Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Why I've been gone a while

RIP my beautiful loving & loyal friend
So, I've been gone a while.. I'm sure some of you were wondering where I popped off to... My absence came suddenly and can be directly attributed to the beautiful little soul in the picture above.

A little over three months ago my beloved Wrigley was diagnosed with a spinal cord, nerve sheath tumor. It was large and due to it's location inoperable. We were told chemotherapy was not effective on this type of cancer and to take him home and love him with a palliative care regime and enjoy the time we had left.  

Wrigley came to us as a rescue in August of 2008. Sadly as with a lot of second children we were remiss at taking lots of photos. And this is now the only one I have left after several phone upgrades and failures have gradually stolen the few we had away.

Ten short years and one week later, he would be gone. Joining his beloved older "brother" Jag at the bridge.

Right from the beginning this little monkey stole a special piece of my heart

He was naughty...  and I loved it! He would steal my underwear from the bathroom as I showered and drag it into the backyard. I can't tell you how many times I found a bra half buried (usually one cup above ground & one under) out there. He terrorised Jag, chewed up shoes (only the most expensive full leather ones, thank you!), chased birds, killed lizards and when he got older became quite the proficient possum hunter.. I loved it all.. Well not the killing lizards & possums part.. but you get the picture.. he had personality in spades. He "Pepe le Pewed"  (four legged bounce in excitement.. just like the cartoon character) around the backyard on a regular basis.. I didn't think there was anything in the world that could possibly be more adorable!

We don't know what mix of breeds he was but clearly some sort of terrier was in there.. he was a true hunter and there was no stopping him. In his prime we had to lock him indoors at night to save the local possum population. We used to joke if there was an apocalypse, Wrigley would be the only one in our house to survive. One of the blessings of his slow down, was that his hunting days were over and that allowed us to let him out at night, which he loved.. That's not to say he didn't try to hunt.. He just didn't have the speed to actually catch anything. Small mercies. :)

He had a favourite chair and it was where you could find him most of the time. In various positions.

If someone else got in it, you either got the stink eye or he just hopped on with you, no matter that he didn't fit.

For a change, once in a while he liked the couch too (by now you'll have noticed as a dog family, every piece of furniture in our house is covered by blankets to go some miniscule way to keeping the soft furnishings clean and somewhat hair free. Ha! You can't have anything "good" in a dog house!) 

Especially if it meant a snuggle with me.

Or his brother

A nap together was heaven. :))... For both of us. :) 

 Walks were a highlight of the day. If he could be on a walk all day, he would.

At the dog park he would run and run and run until he flopped down in front of you, unable to run anymore.

He had the most ridiculous snaggle tooth grin, emphasised by the missing front tooth, lost in the great possum hunt of 2013.

But how could you not love this sweet face. He always had a bit of a comical look because he had Horner's syndrome (possibly attained in another hunt or rough play with his brothers) which meant his left eye pupil was permanently constricted and gave him some mild facial paralysis which made him look like he had bells palsy sometimes. The only restriction this condition created was the requirement for eye drops every day and the occasional lopsided face when the sporadic paralysis kicked in.

He was such a scallywag.. A scaredy cat about some things and so brave about others. Ever curious, when all the other dogs in the neighbourhood were hiding from fireworks.. Wrigley was running to the back deck to watch. He found them fascinating and lots of excited squealing and tail wagging ensued. 

Most of all, he loved other dogs and when we bought Cubbie home in 2012, he became a proud big brother.

Wrigley was so excited to play. 

Bonus content on youtube. Wrigley, Baby Cubbie and the rope play fail. 

He always wanted to sleep under the covers in the human bed (always with a foot out for temperature control :) ) .. and of course we let him.

Then one day at the beginning of the year, he stopped jumping on the bed. We thought he was just getting old and couldn't make the admittedly high jump to our king size. He was 9 after all and they have to start slowing down sometime right? Everything else was the same, he was still chasing birds, playing and taking us on walks (the pulling! Oy!) and getting on the other furniture.. He just needed a hand to get on the bed.

Then on a day in May, his already pigeon toed back legs started to really turn in an alarming direction. He really didn't really look like he had control of his foot placement and I immediately made an appointment at the vet. They thought he had a pinched nerve in his back, common in older long bodied breeds, gave us some anti-inflammatories and sent us home. They worked for a week and we were back at the vets. By now his tail had stopped working completely. There is nothing sadder than a dog that can't wag it's tail.

