You really find out how deeply and truly you love your dog when a cancer diagnosis is made. My Rose is quite old – 15 and a half years. I remember getting her in 1999. I had lost my childhood dog six months earlier and had, on impulse, entered into a pet store (which I don’t usually do) while out shopping one day. And there was this adorable 11 week old puppy, tail wagging, a black and tan kelpie, the spitting image of the dog I had just lost. I was renting and living in an apartment at the time, so getting a dog was not on the cards, but foolishly, fatefully, I asked to pat the puppy, and she was placed on the ground and then ran up to me so joyfully and proceeded to bound around in my arms and lap. It seemed perhaps she was the reincarnation of my previous beloved dog. Despite her being a pet store dog, I had to get her.
Fifteen and a half years is a long time. She has been such a faithful and a constant companion. She has calmly seen me through university, relationship break ups, work stress and the general ups and downs of life. We have had many good times together and in many ways my life has revolved around her needs. When she started limping I took her to the vet. It was thought that she had hurt her lower front leg and this made sense as she had recently tripped over one of my other dogs while running down stairs and had taken a bad fall. She was placed on arthritis medication and sent home for general rest. We visited again when there was no improvement and further rest was prescribed. On the third visit to the vet, a different vet was in residence and he immediately recognised that she had bone cancer (oesteosarcoma) in her upper left leg. This was confirmed by x-rays. I was immediately in tears and shock. How could she go from having a sore foot to having terminal cancer and only a few weeks to live!? The vet recommended amputation but I told the vet that she was far too old to survive surgery and besides her back legs had started to get a bit wobbly and how could she possibly cope with only three legs? For some reason however, I asked the vet to do a blood test to check her health for pre-surgery and took Rose home with pain medications. I was flooded in tears and already grieving her loss.
This happened in the afternoon and I had just started a new job that day. The next day I was still teary and my face was swollen. I was in no shape to turn up at work, plus I had limited time left to spend with Rose and she was in need of care. So I had to make the first hard decision – to call my new boss and arrange leave without pay when I had only just started. I’m a bit of a workaholic and I feel work responsibility keenly and had already been handed over some large projects just on day one, so this was quite difficult. I was also worried about my reputation, what would they would think about my crazy dog lady drama, so it really was hard to make that phone call. But I had no choice after thinking about how Rose had devoted her whole life to me and now she just needed me to provide her with care and companionship. In the bigger scheme of things it was a no brainer. Luckily work have been fine. It helped that it was near the Christmas/New Year period and that I have previously worked at that place.
Making that call gave me time. And having time relieved the panic and allowed me to think more rationally and to do research.
Only one week prior we had holidayed at the beach and I have video footage of Rose running along the beach, doing fly bys as we walked along, and bounding through the surf like a young dog. She was meant to be resting her leg, but the joy of being at the beach had infected her and once I let her off the leash and she took off I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt her fun, knowing that she was getting old and it might be the last time she was ever at the beach. I kept looking at that footage over and over. It was a great reminder of how she was just one week prior, as she had quickly gone downhill and was just lying around in a lot of pain. Perhaps the cancer pain had been exacerbated by her running about at the beach.
I started to research oesteosarcoma on the internet and, a surge of hope, I found that there is limb sparing surgery available for dogs with bone cancer in the leg. It replaces the diseased part of the bone, allowing the dog to retain four legs. Ah! Looking at the video footage of Rose running about at the beach, I started to think that perhaps the risk of surgery was worth taking. With the level of pain she was currently in I could not keep her alive for much longer and would have to consider putting her down, perhaps even by the coming weekend which was only four days away. After only a short time of her lying around, it was easy to see her as this old dog at the end of her days, so I was thankful for the recent video footage to remind me of her capabilities and joy for life. I knew that without the cancer, she still had mileage in her.
I managed to arrange a referral from the local vet and get an appointment at the specialist vet that day. The specialist vet very quickly burst my bubble and explained that limb sparing surgery only works on the lower part of the leg because the replacement part needs to be attached to the remaining length of bone above. As Rosy’s cancer was at the top of the leg there was nothing to anchor any replacement to. More tears, however the vet was quite confident that Rose would be able to survive amputation surgery and adapt to three legs, even given her age. He felt her hips and had x-rays done to check for arthritis. Some spondyloysis was present but the vet still felt confident that she would be ok. Gosh, what a flip in thinking and what a hard decision but I had to start to rationally break it down. The leg was causing pain and removing it would immediately relieve that pain and extend her life. The other option was to put her down soon. I knew that if I pointed a gun at Rose’s head (or infer any other type of fatal harm) she would run away if she knew the intent. The specialist was telling me he could not make any guarantees but was confident that she would survive surgery and be able to get about on three legs. I knew that if she was to have the surgery the sooner the better. I booked her in for surgery the next day, but instead of leaving her at the vet overnight, I bought some thinking time by taking her home.
The next morning it was decision time. I fluctuated between deciding to put her in for surgery and deciding not to. I called the vet clinic to find out the latest time I could deliver her for surgery. I was alone because my partner had had to go to work. After some agonising time thinking about it I called my parents in tears asking them to come over and help me make the decision. We all sat around Rose who was excited to have visitors and lay at our feet, occasionally getting up for pats. Mum was against it, she felt it was cruel to remove her leg and have her have to learn how to get about on three legs and then go through chemotherapy, but Dad was of the opinion that the leg is causing the pain, so we address that problem and then address any next problems as they occur. I needed to hear both views. I realised that I had already made the decision to put Rosy through the surgery but just needed the support to give me courage to enact it for her. Mum and Dad kindly drove Rose and I to the surgery. We dropped her off just in time to have surgery that day with a tearful goodbye kiss from me.
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