Each Day is a Little Life

1 28 20 2Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.” Arthur Schopenhauer

I have long loved this quote, especially the first part. Believing that each day is its own little life followed by a little youth is an uplifting concept. Yesterday is done. Today you are reborn. Yet today I can’t help but focus on that last part as well…every going to rest and sleep a little death.

I’m going to be upfront with you about this essay. The dog does die in the end. I have many friends who want nothing to do with a story in which the dog ultimately dies. I’m giving you all an out right here and now by not making this a mystery. This tale is about a dog named Eloise and she is gone now.

But I hope you’ll stick with me anyway. Sometimes the end is a beautiful thing and I think, I hope, in this case it was. And I really want you to know Eloise. She deserves to be known.

I first saw the scruffy little cattle dog looking undeniably miserable in a photo posted by Tulsa Animal Welfare. Eloise, the name they gave her upon intake, was lying on the floor staring ahead in tired resignation. Her coat was rough and matted, full of big burs. I’m sure it had to be uncomfortable, but by all appearances she was beyond noticing or caring.

She was shared briefly on social media, but because of her emaciated condition and advanced age, the guess was 13 or 14 years, the shelter staff decided to just make her as comfortable as possible while she stayed for her mandatory stray hold. At the end of the three day period, they would likely euthanize her–a kind and humane option for an obviously elderly, gravely ill dog.

But something about that dog reached straight through my phone’s screen and grabbed my heart saying, “This one. Take this one.”

Jim and I are not strangers to taking in elderly dogs to allow them to live their lives out in comfort and love. It’s something we are grateful we are able to do and it’s always so rewarding. Don’t be fooled for a moment, while taking in hospice-status foster dogs might be considered a selfless act, it is, in my opinion, a very selfish one. These dear animals give us so much in return for the use of a soft bed and regular meals. Our hearts expand with every dog and we learn so much about life.

It’s a wonderful thing to have this experience. We get to see a tired old dog sink down into a worry-free, relaxed sleep. We get to know these dogs, whether for a matter days, a few months, or a couple of years. We get to see the shine return to their coats and eyes. We get to connect with them and be a part of their story.

It’s the best high I know.

And so when my heart said I should take Eloise, my body hopped right in my Jeep and headed to the shelter.  It may sound odd, but I was excited at the prospect of sharing this dog’s journey.

The veterinarian, veterinary technician, and shelter manager talked with me about Eloise and their concerns surrounding her health. They had carefully picked the majority of the sharp burs from her fur. They had made her as comfortable as possible in the relative calm of the clinic instead of putting her in the main kennel of the busy shelter. We could all clearly see that Eloise probably didn’t have much time left and that euthanasia in the coming days might be the kindest option for her. We all agreed that she should not and would not suffer.

1 27 20But prognosis aside, all I could think was that today she could be clean. She could spend a little time in the unseasonably warm sunlight out at my home in the country. She could rest on a cushy pillow tonight. She could have whatever appealed to her for dinner. And she could enjoy some good belly rubs.

With one little glance up into my eyes, I was sure the old dog was willing to give me a try as well. So with a quick signature on a form, Eloise became mine. We headed out into the beautiful day and made a quick stop in the grass where Eloise gratefully showed me she knew where to do her business. Then I settled her on the dog bed that lives in the back of my Jeep and I was off on little life number one with my new/old cow dog.

1 27 20 4 revIt’s generally this point in my shelter adventures when I stop and think, “Oh crap. I should probably tell Jim what I’ve done.” In reality, I should probably tell Jim what I am thinking of doing BEFORE I actually sign the paperwork and leave the shelter with a dog in my arms. But he’s a great guy with a huge heart. His response to our new guest was to immediately curl up with her on her dog bed to give her some much-needed attention.

Yeah, he’s one of the very good guys.

We did take her to our veterinarian to see what support we could offer her from a medical standpoint. Her blood work was the stuff vet school case studies are made of…I can only describe it as “hot mess.” My vet, who is also my dear friend, sighed when I asked what it all meant.

“It could be cancer, it could be infection, it could be a number of things.” Without x rays, ultrasounds, and further testing, we would not have a diagnosis. But all of that would be stressful and a diagnosis wouldn’t change the prognosis. For Eloise, the best course of treatment was already underway.

1 28 20And so we started enjoying little lives with Eloise. I gave her a thorough bath that took three shampooings to get the rinse water to run clear.  I gently combed out all of the old undercoat until her fur was smooth. We made sure to get her outside for small strolls and potty breaks on a regular basis. We massaged her thin frame and give her belly rubs. We offered her a smorgasbord of food choices and catered to her fickle appetite.

If you have ever cared for a critically ill dog, you know that finding something they want to eat can be tricky and you have to be creative. At this stage of the game, healthy diet be damned. Your mission is simply to find food that makes them perk up and eat a bit.

