Story told by Dave.
I suppose a lot of people will think it's stupid to write about a dog, but over the last 18 months, I've found myself increasingly consumed by man's best friend.
I am no stranger to dogs. I had a small white
dog before I was ten years old. As I recall, he
was run over by a car. Not long after, my Dad
got a second dog, almost identical to the first
one. A neighbor shot him in the head with a
.22 rifle. I remember seeing him on the side
of the road as we were driving to church.
After that, we got another dog named Tippy.
We had her for almost ten years and she died
a natural death after my first year away at
college. Due to my service in the military, I
avoided being a dog owner until my twin sons, then about 12 years old, begged for one. I adopted a flea-bitten mix-breed terrier that we had for almost 16 years. We had to put her down in March 2009, and
the entire family was heart-broken.
It was then that Bailey came into our lives. We had gone three weeks without a dog, and the house was totally depressing. On March 29, 2009, we set out to find a dog. Our third stop was at Petsmart in Newnan, GA where a little eight pound, eight-week old Lab caught our attention. At first, we passed on her, preferring to look at a humane society to rescue a dog. But, as fate with have it, the human society had just closed. Partly out of avoiding a trip to downtown Atlanta on a rainy, dreary day, I said, "How
about that little black lab." We agreed that if she was still there, we'd get her.
Sassy, as she was then known, acted like she didn't care if we adopted her or not. She was a bit aloof, almost as if saying, "if you don't take me, that's okay, someone else will." We took her. I remember saying that she didn't know it, but she had hit the lottery because of the way we would treat her. Little did I know that there were bigger forces at work than things we could control.
This story is about Bailey - aka Sassy. It's a long story, and one I'm choosing to blog about instead of sitting down and capturing after she's gone. Had I known it was going to be such a long and difficult journey, I probably would have started much sooner. This blog will go back and highlight some of her story about dealing with cancer.
I have a lot of friends and family who are praying for the little girl - now just 17 months old - who was given three months to live after being diagnosed with cancer in early March 2010. I hope her story provides an inspiration to dog lovers and cancer victims everywhere. She's a fighter, and whether she lives another day or ten years, she's provided so much to our family. I hope you enjoy her story and it's my pleasure to share it with animal lovers everywhere.
SASSY GETS A NEW HOME
We quickly completed the adoption paperwork for "Sassy" at Petsmart and made a run on the store for dog supplies - dog food, bowls, blankets, toys and dog shampoo. The decision to throw out most of Whisker's old stuff, as we had done several weeks earlier, didn't seem like a wise one as I approached the cash register. With adoption fees and all the incidentals, I was already in for over $300; little did I realize that would be a drop in the bucket.
We put Sassy in the car and less than two miles down the road, the issue of a new name came up. It was obvious that the name Sassy was not going to stick, although we would soon learn that it was more than appropriate.
With her two white paws, I wanted to name her "Two Socks" - a reference to the wolf that Kevin Costner befriended in the movie, "Dances With Wolves." That went over like a lead balloon. Brent, our youngest son, was with us and came up with the name Bailey. He said: "Well, you've already got Champ (his twin brother's dog) in the family, so if you name this one Bailey, you'll have Champ Bailey" - who happens to be one of his favorite players on the Denver Broncos. I wasn't keen on the idea of having a dog named after a former Georgia football player, but Karen liked it and that ended the debate rather quickly. Karen was nice enough to agree for us to have another dog, so the last thing I was going to do was to get into a long discussion about the name. In the end, I grew to love the name.
We got Bailey home and it didn't take long for her to adjust to her surroundings. The house looked normal again with dog bowls in their rightful place and a cute little black fur ball nipping at our feet and begging for table scraps.
While we had owned a dog for 16 years, will weren't totally aware of the adventures that were ahead. We had adopted Whiskers when she was about 6 months old and she was house broke from day one and had already experienced many of the things that would be normal for the rest of her life, like getting a bath, being walked on a leash and knowing what is not supposed to happen on the carpet - all new to Bailey.
Bailey wasn't totally thrilled about her first experience in the bath tub. Whiskers had always seemed to enjoy a bath; Bailey barely tolerated it, but she still didn't put up much resistance. She picked up her nickname that night - Bailey Dog. I noticed when I talked to her it seemed to calm her in the bath tub, and for some reason, I began to sing to her "bathing the Bailey Dog." Now, those who have heard me know I can't sing a lick, but Bailey didn't seem to notice or mind. And, while she didn't seem to enjoy the bath, she certainly enjoyed it afterwards - running crazy through the house - wildly circling tables and attacking her bath towel.
We didn't know what to expect the first night, but Bailey had been accustomed to sleeping in a cage and she was zonked out about 10 p.m. She slept without a whimper that first night for a good eight hours.
She got out of her cage slowly the next morning, stretched for a minute, fully rejuvenated and ready to
unleash another day of terror on her new owners.
It wasn't long after we brought Bailey home that the call came. It was from Karen saying she didn't know
if she could take all the things that Bailey was dishing out.
Nothing was sacred. One of Bailey's favorite things was to chew on toes and it definitely wasn't safe to walk around without
house shoes. Her baby teeth were like tooth picks and torture to the toes. While we were trying to get her on a feeding and walking schedule, she established her own routine, at least when it came to relieving herself. Her favorite place to go? My office. It was almost like clockwork, run up the steps, take a dump, and then scoot back down the steps with her little butt bumping on each of the 13 steps.
Aside from my office being her favorite dumping ground, she loved my Ole Miss rocking chair. Well, she at least liked to give those baby teeth a workout on each end of the rockers. I used duct tape and some old socks to protect the ends of the rockers, but it did no good, she would eat the duct tape and pull the socks loose.
I told Karen that we'd take Bailey back if she didn't think it would work out. But credit Karen with having patience. She nursed Brent from intensive care as a newborn during three major surgeries and she met the challenges that Bailey presented head on. She became Bailey's mom and her influence on Bailey still can be seen today.
After a week in our home, Bailey set out on her first long journey in our motor home. We situated her small dog cage under the dining room table and the little girl hardly made a sound on the 65 mile trip.
It was cold in early April at West Point Lake, which is situated on the Alabama - Georgia line in Southwest Georgia and our favorite camping destination. The rain began to pick up when it was time to take Bailey for an early morning walk after she spent her first night at the lake. Bailey made no bones about it - she preferred the warmth and dryness of her dog cage in our motor home over the cold rain. As I tried to guide her to an area for her to do her business, she insisted on ducking under the back of
the RV, staying dry while I was left in the rain.
It was at that point that it dawned on me that I had one pretty smart dog.
Around 4 a.m. on Saturday, we woke up to Bailey coughing. It was a constant cough that had Karen in tears over her baby. We put her in our bed and tried to keep her relaxed until we could take her into LaGrange to see a vet.
I loaded Bailey and her cage into the car, headed into LaGrange at 9 a.m. where she was diagnosed with kennel cough, a rather common infection spread among dogs that are around a lot of other dogs during the adoption process. I got the necessary antibiotics and headed back to the motor home to the waiting mother, who was gleaming that her baby was going to be all right.
There would be no more talk of taking her back to Petsmart.
THE PERFECT SPECIMEN
I had always taken Whiskers to the Fort McPherson veterinary clinic where services are not free, but some limited services are cheaper than a regular veterinarian. The downside is there was often a contract vet and infrequently the same vet examined her routinely. While I can't complain about having a dog for almost 16 years - definitely a long and full life - in hindsight, it was a mistake not to have the same vet. For example, Whiskers had dropped about 10 pounds in the months before she died, but the vet didn't catch the unexplained weight loss and we didn't notice it because of her dense, fluffy coat.
When she became very sick in February 2009, we took her to a vet in Peachtree City, Dr. William Watts. Dr. Watts was very upfront and did all he could to get Whiskers' failing kidneys back to functioning normally, but in the end, she was just too far gone. We hadn't planned to put her down on the day she went in for a re-check, but she was in such bad shape that I asked Dr. Watts if it was time, and he said it was. Almost all the family showed up at the clinic and two of my boys wanted to be with Whiskers as she left this earth. In the end, it was too much for them to see and I was left alone to tell Whiskers goodbye.
Dr. Watts probably could have billed me for $300 or so that day, but charged me only for the blood test. A few days later, we got a sympathy card from him and his staff. Needless to say, I was sold on him as Bailey's new vet.
We took Bailey in a week or two after adopting her and had Dr. Watts do an initial exam and all the blood tests, required vaccinations and such. He saw how hard we took Whiskers' loss and was thrilled we had decided to adopt another dog. After examining her, he pronounced her the "perfect specimen."
One of the mistakes we made with Whiskers was not having her DNA tested, left forever to wonder about her pedigree. Some said a terrier, some a said a schnauzer; in the end, we had no idea. I was not going to make the same mistake with Bailey Dog after learning from a friend that a DNA test is available at a pretty reasonable price of $125.
We had Bailey micro chipped and DNA tested. We knew that she was very obviously a Lab mix but I was left to wonder during the two week waiting period for the results about other possible mixes. I thought maybe Border Collie because of her markings and maybe even some Boxer.
When I got the results back, I was shocked - 50 percent lab, 25 percent Akita, and 25 percent mutt (no distinguishing breed).
I was left scratching my head - what's an Akita and how big do they get?
Whiskers had been about 40 pounds and we viewed her as a perfect size. We were hoping Bailey would be about the same size, although female Labs can top the scales at around 60 pounds. When a quick internet search showed an Akita - the royal dog of Japan - typically weighs in at around 125 pounds, my heart sank - "she's going to be 90 pounds," I thought.
The more I found out about Akita dogs, the more impressed I was. One writer described the breed this way - "Akitas are something like a wide German shepherd, but furrier, stronger, with a massive chest, rippling shoulder muscles, a big square head and a fluffy tail they carry curled up over their butt. They are smart, calm and protective and they have -- I don’t know how else to say this -- a catlike independence. They can take people or leave them, and they let you know it." (Remember my first impression where Bailey didn't care if we adopted her or not.)
Now, Bailey doesn't have all the characteristics of an Akita - size, full face, furry appearance - but it's obvious that she has some of the Akita's traits including being aloof, a little pony-like prance, and an occasional Akita bark (some sounds almost sound like a duck).
Bailey Dog finished up her vaccinations in early June and had a three day stay at Dr. Watts clinic for boarding in mid-June while the family was away for Brian and Allison’s wedding. A week later, she was back for surgery to be spayed. It was her last visit to the vet for six months and I was so glad to have a healthy dog.
