Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Scrappy's Journey

When I picked up Scrappy from an animal shelter in California, he was recovering from surgery for bladder stones.  The animal control officer made me promise to never put him through another surgery again.  "He's just too old and weak for it," she said.

At the time he was estimated to be between 10 and 12 years old with a graying face.  They made it sound like he might not live much longer, but I've had him for another five years, and he has been an amazingly low maintenance dog.  He just eats what I feed him and he just gets down to business when I take him outside.  He sleeps most of the day and night, except for when I am up and moving around.  Then he is like my little shadow, following me from room to room.

He's mostly deaf and blind.  He has a heart murmur.  He has bad teeth that keep falling out.  He's an old dog.

Just recently he began having a hard time jumping up onto his favorite spot on the couch, so we made a step for him.  The step worked for about a week, and now he has problems getting up even with the help of the step.  His appetite has been all over the map.  Some days he won't eat, some days he asks for something else, but eats what I give him anyway, some days he eats his own food and everyone else's.

I was sensing that the end is near with him.  Then we saw that he was licking a sore on his belly.  Upon closer examination, the sore was a red lump with a black finger and a white tip coming out of it.  It looked like cancer to me.  I took him in to see the new vet who I like, and she agreed that it looks like cancer.

However, we won't know if it is benign or malignant without a biopsy, and the name of the game with old dogs with heart murmurs is to avoid putting them under anesthesia, but if you have to, do everything at once.  The vet offered two paths:  Treat the growth with a topical solution, steroids and antibiotics and hope that it goes away, or have surgery, remove the entire mass and get caught up on all his dental work.  The difference in price was $200 or $2,000.  Given that we are still paying off my husband's hospital bills, the timing for such a big veterinary bill is not good.

I asked if she could do some imaging to see if he has cancer elsewhere than just on his skin.  It is my experience that cancer starts on the inside, and shows up on the skin last, unless it's just skin cancer.  I didn't want to put Scrappy through surgery and all that pain of being cut open and having teeth pulled out if he's beyond treatment.  But the vet said that you need a million cancer cells just to see a pinpoint of cancer on an image, and it's more accurate to do a biopsy.  The biopsy can tell us whether it is not cancer, a slow moving cancer or an aggressive cancer.

At first I was going to opt for the surgery, but then the animal control officer's words rang through my head and I started thinking about how risky it is at his age in his condition.  So, I'm taking the non-surgical route first, which will last about a month, and then I have to wait seven days for the steroids to wear off before electing for surgery if nothing has improved.

Quite frankly, since I've seen him going downhill quickly these past few weeks, I suspect my question of whether he already has cancer on the inside will be answered within the next month just by his behavior.  If it's obvious that he's sick, I'd prefer to put him to sleep than to put him through surgery only to be told that he's got an aggressive form of cancer.  The growth bleeds, so I'm keeping Midge's Thundershirt on him to prevent him from licking it and leaving blood stains on the furniture and carpet.

I really like this new-to-me vet's office, because they do what I believe professionals should do, which is to present me with the options and let me choose what is best for me and my dog without any pressure or judgment from them.  This is the second dog I have brought to them, and they were very respectful of me and answered all of my questions.  They didn't overload me with paperwork or insist that I fax all of the previous vet's records to them.  They took my word for it that my dogs are up to date on their vaccinations without needing proof.

It was so nice to walk out of there without feeling like I just had a guilt trip slathered all over me.  Everyone in that office is down to earth and they clearly care as much about people as they do the animals.  I just wish they had more parking spaces, a bigger waiting room, and better air conditioning, but I can deal with those problems as long as the staff continues to be supportive and understanding throughout this difficult process.


Dreaming said...

Such a tough decision to make, but it sounds like your heart really is in the right place. You have given Scrappy a great life, and I know you will continue to care for him in the best way you know how

Grey Horse Matters said...

The vets practice sounds like a good one. I hope Scrappy doesn't have cancer and the topical melds work. If not, I agree with you about not having surgery and putting him through unnecessary pain and suffering to prolong his life. Good luck.

Water Girl said...

My heart aches for you. I hope Scrappy doesn't have cancer, but if he does, that he makes it obvious to you he's ready to go. Of course, in a perfect world our pets would make the decision themselves and pass peacefully in their sleep. I'll keep my fingers crossed you don't have to make that tough decision. At least if you do, you can make it knowing that you gave Scrappy a much better end of life than he would have sitting in a shelter. Not a lot of people will adopt senior dogs, it takes a really special person to do so. You should feel proud knowing that you were willing to open up your heart to an old-timer when most people would have passed him by without even a blink.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Thanks everyone. I think I got a sweet deal adopting an older dog. He came to me potty trained and had always had good manners. Someone else did all the work for me.

Stacey C said...

I'm really sorry to read this about Scrappy. I totally agree with Water Girl. He has been incredibly lucky to spend these past five years with you. I am sorry you are going through this with him. Tomorrow will be one year since we had to put our Siamese to sleep due to kidney failure. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

ellie k said...

It is so hard to let a pet go and to know when to do it. Our Akita had cancer in her female organs, we spent a lot of money trying to keep her alive and pain free. After a while the vet told us we were doing it for us and we had to think of her. She had a great life, good food, kids to play with and a big fenced yard to run in. She spent the hot days inside with air and could go out and run anytime she wanted. I know we made the right decision but the hurt was still there. You will know what to do and when. So sorry you are going through this.

ellie k said...

Next week we will start treatment for mu husbands cancer. they are not sure if it will be chemo or rad. yet. the drs are very encouraging. we have been doing a lot of praying.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

ellie - I'm glad the doctors are encouraging. You definitely need that after being shocked with so much bad news so quickly.

Mrs Shoes said...

I'm glad to hear the new vet is working out so well - after all the headaches you've had trying to find a good one consistently, you & the critters deserve a break.
Sorry to hear about Scrappy because I know it makes you sad, but I'm pretty certain that (if he could talk) Scrappy would say that he spent the best years of his life with you.
Whatever you do for him will be in his best interests - still hurts, but Thank God we can offer them an easy way out if it comes to that.

achieve1dream said...

I'm so glad you found this vet! I hope the topical worked and that Scrappy is fine but if not I think you're making the right decision. It isn't fair to put him through an ordeal like that at his age and with his heart condition. You have given him a great five years. I'm so glad you adopted him. :-)