Friday, July 27, 2012

Settling in Nicely

Annie and Molly have been in New Jersey for almost 48 hours now, and they are settling in nicely. Here is a shot of their first meeting with their big sister/doggie mama, Emma.

Emma, Annie, Molly
Emma isn't sure if they are cats or rabbits or what, but she knows they can't possibly be dogs...

Emma and Annie
Here she is saying "What is this thing, and why is it sniffing my butt?"

Emma is pretty much ignoring them right now, which is OK. She will come to love them, I'm sure. She has been through a rough couple of months, and it will take some time, but we will all get there. In the meantime, Annie has claimed the biggest, comfiest doggie bed...


...but Molly isn't content with a doggie bed. She has to be on the over-stuffed chair with all the pillows that she can push around until she gets them in just the perfect position.

One of their favorite things is shopping, as you can see from this photo taken yesterday at PetSmart.
Annie and Molly
Molly was bark-bark-barking when she was walking around the store, but she quieted right down when I put them in the cart. She likes to ride in style.

Annie & Molly
Don't they look like stuffed toys?

These little munchkins are so precious, and have already brought a lot of joy to a house that was so full of grief and sadness over the recent loss of Tara and Cooper. They will be heading down to Fortescue this weekend for their first taste of the beach! Welcome to New Jersey, little girls!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

In which Emma has puppies...

The past couple of weeks, or really months, have been so very difficult. In addition to coping with the loss of Tara and Cooper, we have been trying to keep Emma's spirits up. Not an easy task, as she misses her siblings terribly. She is sleeping better at night, but when she is left alone, she will howl. Not a barking kind of howl. It's a soft, coyote-like, kind of howl that is totally heartbreaking to hear.

Take a look at her in this picture. She was "helping" me piece together a quilt. She soon had enough and decided to lay down on the work in progress. She always has this sad, defeated look on her face now. It breaks my heart to see her like this.

 Emma on the quilt pieces

My sister and I have both been looking at possible siblings for Emma. I am still very raw inside, and wouldn't think of an addition if it weren't for Emma. She apparently needs the company of other dogs. Humans can only offer so much comfort, as we all very well know.

Anyway, rescue is the only option for us, so my sister has been scouring Brittany rescue sites like American Brittany Rescue, New England Brittany Rescue and National Brittany Rescue and Adoption Network.
We took Emma to "meet and greet" an available Brittany, but the meeting did not go well. It was one week after losing Cooper, two weeks after losing Tara, and I think it was just too soon for all of us. Emma positioned herself in between the other Brittany and us, and snapped if she got too close.

We started to think that a puppy or a smaller dog would be better, so I have been setting my sights on another breed altogether. I have always, always, always loved the look of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

z cavs1

I have shied away from the breed due to their many health concerns, but there are no guarantees with anything in life. Look at my sweet Tara for an example of that...

After looking at a couple of Cavalier rescue sites, I filled out an application with Cavalier Rescue USA. To make a long story short (or at least less long), there is a pair of Cavalier girls about three hours from here who are in need of a loving home. Their owner passed away, his daughter couldn't keep the dogs and placed them with Cavalier Rescue USA. They were adopted out to a loving couple last month, but the wife has developed some very serious health concerns, and they are no longer able to keep the dogs.

Meet Annie and Molly:
Molly and Annie

Those are the names given to them by their original owner, so I don't want to change them. I have no idea which dog is Molly and which is Annie. They are approximately 5 years old, and Molly is perfectly healthy, but Annie is deaf and has a grade 4 heart murmur. ( I can handle this, right?) My dad and I will be driving down to Maryland tomorrow afternoon to pick up these cute little girls. Don't they look like Brittany puppies???

I have a really good feeling about this. I am positive that Emma will love and care for these two as if they were her own puppies. Let the healing begin...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Coping with loss.

I want to thank everyone for your comments and support both here and on Facebook. I have never gone through losing two of these precious souls so close together. Two dogs in two weeks. It's rough. Really, really, rough, but we are trying to keep everything as normal as possible for Emma. Unfortunately, Emma is extremely intelligent, and one of the curses of having an intelligent dog is that she sees through all of the false bravado and forced cheer. I swear she is more "human" than some humans I know.