Whiskers had really begun to show her age over the last couple of years leading to her death. She had lost most of her hearing and eyesight. She loved to sun in front of the storm door on a sunny day and there were times where I could step over her without her even responding.
Nothing against Whiskers, but Bailey was the picture of youth - pretty pink paws, soft under belly that she loved for me to rub and straight white teeth that were as shiny as pearls.
It's obvious I grew very close to Bailey real quick and Karen often referred to her as "Diddy's little girl." We agreed Bailey would be our last dog and I joked with Karen that we'd have her for a long time and she could have both of us put down together.
I guess that comment invoked a dream. I dreamed that I died first and Bailey was left standing at the door waiting for me to come home. When healthy, she was always at that door when I came home from work with paws halfway up the door. She was heartbroken. Little did I know that it looks like I'll be the one heart broken, never seeing those paws on the door.
THE LITTLE GIRL BECOMES A LADY
I don't recall when exactly it happened. I think it was April or maybe May. Anyway, after a few weeks as a pure hellion, Bailey Dog changed, and, wow, what a change. Now, she wasn't perfect by any scope of the imagination as she was still a young puppy, but it was like she grew up overnight.
I think that happened while we were away on a weekend trip to Oxford. We left behind a little hellion and returned to find a little puppy that had always been cute, but now, she was simply adorable in both looks and actions.
I guess I have to credit Matt, yet another son, to some degree. During the last two years of Whiskers' life, he was simply a godsend. He began letting Whiskers stay in his room and the two grew really close. When she was sick at the end, Matt stayed up countless hours with her, cared for her, and cleaned up after her. He was crushed when she had to leave and was totally dead set against having another dog.
He said he didn't want to take care of another dog and still refers to Bailey as "your dog." But, Bailey had a way of winning everyone over in a short time and she had that effect on Matt also. Because Matt didn't want another dog and because Karen didn't want Bailey in our Oxford condo due to possible damage, I enticed Matt to dog-sit by paying him during our frequent trips to Oxford. I don't know what Matt did that weekend - perhaps nothing - but Bailey was clearly a different dog when we returned.
Oh, she still had her moments and would still chew on the rocking chair occasionally, but after only a month or so, she was well on her way to being house broken. Karen put her on the perfect schedule - I'd take her for an early morning walk around 5:30 a.m., first meal at 10 a.m. and a walk, another walk at 2 p.m., second meal and another walk at 6 p.m., and a final walk at 10 p.m. She adjusted quickly. I don't have an easy explanation as to why Bailey and I bonded the way we did. But we developed our
own routine. She slept in a cage next to our bed and I'd get her up at 5:30 during the week and we'd go for a walk. Then I'd put her back in the cage and Karen would let her out a couple of hours later. She'd be waiting at the front door when I arrived home from work. Some days, I'd take a short nap after I got home and when she was little, she'd find a place to nap with me on the sofa, often laying with her head on one of my legs. I'd feed her at 6 p.m. and take her for another walk.
We'd normally have supper after her feeding, but she was definitely a fixture and sight at the table. As she grew bigger, she'd hop up, putting her front paws on the edge of my chair and bury her head between my arm and side to get a peek at what was on my plate. I was constantly chastised for her "bad behavior" and condoning it, but, frankly, I just couldn't say no. I think at times, she would get more of my meal than I did (hey, I went from 240 to 215 pounds in the last year, so I can't complain). Bailey wouldn't pull that stunt on anyone else, but she knew I was easy. As she grew sick and had periods where she was either too sick to look at what was on my plate or didn't want to eat, we all missed her "bad behavior." Once she got better and was able to return to her routine, I was never again chastised for being easy. Everyone was just proud to see her well enough to want to beg.
In the evening, after Bailey "helped" Karen clean up the kitchen, she would come upstairs, where I was normally engaged in some work activity in my office. It was like Bailey had a sense that it wasn't time to play. She would lie patiently on the sofa while I worked at the computer. However, when work was done and I moved to the sofa to watch TV, she would hop off the sofa and start enticing me to play keep away with her toys.
I'm still amazed at how quickly she became part of our family. Mark (another son) would drop by occasionally and Bailey would jump in his lap and lick him in the face - something she didn't do to anyone else. Brian and Allison didn't get to see her often, but Brian is a natural pet lover and Allison and Bailey just loved one another, it was so obvious.
As late summer approached, we couldn't have been happier pet owners.
THE MISSISSIPPI TRIPS
Anytime the subject of taking Bailey to Mississippi, where we have a condo, was mentioned, it was immediately nixed.
"I'm not having a dog in the condo," Karen would say. "And besides, Whiskers never got to go."
I wanted to take Bailey, but I understood Karen's position because we had done a pretty costly carpet upgrade when we bought it and all Labs shed pretty bad, not to mention the possibility of accidents.
There appeared no way around the shedding problem - one Lab owner offered this advice for a shedding black lab: Buy a black sofa.
Finally during the early summer, I had to make a trip to Mississippi and we couldn't find a sitter. Karen reluctantly agreed "just this once."
One condition for the trip was to buy a small carpet shampoo machine that we'd keep at the condo in case of any accidents.
Many dogs love car trips. Bailey was not one of them. She had made a trip to Florida with Karen and her mother in May and was okay on the road, but it was obvious she didn't like to travel.
I decided to put her inside her cage and give her a Benadryl to relax her and had hoped she would sleep most of the trip. The Benadryl apparently had no effect and she stood up most of the way, shaking out of fear of being in the car. Finally, Karen took her out of the cage and held her. She tolerated the car trip under those conditions.
Once at the condo, Bailey Dog felt right at home. Our condo is on the backside of the complex and a large open field with high sage grass and a field with some horses is just across the street. Bailey loved to romp in the sage grass, often only the tip of her tail visible as she bounced from mound of grass to mound of grass.
That weekend, there were no accidents, making any argument for a return trip a lot easier.
We made a return trip later in the summer and by that time; Bailey was big enough to go on two-mile walks around a track at the complex with Karen. She became Karen's walking companion, relieving me of any such dreaded responsibilities, and by late summer, Bailey had become Karen's full time walking buddy.
By the time football season rolled around, Bailey was almost a constant companion on the Oxford trips. When Ole Miss would play back to back home games, Karen would stay at the condo after the game for the week and I'd drive back to Atlanta and return on Friday for the second game.
It was Bailey's second home, just as it was ours, and she had the full assortment of her own Mississippi stuff, like dog bowls, toys, and blankets.
She made her last trip of the year in late November and once she became sick in late February, I never thought she would see Mississippi again. But, like in so many other ways, she surprised us. We took her back just six weeks after major surgery with Mark and Matt going along, taking turns holding her.
Once there, she remembered everything. She strutted into the kitchen, looking for her dog bowls and later got into her toy box and started playing with toys - something she hadn't done in three months.
Overall, she's made half a dozen or more trips to Mississippi and probably stayed there for at least 30 days. And, the carpet shampoo machine is still in a closet, never used once.
WARNING SIGNS TURN SERIOUS
When Whiskers was having problems with failing kidneys, one thing her vet mentioned was that being on a grain-based dog food (Pedigree) likely contributed to the problem because grain is hard for dogs to digest and process. Whiskers seemed to thrive on Pedigree and another vet once told me that dog food may look plain to humans, but for a dog, it was like eating steak three times a day.
I decided to not take any chances with grain-based dog foods and put Bailey on a lamb and rice formula - Purina Pro Plan. It cost a little more than some regular dog foods, but I didn't want to take any chances. And, she absolutely loved it, settling into a feeding twice a day with the amount being increased as she grew. She inhaled it, almost not even chewing, just lapping it down. Of course, she had her side treats. If we had rice at a meal, we'd give her a couple of tablespoons on a plate after dinner or she might eat a small portion of a baked potato and occasionally, a part of a biscuit or cornbread muffin.
Last December, someone mentioned that with her approaching her first birthday, we should have already transitioned her off the puppy chow. The way she loved Purina Pro Plan rice and lamb, I thought that would be simple enough - I'd just go to the adult version.
After buying a large bag of the adult dog food, I filled her bowl one evening and was shocked when she went over and sniffed at it and walked away. That's very un-Lab-like - they are known for eating just about anything.
I tried mixing the puppy chow and adult food together - there's a formula for transitioning a dog to a new food - 75% of the old stuff to 25% of the new food for a few days, then 50-50 for a few days, and then 25% old to 75% of the new food until eventually making a full transition. It didn't work.
We increasingly found ourselves going back to the puppy chow. I was shocked that all of a sudden, Bailey had become a finicky eater. But even then, I dismissed her behavior to her perhaps becoming a free feeder as an adult dog. A free feeder is a dog that is disciplined enough not to over eat instead of one that just keeps emptying the bowl each time it's filled. Whiskers had been a free feeder, but Bailey obviously wasn't as a puppy.
I even tried some different brands. I tried several variations of Blue Buffalo and others - nothing worked. We ended up giving several bags of dog food away to the humane shelter.
After about a month of the strange eating habits, Karen mentioned that Bailey had a cough and it sounded like she had something lodged in her throat. Now, Bailey loved old socks and any toy with strings on it; she'd patiently chew away at those until she could pull out a string or two and swallow them. I thought she might have something like that lodged in a throat. Once before, she had sounded like she was choking and I stuck my finger far enough down her throat to make her gag and it went away. It tried that again after Karen mentioned her coughing. It didn't do any good.
Her dry, unproductive cough started to come more frequent and she also showed signs of being lethargic in late January, but we hardly noticed or anticipated that anything major could be wrong. We attributed the changes just to maturing from being a puppy to a full grown adult dog. Looking back, sometimes I'd play with her for 15 or 20 minutes and at the end of a pretty active session, she would crash real quickly, taking a long nap, but I didn't think much about it as all dogs sleep a lot.
Around the middle of February, with her cough becoming an increasing concern, I told Karen that I'd go ahead make an appointment for her annual physical since it was coming due in a few weeks anyway. We took her to Dr. Watts on February 24. I will never forget Bailey standing on the examining table as the vet technician came in, Bailey striking an impressive pose. "She looks like she's ready for Wimbledon," the tech said.
However, it wasn't Wimbledon in her future, rather a series of vet visits that would have more than a dozen veterinarians examine her, much pain and suffering with every prognosis only getting worse. On that first visit, Dr. Watts came in and examined her and said she had tonsillitis and did a blood draw for a full blood work up. He said he wanted to hold off on giving her any annual vaccinations because of the infection. I never will forget Dr. Watts listening to Bailey's lungs and looking across the table at the
tech. His look was as if he had found something and it wasn't good. I don't think he found anything, but I will never forget that look and for the first time it struck me that Bailey was vulnerable.
