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In the arms of the angels

Sophie (Lou) Farrell

1997-2010

In the arms of the angels tonite

A dog’s day afternoon – and, how many lives do dogs have, anyway?

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It has been raining like crazy here in the great “wet” north ! All the rivers and creeks are swollen, the grass is amazingly green, and the weeds are taking over my yard. I have dandelions so big they are forming “prides” in the back yard. It’s lush. And it’s dangerous. If you’re a 3-legged dog who likes to swim.

Sophie, as you know, goes for walks – well, rides in her Chariot, actually – with a good size pack of dogs every day with our friend, Angie (aka “the Dog Pied Piper”). Angie walks a lot of retriever, lab types who love to swim, and on the days when it hasn’t been torrential downpours – it has been really darn hot. So, web-footed dogs – and even some who aren’t – like to get into the water and paddle around. The trick has been to find a safe spot for them to play.

Late last week Angie called me and told me that Sophie must be a cat – that she had used up another one of her lives. We laughed – me, a little nervously. Why, I asked, what happened?  They had gone to a small creek in the centre of town, to an area of the creek bed where the water was not deep, where there were pools of water in which the dogs could play without worrying about getting swept away or pulled under by a current. The dogs were all splashing around – rolling in the water – getting dirty as dogs will do. Buster, the mutant golden retriever, had wandered a bit further out into the faster moving water. And suddenly, Sophie was nowhere to be seen. After several minutes of unanswered calling, the search was on. Angie and the pack went up and down the paths, certain that Sophie would appear any time.  After some more minutes, a very upset Angie spotted a soaking wet and mud-covered woman coming from the creek bed dragging along a very wet, mud-caked, 3-legged dog. “I found her on the sandbank – she was stuck in the mud” she said. It seems that Sophie had followed her step/brother/dog, Buster, into the faster water and been swept downstream. The woman who rescued her – and, yes, there are angels among us – saw Sophie bobbing down the creek, trying to swim. When Sophie wedged into the sandbar, with her one front leg stuck underneath her – having no way to free herself – she just lay down and gave up. The woman waded into the creek and dragged her out.

Sophie slept for hours when she got home – after a nice warm bath and rub down with a fluffy towel.

But that was last week. When she had  2 of her 9 lives left.

Sophie has just rebounded from a bad reaction to the last (I decreed it was the last) chemotherapy treatment – which saw her hospitalized, sick, dehydrated, vomiting, severe diarrhea, and so on. She lost a lot of weight, and was in very bad shape. I wasn’t at all sure she would make it through that whole episode. BUT…. she did. And the light came back in her eyes. She started eating again – she wanted to play again. My best friend came back to me. We dodged a bullet.  She quickly – really quickly – put on a substantial amount of weight – and I really didn’t think that I was feeding her THAT much. I mean, I have decided to “go dog” – to live in the moment with her – and not worry too much about the foods she is eating and all – but it’s not like I opened a buffet and let her go at it, either. I just wanted to ensure that she WOULD eat – and drink – and that she would not vomit and get diarrhea and dehydrate again. It was going really well.

Until four days ago – Friday, July 16.

Sophie snubbed her food. Chicken – nope. Salmon – nope. Dog biscuits – nope. Rice – nope. Nothing. The cats really enjoyed the salmon – and the chicken. Sophie drank a little – but was having NOTHING to do with that food. I took her out to do her business – nope – she was having none of that either. We were up most of the night (again) going in and out – lots of flatulence – but once outside – nope. After I finally passed out – she went into my son’s room and left a small pile of diarrhea on his carpet. I had to leave her alone in the house on Saturday for a short period of time. We came home to a huge pile of diarrhea in the living room. Oh no, I thought, here we go again.

But then – nothing – I mean – she hasn’t had a BM for two days.

So – today – back to the vet for some more tests. I thought I had ended this cycle when I said “no more chemo.”

The results – multiple masses in her abdomen. Large, visible from the outside (once her hair was shaved) masses all around her abdomen. Liver? Kidney? Fluid around her heart? We don’t know. She doesn’t know – and I’m not going to tell her. The vet gave us some Prednisone to give her. They gave us a 30 day supply. I don’t really think that we’ll be needing that many.

So – “going dog” – I said we were going to do it. Now the rubber has hit the road. I don’t know how much time I will have with my best friend. None of us knows that, really. What would SHE really love to do if she knew it might be the last time she got to do it ? I guess I better make a “bucket list” for Sophie and start checking things off.

Say what?


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That’s it – I quit – no more chemo

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This bas been a week from hell.

