These Things Just Happen

Fiona 003This last weekend has been hard to recover from, and though I’m not feeling quite so down today, it’s a good thing that I’m on vacation until the beginning of the year, for I doubt I could concentrate enough to get any work done. Some folks might have already heard about this on Facebook over the weekend, but here’s something a bit more in-depth.

On Friday morning, I went to let the dogs out of their kennels. Fiona, our Golden Retriever, was hesitant to get up but after some coaxing she finally came out of her kennel. She was walking really slow but I didn’t give it much thought, just assumed she was tired and not quite awake yet. They spent some time outside then I brought them in again, for the temperatures have been very low the last week or so. This time I left them outside their kennels in the storeroom. When I came down to check on them a couple hours later and to let them out for a bathroom break, I found Fiona had peed on the floor in front of her kennel. Was really irritated by this, for she had a habit of peeing on the floor last winter when it was really cold outside and she didn’t want to go out. She’d been pretty good about not peeing inside so far this year, so I was cranky and gave her earful. But when I went to let them outside again, I noticed Fiona was still walking really slowly, with her head down, and she continued that posture when I let them in again ten minutes later. Decided to not put them back in the store room at that point and brought them upstairs with me, so I could watch Fiona and see if she would perk up. Lily was acting her normal active self, hunting out every scrap of dropped food she could find in the kitchen, but Fiona just curled up on the floor next to my chair and looked glum. I gave them biscuits, and as soon as she took her’s, I knew something was definitely wrong with her. Normally she horks down, barely chewing, and is soon begging for more. Instead, she just took it in her mouth and stood there staring at me. She finally ate it five minutes later. So I made an appointment with the vet to bring her later that night, to get her checked out. I figured she had canine flu or a cold.

Fiona 001The vet took one look at her depressed demeanor and agreed something wasn’t right. All her vitals checked out fine, so they drew blood. The vet noticed her gums were pale and she thought she felt fluid in her abdomen, so they took her to be x-rayed and to try to extract some of the fluid from her belly, to see if it was blood. Thus began my 6 hour vet visit. They drew non-clotting blood from her abdomen, and xrays were blurry around her spleen, leading the vet to believe that there had been some kind of rupture, either of the organ or of a tumor on the organ. The bloodwork also showed her platelet count to be dangerously low, and her sodium count practically non-existent, so they put her on a saline drip, to help rehydrate her. The xrays weren’t clear enough to tell for sure what had happened, so the vet recommended getting an emergency ultrasound done. That would require driving all the way to Boulder at 8:30 at night, and extra expense to have someone called in to do it. We decided to go ahead with it anyway. The vet recommended taking some chest xrays, just to make sure that the chest was clear and there was no sign of cancer in the lungs that would indicate metastasized cancer that had spread from the spleen. If it was, there was little point in getting the ultrasound, for that kind of cancer is terminal. We were hoping for a best-case scenario of an organ rupture that could be repaired with surgery and a blood transfusion.

The chest xrays showed some questionable splotches that two of the vets thought might be signs of metastasized cancer, but were unsure, so they sent the xrays off to an online radiology service (Sight Hound) to have an actual radiologist assess them before going forward with the ultrasound. That took forever it seemed, and while I waited on those results, I took the kids home and had some dinner. When the news finally came back at 10:30 that night, it wasn’t good at all. The radiologist had identified soft tissue opacities in the lungs and her heart and blood vessels had shrunk, and the spleen was irregularly shaped, particularly at the bottom where he thought there had been a rupture of a mass, and she was hypovolemic. There was no point in doing an ultrasound then, for surgery could do nothing for her.

Dogs5We had the option of taking her home with us that night and see if the bleeding would stop on its own, and if it did she might get a couple weeks, maybe a month before it would happen again. The vet also thought there could be a high risk of her bleeding out overnight and that we might wake up the next morning to find Fiona dead in her kennel. Jeff and I were concerned that it might be one of the kids who finds her like that, and that would have been devastating for them. Gaaron had grown particularly close to Fiona over the last year after years of having little interesting in either of the dogs (he really liked that he could play ball Fiona. Lily has no interest in playing fetch.). And he kept asking the vet, “Is Fiona going to die?” In the end, we decided the best thing for Fiona was to euthanize her. It was a very tough decision, for once they got her hydrated with the saline again, she was back to her normal energetic self, but her body used the saline up so fast that it she had to hydrated twice while we were there. I knew that if we took her home, she would be depressed again by morning, if she didn’t bleed out. I’ve really struggled with this decision over the last couple of days, wondering if I should have given her more time and taken the chance that the bleeding would stop; mostly I didn’t want her to be in pain, and I didn’t like the idea of her bleeding to death at home while we slept. So I drove back to vet’s and sat with her while they gave her the injections. The hardest moment for me was when I was holding her under her front leg and could feel her pulse slow down until it stopped (I’m crying right now just thinking about it). I miss her so much; it’s so much worse than when we had to put down Jake because Fiona was only 6 years old, and we hadn’t had her for 5 years yet (it would have been 5 years on Dec 27th). Jake at least was old and so it wasn’t so wholly unexpected like this was.

Lily is confused and depressed. The first night, she wouldn’t go to bed until I’d opened Fiona’s kennel so she could climb inside, and she’s slept in there ever since. She searches the house and yard for Fiona and I wish I could explain to her what happened. She’s never been an only dog. She seems unusually skittish now when I take her upstairs. Before she would run all over the place, sniffing out any dropped piece of food. Now she just wants to be downstairs in the basement, in the store room, lying in Fiona’s bed. I’m spending more time with her, hoping she will get better over the next couple of weeks. I always thought that after these dogs were gone, I didn’t want anymore dogs, because of all the digging and chewing and barking, but I never expected to lose either one of them this soon, and seeing Lily so depressed…. If we do get another dog, it won’t be for a while though.

We’re going to put together a shadow box for her, like we did with Jake, and I’ve started work on a digital painting of her in Gimp. I hope to have it finished by the New Year.

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