Dr. Watts prescribed an antibiotic for the tonsillitis and told us to come back in 10 days for a re-check. But less than a week later, we were back in his office as Bailey's condition wasn't getting any better and she was refusing to eat. We began cooking for her - Brent or Karen cooked chicken strips, then boiled them in chicken broth and mixed that with rice. It was about the only thing she would eat and sometimes then, we'd have to feed her by hand. Upon re-examining her, Dr. Watts wanted to do a chest x-ray and after reviewing the results, said she had pneumonia. He gave her a shot that was supposed to clear it up.
But things continued to get worse. Less than a week after the second visit to Dr. Watts, Karen took her back into his office.
Dr. Watts examined her and said - "if this were my dog, I'd get her to a specialist right now." All of a sudden, I was being introduced to terms like lung lobe torsion, foreign objects in the lung and a host of other things that didn't sound good at all.
He wanted her to have a bronchoscopy to determine what was going on. Our options for specialists were Georgia Veterinarian Services on the north-side of Atlanta or Auburn's veterinarian school. We left a few hours later for Sandy Springs with a very sick little puppy.
THE NEWS ONLY GETS WORSE
Karen called me on March 9 with the news that Dr. Watts had recommended Bailey go to a specialist. I immediately left downtown Atlanta, drove the 25 miles home and put in a call to Dr. Watts on the way.
"You've got a pretty sick little dog," he said.
I pushed him to tell me what he thought was wrong with her, but he just didn't know. "It could be a lung torsion, something in the lung, an infection, a fungus, I just don't know," he said. "We need to get her to a specialist where they can look in that lung and see what's going on."
He explained that a lung torsion is not common, but it's when a lung lobe becomes twisted and is deprived of oxygen and blood. He suspected that's what it might be, but wasn't for sure. He said if that was the problem, she would have to have the lobe removed, but could live a normal life with five-sixths of her original lung capacity. A dog has two lung lobes on the left side along with the heart, and has three on the right side. Once a lobe is removed, the other lobe(s) expands, increasing capacity, offsetting some of the loss.
Within minutes after arriving at home, I was back in the car with a very concerned Karen and Brent and on the way to Georgia Vet Services - a 50 mile trip on the north side of Atlanta. Dr. Watts had faxed the referral and his x-ray to GVS and within a matter of minutes we were in an examining room. They were efficient and that included working up an estimate for their services. Bailey's estimate came in at around $2400 with half due before she was seen and the other half at the completion of treatment. The GVS web site states they're a specialist operation (24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year) and because of that, they're more expensive than most vet clinics. They weren't kidding.
But, money was the last thing on our mind. A young, cute blond vet came in to check out Bailey, and I'll give her credit for not missing anything, including noticing that despite being 13 months old, Bailey still had one of her baby teeth. She focused on Bailey's lungs and noted there were some irregular sounds. She went over many of the possibilities that Dr. Watts had mentioned. Toward the end of the examination, I asked her if she saw anything that would put us in a situation where we might lose Bailey, and she said "no," noting she otherwise appeared in really good health. Never once was the "C" word mentioned as it's almost unheard of for a dog just over a year old to have cancer.
We left Bailey on that Tuesday evening, fully expecting them to check her out, find some simple explanation and everything would be alright in a few days. We stopped by Steak and Shake for a late supper and the focus was clearly on Bailey. Worst casing it, we agreed, we thought she might have to have surgery to remove the lung lube, and while that was major surgery and serious, the prognosis was good. Things would change dramatically within the next 24 hours.
Eighteen hours later I was in a meeting at work and got a text on my cell phone. It read "call me, not good news for Bailey." It was from Karen. My heart sank. I don't know why, but ever since I saw that look in Dr. Watts' eyes a couple of weeks earlier, I had a dreaded fear that we might lose Bailey. I left the meeting and called Karen. She was in tears, "Bailey's got cancer, and we may lose her." I was shocked and in disbelief. We had gone through losing Whiskers almost a year to day that we took Bailey to GVS, tears rolling down my boys’ face as Dr. Watts gave Whiskers what is essentially an overdose of barbiturates and watching her lapse into unconsciousness was fresh on my mind. Karen had made what the boys referred to as a "shrine" on the fireplace for Whiskers - an urn with her ashes and two photos. Thoughts of having Bailey join her were crushing.
I left work and told a friend to cover for me. I knew I probably had a boss or two who would think I was either silly or stupid for needing time off over a dog crisis. I told him I didn't know when I'd be back.
On the way home, tears streamed down my checks at the thought of my fears about losing Bailey coming true. I won't be too descriptive, I'll just say I had some outbursts and said some things out loud while alone in my car that just need to be left private. I immediately put in a call to Dr. Mark Dorfman, one of the founders of GVS, and he called back a short time later.
Dr. Dorfman explained that he had decided not to do a scope of Bailey's lungs. An x-ray showed that she had a large mass in the lower left lobe and he had ordered a needle biopsy of the mass to attempt to determine what it was.
"I'm 85 percent sure that she has lymphoma and 98 percent sure she has some form of cancer," he said.
He explained that they experience pretty good success treating lymphoma with chemotherapy, but in terms of cancer, lymphoma is as good as it gets and anything else would probably be worse. He further explained that chemotherapy was expensive and a long process.
"You might want to considering going ahead and putting her down," he said rather callously.
My response was to question him about the next step in the treatment process.
"That would be a full biopsy of the lung, to determine if the needle biopsy was accurate, but that's rather expensive," he said.
"Let's do it," I said.
There was no way I was going to put Bailey down based on a needle biopsy.
Bailey was due for the full biopsy of her lung on Thursday, March 11, early in the morning but it was delayed until the afternoon.
We sat around the house on an overcast day like expectant fathers in a waiting room. It was a miserable day as thoughts of losing my best friend were stuck in my mind. Anyone who has owned a dog before and lost one understands those things happen, although it doesn't result in it hurting any less. Losing one that was barely over a year old was another matter. How this could be happening to a sweet, precious little puppy was beyond me.
Of course, it's nothing like losing a child. I have a brother and sister who both lost a child at birth, and I saw the hurt. We nearly lost Brent and that was probably as close as one could get to losing a child without actually having to deal with one of the worst things that can happen in life - parents having to bury their child. You can't compare dogs and humans, but Bailey was part of the family.
All through the day, there was nothing we could do except wait. Finally, around mid-afternoon, Dr. Dorfman called and said they had completed the biopsy and we could pick up Bailey later that evening, but he wouldn't have the results back for several days. We were all excited and an hour later we piled into the car headed for the dreaded trip through rush hour traffic to the north side of Atlanta. We didn't know what the future would hold for Bailey and us, but at least we were bringing her home. It seemed like months since we'd seen her. We arrived a GVS and a vet tech went back to the hospital area to retrieve Bailey. I settled the account at the front desk. It came to around $2000 that included an $8 bottle of steroids and a diagnosis that likely would be terminal.
Bailey came out and she was a little standoffish. I don't think she was any too happy about us dropping her off at a strange place to be poked and prodded. Only two days before I had seen two other pet owners who were in tears, their pet evidently succumbing to some illness. I remember thinking that
Bailey was only a year old I was glad I didn't have to deal with that. But 48 hours later when I saw Bailey, tears filled my eyes as I looked at her, knowing that losing her was exactly what I was facing.
The technician went over the details. She'd done well for the biopsy, Dr. Dorfman loved her because she jumped up his lap, and she was a joy and a great patient. We were to start her on the steroids that night and try to feed her science diet puppy chow - she had had that at the hospital and seemed to like it. We got into the car for the drive home and the discussion centered on our options. GVS offered chemotherapy, if we were going to have to deal with cancer. Dr. Watts said he once did, but not any longer. If we had to go the chemotherapy route, that would mean at least a weekly trip to north side of town. Karen's retired and was available to do that, but there's no doubt it would be a major undertaking.
Over the last 24 hours, Matt and I had worn out the internet to become educated about lymphoma and cancer in dogs. We found a ton of material, and we both concluded that it is almost impossible to find cases where a dog of Bailey's age has cancer. We were both thinking misdiagnosis and we found several situations where dogs display the same symptoms as Bailey, but do not have cancer. Heart worms can cause similar symptoms as can several other diseases, such as blastomycosis, a disease somewhat
unique to Mississippi, and she had been in Mississippi for several weeks. We got home late in the evening and we were all starving. Brent ran across the street to pick up some Subway sandwiches. I took my sandwich upstairs to do some work on the computer and Bailey nestled between my legs. I think she ate at least half of my sandwich. At least the appetite was better after being starved for two days and being on an IV.
All we could do is give her a lot of love and hope the results were positive.
When Dr. Dorfman called on March 17 with the biopsy results, my suspicions (and hope) of a misdiagnosis were partially confirmed.
"I've got good news," he said. "She doesn't have lymphoma. The bad news is I still think she has cancer, and if it's not lymphoma, it's probably something worse."
I tried to pin him down on exactly what they had found.
"Right now, we're calling what we found eosinophilic granulomatosis," he said.
I had him spell it and wrote it down where we could research it on the internet.
Dr. Dorfman said some of the lab findings were insufficient to make a determination because the samples weren't good enough. He said if we wanted a referral to the GVS oncologist, he'd be glad to arrange that. I thanked him and knew I had some decisions to make.
It was going to be tough.
NEW VETERINARIAN BRINGS HOPE
In the span of just 30 days, I had gone from a very happy pet owner with a year-old dog that I expected to have for another 10-12 years to hoping and praying that she would be around to see the azaleas and green grass in the spring. I was also out $3000, not that it mattered.
I was disappointed at the outcome from Bailey's two-day stay at Georgia Veterinarian Services, both with their prognosis and the way it was handled. We had taken Bailey there for a bronchoscopy and it wasn't done. We didn't know what was in the lung and there was no way I was going back there if she had to have chemotherapy, in part, because the drive across town was just too difficult.
I set out to find another veterinarian - one much closer to home. I did an internet search for "veterinarian and chemotherapy" in our area and The Animal Medical Clinic popped up in Peachtree City, about eight miles from our home.
