How Much is that Doggy in the Window?

One of the best things about adding a newly retired racing greyhound to the family is watching them discover the big wide world beyond the track. Almost everything they experience is a first. It makes you appreciate just how miraculous your everyday, mundane, taken for granted corner of the world really is.

When Bettina came home, I watched her discover stairs and linoleum (didn’t like either one). She was overwhelmed by her first trip to the pet store and froze in place about halfway through. I had to coax her out with treats. It was either that or carry her. The TV was a wondrous box filled with pictures and noises. Coats were a challenge for Bat Girl. She had never run an actual race and so wasn’t all that familiar with racing silks. She hated coats at first and tried desperately to either tear them off, or, failing in that, buck them off like a tiny black bronco. She succeeded in removing one via the ripping method. The great variety of food and treats she was presented with has kept her constantly excited about meal and treat times. So far, I haven’t found anything that she doesn’t love. She wolfs it all down with gusto.

Car rides, visits to Grammy’s, her brother and her cousins, all new and exciting. But there is one thing in particular that she just can’t seem to assimilate…her own reflection. It took her a few days to really notice. But once she saw the strange dog staring back at her so rudely (in the dog world, staring directly is very uncouth) from every reflective surface, she has been obsessed about it.

She has seen her own reflection in the door, both windows she has access to and in the glass on the stove door. Depending on where she is standing, she can also see her reflection in the glass on both china cabinets. At first, she would stand there, stock still, waiting to see what this other hound would do. All it did was stand there and stare back at her. That was clearly unacceptable. She began giving the “other pooch” a warning growl. This is MY space, step out. I would be elsewhere in the house and suddenly hear a low, quiet growl emanating from the vicinity of aforementioned reflective surfaces. Upon investigation I would always find Bat Girl at one of her reflective posts, warning “other pooch” to straighten up and fly right.

All “other pooch” did was curl it’s lips in a small snarl. Though we could hear nothing from “other pooch,” Bettina was convinced that it was warning her back. The Nerve! When she could stand this breach in dog etiquette no longer she began putting “other pooch” in its place by barking at it. Very often I’d be startled by a commotion in one of the reflective parts of the house. Dashing to the spot, I’d find Bettina staring and barking angrily at her reflection. “Other pooch” apparently unconcerned by this display of aggression, simply barked silently back.

I thought she would eventually figure out about reflections but after two months that darned “other pooch” keeps showing up. My efforts to prove to Bat Girl that the reflection she sees is her own have been a failure. To keep the peace in the house I may soon have to find a way to add “other pooch” to our family pack. I wonder if I can get a break on the adoption fee.


Seven is the New Four

On December 10th my big goofy lug Blue turned seven years old. According to accepted wisdom, for dogs of Blue’s size, seven years old is considered “senior.”

When Blue came to the house three years ago, he was the younger of my two hounds. And he acted it. He was always the one out running around like a crazy dog and being generally silly while his more dignified sister, Girly Girl, was the model of greyhound decorum. Though they were only ten months apart in age, her hock fracture and old soul made the contrast between the two of them all the greater.

Now that he has a new sister who is five years his junior, suddenly he finds himself the elder statesman of the house. A position he appears to be in no way pleased to occupy. Don’t get me wrong-he seems to like Bettina well enough and they are getting along fine. It’s just that Bettina is always moving. Always checking everything out. She frequently brims with so much energy that her 62 pound petite frame can’t contain it all. It just starts to spill out. Soon she’s squeaking. That generally leads to whining which almost always ends in some sort of barking. Usually because she’s wandered past a reflective surface and seen herself. Believing it to be another dog, one which refuses to be engaged and stares very rudely, she must put the dog in its proper place. We have a lot of reflective surfaces. She also finds things to take a sample bite of, like my book-shelves and my phone headset.

When she goes outside the first thing she must do is a series of helicopters. “I’m outside!! Yippeeee!” That is generally followed by upwards of seven circuits around the back yard. Our back yard is not small. Blue watches all this with a good measure of jealousy. He was the young one. He was the baby of the house.

When he goes outside now, he tries to prove his ongoing puppy hood by taking off running after his much younger sister, Bettina. “I’m still young!! I still got it!!” And he does have it, for about three circuits. Round about that time, he slows and Bettina pulls well ahead of him. By the fourth circuit he gives up the pretense of running fair and cuts across the yard to catch up with her. On the sixth and seventh circuits, he has stopped completely and simply waits for her to come around to where he’s standing. Then he half-heartedly charges her for a few steps and stops again. Usually by dinner time I have to give him some Arnica to relieve the old man aches and pains.

Suddenly Blue isn’t the young one anymore. He’s not the silliest, goofiest one in the house. He’s reached his seventh birthday and he’s now a senior citizen.

We celebrated his birthday with a special birthday cookie and one of his favorite meals. Mumma had a couple presents tucked away for grampy to. Though our vet has called him a “young” seven, he isn’t going softly into that good night. He is determined to keep up with Bettina. As though he would be suddenly obsolete if he settled into his dotage. My poor sweet boy. I would love to be able to tell him not to worry about it, but he wouldn’t understand me. Still, in his giant male greyhound heart, I know he fervently wants to believe that seven is the new four.


Bat Girl

Losing Girly Girl has been among the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. I knew how special she was and how special our relationship was from the moment she chose me at the rescue kennel. Knowing what I had and also knowing I was going to lose it, in fact was powerless to do anything about it, shook everything I believed in.

I feel like I am still reeling from her untimely departure, almost two months after her death. I knew I would someday bring home another greyhound to honor Girly Girl’s memory. But I fully expected that to be at least six months to a year in the future. At a minimum. I didn’t realize that Girly Girl had other plans for me.

I had kept a fairly low profile for the last few months of Girly Girl’s illness and the month after her passing. I had not had much contact with the members of my extended greyhound family. All that staying home had taken a toll on Blue. Being such a social butterfly, he has a fundamental need to get out and meet people. He must be loved and adored by his public. So, about four weeks ago, I decided to drag myself out into the light of day and take Blue to one of our favorite pet stores, The Animal House.

The Animal House is a bit of a distance from our house but Blue and I set out for a nice ride. Upon arrival, we made the requisite stop by the cashiers’ station so Blue could extract the maximum treats and attention from the staff. Then I hauled Blue away from his birthright and started to browse around the store. After a time, we heard, “there’s a greyhound in here!” We looked over to see Blue’s “Auntie” Carol standing in the aisle. We hadn’t seen Carol, one of our Meet and Greet Family members, for quite some time. It was so unusual to run into each other in that place and at that time that it took Carol a minute or two to recognize that the greyhound was Blue and that the poor wreck at the other end of his leash was me. It was, in fact, the first time we had ever seen Carol at The Animal House outside of our appointed meet and greet days.

Carol and I chatted for a bit, got caught up. Blue extracted his adoration and then we went on our respective ways. That evening I got an email from Carol. She wanted to tell me that she had dreamt about Girly Girl the night before. Now Carol has shared her life with greyhounds for many years but she said she had never dreamt about any greyhound until the night before she saw me. Carol had hesitated to tell me about the dream when she saw me in the store because she had not wanted to upset me. But the circumstances of our meeting being somewhat strange, we debated whether or not the dream may have meaning.

Because of the nature of my questions concerning the bigger picture and Girly Girl’s cancer, I had desperately been hoping for some sort of sign that Girly Girl was in a good place and that there was some chance we might see each other again. Carol and I wondered if maybe the dream may have been a sign. But neither of us could figure out why Girly Girl would visit Carol in her dream and not come to her mumma?