Now they thought it was spinal bone spurs, and took an xray to confirm. Nope, no spurs, it was a mystery. We switched from anti-inflammatories to steroids and the weekend required to be drug free to allow the switch was awful. My stoic boy was in obvious distress. I gave him a double dose of the allowed pain killers to keep him calm and it was down to the specialist for an MRI. We thought we were going to get a fixable neuro disorder diagnosis.. The revelation that he had a 6 centimetre nerve sheath tumor in his lower spine and spinal cord was a complete shock. Obviously, it would be inoperable. Well not completely inoperable, but in removing it we would be making him a paraplegic. How could we do that to such an active dog. Chemo and radiation weren't an option with this kind of cancer either they just weren't effective and it would not be ethical to proceed. The options were limited to immediate euthanasia or palliative care until his symptoms progressed to a point where his quality of life was compromised too much. I couldn't bear the thought of losing him there and then and the vet assured me he could have a good quality of life for a couple of months, until the tumor advanced to a point where the steroids wouldn't work. I vowed I would help him to transition when the time came. I'd had other dogs, I'd done this before, I could do it again.

So Mini's took a back seat and once the palliative drug regime started to improve his gait, we took several shortish walks a day.

Visited the beach (luckily it's at the end of our street, so a manageable walk.)

Dipped our toes in the water.

And sniffed the dune grass... The beach has such great smells :)

Wrigley loved other dogs and the sight of one on a walk was super exciting. (Note: Pointer foot raised even with wobbly legs. :) Such a sweetheart. )

He took naps with his brother from another mother. "I've got your back, Buddy"

And they sat on the deck dog bed together enjoying the morning air and guarding the yard from birds. Because that's what you do with the ones you love.

We ate barbeque chicken or kangaroo meat every night.. Two spoons of Manuka Honey every morning... Liver treats and Ice Cream as required. They were required a lot ;)

We still slept under the covers with a little help from Dad.

And even as the cancer advanced, he still sat in his favourite chair.

At the beginning of August, Wrigley regained the slightest use of his tail. He was able to move it up and down and the slightest bit side to side. I was so happy to see this tail movement! I knew it meant he was wagging furiously on the inside.

See his little wag on my instagram. :) 

But I was also confused.... this was not what the vet said would happen, he was going to deteriorate not improve. I rang the specialist and it struck me that he was surprised that Wrigley was still with us, let alone doing so well. He went and checked the biopsy results from Wrigley's tumour and announced it wasn't a nerve sheath tumor at all, it was bone cancer of the spine that had invaded the spinal cord cavity. This cancer was slower to grow, and treatable by chemotherapy. But we had lost two precious months. 

We considered our options, if we knew this at the beginning, we probably would have given him chemo, as it can have quite good results with bone cancer. But those lost two months were critical and now we had to contend with a cancer that was very prone to spread, as opposed to the nerve sheath tumor which isn't. It was very likely that in those two months it had, and that was confirmed two weeks later when we were told it had moved to his lungs. He had been very lethargic for a day or two and we thought he might have picked up an infection (common in dogs on long term steroid use) but an Xray confirmed our worst fears. Bone Cancer in the lungs. Our local vets who love Wrigley said he still had some quality time left. They had observed him while he was in for the day for the Xray and said he was so interested in everything. took every treat they offered, wanted to meet every new visitor to the back office, human or animal and jumped up to go out for potty breaks. Basically they said. He's not ready yet. In a tragic irony, his original spinal tumour was not bothering him at all.

Looking back, I wish I'd made the hard decision then and there. Because two more good weeks with a marked slow down in energy were not enough to compensate for the end when it came. 

To be honest we were blinded by our love for him and in observing his little fighting spirit. He really was fighting this beast right up until the end. He never lost his zest for life or his appetite until the very last day. I just couldn't give up on him when he was fighting so hard.

We took him home and the walks got shorter and we often took him at night. He liked to look for possums on the power lines and it was cooler with less distractions and traffic. Pulling became strolling, strolling became waddling, but he still wanted to go. :) 

On Saturday he was sunning himself in the yard quite a bit.

I decided to take him for a little walk in our street... I had mistakenly said the word "Walk" and the ears went up and he waddled down the hall expectantly.