I browsed the site and one vet stood out - Dr. Jeff Richardson. Dr. Richardson - or Dr. Jeff as he likes to be called - had attended the Air Force Academy for two years, and then transferred to David Lipscomb in Nashville, a Christian school, where he finished his undergraduate degree, and then attended vet school at Auburn. If Bailey had to have an additional specialized care, I wanted to go to Auburn - a little farther drive, but absent of having to deal with downtown Atlanta traffic. As an Auburn graduate, I knew he'd know the vet clinic there and have the connections to make the necessary referrals.
I called and made an appointment and also called GVS and asked them to fax Bailey's file to Dr. Jeff's office. A couple of days after receiving the bad news on Bailey's prognosis, we were in The Animal Medical Clinic with Dr. Jeff.
In preparation for the visit, we took plenty for Dr. Jeff to work with - a feces and urine sample - as we wanted to start all over in the process to make sure nothing had been overlooked. Dr. Jeff examined Bailey after she had been weighed and had a heart worm test.
"If I had not seen the file and know her history, just doing a routine exam, I'd say she's a perfectly healthy dog," Dr. Jeff said after his initial exam. "There are some sounds in the left lung, but nothing I'd be concerned with if I didn't know her situation."
He had the x-rays from Dr. Watts and GVS, but wanted to take more for an updated view of her lungs. Whereas Dr. Watts struggled for an hour or so to get one x-ray of Bailey's lungs a couple of weeks earlier, within minutes of Dr. Jeff taking Bailey's x-rays, he had three graphs on computer screens in the back of the office. He invited us back to look at them.
"The mass in the lung is not as dense as it was originally," he said, while pointing to the x-rays. "To me, that points to it possibly being some type of infection caused by bacteria. It just so unusual for a dog of her age to have cancer. It could be a foreign object in the lung where her body is fighting off an infection or some type of localized infection that has resulted in the mass."
Dr. Jeff said he wanted to treat her with more antibiotics and re-check her in ten days. Meanwhile, all of her urine, blood and fecal tests came back negative.
With her illness, Bailey had become a finicky eater and that situation continued, although it was helped along by the steroids, which stimulate the appetite.
I went to Petsmart and bought a 12-pack of Science Diet puppy chow like she had eaten at GVS. I wondered as I was paying if she would be around to eat it all. We fed her puppy chow twice a day and then cooked up our chicken and rice concoction in chicken broth at night. She ate pretty well for the most part. But along with the canned dog food came the unanticipated nuisance of her occasionally passing gas that would just about run anyone out of the room. But, as the saying had developed around the house - anything for the Bailey Dog.
Bailey did pretty well for the next week, even being playful at times, but always resulting in an almost immediate crash following a few minutes of activity. The cough still persisted. It was like she had something in her throat and it would not dislodge. One night she was so active playing, attacking my socks as I was getting dressed, and then she went immediately into a choking cough. We videotaped it to show to Dr. Jeff.
Despite all the turmoil with Bailey, I had a required business trip in San Antonio from March 28 to April 2 and I was none too happy about having to leave Bailey behind with her condition being what it was.
I flew out to San Antonio on March 28 and the next day, Karen took Bailey in for a follow-up visit. Dr. Jeff took x-rays and then came the bad news - the density of the mass had returned.
Karen sent me a text and told me that Dr. Jeff wanted to get Bailey to Auburn immediately, likely for surgery to remove part of her lung. I faced another tough decision - delay the decision until I returned in a week or put all the logistics of getting Bailey to Auburn and going through the surgery on Karen. I wanted to wait, but what if they operated and said we were a week too late? I would never forgive myself. The surgery had to be done immediately regardless of where I was.
I called the Small Animal Clinic at Auburn and Dr. Jeff already had the referral in place for her to see a surgeon. I made an appointment for the next day and found the address and all pertinent information on Auburn's web site and e-mailed it to Karen. The receptionist told me that Bailey would be seeing Dr. Michael Tillson, a surgeon on the small animal clinic staff.
I called Dr. Jeff and told him we had an appointment with Dr. Tillson the next day. He was kind of surprised that everything had been pulled together so quickly.
"He (Dr. Tillson) is one of the best in the country," Dr. Jeff said. "Bailey will be in good hands with him."
Karen and Matt would take Bailey for her first trip to Auburn on Tuesday.
SURGERY DAY ARRIVES
When Bailey returned from Georgia Veterinarian Services, she had two areas that had been shaven - a three-inch square on her side where they had done the biopsy and a place on her front leg just above the paw that was about an inch wide and two or three inches long. That was to facilitate finding a vein for the IV and for blood tests.
Whiskers had a similar place on her front leg and it was used to administer the drugs to put her to sleep.
Seeing Bailey's shaven front leg brought back memories of her death sentence at the hands of cancer and the thought that the area would be eventually used to put her down. It brought back bad memories from seeing Whiskers being put to sleep - the overdose of barbiturates that took five or ten minutes and then the final shot that stopped the heart and ended her life by the time the plunger reached the bottom of the syringe.
And, while I'd had such visions with it being Bailey going through that dreaded ordeal since leaving GVS, I didn't think we were anywhere close to that when I left for San Antonio the day before Bailey was referred to Auburn. Now, I was 1500 miles away and couldn't control any of it.
Matt and Karen took Bailey for her appointment to Auburn and arrived on time and were greeted by a friendly and efficient staff at the Small Animal Clinic.
Auburn had been an easy choice for us. I made my first visit there in 1999, shortly after retiring from the Army, and Ole Miss was playing football that fall. We returned in our motor home in 2001 and 2003 for other games. I took same day trips in 2007 and 2009 and went to a few basketball games. We always loved it at Auburn. Fans were friendly enough and it's a pretty campus that had become perhaps our second favorite trip behind going to Oxford.
Bailey was first seen by a student. Auburn's vet clinic is a teaching school and veterinarian students normally see the patient first and then the student briefs the facility member of their findings and receives their evaluation. Karen said Bailey felt right at home at the clinic, somewhat prancing down the hall to the examining room.
A short time later, Dr. Tillson came in and had reviewed all the paperwork and examined Bailey, then scheduled the surgery for the following day. He said with a little luck, say something like it being a benign mast cell tumor or foreign object in the lung, Bailey would have a full recovery, long life, and have nothing but a bad haircut to show for her stay at Auburn.
Bailey was admitted and when Karen and Matt left, Karen said Bailey first stood at the front door of the clinic, but quickly turned and followed the student back into the clinic, tail wagging as they were driving off.
Bailey stayed in a cage that night and when the student let her out for a morning walk, Bailey refused to get back on the cage. Instead of making her get in the cage, the student allowed Bailey to accompany her on her morning rounds.
As she had at every other stop - now her fourth vet clinic - everyone loved the Bailey Dog and bragged on what a great dog she was.
Bailey was supposed to have surgery early on March 31, but an emergency pushed that back until early afternoon. Meanwhile, Dr. Tillson indicated that he wanted to do a CAT scan before surgery - a rather pricey procedure at about $700 - but one he felt was necessary to properly guide and prepare him for what he would have to deal with once the incision was made.
Around noon, I received a call from Karen and she said the results of the CAT scan were not good.
"They want to know under what conditions we want to put her down during surgery if things don't look good," Karen said in tears. "It's worse than what they thought and what had showed up on the x-rays and they found some other things."
There had been almost nothing but bad news since we first took Bailey to the vet on February 24, but this was shocking.
"Tell them that if she can't have a decent quality of life, to go ahead and just not let her wake up," I told Karen.
I hung the phone and got on the internet and looked for crematory services in the Auburn area. I found one in Columbus, Georgia.
"Do you pick up deceased animals at Auburn," I asked.
"Yes we do," a friendly voice from the other end of the phone said. "Do you need our assistance?"
"I hope not," I said. "But, if I do, I'll give you call back."
THE SURGERY AND POST-SURGERY
I finished up my meetings in San Antonio for the day and went back to my hotel room to what turned out to be a very long wait as the surgery was started late and took longer than expected.
After being asked under what conditions we would want the surgeon to not bring Bailey out of anesthesia, I was on edge waiting for the dreaded call.
I had been told that the lung looked worse than they had expected after getting the CAT scan results, but I didn't have any direct explanation from Dr. Tillson as to what exactly that meant, so I didn't know what he was facing, only that it seemed pretty grim.
I was on the seventh floor at the Marriott Resorts Hotel about 20 miles out of San Antonio. It was a relatively new hotel with a PGA Golf Course that hosts the Texas Open. I was lucky because I had a balcony and could go outside and pace and smoke a few cigarettes to try to calm my nerves.
I would alternate between lying down on the sofa with cell phone at the ready on my chest waiting for any word and pacing on the balcony. I figured that no news was good news.
Back at home, Karen was playing the waiting game too and we checked in every once in a while to see if the other had any news. When the surgery began, Matt said he couldn't take it (staying at home and waiting) so he took off to who knows where. Later, he admitted to going to buy a pack of cigarettes and smoking a few - that after having quit several months before. I understood the feeling and reaction.
One hour turned into two, two to three and finally five or six hours passed and not a word.
I had read enough information on the internet to know that it wasn't an easy surgery. I even found a photo or two of dogs that had gone through the surgery and knew pretty much what to expect. They would shave the dog from just behind the left shoulder where the body joins the torso back at least to the mid-point down the side. Then, they'd make a long incision just behind the shoulder to access the lung. Once inside, they'd remove the lobe and use staples to close the remaining lobe.
Finally, after around six hours, I finally gave in and called the Small Animal Clinic and managed to get through to the vet student who had been assisting Dr. Tillson and taking care of Bailey during her hospital stay.
The young student was obviously very bright and had been most helpful, but verbal communication wasn't one of her strong suits. She talked very fast, glossing over medical terms and neglecting to stop and explain what they were or what they meant like a more experienced medical person would have done.
What I surmised from talking with her and stopping her to explain and slow down a few times was that Bailey had made it through the surgery okay and that Dr. Tillson would be calling the next day with the details. He had finished the surgery about an hour earlier and was now making his rounds.
I called Karen with the news that Bailey had made it. While we had hoped to be elated that the ordeal was final over, for some reason, I don't think either of us had that feeling after talk of having to put her down and the results of the CAT scan and things being worse that what they had expected.
The next day, April's Fool Day, I finally was able to talk with Dr. Tillson. He said the lung lobe he removed was almost a purplish color and grossly enlarged. He said he was most concerned that he also noticed that the tracheal bronchial lymph nodes were enlarged and he did a biopsy of those. He said she had tolerated the surgery well and now it was just a waiting game until he received the results back from the lab, which could take 10-14 days.