While Carol and I were pondering these issues, Carol completed one of her regular shifts at the Maine Greyhound Placement Service kennel. Carol wears many volunteer hats there but happened to be doing turn out on that visit. Carol soon emailed me that there was a new load of greyhounds that had just arrived at the kennel on the day we had seen each other at The Animal House. As Carol was greeting each one and reading their names on the crates she came across a beautiful little fawn girl. When Carol checked the name on the crate: Girlie. Carol said she wouldn’t have mentioned it to me for fear of causing me upset, however, after our discussion about the dream, she felt it was yet another strange coincidence.

I have never believed in coincidences and I generally manage to believe everything happens for a reason. It clicked into place why Girly Girl would appear to Carol in her dream. You see, Carol, of all the people who know me, would be in the unique position to see Girlie, the new grey, and, having bumped into me the day before, would be sure to tell me about her because of the dream and our unexpected meeting. I was in no way ready for a new greyhound in my life but things were pointing me towards a visit with Girlie. I figured it couldn't hurt just to go up there and see her.  I wouldn't be obligated.  I called and set the appointment for the coming Saturday.

That Saturday morning with Blue and my mother for support, I drove to the kennel to meet Girlie. I waited nervously while they brought out the sweetest looking little fawn girl with striking Elizabeth Taylor eyes, just like Girly Girl had. I took her leash and walked her around. Then around some more. Then I sat down and tried to engage her. But try as I might, I could not get Girlie to even acknowledge me, let alone make any kind of connection. I might have blamed it on her being overly excited except she attached herself to my mother quite clearly. I was very puzzled. Why was I at MGPS if it wasn’t for Girlie?

My mother suggested that, since we were already there, perhaps I should meet another hound. That just maybe, Girly Girl arranged for someone else to succeed her. I was a bit disappointed that Girlie was a bust and I wasn’t really ready for a new baby. I considered just leaving but mom and the kennel volunteer seemed so eager to show me someone else so I agreed to meet another. Out came Helda, a great looking, rather large, brindle girl. She was out of control and almost immediately attacked Blue. Grammy ended up being bitten when she stuck her hand in Helda’s mouth to keep her from biting Blue’s neck. Scratch Helda.

By now I was thinking about what a mistake this had been and what I was going to do after we left the kennel. But again my mother and the kennel volunteer prevailed upon me to give it one more try. Half-heartedly I agreed to just one more. Soon Jess was back with a sleek looking, almost completely black girl named Mo (short for Mohican Heart). She was a bit excited at first but she calmed as I walked her around. Every time we paused, she would run back to me from the end of the lead and lean against me for a scratch or rub. When I sat next to her, she tried licking my face. She got on famously well with Blue though he was pretty gun shy after getting his butt kicked by Helda.

Mo was very loving, outgoing and friendly. I felt a little twinge. But I asked to see Girlie again. It didn’t seem right that I was considering leaving Girlie behind. She was from Alabama, from the same trainer as Girly Girl. She had Elizabeth Taylor eyes! So Jess brought Girlie back out and there was just no doubt. She made no connection with me whatsoever. I hemmed and hawed for a bit. My inner voice wasn’t giving me clear direction. My brain was telling me that I probably should just go home. I wasn’t ready. So I opened my mouth and said, “It’s Mo. I’ll take her.” Wait. What? 

Before I could think too much about the “what?” part, I was in the office reviewing Mo’s paperwork and writing a check. It turned out that Girlie had been retired for two months before coming to MGPS. Her trainer had held her there at his kennel until MGPS could make their next pick up because he had wanted to send her to Maine. Not only that, but Mo had been at MGPS for six months. She had been chosen by a family and was scheduled to go home with them on October 20th but for some reason it had fallen through.

When all the paper had transferred and Mo was loaded into the car with Blue, I sat in the driver’s seat a bit stunned and dazed. My mother turned to me and said, “Think about it. If Carol had emailed you to tell you about Mo, would you have come to see her?” I just wasn’t ready and I would not have. “Girly Girl saw to it that the one person who would be in a position see Girlie and you (Carol) told you about Girlie. You wouldn’t have come here for any other dog. Girlie had been held for two months so she would end up at MGPS. That got you here. But when you got here you met the hound you were supposed to. One who had been waiting here for you for six months. Who had been adopted a few weeks before you arrived but it fell through and she was ready for you.”

So meet Mohican Heart, Mo, now known as Bettina and nicknamed by our Meet & Greet Family as Bat Girl. She’s just turned 2 years old October 8th. She was sent to Rhode Island to race but never had the opportunity to get on the track before it closed. Apparently they assessed that it was not worth shipping her to another track and after I first saw her run, I understood. She’s extremely loving but in many, many ways still a baby. I have my hands full. There have been a few times I have looked at the sky and asked, “Really? Really!?!” Then I subtly feel the poke of a much loved but now absent needle nose gently prodding me forward. After all, Bettina comes with a very special recommendation.


And Now, the Rest of the Story…

October 12th of this year ended an odyssey that began in early December of 2009. It was during that first week of December that Girly Girl and I got the initial diagnosis of osteosarcoma. I remember so well sitting on the floor with Girly Girl. She was still zonked out from the anesthesia they administered to take the x-rays. I was sobbing uncontrollably, holding her in my lap. I stayed in that exam room just holding her and crying for so long that at least three staff members walked in on me, believing that I surely must have collected myself and departed by then. But it was some time before I was able to come out of the room. Girly Girl just wanted to get the hell out of the building and into my car.

We fought for eleven long, hard months. Girly Girl taught me about amazing courage, equanimity and living to the fullest in the face of great illness and often, great pain. I frequently wondered how I would be able to live with the terrible hourglass poised over our existence at all times. There were times it drove me to complete despair. But mostly it helped me truly appreciate what it means to live in the moment. To savor each special minute we shared. It taught me to slow down and just sit in the sun for a nice long belly rub.

During that time, spending precious minutes writing blog updates simply wasn’t an option I was willing to entertain. But now that my girl has gone, telling the rest of her story seems important –if not just for my own soul, maybe also to share her brave, fighting spirit and to leave a record for anyone else who may face the agonizing choices you are forced to make when cancer enters your lives. I know it helped us to be able to learn what others had tried, done, and faced in their journey. Though most everyone’s story ended like ours, knowing what to expect and just knowing others had walked (and were walking) in our shoes made many a long night just a little shorter. If our story can help someone else make an important decision or avoid a mistake we made, then this is Girly Girl’s last gift.

At that, I resume our story where I left off in this blog. We had reached the end of Girly Girl’s chemo. She had sailed through her first round of chemo like a pro. We were discharged with an appointment to follow up in three weeks for our first set of post-chemo lung x-rays. The plan was to x-ray her lungs every three months. She also underwent an echocardiogram at discharge and was given a clean bill of health on her heart which could potentially have been damaged by the chemo drug she was on, Adriamycin (Doxyrubicin). My girl was minus all her whiskers but one stubborn hold out on her cheek. She had no eyebrows either. The chemo had made them all fall out, but by god, her heart was sound.

We arrived back for our first x-ray at three weeks out. A staff member disappeared with Girly Girl and Dr. Romansik was soon back out, asking me to come with him. I knew that this wasn’t good. There on the light box were Girly Girl’s x-rays from April and the x-rays from that days visit. Typically, there would not have been a set of April x-rays, taken during her chemo, however, on that particular day I had a very strong feeling of dread while driving to the chemo appointment. There was no outward indication that anything was wrong but I had such a strong feeling that I must have convinced Dr. Romansik. He took the unscheduled x-rays which revealed a tiny little spot on her lung. Dr. Romansik was of the opinion that it was a small tumor from the metastasized osteosarcoma. We learned, that day, about “lung mets,” what they call the tumors that almost always show up in the lungs of osteosarcoma patients eventually. The goal had been to keep them at bay for as long as possible. In my mind, that was going to be years off. We were going to beat all odds. I was devastated by the x-ray but Dr. Romansik told me to “keep my chin up.” (I would come to HATE that phrase out of his mouth.) The radiologist had to read it for the official diagnosis. I cried for the days it took to get the radiologists report back. The radiologist told us it was not a lung met but an anatomical abnormality. I wanted so badly for this to be true, I chose to believe it and I didn’t follow up any further.

