Friday, February 17, 2012

Bringing Butchie Home

A call from the vet's office lets me know that Butch's remains have been returned to them by the crematorium. I want to go get him immediately, but the tears begin to flow, and so I wait. I wait several hours, until I'm relatively sure I can remain composed, and then I go. In less than twenty minutes, he is home with me again. His essence lives on in my heart and my memory, but all that's left of his physical self is contained in one small, simple, cherrywood box, exactly like the one that now holds Kadi. The cycle is complete, and it gives me peace. Butch is home. Nothing else can harm him.

(Partial reprint of a post first published at Velvet Sacks on February 17, 2012.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Going for the Gusto

I'm recording the following story here both to share it with you and to make sure it's written down so I'll never forget it.

As Kim and I sat with Butch in the vet's office yesterday, knowing those moments with him would be our last, he did one thing so typical of him, one fleeting, triumphant action that made me want to stand up, raise my hands in the air, and sing the theme song from the first "Rocky" movie.

Euthanasia is a two-part process. First, the doctor gives the animal an injection of a sedative meant to calm its fears and put it into a state of semi-consciousness in which it is supposedly able to hear what its family members are saying and feel their love. Later, when the family is ready, the drug that ends life peacefully is administered through an IV apparatus.

Before the first injection was administered, Butch was lying on a soft blanket on the floor. He was on his stomach, propped up on his elbows with his head between his paws. The  doctor gave him the sedative and quickly popped one treat in his mouth and a second one right in front of his nose. He spat out the first one and ignored them both. The doctor left us alone with him to say our goodbyes, telling us she'd check on him again in about five minutes.

Butch's breathing relaxed immediately after receiving that shot, but he didn't immediately lose consciousness. As we sat and stroked him, telling him what a good boy he was and how much we loved him--all the things we felt deeply and thought might be reassuring to him--we could tell by the occasional twitch of an ear or a paw that he was still with us. In fact, after nearly five minutes' worth of such twitches, we became concerned that the sedative wasn't going to work. Suddenly, in a motion so quick it startled us, Butch raised his head and stretched his neck, grabbed both treats and gulped them down, then promptly dropped his head and fell over onto his side.

He was out, but by golly he didn't leave anything undone. I loved that big heart of his.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on February 10, 2012.)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

And God Gets One More Furry Angel

At approximately 8:15 this morning we said goodbye to our beloved Butch. My heart aches to know that I can no longer reach out and touch his soft fur, but I feel a sense of relief that his beautiful spirit has been released from his tired body.

Butch's condition deteriorated rapidly in the hours following yesterday's post. By late afternoon he could no longer get up without assistance. When we helped him up, his back legs didn't work properly and sometimes his feet landed on the tops of his paws instead of on the pads. He fell a few times. Last night he could not get comfortable and slept no more than an hour and a half all night long. His breathing was distressed, but he didn't cry, and I am hoping that means he wasn't in a lot of pain.

By dawn today he was disoriented. I've posted before about not wanting to put him through the trauma of a car ride on what might be his last trip to the vet, but this morning we needed to get him there fast. As I sat beside him in the backseat of the car, he did not seem to be stressed, and I can say in all honesty that I don't think he even realized where he was.

For months I have dreaded having to make the decision to end Butch's life. This morning that decision was an easy one. This time, I knew, Butch's brave spirit wasn't going to pull him through.

I know that some of you have grown to love Butch after getting to know him on these pages, so I will offer condolences to you and know that you understand the magnitude of my own loss. Wherever Butch's spirit is as I write these words, I hope he can run fast and see for miles and miles and miles.

Butchifer Patrick
March 19, 1998 - February 9, 2012

(First published at Velvet Sacks on February 9, 2012.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Old Man

Butch is sleeping. Finally. He had a hard night last night, waking me up and asking to go outside no fewer than four times between bedtime and dawn. Yes, it was a hard night for me, too.

