WYFP is our community's Saturday evening gathering to talk about our problems, empathize with one another, and share advice, pootie pictures, favorite adult beverages, and anything else that we think might help. Everyone and all sorts of troubles are welcome. May we find peace and healing here. Won't you please share the joy of WYFP by recommending?
This topic isn't about politics. It's for animal lovers, and may be somewhat painful, so please be warned. It's also long.
I must tell this story from my perspective, and make guesses as to the thoughts and feelings of its main character. I am sorry for that. To my inexpressible regret, I do not know the heart and mind of my little girl; I can only make guesses based on what I see, hear and touch. I must further stress that I am not seeking validation or absolution, merely relating events and the feelings that surround them.
It is late 2002. I see Merilee - Merry - for the first time when I come home from seeing a play. She is a tiny, curly-eared puppy, red and orange, with a striking white flash just beginning to show on her forehead and muzzle. She's just a few weeks old, an adoptee from a local pet-rescue. My (then-)wife wanted a puppy, and here she is. I think she is pretty, and like her immediately; but she's my then-wife's dog, not mine. Besides which, I'm pretty much a cat person. I do feel bad for Merry, though; this is her first night in a new home, and it can't have been fun. My then-wife brought her home, put her behind a baby-gate in a tile bathroom, and left to go see the play with me. (My father rightly criticized this when learning of it - he was at the play with us.) Merry has been left to cry herself to sleep, and to sit with her own poo and pee for hours. We clean her up (and the bathroom), and let her go outside. Potty training begins.
It is early 2003. We get a pet fountain for the cats. I worry that Merry drinking from it will make the water unpalatable to them, so I make her stop. (In a time I cannot yet feel or understand, needles of fire are flitting, flicking.) I give her a bowl of water instead, and put the pet fountain up where she can't reach it. I do at least keep the bowl full. Soon we get her a dispensing bottle.
It is 2003. We keep Merry in a crate when we are gone, and she isn't allowed to sleep on the bed with us at night. These things are not my doing, but the needles are still flicking, flicking. I cannot yet hear or feel them. I won't learn of them for years. But the needles are there. Flicking. Waiting. I mildly protest the crate; my then-wife assures me it's for Merry's own good. I cede the issue.
It is 2003. We have been walking Merry up and down our street, for our exercise and hers, for some months now. She is a beautiful, strong, lovely dog. Half Australian Shepherd and half Queensland Red Heeler (Aussie Cattle Dog), she is tall and leanly muscled, with a rich, vibrant double-coat. Her large, expressive ears have come to stand straight up rather than curl. It is easy to believe her ancestors faced down bulls many times their size and mass; easy to believe she could do the same. My then-wife introduces her to neighborhood children on many walks. They love her instantly, and she them. She is loving but completely submissive. My then-wife gives the kids puppy treats, which they feed Merry. She never jumps on them, never bites a hand. Ever. Once, a small child becomes frightened when he feels her warm, wet tongue - he begins to shriek loudly. Other dogs might become fearful, aggressive, or both. Merry lays her ears flat (in submission, not aggression), ducks her head, and sits quietly until my then-wife calms the child. Months later, when Merry is in Puppy Class, I will learn what an incredible feat this was for her - like most Queenies and Aussies, she is very noise-sensitive and spooks easily. Yet in this instance, she seemed to clearly sense the child's fear and did nothing to provoke it.
It is 2003 or 2004. My wife feels that Merry pulls too much on our neighborhood walks, so she tries a muzzle-like apparatus to control her on walks. I immediately dislike it, and say so, but I am not assertive enough (a common challenge of mine) with my then-wife. In disciplining Merry to walk more decorously (and other issues), I see my then-wife slap her, hard, many times. Once Merry shrieks with pain. My heart aches with each slap, but I say nothing, or far too little, at first. She is still, after all, "my wife's dog." Tension builds, and we (wife and I) eventually fight bitterly over it. The relationship is breaking for many reasons, but this is one of them - I cannot abide the way I see Merry treated. In fairness, my ex-wife's memory and opinion on this matter differs from mine, and is as valid as mine.
It is late 2004, early 2005. I convince my wife to let Merry roam freely in our absence. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she displays separation anxiety and becomes destructive, damaging an area rug and tearing two holes in the house carpet. Back in the crate she goes. During this time I notice that Merry seems very affectionate toward me specifically. I am somewhat confused by it, since she has always been "my wife's dog." But as I think back, I notice in memory that she has always acted rather as though she was bonding with me, or trying to. I've returned the affections without giving my heart (fully). She is winning me over. Love is hard to find, especially in a rocky marriage (ours was). Merry's love is endless, boundless and unconditional. I feel a little guilty for returning her affections, but I do not shut her out. Not any more.