I had done such a good job convincing myself that it was anatomical, when in June, her first set of x-rays post-chemo, showed a now larger lung tumor in the place where the questionable spot had been in April, I felt as if Dr. Romansik had physically punched me in the gut. Near the now larger tumor were three other smaller lung mets. I was so in shock by the news, it took me a couple days to snap out of it and decide what to do next. Whenever I looked at my heart dog, I couldn’t imagine losing her and so the decision was made to fight on. I wasn’t sure if I should put her through more chemo but she continued on living each day seemingly healthy and full of life. We made an appointment for further chemo and I worked with Ohio State University Greyhound Health Program to get Carboplatin sent for Girly Girl. OSU provides free chemo drugs for retired racers. Not only for the first round it turns out, but all subsequent rounds as well.

After the first day of the second round of chemo, Girly Girl was so anxious to get out of the office and go home, she wouldn’t even wait for me to open the backseat car door. Instead, when I first opened the front passenger side door to drop my purse and her paperwork, she leapt in past me, over the front passenger seat, coming to rest in the driver’s seat. She could not be convinced to come back out so I ended up carrying her from the driver’s side, around to the back passenger side. On that day, Mumma felt pretty bad about her decision to move forward with more chemo.

Girly Girl, being my incredible brave girl, settled back into the chemo routine and after several treatments of Carboplatin, Dr. Romansik took yet another set of x-rays. I had come to despise x-ray days and on that day at the end of July, Dr. Romansik was out too quickly, dragging me back to the light box. There, like a horrible series of family photos where everyone gets bigger every year, were April’s, June’s and July’s x-rays. In July’s x-ray you could plainly see four tumors. Formerly the size of peas in June, they were now the size of walnuts. Carboplatin was not working. There was still a Hail Mary option and we had fought so long and so hard, I knew immediately I wasn’t going to give up. We got two meds Doxycycline, an antibiotic and Cyclophasphamide, a chemo drug, specially compounded for Girly Girl at a compounding pharmacy and sent to us in the mail. When I researched the drugs later, I learned they were a modified version of what is known as the Metronomic Protocol. The actual Protocol would have included a cox-2 inhibitor in addition to the two other drugs.

Thus Girly Girl began her third round of chemo. During this time, finally, my steel core magnolia showed some signs of not feeling 100% up to par. She developed a cough that was at first, dry and unproductive but as the weeks went on, became wet and at some points was productive. Dr. Romansik told us that canines could lose up to 50% of their lung capacity and not be affected; however, I felt that in this case he was wrong and the tumors were causing her cough. As time wore on, it became quite clear that this was so.

While Girly Girl tolerated the Metronomic Protocol well, her cough continued to get worse. Soon it was affecting her activity level. She would cough when she got up from lying down. She would cough when she lay down after standing up. She would break down into coughing fits trying to “speak” to me to demand her half of the couch. She stopped running with Blue in the backyard. It reached a point every movement she made or sound she tried to make would send her into a paroxysm of coughing. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the cough also got progressively wetter. Her lungs were filling with some sort of fluid. She also constantly ran a temperature of 103 degrees.

Based on her symptoms, I feared that maybe a heart issue had been missed on her last echocardiogram. The symptoms mimicked heart issues so closely that I took Girly Girl to see our family vet, Dr. Edelbaum. She examined Girly Girl. She did blood tests and took x-rays. She listened to Girly Girl’s heart. She found her heart to be normal. The x-rays, on the other hand showed a giant mass in the center of her lungs. Either one tumor had grown to the size of a baseball or two tumors had grown together to appear as one in the x-ray. Dr. Edelbaum feared to treat Girly Girl for a heart problem given that the tests weren’t indicating she had one. I was pretty distraught about my sweet baby’s growing level of obvious discomfort. I was begging for some sort of action to give her relief. Dr. Edelbaum got us in for an appointment with Dr. Rossi, scheduled for the next afternoon. Dr. Rossi would complete an ultrasound of her heart. The only catch was we had to drive to Salem, Massachusetts from Bowdoin, Maine being that he was the closest option. But drive we did.

The ultrasound revealed a perfectly normal heart. In fact, there was a heart in there that was in great shape for all the abuse it had taken in its short life. Dr. Rossi also did an ultrasound of her abdomen but found nothing out of order there either. Finally, he suggested a lung tap to see what sort of fluid was in her lungs. It was the last thing I wanted to put her through given what she had already endured, but Dr. Rossi told me dogs tolerate it well. I knew we had to find out what the fluid was in her lungs if I had any hope of getting her some treatment so I had him go ahead with the tap. Dr. Rossi extracted fluid from her lungs and it appeared to be blood. Examination under the microscope confirmed that but we sent a sample out to a lab to be absolutely sure. The next day, the results were back from the lab, and the fluid that was filling Girly Girl’s lungs was blood.

Once we knew what the fluid was, Dr. Edelbaum gave us a Traditional Chinese Medicine to use called Yunnan Baiyao. The next day, a Friday in mid-September, we saw Dr. Romansik for our first follow up on the metronomic chemo. I explained what had happened during the week and he began calling around to get all her records. Eventually these were all faxed to him while we sat in the waiting room. He took Girly Girl and gave her a quick exam. He was soon back with her. He told me to take Girly Girl home. He said there was nothing more we could do. We had lost the fight. The blood in her lungs was due to the tumors growing and bursting blood vessels in her lungs. Her fever was also common in end stage cancer patients. It was a completely unreal moment and I had a hard time believing we would not be coming back. I did have the presence of mind to beg him for something to make her feel more comfortable. Though he said there was not much he could do, he did send us home with 20 mg of Prednisone to give her daily. He said it would give her a sense of well-being. If she was in pain, he would call in Gabapentin or Tramadol.

I cried the entire two hour drive home. I am not proud to say I drove in that condition but I just wanted to get home with my girl. We stopped at Grammy’s on the way and broke the awful news, then we went home to begin the last leg of our journey together. I started giving her the Prednisone and Yunnan Baiyao. Though Dr. Romansik said there was no point, I couldn’t give up the fight and continued to give her the Metronomic Protocol drugs. The Prednisone and Yunnan Baiyao worked a minor miracle. Girly Girl’s lungs cleared of blood. She still coughed from time to time, but it was dry. She began playing with toys again. She was running in the backyard with Blue. She was the girl we had before the tumors began to affect her lungs.

Dr. Romansik had given us a couple of days to a week at most. Girly Girl, being stubborn, and not speaking human, made it a month further. More amazingly, the Prednisone and Yunnan Baiyao gave her a very good quality of life. We were cruising along in a strange sort of limbo until the evening of Sunday October 10th. At 6:30 pm that night, one or more of her tumors pressed on, or ruptured something crucial. At that time she had been laying on the living room rug. She looked up at me strangely and struggled to her feet. She took a halting step towards me. She stood where she was a while longer staring far away. Panic set in and I called her to me. She lurched towards me slowly. From that moment on, she slid downhill quickly.

Blood filled her lungs again. She had difficulty walking any distance. It was bad enough that I was carrying her in and out for her potty breaks, fearing she would collapse on the stairs and seriously injure herself. She had trouble keeping her balance long enough to pee. At one point when I carried her back in from a potty break and set her down I noticed drops of blood on the kitchen floor. She was bleeding from her nose. There was nothing I could do for my first baby, my heart, my soul dog.