Anyway, one of Emma's issues right now is sleeping at night. She doesn't want to do it. At least, not in either my bedroom or my sister's. Normally she would come to bed with me for an hour or two, then jump down and go into my sister's bedroom for the rest of the night. (She likes to spread the love, you know?) Since losing her siblings, she won't sleep in either bedroom. She wants to sleep in the great room, but not alone. No sir-eee. Someone has to sleep out there with her, or she will bark. She will bark, bark, bark, and then bark some more. Then nobody gets any sleep. Needless to say, my sister and I have been taking turns sleeping on the sofa. Problem solved.

Another challenge for Emma is being left alone. It's not an option right now. She will howl at the door whenever she is left alone in the house. Not a big surprise, as she has always had another dog or two to keep her company. Our solution? Don't ever leave her alone in the house. There is the small issue of my sister and I both having jobs, so we are getting over that hurdle by Emma going to work with my sister.

Here is Emma just lounging around when she really should be doing some filing.

Emma 7-12-12

Emma is learning how to use the telephone. As long as someone holds it for her, that is.
Emma 7-12-12
Beware of dogs popping their heads up from under computer desks.

Emma 7-12-12
Emma can just...about...see...over...the...counter. We need to see someone about lowering these countertops...

Emma 7-12-12

Recycle? Of course we recycle here. Anything edible goes into Emma. Everything else goes into the recycle bin.
Emma 7-12-12

Of course, this situation can't go on forever. Eventually, the summer will end and my sister's school will be filled with kids again. While that's not a problem for Emma since she absolutely loves kids, there are a couple of kids in the school who have severe allergies. So, along with the no-peanut-butter-allowed-in-the-building rule, there is also a no-animal-with-fur-allowed-in-the-building rule. ::sigh::

I realize that so far we have been using short-term solutions. The long term solution would be to get a brother or sister for Emma. I'm having a hard time with that right now, and am nowhere near ready to get another dog. It's too hard. I know that they give so much more joy than the heartache that losing them brings, but having that heartache so fresh, from losing TWO of these beautiful souls... I'm just not ready. I can't even think about it right now.

That said, I have been thinking about it. If it wasn't for Emma's issues, I wouldn't consider it, but Emma needs a friend. She needs a brother or sister who can give her what us humans simply can't. I have been looking on the American Brittany Rescue website and there are so many dogs out there in need of homes... Emma needs a sibling, and there are dogs in need of a home. Any way you do the math, how selfish would I be to say no to another dog?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

And then there was one...

It hardly seems possible, and I'm still in shock, but it's true. Cooper is gone. Emma is all alone now. She has been grieving for Tara, and now she has lost her brother, too. Cooper has--had been having asthma-like problems for months now. He had xrays and bloodwork in December, and had been on a couple of different meds until we found the combination that worked for him. He has--had been stable, only having episodes when he was excited or scared, like during a thunderstorm. This morning he was fine, ate his breakfast, got into his usual mischief, then all of a sudden he couldn't get enough air. We tried to calm him down, but nothing helped. We rushed him to the WonderVet. He gave him a couple of shots, put him on oxygen, then took xrays. His lungs were worse. Much worse. End-stage-disease worse. Despite everything the vet could do, every breath was a struggle. For the second time in two weeks, we made the hardest decision in the world. But also for the second time in two weeks, there was no decision to be made. We could not allow him to suffer. I can still hear his gasping struggles to breathe. I will hear them until I die.

Cooper on the day we found him, June 19, 2008. He was 9 years old at the time.


Cooper helping with the dishes, and breaking the dishwasher door in the process.


Cooper helping mommy knit.


Cooper at mommy's work.


Cooper enjoying being an inside dog after a lifetime of being outside

Loopie Coopie

Cooper, my boy, my little man.