It is 2005. I am sitting on the floor right in front of the couch, playing a videogame on the TV. Merry is on the couch behind me, growling excitedly and darting her head around the side of my head to lick my face. I don't brush her away or criticize her; I growl and join in the game. I will come to call this "head wrestling." We will share this lovely game many times (and yet too few).
It is sometime in 2004, or 2005. Merry begins to show signs of painful urination, and we see blood in her urine. Money is very, very tight. I want to take her to the veterinarian; my then-wife urges the use of cheaper homeopathic cures, which we try for several weeks. I agree to this (and the needles flick, flick, flick). The symptoms do not abate. Finally, Merry goes to the vet; she is placed on powerful antibiotics, which seem to help. I will never forget the sight of this beautiful little girl displaying evident pain. Never forget that it was evitable, and that I did not act sooner. The needles flick, flick.
It is 2005. My then-wife feels that Merry would do better with a canine packmate. I ask again only that she take full responsibility for this little life, and Lorelei - Lora - comes to live with us. Merry and Lora do well together, with few spats (which seem sisterly enough). Soon, they are both allowed to roam freely in our absence, with no further destructive behavior. Lora bonds with my then-wife, which relieves me as I feel less guilty about bonding with Merry.
It is early 2006. Any time I go to lie down on the couch, Merry leaps up and lays herself on my chest. (Years later I will learn this is possessive behavior - she is saying, probably to Lora, "This human belongs to me.") When I lie down to sleep at night, she will lay herself next to my chest or head. My then-wife comments that Merry loves her daddy. It feels good. Merry feels good. Perhaps she is being possessive, but the emotion is still there.
It is late 2006. My marriage is dissolving. I spend more and more time with the dogs, but still not enough. Not enough. Merry (and Lora, to lesser extent) is patient, loving, undemanding but always present, always affectionate, always nurturing. She knows there is pain even if she doesn't understand its cause (and for all I know she understands it better than I).
It is early 2007. My wife and I decide to divorce. Initially, the agreement is that one dog and one cat will stay with each of us, but this changes. We still live together despite being resolved to divorce. We sleep in separate beds. When I go back to lie down at night, Merry always comes with me. Lora, to my profound surprise, always follows. I eventually ask to keep all 4 pets (knowing that this will be brutally expensive, with the house note). My soon-to-be-ex agrees. Soon, she is gone, and only I and the animals remain in our house.
It is late 2007, early 2008. Merry still head-wrestles with me, less frequently. Since the divorce, I have resolved to spend committed time with both dogs each night, playing fetch, tug, and pup-and-seek with them. I honor that commitment, though it is very much for my emotional benefit as well as theirs. Merry is always there. Always loving. We go to the Puppy Park - Merry, Lora and I - at least twice a month. I notice some people seem to be there to date or have a social sitting. I'm just there for my girls (and for me, if I'm honest, but not to meet people).
It is late 2008. I try dating a little bit again. Merry approves of my first potential partner, but sadly that relationship doesn't work out. Merry is still everpresent, undemanding, nurturing. Endlessly giving, even as she occasionally shows her headstrong nature (as she always has). Around this time I will learn the phrase "infinite love and gratitude," from a massage therapist. I will realize that I understand this state intimately, for Merry demonstrates it continuously.
It is early 2009. I have been dating the woman who will become my second wife for some time. I bring her home for the first time. Merry is ecstatic, yipping loudly and leaning against my to-be-wife's legs. "Honey, why is she whining?" my TBW asks. "She's happy to see you," I reply. "She's been smelling you on me for 3 or 4 months, and now she's meeting you in person. I think she thinks you're good for me."
It is 2009 or 2010. As has happened several times in the past, Merry experiences some incontinence. She is prescribed Proin. She protests it more strongly than I have ever seen her protest a pill. I do some research and find Proin is tenuously linked to strokes in dogs. I discontinue the Proin immediately, over my vet's advice, and buy her some dog diapers. (She has no tail, so it's a bit of a challenge making them stay up at first.) I remember 2004/05, her pain and my hesitance to act, and the needles flick, flick.