In the afternoon of Tuesday, October 12th, Dr. Edelbaum made the trip to our house. Girly Girl, Blue and I had spent the day being together and, as if to make me question everything, Girly Girl rallied a bit. My girl got belly rubs in the sun in the backyard. She got stuffed with all her favorite treats. She and I spent a lot of time just cuddling on her bed. Then, as the sun was setting, out in the backyard in Girly Girl’s favorite belly rub spot, with her beloved Grammy, Charlie and Blue by her side, she departed for the bridge from the shelter of her Mumma’s lap.

We kept Girly Girl with us overnight. I wanted Blue to have a chance to understand what had happened to her and to say goodbye in whatever way he chose to. The next morning, I took my sweet girl on her last ride to the cremation facility. We are truly blessed here in Maine to have Fluke’s Aftercare. This small business located in tiny Litchfield, Maine came to be after the proprietors had to experience the traditional method of death and dying with their cherished dog, Fluke. Not wanting to ever have anyone go through that again, they decided to give people in Maine a different option. To put respect, dignity and trust into a process that is extremely hard to deal with while you are trying to come to grips with the loss of a companion that meant so much. They are amazing people and I at least had the peace of mind that my heart dog was cared for and treated with respect. I also knew that the ashes I received back were hers. The next day, she came home in a beautifully hand carved box. Meanwhile, Blue and I have been trying to move forward with our lives that don’t include Girly Girl. He experienced grief and depression. Normally a social butterfly, Blue became withdrawn. He would wander the house whining every day for a month. He spent a lot of time lying in my lap. Don’t let anyone tell you that dogs don’t mourn.

That, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story. I know that I will bring another greyhound into our lives at some point when I am ready. At this writing, I can’t conceive of that time yet. Blue is desperately sad and lonely and I know he needs another four legged family member to share his experiences with. The chance that Blue or this future unknown hound may take me on another cancer journey looms large in my thoughts and frankly petrifies me. Still Girly Girl changed my life so profoundly, telling her story, and our life together would not be honored if we remain a one dog household. Maybe, after all, the one person that this story will end up helping is me.


The Reluctant Bird Dog

Blue spends much of the first five to ten minutes of every potty break diligently sniffing the backyard. He will often stop in certain spots to give them a more thorough going over before moving on to the next spot. Eventually, he is satisfied that he knows who has been in our backyard and where they did what. Only after he has secured his perimeter, will he get down to “business.”

I have often wondered what sort of creatures he is smelling. For readers new to us, we live in a very rural area. We have all manner of visitors that I have actually seen with my own eyes: deer, ermine, fox, turkey, dogs, cats, a pair of mallards in our pond, a great blue heron in the hole left by my pool, the neighbors escaped sheep, another neighbors escaped pig, skunks and two weeks ago our neighbors two houses down had a black bear raiding their bee hives. Throw in all manner of mice, moles, voles, shrews, frogs and snakes, and the backyard is a veritable cornucopia of inviting, intriguing smells.

I have, however, been even more interested of late, what might be in our backyard. You see, we fenced it in completely around July of this year. The fence is 6 feet tall and goes down to ground level. There is only a small space under the main gate by which creatures smaller than a breadbox might enter. I saw the neighborhood cat come in that route once. Just once. He took a good look around, realized he had entered a den of wolves with only one way out. He bid his favorite rock and hunting spot farewell and beat a hasty retreat. He hasn’t been back since.

The mystery was partially solved for me last night when Blue went outside for his last potty break around 2 a.m. Off he went, down the stairs, nose to the ground. As was his wont, he followed his nose on a meandering course toward his favorite potty spot. He had almost reached his destination when he suddenly veered off slightly to the left. What’s that smell? And in an instant the cold, crisp, silence of a 2 a.m. morning in Maine erupted in a flurry of noise and confusion the likes of which none of the participants had anticipated when we all got up this morning.

It began when a grouse, in full myocardial infarction, launched itself skyward, in a desperate bid to escape what must surely have seemed to the bird to be a very bad decision on its part. Clearly this was a bird that was not from around these parts. And it had no apparent sense of smell since it opted to bed down for the night in an open backyard which was also the heart of a wolf’s domain.

Blue, having received no prior training in bird dog behavior, screamed like a little girl and followed that up with a noise that was part tubercular cough and part yelp. Meanwhile his legs were frantically pin wheeling backwards from the spot he had, only minutes before, been peacefully sniffing on his way to take a nice pee.

Blue, traumatized by his unexpected field dog trial, did a quick potty and came running back inside to hide from the big bad birdie. No amount of cuddling could soothe him. Even his favorite cookie wouldn’t do the trick (though I must point out he wasn’t so traumatized that he didn’t take the cookie and eat it). Eventually, I was able to get him settled down to sleep for the night. It wasn’t long before Blue was crying and growling in his sleep, deep in some nameless, shapeless nightmare. Or was it nameless and shapeless? Perhaps it had wings and feathers.

One. More or less.

One more stubborn, tough as nails, “iron core magnolia,” Alabama girl gone the way of the old south.

One less belly to rub in the sun.

One more lonely blue loofah doggie (a cherished favorite).

One less fear of doors.

One more set of knees saved from the exuberance of a Mexican jumping hound.

One less champion helicopter queen.

One more human at a loss about where to go because her human herder is missing.

One less adoring “Grammy’s Girl.”

One more snake safe in the world because the “Snake Hunter” has gone.

One less cold nose and wistful look demanding (and getting) half the couch.

One more wild strawberry patch left unmolested.

One less pair of Elizabeth Taylor eyes.

One more army of well-loved squeaky toys, now silent.

One less bed carefully arranged, rearranged, arranged again until it is perfect.

One more retired racer felled by osteosarcoma.

One less heart dog in the world.

One big empty space in MY world.

One half of my heart suddenly gone forever.

My one.

In memory of Girly Girl



Be It Ever So Humble, There's No Place Like Grammy's

My astrological sign is Cancer. One major characteristic of Cancers is that we are homebodies. It’s not easy to pry us out of our homes for any significant length of time. For me, the best part of traveling is coming back home.  Recently, I had to go on a trip for work. I went to California for a trade show. Given the things that have been happening with the Girly Girl lately, I was torn about leaving them and flying across the country. Luckily, we have Grammy to take care of my babies while I am away. Blue and Girly Girl absolutely adore Grammy. Grammy feels mutually about Girly Girl and with Blue, well, I think he may be growing on her. Let’s just say the jury is still out. It all stems from the very first time that Blue had a sleep-over at Grammy’s house. He apparently growled at Grammy when she went near him. This is very out of character for Blue. He hasn’t ever done this to me, or in my presence. He’s known in the greyhound circles as a love bug. He’s never done it to Grammy again either. But he’s a big boy and it unnerved Grammy a bit. So she’s stand-offish when it comes Blue.

Nonetheless Grammy has put aside her initial impressions of the big white stink bug and my babies get to stay with her instead of in a crate in a kennel. They have people caring for them who love them and with whom they are comfortable. They have a lovely fenced in back yard and their two greyhound cousins to hang out and run with. Knowing that they would have that, I could go away feeling as good as it was possible to feel about going away from my four-legged children. It wasn’t long after I left that the first email from Grammy arrived…

“Well, they settled in with not a whine it seems (other than the standard) and I have to tell you that GG is eating like a sailor. This morning we had a run-in the boys and I. Blue went for Fox’s food and took it away and wouldn’t listen to me so I had to physically lift him up and out of the room away from Fox’s food. Then when I fed Crandall he wolfed it down so when I put GG’s and Blue’s down Crandall went in for GG’s and for the first time I swatted him..he jumped a foot. No one was listening to me so I began bellowing and oh my they listened then. Guess GG thought better eat, the woman’s crazy because she began to wolf down everything, applesauce, yogurt, dog food as if she hadn’t been fed in years. Every other dog went running so I had to call Blue back to eat his. Had to give Fox more because Blue got half of it down before I could get him out.”

