Darkness Has Settled …

… bringing with it the frigid temps of a Colorado winter.  Fourteen inches of new snow have fallen since Thursday evening, blanketing the previously brown winter landscape.  It is late Friday night and ice crystals still float in the air … whether wind-borne from the snow cornices drooping on the roof’s edge or falling from the low grey clouds, I cannot tell.  The deepening silence and chill is fitting for contemplation and composition of tonight’s post …

Jackson ...

Jackson came to rescue in 2009, a casualty of the down turn in the economy.  His owner now worked two jobs and no longer had the time or funding to take care of him.  Giving him up was very difficult as the owner had planned to begin training to make him a therapy dog.  

Fostered by Michelle in Wellington, Jackson’s stint in rescue was a relatively short one.  Linda first met Jackson at the Fort Collins Fire Hydrant 5 where we had a rescue/breed booth set up … and where she was immediately smitten with this little dog.  Shortly thereafter, in May of 2009, Linda and Troy added Jackson to their family.  As Jackson was such a nice little dog and didn’t know the word “stranger,” Linda took on the owner’s goal and they became certified as a therapy team.  Linda later fostered Jasper for us and we got to see her and Jackson on numerous occasions as time went by.  Jackson was one of those dogs whose face exuded joy.  No matter the circumstance or the activity, he was a happy dog, his eyes a sparkle.

Linda called me from the veterinary teaching hospital at CSU on January 19th, advising that Jackson had awoke that morning, unable to walk or use his back legs.  After evaluation and diagnostics by the vets, they were of the opinion Jackson had suffered a fibrocartilaginous embolism.  While not rare per se, it is more commonly found in large dogs.  Linda wrote later:

This was harder than I thought. Jackson was put to sleep on Thursday night. He had an autopsy at CSU and then cremated. He is still sitting on our counter and I’m not sure why? Anyway it was a FCE. An embolism. A piece of spinal cord broke off, traveled through a blood vessel and went back to the spine. By the time it lodged, much of the spinal cord had blown. Meaning, the paralysis would have eventually gone to the sternum and suffocated him. There was nothing to do. Pretty rare for a small dog, but the age group was right. He was filmed by CSU through all this is and will be immortalized by teaching vets about this. I’ve attached some photos of the boy. He was truly special and we are a little lost without him. We were honestly loved by Jackson.

As pet owners, we all know that life is transient with our beloved companions.  We watch as the years tick off, collecting vignettes in time from which to draw upon for comfort when we have to let them go.  However, I don’t think any of us can steel our hearts for the untimely loss of a healthy, young dog.  Linda mentioned to me in a phone call how fitting it was that this therapy dog in life would — in death — go on to teach the healers among us.

Jackson cruisin' on the ATV

Jackson’s cremains will be interred in the family plot at some point.  For now, and for as long as it takes until that happens … he’s home.  And I know, without a doubt, that this would have been Jackson’s last Will.

Godspeed, little one.  It was an honor to have been a part of your life.

How Do You Know …

… when it’s time to let a beloved companion go?  As pet owners, we must all face this difficult decision if we are to keep the promises made long years ago.  To keep them safe, to keep them warm, to keep their best interest at heart no matter how difficult.  Whether it’s the first time or the fifth time, it never gets any easier.

Today’s post is more for me than anything else.  We’re struggling with the question of euthanasia for our old girl, Ali.  She has severe OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) that’s bordering on self mutilation.  She’s always had some element of OCD but it has become markedly worse in the past year.  Nothing we’ve tried in the past or the present has helped to a great degree.   The current medication as prescribed by a behaviorist from CSU is losing its efficacy.  She’s miserable — we’re miserable.  As a self-admitted control freak, it is exceedingly difficult for me to concede that I can’t “fix” this.   No matter what happens, I do not want to look back on this time and say, “I waited too long”  as that means the dog has suffered.  Needlessly. 

My beloved Ali ...

The time has come to pony up and repay Ali for all the years of joy and unconditional love.  To take her pain and make it my own, freeing her from the ravages of time and a deteriorating mind and body.  I do not make this decision lightly … and I weep with the knowledge she will soon be gone, no longer my little red shadow.  Ali holds a special place in my heart as it was through her that my involvement with the breed became a journey of education into what truly makes an Apso “an Apso.”

