Dogs Whispering

Just in the midst of a lumber through the living room, Lillian gets sugar-foot. Some sort of ticklish delight grazes the bottom of her paws and her shuffle becomes a prance which bounces her to the window to look out or to the front door where she sits, bright-eyed, wagging and waiting. She is a 96-pound version of Snoopy doing his happy dance. These inexplicably joyous outbursts last a few seconds or a few minutes, entertaining yet puzzling me. What is it that sweeps her, in the middle of a regular ol’ dog day, into a “raindrops on roses” musical moment? I have come to believe it is the spirit of her sister.

Six months ago Delilah died.

Two months ago we almost lost Lillian.

It was a Sunday evening and Jon and I were watching bits of Saturday Night Live and Bowen Yang was being uncharacteristically unfunny. I’d just fed Lilly and she was snuggled between us but couldn’t seem to get comfortable. She got up then down then paced and whined. I walked outside with her and she crawled under bushes, roamed, and tried to vomit. I felt her belly. It was hard and distended. As a big dog mom for many years, I had always been vigilant. I had a notion of what was happening and it was about to accelerate. We had an hour, maybe two. Lillian and I crawled into the back of the Explorer with a blanket and her bed. Jon took the wheel and careened the car toward the Anne Arundel Emergency Veterinary Clinic. I tried to clutch Lilly in the dark while explaining her symptoms into the glow of my phone. She was in so much pain. The car lurched and rocked as Jon challenged proper speed limits to shave some time of the 45-minute drive. The vet tech said, in a much-too-calm tone to match my own, that he’d meet us in the parking lot. In the front of my brain, I wanted to scream to Jon, “Stop the swerving! Stop the bouncing!”  I also wanted to scream, “Go faster!”  In the back of my brain, I was thinking I’m not ready. Delilah, you may not have her yet.

We pull into the lot like Doc driving the DeLorean Time Machine back from the future.  We gently lift Lilly out of the back. The tech took her immediately through wide wooden double doors – and she was gone.

It wasn’t long before the veterinarian confirmed my grim diagnosis: she had gastric dilatation-volvulus. Her stomach, due to gas or food or fluid, had twisted, cutting off the blood supply to other organs. There were two options—immediate euthanasia or surgery, with no certainty of success. Even if the vet could untwist her insides, her heart could give out in the process. We opted for the intervention.

Around midnight the attending vet appeared nearly giddy with good news. She’d had the best outcome possible. Lillian’s stomach had righted itself as soon as the gas was dispelled. There would be recovery time, but she’d be released in a day or two, good as new. We went home buoyed. I swirled into bed like I was being sucked down a drain.

But the next morning the vet called to say she’d developed an arrythmia, was attached to an EKG and had to be kept still. She wouldn’t eat. We couldn’t visit for fear of dangerously raising her heart rate.

I pondered a dogless life. That horrible silence.

Lillian, wearing the latest in fashionable heart monitoring paraphernalia.

Two days passed before the arrythmia disappeared. She was cleared to come home. For a couple of days she slept, conked out on codeine, occasionally nibbling soft bits of food. It only took a few days for her to show noticeable signs of recovery. But then she seemed to backslide. The codeine was causing her to lose control of her bladder, which in turn caused a UTI, severe enough to again wreck her appetite. She lost whatever energy she’d begun to regain. Our regular vet was out of town. There would be a 16-18 hour wait at AAEVC. Jon and I hunkered down in sleeping bags in the living room for what would be a very long night.

Showing off her shaved and bruised belly

At 7:30 the next morning the three of us were standing in the lobby of another so-called emergency vet clinic, this one in Calvert County. I stood, leash and urine sample in hand, gaping, as the receptionist told me it would be a week before anyone there could tend to my very sick, bruised, stitched and suffering dog.

I’ll spare you the details of my very bad, somewhat hysterical reaction. Jon managed a calmer head and while I sat in the car sobbing, he talked the vet into a test and an antibiotic. We headed home.

It was Superbowl Sunday. Lilly and I curled up in front of the television, she comatose while I stared catatonically at the puppy bowl. We all licked our wounds for a few days and slowly, she came around. About two weeks later we began easing back into our regular two-mile dog walks. But Lillian struggled to finish. I resolved that my forever puppy had finally aged. It all, as my Bostonian friend, Joanne says, “took the stuffing out of her.” She would be my “old girl.” I was just grateful she’d lived.

Then one bright morning, sugar feet struck. Lillian raced to the front door, then to the back, up the stairs and down. She was young again, silly, smiling at the sunshine, batting at the air, the atmosphere, the cosmos.