I let Grammy know that while Girly Girl was immune to yelling (she had figured out I was all bluster years ago and just stands there looking at me as if to say, “are you all done now?”), Blue takes any yelling personally and runs for his crate. I could be yelling at the TV and if I have raised my voice to much, Blue heads for the crate. If I stub my toe or bang a body part and I’m just yelling Ow! Ow! Ow! There goes Blue. So Blue should be easily reprimanded. I was surprised to receive the next email:

“Blue is not responding to me the same way he does to you. He stands there and looks at me as if saying…’that’s all you got?’ [At] 1 a.m. Charlie comes to bed but first lets them out one more time. Suddenly I am rudely awakened by this 500 lb animal (felt like it at least) jumping on the bed…I look up and he is standing over me…opens his mouth and gives me a few dragon breath licks. Lays down right between Charlie and I with his head on the pillows. No moving him…it’s not mama’s bed, he’s allowed…so we let him. Not bad sleeping with him except eventually he ran a few races on my back.”

I suggested that Grammy try pushing Blue off the bed or using a squirt bottle of water on him. He can be stubborn about the bed because I have spoiled him by getting him his own bed whenever we stay in a hotel. But he isn’t allowed on the bed at home. So he maximizes his bed usage whenever we are in a hotel (or apparently, what he deems ‘away from home’). That resulted in the next e-missive:

“OK, yelling doesn’t work, pushing doesn’t work, pulling doesn’t work…any other ideas? He lays on my pillows and won’t get down, even with Charlie and I both pulling and yelling and pushing (not all at the same time), he just looks at us and digs in his feet. If we do accomplish any movement he readjusts himself and lays back down. We finally lifted him off the bed and I gave Charlie a water bottle to use on him. I wouldn’t mind the bed but he likes to put his ass on my pillows and considering his inability to miss his own body when he urinates I am not big on having it on my pillow… I doubt the water thing will work though, he stood at the counter with his nose in my business while I was trying to fix lunch for work and I took some water and flicked it at him…he just blinked and looked at me. Where did you leave the sensitive Blue?”

What can I say; he does pee all over his legs. It’s true. I carry baby wipes in the car, in my purse and they are by the door at home to clean his feet and legs after each potty session. So as a last resort I suggested that Grammy give him a light swat since it would be a novel occurrence, it wouldn’t hurt him but would surprise him and might even get his attention. Now before I get angry letters from animal lovers everywhere, I’m not advocating violence against my four legged child. I’m talking just a little tap to get his attention. The next day the following email arrived:

“OK the excitement and confusion of the first night has ended and things are working themselves out. Crandall has established with Blue that he will not take any sh** from him and Blue has established with Crandall that he could care less. Last night Blue behaved himself until at 2 a.m. he was at the bed crying so I let him up but that was a major step since he never asked before, just jumped, so he has recognized that this isn’t a hotel bed but belongs to the two alphas in the house. GG went to sleep with me on the bed and Blue woke up with me.”

Everything would have ended in Grammy’s house bliss had I been able to get home when I was supposed to but as it turned out I was a victim of March storms that tied up the nation’s air traffic for days. I was delayed returning home for more than 24 hours. During that time, I get the next email:

“…You have got to do some training with Blue darlin’, he is impossible to move. Voice commands, growls, clawed hand, pulls, pushes, yelling and even one little smack to the butt would not move him and even when he did move he jumped right back up on the bed. All night long we had a battle royale. I would push him off with my feet and he would come back around and jump back up, and as if to punish me would stand over me breathing in my face. GG always asks permission, he seems to feel it is his right.”

After a night in JFK, delays, missed connections, and the last available seat on an airplane bound for Portland Maine for the next two days, I was finally on the runway waiting in a long line to take off. I sent Grammy one last email to let her know I was, barring divine intervention, going to make it home at last. Grammy’s final email arrived before we made it to taxi for take-off:

“Ohhh your kids are going to be so excited!! Listen there is NO WAY that Blue is not an alpha dog. The only difference is that either he is brilliant or totally retarded. He goes for their food, Crandall snarls and snaps and he ignores them and eats it anyway. He wants our bed and no matter what we do he gets on and stays. He wants to lay down, he lays on top of whomever is there. Fox was all over him with snarling and yet he just laid down on top of Fox and wouldn’t move so Fox gave up and let him have it and guess where he was this morning? Inside Crandall’s crate…the inner sanctum that even Fox dares not enter. Crandall was laying outside on the floor giving me the skunk eye. Submissive? Rigghttt.”

Needless to say, Grammy was happy to see the backside of the four-legged grandkids when I came to pick them up. They were very excited to see mumma and that made me feel about as good as it is possible to feel and still be legal. As a Cancer, I’ve always loved coming home after a trip but now that Girly Girl and Blue are waiting for me when I get there, I wonder why I left at all. As for Blue, I think maybe Grammy was stretching it a bit. Blue behaves just fine for me. If I ask him to get off the bed, he does. If I ask him to step away from his food bowl, he does. I’m sure she’ll say it is all true but then, she’s a writer and leave it to a writer to make a big deal out of such a small event.


Writer’s Block for a Bigger Purpose

It’s very funny how the creative muses mess with you. I’ve been trying for two weeks now to write something for the blog. I’ve had two or three good ideas and though I’ve tried and tried and tried writing them up, I cannot get the creative juices to flow. My muses simply refused to cooperate. So I have three pieces of lackluster, half-baked writing. When that happens, there is nothing for it but to let them sit until those accursed hags (oops, I mean my lovely muses) decide to grace me with their presence again and then I can rewrite, turning them into sparkling, witty, inspirational works of art. Sure.

In the absence of any creative inspiration, an option did present itself and slapped me in the face today. I almost didn’t pay any attention to it though it literally had me in tears. I had defined my blog fairly narrowly in my own mind. Specifically funny stories about what happened with my hounds. Well, I guess it’s already sort of morphed a bit away from that so what I’m about to do won’t be a huge departure. Maybe just in my own mind.

I was catching up on the tweets from the peeps I follow. In and amongst the many was a tweet about a greyhound quilt that had been mentioned on the Etsy blog. Being a fan of all things greyhound I had to check that out. It was a stunning quilt. So, I clicked through to the artists’ Etsy site. The quilt seemed to be a new departure for her as all her other offerings were jewelry. And I guess there really are no coincidences in life and all things happen for a reason.

The first piece of jewelry I saw, a necklace, said, “My Tripod Rocks.” It had a stylized greyhound on it and the number three. The next necklace said “Osteo sucks,” and had the stylized greyhound along with a second ring that said “Compassion, Hope, Bravery.” There was more greyhound jewelry both for hounds fighting cancer and those who had crossed the bridge. There was also jewelry for hounds that were lucky enough not to have to face an illness. All of it was beautifully made.

Just seeing that first piece made me catch my breath. One cancer dog family immediately recognizes another. I knew her story before I looked at any other part of her website. I only needed to see the photo of the tripod necklace. And indeed when I read her story, she had lost a beloved hound to osteosarcoma in January of 2010. The amazing heroes at OSU had fought with her to save her boy. A large percentage of the sales from the jewelry are going to the OSU Greyhound Health program in memory of her special boy and in recognition of the incredibly special work they do there.

While all of our money currently goes towards chemo treatments, medications and veterinary visits I realized there was a way I could help even if I wasn’t in a position to go on a shopping spree. I could spread the word about this artist’s special jewelry with a purpose. In the interest of full disclosure, I get nothing from this but the hope that some more money ends up at the OSU Greyhound Health program. In fact, the artist does not know about this blog entry and doesn’t even know who I am. But I think she is doing a wonderful thing and being the mum of a sweet girl with osteosarcoma, I can vouch for the fact that it does indeed suck. I am thankful there are people out there like this woman who channeled her sadness into action to help me and my girl and all of us. I hope you’ll take a look at her site.