His legs seem stiffer than usual today, but not as stiff as I've seen them on his worst days. I think the unusually warm temperatures we've had have given him some relief and that his arthritis has flared up because the weather has turned colder in the last day or two. He's been panting all morning, too. I just gave him some food, a small, extra meal he doesn't normally have at this time of the day, and that seems to have done the trick. He has passed out and is breathing quietly now.

The melanoma tumor I can see in the roof of his mouth continues to grow. He has begun to sneeze frequently and to blow air out through his nose as if he's trying to clear it. That makes me think the tumor is enlarging in the other direction, as well, into his sinus area, although he doesn't seem to have any difficulty breathing. (As I said above, I think the panting today was caused by arthritic pain, and he isn't panting while he sleeps.)

Butch's appetite is strong. He gets excited about suppertime and eats his puréed meals and soft treats enthusiastically. He's eating every bit as much as he did before we discovered the tumor. Last night, not long after I had fed him and Levi, I discovered Butch  standing next to the kitchen garbage can, the lid knocked off on the floor beside it. I'd put the carcass of a rotisserie chicken in there earlier. I think his arthritic joints are all that prevented him from standing up tall enough to reach that chicken. Since his time with us is short, I'd like to indulge him with as much food as he seems to want, but I know the extra weight would put strain on those already painful joints.

He is friendly, outgoing, and social, the way he was for most of his life until the dark, whiny  period that started near the end of 2010 and lasted all the way into this past summer. He still asks to go outside multiple times in a row in hopes of scoring a treat each time he comes back in (a reward I should never have started). Sometimes he doesn't even bother with the pretense,  just steps out, turns around, and scratches to come back in. And, sadly, sometimes he waits too long to ask to go outside and doesn't quite make it to the door.

His nap is already over. And he's panting again. I'll go now and offer him long strokes and scritches. He's had all the food and medicine he can have until tonight, and I can't think of anything else to do for him right now but show him I love him.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on February 8, 2012.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

One Tough Cookie

It's been a hard week.

I took this photo of Butch on Thursday, thinking it might be his last one. I am overjoyed to tell you it won't be.

The tumors on Butch's gums that I wrote about here and here continued to grow, and about 10 days ago they began to bleed. A lot. The vet had told me Butch might chew off the tumors if they grew long enough to catch between his teeth, but I had expected that to be a one-time event. I did not expect the bleeding to be a continual occurrence.

I was laundering his bedding (and mine that he touched and imprinted with his muzzle) once or twice a day, continually cleaning blood droplets and saucer-sized bloody drool stains from the carpet (hats off to Stainmaster® for performing as advertised), and washing Butch himself several times daily because he frequently wiped his mouth on his forelegs. Because of his blindness, Butch navigates through the house by touching his muzzle against familiar landmarks, such as walls and furniture.  With his bleeding mouth, he had become a walking ink stamp.

The only good news during that time was that those tumors must have contained no nerves, because Butch appeared to be feeling fine. He was enthusiastic about meals and snacks (his that he ate and mine that he begged for) and went about his business--as much business as a nearly 14-year-old dog can manage--in good spirits.

In fact, he seemed to be feeling well enough that I thought he wouldn't fall apart during a short car ride, so on Thursday I enlisted Kim's help in getting him in the car so the vet could take a firsthand look at what was going on with his mouth. She found more than we had expected. In addition to the tumors on his gums, there was a large, black mass on the roof of his mouth. The vet suspected melanoma.

We discussed options.

Doing nothing was not an option because Butch's continual bleeding was weighing more heavily on me than I like to admit. I've cleaned up my share of urine, feces, and vomit in the years I've owned dogs, and even some blood on more than one occasion, but this constant dripping from a roving source was beginning to feel like Chinese water torture. As much as I love Butch, I was starting to find the situation intolerable. I'm being as honest as I can here, even though I'm ashamed of those feelings and believe that Butch deserves better than that from me.

A second option was surgery to remove as much of the tumors as possible and cauterize the remaining blood vessels to stem the bleeding. I didn't think Butch was a good candidate for surgery. He's so old now, and he has a history of problems with anesthesia. Would it be fair to him to put him through the pain of another surgery this close to the end of his natural life span?

