Rob's Blog Archive

Autust 14, 2016

Mastering Death










Since June of 2013, I've lost Ghost, Zappa, Otter, Sima, Vixen, Jake, Tanner, Fondue, Shoshone, Murphy, and Sybil.  I'm looking at Quid, closing in on fifteen, as he's pacing during a thundershower rather than laying inside his doghouse.  Even on prednisone and tramadol, he's in pain.  It's warm enough and his coat is still thick enough that he is in no danger of exposure.  In fact, I think he's taking advantage of it being cool to pace during the middle of the day.  Still, what's clear is it won't be long. 

Sapura was the stray who found me  right after I broke up with my first girlfriend.  Sup and I were together for my last year in college, all of graduate school, two post-docs, and my start as an industrial scientist.  She saw me grow up, both professionally and emotionally.  I will never again feel a loss as strongly as I felt when I lost her.

It was also while nursing Sup when she was old that I learned my hardest lessons about taking care of my dogs.  At that time, the steroid of choice was cortisone. The biggest error I made, and there were several, was that I didn't put Sup on cortisone until her last week.  I had been afraid of her having long term effects when, as a fourteen year old, there wasn't going to be a long term.  The one consolation was with the drug, I got to see tail wags for the first time in months.   

I was on my second sled run in Alaska when a moose attacked the team.   After the moose left---Daisy wanted to chase after her and I half suspect she got a good bite in and scared the moose off---I ran up to the front of the team and saw Jag laying on the snow.  She died as I placed her in my sled basket. 

When I first saw Jag laying on the ground, I thought it was her brother, Jake.  Realizing it was Jag was actually a relief.  It took me years to get my head around the fact that these weren't my children and it was okay to have favorites.  At that time, Tenaya was my favorite, but Jake wasn't far behind.

It was early November, 2010, and I had taken Tenaya for an evening walk.  While she needed a rest on the way back, we still had no problem getting through a mile and a half.  She had been eating, just poorly.   At the time, I thought it was a virus.  It didn't seem more severe than that.  What I noted, but didn't react to, was her gums seemed a little pale.  The next day, it took less than five minutes---I'm sure she hemorrhaged----between her crying out and her passing.  . 

Two months later, Sundance stopped eating.  He was a little over eleven, so while not quite as old as Tenaya had been, he was still an old boy.  I doubted that a check-up would have changed what happened to Tenaya, but I wasn't about to have to think about that question again.  I had the vet do a full panel blood test on Sonny.   Tough old boy that he was, his liver numbers were way off and his platelet numbers were a tenth of what they should have been.  I asked the vet how that could even work, wouldn't platelets that low mean that interfaces like lungs and intestines fail, and she said yes.  Amazingly, prednisone gave him a couple of good weeks.  Only during his last night was he weak.  It was that vet who to pointed out that no animal should die without steroids in its system.  Sonny's last night, as he laid down in my kitchen, I could tell him he was a good boy, my way of saying good-bye. 

Dawnie, though demented, had also responded strongly to prednisone.   She would end up getting six pretty good months before cancer overtook her entire body.  I'm not sure where it started, but given that the symptoms that started me administering prednisone appeared to be neurological---she had a lot of difficulty keeping her balance and responded only to prednisone---- it's a fair guess that the primary growth was near her spine. 

To date, Dawn has been the only dog I've had who's shown signs of dementia.  She had had idiopathic epilepsy from the time she was a pup, and had been on Phenobarbital until she was five and a half, and then a combination of Phenobarbital and Potassium Bromide until she passed away, just short of her thirteenth birthday.  The drugs reduced the episodes to about once a month and the number of seizures in each episode to 1-4.  By comparison, her first episode, the one that had her being returned to her breeder, had a dozen seizures. 

Dawn's dementia could have been from the drugs, the seizures, or just age itself.  In the end, I was nothing more than her caregiver, something quite different from how the affectionate social dog I had known had felt about me.  The one thing that didn't change was Dawn's love of food.  Her philosophy of life was, if you really believe in it, anything is edible.  The second to the last x-ray she had showed a dime in her intestine.  The last one didn't---that was how the vet realized that even though it was slow, her g.i. system had not shut down. 

