So we bought a house, like you do. And some people immediately begin filling their new house with treasures like furniture and art and the like.
I prefer treasures with fur.
So I began surfing the listings on Petfinder. And craigslist. And the local shelters. I didn’t really know what I was looking for – I just wanted another dog.
We already have 2 dogs. We have 2 cats, one of whom has kidney disease. Both of them are Persians which are fairly high maintenance. We have 2 red-footed tortoises. And a terrarium with a toad and a geriatric newt.
There is not a shortage of pets in this home.
And then one day, I saw the listing. A golden retriever, male, at the shelter.
I loaded the kids into the car early the next morning and went to the shelter right when it opened. we filled out some papers and then navigated the maze of cages and kennels until we found him. We were allowed to visit him inside his cage – he wanted us to let him OUT. He had a waggy tail and a smiley face, was very skinny and maybe a bit smelly. He nuzzled the kids’ hands with his nose so they had to pet him. He was indifferent to the other dogs all around him. He didn’t jump, or bark, or sniff crotches or act afraid.
This was it. This was the missing member of our pack.
So, I put a deposit on him which put me first in line to claim him after his 3-day ”stray” hold expired. Then he would be neutered and I could bring him home. The next day we brought Doug to meet him and he, too fell in love.
On the 3rd day we called the shelter to see if he had been claimed by his owners. He had been found running loose in the city, no tags, no microchip. He had not been claimed. He was ours if we wanted him.
The next day I drove to the shelter at the post-surgery pick-up time. I waited in line for a long time while people around me eagerly picked up their new pets, or sadly turned their old ones in. The shelter was really full and there were signs all over the building that stated if you turned in a pet right now the chances of it being euthanized were quite high. When I checked him out I learned that our new dog was heartworm positive.
“No big deal,” I said, a little too brightly for the crowded room. ”We just have to take care of him, right?”
They brought him out and it was all very anti-climactic. Instead of the slow-motion fantasy I had of him leaping up to meet me while “Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong” played in the background, he shuffled out with his head hanging down from his post-anesthesia stupor and didn’t acknowledge the person holding his leash. Outside, he threw a long whizz in the grass but then he wouldn’t get into the car. I tried to get him to jump into the back of the CR-V and he balked. I opened the back door and he sat down on the hot pavement. After about 10 minutes of me cajoling, begging, using a high-pitched voice and lost of pat-pat-patting the back seat, I finally reached around him and gently picked him up, scared that I’d rip out his stitches, or that he’d freak out and bite me. Instead, he cringed and let me put him in the backseat. Once there he didn’t move a muscle.
At our house, the newly christened Bailey emerged from the car much easier than he had entered. We followed our predetermined plan of introducing him to the other dogs by having them meet outside. We were nervous. The dogs were nervous. It was fine.
Until a few days later. He became increasingly fussy about what he would eat. He had a few accidents in the house, and I had to remove the throw rug from the living room. About 5 days after he was home, we awoke to find him listless with dog-snot oozing from his nose.
Listen, do not EVER google symptoms while they are actually occurring. Or else you might diagnose your new dog with distemper.
We brought him to Banfield in Petsmart since it was a Sunday and they were open. On the drive there I told Doug to prepare for the possibility that Bailey might die. He just looked that bad. The vet assured us that he had the kind of upper-respiratory infection most dogs get at the shelter and sent him home with antibiotics.
Two days later we were back at the vet. Bailey’s neuter incision had opened up and there was blood on the floor and he was whining and in pain. While we were waiting to be seen Bailey barked at another dog in the store. It was the first time we’d heard him bark. Home he came with pain meds and the cone of shame.
Over the next few weeks, Bailey’s incision healed and we adjusted to life with 3 dogs. He continued to be a picky eater, which was frustrating because we was so skinny and weak and needed to get stronger before he could be treated for the heartworms. I tried a bunch of different canned foods. The vet prescribed a high-calorie canned food that he assured us Bailey would eat. He did eat it – once.
Bailey’s appetite declined further. He was so weak, his hind end shook when he went down the deck stairs to go outside. He couldn’t lift his leg to pee, his legs weren’t strong enough. He actually looked sad. I resorted to giving him crappy food because he would eat it – hot dogs, deli meat, this really gross play-doh looking food made by Purina.
I wondered if he was depressed because he missed his former family, his “real” owners? Was he older than 5, like they guessed at the shelter? Was this related to the neutering?
Finally, it all came to a head for me one morning. He had been sleeping on the tile floor and when he got up one side of his body was wet. He had peed in his sleep. He got up and stumbled over to the water dish where he lapped up all of it. I brought him outside and realized that when he was peeing in the grass, his pee was clear as water.
Diabetes, I thought. My shelter dog has heartworms AND diabetes. A google search confirmed it, except for the loss of appetite.
