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What happens when one of your four-legged family members becomes suddenly, obviously, gravely ill?  

If it's an animal with a medical history that makes the illness readily-identifiable, then you have something to work with:  You may already know whether it's fixable, letting your dog, cat, or other pet continue to live a long and happy life.  Or, it may already be that you knew this day was coming, and you know that it's better to let nature take its course - or, in the worst-case scenario, that it's time to help send your family member on to Spirit.

But what if there's no warning, and you have no way of knowing?

Chances are, you're going to go to the vet to find out what's wrong, so that you don't risk making the wrong decision.

We've been there.  Jointly, four times in the course of our years together.  It never gets easier; if anything, each one is harder than the last.  But they were separated by time - each one at least a year apart.

When three such situations come in the same year, and each one two or three months apart, as has happened to River and Charles, it takes an enormous toll - physically, emotionally, and certainly financially.

A lot of you know that when River had her kidney transplant in early 2011, I flew up to Washington to stay with her and Charles for just over a month.  Charles was out of time off, and River needed someone to drive her to and from her follow-up appointments, to carry all the many things that she needed to take with her but was not permitted to lift, and just generally help out with all the things that someone recovering from such major invasive surgery needs.  They welcomed me into their home and hearts and family, which (like ours) included a bunch of four-leggeds:  Tom and Huck, the two tabby cats; Bitty, the toller, getting along in years like three of our dogs are; Quinn and Raven, the joyous flatcoats; and our beloved late exme arden's little girls.  So, in a very small way, the three CurtisStanley animals that have walked on this year are a part of my family, too.  I loved them dearly, as I love the rest of the family, both two- and four-leggeds, and my heart hurts for all of them.

Troll Prophylactic: If you do not like this kind of diary, if you don't find it "appropriate," or if you have a problem with fundraising related to animal family members, turn around and leave now.  No, don't bother to say anything.  I've had more than enough of people trolling diaries designed to help others, and my sister is grieving terribly while her own health remains fragile, situations I know only too well.  I will NOT put up with trolling this diary.  Period.

Late last year, Bitty, their older dog, began displaying some worrisome symptoms, including regurgitating water.  Not much else seemed to be terribly wrong, but this particular cluster if symptoms and effects had the potential to be a real problem.  River took her in to vet.  After a variety of labwork in Decembe and January, the vet remained unable to pinpoint a diagnosis; meanwhile, River and Charles found practical ways of working around Bitty's symptoms.  Although her overall health now seems to be good, her symptoms continue to this day, and as with some of ours, she falls into that "aging" category that means that these symptoms still need to be monitored carefully.

And, of course, the labwork was an unexpected and not-insubstantial expense.

Forward five months:

Just over six months ago, Huck, a/k/a Pest, one of their tabby cats, suddenly clearly had something terribly wrong.  It wasn't obvious whether it was illness or an injury (or the extent of whichever condition it was).  But he was in obvious pain, and it was evident that he needed medical attention.  

Pest, the cat who slept next to my head nearly every night when I stayed with River and Charles last year to help her after her transplant surgery (because, of course, when you're a cat, you honor the person who's allergic to cats by sleeping on her pillow) . . . Pest had cancer.  And it had spread.  And there was nothing to be done, except sing his little soul to Spirit, so that he would no longer be in agony.

And River and Charles were left with a Huck-sized hole in their hearts . . . and another not-insubstantial hit to the wallet.

However, we all assumed that things would settle down for the remaining four-leggeds now.

We were all terribly, horribly wrong.

A mere two months after Huck walked on, I got a frantic text from my little sister.  It was Quinn.  Big, beautiful, jet-black flatcoat Quinn, who would come bounding into the house to greet me, shoving his snout under my chin to give me beautiful doggy kisses.

And once again, there was no warning.  There was known to be cancer in his lineal bloodline, but Quinn had thus far seemed safe.  Then they found a large mass in his lung, it was spreading, and - once again - there was nothing to do except sing this sweet boy to Spirit.

And pay for the tests that diagnosed the problem.  And pay for the cremation, which is the only option for their situation.

That left Raven, Quinn's sister, and Bitty (and the little dogs).  Raven, who was a slightly smaller version of her brother, a bubbly, bouncing bundle of joy who would also come running to meet me, careening to a stop somewhere against my shins, usually, hook a paw over my forearm, and shove her grinning face into mine as if to say, "Aji! Aji! Aji! I'm SO happy to see you! I love you, I love you, I love you!"  And, as with all the others, I loved her, too.