Beth Wade's Etsy Site
Beth Wade's Website


The Forest for the Trees

You should keep a “cancer log” for your dog. This was one of the many pieces of excellent advice that I read in the book “Help Your Dog Fight Cancer” by Laurie Kaplan. Since I tend to have difficulty remembering what happened yesterday, this seemed like a very good idea. I started to keep a log for Girly Girl on the day I read about it in the book.

Girly Girl ate her breakfast, or she didn’t eat her breakfast. Or she finally ate it at noon. She refused to eat yogurt anymore when she always used to love it. She stopped eating her pills and supplements mixed in with her food. She would only eat them with cheese. She won’t eat her pills and supplements with cheese anymore, she’ll only eat them with cream cheese. She won’t eat dinner. She ate dinner but not until after 10 pm. She will only eat dinner if it has baby food mixed in. She will only eat food if I feed it to her.

Girly Girl’s doctor visits are noted. She had chemo. She went to see Dr. Edelbaum our family vet because she just wasn’t feeling very well between chemo treatments. She went for blood tests because there was concern the chemo drugs were lowering her white blood cell count. She was seen by the emergency vets. She had an echocardiogram because the chemo drugs cause heart damage.

The myriad of supplements and medications that we stuff twice a day into my little 54 pound peg-legger are all listed in our log. There are the medications that Dr. Romansik prescribed for her for nausea and diarrhea after the first chemo. These unfortunately did not work. He gave us Sulfasalazin for the diarrhea and Cerenia for the nausea after the second chemo and these worked much better. In addition she also gets marshmallow root, slippery elm, aloe vera juice, L-arginine, Denosyl, Joint 3 (glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid), Bone Stasis and a probiotics-enzyme powder blend.

All food choices must be logged. As a cancer dog Girly Girl eats a high protein, low carb diet. Cool proteins only (duck, turkey, and rabbit). When she does eat carbs I try to ensure that they are complex carbs. Finding crunchy treats that are lower in carbs can be a real challenge and we’ve logged a whole bunch of attempts. The furry kids have always had extras mixed in to their dry food. We log all of these and we’ve had to make some changes there as well. With chemo, Girly Girl’s tastes have changed. What she will and won’t eat gets noted for future reference.

We also write down all the real fun stuff like the times she vomited on my arm while I was comforting her and later on my leg. We also note every days poop status. Poop has become very important in our life. Within 24 hours of a chemo treatment Girly Girl begins full on diarrhea. She never recovers normal poop status before the next treatment even with medication. The trick is to make sure that she stays hydrated. The trick is also how many different ways you can describe the consistency of poop. Salad shooter, mashed potato, soft serve… I don’t mean to offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities but this is life with cancer.

Every day I write all these things down. After awhile you get very caught up in these details. Was her poop this morning soft serve or was it more firm than that? Did I remember to give her the Denosyl? I have to remember to log in that we changed food yesterday from Nature’s Variety to Blue Buffalo. But I also note the occasional victory (she played with a toy for the first time since surgery today, she tried the basement stairs today, she ran today, she’s jumping up on the couch with me again, she did a helicopter today!).

While I was busy thinking about poop and food and vomit and supplements and when the next chemo treatment was, I failed to see the proverbial forest for the trees. There, in my log, day by day. All those small victories. They added up. When I finally stopped writing and took a good look at Girly Girl, really watched her. When I stopped thinking about cancer and just thought about my sweet, heart dog. I realized she was back. She was on three legs, but she was truly back. My joyous, squeaky mad, midair toy catching, helicopter doing, roaching (almost), cleaning her bowl, running, jumping, sniffing, demanding to share the couch, loving, girl had snuck back in. Welcome home baby girl! Settle in and stay a good long while.


A Milestone Reached

Girly Girl has been very busy of late. She’s been learning to walk on three legs (and run on three legs, and pee while balancing on three legs, and hop up into the car with three legs, and…well, you get the idea). She’s also been visiting a lot of doctors. Surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, family vets, emergency medical personnel, orthopedists and on and on. 

She’s filled her days with chemotherapy. Adriamycin (Doxorubicin) which can be cardio-toxic and so she has also had an echocardiogram as well as blood tests with each visit and some times in between visits. The chemo causes her side effects (this happens in only 10% of dogs-oops). So Girly Girl spends much of her time between chemo visits dealing with nausea and diarrhea. She also has a pretty extensive regimen of a special high protein diet and a long list of supplements including Traditional Chinese Medicine formulas.

When she’s not doing any of these thing her mumma has been trying to get her back to some semblance of a normal life. In addition to visits to Grammy, whom Girly Girl adores, mumma has dragged Girly Girl to greyhound meet and greets where she has reconnected with all her favorite humans in our MGPS family. She also recently went on a week long business trip with mumma to Plattsburgh. This was a trip she used to make regularly “before.” She has been handling the return to regular activity like a pro.

With such a busy calendar it almost got lost in the shuffle. Daily life dealing with the “Big C” word can suck up all your time and energy. Focusing on the minutiae of serious disease has a way of excluding everything else. So much so that you lose sight of what is really important. This is why a big milestone almost got by unnoticed and under-celebrated. You see, Girly Girl turned seven years old on Monday February 15th while we were in Plattsburgh on our business trip. In December, I wasn’t sure we’d have any more birthdays together at all. Happy Birthday my sweet girl.


Naptime of the Living Dead

Sleeping greyhounds. All cute and snuggly. Makes you want to kiss them and cuddle them right? WRONG!!

If you’ve done any homework before you bring your new bony friend home then you have read it is not a good idea to disturb any greyhound while it is sleeping. And why is that? Well, gentle reader, because most greyhounds at some point in their lives (and many at some point in their day) will sleep with their eyes open.

This is a strange phenomenon, but true. You may mistakenly believe your loving pet is hanging out watching the clouds go by when in reality he or she is grabbing 40 winks. To swoop in for a quick smooch will, in short order, leave you lipless.

Girly Girl and Blue both enjoy sleeping with their eyes open. This is a hobby that I found quite disconcerting at first. Especially when they enter REM sleep. Their eyes would be wide open and jerking all around as though each eyeball were having an epileptic fit. Throw in the occasional growl from that days dream and can’t you just see yourself snuggling up with these furry four leggers?

Girly Girl also tends to roll her eyes down into her head so that her irises almost disappear into her skull. Then her nictating lids come up to cover the little bit of the iris left showing. Result? Zombie dog. She often lets her tongue loll out of her mouth to complete the dead dog effect.

You can get any old dog who snoozes in a cute ball or sleeps curled at your feet. These dogs are boring things. Or, you can get a greyhound. Approaching your fast friend while they are on their bed or in a recumbent position anyplace is always a crapshoot. Are they or aren’t they asleep? Will you get to keep your hand if you attempt to give them a fond scratch? Or will you scare the daylights out of a sleeping hound whose eyes are open? Are you brave enough for naptime of the living dead?


The Patron Saint of Blog Writers, Frozen Food and Cardboard Boxes….

My mother and I were having a conversation not long ago about the fact that I was leaving no stone unturned in my search for intervention for Girly Girl and her osteosarcoma. This extends to pretty much every area, financial, medical, emotional, and yes, even divine. So mom mentioned that there is a patron saint for dogs and his name is Saint Roch. I was raised a nominal Catholic. I never went through catechism nor was I confirmed or any of that stuff. In fact, we weren’t what you might call “church goin’ folk.” But I have my share of religious knowledge stuffed in the dusty folds of my noggin. I did not, however, know anything of Saint Roch.