 Four years with Cooper was not long enough. No matter how long they are with us, we never have these beautiful souls long enough.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Sweet Tara

Tara is gone. She is now playing with Scarlett, Katie, Mellie, Scupper, Sam and Sam II. Her battle with Lymphosarcoma was short, just shy of 12 weeks, but she was a fighter. Her case was atypical, and there were no guarantees when we started chemo, but we had to give it a shot. After trying three different protocols, the oncologist took her off meds last Tuesday. She has been on "comfort care" for a week. Last night, or really early this morning, she was struggling to breathe, and could barely stand on her own. This morning, we made the hardest decision, but really there was no decision to be made at all. We were not going to have her suffer. She was too good for that.

Everyone has been so supportive through this, and I feel fortunate to have so many wonderful people in my life. The words of encouragement here on the blog and on Facebook are truly what got me through some of the roughest days. My whole family has been wonderful, from going to appointments with me, letting Emma and Cooper out on the days that Tara had chemo and I would be away from home for most of the day, to just being there when I needed them the most.

My work has been wonderful, allowing me to work from home when I couldn't leave Tara, approving vacation days no-questions-asked, and my coworkers picking up the slack the days I wasn't at work. I even got a new boss in the middle of all of this, and I wasn't there until the afternoon on her first day of work because of one of Tara's treatments. How lucky am I to work for a place that understands that pets aren't just pets, they are so much more than that?

OK, I'm really blubbering now, so I will just share some of my favorite pictures of my sweet girl and then go to bed.

Tara the first day we brought her home from the American Brittany Rescue transport. Look how scrawny she was!


When she first came here, she didn't know what toys were, but she learned pretty quickly!


She liked to help around the house, from cleaning out the cabinet where the trash and recycling bins are kept...
Tara in trash
 helping with the dishes.


She was fashionable...


...refined (eating off of a fork)...

...and loved. Loved so very much.

Happy Tara

 I am positive that she is in heaven right now, because if there is a heaven, the worst dog in the world would be more deserving of a place there than the best human.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ups and Downs

It has been a month full of ups and downs. Literally. One day Tara would be covered with lumps...

...and after a treatment at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital, they would be gone.


Now if only they would STAY gone. Everyone following on Facebook knows that Tara is now on her third protocol. The first one worked great, but only for 4-6 days at a time. By the time her weekly appointment with the oncologist rolled around, the lesions were creeping back. They kept coming back faster and more numerous as the weeks went by, so Tara was switched to a second protocol. That was last Wednesday. Things looked good on Thursday, but by Friday the lumps returned. Over the weekend, they kept growing, and more and more kept coming. Clearly protocol 2 wasn't working. Tara went back to Red Bank on Tuesday, and the oncologist put her on yet another protocol. It's Thursday now, and the lumps are getting smaller, but not at the rapid pace that they shrunk up before. Maybe that's a good thing, though. Maybe this time they will slowly shrink up and go away and stay away. Maybe the third time is the charm???

On another matter, totally unrelated to Tara, (who am I kidding, everything I think about and everything I do is 100% related to Tara), remember those posts I did a while ago about getting out of debt? You know, how I took a second job, and I cut up all my credit cards and vowed never to go into debt again? Funny thing about that... It's not gonna happen. I cash flowed the first month of Tara's treatment from my emergency fund (after all, what could possibly be more of an emergency than a sick dog, right?) but that well quickly ran dry, and guess who opened up a credit card?

It's not a terrible kind of credit card, though. It's called "Care Credit" and it's only for medical or dental expenses, for you and your pets. I hate posting about this and including a link, but I thought I would mention it in case anyone else finds themselves in a similar situation.

So, back to Tara. I don't want anyone to think that I'm allowing Tara to be used as a canine pincushion or a lab rat. I hate the fact that she is getting poison in her system every week. I hate the fact that that there isn't one treatment that works for every dog. I hate the fact that Tara's case is atypical, which just adds another element of surprise. (These kinds of surprises I could do without!) That's a lot of hate. But, as long as Tara is tolerating the chemo well with no (or minimal) side effects, we are going to give her every shot (no pun intended) to go into remission.

In the meantime, Tara spends her days hanging out with her brother and sister...
Cooper, Tara, Emma
...taking naps...


...letting the ceiling fan blow her belly hair...


...and modeling mommy's knitting.