We discussed Bailey's discharge and recovery and he said he wanted to see how she was doing on Friday morning before making a decision as to whether should come home on Friday or would need to stay an additional day or more.
However, late on Thursday, the vet student called and said Bailey was doing great and she could come home on Friday.
"There's nothing we are doing for her here that you can't do for her at home," she said.
On Friday, I got up at 3:30 a.m., took a shuttle to the San Antonio Airport and then boarded an AirTran flight to Atlanta, arriving at 9:20. I drove the 12 miles to my house, and only minutes later, jumped in the car and was off for the 100 mile drive down to Auburn, which I had just flew over not more than an hour before.
We were going to bring the Bailey Dog back home.
BAILEY COMES HOME
After five days in San Antonio, it was great to be back in Georgia. I had always wanted visit the Alamo and other sites in San Antonio, but I was stuck 20 miles outside of the city, without a car, and Bailey's unexpected turn for the worse and sudden trip to Auburn for surgery had definitely put a damper on the trip.
When Bailey became sicker late in the winter, one of my hopes was that she would make it to the spring to see the grass, trees and plants green up. Over the last few days, I often wondered if that would happen.
But, she survived the surgery and we were left wondering what her prognosis would be - would she ever fully recover to live a normal life, or was the surgery a temporary reprieve from the suspected deadly cancer?
When Dr. Jeff had given us some hope that her condition might be caused by an infection or a foreign object in the lung, Matt had scoffed at the doctor at Georgia Veterinarian Services and his diagnosis of cancer. I cautioned him against doing that as something nagged at me, thinking the vet could turn out to be correct. Dr. Tillson's comments about the enlarged tracheal bronchial lymph nodes added to my suspicion and concern.
With the hour time difference between Auburn and Atlanta, we were confused about exactly what time we were to arrive to pick up Bailey. The vet student, who talked so fast, added to the confusion, but she had indicated Bailey was doing well and it was still okay for us to pick her up on Friday.
Karen and I took kind of a leisurely drive down to Auburn, stopping by Cracker Barrel for breakfast just outside Auburn and then drove the 10 miles to the Small Animal Clinic, arriving about 1:30 central time.
We didn't have to wait long and the vet student brought Bailey to the examining room and said Dr. Tillson would be in shortly to tell us what he had found. Meanwhile, the vet student gave us some pain medication for Bailey and went over the care instructions, mainly to make sure Bailey didn't lick the incision. Bailey's behavior was kind of like it always was when we had dropped her off for an extended stay at the vet, either to be spayed, boarded, or when she went for the two night stay at GVS - she was abit aloof and perhaps angry about being dropped off and put through an ordeal. In other words, it
would take a little time for her to forgive us.
Dr. Tillson came in and went over the details of the surgery - everything had gone well, the enlarged lymph nodes concerned him, there appeared to be "something" going on in the other part of the lung lobe, and he doubted it was an infection or foreign object. He didn't come out and say it was cancer, taking the safe approach and saying he wanted to see the lab results before drawing any conclusions. In hind sight, I think he knew exactly what he was dealing with, but his decision to not come out and say it, left us with a ray of hope that Bailey didn't have cancer and would make a full recovery.
He cautioned us to watch her breathing - there were many areas for concern, such as the remaining lobe in the lung collapsing or not inflating and expanding properly after the surgery. There was even a danger that the remaining lobe could twist, resulting in torsion. Any of it would likely result in us having to immediately put her down. The key, were told, was to watch her respiratory rate.
Over the next few days, I would become an expert on a dog's respiratory rate and heart rate - a good rate was about 30 to 40 breaths a minute - count her breaths for 15 seconds, multiply it by four; the best place to check the heart rate was in an area inside the dog's hind quarter.
As we left the examining room and Karen was getting ready to take Bailey out for a walk, Bailey caught a glimpse of other animals outside the clinic and ran a short distance to the door and jumped up on the door with her front paws, barking like crazy.
The little girl surely seemed great for having gone through such a major ordeal.
As Karen took Bailey outside, I settled up for the bill with the accounting department. The three day stay and surgery cost about $3000, substantially cheaper than it would have been at GVS. Between initial vet fees, spaying, DNA testing, micro chipping, Dr. Watt's work when Bailey first got sick, the full work up at the Animal Medical Clinic and other costs, I had a dog that had already cost me about seven or eight thousand dollars.
Bailey always seemed more comfortable with me holding her, so Karen drove back to Atlanta while I held Bailey. When we got home, Matt greeted her and she ate a little canned dog food, took a short walk, and quickly went to sleep for the night, obviously glad to be back home.
A DIFFICULT RECOVERY FROM SURGERY
Bailey was exhausted after the trip home and slept well on pain medication for her first night home.
Just as parents put a sick child in bed for security and to monitor the condition, Bailey had migrated to our bed in recent weeks.
Bailey had slept in a cage during her first year. The cage was first situated across the bedroom from where we slept, but later moved closer to my side of the bed. Late last year, I thought Bailey was old enough and mature enough to come out of the cage at night and Karen finally agreed. We keep her bed in the same location, but just without the cage. It wasn't long after we made the change that Bailey began to show a lot of restlessness at night, moving from her bed to the other side of the room and at
times, being so restless that she would stay in the living room with Karen late at night after I went to bed. In hindsight, I think her restlessness with the onset of her illness where she was moving around trying to find a place where she would be comfortable.
Prior to surgery, and particularly around the time we took her to Georgia Veterinary Services around mid-March, she was in respiratory distress on several occasions and we moved her baby blanket and bed to our bed where we can make her feel more secure and monitor her at night. Although we have a king size bed, it wasn't a situation that Karen liked very much, but we felt it was necessary. I think on any given night, one of us ended up with about 18 inches of sleeping space while Bailey and the other
person got the rest of the big bed.
It was certainly necessary after major surgery that resulted in the loss of half her lung.
If the surgery wasn't bad enough, Atlanta had a late winter with cold days late into March, but when it turned warm, it got hot in a hurry, well into the mid-80s, and resulted in the pollen count hitting record levels by the first of April. The last thing Bailey needed was a combination of heat and pollen with half of one lung missing.
Bailey did pretty well the first couple of nights at home. She was still eating half a can of Science Diet dog food in the morning at 10 a.m., then the other half at 2 p.m. and then we'd cook her chicken and rice concoction in chicken broth or feed her ground beef or some other human food which she really seemed to like. However, there were occasions where her breathing rate would elevate and we had to deal with diarrhea caused by antibiotics and prolonged steroid use. I will say one thing about her bathroom behavior during this entire ordeal - despite being on steroids and antibiotics that can cause diarrhea and more frequent urination, the little girl had a total of one "accident" in the house during this entire four month ordeal, which can't be described any other way than simply amazing.
I don't take that many medications, but I do have a collection of quite a few and several years ago Karen bought a Longaberger basket to keep all my pill bottles. Matt joked that Bailey was about to get to a point of needing her own Longaberger basket - at the time she was on the pain medication, antibiotic, diarrhea medicine, and steroids. I long ago learned the secret of administering those medications - peanut butter. I would scoop a wad of peanut butter on my index finger, bury the pill in the peanut butter and open the dog's mouth with my left hand and put the peanut butter toward the back of the mouth on the tongue. Then I'd let the dog lick my finger, always ensuring the pill was swallowed immediately. Bailey loved peanut butter.
By Monday, Bailey was showing more and more signs of respiratory distress and she was eating okay, but not great - often having to be fed by hand. I remember carrying her down the steps and thinking that she had had a noticeable weight loss and that she was wasting away thanks to the deadly cancer. After taking her for a short walk to relieve herself, I remember watching her walk back through the garage and struggle to get up one step to the kitchen entrance. Her hips seemed like they were about to
collapse. I was struck by how much she reminded me of Whiskers at the very end of a full life of 16 years - and this with a dog then only 14 months old. It was so sad, it brought tears to my eyes to see such a creature have to suffer.
On Tuesday, Bailey's condition seemed to worsen dramatically. I went to bed at my standard time on a work night around 10 p.m. and took her with me. Her breathing was rapid and labored. She was breathing at a rate so fast I could hardly count it. It was well over 100 breaths per minute - more than double the normal. And she was very restless. She would move from place to place on the bed, trying to find a spot that she could get comfortable, and at times, she'd just stand up. After two hours, I decided to give her a Benadryl in addition to her pain medication.
I didn't know how safe that would be, but she was in terrible condition and I thought she was probably going to die anyway, so why not? With me having to work the next day, Matt took her to his room at around midnight and gave her some tender loving care and the Benadryl finally kicked in and she went to sleep.
Karen had delayed one trip to Florida to visit relatives earlier in the spring because of Bailey's condition and had re-scheduled it for Thursday, April 8.
The evening before she was to leave, Bailey had another terrible night and I again got her to sleep using the Benadryl. I was fearful that the lung had collapsed or had become twisted and, while I didn't have an appointment at Auburn, I thought it was best to take her back down to see what was going on. I decided to take off work on Thursday, just six days after we had brought Bailey home, and Matt and I would go to Auburn while Karen left for Florida with her mother.
On Thursday, I called Auburn and they agreed to see her without an appointment. As Karen was getting ready to go to Florida, Matt and I loaded Bailey up for the two hour drive to Auburn.
I expected the worst, especially with her difficulty in breathing and the potential for a collapsed lung. For the second time in eight days, I expected to have to put her down and had the number to the crematory in my pocket.
DODGING THE CREMATORY
A week after major surgery, Bailey wasn't doing well at all. She had to be coaxed to eat and her breathing was terrible. She was often in distress.
When we put her in the car on April 8 and headed back to Auburn, I thought she might not be returning home. My fear was her lung had collapsed and she would have to be put down. I took along her favorite blanket. If I had to have her put down and cremated, I was going to have her wrapped in that blanket.
Matt held her on the two-hour drive down to Auburn and she seemed pretty secure in his lap. She still had the nine-inch long incision on her side with stitches that made handling her and moving her around a challenge.
As always, the folks at Auburn were great. I didn't have an appointment, but explained the situation and they had told me they would work me in as soon as they could. The one catch was that Dr. Tillson, her surgeon, was not available and she'd have to see another vet. On this day, the task of examining Bailey fell to Dr. Harry Boothe. He would be at least the sixth vet to see Bailey up to this point - others included Dr. Watts, her original regular vet; the on-call emergency vet at Georgia Veterinarian Services; Dr. Dorfman, who had initially diagnosed her with cancer; Dr. Jeff, now her regular vet; and Dr. Tillson.