That brings us to the third option: euthanasia. A number of people told me after Butch's eye-removal surgery in 2005 that it would have been kinder to "put him to sleep," but he's had six and a half pretty good years since then, so I've never regretted that choice. At the age he is now, it's a different story, and I gave it serious consideration. My daughter Kelli summed up my ambivalence about this option when she said I was struggling with this decision because I wanted to be sure I was doing it for the right reasons and not as a matter of convenience. That was exactly it. And the truth was that all that bleeding was bothering me; Butch didn't seem to be the least bit concerned about it.

The vet assured me that the surgery would be fast and easy. It would quell most, if not all, of the bleeding. I asked about cost, and she quoted a price that was exceptionally fair and reasonable. She couldn't, of course, guarantee that Butch would survive the surgery, but she laid out her plan to give him the best chance possible.

The next day, Friday, we gave him that chance. I dropped him off tearfully, knowing the odds were against him.

The vet called after the surgery to tell me that Butch was awake, sitting up, and was trying, not successfully yet, to wag his tail. They had removed the epulis (tumors on his gums), which had also involved removing two teeth. That was the good news. The bad news, she told me, was that the mass in his palate was melanoma, and they couldn't get it all. She said the melanoma was quite invasive and there is a danger that it will grow into his sinus cavities. "That," she said, "will be it." She estimated that Butch might live as long as three to six months, though his time could be shorter than that. She said to give him a week to recover from the surgery; after that, we should have a better idea of the quality of life he'll have for the remainder of his days. If Butch does well, there are inexpensive medications that have been shown to slow the growth of melanoma, and they should also keep Butch comfortable. On the other hand, if Butch seems to be suffering at the end of the week, we can stop it then. She said they'd keep Butch under observation for a few more hours, then I could pick him up and bring him home.

I couldn't believe how good Butch looked. He seemed strong and tugged at his leash, ready to get out of there.  He came home without much fanfare except for enthusiastic greetings and all-over sniffs from Levi, Lucy, and Oliver, then made his way to the backdoor to go outside and relieve himself. By the time he came back in the house, he had reoriented himself, knew exactly where he was (well, as exactly as he ever knows), and began nosing around in the kitchen. It was suppertime by then, and he was obviously hungry.

Butch's first few post-surgery meals were limited to chicken broth and small amounts of rice. He ate every bite and was clearly unhappy about the meager quantity, so as soon as we knew for sure that one meal had settled nicely in his stomach, we fed him again. He cried a little that first night, but I was never sure whether he cried from pain or from hunger. His mouth bled a little that first night, too, but not nearly as much as it did before. I was encouraged.

By yesterday Butch showed no signs of pain and could eat a full quota of his new regular diet. He will never again in his lifetime be able to eat anything of a harder consistency than oatmeal. The tumor in his palate is fragile, and any slight pressure on it will cause it to bleed. That means the spoon-feeding has to stop, because the hard metal edges of the spoon can cause damage. Fortunately, Butch has been hungry enough that he hasn't hesitated to push his muzzle into the bowl and gobble for all he's worth.

Butch is what he can never have again: one tough cookie.

Today he is eating well, sleeping well, showing affection, and asking to go outside when he needs to. When he comes back in the house, he waits patiently for a treat, and he doesn't seem to mind that the treat is soupy or soggy. The bleeding hasn't yet stopped entirely (a certain amount is to be expected after oral surgery), but it has diminished to manageable, non-repulsive proportions. A short time ago, as he slept, I pulled out a tube of braunschweiger (liver sausage), which is what I'm using as both a disguise and a soft coating for his pills. As soon as I opened the wrapper, I heard his toenails hit the floor, and in seconds he was standing beside me, sniffing expectantly. If he's doing this well two days post-surgery, I think there are more good days than bad ones in his future.

As my daughter Kim pointed out to me, the prognosis of a three-to-six-month life expectancy for a dog Butch's age, especially if those months are likely to be comfortable ones, is not too bad.

(First published at Velvet Sacks on January 15, 2012.)