I called the vet and explained my concerns and asked that he be seen ASAP to be tested for diabetes. They reminded me that I already had a re-check scheduled in 2 weeks – did I want to just wait until then to have him tested?
“Well, if he has diabetes it’s pretty serious, right? Wouldn’t it be dangerous to wait?” Duh. They told me to drop him off and they’d work him in. The vet called me about an hour later and asked if he could get some blood work and x-rays. go for it, I said.
I kept hearing myself say “Gotta take care of him, right?” over and over.
All day I researched diabetes. I watched videos of how to inject your dog. I compared insulin prices. I researched foods. Sure it would cost some extra money but this is what being a pet owner – a GOOD pet owner – is all about, I assured myself self-righteously.
The vet called that afternoon and asked me if I could just come in so he could go over the results. The vet had an Indian accent and I figured he wanted to make sure I understood what he was telling me. So I went to the vet alone. Once there, he explained to me that Bailey was in acute renal failure but it wasn’t clear why. He wanted us to take him to a specialty animal hospital in a nearby city that had 24-hour care.
And he assured me that it was not diabetes.
I went home in a fog, worried about the cost and my wavering commitment to “take care” of this dog. Doug and I returned with the kids to pick him up and bring him over to the specialty hospital. $700 later we heard Bailey bark for the 2nd time, at another dog in the store. This was the first time Doug had heard it – we eyed each other proudly, temporarily forgetting the situation to marvel at our new dog’s voice.
We drove to the animal hospital in silence. I was doing mental math, trying to predict how much this whole fiasco was going to cost us. The kids whined. At the hospital, they took him in the back and we waited for hours. I ran to a nearby grocery store and picked up snacks for the kids. We finally met with one of the doctors who explained to us that Bailey had too much calcium in his blood and that he needed IV fluids overnight because he was dehydrated. He would be referred to the internal medicine specialists in the morning and they would likely want to do further testing to figure out why his kidneys were failing.
We agreed to have him admitted. We had to pay a deposit of $1000, half of the estimated costs of his care over the next 24 hours.
Yeah, you read that right.
The next day the internal medicine doctors did an ultrasound and more bloodwork. He wasn’t eating for them either. When we were allowed to visit him in the animal ICU, he weakly wagged his tail and then struggled to remain conscious.
For the first time, I seriously considered having him put to sleep. I imagined us telling the kids. I imagined us sitting around him, the vet pushing the needle in, Bailey drifting off to sleep trusting that he would see us again when he opened his eyes. HOW would I be able to do that? How does anyone actually make the call?
I have only had to have one pet put to sleep, and that was my beloved hedgehog Emma who had developed a mass in her uterus, and while the vet was palpating it he ruptured her bladder and I said “that’s it, put her to sleep” because I knew she must have been in excruciating pain. I did not stay with her when she passed – I couldn’t do it.
Dogs are not hedgehogs though. Dogs look at your eyes. They look at YOU. They see YOU.
That evening, his second night in the ICU, the vet met with us and told us she strongly suspected that Bailey had cancer – specifically, lymphoma. She said we didn’t need to decide what to do that night, but if we did nothing Bailey would be dead within 2-3 days. the hospital had an oncology team and he could be transferred to their care in the morning.
My dog has cancer?
We cried. We went home and cried more. I got on the computer and increased the limit on my Care Credit account. Doug opened his own line with Care Credit. We talked back and forth into the night, although at that point our minds were already made up.
We had to take care of him, right?
The next morning we met with the oncologist, a very pregnant woman who cried when I cried. She confirmed that Bailey had lymphoma and that she wanted to start him on a steroid and, if we agreed to it, chemotherapy. She said that dogs respond well to chemotherapy and that there was every reason to believe he would get through this and live for another year – maybe longer. She wrote out our estimated cost for this hospital stay. We signed off on the estimate, increased our deposit to $3500, and gave the okay for chemo. She asked us to bring him something he might eat, like chicken. So when I returned I brought a rotisserie chicken.
He wouldn’t eat.
I took this picture that day, because I thought he was going to die before we came back in the evening.
But that evening he perked up a bit, and he actually ate some chicken.
He continued to improve over the next few days and his appetite slowly grew.
We brought him home almost a week later.
This was that day:
Bailey has since completed one full round of the CHOPP chemotherapy regimen. He is in remission. His calcium levels are normal, but he is on a prescription diet because he has sustained permanent kidney damage from the calcium. Who knows how long he had been sick? He has gone from 61 pounds to 69 pounds.
After his return, we went to the bank and took out 2 loans to cover our debt. The treatment is typically done over 6 months and is estimated to cost between $5000- $7000. There are people who think we are crazy. I get it. It IS crazy.
So, here are the facts:
- We rescued a dog named Bailey.
- Bailey has cancer.
- We are paying for him to be treated.
- Even with treatment, Bailey is going to die – probably in another year or two.
- We are going to take care of him.