Category Archives: Introspective

Owen has crossed the Rainbow Bridge

Two weeks ago I helped Owen cross the Rainbow Bridge.  He suddenly developed peripheral vestibular syndrome and the world was spinning around him.  He lost his ability to walk, he stopped eating, he was disoriented, and while there was a chance he could recover, recovery would involve him being hospitalized to start, and a lot of rehabilitation.  With his other conditions (hip dysplasia, arthritis, degenerative myelopathy and Cushing’s) Owen’s vet felt very strongly that his quality of life would be diminished to the point that he would likely be suffering.   But more importantly when you tied all his issues together and looked at them, it seemed very likely there was a brain tumor causing them all.  I agreed it was time to say good-bye.  Below is the e-mail I sent to the group I volunteer with, the group that brought me Owen.

Meanwhile, I will continue to share Owen’s Bucket List – remembering him and all we have done together still makes me smile.


Words I always knew I would have to type someday, but it doesn’t make it easier.  Forgive the novel, but it is Owen’s story, and I just need to share it for those who didn’t know him, or us.
I still remember Owen at his first clinic.  He sat in the corner with David, Maria and Erica, so unresponsive and sick he went back into the van.  I told you all not to send him home with me then and there.  The next clinic he was with Bryan, so shut down you had to pet him a few times before he would notice.  That was the clinic I brought him home – that is completely David’s fault.  I stopped for a cheeseburger for him on the way home and he refused to eat it.  Granted, he refused to eat hamburgers for a while and the joke was that he heard he was a hamburger intake and wasn’t going to fall for it, because he knew what it meant.  It took him a year to learn to enjoy cheeseburgers.
Owen has been a fighter from the day I got him, and well before that.  How he managed to survive as a stray I have no idea, and don’t really want to know, but this dog continually amazed me with his independence, and heart.  I suspect he would have gone on fighting if I let him, but, I had to make a decision.  A long time ago I promised Owen I would not let him suffer, and he was suffering.  Owen came down with peripheral vestibular syndrome, and the likely cause was a tumor.  While there was a chance it was idiopathic and he could rebound, it would require hospitalization, and his balance would always be compromised, and with his other health issues it was likely life would be a struggle.  His life was already starting to be a struggle – he had been wanting to go on shorter walks, he wasn’t rolling over for his daily belly rub as easily, and he was panting more and more.  Plus, the vestibular syndrome was getting worse, not better, and that is not usual, and not a good sign.  Yesterday Owen didn’t want my help getting up even though the world was spinning, today, he let me help him.  That is not Owen.  Dr. DeVries initially had me come in to talk about treatment, but when he saw “Handsome,” he told me if this was his dog, he would not ask him to go through treatment, and I had to agree.  So today I told Owen he could stop fighting, because he wouldn’t have on his own.  He went to the bridge with his head resting in my hands.  As hard as it was, it felt right, and Dr. DeVries agreed, we’re both glad I gave it a few days to be sure.
Owen had major mobility issues from day one, hip dysplasia, arthritis, ACL issues and later degenerative myelopathy – on top of all his allergy and digestion stuff, and then the Cushing’s.  When his vet told me Owen had probably lived most of his life in pain and didn’t know life could be less painful, I broke down, and promised Owen that was going to change.  I always knew my time with Owen would be limited so I created a bucket list for him.  He and I did a lot together – he hiked many trails, got his CGC and touched a lot of hearts – as the neighbor told me last week, you can just look at him and know he is a good dog – he was.  He visited the kids I work with, he adored my Grandfather, and he was Aaron’s first dog (and he set a high standard).  And he taught me oh so much – I thanked him for all of that.  The only dog I’ve worked with that was returned from a placement for being too good.  But even when he was returned because the adopter felt she didn’t deserve him I fought the inevitable for a bit and didn’t accept what Owen knew from the start – we belonged together.
I am attaching some pictures, because it is me, and I have to.  The first is his picture from NYC.  One with his buddy Kate who we saw at the vet’s yesterday for his final visit, which I do not think was a cosmic coincidence, then two in the Adirondacks, one from my parents house a few months ago, and then one from just two weeks ago of him surveying his yard, along with a few of my favorite face shots.
Thank you for pulling him from NYC, even though I thought you were crazy at the time for bringing up one more emaciated senior shepherd.  He got his cheeseburger, but thankfully his life did not end there.  And , I kept my promise – he got lots and lots of belly rubs.

