my Heart.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Update on Spyder

Although the tumor on his left shoulder appears perhaps to be enlarging somewhat, Spyder remains in excellent spirits and his appetite has even improved over the past couple of days. He ate well last night and this morning, and his diarrhea had largely diminished over the past day or so (although it did return this evening, for which we started him on another prescription food additive powder that hopefully will resolve the problem soon). He still enjoys his twice daily short walks very much and is, as always, eager for a tummy rub, and continues to enjoy lying out in the yard on nice days.

[caption id="attachment_975" align="alignnone" width="497" caption="Enjoying the Weather"][/caption]

I do notice some ever so slight decrease in muscle mass in his left front leg, but his mobility remains good and he exhibits no pain so he appears to be on the appropriate dosage of medications.

[caption id="attachment_972" align="alignnone" width="426" caption="Let's go!"][/caption]

I continue to worry about my little man, of course, but am glad that he at least seems to be comfortable and happy right now.

[caption id="attachment_973" align="alignnone" width="294" caption="Happy Boy"][/caption]

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

If It Isn't One Thing...

Apparently it was the canned dog food that was upsetting Spyder's stomach. He ate only dry kibble with a little bit of cooked chicken mixed in late last night and dry food only this morning and seems to be feeling much better and more like his old self again. I, on the other hand, haven't fared quite so well. The persistent headache I've been fighting for the past several days finally blossomed into a full-blown migraine early this morning and is now accompanied by a painful earache, so I spent the majority of the day in bed - surrounded, of course, by both cats and Spyder who, I must admit, have been very good and attentive caretakers other than making it difficult to get up and take my headache meds since between the three of them they pin the covers down on all sides of me...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Another Spyder Update

Spyder woke us up early this morning, asking to go outside where he had a small amount of diarrhea. Other than that, though, he seemed to feel fine and was acting completely normally so we headed off to work. By the time we arrived home this afternoon, however, things had taken a downturn. Spyder's diarrhea had gotten much worse, and he was "reverse sneezing" a lot, followed by a single episode of vomiting. I immediately called the vet, who suspected it was the canned dog food he had had for dinner last night that triggered this latest abdominal issue. So he is now on an overnight fast to clear his tummy, and we will try him on some bland chicken and dry kibble in the morning. As of now, he hasn't had any more diarrhea or vomiting, although he continues to "reverse sneeze" which does worry me some. The vet thinks, and Steve agrees, that that is probably just related to his tummy being upset and most likely nothing to really be concerned about at this time, but as he is my little furbaby, I'm having a hard time not worrying. While he is not in particularly acute distress, he certainly is not his usual self right now, so I elected to forego tonight's match to stay home and look after him. Hopefully now that his gastric upset seems to have settled down some, he will be able to get some rest, and the overnight fast and resumption of a bland diet in the morning will resolve the tummy issue completely.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Another Spyder Update

I don't know if it's the result of getting his medication regimen stabilized, the prayer wheel our dear friend Robin has been spinning, the amazing outpouring of support and love from friends across the globe or what, but by this past Saturday, Spyder was feeling better than he has in days. This was a very dramatic improvement from Friday, when Steve and I seriously feared he would not survive the weekend. By Saturday morning, his mood was perky and happy, he seemed much more comfortable, able to walk better, and he had begun acting more like his old self, other than not having much of an appetite. But then again, he's never been much of a big eater, especially at breakfast. Concerned that he wasn't going to have enough on his stomach to support his strong pain medications, we perhaps went a bit overboard Saturday night and Sunday morning trying to persuade him to eat, offering him a variety of tempting items including beef, chicken, canned dog food and cat food. By Sunday evening, he was experiencing some severe diarrhea, and we're not sure if it's medication-related or a result of too many changes in his diet too suddenly. Fortunately, that seems to be improving this evening, so hopefully it was just food-related, since his current medications seem to be controlling his pain at this time. We have him back on a more bland diet now, but have included yogurt and kefir which he seems to be tolerating well, and will continue to make sure he gets to go outside frequently to relieve himself, and is drinking sufficient water. Overall, though, his current level of alertness, activity and comfort really seem much better than his prognosis would indicate, and for this, I am eternally grateful. It warms my heart to see him lying in the sun, belly to the sky, spine working that slow twist that gets the back scratched just right and for a brief moment, I can see the puppy in him once again...

