Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Life goes on...

Robbie and Ghilley serve as good reminders to me that life does go on.

It has been a difficult week.  I think I was a bit numb last Monday (December 14) until about 3pm in the afternoon.  It was about that time that the loss of my superstar hit me with full force and I realized how much I would miss his presence.

No, I would not miss the ailing dog, I would miss that mushy morning boy rolling over for a scratch on his belly and dutifully kicking a hind leg when I hit a sweet spot.  Robbie does not have sweet spots like that and I have yet to find Ghilley's.

I will miss the frequently annoying but endearing "singing" that my boys engaged in, often on command but sometimes not.  Robbie would always run from wherever he was to sit next to Duff to form a duo.  Now, it seems, Garfunkel cannot sing without Simon.  I did get all three going when Duff was still around, but Ghilley was still finding her voice and right now, it is a little too coloratura for me and she is not Sarah Brightman.

I catch myself feeling bad that Duff does not get to share the little taste of my cereal in the morning or dinner at night.

The walks in the neighborhood, right now, do not bring back too many recent memories as Duff was not a fan of that in the past 6 months to a large degree.  But, when spring arrives and I decide to go on a marathon walk, up to Wilmette or even Winnetka, I will think of him because the last time we stretched our legs for a 5-12 mile walk, he was there and loved it.

I know time will heal the hole I feel inside.  It will lessen.  But now, I miss my old boy.

Last week went okay.  By Tuesday evening I actually felt relief.  I was relieved that I did not prolong any suffering for my 1st baby.  I was relieved that the immediate anguish over his situation was gone.

I sailed into the past weekend, without him, feeling kind of strange but otherwise okay.

Then, Monday (December 21st) hit and I felt exhausted and bereft.  Depression for the day was my friend as I was caught off-guard by the feeling.  Oh, I remember feeling such sadness a few days after I lost my dad that I did not want to get out of bed so I stayed there.  This was similar though perhaps not quite as severe.  His ashes, contained in a nice wooden urn with room for a picture had arrived.  I was at the vet to drop off a Christmas card with a "thank you" when Hope met me to re-deliver "Duff".  She had picked him up for me earlier that day.  I shared a bit of what I was feeling and she said it is normal.  I know my older sister, Anne, felt the same thing almost 2 years ago, having to part with her beautiful 7 year old Cavalier to cancer.

I returned home to have Robbie bound out of the crate and wiggle madly at me.  Ghilley burst out, grabbed a toy and bounded at me to play tug with her.  A reminder was placed by my kids, "life is good Mom.  We love you and are happy you are home.  Let's play!"

Monday, December 14, 2009

Farewell to A Great Dog

Today, December 14th, marks the day I ended my journey with my MacDuff.

What a wonderful journey it has been!

I remember going to Chicago's Christmas Cluster dog show on December 15, 1995 to pick him up from his breeder for good.

My friend, Fran, drove us so I could hold the little guy the whole way.  Talk about love at first sight, cuddle, hug.  We were set!

He was pretty perky at the show, anyway, greeting an American Pointer bitch to say "hi".  The woman came running back after her class and thanked us for letting her girl greet my puppy.  She won the class and picked up a major.  I chuckled, not quite understanding all that.

He came to greet his vet, Dr. Prunsky, who marveled over how healthy he was and gave me the new puppy lecture from the start.

We made a quick detour to show him off to Fran's sister, Hope, and their two Brussels Griffons.  They were game to meet the little guy until this 8-week old character jumped up on a crate to get a better vantage point on them.  That set them off.

Duff showed from day 1 with me that he would forever be "Air MacDuff".  He spent a lot of time with plenty of exhuberance jumping from one spot to the other.

I spent his puppyhood with marveling at his eagerness to learn and bold manner in life.  My friends continously remarked that I "do not deserve him" as he was such a remarkably well-mannered puppy.

I signed him up for your routine puppy class and then beginners obedience class.  The instructor talked to me about his obedience club and I checked it out to start training with them.

We went through beginners' class and then onto intermediate where, at 10 months of age, he passed his CGC exam.