Out we went. But when we got to the end of the driveway I thought, hmm his mind is writing checks his body can't cash. He didn't really seem to have a walk in him. But then he saw some birds further up the street and started trotting up the road. I mean, it was a fast walk. Then he got the scent of a dead possum on the footpath and dragged me over for a smell. Honestly, it was the fastest I'd seen him move in at least 10 days. But, you know.. possums.. his drug of choice. :) 

After a good sniff, we were walking home and just as we were approaching the house two doors down from ours, the door opened and out ran Patches. 

Now Patches, was Wrigley's neighbourhood nemesis. He and Patches have been barking at each other through the fence for years. My dog sitter (who is a much better dog walker than I ie: she can actually get them to obey her) told me that in all the years she'd been walking him, Patches was the only dog she couldn't get him past without a scene. :)

Well at the sight of Patches, Wrigley took off, and was barking and snapping through the bars of the metal fence surrounding Patches' yard. He literally pulled me over there with strength that I hadn't seen since his diagnosis... I knew this wasn't good for him (the vet told us to keep him not too active for fear of a rupture) but he would not stop and I could not pull him away. Eventually Patches' owner, a sweet old lady, got him under control and I managed to get Wrigley down to our driveway. He was pooped. He sat down in the driveway for about 5 minutes before he mustered the strength to walk inside.  He clearly had overexerted himself in telling off Patches and sadly this was the beginning of a very rapid end. 

We came inside and he was breathing heavy, he had a drink and later he ate his dinner but he didn't recover his energy from the walk. I gave him his usual pain killers and steroids and then an extra pain killer for good measure. And he laid with Cubbie on the bed.

My husband tried to get him to eat some pizza crust late in the evening and he put it in his mouth but then he spat it out... He loved Pizza crust.. this was not good. We told ourselves we would call our Vet over when they opened in the morning.

He didn't improve overnight and at 7am I had my husband carry him to the living room. I put a dog bed on the floor for him but he couldn't get comfortable. I sat with him patting him and soothing him with a slow rub between the eyes (he always loved that) while we waited for the Vets to open at 8am. 

At 7:30 I could see he was really not doing well, his breathing was laboured and there was a look in his eyes I'll never forget, and I said to my husband, I don't think he is going to make it until the Vet opens, try and call them now. We couldn't get through. My husband kept trying. 

It was agony waiting for 8am. Hubby was ringing and ringing to no avail. 

Then, the clock ticked over to 8am, right on the dot.. And my darling Wrigley stretched, flopped over into my lap, let out a huge sigh and died. Right at 8am... I couldn't believe it... I had promised I would ease his transition when the time came and make it easy for him and I failed.. I failed him in his hour of need... Miserably and totally. It will be my everlasting regret that this beautiful little soul, that loved me so dearly was let down so terribly by me. 

Some of you will think I've given you all too much detail of his ending, and I should remember the good times.. and I do remember them fondly, but I have to own my failure and learn from it. I owe it to him to admit my fault. And I hope that any of you with fur babies will learn from my mistake and Wrigley's suffering too. Don't do what I did. One extra week of decent days isn't worth a bad end. Don't think you have time. Looking back on even that last night, we thought we had time.. perhaps we had become used to his limitations and the way he rallied back from setbacks. We really didn't think until that last half an hour that he would die before we could get the vet. Looking back there were signs, (his gums turned white early in the morning, a sure sign of an internal bleed) but we didn't "see" them in the moment. In any case it was too late to do anything about it and that is the true failure. Why did we keep him going after the lung cancer diagnosis.. We knew he couldn't beat it. The hard to swallow answer is, we did it for us.. not for him. We were selfish, we couldn't face the inevitable. We have no excuse, we are experienced pet owners. We have had to make these decisions before. But, sometimes you bring baggage into these decisions from pets past. I know my husband always felt we sent Jag to the bridge too early and I think he bought that baggage with him into Wrigleys battle. I loved Wrigley so much I was willing to go along when he was saying he's not ready yet.. I wanted to believe it. What I'm saying is, be vigilant with your feelings. Even the most experienced pet owner can have their common sense and better judgement clouded by love and denial. 

I'll spare you the details but it turns out he did have a rupture.. That last altercation with Patches had fatal results.. But it was just the straw that broke the camels back, so to speak. He was teetering on the edge and just needed one unfortunate event to tip him over. 

That we let him get to that point was our downfall. 

I know you are not supposed to have favourites.. and I have loved all my dogs & cats.. but some of them just steal a little bit more of your heart than the others do.. because they are so special. Wrigley was one of those ones for me. 

He was my dog and I was his human.. I will miss him forever.