It’s worse than having a brand new baby. I’m exhausted. The sum total of sleep – cumulative over the week amounts to a total of about 7 hours – for the whole week. Not 7 hours in a row – not even 2 hours in a row. Even 1 hour at a time would be luxurious. I can only imagine how frantic Sophie must be feeling, too. She jumps up and frantically “wakes” me to get outside as fast as possible. When she gets out there – she leaves a spot about the size of a dime of this awful black diarrhea. Then back in the house – only to do it all again 20 or 30 minutes later.

Sophie had her third chemo treatment a week ago, and she is so sick – I can’t keep up with all the vomiting and diarrhea. It is everywhere. She doesn’t sleep – she passes out with exhaustion – as do I. Tonite I left her at home while I went to the baseball game – because at this morning’s game she was leaving little piles of runny black poop everywhere – and there was no way I could pick it up – and there are lots of little kids playing around the outside of the diamond. I covered the piles with wood chips as best as I could – but …. anyway – I left her at home tonite. When we got home – as soon as we opened the door – I knew she had been in some distress. There were 5 piles of vomit – just plain rice – and she only ate about 1/4 of a cup earlier today – large piles. And in the living room – there was a huge puddle of black diarrhea with smaller puddles leading to and away from the main one. The house reaked – Sophie was distressed – and I got to spent the last 2 hours trying to clean up the majority of the stain. Added to this is the destruction from last night. She didn’t even try to wake me up – although I was awake listening to her anyway. She threw up 5 times  and left 3 piles of this horrible black diarrhea.

My carpet cleaner is broken. I am out of spray cans and spot removers of carpet cleaners. I am out of paper towels. My house smells like an outhouse. To add insult to injury – Chester, my 17 year old cat – apparently has a stubborn hairball that he HAS to get out tonite – so he has been hacking and coughing – and vomiting in various places around the house, too. My son stepped in a huge pile of vomit this morning while waking me up to get to his ball game for 8:00 am.

Essentially, Sophie hasn’t eaten anything for 3 days now. Nothing. She doesn’t even look like herself anymore. She has lost the “happy” look of the Golden Retriever. Her head is hot.

Of course, it is midnight on Saturday night. The Emergency Vet Clinic charges $500 to walk in the door – and the oncologist is only there on Mondays and Thursdays. I was just there on Thursday to pick up an anti-nausea medication – “Metoclopromide”, and they told me to get her Pepcid AC. I’ve been giving her the Meto… every 8 hours as directed – and 6 ml of the Pepcid AC.

This treatment is definitely far worse than the cancer that it is treating. I cannot do this to my dog anymore. I cannot do this to me anymore.

I sincerely hope that 3 treatments is enough to make a difference in her prognosis. And I sincerely hope that she stops vomiting and pooping very, very soon. I cannot do this to my best friend anymore.

A fine day for a ride in a Chariot

This is my first attempt at making a video – and first attempt at uploading a video to YouTube or anywhere else !! Hope it works !

Sophie is one week out from her 3rd chemo treatment – so we are in the “no-sleep week” where she gets me up every 20 to 30 minutes to run outside and deposit a quarter-size drop of horribly smelly, soupy poop. There is no point in going to bed – I just get the covers pulled up and get comfortable (that just keeps getting harder all the time !) when she is back at the pillow panting to go back out. So – I might as well figure out how to post a YouTube video, right? I really hate chemo treatments. And this was the lesser of the two evil drugs. Next time it’s the horrible doxyrubicin – or however you spell it. “The Red Death” the vet oncologist calls it. Nice.

Sophie and I are both on journeys of discovery this year. She is learning to live her life with one less leg – and I am learning that life will go on despite a life-altering incident in my own life. She has proven to be far more adaptable and resilient than I have been. I try to be more like her. Some days I really wish I had my own Chariot – with someone to push me around (figuratively speaking, of course). Isn’t it interesting how the universe seems to provide what you need – although sometimes it’s not what you think you want? Having worked for others all my life – I am in a position now where I am going to have to work for myself. “Have to” is not a positive way to put it – “have a chance to” is more the way I need to frame it in my brain. It scares the heck out of me after being a lifetime bureaucrat. I am not a natural entrepeneur. But really – if Sophie can maintain her love of life while riding in a Chariot – surely I can recover some enthusiasm for life while starting over again. Wouldn’t it be nice sometimes to truly just live in the moment – and not have to think about tomorrow – or the next day?

