Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Sweet Dreams, Sweet Girl

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our sweet, twelve-year-old Golden Retriever, Bella. I know it hasn't even been 24 hours yet, but I can't get my head around it. She was my mother's dog until she was about five-ears-old when we took her. Our kids wanted a dog and because we knew how good Bella was with children, my mother suggested we take her for a trial run to see if we were ready for a dog. She was with us ever since.

Bella-Wella, Sweet Girl
Back in October I noticed she was struggling to get up and appeared to have a lump on her back right hip. She also had a lot of cloudiness in one of her eyes, and a lump on the left side of her neck. I took her in to be checked out and it was determined that she had degenerative arthritis in her left hip/leg, a fat lump on her neck, and we weren't sure what was wrong with her eye. Armed with joint supplements, anti-inflammatory pills and eye drops we took her home.

Within a couple of days she was walking easier and playing with our other dog, Dixie, again. It was as though a breath of new life had been blown over her. We took her back for her checkup and all celebrated that the course of treatment was working for her hip. (The lump on her hip was determined to be a benign tumor.) Her eye didn't seem to be any better, but she also seemed to be able to see out of it and she wasn't favoring it, so it didn't seem to be hurting her. We changed drops and scheduled another recheck for a couple weeks later.

During that second recheck one of the vet technicians commented on the lump on Bella's neck when she touched it saying "it's so squishy. Just makes me want to pop it." I had noticed that it seemed to be filling with some sort of fluid but was assured that it was harmless and that a dog of her age often got weird lumps and bumps that didn't hinder their lives in any way.

Bella-Wella modeling one of the kid's old t-shirts.
Being a long-haired dog, it wasn't that noticeable unless you touched it. Over the Christmas holidays it started to grow and got so large so suddenly, her fur didn't cover it anymore. Then one day it ruptured and left a trail of old, brown blood all through the house. I was simultaneously amazed and grossed out by all the fluid that came out of it. When we took her to the vet that Monday, he mentioned the possibility of removing it, but also offered the option of an antibiotic first, to see if we could spare her the trauma of a surgery at her age.

After a few days on the medication it was getting worse and by Friday evening she had a fever. Infection was setting in. The next morning I took her back to the vet and he said we would have to remove it, so we scheduled the surgery for Monday morning, Martin Luther King Day. We were told to keep her on the meds and to cover it with a t-shirt to stop her from aggravating it.

Sunday evening we let her outside and she rolled around on it and tore it open about an inch long and an inch deep. Hubs wouldn't let me near it and he extracted a huge amount of puss from it. He cleaned it and put a trauma pad over it, help in place with a large ace bandage. 

The next morning I took her in for the surgery. Everything went smoothly with the surgery and I was able to pick her up that evening at about 5:15 pm. The vet had warned me about the size of the incision, but I wasn't truly prepared. It looked as though she had a head transplant. I was shocked!

Bella-Wella, the day of her surgery.
By Wednesday Bella was having trouble getting up and walking and the incision appeared to be getting infected, even though she was still on antibiotics. We took her in to see the vet on Thursday and they cleaned up the incision, told us to keep her on the antibiotics and anti-inflammatory meds and to keep them posted. On Friday morning my mother went to check on her while hubs and I were at work. The incision looked worse and at this point she couldn't walk at all. She took photos and went to the vet and he told her to bring Bella in and they would try to figure out what was going on.

When we went to pick her up that evening, she had been on IV fluids all day. They prescribed her a stronger antibiotic, told us to stop the anti-inflammatory and put her on a steroid. Basically, they had no idea why her back legs weren't working and were hoping that there was some inflammation somewhere that would be corrected with the steroids. We had to help her walk by using a towel as a sling to lift up her back end.

Over the next four days we helped her go to the bathroom, rolled her over from side-to-side and exercised her legs, all the while praying for a miracle. By day two, I knew the steroids weren't going to work. We were still waiting for the lab results from the mass they had removed.

Tuesday afternoon we finally got the news that the mass was cancerous. While it was considered "low grade" the reality was that it would most likely pop up again, either in the same spot or somewhere else. The fact was we didn't know if it wasn't already somewhere else. She could have already been riddled with it. 

Early that evening we were outside watching the kids play and letting Bella get some fresh air in the backyard when she started vomiting. That's when we knew we couldn't let her keep going in the condition she was in. We called the vet, who luckily was still there, and they said we could bring her in right away if we wanted to.

If we wanted to.

Of course we didn't want, to, but we had to. I wanted to be there with her but had to stay home with the kids. The older kids were devastated and I couldn't leave them like that. I didn't want her to be alone and hubs promised he would stay with her until it was over. 

Bella Wella in the car before hubs took her to
the vet for the last time.
Having the ability to put our animal family members out of their pain and suffering is a luxury not afforded to us when it comes to our human family. Making that decision is one of the single most difficult decisions I have ever had to make. My selfishness made me want to keep Bella here with us so I could love on her and give her treats and not have to endure the heartbreak I am feeling now.

But my compassion and love for Bella is what made me finally say enough is enough. We had the power to end her suffering before it got any worse. The wound is still too raw to say that I get comfort from knowing she is no longer in pain, but I know that day will come. I hope that day will come.

Until then, I will cry and grieve and feel mad at the vet for not catching it earlier, and at myself for not questioning everything more than I did. I will focus all my love for her and add it to the love I have for our other dog, Dixie. I will learn from this and do things differently, should I ever find myself in a similar situation.

To Bella I say this:

You were such a sweet, special puppy. You touched our lives in ways you will never know, and ways we didn't realize until it was too late. You will forever hold a place in our hearts as our first family dog. You will never be forgotten. I hope that wherever you are now, you are no longer in pain and you are running around just like that optimistic, energetic, ever hopeful puppy you always were. Sweet dreams, sweet girl.

Me and Bella Wella.

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