10 March 2007

Dog years

There are many interesting things on the newswires today that I thought about writing about, but Americans Stuffing Their Pets with Drugs hit home, especially after yesterday's entry.

Obviously, it's a pet owner's privilege and responsibility to decide the extent to which s/he wants to treat a pet that is ill. And indeed, when the Bad Dog developed arthritis in her hips at the age of 9, we discussed it and decided to treat her with Rimadyl, the drug of choice for such things. Unfortunately, arthritis was a breed problem for the Bad Dog, and we felt that we could either treat it or put her down at a relatively young age because the pain was definitely affecting her quality of life. We were aware of the risks involved with the drug, and the ultimate question became, "would I do this for myself." The answer was yes; we put her on the meds; she thrived and never showed any adverse effects on her bi-yearly screens. We were fortunate that we could afford the cost of the drugs and the cost of the screens; for us and the dog, it was win/win.

The real reckoning came in October 2005. While making dinner, I heard rhythmic banging in the garage, and went out to discover that the Bad Dog was having a grand mal seizure. I held her head to keep her from banging it on the concrete until she stopped seizing, then called the spouse and the vet. She was treated that evening at the local animal emergency clinic and we were asked to tender $1000 on account for her care until they could determine what the problem was. In a dog who was nearly 15, it could be just about anything.

By late next day, most things had been eliminated through blood and urine tests. The ER vets wanted our go ahead to do an abdominal ultrasound and a scan of her head. They were looking for tumors, and cancer was our worst fear. Mostly because I'd long said that cancer was non-negotiable, and we wouldn't treat for it.

The abdominal ultrasound came back clear and we began to discuss the likelihood of a brain tumor. We made it clear that we didn't intend for a 15-year-old dog to face cancer treatment, and discussed our options for palliative care. Since everything else had been ruled out and treatment for her seizures would be the same with or without a brain tumor, we declined the scan.

Bad Dog did pretty well on the prednisone and anti-seizure meds that were prescribed for her. Our local vet fussed at me once, saying, "I wish we could do a scan. I'd like to see what's going on in her little head!" I told her that if she chose to front the $1500 for the scan, then she was welcome to go through with it, but that I was sleeping fine at night knowing the treatment she was receiving was what she would be getting regardless of what a scan revealed.

The daughter was not especially pleased with me, however, when I broke the news to her and her brother that Bad Dog was nearing the end of her life. She was adament that we should treat the disease. I gently explained to her that the Bad Dog was about 75-80 in people years, and that was pretty darn old for a dog. I also told her that if I was an 80-year-old lady, I would take the treatment that would make me comfortable instead of treating the cancer, and then I'd go someplace I'd always wanted to visit but hadn't gotten to. Since the Bad Dog wasn't really keen on traveling, I suggested that we make the time remaining the best time of Bad Dog's life.

And that was what we did. We'd always been big on walkies and she continued to get her walks. She got even better food because the pred upset her stomach a bit, and holy mackerel, did Bad Dog enjoy the warm chicken and rice that made its way into the food dish every night. She got a new "baby" at Christmas as she always did, and in some ways this stuffed penguin with the horrible honk seemed to be the best toy she ever got. She continued to do yard patrol with me, chase her talking parrot, and roll in the grass.

In mid-March, she began to seize again, and on the morning of March 20, it was clear that the tumor had gained control. We raced her to the animal ER again, but even then, we knew what we were facing, and that there was only one thing left that we could do for her.

When you love someone, you set her free.