Cushings, and why I am letting it be.

At the end of the summer Owen was drinking a lot of water.  I let it go for a month, thinking it was hot out and he may just be thirsty, but I watched, and I worried.

I knew he was old, he has always been old.  I knew increased water intake could be many things, and none of them were good.  But I waited, hoping it would pass.  It did not pass, and he soon started peeing large amounts, large dilute amounts.  And he needed to pee more frequently.   Then I started to find “leaks.”  Little wet spots when he got up from his bed, or off the couch.  I knew we needed to see the vet and planned to call, but was better about getting him out before bed and first thing in the morning, put some waterproof pads under his bed, and the leaks stopped.  Then I came home one day and discovered his bed soaked through, and a very anxious Owen.  My boy had wet the bed.  I was worried, not because he had an accident, but because he had an accident while sleeping.  We went in to see the vet with urine sample in hand.

The urine sample came back inconclusive, it was too dilute to get any information.  So we did blood work, and waited, and then we had to go in for a follow-up appointment.  That is when I got news I did not want to hear.

Owen had increased liver levels, and increased cholesterol – two indicators of Cushings.  Now, I can pretend Owen had not been developing a pot belly, and I can pretend that his hair had not gotten a bit thinner, but, I cannot pretend the blood work was wrong.  I will admit I panicked, I knew the medications for Cushings were expensive, and had many side-effects.  And I knew the testing to confirm Cushings was not cheap.  And I knew Owen could only handle so many conditions before I had to accept it was time to let go.  I cried in the vet’s office, it was not the first time and it will not be the last.

I did not see my regular vet for this visit, he was out of town and a young, eager, and talented vet who I have a lot of respect for took care of me and Owen.  She listed all the tests, and the possible treatments, and sent me home.  She wanted to take it head on and was full of ideas.  I was overwhelmed, and not sure what to do.  In a move that never helps when one is overwhelmed, I went online and did a lot of research.  I looked into dog walkers, and supplements.  I checked my credit card balances and bank balances and tried to set limits on how much I could pursue.  And I waited for the call from Owen’s vet.

I have only known my vet for two years, but he knows me, he knows me well.  He knows I need answers, and I will do what needs to be done for my pets.  He asked me what I was thinking and I said I was worried about the side-effects of the medications.  And he told me he was to, and that he often left senior dogs untreated for Cushings.  I then asked about testing, and he told me he was not going to let me do it.  He did not think pursuing treatment for Owen was worthwhile, and that if we tested to confirm Cushings, it would not change our course of action.  We would still continue working on pain management and supportive care for Owen.  He knew it was not what I wanted to hear, I wanted to know the problem and fix it, but he also knew it was right for my dog.

So that is where we are.  I put Owen on a food with a lower amount of protein (Nutrisource Large Breed Grain Free Lamb), I am giving him Milk Thistle for his liver, and I am giving him a lot of love, because, I have to accept that our time together is limited.  His liver is still enlarged, but he is not peeing as much, or drinking as much water, so I will be grateful for small victories.  I could put him on a low-protein food designed for liver health, but if he does not like it, what is the point?  My vet told me that it would add a few days to our life together, and he would rather see Owen enjoy his meals.  I love my vet, I love Owen.

I do not love watching my dog grow old, but I do love trying to make each day count.


A Lucky Dog

I said good-bye to a good dog today.

About a year ago I met him after he lost his first owner, the man whose house he was born in, and whose house he lived in alone, waiting for a rescue group to take him.  That rescue group was us.