Our wait was short and we were quickly escorted back to an examining room where we were greeting by yet another student vet. The students rotate from department to department and the female student who had tracked Bailey so closely the week before during her surgery had rotated on elsewhere. The young male student looked like the type you might see on football game day at Auburn, in need of a shave and a little disheveled, but much of his dress was disguised by a white smock that read "Auburn Small Animal Clinic." He was a very nice young man, but not quite on the ball like the female student from the week before.
The student explained that Auburn was a teaching school and he was to do the initial exam on Bailey and report his findings to Dr. Boothe and he'd later be critiqued on how well he did.
He had read Bailey's file and knew most of the background and I explained the symptoms she was having and why I brought her down.
The student began thinking out loud as to what he would tell Dr. Boothe and what therecommendations would be, but he seemed kind of stuck on what he'd recommend.
"If I were you, here's what I'd tell Dr. Boothe," I tried to help out. "Tell him that she had the lower left lung lobe removed last week and you are concerned that it may not be inflated properly or has become twisted and that's causing the distressed breathing. Recommend to him that you do x-rays to check that and also do a blood test and check her temperature to make sure there are no signs of infection. Once you get those results, you'll have a better idea of what other measures you need to take."
The vet student grinned and said that sounded really good. He departed the room to discuss his findings with Dr. Boothe.
About ten minutes later, he returned and proudly announced that he had briefed Dr. Boothe and Dr. Boothe agreed with his plan to do some x-rays and check for any infection. He said it would take aboutan hour and Matt and I could go for breakfast and they should have the lab worked completed by the time we returned.
I winked at Matt as I complimented the student on his excellent plan and we left the room.
By the time we returned from breakfast, the student had left a message at the front desk for us to come to the examining room as soon as we got back. We went to the examining room and a short time later, the student brought Bailey in and Dr. Boothe joined us.
He put the x-rays under the light and said that the left lung was basically in the same condition it was a week earlier immediately after surgery - most importantly - noting it had not collapsed, although it had not had time to expand like it should over time, taking up some slack for the removed portion. He then noted what he suspected to be enlarged lymph nodes in the lung, and the discussion turned to cancer.
"We will just have to wait for the lab results," he said. "They should be in at any time - the next day or two. Until then, we won't know for sure."
But, from the tone and a few hints, it was apparent that Dr. Boothe expected the results to come back as cancer. He really couldn't offer much of an explanation for the repeated episodes of distressed breathing.
"She could be in pain, the lymph nodes being enlarged could be affecting her breathing, and the pollen situation certainly doesn't help," he said.
He recommended the continued use of pain killers and to just to try to keep her comfortable until the lab results came back and a more definitive treatment plan could be developed.
As always, the folks at Auburn had been wonderful, but the only thing we achieved from the trip was confirmation that the lung had not collapsed.
As we headed back home and Karen just passing the Georgia - Florida line, I called her and told her I was bringing Bailey back home. She had dodged the crematory for the second straight week.
YET ANOTHER EMERGENCY
It rained while we were down at Auburn and Bailey seemed to do a little better after it cooled down some and the pollen was washed away. She was tired from the trip and ate a little when we returned home and then went straight to bed. Her breathing was still labored and she was restless. Matt did his dog sitting chores on Friday with Karen away in Florida for a few days - a much deserved break after all we'd been through over the last month - and I went back to work.
On Friday night, it was much like it was on Wednesday night with Bailey being really restless and moving around to find a place to sleep comfortably and still having difficulty breathing. Early the next morning, I decided to take her back to our local vet for another check. I called the Animal Medical Clinic in Peachtree City and was told that Dr. Jeff was off that day, but Dr. William "Rip" Landrum could see me at 9 a.m. Dr. Landrum was the founder of the clinic more than 20 years ago and I had noticed his bio on the clinic's web site when I was looking for a vet that offered chemotherapy services. I also noticed he was a graduate of Mississippi State. Of course, I had gone to Ole Miss and the two schools are pretty hated rivals, at least on football weekends during the fall.
I showed up at the clinic and Dr. Landrum came in. I started to give him a little background on Bailey since he'd never seen her before.
"I know all about Bailey," he interrupted. "Everyone here does. We've all be following her case and I've seen the x-rays and know she had surgery."
Despite the care Bailey had recently received, Dr. Landrum gave her another full examination.
We began discussing possible causes of her illness if it turned out she didn't have cancer.
"Has she ever been to Mississippi," Dr. Landrum asked.
I knew where this conversation was going. During my research to determine the illnesses that Bailey might have instead of cancer, I ran across a condition called blastomycosis - it's a disease caused by a fungus and somewhat unique to Mississippi and the Ohio Valley and is more common among hunting dogs that are outside a lot. Left untreated, it can be as deadly as cancer. It's inhaled into the lungs and, left untreated, can involve the eyes, liver, heart and brain.
I explained to Dr. Landrum that we have a condo in Mississippi and Bailey spent at least 30 days there last year. I told him she is an Ole Miss dog and he kind of grinned.
"I went to Mississippi State," he said.
I told him I'd seen his bio and knew he was a State graduate and mentioned to him that I had gone to Starkville last fall and enjoyed everything about it other than the outcome of the football game. He apologized and noted he hadn’t been back to Starkville in several years.
"I've seen a ton of the blastomycosis while I was in Jackson," he said. "But I don't think that's what it is or we'd see something in the eyes. But it could be some other type of infection. I'm kind of surprised that they (Auburn) didn't put her on an antibiotic after going through the surgery. I want to do that and I want you to start giving her pain pills in a little more strength or more often to make sure she's comfortable."
He then examined her incision, and I asked him about taking her stitches out instead of having to make a return trip.
"She's certainly a good dog," he said after removing the stitches. "I hope you get some good news from the lab when the results come back."
I had taken Bailey to the vet without anyone else riding with me. On the way home, she crawled over from the passenger seat to lie across my lap. She seemed secure and comfortable.
The thought of having to have this precious creature put down brought tears to my eyes.
THE TERMINAL DIAGNOSIS
We muddled through the weekend of April 9, Bailey's second since going through surgery to remove half of her lung on March 31.
It wasn't a pretty sight and I think we had all underestimated just how serious the surgery was.
Bailey seemed to amass enough energy to go outside for a short walk and then she'd come inside and crash right away. She continued to remind me of Whiskers during her dying days - not a now 15 month old dog that should still essentially be a puppy.
Karen had been in Florida for four days and returned home on Monday and it seemed to pick Bailey up some to have her "mom" back.
As Karen says, she may be your little girl, but she's my baby. Bailey needed some tender loving care from a mom and Karen could provide that like no other.
During it all, we were scratching our head and left to wonder about the lab results. Auburn had said the results would be back in five to 14 days and it was now approaching the far end of the estimate. We were cautiously optimistic that the lab would come back with some explanation that didn't involve the "C" word - like a fungus or infection.
I had talked to Dr. Tillson, Bailey's surgeon, a few days before just to update him on her condition. He fueled our hope a little, saying that the longer the lab took, it could be a sign that they were having to run multiple tests to determine exactly what was going on in this beautiful little black and white and precious creature.
Late Monday afternoon, about the time I was getting ready to go home after work, my cell phone rang. It was an Auburn area code and I suspected I was about to finally get the news - good or bad.
Dr. Tillson didn't get right to the point, instead asking how Bailey was doing.
I quickly gave Dr. Tillson an update, but I wanted to get right to the issue at hand - the lab results.
"Bailey's doing pretty good, still tires easy and isn't eating too well, but I don't think any of that matters as much as the information you probably have," I said.
He thanked me for the update and said he did indeed have the lab results back.
"I'm sorry, but it's not good news for Bailey," he said. "She has what is called histiocytic sarcoma."
I asked him to spell it and then asked if this was the cancer that was far worse than lymphoma that several other vets had mentioned.
"Yes it is," he said. "We don't know if it's disseminated (spread to other organs), but from the enlarged lymph nodes and the way the caudal (upper portion of the lung) lung looked, I suspect it is."
My next questions turned to the obvious - treatment options and how long Bailey had - and what caused this in a dog barely over a year old.
"I think she was just dealt a bad hand," Dr. Tillson said. "It likely genetic and certainly nothing you have done or anything you could have done to stop it. As far as treatment options, you can call our oncology department and discuss treatment options."
"I'm really sorry," he said. "She's really a sweet dog. I wish you the best."
With that, I clicked the end call on my phone and hung my head, literally crushed.
I did a quick internet search and found this about Bailey's condition - "Disseminated HS is not readily treated surgically, since even in the splenic form, early metastasis to the liver has often occurred. Response to chemotherapy has been at best brief, and the disease progresses rapidly (weeks to months) to death or euthanasia."
I decided not to telephone anyone in the family about the call from Dr. Tillson. This was the type of news that needed to be delivered in person.
I drove home for the second time in a month going through one of those private moments where what was said and thought can't be repeated - and I gave a lot of thought to what I was going to tell the rest of the family. Although we had all been expecting bad news, when it family came, it totally crushed all our hopes.
GET BUSY LIVING
"Get busy living or get busy dying."
The quote has always stuck in my mind and comes from the 1994 movie, The Shawshank Redemption, one of my favorite movies starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. My kids always laughed at me when I mentioned the movie, as I often called it the Shankshaw Redemption, never able to get the name quite right.
That saying pretty much described my feelings a day after getting the terminal diagnosis about Bailey and sharing the news with the family.
On Tuesday, April 13, amidst the normal rush to get my taxes completed on time, which including writing a couple of hefty checks to the IRS and state of Georgia that equaled Bailey's vet bill, I found myself surprisingly energized to take the next step with Bailey.
That would be to explore her treatment options at the Oncology Department in the Small Animal Clinic at Auburn University. I called and we were scheduled for an appointment the following day.
Karen and I left early on Wednesday for a mid-morning appointment and were met by yet another student who was assisting Dr. Evan Sones, who would become Bailey's oncology veterinarian. There wasn't much to an examination by either the student or Dr. Sones as the results were in - Bailey was pronounced with histiocytic sarcoma, basically an untreatable cancer and had from days, to weeks, to perhaps six months, to live.
"I'm certain that she has disseminated histiocytic sarcoma," Dr. Sones said. "But, we need to be certain. If you want us to treat her, I'd like to see exactly what we are facing. That would mean some bone marrow tests, and biopsies of the spleen and liver. We're probably looking at about $700. We'll have to put her under to do those tests and it will take several hours."