For Eloise, she initially loved scrambled eggs and chicken. Then it was corn dogs and bites of bagels. Then it was a little cheeseburger that put a sparkle in her eyes.

Eloise did not require a lot to be happy during her last days. We got to share six little lives with our dear girl and then she passed quietly and gently in her sleep. It took me a moment of watching for a breath to realize she was gone. And that was the best end to her last little life that I could imagine.

So this is not a tale of sorrow for a dog that could not be saved. That was never our expectation. This a tale of gratitude for a dog that got to pass in peace. I believe Eloise was loved in her past life. She was a good girl and I suspect in her younger days, a feisty, fun cow dog. I don’t know how she ended up stray in such desperate condition…there are too many storylines to imagine…but I do know that her last six  lives achieved exactly what I hoped for her the moment my eyes first connected with hers.

She was safe, she was comfortable, she had cheeseburger breath, she was loved, and she got a last name. Eloise Gallimore-Thomason, romp in peace my friend. Thank you for sharing your last precious little lives with us.

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Behind Me, to the Left

boog 8 18I make breakfast as I do every day. Fast.

When you are feeding 20-plus hungry dogs, fast is a good skill. I realize that last statement places me in the “crazy dog lady” category, and I’m good with it.

What is normal for me and Jim is outlandish to most. Suspect, even. But rest assured, our dogs are well-loved, well cared for, and well spoiled. We run a rescue and foster most of our furry charges ourselves. This means our home is a bit different from most, but it’s also chaotically fun and incredibly snuggly.  Hey, if the Duggers can manage all those kids, whats a couple dozen dogs?

So back to breakfast. I have a system, I know which bowl is going to which dog, I know how much each dog eats. Yeah, I have mad kibble skills. On the other side of the coin, the hungry dogs know the drill as well. They know where they eat, they know in what order they will be served. Newcomers catch on fast. It is the same every single day.

Except today.

Today, as I set the bowls down, each one in the same order as always, I hit a glitch. Howie’s bowl, Kainan and Snow next, Mickey, and on, and on, until I turn to my left with Boog’s bowl. Boog isn’t there.

Boog always eats just behind where I prep the food and to the left. Only one other time in the history of Boog has his smiling face failed to be in that spot at mealtime. And that turned out to be a bad, scary day.

That was the day we almost lost our boy to a splenic tumor, the silent monster that decided to very suddenly make its terrifying presence known. Thankfully, we knew the symptoms, and thankfully we were able to save his life. (Read the whole story here.) But that tumor turned out to be more than just a one-time unwelcome guest. Boog was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, a rapidly growing, highly invasive variety of cancer that occurs almost exclusively in dogs.

Ultrasound also revealed a mass in Boog’s perfect, sweet heart. No biopsy can safely be done, but the logical assumption is that it is the same type of cancer. A cruel double whammy for our special boy.

No dog deserves this diagnosis, but certainly not Boog. He is the boy who captured our hearts from the moment he was born. His mother was our foster dog, Olive. She came to us in a very delicate condition and soon delivered eight healthy little polar bears…Boog the only one to be completely soft white with no patches of color.

IMG_9858Over the first weeks of their lives it was amazing to watch the overcoat of black or red hairs mixing in with the white to create the trademark blue or red coloring of the cattle dog. Often, I would come home from work to check on Olive and her family only to find seven squirming pups instead of eight. That eighth little guy could always be found nestled on Jim’s shoulder. I knew pretty early on that Boog would not be leaving the farm.

Boog was one of those dogs that just fell perfectly into our world. We never gave him a minute of formal training, yet he has always been the dog that will stick to your heels, leash or no leash, no matter where you go. He is loyal, smart, and quick to figure things out. He’s the dog I can take with me when training with a shy or reactive dog. He is an excellent teacher’s aide. If Boog has a flaw, it’s that he just can’t hold his licker. If you are going to say a close and personal hello to Boog, he may just think your face needs a quick and thorough washing as well.

And now, in an unfair twist of fate, veterniary medicine was trying to tell us our Boog’s prognosis was grim. Statistically speaking, dogs with this type of cancer have a life expectancy of only one to three months post diagnosis. But as far as I can see, Boog does not have an expiration date printed anywhere on his handsome little body. So statistics be damned.

Because Boog’s health is otherwise good, we decided to give chemotherapy a try with the agreement that if it was too hard on him in any way, we would stop. We want our boy’s time in this life to be happy and as care-free as possible. So quality will always rule the day for him.

Boog cruised through his first treatment remarkably well. Three weeks after that, he handled his second treatment like a school boy thumbing his nose at the playground bully. Then, after another three weeks, he had his third treatment. And that brings us to the day, three days post treatment, when Boog was not behind me, to the left, in line for breakfast. And the same was true for dinner that evening.

