Wednesday, December 1, 2010

All Things End

Today, we saw to the ending of our dog, Lana. Lana was a rescue. She was conveyed into our care by A Forever-Home Rescue Foundation in the spring of 2003 at one of their frequent adoption events at the Chantilly Petco.


The Lana Bear


I'm not sure what led her to us, but the marks in her coat and her reactions to certain people and actions always told us it wasn't an easy path..


After we'd gotten married in January, we felt the need to start our "family". We tried finding a dog from a number of places. First, we tried the local Animal Welfare League shelter. Alas, none of the critters we found there really "spoke" to us. Of the ones that did, they weren't compatible with the animal allergies that Donna had.


Along the way, we'd discovered that we liked bully-breeds. They're awesome dogs with a really undeserved bad reputation. First, we tried the local boxer and bulldog rescues. We even got so far as bringing home one lovely candidate, but she just didn't like our cats. So, we had to send her back.


During this process, we discovered that some of the breed-specific rescue organizations set unrealistic expectations for those seeking to adopt the dogs in their charge. I get that these are people who are genuinely concerned about the dogs in their charge, but it left kind of a bad taste in our mouth. We were essentially told that our small (1400sq.ft.) duplex and fenced in yard weren't a suitable environment for the types of dogs we were hoping to adopt. Ironically, this came from people that were fostering dogs in smaller houses with even smaller (or no!) yards.


Lesson learned, we moved on in our searches.


Being an IT guy, Google had frequently proven to be a great tool for finding the things I wanted and needed. Indeed, in this pursuit, Google was our friend. Google led us to PetFinder.Com. PetFinder, in turn, led us to the A Forever-Home Rescue Foundation.


On their web site, we found this lovely, sweet-looking American Bulldog/Boxer mix. So, we contacted them to find out more. They'd indicated they were going to be having an adoption event at the PetCo in Chantilly, VA. In our conversations with them, it sounded like Lana might be an ideal match and that our environment might be well suited to her. At the time, we were still looking to have human children and already had a pair of cats. Lana was being fostered in a house with toddlers and infants and did well with them. Further, she'd shown no indications of problems getting along with cats. We marked the date on our calendar and drove out to Chantilly to meet Lana.


She was just as sweet as we thought she would be. She greeted us by offering first one paw to shake, then the other. She seemed to genuinely enjoy the attention she was getting from us, so we arranged to have her brought to our house to meet our cats.


The staffer from Forever-Home brought her out a few nights later. She was adequately pleased with the potential accommodations and Lana seemed to not be bothered by the cats (indeed, it was the cats - well, just one cat - who were harder to please). So, we did up the paperwork and she was ours.


The first years were hard. She showed some of the signs of the abuse she'd received before coming to us. She was getting over a bad heartworm infestation, and was somewhat slowed by that damage and the medications being used to treat it (the heartworms left her with a lifelong heart-murmur). So, she was always going to be a low energy dog. She was also extremely foot-shy, afraid of explosions (didn't find this out till the week of fourth of July) and afraid of black men. She'd also, at some point prior to coming to us, given birth to at least one litter of puppies. We surmised that, because of her looks and some of her "twitches" (things she was scared of), she'd probably been used as a breeder dog for a dog-fighting operation.


While she enjoyed shaking hands and doing what we came to refer to as "the boxer walk", she was otherwise not terribly interactive. She didn't care for chew toys - probably because her teeth were utterly busted (presumably part of her prior abuse). She had no tail to speak of. She was very much not a barking dog. However, she was quite vocal: she liked to trill and "rowl" and "roo" and grumble (which led to several of her nicknames: Lana bear; Moo-cow; Rooly-roo; Rowly-dog; etc.). It was all a part of her underlying sweetness and contributed to the simple joy of her presence.


Much as some parents of only-children discover that the first baby required siblings, Lana showed us that we needed another dog. That's when we got Puckett.


Puckett was exactly what she needed to be brought the rest of the way out of her shell. The dog we previously though had no tail, we discovered did have a tail. ...Well, she had a bump under the skin where a tail should have sprouted out. What we discovered is that, when she was really happy, she'd wiggle hat bump back and forth. She'd also sorta just wiggle all over. She also came to sing and dance when she was rally happy. And, always, there was her boxer-walk.