It is early 2010. I take Merry to the vet to have her teeth cleaned. When I come to pick her up, I'm alarmed to notice her head is badly swollen - her gums so much that she can't close her mouth, the flesh around her eyes so much that she can barely open them. I ask the nurse, who is surprised and brings the doctor. He says it's a histamine reaction, and looks worse than it is. He gives her a shot of antihistamine and some water to drink, and says she'll be all right in a while. I ask to stay with her. He puts us in a consulting room. Merry rests in the floor as I stroke her, whisper to her, and encourage her to drink when she wants. Then a dog walks by outside the closed door and growls. Merry is on her feet and between me and the door, still as stone save her labored breathing. I try to get her to sit or lay back down and rest. She won't. She doesn't resist me, but always moves back between me and the door. She couldn't fight anything in this state, but she is clearly ready to fight - to defend me - when she all too obviously needs my protection more than I need hers. Finally, I convince her to rest again, but I will remember this day. I will remember this powerful, selfless devotion with deep, deep shame.
It is early 2010. My father dies. Merry and my fiancee are my anchors. Merry is beginning to clearly show age, but her love is, as ever, undimmed.
It is 2010. I marry my fiancee. The seasons are turning, and my heart hurts as I realize that Merry's seasons are turning as well. Love can be forever. Bodies, not so much. I learn about those needles. They harrow my spirit whenever I recall how I could have been a better father to Merry and Lora. Should have been. Should have damn well been. There is much to recall. Much to regret. I still make sure to spend time with them every day and every night. I bid them farewell every day on the way to work, dog training advice be damned.
It is 2011. I have been through several job changes in the last few years, sometimes coming home quite blasted. Through all this, Merry has been supportive. There's a saying that no therapist in the world is as good as a puppy (or dog) licking your face. Never doubt this is true.
It is 2012. Merry, Lora and I still play nightly. Merry's hips are visibly sore (I have her on food, treats and supplements with Glucosamine and Chondroitin, but she is still clearly in pain). She is slower, and her lovely black muzzle has a great deal of white. Yet never does she wane in her affection, her desire to be close to me, to express that infinite love and gratitude. (I wonder, not for the first time, how the hell I deserve it.)
It is late 2012. As sometimes happens around seasonal changes, Merry develops bad allergies - she bites and scratches frequently, and her throat is sore. The vet prescribes steroids - these always make her want to drink and pee more. She really seems affected this time, whining to go out frequently. At first, my wife and I think she's just trying to get attention. (Flick, flick.) Since Merry has been in diapers, I've always come home for lunch during the day so she can pee outside rather than having to hold it or wear a wet diaper all day. One day there is vomit on the floor, and dark red urine with terrifying bright red clots of blood in several places. I call in to work and take her to the vet. They readily diagnose a bladder infection and give her Baytril (antibiotic) and Torbutrol (narcotic). The Baytril seems to help her - her urinary symptoms improve for the first two days - but shortly thereafter, the Torbutrol seems to almost kill her. She can't eat or drink much (if at all) and has so little energy she cannot lift her head unless very aroused. It's terrifying. For a day, it's so bad that we seem to be losing her as we watch. My wife stays with her (I am torn apart that I can't), and despite not being nearly as close to the dogs as I am, is moved by Merry's plight. I discontinue the Torbutrol, and she seems to recover... but she is still clearly in pain when urinating, and has to go far too often. (This was three weeks ago.)
It is two weeks ago. I take Merry to a veterinary specialist clinic; they perform a simple ultrasound and x-rays of her abdomen. They tell me her bladder wall looks thickened, but this may just be inflammation, and there do not appear to be stones or crystals in her bladder. I set another test for a deeper ultrasound to explore further, as the problem is not going away and my little girl is in pain.
It is Friday, November 30th 2012. I am sitting in the specialist's treatment room stroking my little girl, hearing words no parent ever wants to hear. Deeply concerned. Unidentified mass. Infiltration of other tissues. Possible metastasis. (I am weeping, weeping.) And yet, the specialist tells me, this may not actually be cancer; it may be a long-term inflammatory process which has thickened the bladder wall over time. X-rays of the lungs and lower back look good (no evidence of metastatic disease). Bloodwork looks good for a dog her age (mild electrolyte imbalance, possible explicable by the increased urination, and mild liver enzyme imbalance, probably not related to any cancerous process). So the first look is frightening, but the jury is not yet in. More tests are required, involving general anesthesia and biopsy.
And my little girl is tired. So tired. I don't need to speak her language to see and understand that.
It is the end of 2012. I have had ten wonderful, loving years with my little girl. I have some hope that this is a treatable inflammatory process, that antibiotics and immune support can mediate, but I fear this is hopeful folly.
Still, I want to go forward with the tests. I want to know if there is a way to help her through this, give her (perhaps) a beautiful Indian summer of perhaps another year or even two or three. If there is any chance I can give for good quality of life, I will give it. Money is irrelevant. I owe her that and far more. And if her future will be a descent into crushing pain and slow death, I owe her a graceful, dignified death instead, with me holding her and whispering to her as it happens.
