As I type this I am literally sick with worry. Yesterday I had to ponder the worth of my beloved Baxter.
The back story on Baxter is one for the history books, he showed up in the “Little Paws Rescue” Halloween Doggy Fashion show on Breakfast Television, my first week hosting the show in 2011.
He was live on the air dressed as a beer can — with his head hung low and his tail straight down, and then looked up at me and his eyes said “hey mom”.
(watch the beer can Baxter video here: img_4269-mov )
It’s important to note here that I was not in the market for a second dog. In fact, I couldn’t have been less ready. My marriage was ending, I had a 3 1/2 year old child and just started a job where I’d be up and out of the house in the wee hours.
Needless to say, he ended up with us….mostly because of the overwhelming feeling that if I didn’t take him home, he would die.
Over the last almost 5 years Baxter has been a beast. Our first week together he dug through the kitchen bin and ate and entire chicken carcass during the night — when I found him, and his shrapnel I looked at him, lovingly, and said “good luck with that, buddy.”
He barfed red one morning, a week later — again, “good luck with that” — shortly afterward we realized he was helping himself to the little boy’s daily bowl of sliced strawberries.
Over the years he’s been incredibly low maintenance, health wise. (super high maintenance in the affection department, we call him a “mom suck”.) He’s forever at my ankle. Follows me everywhere (“really Baxter? the bathroom?“)
Now fast-forward to present day.
Two months ago he seemed a bit “off”….so I took him to our fabulous vet at Kitsilano Veterinary Clinic on West 4th. Dr. Eisen is amazing, kind, thoughtful, and quite matter of fact. She found that Baxter had “a sore neck” ad gave him a shot of anti-inflammatory meds while handing me a prescription anti-inflammatory syrup to give him for ten days, one dose every 24 hours.
He improved in a matter of hours. We opted to discontinue the prescription syrup as he was symptom free.
Ten days ago, he was showing similar symptoms to the “neck” issue. I played vet (don’t do this) and opted to give him the left over meds. He didn’t get better, in fact he got exponentially worse… by the day.
In the last week, he was low ebb — not as much of a nutcase as usual. He really is a little nut, he’s a big dog in a little dog’s body and he gets very testy when the world doesn’t work as he expects it. I love that, and so much more, about his dog. All of a sudden he was a bit of a ghost. It was a jolt to us, we kept hoping he would turn around.
He didn’t want to walk, didn’t greet me at the door, was not a fixture at my ankle….didn’t care if I left the room. Then yesterday he refused food. That was my last straw. I called Dr. Eisen at Kitsilano Veterinary Clinic and, while fully booked, they fit me in (at 4:30 on a Saturday.)
She looked him over, folding back his lip and said, “Oh, I don’t like that … his gums are white.” She showed me — they were liquid paper white. It was shocking. The gravity of the situation hit me. Suspected: Bleeding ulcer caused by (or exacerbated by?) the anti-inflammatory syrup.
Oh my god, did I do this to my dog??
The guilt that hit me was palpable, the reaction I received was a resounding “NO! How could you possibly have known that this would cause such trauma? It seemed to work, you did the right thing bringing him here.”
Dr. Eisen sent us to the Canadian West Veterinary Specialists on Kootney Street at East 2nd and Boundary. I was to go immediately, “He is critical”.
The plan was laid out: transfusions, ultra sound, x-rays, chemistry testing on his blood, and on and on. Then the quote came for the care he would need. The number was/is staggering. I paused and asked myself:
“how much is my dog worth?”
What a horrible, horrible thought. I hated that moment more than words can say…
The shock wore off, as my mind raced. What am I doing? What’s best for him? What’s the right thing to do?
Well, in the end I trusted my instincts and I signed the consent form, making a deal with myself to help Baxter through this critical time and then assess.
At play: quality of life, the stress on him of invasive tests or possible surgery, I had/have no idea what to expect. I do know now that it’s my duty as his human to at least try. I am trying. Honestly, it’s such a personal decision — there are so many variables at play, not to mention it is all remarkably emotional. The feeling of helplessness is crushing.
This is a difficult day in our little corner of the world. We are worried, we are scared — and we are discussing life and death. My boy B loves Baxter, a lot, and last night when we were talking about how worried we are… I found myself saying, “as sad as it would be if he dies – I’d rather feel this awful sadness than to have never felt the joy and love he’s brought us.” B said, “wow mom, that’s a good saying.” His words helped me.
My dogs are priceless to me. There is no dollar value I can apply to his, or Fenway’s, worth. Can any of us?
Obviously you must be wondering what the cost of care is, the fact is … I don’t know yet. There is only an estimate, at this point. I put down 75% of the high end of that estimate. I’m not sure why I feel this way, but I’m not going to share what that number is here, I WILL tell you that I’ve already seen value for the dollars. The folks at the Canada West Veterinary Specialists are truly angels on this earth. Baxter is in the best hands, that’s all I can do for him, right now.
As their humans we do what we can, sometimes that means putting a dollar figure to “what you can” do, sometimes it means letting go. I can get him this care, right now, so I will. I will keep you posted on what happens next.
I’m having a little cry in mybackyard this morning.
Note: I started writing this today with tears streaming down my face with worry — I just received a call from the Vet in charge at CWVS and we are now able to be optimistic. Trevor’s exact words: “There is no question this little guy had a brush with death, I’m feeling optimistic that we can pull him through this.” Keep your fingers crossed.
This is Baxter on Tuesday:
4pm update: The Canadian West Veterinary Specialist physician just called (bless you Trevor) with good news. Levels are good, post transfusion. He’s eating and showing signs of improvement. We continue to wait — but thus far things have been “best case” scenario after a “brush with death”. Ultra-sound tomorrow morning, and if all goes well….we will have our little Baxter home soon. Fingers crossed.
8am Monday – Just got off the phone with the nurse who’s been caring for Baxter. He’s been eating and has enjoyed going out for a little yard turn, even in the rain. Next up is an ultrasound today. We will know more this afternoon.
9am Monday – The bad news came. He has a clot in his heart. “There is not much we can do about that, and it’s bad.” I’m going to go get him today and love him as long as I can.
I wish there’d been a happy ending here, more than you know.
12:45pm Monday – The clot, it turns out, is a mass. It’s growing from the wall of his heart, quickly. It’s causing him issues with breathing and energy. There is no treatment (other than radically invasive heart surgery that the vet “doesn’t recommend”.) We were told to plan euthanasia “within the next 48 hours”. After picking him up this afternoon, its obvious that today is what’s best for him.
Update: Monday September 19, 2016 3:30pm
There is no Hollywood ending to this tale. At 5:30pm today we will say goodbye to our Baxter. He’s here with me now and there is no question in my mind that this is the right thing to do. This situation is far from unique to us, obviously, yet it feels very isolating and lonely. As his human it is my duty to put his quality of life first. I am doing that in a matter of hours. He will sleep, and then run again somewhere. We love you Baxter — we are better humans for having had you in our lives.
Update: Monday September 19th, 2016 5;30pm
We did the right thing. He went to sleep, we weep. My child is devastated, I’m being strong for him. My big dog, Fenway, can’t stop looking for his little buddy. I’m being strong for him.
We did the right thing. We did the right thing. (repeating that is keeping me going.)
sidebar: We have received many notes of comfort today……all of them have helped. All of them.
One stands out.
My dear friend Nora Ahern just sent me: “Whatever happens you gave him a great life – a dogs life.” I now know the very best thing to say when a human loses a dog. Thank you for that Nora.