For sure, I knew of his more famous compatriot, St. Francis of Assisi.  Patron saint of animals, the environment, merchants and Catholic action (though I didn’t know about the last three patronizations). St. Francis was friend and protector of all animals and is best known in that role though his actual story is very little related to animals at all. In fact, he had very little to do with merchants or the environment. But he is always pictured standing in the woods surrounded by all manner of beasts. And the blessing of the animals is generally conducted sometime around his feast day.

Saint Roch, Patron Saint of Dogs
So I did a little Googling on Saint Roch. He is also known about town as Saint Roque, Saint Rocco and Saint Rock. He is the patron saint of dogs, bachelors, surgeons, tile makers and the sick and invalid (um, and a few other things). Saint Roch was traveling around doing saintly things when he contracted a nasty case of leprosy. I suppose there aren’t any cases of leprosy that aren’t nasty, but there you go. In the medieval times when he lived, leprosy was not welcomed so he hid out in the forest. He was saved from starvation by a faithful dog that brought him food every day. Eventually he moved on to the city he came from and they stoned him and threw him in prison. He was attributed as having said something along the lines of, “We should all treat dogs kindly for they are worthy of it.” A bit ahead of his time, yes?

Still, you have to wonder about the whole Catholic saint system. Was Saint Roch the best they could do for the patron saint of dogs? A leprous guy who was fed by a dog in the woods and said, “Hey, dogs aren’t so bad?” In that scenario, shouldn’t the dog be the saint? Is realizing that dogs are pretty cool about 700 years before your time really enough to make you the patron saint of dogs? What did he do for the dog?

Here’s how I think this all shook out back when they were naming patron saints:

Pope: Geez, it’s really hard to become a saint. Those are some pretty stiff rules we got there, aye?

Bishop: You bet ya. And we got this long list of occupations and animals and objects needing patron saints. What’s a poor cleric to do?

Mouse in Corner: Squeak, Multi-Task, Squeak.

Pope: Hey, I believe I have just received divine inspiration. We should multi-task.

Bishop: What is “Multi-tasking?”

Pope: Never mind that. Let’s assign each saint a bunch of different occupations, animals and objects to be the patron of. Nes pas?

Bishop: Brilliant! I’ll put in your application for sainthood right away!

And so Saint Roch who once touched a dog and was sick himself became the patron saint of dogs and sick people. Of course, in the end, they had far more occupations, animals and objects than they could possibly actually relate in some fashion to the saint, so each saint ended up with a bunch of things to patronize with which he or she had absolutely no connection what-so-ever.

Still, I figure it can’t hurt to appeal to good ole Saint Roch for some divine intercession on behalf of Girly Girl. I suppose she has as much claim on him as tile makers, surgeons, invalids and bachelors (um, and a few other things). But really I think I’m also going to send an appeal up to that dog who was feeding Saint Roch in the woods. I did say I was going to leave no stone unturned. And really. I think we all know who should have been given the saintly concession.


Better Living Through Chemicals?

So it seems a lot of people struggle with the decision to amputate. Being the frail, vain, two-legged creatures that we are, it seems we are unable to wrap our minds around the possibility that our greyhound companions will be far better off rid of a leg that is causing them great pain and is harboring the means for their destruction. We’re also, apparently, pretty concerned about how all the other dogs will look at them down at the dog park. If you research amputation on the internet, you can find all sorts of articles that address whether or not to amputate, the vanity concerns, and the mobility concerns. They assure you the dog will get around just fine and all the other dogs don’t care what your dog looks like whether with four legs or three.

Your surgeon is also very well equipped to address any concerns you may have about amputating. And he or she can explain to you the healing process. But unless you get a surgeon who has actually had a pet whose leg was amputated, they don’t know what really happens once you take your hound out the doors of the hospital.

I searched the internet and could find only one blog posting from a woman whose greyhound underwent amputation that actually addressed what to expect after the amputation. She went through what it was like and what to expect. Though she doesn’t go into as much detail as I might like, I have been clinging to this article as if it were a lifeline. You see, there are so many things they don’t tell you about amputation before you decide to do it, or after it’s done and you’re driving your beloved companion home. Getting a sling to assist with mobility at first and being careful of infection is really just the beginning.

First there are the medications. They can have strange side effects that aren’t obviously side effects. My previously normal hound became strangely zoned out. She suddenly began panting all the time. A formerly dry mouthed hound is now a copious drooler.

My “eat anything” hound won’t eat things that she would have turned herself inside out for before. She refused to eat breakfast at breakfast time, but is happy to eat it at lunchtime. She previously had no problem eating her supplements with her meal but now absolutely refuses to touch them. I must resort to wrapping them in cheese to get them in her. Some nights dinner is ok, some nights dinner isn’t interesting. Sometimes it’s good served at 6p and sometimes it won’t be touched a minute before 7:30p.

She will look for the missing leg. At times when she would typically use it or when she is walking she may stop and suddenly look down to where the leg would normally be. Sometimes she looks a number of times as if she doesn’t believe what her eyes are telling her. No, it must be there. It always used to be there.

Some days she will sit and just stare at me. For hours. I have to wonder what is going through her head at those times. Is she thinking loving thoughts or cursing the very second I saw her at the rescue kennel?

She will frequently move wrong or sleep on the incision side, or sometimes for no apparent reason at all will let out a horrible shriek of pain. And just as frequently she will just whimper to herself in pain. Both of these are heartbreaking and make you question your decision over and over again.

Then there is the depression. It is the only way I can describe it. After a particularly pain filled day for her, she went into a funk that had all the appearances of depression and there she has stayed for a number of days. She has stopped trying to be mobile except when absolutely necessary. She sleeps most of the time. She doesn’t engage with me or her brother Blue. She eats when coaxed. Only recently has she started to come out of it.

My girl, who used to live for her squeaky toys hasn’t even acknowledged one since coming home. Won’t touch one, won’t look at one. She also lived for belly rubs and has asked for these only twice since coming home. Essentially the hound that came home from the hospital is completely different from the steel core magnolia that I dropped off last Wednesday.

They don’t tell you to expect an alien coming home in place of your heart dog when you make the decision to do this surgery. They’re just worried that you’ll be shocked by the sight of the incision and the fact that she now has three legs. And other than the one blog article, there is no guidance on the internet either. No roadmap for the stuff they don’t tell you. I do, of course, know that my sweet girl will return to me at some point when we get through the healing process (at least I hope so!). But I frankly have no idea when, or how. I don’t know how long this should take. I know I’m not the first person to go through this but no one else seems to have written about it before.

Thus we continue to muddle through the healing period. Bowdoin’s newest tri-pawd is sleeping and releasing noxious gasses (did I mention that’s another great side effect-completely screwed up bowel flora). In another week we’ll get the staples out of Franken-dog. In the meantime I’ll be looking up the prices for doggy Prozac.


Without a Leg to Stand On

How do you say “Bon Voyage” to a leg? After much back and forth, countless tears and gray hairs on my part and I’m certain some number of years off my life; Girly Girl’s fate has finally been determined.

The good doctors and pathologists put their knowledgeable and specialized heads together to determine that Girly Girl does, in fact, have osteosarcoma.

Through two months of scans, x-rays, blood tests, consults, biopsies, aspirations, ultrasounds, more consults and pathology smears we went from osteosarcoma to bone cyst to osteosarcoma, back to bone cyst, to cancer of some unspecified type, back to bone cyst, then to hemangiosarcoma or osteosarcoma and finally settling on osteosarcoma. This was, as you might imagine, a bit of a rollercoaster ride in just about every sense of the word.