The needles flick, flick, and memories flicker, flicker.
It is 2002. Merry is a tiny, beautiful ball of fluff with puppy breath.
It is 2003. Merry is a beautiful, coltish young dog with breathtaking speed and agility.
It is 2004. Merry is in pain, and I should do something.
It is 2005. Merry is teaching me what love means.
It is 2006. Merry is a strong, vibrant adult dog. She tells me I am hers, and she mine.
It is 2007. Merry is one of my most valuable anchors in emotional crisis. She gives and does not take.
It is 2008. Merry is nurturing love, endless love, boundless love. No matter what.
It is 2009. Merry sees a new female come into my life and is not jealous, but happy for me. She approves that I have (human) companionship again.
It is 2010. Merry is strong, but her health is declining. I am learning what pain and humility means, knowing I could have prevented at least some of this.
It is 2011. Merry is still active, still dignified, still winning hearts whenever she meets people. Still infinitely loving, infinitely grateful.
It is 2012. Merry is fighting her hardest battle yet.
It is 2012. Merry lies on the couch as I stroke her, croon to her, and type this diary when I can stop crying.
It is 2012...
It is 2012 and I think my daughter is dying. I know my grief is selfish (and possibly - hopefully - even premature), but it is very, very real.
That, readers, is my fucking problem.
Thank you for reading.
Readers: The above was written on Saturday, December 1st. A scheduling conflict prevented the diary from being published at that time. What little new news there is follows.
On Thursday, December 6th, Merry went back to the veterinary specialist clinic for a tissue biopsy of the masses in her bladder. I let the anesthesiologist know about her prior bad experience during the teeth cleaning in 2010; they gave her a little pretreatment to prevent recurrence. Thursday was not an easy day for me, as full general anesthesia has risks even at the best of times.
However, while the diagnosis is still inconclusive, one thing that Thursday made clear is that Merry is still quite strong. The doctor stressed that she tolerated both the anesthesia and the procedure itself very well (to be fair, she may have been reassuring an overprotective and somewhat neurotic parent). When I came to pick her up Thursday night, despite clearly being heavily affected by the anesthesia, she was very excited to see me. I took Friday off work to spend with her while she recovered. Two days out from the biopsy, she seems basically back to normal - even her bladder control is still improving, as she hasn't wet a diaper since the procedure.
The clinical news was not conclusively negative, but neither was it clearly positive. Two tests - urine pathology and endoscopic visualization of the bladder wall - have now failed to conclusively define the disease process Merry is facing. This is good, in that neither test clearly showed metastatic cancer; however, it hasn't been ruled out, either. Several rounded, broad-based masses were observed within Merry's bladder, as well as severe irritation of the bladder wall. The position and appearance of these masses is not typical for transitional cell carcinoma, the most common cancerous disease process in canine bladder cancer. The biopsy also involved taking several tissue samples of the masses for histopathology and bacterial culture. (If this is a polypoid cystitis, there is certainly infectious involvement, thus the latter test.)
I have a notion of what the results will be. I think this is a long-term - unfortunately, potentially YEARS long - inflammation that has been recurring due to intermittent bladder infections. During the course of this illness, I learned that Merry has a recessed vulva; I had no idea what this was until this whole thing started. It usually makes the dog very prone to bladder infections, and to dermatitis around the vulva itself (the latter of which she has). So I think the bladder lesions started as cystitis, but given the length of time they may well have been there, they may have become neoplastic (or may be in the process of doing so). Older immune systems are prone to this issue with chronic inflammations. (Readers, forgive me if you knew all of this.) Dog lovers, please review this link for what appears to be very good holistic/homeopathic treatment for a recessed vulva. I am not sure I agree with the notion of letting the dog have her first heat before spaying; while I am sure the author is right and this can cause the recessed vulva to spontaneously correct, an unrequited heat is - if I'm correct - fairly rough on the little girl; also, I'm more certain that each passage through heat increases the dog's chance of developing breast cancer later in life. Perhaps one heat causes a non-significant risk-increase; I strongly encourage dog lovers to research this and get multiple opinions as to best treatment. Above all, if your little girl has a recessed vulva, get it diagnosed early. Merry has suffered for much of her life with this condition because I didn't get good information from my vet (regular vet, not the specialist clinic - now my former regular vet, as I won't be going back to them). Don't let your little girl suffer the way mine did.
Updated at @ 9:45 pm CST: Many, many thanks for the Reclist, folks. She says thanks too, with some pictures.