Mink, Gonja, and Zappa's deaths all had seizures associated with them.  Mink went into status epilepticus for two hours before I finally figured out to dissolve a little Phenobarbital in water and syringe that in like a suppository.   I kept her temperature down as best as I could---doing that was why I didn't just take the one hour drive to the emergency clinic----but it wasn't until the very end of the two hours that I discovered that soaking her was far more effective than running her body through the snow.  Knowing how to keep a seizing dog's body temperature down didn't make a difference with Gonja as he came out of his seizures long enough to keep from overheating, but it did make a difference with Zappa.  Still, even though I knew to give Zappa drugs rectally and how to keep is body temperature down, he died within seven hours of his first petit mal seizure and two hours of the start of the final set of seizures---these went from nearly continuous to continuous during that two hours. 

As much as anything, Zappa's death affirmed what I had generally thought, that if a dog goes from healthy to passing quickly, even taking as long as a week or two, there's very little that can be done.  The rejoinder is I have gotten good at getting dogs into vets for care in a timely manner and it has worked.  Thor, now 12, had a growth on his neck two years ago.  It was probably a melanoma, though I didn't have a biopsy done----the vet got good margins and I wasn't going to do anything different if it was or wasn't a melanoma.  Obviously, the good prognosis was fulfilled. 

One of the things that has become clear to me is that exercising the dogs regularly helps me see early on how my dogs are doing.  This past fall, both Shone and Murphy had some minor issues during training runs.  Shone moved from the A-Team to the B-Team.  Murph started on the B-Team and, while he did okay, I still had a sense that something was wrong.   Both had difficulty on the ride up.  Shone's drive up was poor and Murphy's was worse.  There were several stops along the Alcan during which Murph had trouble standing.  However, once we got to Alaska, Murphy actually had a couple of good weeks.  It was Shone who slid quickly from me. 

Fondue had been blind for about a year when she also became deaf.   Dogs cope well with being either blind or deaf, but the combination meant she could no longer be social with other dogs.  Beyond that, the combination meant that she couldn't walk on anything but artificially flat surfaces.  She was starting to have back problems, not unusual for a fourteen and a half year old under the best of circumstances, and they were only going to get worse. 

I had had Fondue indoors on my flat carpet for about a week and a half.   Our last night together, I sat with her and split a steak.  The easiest losses have always been when I had a week or two to say good-bye and my dogs weren't in any pain.  Sundance was the first.  Sybil was the most recent. 

The three things that sleddogs enjoy most are socializing with other dogs, eating, and working.  Quid's pain appears to be mostly from arthritis---he's extremely stiff when he starts moving.  As he warms up, he moves much more easily.  There are other things going on, too.  He's eating, but less, and his weight has been dropping for months---he started losing his appetite only a couple of weeks ago.  Still, he gets to go out and mingle with everybody else in the kennel daily.

I pulled Quid indoors during that rainstorm.  After a bit of pacing---I think it was just a lot of checking things out---he lied down and rested.  Since then, I think it gave him a few better days.  Yesterday, he got out to mingle with the rest of the dogs twice.  Once was while I was giving them water.  The second was during yard time---he had a little more problem keeping his balance than he had earlier in the day, but not a lot.  He still kept his balance around the rocks and even onto and off the lower platforms in the yard.  It's been months since he lifted his leg, but he urinated where he wanted to.  He was marking and enjoying it.

This morning, I woke up to hear him crying.  He had vomited a couple of times, probably shortly before this.  And, he couldn't move more than a few steps before falling.   I gave him an extra dose of drugs and an antacid and he seems to be more relaxed. 

After I carried him to the truck, he insisted on getting up and going for a short walk.  His balance was much better than it had been first thing in the morning.  His pain seemed a lot less as well.  A little over an hour later, he did like having his head stroked as I told him he was a good boy for the last time.   


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