I had been $3000, $2000, and now $700 dollared to death with Bailey, not to mention all the bills from her regular vet. But, I had gone this far, so there was no turning back now. I approved the procedure and signed the necessary paperwork and Karen and I took off for breakfast and a shopping trip during the long wait. I wasn't in much of a shopping mood as all the long nights, trips, and worries sandwiched between a full time job were taking a toll on me. I was tired. I needed new glasses, some dental work, and I was supposed to start taking a new medication to lower my cholesterol - but all of it had been ignored. The thought of a Mississippi trip for a relaxing weekend or even a trip to the lake had never been mentioned by anyone. My RV had been sitting in its parking space since last September when I took it to South Carolina for a football game, with recalls on the brakes and the refrigerator and I didn't even have the time, energy or inclination to get it to the shop.
After a the half-hearted shopping trip ended prematurely, we drove back over to the Small Animal Clinic Parking lot, found a shady area and Karen read a book while I climbed into the back of her SUV and let the back seat down and crawled into a fetal position and napped for over an hour. It was hot, but I was exhausted and didn't care.
Around 5 p.m., we went back into the clinic's reception area and waited for another hour or so before finally being called back into the examining room. The student brought Bailey in and let us keep her while Dr. Sones was seeing other patients and waiting on Bailey's lab work. Bailey was probably in as bad of shape as I'd ever seen her. She had just come out from the anesthesia and was barely aware of her surroundings. They had clearly been put through the grinder again. They had shaved her left side for the surgery, and on this trip, shaved part of her right side in front of the hind quarter and most of her belly to do the biopsies. They also shaved three-inch squares on her shoulder and hip area for the bone marrow tests.
I sat her in my lap and shook my head as tears welled in my eyes. No more, I thought. I would not put this little girl through any more pain and suffering like this. I was as disheartened as I'd ever been.
As Karen and I sat in metal chairs waiting for Dr. Sones, Bailey had a bowel movement - luckily, her butt was protruding over my leg and a loose stool barely missed my right leg. Bailey didn't even realize she had done it. We quickly cleaned it up and shortly after, Dr. Sones came into the room.
"I'm sorry for taking so long," he said. "But, we've had some problems with our equipment and I don't have the results back from the biopsies of the liver and spleen. But, we do have some results."
After observing Bailey and being totally deflated and devoid of any hope, I said, "Well, go ahead and give us the results. I know they are bad, because every test we've had done on her since last February has been bad."
"It's as we suspected," he said. "The cancer is in her bone marrow and the ultrasounds of the liver and spleen show some abnormalities and when we get those biopsies back, I suspect we'll see the same thing."
At this point, I was really at a loss as to the next step. I didn't know if I wanted to put her through chemotherapy or just let her live a few more days and do what I had known for the last several days or weeks where all of this was heading - euthanasia.
I had no experience with chemotherapy and had pictures in my mind of some hot radiation lamp that she would have to sit under for hours. I was somewhat surprised when Dr. Sones said he recommended we start her on chemotherapy and pulled out a small pill bottle and waved it in the air and said "we can start it right now."
He went on to explain that she would receive one 40 milligram pill once every three weeks. In between, she would have to have weekly blood tests to monitor her blood levels and a liver test every month or so to make sure the chemotherapy wasn't doing damage to her liver.
I said, "You mean that's it? If so, let's do it."
Dr. Sones administered the drug, called lomustine (CeeNU® or CCNU), which is a rather powerful drug reserved for the more serious cancer cases after other chemotherapy has not been successful.
Click here for info about Lomustine.
The good news was that all the chemotherapy could be done by our local vet, including all the required tests.
We left Auburn late on Wednesday, and I made a vow that Bailey would not be coming back. There would be no more poking and prodding on this little girl. We would do whatever we could to allow her to enjoy her remaining days, but no more surgery and needles, except for the blood tests.
She slept all the way home in my arms.
FLAXSEED OIL AND COTTAGE CHEESE
Bailey was in a terrible condition when she returned home around mid-April after being examined by the oncologist at Auburn and undergoing numerous tests that included bone marrow tests and biopsies of her liver and spleen.
She had already defied the odds - at least some. I had hoped she'd get to see the azaleas in bloom and the grass green-up - something that was not a given when she was first diagnosed with cancer about six weeks earlier.
When I retired from the Army about ten years ago and moved to our house in Atlanta, I had planted azaleas and a five-foot high magnolia tree - a tribute to my Mississippi roots - and the flowers where falling off the azaleas, the magnolia tree now towered over the power lines, and the bermuda was overtaking the hated poana grass in my yard as Bailey made it into the first month of just her second spring.
The prognosis at Auburn the day before was not encouraging and I focused on two things - one was to give Bailey the best care possible for as long as she had and the other was to make arrangements in the event things got any worse. At that particular time, I wasn't very far from concluding that her quality of life was terrible and it was time to put her down.
"Dogs live to eat and play," Dr. Jeff, now her main veterinarian, said while we were discussing her future. "When they can't do that, it's just no fun being a dog and it's probably time to make the hard decision."
Bailey was doing neither well. She had no interest in toys or attention from humans or anything else and she wasn't eating well.
I had already picked out a matching urn to the one where Whiskers' remains now reside - on our fireplace surrounded by a couple of photos - a shrine, the kids called it. Only the one I had picked out for Bailey was brushed nickel that would sit beside Whiskers' cooper urn. I told Karen that there was no way we were going to have a family outing when it came time for Bailey to be put to sleep.
"I'll give you a day or two notice, and one morning you will wake up and she'll just be gone," I said. "So, when I give you that notice, you need to say your final goodbyes every night, because I'm going to handle this myself without putting the rest of the family what they went through with Whiskers."
"You can't do that to yourself," Karen said. "She's your dog and you are so close to her, it'll kill you."
"She's my dog, that's the reason I'm the one who has to do it," I said.
My plan was to wake up early one morning, spend a few hours together with Bailey until the clinic opened and then do the deed. It wasn't a pretty thought.
With Bailey being in terrible shape, I hoped that she would make it until May 3 - about two and half weeks away. That would be the 25th anniversary of my father's death. I thought I'd send her up to Daddy on that day, and he'd take good care of her.
In the meantime, I did a lot of research on dogs and cancers - really, almost endless research. I learned that carbohydrates and sugars fuel cancer and proteins are good and help produce red blood cells to fight off cancer. Bailey definitely needed help; both her white and red blood counts were dangerously low.
"The white count being so low is nearing the danger level," Dr. Jeff said. "If it gets any lower, she'll be in danger of getting an infection that could be fatal."
During my research, I ran across a brand of dog food that seemed ideal to help Bailey's situation. It's called Evo red meat and is like 70+ percent protein and is only 23 percent carbohydrates and contains no grain. It's expensive in comparison to regular dog food, but was worth a shot. I found a specialty shop that sells it and bought a seven pound bagging, wondering as I paid if she'd be around to consume it all.
I also found that there's nothing better for protein and red blood cells than beef and I began to buy steak on quick sell and would grill it to medium rare, cut it in small bites and feed her about six to eight ounces each night.
In no time, her appetite returned, probably in part because of the diet, but also because the oncologist had increased her steroid intake from 10 milligrams to 15 each day. But Bailey got on a quick routine of a half of a cup of Evo in the morning, a half a cup in the afternoon and then her real meat diet at night. As I would cook and chop up her steak, she soon became a fixture at my feet, sometimes even barking to encourage me to work at a faster pace.
I'm not much into natural or holistic health care, but I did run across one "miracle cure" for cancer called the Budwig diet. Click here for info on the Budwig diet. It involves mixing flaxseed oil and cottage cheese and feeding a couple of times a day. But, I wondered if Bailey would eat cottage cheese. I stopped by the grocery store on the way home from work, bought a four-pack of cottage cheese and when I got home, I took the small container, sat down next to Bailey in the living room with the cottage cheese, a spoon and a small paper plate. I ate two or three bites and then spooned a heaping on the paper plate - Bailey lapped it down.
Karen refined the process, buying a hand mixer, making sure we had the recommended organic brand of cottage cheese and the best flaxseed oil Amazon.com has to offer. She makes two servings each day and Bailey laps it down, often when she won't even eat anything else.
I asked Dr. Jeff if I was wasting my time with the concoction. "It can't hurt anything," he said. One thing it did help was her shedding. Prior to her going on the flaxseed oil, the bath tub would be full of hair after a bath, but now, there’s often not a single hair to be found after a bath and being dried in the tub.
She's now starting her third month on flaxseed oil and cottage cheese and flaxseed or fish oil is something I’d recommend to be added to the diet of most dogs.
Bailey went in for a blood test a week after her first chemotherapy round and her new diet and her blood levels were tremendously improved. A week after that, they were near normal.
Monday, May 3 came and went, with me often thinking about my Dad - and probably how he would think it silly that I was so committed to this dog, although he did love animals - but Bailey was showing improvement and she would not be joining him, at least not on that day.
A TENTATIVE EPILOGUE
May 3, the day I had picked to have Bailey put down after struggling with cancer for two months, came and went with her doing better, so the decision was delayed. Mother's Day weekend also came and went as did a trip to Mississippi in mid-May, where Bailey seemed to thrive, as did Memorial Day. All the while, she had good days and bad days, but her good days eventually began to surpass her bad days.
I've written about 20 entries that capture Bailey's story and detail her struggles with cancer and why we love her so much and our efforts to save her.
There's little doubt, had we not had half of her lung removed in late March, she would not still be around today. Instead, we spared no expense or effort and she has lived to have some pretty good days of being a dog again - bright-eyed, playful, and enjoying eating.
On June 23, Dr. Jeff said he felt she was in "some sort of remission." He's not an oncologist, and I'm declining to put Bailey through more suffering and spend more money to have biopsies and ultrasounds just to satisfy my courtesy. If the cancer is gone, it could come back. If it's not gone, we'll know it soon enough.
I'd like to think that a misdiagnosis is involved and she'll only continue to get better, but the fact that three different labs have examined tissue samples and all three have indicated she has cancer makes it more prudent for me to deal with the more likely scenario that sooner or later, the cancer will be coming back.
When and if it does come back, from all indications, it'll come back with a vengeance.
"It'll be like falling off a cliff," Dr. Jeff once said "It happens quickly and more often than not when it does come back, it's deadly in a hurry."
In the meantime, Bailey is having mostly good days. She's down to five milligrams of prednisone every other day and if all goes well, she'll be completely off that medication in another couple of weeks. Her blood work on Wednesday was good enough after having chemotherapy a week before that she gets to skip a weekly vet appointment next week. That will be only the second time that has happened since she had surgery almost three months ago. She is currently on no medication other than the chemotherapy capsule once every three weeks.