He was quiet. The switch on his normal full-body squirm was in the off position. He looked at his food bowl with troubled eyes, licking his lips and turning his head away. The cumulative effects of the chemo had finally caught up to him. We had medicine on hand for this possibility to help sooth his queezy stomach. We would help him feel better. Tomorrow he would surely be in his place.

But tomorrow let us down. Once again, when I turned around to my left with food in hand, Boog was absent, once again for both breakfast and dinner. We tried chicken. We tried canned food. We tried. Boog’s sweet face answered with a polite, quiet no-thank-you each time.

The next tomorrow failed us too and I felt my heart getting squeezed just a little tighter with each rejected meal.

It made me question the logic of pushing on. In truth, Boog was not horribly ill. He was not throwing up. He was not completely shut down. It was nothing terribly dramatic. But knowing Boog…well…it was just hard to see him down like that.

On the sixth day post chemo, I stood in my usual spot, surrounded by the normal undulating sea of hungry canine energy. I fixed all of the bowls. placed them in order on the counter. I gave Howie his bowl. I fed Kainan and Snow, Mickey, and so on. Then it was time to turn behind me to the left.

20180528_124814And there, in all of his eager glory, was Boog. His eyes were bright with anticipation. His body vibrating with his trademark, barely contained energy. Boog was ready for his meal.

As soon as I placed the bowl in front of him, he was gobbling his food down with his normal do-I-really-need-to-chew intensity. I stood for a moment reveling in the snarf, crunch, gulp sounds before the impatience of a dozen or so other dogs brought me back to my Flo-the-waitress persona and I continued slinging bowls to my famished patrons.

Boog’s clean bowl on this day was a thing of beauty, especially given the fact that we had just passed the three-month mark post surgery. You know, the mark medical science suggested we wouldn’t likely see. I never was very good at science. Thank goodness Boog doesn’t seem to pay attention to it either.

We have two more chemo appointments ahead. I take a very deep breath every time I think about that. In reality, Boog really is doing well. His blood work is holding steady and I’d say 98% of the time he acts like his normal self. But oh how that 2% twists around in my heart and mind. Math is no more my subject than science, but during this journey 2% seems HUGE at times.

Today, however, we are securely back in our wiggly, hungry, always-behind-me-to-the-left 98% happy place. This place feels very good. I will work hard to not let 2% of doubt overshadow 98% of hope. I think even my past math and science teachers would unanomously applaud that idea.

Hey Boog, I still don’t see any expiration dates on you. See you at dinner, buddy.

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There’s No Place Like Home. Just ask Boog.

 

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Adorable pic of Boog by Kara Hamilton. Mad photos skills.

Please, take me home.

I could hear his voice as clearly as if he suddenly had been granted the gift of human language.  However, the voice I was hearing was not audible, but rather coming from the pleading look in his tired eyes.

I need to g20180528_130955o home. 

Looking down at my boy, hooked up to all kinds of monitors, IV lines, a feeding tube, and a catheter, I knew it couldn’t happen. Not right now, Boog. You need to be here for now. I would not tell him no. Instead, I would tell him, and myself, soon. Soon, Boog.

Boog’s journey to this place, to the intensive care unit of a well-respected specialty veterinary hospital was brief and terrifying. On Sunday morning when we woke up, he was just a little off.

He didn’t want his breakfast – something that hasn’t happened in the nearly 10 years he has lived with us. He went away to a quiet part of the house to rest by himself – also not normal for our always-where-you-are, busy little cattle dog.

I had to leave the house to run a few errands, so told Jim about Boog’s odd behavior and asked him to keep an eye on him. So far, his breathing was normal, his gums and tongue were a good pink color, and he would get up and move around if asked. But a niggling little fear was bouncing around inside my gut.

Watch him. Don’t leave him alone.

Within a couple of hours Jim called to say that he was rushing Boog to a nearby vet that thankfully had Sunday hours. Boog had grown very weak…our boy was crashing. Already in my car heading home, I spun the wheel in the direction of the veterinary hospital to meet them.

The little fear that had been whispering inside me was now yelling at me, especially when I saw Boog again and could see how pale the pink areas of his lips and gums had become.

“Check his spleen,” I asked the moment we saw a veterinarian. Experience with so many dogs, especially the seniors we have taken in over the years, has taught us valuable lessons about the warning signs of several common, but deadly afflictions that can plague our dogs.  Older dogs are prone to tumors forming on their spleens. You won’t have any warning unless you happen to do x-rays or an ultrasound for some other reason and are lucky enough to find it. Most often a splenic tumor isn’t found until it ruptures and makes itself known with frightening, grim certainty.

My fear was quickly confirmed and our sweet boy was raced into surgery as we settled in for one very hard waiting game.