Ironically, as a result of this crazy ride, I was never so happy to hear that Girly Girl actually had osteosarcoma as when Dr. Pastor called us last night with the final diagnosis. Since hemangiosarcoma is so much more aggressive and has so few treatment options, we were far better off if she had osteosarcoma. I never could have imagined sending out an email to friends and family with the subject line “It’s Osteosarcoma!!!!” Just like I was announcing the birth of a child. When I first stood in Dr. Edelbaum’s office during the first week of December looking at the tumor on Girly Girl’s x-ray and first heard the diagnosis of osteosarcoma, I thought the world had ended. Back then I cried for days and days. From there to actually being grateful for osteosarcoma? Who knew?

For those who may not know, the standard course of treatment for osteosarcoma in greyhounds if it has not already metastasized is to amputate the leg. After that you go through a course of chemotherapy. So without further delay I scheduled Girly Girl’s surgery with Dr. Pastor. We go tomorrow. Once you get a final diagnosis, there is no more messing around.

Now that it is scheduled, suddenly, I had to take a real hard look at the fact I was preparing to hand over my heart dog, the furry love of my life, so that they can sever what appears, on the outside, to be a perfectly good leg. Up to the time it decided to give quarter to a deadly invader, it was a great leg. We liked it. It definitely served its purpose. Until it turned traitor, it had never been lame, never faltered. It has a lovely paw with pads that smell like corn chips. It is her dominant leg. When she performs her “Human Whisperer” trick that is the leg she uses. I don’t think she’ll be able to perform that trick anymore once the leg is gone.

So on the eve before the surgery it became important to mumma to celebrate her leg. It had been a good friend for most of her 6 years and we were facing a difficult procedure and recovery to be parted from it. How to say goodbye to a leg? Well, we kicked off the evening with a happy hour. We had appetizing treats. Blue, Girly Girl and I enjoyed time together. I got out the video camera and for the last time Girly Girl performed her “Human Whisperer” trick for the camera. I had never thought to capture it on film before. Funny how that is. We have performed the trick on stage together during the Pet Idol contest at the Adoption Expo at the Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Track in Massachusetts before. But I had never put it on film. It seemed important to memorialize it as Girly Girl ran through it a last few times.

We followed our happy hour with a special dinner including Girly Girl and Blue’s favorite canned food. Girly Girl got an extra portion since it’s likely she won’t be eating again for a few days and even then she won’t have a big appetite. We spent the rest of the evening cuddling together on the couch where mumma said her goodbyes to the offending leg. I wondered what they would do with the poor leg once it was no longer part of Girly Girl. But then I decided I probably didn’t really want to know the answer to that. The leg still has the staples in it from the bone cyst procedure. They probably won’t even bother to remove those. This poor leg has been through quite a bit already and will soon meet an inglorious end.

The fact that Girly Girl will be a three-legged dog makes no difference to me. She will be as beautiful to me with three legs as with four. She could have two legs, or one eye, or no ears and it would make no difference to me. The piece I struggle with is making such a life altering decision for her without any idea if this is what she would want. It is very hard to know what she is about to go through and wondering if she would think it is worth it. If she would sanction it should she have a voice in the matter? These are decisions I never envisioned having to make as a greyhound caretaker though we all know cancer is a real possibility when we sign on. I wonder if the decision I am making now, to put Girly Girl through this, will leave me in her eyes, without a leg to stand on.


We Have Cancer

She has osteosarcoma. That is the scariest and loneliest thing I have ever been told. Girly Girl is now facing a terrible disease with an end game that is, at best, dismal. We have cancer. Except it didn’t take me very long to learn that we were anything but alone. And that it wasn’t just Girly Girl, Blue and I who were facing this. There were so many resources out there just waiting to lend us their knowledge, strength, shoulders, ears, experience, hugs, encouragement and support. In the darkest moments, when things seemed most hopeless, so many heroes have appeared and pointed the way.

Family: Grammy and Charlie provided a safe haven for Blue when I had to take Girly Girl to appointments and procedures. They took care of Girly Girl with the tenderest care in order to allow mumma some time off with friends every now and again. They spoiled both Blue and Girly Girl. They understood how Blue and Girly Girl are my children. They let me cry and cried with me.

Friends: They also understood that Blue and Girly Girl are my children and never once behaved any differently. They checked on me and Girly Girl constantly and let me know they were there for me, whatever I needed. They let me cry and cried with me.

My Meet and Greet Family: They formed a tight circle around Girly Girl, Blue and I. They checked on us daily and sent us encouraging and supporting emails. They offered their service, their knowledge, their resources and even offered to pool funds to help us pay for Girly Girl’s treatment. They let me cry and they cried with me.

My Facebook and Twitter Friends: They offered their support and encouragement. Many offered their experience which was invaluable in figuring out what to do and what not to do next.

Work: My bosses (who I am also blessed to have had as friends before they became my bosses) also miraculously understand that Girly Girl and Blue are my children and have allowed me the time I’ve needed to bring Girly Girl to her appointments and procedures. They never hesitated once. From the minute I told them of the diagnosis, they told me to take the time I needed and to do what I needed to do and they are still telling me the same thing.

The Animal House: Our favorite pet supply store. Aubrey and Dan Martin who own and operate this store believe in a holistic approach to pet care. We have considered them friends and mentors ever since we met them. They have provided us with all their knowledge regarding nutrition and supplements for cancer patients as well as their experience and support.

Help Your Dog Fight Cancer: A book recommended by Aubrey at The Animal House. This was written by Laurie Kaplan. It was the only book we could find on the subject and turned out to be a wonderful resource. It wasn’t osteosarcoma specific but well worth the read nonetheless.

Grey Talk: A group of greyhound fanatics who have found a home on the web. There are all sorts of forums in this community including Greyhound Health. The people in this community are, without a doubt, unsung heroes. Anyone posting a thread about their hound’s health issue can count on immediate feedback with support and shared experience. They are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You are NEVER alone.

Dr. Laura Edelbaum: Our family vet. We love her. She is allopathic but has an interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine and has a working knowledge of supplements as well. When we first went to her regarding Girly Girl’s limp, she felt it was orthopedic given the signs. But she was willing to consider my concerns and set up the x-rays that revealed the tumor earlier than we may have otherwise discovered it.

Dr. Guillermo Couto: We had heard Dr. Couto speak at the Raynham Adoption Expo so we knew to reach out to him, but even if we had not, so many people in the greater greyhound community directed us towards him, it would have been hard not to end up at his doorstep. This is another unsung hero. Here is a doctor who heads a very busy Greyhound Health and Wellness Program at Ohio State University. He spends time volunteering at a greyhound rescue clinic in Spain, he does research and he is willing to consult, for free, on the cancer cases of retired racing greyhounds. He responded to our numerous emails quickly, even when he was out on vacation. Not only that, he took the time to give us some words of encouragement and support along the way.

Dr. Erin Romansik, NEVOG: When our local surgeons were unwilling to work with us regarding my wishes for Girly Girl’s care and were unwilling to even speak with Dr. Couto’s colleagues at OSU, we were at a loss as to where to go next. There weren’t a lot of options here in Maine. Dr. Couto suggested the New England Veterinary Oncology Group in Waltham MA. We saw Dr. Erin Romansik and he was wonderful. When the Fine Needle Aspirate he attempted was unsuccessful, he worked with us on the next step.

Dr. Karen Pastor, Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital: Dr. Romansik referred us to Dr. Pastor and we were again in very good hands. Dr. Pastor, a surgeon, consulted with us about doing a biopsy but in the end, after a day spent there, we ended up doing a different procedure. We now await the pathology results and the next steps. Not only did Dr. Pastor make it clear she cared about Girly Girl but when she learned that Girly Girl is my heart dog, she took time to show me a photo of her “soul mate dog.” A beautiful, giant, harlequin Great Dane. The 5x7 photo sits framed on the counter in the examining room among the many photos from her patients.

So though sometimes it feels pretty lonely, with a team of heroes like this behind us, we’ll continue to fight. You see “we” have cancer.