In that year I watched him overcome anxiety, I watched him adapt to change, I watched him live in several foster homes.  He played on the beach, he chased tennis balls, he made a lot of friends.  He battled cancer and crabs.  He protected us all from cars and bikes and announced his presence at clinics with a booming bark.  He was not the easiest dog to place, but he was a dog I will never forget.

Today I met him at the vets’ office.  I brought him a sausage biscuit from McDonald’s and an error in my own order provided him with bacon and eggs.  I think fate stepped in there.  I hugged him, I shook his paw which he offered in exchange for bits of bacon.  I told him he was the best boy and a wonderful dog.  I gave him lots of belly rubs and fed him lots of treats.  I laughed at his antics and told him he was too smart when he realized that barking led to more bacon, and I cried.

Through tears I stroked his fur and told him that soon he would be running like a puppy.  I told him he needed to go find his owner who was waiting for him.  I told him to look for the woman in the green volunteer shirt who would help him if he got lost.  I told him I was happy he had always had love, and I was sorry we did not have more to offer him.  And then he crossed the bridge, being hugged by the woman who loved him for the last three months, the woman who gave him his final home.  They were face to face, her hand on his heart.

And then I comforted her.  I told her I was grateful she gave him these wonderful final days, and that he left the world loved.  Not every dog has that.  He truly was a Lucky dog.

Sir Lucky
1999 to 2012

Rescue can break your heart

When people think about dog rescue they think about finding homes for dogs without them.  It is happy and rewarding and wonderful.  But there is another side.

Sometimes rescue is looking at a 12 year old dog who is becoming unpredictably aggressive.  A year ago he was sweet, the best boy in the world and completely trustworthy, and now he is attacking people in his home.  Most of the time he is the same old boy, but then something happens and he is not the same dog, but why?  Is he ill?  Is his thyroid malfunctioning?  Is his mind wandering?  Is there something we can do or is it time to send him over the Rainbow Bridge and reunite him with the owner who has already passed.

Sometimes rescue is looking at a 2 year old purebred German Shepherd who is everything a German Shepherd should be: smart, loyal, sweet, eager to please and happy.  But who has been taught that her job is to protect her home.  She is a wonderful dog who cannot be trusted with people coming in and out of the home – but could she be taught a new behavior?  Could she learn to trust people?  To welcome visitors?  Or will she always be a danger?  Can we invest the time, the energy, the love, the tears to give her a chance?  And what if after all that she hurts someone?

Sometimes I want to be an outsider again and think dog rescue is all about finding homes for dogs without them.

Craving Peace

Very much missing the Adirondacks this morning, walking the dog I just felt awkward holding the leash.  Owen and I were both wishing it was not necessary.   I promised him we will be there soon.

Needing Magic . . .

I work with adolescents, and sometimes adolescents do not make the right decisions.  This can be hard to handle, especially when you know that they know better.  But every day when I go into work I have to accept that I cannot control their lives, that I cannot keep them safe, and that I cannot erase, redo or fix the decisions they make.

Monday was one of those days where I was faced with eight bad decisions when I walked through the doors, the type of decisions that mean you may have to leave the program that is trying to help you.  While adrenaline got me through that day, and the next – today I needed something more.  So when I found five four leaf clovers this morning I knew  I was in for a rough day at work, and someone was building me up to get through the day.

A reminder.

I made it through, barely.  I said some good-byes, I said some words of wisdom.  I laughed, I cried, and I did not hide my emotions.  I can only hope that they learn to want what they need, not want what they want.

When things get bad I redirect my energy to focus on the good – so since I could not save kids I started saving dogs, a lot of dogs.

After a quiet few months on the surrender front I got five applications in five hours.  Oddly enough the same amount of dogs as the amount of kids who may find themselves leaving.  I made calls, I made referrals, I asked people for help and I listened to sob stories.  A young woman who was just evicted and walking the streets with her pit bull.  A couple who got a dog from CraigsList which played too rough with their child.  A woman moving in a week who did not bother to find a place for her pit bull until now.  A family dealing with cancer who could no longer care for their young pure bred.  And a woman whose senior dog was not handling living with a young child and bit them.  All these people got a call, all these people were given advice.  Not all these people got the help or the answers they wanted but they were given honesty and support.