We went onto to compete in Novice Obedience and Duff earned his CD at age 2.  He was eager to work and had a blast with everything he did.  When we started to train Open obedience, these cool new things appeared in his training.  Those were jumps.

My instructor for that class was Peggy Timm and she suggested trying agility.  I was completely unfamiliar with the sport but once it was explained to me, I had a feeling I would like it.

We checked it out and I saw an eager MacDuff turn into a wildman.  He found his niche.  He expressed his joy with barking, something I wanted to discourage.  Peggy knew other Border Terriers in agility and they barked so she indicated to leave him be and let him express himself.

Our forays into agility competition were fairly comical to begin with.  He was a wildman, wanting to do his course which could include a "HI!" to any jump setter.

We joined the All Fours training group in mid-2001 and Duff's agility game took off to a new level.  We started to seriously go after the pinnacle of agility competition, the Master Agility Championship (AKC's MACH).

We accomplished that feat, along with a CDX (in obedience) in 2003 and added 3 more MACHs before I moved Duff down to Preferred to jump at a lower height.

Arthritis in his spine was taking a hold of him and continuing at 16 inch jumps was not good for him anymore.

Duff continued competing in agility until his eventual retirement in late May 2009.  Looking back now, we could probably guess that his brain tumor (or whatever it was) could have been affecting him back then in his perception of jumps.  We had though it was simply eyesight (lenticular schlorosis).

The summer of 2009 was a bit funky with an injury to Robbie focusing my attention to him, relying on Duff to be the stalwart dog for me that he always was.

Ghilley was added to the household in mid-September and Duff taught her that he was the boss.  Her respect for him was immediate.

It was probably about a month after this that I first would say I noticed some things were off.  Most of the concerns were always arthritis.

I do not really want to regress into that other than to finish with the fact that while I hurt a lot today (and will for awhile), I know I made the right choice.  Duff had a major panic attack in his crate, in the car, Sunday night.  It made me realize that when I went to work on Tuesday, he would be pannicking more but I would not be there.

I know that when I held him at the vet, I made the right decision.  Any form of restraint or holding him set him off.  The Duff I knew for 14 years was not this pannicked old dog.  He had a tranquilizer to calm him as I held him until he fell asleep before we administered the final medication.

I will always remember the little puppy, the young dog and my superstar when I think of MacDuff.  He forever changed my life in such a positive way.

My last gift to him was peace.  Now, he can enjoy apricot crepes from my dad!

MACH4 Otterby Thane of MacDuff CDX RE MXP3 MJP4 OFP
October 21, 1995 - December 14, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The pain of ownership

I knew something was unusual about Duff to the extent that I could not explain it away by arthritis or old age.

The constant need to make left turns, the obvious confusion at things, the sudden loss of desire to climb steps or to lay down to sleep.

We visited the vet on Friday and, based on clinical analysis of his physical signs and my description of things, we feel Duff probably has a brain tumor.  It also seems to be affecting him with increasing symptoms rather quickly.

It is sad news.  Both his vet and I had tears in our eyes as we discussed the next course of action.  That action is seeing to his comfort.  We have him on prednisone to start, to go after and shrink any inflamation and help his arthritis too.

Then, we will see.  The one thing that I will not let Duff go through is extreme pain and/or fear.  I know I will hurt with the loss of my champion.  He is my superstar.  I could not ask for a better 1st dog and would challenge anyone to name a more ideal 1st dog.

But I love him and I am realistic.  He is 14 years old now.  We certainly expected, back in late October and early November, that he could go another 3-5 years.  That was assuming nothing else was going on.

I have accepted what I feel is the inevitable.  No, I am not in a rush to euthanize him.  Perhaps it is the fact that 9 years ago, I watched my 65 year old dad waste away from cancer (under hospice care).  Perhaps it is also the fact that for the last 6 months, I have watched my superstar deteriorate a bit.

Whatever the case and without going into the different symptoms I honestly am not prepared for the reactions I am getting.