She's potbellied and gained a lot of weight and we're trying to get her back down to around 40 pounds. The prednisone relaxes muscles caused her belly to sag and her back to sway. It may have saved her life earlier, but I'm ready to get her off that as there becomes a point where the steroid does more harm than good.
I never thought I'd see her walk again with Karen, but she's back to short walks. For now, it's just up to the corner and back, maybe 500 or 600 yards, but it's a start. Last night, Karen went on her regular walk and was going to stop by to pick Bailey up for the short walk after finishing her two-mile walk. I was on the front porch with Bailey and when Karen came up, I released Bailey with her leash on for Karen. Bailey trotted down the driveway to join Karen, saving Karen a trip up the driveway. I watched the two as they walked up the street; Bailey's tail just a wagging.
She also got a bath last night, I sang bathing the Bailey Dog to her and afterward, she was playful with her towel and got a squeaky toy out of her box and wanted to play keep away and for me to tug on the toy. Her bite hasn't been affected by all of this, she's still strong.
Despite all the things she enjoys and things that make us proud that we've saved her thus far, there are still indications things are not like they should be. She loves her routine, like an older dog probably would, and is upset when it gets off. She sleeps 12 hours each night, although she doesn't take as many naps during day and for shorter periods than she did when she was recovering from surgery. I almost had to wake her up and encourage her to get up this morning - I think if she were normal, she would have probably been licking me in the face a couple of hours before.
I realize some think I'm probably obsessed with Bailey when they see this blog, but love of a best friend and being an animal lover shouldn't be confused with an obsession. I think if this blog gives one other pet owner hope to deal with a similar situation or encourages a pet owner to give his animal a chance to live instead of taking the easy way out, then it will have served its purpose.
One day, I'll write another entry, which will probably be that Bailey is going, or already gone. I'm sacred, sacred of hearing that dreaded cough again that could signal the cancer is back in her lung, or learning that the potbellied appearance isn't caused by steroids, rather by an enlarged liver and spleen, or that I'll wake up and see the lymph nodes in her neck and shoulders looking like they have golf balls in them, swollen to that extreme.
But for now, whether it's a day, a week, a month or more, we'll love Bailey and do our best to let her enjoy her life. Until then ....
I LAUGHED AND CRIED
I don't think I had ever cried before while mowing the yard. But, as I tried to beat a summer thunderstorm on a late Sunday morning, on Aug. 15, that's exactly what I did.
Inside my house, Bailey lay almost motionless, dying.
Only a week earlier, I had been laughing. Bailey had been at her best since being diagnosed with cancer five months earlier. Exactly a week to the day before, she had started the morning by jumping up on the bed of one of my sons who had spent the night, licking him in the face. She pulled half a dozen toys out of her box, took a walk around the block, and got a bath that Sunday night, with me singing bathing the Bailey Dog. Afterward, I toweled her off and she attacked the towel, playing like she did when she was a puppy.
Bailey had been steadily improving since I last blogged almost two months ago. She had gone through six rounds of chemotherapy, spaced three weeks apart since mid-April. Then on the Sunday after the bath, that night, she was restless. She had trouble walking and sometimes would yelp when being softly touched. We took her in to the vet on Tuesday and Dr. Jeff described the x-rays as nothing short of perfect - no sign of cancer in the lungs, spleen, liver and her bone structure looked good. He followed that up with a blood test and when he got those results back the next day, he called and said her blood work-up was "awesome."
Why then, was she refusing to eat? Why was she in pain? Why did she have a fever? He thought perhaps a pulled muscle or bladder infection.
As the week progressed, Bailey's condition only worsened. By Saturday (Aug. 14), it was obvious she needed to go back to the vet.
This time, the on-duty vet on Saturday morning at the Animal Medical Clinic that got to see Bailey was Dr. Jessica Loch. As with all the vets, she knew Bailey's story although she'd never examined her before. I congratulated her on being about the 14th vet to see Bailey since February.
I had taken a urine sample in for the clinic and Dr. Loch noted that there was some bacteria in the urine. As she was examining Bailey, she noted a shaved area on her hind quarter and asked if Bailey had had a previous bone marrow test. I said she had. Next question - did they find cancer in the bone marrow? They had. The concern on Dr. Loch's face was obvious.
"The cancer in the bone marrow could be what's causing the problem," she said.
Dr. Loch wanted to keep Bailey for the day, put her on an IV and administer some antibiotics intravenously and give her some pain medication. It was around 11:00 a.m. and I was to return at 4 p.m. when they closed to pick her up. Karen and I went to pick her up around 3:45 and had to wait while she finished her IV and then we received a lot of instructions for the weekend - the IV needle had to be left in the vein in case she had to go to the emergency room and that had to be flushed every six hours. I had to give her a shot of antibiotics on Sunday and she had several different types of medication.
On Sunday morning, I took Bailey out and she walked the length of the driveway - about 150 feet - and her hind legs looked like a balloon with the air coming out. She collapsed and couldn't get up. I took her back inside and called Dr. Loch and she increased her prednisone level to 15 MG, which is what she was taking when she first started chemotherapy, but we had slowly weaned her down to 5 MG twice a week. Bailey responded well to the prednisone and by the end of the day was walking with a little difficulty, but could go outside to relieve herself and was eating and drinking well.
On Monday, Karen and Matt took her back to see her regular vet, Dr. Jeff, who concurred that the cancer could be in the bone marrow. Over the next few days, I talked almost daily with Dr. Jeff, going over Bailey's symptoms and adjusting medication. By the end of the week, she was showing some improvement, but our fear was that the high steroid dose was masking her pain and was the reason she was eating and drinking so well.
On Friday, Aug. 20, I compared notes with Dr. Jeff and he set her prednisone level to 10 MG a day and pain medication as needed. He had also received the results back from a urine culture that indicated a low level bacterial infection and changed her antibiotic - the third different one in the space of a week. Bailey did pretty well on Saturday, even with a house full of guests, but on Sunday morning, she woke me up with whines of pain. I took her outside for a short walk, and her legs and hips looked really weak. We made it through the day on Sunday - she seemed to improve every afternoon after a slow start in the morning, and on Monday I called Dr. Jeff. We agreed that he should review her condition with Dr. Sones, her oncologist at Auburn, and seek his advice and recommendations pertaining to the pain in her hips and legs.
Yesterday (Monday, Aug. 23) , Dr. Jeff called with what seemed like promising news - Dr. Sones didn't think the cancer was active in her bone marrow because her blood count was so close to normal. He didn't discount it, but said a more likely area would be in one of her major organs. He also didn't think the cancer was in the spine. Dr. Jeff suggested an ultrasound to check the liver, spleen, and bladder, and it that came back negative, the problem would more likely be one of dealing with muscle degeneration caused by prolonged prednisone use - she had been on that medication since mid-March.
Monday night, I took Bailey out for what would end up being my last nightly walk with her. I put her in bed with me and she curled up to me, not willing to get on her dog bed, instead lying contently by my side. I drifted off to sleep. Later that night, I was awakened by her cries of pain. We tried several locations to get her comfortable; tried to get her outside to urinate, but her legs were too weak. Finally, at 2:30 a.m., she ended up in the living room with both Matt and Karen by her side for the rest of the night. Her breathing was rapid and labored, and she would cry in pain every few minutes.
Karen and I took her in to see Dr. Jeff at 8 a.m. today (Aug. 24). She had a bowel movement outside standing straight up - her hips hurt too much to do anything else with her failing body. Dr. Jeff came in and examined her, saw her pain while trying to stand, cries of pain when she tried to walk. He explained that the cancer could be in the hips or spine, and even if it weren't there and was a muscle problem, the solution would be more prednisone and more pain medication.
"Would you put her down if she were your dog," Karen asked.
"I think I probably would," Dr. Jeff said.
I looked at Bailey, that beautiful little face that had brought so much happiness to my family. I looked over at Karen, tears streaming down her face. Matt had stayed home, but he helped load Bailey in the car and told her he loved her with tears in his eyes before we drove off. I told Dr. Jeff I needed to talk with Matt. With his time invested in caring for Bailey, he certainly had a say in any decision. I explained to Matt what Dr. Jeff had said. I was somewhat surprised, but Matt understood.
"Tell her I love her," he said.
I went back in and told Dr. Jeff we needed to let her go. Karen said her good-byes and waited outside.
I stayed with Bailey. She was my dog. She'll always be my dog. Dr. Jeff gave her the first shot. He said within a minute, she wouldn't be aware of her surroundings. I leaned over Bailey and told her I loved her - that we all loved her. Her head was so small it fit perfectly in my hand. I kept her head in my hand as she drifted away, and then a couple of minutes later when Dr. Jeff gave her the final injection that stopped her heart.
Surprisingly, as sad as I was, I was happy to see Bailey so peaceful knowing that there would be no more suffering, no more pain.
I went outside and told Karen that Bailey died with that little beautiful head in my hands. We both cried.
On the way home, I missed Dr. Jeff's call - he left a voice mail. He had done an ultrasound - Bailey had indications of cancer in her abdomen, near the bladder that was pressing against the spine. She had spots on her liver. It had been a good decision – the right decision to stop her pain and agony.
In the end, the deadly cancer had won, as it almost always does. It had taken our precious Bailey Dog. But what it didn't take is our memories - memories of that little black eight-pound fur ball nipping at our feet after we adopted her at eight weeks old, that little head burrowing its way between my side and elbow at the supper table, the attacking of the towel after a bath, of Matt pulling her tail around to her nose that almost always resulted in her going in circles chasing her tail, of her begging for table scraps, of her being so strong on a leash and demanding to have her way, or of us doing everything we could to save her at tune of $11,000 - nursing her to health after half her lung was removed, carrying her up the steps when she was weak, and putting peanut butter around a pill to get literally hundreds of pills down her. There hadn't been a day since early March when she didn't take some form of medication.
But, it won't be the sick times we remember years from now, it'll be her cuddling up on chilly night, her intense desire to please her family, that black silk coat, that little head, those darting eyes, and the wet nose that made us all love her so much. We love you Bailey Dog!
Click here for a video tribute to Bailey.
NOTE: I would like to extend my thanks to the Animal Medical Clinic in Peachtree City, Georgia and especially to Dr. Jeff Richardson who did everything humanly possible to save Bailey. Also, to Auburn University Small Animal Clinic for their expert care.