I know there are a lot of dog lovers out there and it’s not just me. So forgive me if I spend this time to talk about mine.
You see, for about the last three years my beloved border collie Skye-dog has been living on borrowed time.
Some of you may know that in late February 2011 she was diagnosed with lymphoma. After we got over the shock of such a gut-wrenching diagnosis and put our proverbial ‘big girl panties’ on, and remembering that my first dog, Riley, lived only a month after her diagnosis of auto-immune hemolytic anemia brought on by a cancerous tumour in her chest, we were keen to fight and said yes to treatment. In the case of canine lymphoma it is chemotherapy.
Never having had a friend, family member or even acquaintance who had gone through chemotherapy, but only feeling scared and apprehensive, we asked about how it would affect her quality of life. We were told that most dogs do very well and show very few side effects: the possibility of diarrhea, perhaps vomiting, some inappetence and likely tiredness within a few days of treatment was what we should expect. So we and Skye-dog embarked on a six month course of chemotherapy.
Our goal was to achieve remission and to stay cancer-free for as long as possible. The veterinary oncologist said statistically the first remission was likely to last 12 to 18 months at best. If she relapsed, successive chemotherapy treatments could be given but the succeeding remissions would get shorter and shorter until such time as we would have to accept the inevitable. Our luck had not been good with treatment for a chronic condition so we did not have very heroic expectations. If Skye didn’t react well to the chemotherapy we could always stop.
However, she surprised everyone by not only flying through treatment but also by continuing to live without any symptoms of her lymphoma for what has now been three years and five months.
She is now just over 12 years old and still with us. I am happy to say that lymphoma is a word rarely mentioned in our house and we choose to believe that we have it beat. But she is now an old dog suffering from old dog ailments, the most serious of which is spondylosis. This is a condition that affects the spine, resulting in ‘bone spurs’, which are bony growths that manifest between the vertebrae. Some say they form as a result of trauma others as a result of a genetic predisposition — most common in older, larger dogs. This growth can affect the nerves along the spine creating pain, stiffness, limited range of motion and sometimes, lameness. If severe, treatment for younger dogs can involve surgical correction but for older dogs, it is simply pain management, restricted activity, relatively benign procedures like laser therapy, neural therapy (sub-cutaneous injections of homeopathic remedies), acupuncture and physiotherapy. We have done all of the above except for acupuncture and Skye’s first foray into hydrotherapy begins tomorrow.
Skye loves water so I’m hoping that she takes some pleasure in this new experience. Her first visit will include getting used to the environment (a long, narrow raised pool with warmish salt water) and the hydrotherapists themselves who will introduce her to the routine by first giving some underwater massage. She’ll wear a doggie life jacket to ensure she doesn’t need to work too hard and may not even swim at all until she feels comfortable. I’ll be alongside the pool during the exercise, praising her and encouraging her on.
For a dog who has always been fast, fearless and bossy, seeing her struggle with her back legs, choosing to bypass the stony beach and its floating dock on our daily walks and finding new hobbies like toad hunting and short-distance ‘two-ball’, has been a real transition for the both of us. As an older dog, I know her time left with us now is limited. I am so grateful that the lymphoma didn’t take her three years ago — but — accepting this ‘new normal’ of restricted activity, abbreviated walks and lots of snoozing is making me sad. I understand it can be characterized as anticipatory grief, and that we can become mired in it if we don’t pay attention.
So, we will be off to the swim therapy tomorrow, thankful that we are still a team, thankful that each day starts off with our walks and is marked by doggie meal and ‘pill time’, that our kitchen counter is full of her bottles and potions, that her beds are almost in every room of our house, that her snore is music to me and that our car will always smell of ‘dog’, that is, her. No matter what the future holds, she will always be my Skye-dog.