One year ago today, we made the decision that it was time to let Dennis cross the Rainbow Bridge.
We had known this was coming; in December of 2017 Dennis had been diagnosed with an inoperable pelvic osteosarcoma, opening yet another front in the running battle he had been fighting with a number of conditions over the previous few years. Having no surgical options available and with standalone chemotherapy being ineffective against osteosarcoma, we decided to treat his condition with palliative radiation. This proved to be highly effective at knocking out the pain from the cancer. For a while.
Not long after the radiation treatment was complete, Dennis was hit by a flare-up of his inflammatory bowel disease, which he had been battling for six or eight months, but which had previously been under fairly good control. This went on for several weeks, during which Dennis lost weight he couldn’t afford to lose, but eventually, through a combination of medication and diet, the IBD was wrestled into submission and Dennis was quite stable for six months or so. But then he started limping again.
At this point we were concerned that Dennis had run out of his borrowed time, but after discussing it with his oncologist, we decided to try the palliative radiation one more time. Once again it proved effective in alleviating the symptoms of the osteosarcoma, and Dennis was able to move around more easily. But unfortunately, his IBD soon flared a second time as well. At this point we were fairly confident that the IBD flare was a result of the palliative radiation, either related to the radiation itself affecting his gut bacteria, or just from the stress of the week-long treatment, which consisted of daily sessions at the specialty hospital. The staff were awesome with Dennis, who quickly became one of their favorite patients, and he grew to be quite comfortable with them, but he would still have rather spent the time on his orbit lounger under his pasha tent.
This time we never really got the IBD back under control. It manifested itself mostly in a refusal to eat, because, quite simply, food made Dennis sick. We would try him on a new food, including home-cooked recipes, and he would eagerly eat it for a week, maybe two, and then he would start refusing it. The duration of time that he was willing to eat a new food steadily decreased until it got to the point that he would only last a couple of days on any particular diet. Sometimes we tried to go back to a food he had eaten previously, but he would remember that it had made him feel bad and only eat it once, if that.
IBD can have a number of causes, or, sometimes, no cause at all. Based on the timing of when Dennis first developed it, we suspect that in his case, the IBD was a side effect of the pimobendan he was taking for his Class V heart murmur and heart enlargement, but there’s no way to know for sure; we couldn’t stop the pimobendan without running an extreme risk of sudden heart failure. Awful as it was, the IBD was less of a threat than the heart murmur, until it wasn’t. That time arrived in October of 2018. In late September of 2018, his limp had started coming back; around that time, a cardiac recheck showed that his heart had started to enlarge again. The collapse of our ability to manage the IBD was final determinator, and we started making plans.
Dennis had a favorite vet; for years, he had been seeing her for regular acupuncture treatments, and was totally comfortable in her presence. Although she no longer worked at the practice, she agreed to come in to perform one last service for Dennis when he was ready. We realized we were getting close around the time when the vet would be out of town for a few weeks. We didn’t want Dennis to suffer the sudden trauma of a pelvic fracture brought on by the osteosarcoma (something our oncologist said was unlikely, but humans worry), or heart failure, or to get the point where he would just stop eating anything and start to starve; we didn’t want to have to take him in to the emergency vet in the middle of the night when he was scared and suffering. So on October 31, 2018, we made the appointment.
After setting a line in Dennis’s paw for later, the acupuncture got started, and as usual it made our boy very relaxed.
Dennis’s Last Acupuncture Session
After that, Dennis rested for a while. Throughout the process he was getting all the cheese, steak, and butter-baked chicken he could eat.
Butter-Baked Chicken is the Best!
Dennis had never had such a meal before, but he loved butter and he loved chicken so he thought butter-baked chicken was the most wonderful thing ever. This had actually been cooked as food for the humans, and under normal circumstances we would never have given Dennis something so rich that it would have been sure to knock his system for a loop. But this was about the least normal circumstance you could think of.
Make Your Last Meal the Most Delicious One You Ever Had
As we had hoped, Dennis was so relaxed that he didn’t even notice when the session transitioned from acupuncture to the real reason he was there. He finished up his chicken and crossed the Rainbow Bridge with a full belly, happy, and probably the most comfortable and peaceful he had been in a long time.
Inflammatory bowel disease is a complex and very unpleasant disease to deal with. We have been subscribed to various health-related dog groups over the years and it’s really a toss-up which one was the saddest and populated with the most desperate owners, the IBD group or the osteosarcoma group. And of course Dennis had the misfortune to suffer from both. Just look at the size of his medical file:
Although it was ultimately the IBD that beat us, it was really a confluence of things. If he hadn’t had the heart murmur, he wouldn’t have gone on the pimobendan, and maybe he wouldn’t have developed the IBD. If he hadn’t developed the pelvic osteosarcoma, then he wouldn’t have gotten the radiation, and maybe the IBD wouldn’t have escaped our control. If we had known earlier about the severe hip dysplasia and gotten him a hip replacement (it’s a thing for dogs), maybe he wouldn’t have developed the osteosarcoma. But as they say, we did the best we could with the information we had—and with the help of many excellent veterinarians and other caregivers. (Dennis was a favorite patient in many practices.) Realizing how hard it can be for the vets who work every day with animals with these conditions*, we wanted to make sure they knew how much we appreciated their efforts, so we ordered a batch of thank-you cards for them.
Elderly Dog and Friend
Even with all those cards, we were still short a few and had to make up more to ensure that everyone who helped us care for Dennis. I’m sure many of them will never forget him. I know we won’t.
Even the Hipsters try to make sure of it from time to time.
And of course we have those 12 years of memories to look back on.
Keep running with Tucker and Trixie, Dennis, until we all meet again across the Rainbow Bridge.
* At least one of our specialty vets has committed suicide over the years, as did Dr. Sophia Yin, inventor of the Treat-n-Train that we used with Dennis. Here’s a telling anectdote: When our dog Tucker, who also suffered from IBD in his later years, was stricken with aspiration pneumonia, his internist at the emergency vet—who had been helping us treat Tucker’s IBD—was almost excited that, finally, here was Tucker presenting with a condition he could treat and cure. We were afraid we would have to put Tucker to sleep but the vet was confident that Tucker would recover, and he did: A nice little victory amid a string of defeats.