Tara thanks everyone for their continued prayers and healing vibes. She says she can feel your support, and it just makes her want to fight all that much harder. Keep 'em coming!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What a Difference a Day Makes!

If I didn't see it with my own eyes, feel it with my own hands, I wouldn't believe it. Tara woke up this morning (after a good night's sleep), and the tumors are smaller. I'm not crazy. Maybe I am crazy, but the lumps really ARE smaller. Some of the little ones are gone. The bigger ones that were about the size of a goose egg are smaller. They have maybe decreased by half. One dose of chemo, and the lumps are going away. I can't tell you how thrilled I am. I had to share right away since I know so many people are following her progress and sending prayers, vibes and healing thoughts her way. We feel all of that support, and are truly appreciative. It makes a huge difference.

I've tried to get photos, but it's hard with her long fluffy hair. The best I can do is show you this one from May 1st. She is eating a french fry after one of her vet appointments, and you can see a couple of lumps on the top of her head. That was five days ago, and they were just getting larger every day.


Here is a picture of her this morning. Can you see the lumps? Nope! They are so small that you can't tell they're there unless you feel her head. She looks a little grumpy in the photo, but that's just because I've been following her all around and rubbing her all over, keeping her from getting her morning nap.

Tara 5-6-2012 One day after first chemo
She is tolerating the chemo really well, slept great, and had a hearty breakfast. One of the lumps in her mouth was bleeding quite a bit yesterday whenever she would lay on her right side, so her "hearty breakfast" was all soft foods, but she enjoyed it just the same.

I don't have any false expectations, and know that each week she will get a different chemo drug, and she may have side effects. Her best case prognosis is 18 months, but they will be 18 quality months. It would have been a few weeks, at the most, without chemo, and I have to believe they would have been rough weeks for her. Right now, every day with her is a blessing.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Too Numerous To Count

This past week feels like it has been at least a month long. This past month seems like a year, or a decade. I feel like I have been walking through a fog, with occasional episodes of a reality so freaking unreal. I've got to tell you, the fog is looking pretty good right about now.

Four days ago we got the detailed report on Tara's tumor. You know, the ONE tumor she had on April 9th. The ONE tumor that was removed on April 10th. The ONE tumor that, one week later was joined by six others. The six tumors, that just one more week later were joined by 20+ others. And then this morning, I found out that if there are more than 50 tumors on your dog, the doctor lists it as "too numerous to count." Yes, indeedy.

Two days ago we saw an Oncologist in Malvern, PA. Wonderful facility, but they kindly said that they don't take cases as extensive as Tara's, and referred us to Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, NJ. That same day we took Tara to an Holistic vet. Somebody asked me what holistic is, and I don't know what the official definition is, and I'm too tired to make the effort to link to wikipedia, but it's all natural remedies, with herbs, massage, acupuncture, and stuff like that. I learned a lot about the body and blood, and got some really good suggestions on changes to make to their dog food recipe. I also got a couple of supplements to aid in digestion and restore energy. The holistic vet also highly recommended Red Bank Veterinary Hospital. Her exact words were, "run, don't walk, to an oncologist." Not something you want to hear.

That brings us to this morning. We left at 7:00am for our 9:40am appointment with the head of Oncology at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital. (By the way, if anyone is keeping track, that's seven visits to four different vet offices in 4 weeks.)


 I have to tell you that I was immediately impressed with the facility. Bright, airy, immaculate, well thought out. You have got to go to the link above and click on "virtual tour." Really, really impressive. Every staff member I dealt with was kind and compassionate, even though I had been up all night (and looked it) and couldn't stop crying from the moment I got there. There was something so very final about this appointment. This was our last hope, and it is incredibly terrifying to take your sweet little girl through this door:


The doctor was so good with Tara, and kindly did not comment on the fact that I was a blubbering idiot. He was incredibly calming, he took his time with us, and answered every question. Even the stupid ones. In a nutshell, we learned that Tara's cancer is atypical. Lymphomas usually appear in the lymph nodes (around the neck, in the groin area, etc.) and then go to the internal organs. Tara's cancer is sub-cutaneous, under the skin, and is over her whole body, but ONLY directly under the skin. No organ involvement. That's a good thing. It is also extremely aggressive. Remember the "too numerous to count" comment? That's a bad thing.