The fact of the matter is I cannot find a place for a dog aggressive dog in five days.  I do not have a place for you to bring your dog for the night, and I cannot meet your dog to evaluate it for over a week, and even then I do not have a foster home as soon as you need it.  I need time.  But I can find someone to explain that shelters are not evil and will give the dog a shot.  For more I need time.

I cannot be optimistic about finding a home for a 13 year old dog who is not good with other dogs, strangers or cats and who snapped at a child, but I will try if you give me time.  The mother of young children who has cancer is giving me time, she may not have a lot of time but she is giving it to the dog, and to me, and I will help find a home for their dog.  And to the couple with the dog from CraigsList who I have not gotten a hold of, if you give me time I will give them time, and I will advise you on how to keep your child safe in the meantime.  By the way, allowing your child to apply make-up to the dog that snapped at them the day before is not safe.

So I am not five for five, but I am trying.

Ike and Daisy

But I’m trying my hardest for Daisy and Ike, a pair of seniors who need a home.  They do not need a home because of something they did.  Daisy and Ike have done nothing but be good dogs, and love their family, love the kids, love each other.  They are victims of the economy, and they are in their golden years and should be able to enjoy them together surrounded by peace, and love.  They made the right decisions, and so for them I will fight doubly hard.  And I will fight for their owners, who even though they did not contact us sooner because they thought no rescue would take dogs who were twelve and ten, did contact us, and did jump through hoops to make things happen, and who are working with us, grateful for any help we can give.  And I will fight for their owners because should there be no options they will not abandon their dogs, they will be with them at the end and send them to the Rainbow Bridge with love rather then leave them in a shelter with fear.  And it will break their hearts.  That is brave, and wonderful, and horrible and sad – but because they are willing to do that I will fight for that family, and for Daisy and Ike.

Making Magic . . .

I am superstitious, I will admit it. Friday, after a horrible day at work, I found a four-leaf clover, Saturday I found another. I took this as a sign of good luck, a sign that things were going to turn around. I was hopeful, I remain hopeful. I even found a lucky penny from the year I was born walking into work, heads up and everything – signs were being sent my way.

But being superstitious I believe in the power of threes. So two four-leaf clovers were good, but three would be magical. I wanted that third, I wanted the magic.

Ella wanted to eat the magic.

So walking the dog this morning I was thinking what do I want – what do I want to put the good mojo towards? What are the signs saying? Would I get a raise? A new job? Would that dog I fought for find his forever home today? Maybe that was it, I wanted that dog placed and safe. I send the mojo in that direction and continue on my walk thinking things were looking up. And then I found the third – magic!

As I walk towards home, Owen oblivious to the power in my hand, I start to think of who was looking out for me. I lost a good friend less then a year ago and I have been thinking of her lately, and I could not help but think maybe she was saying hi, sending me a pep talk through clover. And as I thought about my friend I started to miss her, and I started to cry. And wouldn’t you know a gust of wind came up and blew that clover out of my hand. I was shocked and I was pissed. I started searching for my magic, my guarantee of good things. I did not find it and I could not be any later for work then I already was, so I continued home questioning what this symbolized for my luck, for my changes.

And then I started to laugh. My friend had a wicked sense of humor, but she also did not like anyone to feel sorry for themselves. She was all about empowering you and taking control of your fate. She would not have wanted me crying over her and I started to see that gust of wind as a smack to the head telling me to snap out of it and to stop relying on weeds to change my life. And I laughed at the thought of her watching me look for that clover and how mad I was, and how being mad took away my sadness. And thinking of this dog who always did things his own way I had to admit it would be fitting for his luck to run away. I looked up and told her I got the message, and I miss her, but I would stop the crying.

And then I found another four leaf clover. Magic.