Many years back I saved the following article and, from time to time, have pulled it out to share with friends struggling with the same issue.  Or to prepare myself for what was to come with a foster so badly damaged it was beyond my best efforts.  This day, it soothes the angst of impending personal loss … 

How Do You Know When It’s Time? 

I don’t subscribe to the idea that dogs “will let us know when it’s time,” at least not in any conscious sense on their part. For one thing, I’ve found in my years of counseling folks who have ill pets and often accompanying them through the euthanasia process, that this notion is often interpreted in a way that puts a lot of pressure on people when they’re already stressed and grief-stricken. “What if I miss the signs? He looked miserable yesterday but not today. What if I act too soon or not soon enough? How could he ever let on that he wants it to end? But maybe I’m deluding myself that he feels better than he does.”

Dogs are not people. We lovingly anthropomorphize our dogs during our time together and there’s no harm in that, even quite a bit of reward for both them and us. But the bottom line is that they are not people and they don’t think in the way people think. (Many of us would argue that that speaks to the superiority of dogs.) These amazing beings love us and trust us implicitly. It just isn’t part of their awareness that they should need to telegraph anything to us in order for their needs to be met or their well-being ensured. They are quite sure that we, as their pack leaders, operate only in their best interest at all times. Emotional selfishness is not a concept in dogdom and they don’t know how hard we sometimes have to fight against it ourselves.

Dogs also have no mindset for emotional surrender or giving up. They have no awareness of the inevitability of death as we do and they have no fear of it. It is fear that so often influences and aggravates our perceptions when we are sick or dying and it becomes impossible to separate the fear out from the actual illness after a while. But that’s not the case with dogs. Whatever we observe to be wrong with our sick dogs, it’s all illness. And we don’t even see the full impact of that until it’s at a very advanced point, because it’s a dog’s nature to endure and to sustain the norm at all costs. If that includes pain, then that’s the way it is. Unlike us, they have never learned that letting pain show, or reporting on it, may generate relief or aid. So they endure, assuming in their deepest doggy subconscious that whatever we abide for them is what is to be abided.

If there is a “look in the eye” or an indication of giving up that we think we see from our beloved dogs, it isn’t a conscious attitude on their part or a decision to communicate something to us. It’s just an indication of how tired and depleted they are. But they don’t know there’s any option other than struggling on, so that’s what they do. We must assume that the discomfort we see is much less than the discomfort they really feel. And we do know of other options and it is entirely our obligation to always offer them the best option for that moment … be it further intervention, or none, or the gift of rest.

From the moment we embrace these animals when they first grace our lives, every day is one day closer to the day they must abandon their very temporary and faulty bodies and return to the state of total perfection and rapture they have always deserved. We march along one day at a time, watching and weighing and continuing to embrace and respect each stage as it comes. Today is a good day. Perhaps tomorrow will be, too, and perhaps next week and the weeks or months after. But there will eventually be a winding down. And we must not let that part of the cycle become our enemy.

When I am faced with the ultimate decision about how I can best serve the animal I love so much, I try to set aside all the complications and rationales of what I may or may not understand medically and I try to clear my mind of any of the confusions and ups and downs that are so much a part of caring for a terminally ill pet. This is hard to do, because for months and often years we have been in this mode of weighing hard data, labs, food, how many ounces did he drink, should he have his rabies shot or not, etc. But at some point it’s time to put all of that in the academic folder and open the spiritual folder instead. At that point we are wise to ask ourselves the question: “Does he want to be here today, to experience this day in this way, as much as I want him to?”

Remember, dogs are not afraid, they are not carrying anxiety and fear of the unknown. So for them it’s only about whether this day holds enough companionship and ease and routine so that they would choose to have those things more than anything else and that they are able to focus on those things beyond any discomfort or pain or frustration they may feel. How great is his burden of illness this day, and does he want/need to live through this day with this burden of illness as much as I want/need him to? If I honestly believe that his condition is such, his pleasures sufficient, that he would choose to persevere, then that’s the answer and we press on.