Friday, October 8, 2010

After a Rough Start - Some Improvement

This morning began with a very rough start for Spyder. He was so lame and in so much intense distress that he had to be assisted just to walk and was panting heavily with pain. He appeared in such bad shape, in fact, that Steve and I were both very concerned he may not survive the weekend. I elected to stay home with him in light of his severe discomfort and called his veterinarian to move his appointment, scheduled for tomorrow, to today. We gave him his medications and he finally settled down on his doggie-bed in the living room while I sat on the couch to keep an eye on him until his appointment time. Venus curled up beside him, snuggled up right next to his back, like a good kitty-sister and they slept there all morning.

Shortly after lunch, Spyder finally woke up and asked to go outside. Although still very lame, he seemed more perky and alert than he has in the past few days, and even stretched out in the back yard to bask in the autumn sun for a brief while. By the time of his appointment, he seemed almost like his old self, except of course the huge swollen mass on his left shoulder and the still very noticeable and obvious limp. His vet examined him, drew some baseline bloodwork and got a urine sample. She confirmed his prognosis as being quite grim with respect to survival, doubtfully more than a few months due to the aggressive metastatic nature of the cancer, but noted his health otherwise was surprisingly good. We will be keeping him on three-drug therapy, but are going to switch his Rimadyl to meloxicam both for better cost-effectiveness and easier dosing. The scary part is that he will need to be off the Rimadyl for the next couple of days to flush it from his system prior to starting the meloxicam. Hopefully his "helper drugs" of gabapentin and tramadol alone will control his pain sufficiently during this brief interval until the meloxicam can be started. We are continuing to ice his swollen shoulder and apply DMSO, and he has some herbal support on the way as well which we hope will provide some additional positive benefits. My eyes and nose having been cried raw, it was a great relief to see Spyder feeling better late this afternoon and I hope we can achieve a satisfactory level of comfort for our beautiful boy during his remaining time with us.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Back to the Emergency Hospital

Unfortunately, Spyder's pain intensified overnight and he was unable to bear weight again this morning. Since his regular veterinarian's office is closed on Thursdays, we went back to the emergency hospital where he was seen by the head of the Oncology Department. He discussed with us the various pain control options and we elected to try a three-drug therapy, plus a gastrointestinal protectant to shield against the toxic effects of these powerful medications. Right now, Spyder appears to be having some difficulty adjusting to the "loopy" effects resulting from the combination of gabapentin, Rimadyl and tramadol, and seems a bit restless, moving about the living room trying to find a comfortable position. He continues to have a severe limp and remains unable to really bear weight on his left front leg, but has taken a couple of naps since we got home, and I think is finally managing to get some bit of rest by stretching out on his favorite blankets on the couch. He even occasionally will roll over to get his tummy rubbed. Even so, I feel so helpless watching my poor sweet boy struggle to walk and trying to be so brave in spite of his cancer. His attitude, however, remains as loving and engaging as always, and I continue to see a zest for life in his eyes; in spite of his pain, his tail still wags and his ears still perk at the sound of my voice which makes me smile in the saddest of ways. Hopefully this new drug regimen will offer him some relief for the next day at least, until he goes in to see his regular doctor for some lab work and a discussion of whether to continue his current treatment or make any necessary adjustments to maximize his comfort level. As the photo below shows, the shoulder continues to exhibit severe firm swelling and protrusion. Please keep our precious Spyder (and us) in your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The C Word

Spyder Update - Our veterinarian just called after she and her partner reviewed Spyder's radiographs from his ER visit last week and said the word we had been dreading: osteosarcoma. Apparently the consensus is that his radiographic abnormality is almost certainly bone cancer in his left upper leg and shoulder area. While the preferred treatment for this aggressive and terminal disease is amputation, Spyder's history of bilateral hip surgeries as a puppy eliminates this as an option, so we are left with establishing a palliative course of treatment for whatever quality time he has remaining. He has an appointment for baseline blood work next week, and we will determine, along with his veterinarians, a treatment plan to provide him with the highest quality of life possible for the time he has left. Right now, our primary concern is keeping him as comfortable as we can, and making sure he knows just how much he is loved. For the past eleven years, he's been my best buddy, my guardian, my permanent sidekick, and I cherish every moment with him. During some of the darkest times of my life, he has been able to lift me up with his unfettered happy spirits, and can always make me laugh, even when depression has its tightest hold on me. His joyous celebration of life with every waking moment is an inspiration to us all, and I plan to enjoy every second we have left with him, whether it's one month or one year or, hopefully, even more than that.

And although my heart is breaking today, I want to keep my brave face on for the little man who has been my best buddy and center of my heart for the past eleven years, and will always be my little Spyder.