Overwhelmingly the reactions are supportive and sad.  People who have known him feel bad.  However, mixed in with the empathetic support is advice on what I should do.  I guess I can attribute it to the fact that while I have had time to come to grips with Duff's mortality, others hearing the news have not and seek to offer advice on how to prolong his life.

My question is "to what end?"  What would having an MRI test done? Or pumping him full of homeopathics when he does not want pills in his mouth?

I have had people offer to provide me with vets who would offer a good 2nd opinion.  I never mentioned that I doubted my vet.  I agree with my vet.  We want what is best for Duff's quality of life.  He has had quantity.  He is 14 for God's sake!  Sure I would like him to live to 17 like his dad but honestly did not think that would be possible given the nature of the arthritis in his back.

I know everyone means well and different people deal with this issue differently.  Some people will put a 14 year old dog through mood altering drugs, keeping them hanging on for 6-12 months.  Others will put them through surgery.  Is the animal better for that?  I'm not sure.

I am sure that I will not put Duff through all of that.  It does not mean that I love him less.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I love him deeply.  He has been a very special part of my life for a long time.  I do not want to close that chapter so soon.

But, I now know why my pal and agility instructor was so private about her heart dog, Darby, when she was sick.  Sure, it could be that she is private anyway.  But it is difficult enough to deal with the upcoming loss of a loved dog without having a slew of people offering you unsolicited advice when you are already hurting.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Changing realities

Thanksgiving weekend marked Robbie's return to agility competition.  That includes not only competing with him, but bringing all dogs to the show site for the day, setting up camp and handling all three through various things (exercise, play, socialization, etc.).

The following weekend was a 4-day agility trial in Milwaukee.  It marked by 12th year at this event.  It was my 1st year at the event without competing with MacDuff.

Duff has been limited in mobility for awhile now.  I am not sure when it started exactly but I do know that in July, August & September, prior to Ghilley, he was becoming increasingly difficult to convince to go on a walk.  He retired from agility competition in late May but still would play in class.

Trouble is, when Robbie hurt himself in mid-July, we ended our forays into the city for agility class to all Robbie to heal.  I wonder if that seemed to shut down the old man.

Regardless, I realized, finally in mid-to-late October that the arthritis medication we were using (etogesic) did not seem to be helping Duff that much.

Early November it was annual examination time for Robbie.  I decided to have complete blood tests done on both boys, given their ages.  They both came back really well, showing good numbers for just about all categories.  Robbie had an elevated CPK of 263 (vs. 200 normal) which would be expected since he does have mild cardio myopathy.  Duff's CPK was 468 which prompted me to send him in for a day of tests for heart issues.

After the EKG, x-rays, etc. Duff turns out to have a very healthy heart, healthier than Robbie's actually.  But, he does have a heart arrhythmia, which would prompt taking medication.

We talked about wanting to start him on a new arthritis medication, Medicam, and he would need to start on heart medicine (digoxin).  Trouble is, we could not start him on both at the same time just given any potential side effects.  We chose to start him on the digoxin first.

That turned out to be more of an issue.  His pain was not being managed by the etogesic anymore so I was watching an aching dog seem to become depressed on top of things.

So, after 10 days on digoxin, I talked to his vet about starting medicam.  I could see the medicam was working but noticed increasing lethargy, incoordination, pickiness eating, etc. from Duff.  It seemed to amplify slight nuances from the digoxin.

Next step, took him off digoxin and let it ride with the medicam to try again.

Duff went back on digoxin on Thanksgiving.  As of Monday, December 7th, he was off of it again.  His appetite improves without that medication, and so does his happiness.

It appears that digoxin is not the heart medicine for him.

I am trying to see improvements in attitude but now seem faced with the potential of something else.  Duff seems to be stuck with a turn signal permanently on left.  He walks around in continual motion but unless he is walking through hallways, he turns to the left in larger circles.  No longer does he walk from my sliding door straight across the 30-feet to the gate of my patio.  He turns left circles on the way.  He straightens out with direction but it is the initial move that has me concerned.

Not sure what to do other than to take it day by day.  Work is tough with stress and an oppressive CFO.  Home is tough watching my champion suddenly turn very old, almost overnight.