If, on the other hand, I can look honestly and bravely at the situation and admit that he, with none of the fear or sadness that cripples me, would choose instead to rest, then my obligation is clear. Because he needs to know in his giant heart, beyond any doubt, that I will have the courage to make the hard decisions on his behalf, that I will always put his peace before my own, and that I am able to love him as unselfishly as he has loved me.

After many years, and so very many loved ones now living on joyously in their forever home in my heart, this is the view I take. As my veterinarian, who is a good and loving friend, injects my precious one with that freedom elixir, I always place my hand on top of his hand that holds the syringe. He has chosen a life of healing animals and I know how terribly hard it is for him to give up on one. So I want to shoulder that burden with him so he’s not alone. The law of my state says the veterinarian is the one licensed to administer the shot, not me. But a much higher law says this is my ultimate gift to my dog and the responsibility that I undertook on the day I welcomed that dog into my life forever.  ~ Hilary Brown     Reprinted by permission of the author

Into the New Year …

Now that things have calmed down somewhat and the holidays are but a distant memory, we’ll start working on getting the Blog updated.  Quite a few changes in the past few months, both personally and with rescue … lots of things to post about.

As many of you know, my father passed away in early September; the next three months were a blur for us.  Besides dealing with his death — physically and emotionally — there was also the matter of cleaning out his house and getting it on the market.  Add into the mix a week-long trip to Carlisle, PA for the American Lhasa Apso Club’s 50th Anniversary and National Specialty … a great show with lots of history.  My souvenir from that trip was a cold, the cough of which lasted 6 weeks.  Then, to top off the year, we got an offer on Dad’s house in mid November … which meant we would spend the next 30 days sorting through what was still in the house, getting it ready for closing and having an estate sale.  So now you know why you didn’t get a Christmas card from rescue this year!! 

We’re getting adjusted to four dogs in the house and Buttons seems to have settled in pretty well, all things considered.  We do note that her sight is getting worse — she didn’t have much to begin with — so that’s something we’re dealing with on a daily basis.  She’s been seen by an ophthalmologist at CSU and had some testing done.  Unfortunately, they believe she has a lesion on the optic nerve and there’s nothing that can be done to improve or restore her sight.  Matters not … she’s home, a promise kept. 

Alrighty then … stay tuned for more info, upcoming events and some exciting news!  We’ll end this with a photo of Dante and his favorite present from Santa Paws …

"I just love my new bed!!"

Healing thoughts …

Image007 (2)… needed for one of our former fosters.  I always knew this day would come … a day wherein a phone call is received concerning one of the dogs we’ve placed.  Knew it would be difficult for the owners who opened their hearts and home to a rescue years long past to make this call.

BooBoo was our first out-of-state transport into rescue.  Originally from Oklahoma City, he caught a ride to Colorado with a gal that was headed home to the Springs after a lure-coursing trial.  We met at a truck stop in Limon, Colorado … a fair piece from my home, especially so when the meet /greet was set for 11:00 p.m.  Hubby, bless his heart, insisted that I wasn’t driving it alone.  I’m glad he was there as it was 2:00 a.m. when we pulled into our driveway.   Despite the late hour, it was a beautiful drive home across the southeastern plains under a brilliant full moon. 

BooBoo is a charmer.  We had friends over for dinner in July 2003 … BooBoo found an accommodating lap and proceeded to insist on sitting in it for most of the evening.  Boo went home with them that night and never looked back.

A CT scan is scheduled at CSU on Wednesday morning as well as a biopsy to examine a growth on the roof of his mouth.  At the moment, it can be one of three things:  a foreign object that entered through the nose and lodged in the palate/sinuses with resultant infection, a fungal infection of the sinuses, or a tumor which can be benign or cancerous.   We’re hoping an infection caused by a foreign object is the diagnosis as a fungal infection will require a 5- to 6-hour surgery to scrape the sinuses out.  A cancer diagnosis brings its own set of problems.

Please keep this little one and his family in your thoughts and prayers …’

UPDATE:   Boo did not undergo the CT scan this morning as his symptoms subsided on Saturday and haven’t returned.  The vets at CSU recommended a “wait/see” treatment program.  It’s entirely possible he got something up his nose and it is now gone.   Woohooo!!