November 3rd was the 1 year anniversary of the death of our boy Rusty.
As I write this I have a sinking feeling inside and I’m wiping away the tears. I want my readers to truly understand the importance of paying attention to your pet’s body. Regularly touch and look at them head to toe (at the very least once a week) so anything out of the norm can be caught ASAP.
In Rusty’s case, on Oct 19, 2013 I discovered a large hard lump on the right side of his face in front of his ear (moments later the photo below was taken). Rusty was a very social and affectionate boy. He loved to be in your face! He’d kiss you, look deep into your eyes, and silently beg for you to touch him. This large lump was not there for days or weeks going unnoticed. I would have felt and saw this just a couple days earlier when giving Rusty his bath had it been present.
That afternoon Rusty wanted to play fetch but appeared to be in pain when opening his mouth to hold the toy. Fortunately he was able to eat his dinner since I had The Honest Kitchen Force formula dog food on hand. I was able to make it extra soupy so he didn’t have to chew. The dogs would occasionally get THK dog food as a special treat because it costs a good amount more than their regular food. Both dogs thought THK was the GREATEST food on earth so I knew that if Rusty wasn’t eating it then there was a SERIOUS problem.
The next day (Oct. 20) we saw our vet. We went home with pain meds and a little hope that regularly putting a warm compress on the lump would decrease the swelling. Maybe, just maybe, Rusty hit his head while we were out to breakfast and the lump was the result.
I spent a lot of time holding a warm compress on that lump with one hand and gently petting him with the other. Rusty would fall asleep during this process. Deep down I knew this wasn’t going to end well. I wanted so badly to be wrong and I would do everything in my power to make him better and pain free.
My sole focus was Rusty’s well being while still making sure the other animals were being cared for. I will forever be thankful to Marley for being SO patient, calm and understanding during this difficult time. She could have made this experience very difficult but didn’t. I was spending hours a day with a warm compress on Rusty’s lump. Finally on Oct 23, shortly after midnight, the lump began to shrink. That morning, shown in the picture below, the lump was barely noticeable.
We were a bit more optimistic at this point. I was still taking photos of Rusty’s lump every few hours to document any changes, good or bad. Later that afternoon my husband was going to pick up stronger pain meds for Rusty at our vet but first we decided to take the dogs on a short leisurely walk. During the walk something caught my eye. Rusty’s mouth was open as he adoringly looked up at my husband (the love of his life) and I saw deep red on his gums. I immediately got the dogs inside and with my husband’s help I took a couple photos to show our vet ASAP.
My husband downloaded the photos to a USB drive and drove to the vet right away. I anxiously waited to hear what the vet had to say about this latest development. All I could do was wait. My husband came home devastated and wept deeply. The vet told him that she suspected Rusty had a Hemangiosarcoma and had maybe a couple weeks to months left. There was a good chance that the mass could rupture and he could possibly bleed to death. After doing research and thinking about what was in Rusty’s best interest, we decided to do pain management only and evaluate his quality of life every day.
I wanted to make the most out of the time Rusty had left so he got to do whatever he wanted. I tried to think of the things that brought him joy. Playing fetch was out of the question (even on pain meds he couldn’t use his mouth much) and so was chewing on compressed rawhide bones. Besides being with Daddy, car rides were the next best thing!
We spent a lot of time in the car taking quiet roads going REALLY slow so Rusty could hang his head out the window to sniff EVERYTHING. One day we picked up Daddy from work and went to the park we used to visit all the time (it was next to our old apartment). As you can see in the picture below, the lump came back by Oct 25 despite the regular use of a warm compress.
We went to Hagg Lake almost every day, and a few times got out of the car for a little stroll.
Rusty was on very strong pain medication which was 2 pills given every 8 hrs. By Oct. 30, the meds were 1 pill every 4 hrs. This way he wouldn’t be painful at the end of the 8 hrs. This appeared to be working for him. He was happy on car rides, thrilled when Daddy was home with him, and was eating his THK food. He also would still look up at me with the same happy expression and stare into my eyes.
On the evening of Nov 2nd Rusty was a little hesitant to take his pills, then 4 hrs later he acted scared of me when I approached to give him his medication. I “slept” on the couch with him to keep a watch on him, and thankfully he got some good sleep. When my alarm went off it was time for Rusty’s breakfast. When medicine time coincided with meal time, I put his pills in his food for him to take. On the morning of Nov 3rd Rusty wouldn’t eat. I woke my husband up and he got Rusty to take his medication. We got Rusty on our bed and he was shaking, most likely from pain. Once the medicine kicked in, Rusty finally ate his breakfast. Shortly after we evaluated his quality of life and decided it was time for Rusty’s last car ride. I gathered the other animals so they could visit Rusty one last time before we left for the vet.
I never knew I could feel so much pain and loss from ending an animal’s life. Rusty was such a wonderful boy who was full of life, love and piss.. He left a huge hole in our hearts and home. The house is quieter and emptier without him.
In honor of Rusty and the foster home who helped us find the right dog, we decided to become a foster home for Golden Retrievers. I’m reminded that when life with a foster dog gets bumpy, just think that someone did the same thing for Rusty.
I miss you Pee-Paw!
This website has some good information about Hemangiosarcomas.