Ah, Delilah. She’d let me win. But she’s never leaving her sister alone.

  Keeping an ear to the ground, awaiting signs of her sister.


Caution: Mom Hazards a Few Words

Twice, I have nearly rolled across the marble-top kitchen island, diving for the girls’ water dish in order to keep Lillian from lapping up tainted refreshment.  On several occasions I’ve slid like Lou Gehrig into home, catching Delilah’s drool with a paper towel before it turns the wood floor into a hazardous waste site.   At night I could be mistaken for a worm charmer, decked out in a headlamp, white plastic gloves, carrying plastic bags and a water bottle.

Canine chemotherapy isn’t nearly as glamorous as everyone says it is.

I decided to re-take control of my blog (I’ll return it as a DLOG as soon as I’m done here) to explain how some of this canine cancer stuff works. As Delilah’s bespectacled, dogged research showed, (see DLOG #1) canine lymphoma is pretty common. So, hopefully this will help someone.

Delilah flunked the cancer test about six weeks ago now. After talking with her veterinarian, who is not a drag-it-out sort of doctor, my husband Jon and I decided we’d give this pill form of chemo- Laverdia-  a try.  We started on a Monday, administering a pill every three days. Chemo days would be Mondays and Thursdays.

For three days following each pill, her saliva, urine and stools present a  hazard to children, other dogs and the pooh-picker-upper. That’s the reason for the crime-scene gloves. As an extra precaution I squirt water anywhere she leaves a trace. At night, the headlamp is so I can see all of the, well, circumstances of her pooh. And so I don’t step in my work. Lillian gets the run of the back yard. We walk Delilah out front. Sometimes, when we’re sure D is empty we supervise her in the back yard so she can frolic a bit and lay on “her” outdoor sofa.  Sundays, family day, are chemo free. Trickiest is the water bowl situation. Two bowls is just two bowls. I thought of labeling them with their names, but while they are pretty good typists, (see the DLOGS) it turns out they can’t read.  So I do a lot of bowl rinsing.

                                                  Delilah enjoying a little couch time

The manufacturers of Laverdia  say most dogs don’t become ill on the pill. D is apparently not “most dogs” as her whole dinner wound up on our bedroom floor around 1:30 in the morning that first Tuesday.  Thursday’s dose came back up around 10pm. The following Monday, Labor Day, I came home from a neighborhood party to check on her. She stood up and vomited bright, red blood.  Her eyes were weary. Her body, thinning. I tearily went back to the party to get Jon and we came home to spend what we thought was our last night with our girl.

I called the vet Tuesday morning expecting to schedule her final rest but was met with undaunted certainty. “This is not the end,” Tammy told me.  Dr. Pelura said I was to stop the chemo and do what I could to rest her stomach. “We’ll just call this a minor setback,” Tammy said.

So for two weeks I coaxed and tempted and tried various doggie delicious dishes that she might eat. At first she refused everything. Gradually a combination of chicken, pumpkin, a bit of regular dry dog food and most importantly, I think, chicken gravy seemed to do the trick. I also administer an occasional mini-pint of Ben and Jerry’s doggie ice cream. D gets most of the treats but I slip a little to her forlorn sister, making sure that healing one pup doesn’t cause obesity in the other.

The “other,” Lillian, has been, surprisingly, an exemplary sister.  She doesn’t (often) steal her sister’s special food. She is respectful of D’s space, while at the same time quietly hanging out with her in whatever cool, dark space D finds, most often our exercise room. (D always liked to do Doga.)  Lillian has sometimes embarrassingly, become more protective, barking at other dogs with slight aggression. She never did this before. And when we went to the park last Sunday D tired out so Jon walked her back to the car while I continued on with Lilly, who needed more exercise. Except it was nearly impossible to get her to run the other way. She just didn’t want to leave her ailing sister.  I thought all of this was my imagination. But Dr. P confirmed. “She know’s she’s sick,” he told me.  This. Tears me up.

                       Lilly keeping her sister company, whether she wants it or not

This past Monday after a sleepless night, I called the vet and got the thumbs up to re-start the chemo.  “If she vomits, we’re out,” I told Meghan at Dr. P’s office.  “I understand,” she said quietly.  Again, I slept with one eye open. But Delilah’s remained, peacefully closed. She had refused dinner, but snoozed well and gobbled her chicken-pumpkin-gravy breakfast in the morning. She’s spunkier this past week and the light is back in her eyes.

She gets another dose tomorrow.

Today, I am hopeful. The knot that’s been in my stomach for the past six weeks is loosening. Perhaps our little family will stay intact for a while longer.

The girls will keep in touch.