Fortunately, we had nearly 8 years to enjoy her. But, like all good things, that time had to end. Today was that day.


After getting back from Thanksgiving, she'd been exhibiting unexplained pain - she'd always been amazingly pain-tolerant, that, to hear her yelp was very concerning. We'd also noticed that the lymphnodes in her neck were visibly swollen and felt angry to the touch. So, it was with dread that we took her to the vet. The vet asked us to leave her there so they could run some tests. The initial cytology looked suspect and her pain turned out to be coming from her back. Xrays indicated she had an advanced case of spondylosis. The initial lymph aspiration smears looked troubling, but it would be a couple days till they had definitive lab results. So, the sent her home with muscle relaxers, mild-narcotics and anti-biotics.


We waited two days for the lab results. During that time, Lana mostly slept. She didn't really drink and was pooping infrequently. So, we weren't expecting the results to be good. And, when they called, Tuesday evening, they weren't Turns out the swollen lympnodes were because of a lyphosarcoma.


The vet offered the possibility of chemo to treat the cancer. However, Lana was 10 years old, apparently had chronic and deteriorating back pain and the history of heart problems. Given her size-range, she really only had an expected average lifespan of about two more years.


The vet couldn't promise us that the chemotherapy would either put her into remission or not make her sick in the process. Even if she could have, there was the matter of the bad and deteriorating back. She was noticeably weak around the hind quaters - somewhat tottery when standing and fragile when laying. It only made sense that we let her go.


We made an appointment to see her on her way at noon, today. We lavished her with attention all night and gave her one last big meal of all her favorite foods: gobs of peanutbutter, rice, cheese, chicken, tongue and topped it with a splash of bourbon (we'd have given her Guinness - her real favorite - but there was none in the house, so we gave her what she'd previously demonstrated was a runner-up favorite). We continued to lavish attention on her, throughout the morning. We took last pictures and waited for the death-clock to count down.


We arrived at the Alexandria Animal Hospital about 20 minutes ahead of her appointment. I'd left early in anticipation of being delayed by the construction plaguing the 1½-mile stretch between our house and the vet's office. I'd not wanted to be late for fear we'd have to reschedule. As heart-rending as waiting for the original appointment had been, it would have been soul-killing to have to reschedule. Somehow, there was no delay today. So, we waited out the appointment time by taking her on one last mini-walk through the grassy areas outside the vet's office.


Three minutes ahead of the appointed time, we went in. The staff was very caring and discreet, quickly escorting us back to the room where they do the procedure. We didn't have to sit and wait in a waiting room, trying not to cry in front of strangers. We were able to go to a private room where the vets and techs were able to walk us through things, giving us all the time we needed to get ready for the procedure.


Eventually, they took her to the back to put a catheter in and give her an anti-anxiety medicine. They then brought her back to the room for the administration of the euthanising chemicals. They also brought her a whole, big bowl of a meat-hash to enjoy before the administration of the chemicals. Meal done, they gave us a few minutes alone with her, then the vet came back in to finish the process. Donna held onto Lana and I held onto them both.


First, the anesthetic was injected into the catheter. She fairly quickly showed its effects moving from standing to sitting to laying. Once she was sure Lana was fully sedated, the vet then adminstered the killing cocktail. I watched the awareness and life drain from her eyes and listened as her breathing slowed to a stop. The vet offered us time alone with her.


During that window, there was the death-rattle, and then, I watched the last visible twitches of life cease.


The veterinary nurse then came in to take Lana's corpse for cleanup. While back there, they took a paw-cast. Cleaned up, they brought her back to us. Donna wrapped her in a blue sheet she'd soaked with rose and lavendar scent. I then carried her out to the SUV and we drove home.


Once home, I took her to the back porch so that Donna could say her goodbyes. Donna wrapped her in a second shroud and sewed up up with blue stitching. She then wrote all the various nicknames, we'd come to know her by over the years, on the shroud. Her rites done, Donna picked up Lana's shrouded corpse and carried her back through the house and back out to the car.


I then made the slow drive, Donna and Dog in the back seat, to Sunset Pet Services. They're a local pet funeral and cremation facility. We were taking her there for cremation as they offer individual cremation services.


We'll be picking up her ashes, tomorrow. Her ashes will be spread over our roses so that we can see a little bit of her each time the flowers begin to bloom in the spring.


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