Boog came through surgery well enough, but during recovery his heart rate jumped to a concerning level. Instead of bringing Boog home to recover, he had to be transferred to the specialty veterinary hospital for 24-hour care.

“It’s just for the night, buddy,” Jim and I told him. “You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

But tomorrow came and went with little improvement. Then another tomorrow. We visited our boy, we sat with him, watching for any little signs that he was turning that all-important corner. We knew there were a lot of hurdles in his future, the largest one being the question of the still-pending results of the biopsy on his tumor, but despite everything looming around us, despite all the what-ifs tapping us on the shoulder, we stayed focused on one thing. Boog needed to come home.

20180515_194301At the end of day three, as Boog flipped his tail against his bedding in greeting and we were starting to feel he was showing signs of improvement, one of the veterinarians stuck a pin in that little balloon of hope we were desperately trying to inflate.

“I don’t think Boog will be able to leave the hospital.”

Now, if you digest that statement for a moment, you pretty quickly realize she is suggesting that your dog should be euthanized. This was not the news we were prepared to hear. More importantly, it was not the message we were hearing from Boog.

The veterinarian had very valid concerns. Boog’s breathing was labored. He wasn’t showing a desire to get up…to try to move around. She and her collegues feared issues with his lungs that would lead to certain suffering and death. They had an educated hunch. But so did we.

Jim and I are very rational people. Because of our rescue work, we have loved and cared for more dogs at the end of their lives in the span of a few years than most people have in a lifetime. We do not let our dogs suffer. We do know when it’s time to let go.

But still…all I could hear was that quiet, insistent voice in my head.

I need to go home. Please, just take me home.

And then it hit me. Every time Jim and I visited Boog in the hospital, no matter how tired he was, no matter how bad he felt, he always gave us a tail wag. Always. And each time the techs overseeing his constant care would comment, “Oh look, he wagged his tail! He hasn’t done that for us.”

Boog ALWAYS wags his tail. No matter what. This dog is the friendliest, cheeriest dog I know. Not wagging his tail in greeting to the humans caring for him was HUGE. He was sending a message loud and clear.

So I faced the veterinarian who was trying to let us down so gently. I took a deep breath to quiet the huge lump in my throat as I smiled and told her that I thought Boog was depressed. I explained that we fully understood her concerns and that we all wanted what was best for Boog. And on this night, what Jim and I knew was best for our dog was to let him leave the hospital.

It was against the vet’s better judgement. I assured her we would stay with him every minute and if he started to have any more issues, we would have our personal vet on call to end any suffering, day or night. What was important in that moment was to get Boog home in time to watch sunset with us on our own front porch.

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Home, watching the sun set.

And so all of the tubes were unhooked. All of the monitors turned off. Boog was wheeled out to our waiting car on a gurney where one of the vet techs who had been caring for him helped Jim gently transfer Boog into the car, tears pooling in her eyes. In her mind, this was a goodbye. Bless her for caring for each of her patients so very much.

We got Boog home just in time to sit with him while the sun painted the sky in a pallet of colors that wished us a peaceful good night. Together, we watched our boy through the evening. Then Jim kept his special buddy company through the first night, I was on duty the following night.

And so the magic of home went to work. Boog’s eyes grew brighter. His tail thumped more often and with greater enthusiasm. His breathing calmed. He gained strength, step by step. And his appetite gradually returned.

Over the course of one week, with support from our personal veterinarian (how lucky are we that one of our dearest friends is also our trusted veterinarian?), we watched a furry miracle unfold. Boog went from a dog flat on his side with tubes and monitors attached all over his body, to our bright-eyed, bouncy, HUNGRY, happy-to-be-alive boy.

Now, let me be clear, the purpose of this article is not to question the veterinarians who so carefully and skillfully cared for Boog. They do their job well and we are extremely gratefully to have a state-of-the-art emergency/specialty veterinarian nearby.

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Boog, less than one week after coming home, sweet home.

The purpose of this article is to say that sometimes you have to go with your gut, even in the face of questionable odds. If we had just strictly listened to the hard facts on that Wednesday evening, we might have chosen to let Boog go. But sometimes, in the midst of the overwhelming hustle, bustle, black and white with shades of gray world of medical science, you need to mix in a good dose of heartfelt feeling. And so we did. And so Boog came home. And he is very much alive. In fact, just a week following his return to Tails You Win Farm, we celebrated his 10th birthday.

His challenges are not over…remember that biopsy? Well, the news wasn’t good. But my gut feeling is that we do have treasured time to share with our funny little blue dog. My gut says we have today, and most certainly tomorrow. I’ll take one day at a time quite happily and gratefully.

Boog gets to call the shots now. Two weeks ago he almost died. A few days later we almost let someone convince us he needed to die. Almost is my new favorite word. And hey, Dorothy nailed it when she was trying to get the hell out of Oz…there truly is no place like home.

Party on, Boog. Party on.