And then, a few days before Halloween, I got the message from River that would wind up breaking my heart all over again, if only a fraction of the degree to which hers and Charles's own hearts were breaking. Something was terribly wrong with Raven.

She and I brainstormed all kinds of possibilities, hoping against hope that it would not turn out to be the cancer that took her brother.  Hope was a liar and a thief.

One week ago today, my beloved sister and brother had to send Raven to be with Spirit.

Their hearts have holes in them that will never be filled.  I know.  I've been there.  Oh, there will be other rescued dogs and cats that will find their own spaces in the hearts of these two generous, loving, huge-spirited siblings of mine, but those holes will always remain.

And what they won't tell you, so I will, is that once again, the vet visits and the subsequent cremation have also left a huge hole in their finances.

River and Charles both have health issues of their own, even apart from River's kidney transplant. So their finances are carefully controlled. But when a family member is ill, all that goes out the window. And while we knew that the cost of sending Raven on her final journey had run some $300 that they didn't really have to spare, what we didn't know was that, despite creative juggling and everything else we all do to make ends meet, the real total was about $960 for the initial vet visit and lab work, and then the final visit with the cremation. And they've paid it - but are now in the hole themselves, with the end of the month looming. They have more than a week to get through yet before River's disability check arrives, and Charles's salary is spoken for and then some. But I also know that their animals, like our own, do wonders for their overall health.

Last week, Sara R posted the following comment:

A gift of the heart for Kitsap River...

Raven in the arms of her daddy

Raven in the arms of her daddy

As everybody knows by now, Kitsap River and Charles Curtisstanley just suffered the heartbreak of  losing their beloved dog, Raven.  Losing a four-legged family member is always a stress – but in this instance it is made worse by money troubles.  River and Charles had just finally, finally! achieved a bit of financial balance when this tragedy hit their household – and there are some final expenses at the vet to take care of.  It’s not much, in the scheme of things – just $300.  But it is an added stress that is not good for River.  If you would like to chip in to make this stress melt away – as a gift of love to our sweet River – please send PayPal  to charles.curtisstanley AT gmail DOT com – or Kos Mail Kitsap River and ask for an address to which to send a check.  Any amount will help.

Another way to help (and to sweeten some one else’s life – literally!) is to send a Secret Santa gift.  Nurse Kelley is on the list for some of Kitsap River’s famous handmade jam.  The jam is $10/bottle plus shipping.  Send some jam to our favorite nurse – and then maybe some more to someone else you love!  Maybe even yourself!  Kos Mail Kitsap River to order jam.

Finally, Aji wrote to Kossack fat old man (whose shop is on the Kos Katalogue) and asked if he would kindly donate a special cedar box to hold Raven’s remains.  And he is going to do just that!  If you would like to reward fat old man’s kindness, please shop at Laughing Coyote Woodworks for handmade gifts made from wood this year.  There are some beautiful things there.

Now, we know that the financial toll was much greater.  Sara's efforts raised $160, but $800 is still needed to keep them safe, sound, and healthy through the end of the year.

I know we're all strapped.  I know it's the holiday season.  But if you, like us, hold your four-legged family members as close as your two-legged ones, then you know what the last half-year has been like for River and Charles.  And if you can spare even five bucks, please consider dropping into Charles's PayPal account.  Or buy jam!  I can attest to how wonderful it is, since we have several jars remaining from last year's batch that she made.

Two weeks after I returned from staying with them in 2011, we lost Dom, our little pit bull/rat terrier mix.  It was sudden; she seemed fine when I got back on March 28th, and she left us on the night of April 14th, in my lap.  And the only way we knew simply to let her go is that Rive and Charles moved up their payment schedule on a purchase from Wings so that we could get the necessary tests run - tests that told us that tumors riddled Dom's little body, and that all we could do was make her comfortable until it was her time.

And I will never, ever forget the generous sacrifice that River and Charles made that enabled us to give Dom one very good final week - up until her very last day.  She's buried out near our garden, and I talk to her daily - and I've asked her for help for Bitty, and Pest, and Quinn, and Raven.  And I know she hears.

DONATIONS: Log on to PayPal and send your donation to charles.curtisstanley@gmail.com
UPDATE: An anonymous woozle lover is going to pay the balance River's goal. Thank you all for your kindness and generosity. There's no better place on the internets!

Originally posted to Community Fundraisers on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 04:30 PM PST.

Also republished by Kossacks helping each other, PWB Peeps, Positive Intention and Lovingkindness, and J Town.

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