Typical lymphomas have a 75-80% remission rate after chemo. That's good. With Tara, he said all bets are off, and would estimate a 50-50 chance of remission. That's either good or bad, depending on the whole is the glass half full or half empty kind of thing. Apparently dogs have only about 10-15% chance of having side effects from the chemo, as opposed to 90% chance in humans. If this was a typical lymphoma, we could expect an 80% reduction in the lumps in the first week. Again, Tara is not typical, so no guarantees.

With all that in mind, we elected to begin chemo. With such a low chance of side effects, we had to go for the 50-50 chance. She goes back next Saturday to be evaluated, have more blood work done, and round two of chemo.

It is wrong for me to hope that since the tumors appeared so quickly, they might leave just as quickly? Maybe I'm not hopeful. Maybe it's wishful. More than likely it's delusional, but let me have my little fantasy, OK?

In the meantime, I am sitting here watching her.  Watching, watching, watching.


Is she breathing too fast? Too slow? Does she look thirsty? When did she pee last? Are those lumps any smaller yet? Less numerous???

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Burgers and Fries!

Thanks to everyone for your kind and supportive comments to yesterday's post. Tara would really appreciate them, if she could read. Now the hugs and belly scratches from everyone...that's a language she understands. She says keep them coming! I appreciate the good thoughts, healing vibes and prayers, too.

Tara had a fun time at the vet today. She got to visit all the the vet techs, she saw her nanny, and she even got a massage from Dr. Bill. Truth be told, he was just checking out how many lumps have popped up the the last 7 days, but Tara thought it was a massage, so we're sticking with that. The decision was made not to remove any of the lumps. There is no reason to put her through another surgery at this point. Dr. Bill just did a needle biopsy of some of the larger lumps, took some X-rays, and then came back in the room with some choice expletives. Gotta love him.

Tara didn't care. She got to see her friends at the office, and then she got burgers and fries on the way home. The burgers she saved to share with her brother and sister at home, but the fries? Nope. She ate them right down.

Watch those fingers, mommy!


Emma and Cooper were not pleased that Tara got to go for a ride without them, but all was forgiven when she came back smelling like the Vee-Eee-Tee. The burgers she brought home helped, too.

What's next? In addition to the holistic vet appointment on Thursday afternoon, we have a 9am appointment with an oncologist in Malvern, PA. Unfortunately, we already know where that facility is. We took sweet Mellie there in 2007.

Oncology and Holistic in the same day? Sounds like we don't know what we are doing and are trying to cover all bases, doesn't it?

That's just about right.

Monday, April 30, 2012

More Burgers in Tara's Future...

Contrary to my last two posts, I have found that I am not at all brave. A brave person doesn't want to crawl right back into bed every morning so she doesn't have to face the day. A brave person isn't on the verge of tears every second of the day. A brave person wouldn't feel as though her whole world was caving in when she finds a new lump on her dog.

The additional testing came back on Tara's tumor, and it is not good. It has spread to the lymphatic system, but I didn't need the report to know that. There are new lumps appearing every day. Every freakin' day. Her head, neck, legs, back, sides...everywhere. You know that feeling of being punched in the gut and having all of the wind knocked out of you? That's what it's like with each new lump.

Last Tuesday when Tara had her stitches removed (from her surgery on April 10) we showed the vet the half dozen lumps that had appeared at that time. Tomorrow he will be taking one (or more) of them off to be biopsied, just to confirm what we already know to be true. It has spread. Like wildfire.

Thursday we will be taking her to a holistic veterinarian. At this point I kind of feel like it's closing the barn door after the horse has run off, but it can't hurt. Plus, Tara really loves to go for rides in the car, and she knows she gets a burger after every appointment! Here she is after getting her stitches out last week.


Nom, nom, nom!

The only good thing about this whole situation is that Tara feels perfectly fine. She is acting normal, eating and "eliminating" normally, playing with her toys, running around the yard, and generally being the sweetest dog in the whole wide world. Don't get me wrong, this whole thing sucks, but at least she has no idea it sucks.

It's my goal to keep it that way...