Take me out to the ball game

Two red dogs and a heeler

My son plays PeeWee baseball, and the season has just started. Our team is doing well so far. It’s strange – I recently noticed that wherever we go to play ball, without fail, our team has – by far – many, many more dogs in attendance than the spectators from the other teams. Almost every family has a dog or two – and all the dogs come to the games. Of course, our  two tripawds (Sophie and Roxie) always draw a lot of attention – which they love. Buster – the Golden quadpawd – just basks in the glow of anyone looking his way. The dogs particularly like it when there are foul balls that go off into the bush. If the little kids aren’t fast enough to fetch the errant balls – who better to get them than a retriever!? So the balls come back a little slobbery.  🙂   The umpires generally encourage the little kids to get the foul balls. Go figure.

Kids, balls, snacks, and sunshine – it’s doggie heaven. So much better than hockey season.

Thank goodness we don’t have too many ball diamonds near bodies of water ! All this talk about swimming – as much as I love the “joie de vivre” – the “live life with complete immersion” mentality of the golden retriever – there is something to be said for those dogs who walk around the edge of the pool, or the lake – viewing the body of water with suspicion. Sophie and her step sibling/dogs take every opportunity to wade into whatever tiny bit of water they find and, if possible, swim – if not possible, just lie down. Never a second thought about what kind of wet it is – or how smelly it is – or how green it is – or what may be floating in it … oh yeah.

And on a totally different topic …. because that is how my mind works these days … you know how when you’re dieting, for example, you see food everywhere you look? It’s like you can’t get away from it. Or, you’re trying to get pregnant, and you see pregnant women everywhere? Well … now that I am the unexpected mother of a tripawd … I am seeing tripawd dogs everywhere ! I see them walking down the street when I’m driving – I see them when I’m at the ball games – I see them at the vet – they are everywhere ! I never noticed before – in fact, Roxie – Sophie’s black heeler cross step sister/dog – was the only tripawd dog I had personally known – before. Weird. Today I was taking out the garbage – two ladies were walking by my house with three little dogs. Of course I asked if I could meet them … and it wasn’t until I had been petting one of them for a minute or two that I noticed she was a tripawd. She had almost the same ampuversary date as my Sophie, and her name was Sophie, too !

I met a man at the vet’s where Sophie goes for her chemo  – he has a huge dog named Ben who is a tripawd. Ben seems to be on the same schedule for treatments as Sophie – they’ve been there every time we’ve been there. Last time we were there, we met a beautiful older Golden who was with her dad and grandma. They had just been told she had cancer and were going through that awful decision-making stage that we have all been through. I told them about this website, as a friend had done for me.  It seems that I meet people so often now who are in this same situation. Tripawd-ness is becoming common-place in my world. Or maybe I am becoming common-place in the tripawd world.

Sophie and Buster waiting in the car

Sophie has a Chariot

This would be so much better with pictures. Sorry – I don’t have any yet.

Angie, our friend and dog walker, salvaged a Chariot for Sophie. Now she can keep up with the rest of the off-leash dog group that Angie takes to one of several off-leash areas in Edmonton each day. I’m told that, at first, the other dogs spent a good deal of their walking time sniffing curiously at the red dog in the Chariot – no doubt wondering why she got to ride in style while Roxie, the other tripawd in the group, was off-leash terrorizing the rest of them. Maybe they thought it was a punishment – and wondered even more why Roxie wasn’t riding in there ! Apparently it wasn’t just the dogs who came over to see what was in the Chariot. Sophie attracted a great deal of attention at the dog park. Picture Angie with 9 dogs and pushing a Chariot with a big red dog riding like a 3-legged queen. Quite the picture.

After the first couple of walks/rides, Sophie has got the hang of this Chariot thing. Now she knows that she can hop in and out – and she spends a little more time out of it than in when she goes with the big group. She comes home very happy, very tired, and has dreams that make her paws twitch, her lips quiver and elicit high pitched barks. She is obviously dreaming about running and chasing something – the things that Sophie loves best.

Her Chariot has given her back some freedom. I can almost hear the Chariots of Fire theme song … and picture her hopping down the path in slow motion …

Hey – I think I have an idea for a video audition tape !

Pictures from a nice spring-like day

The wind finally died down enough to go outside without fear of  blowing away – think Dorothy and Toto style…..

Sophie had her step-sister(d0g) and step-brother(dog) over for the weekend. Roxie and Buster, aka Roller and Ibs, are young, energetic, rabbit-chasing dogs – as I mentioned in my previous post. Today Roxie discovered gophers – you know – prairie dogs, large rodents who lack big ears, but who move quickly along the ground only to disappear into holes. They are irresistible to Roxie with her keen hunting instinct. I had to find a field for them to run in that did not house a colony of gophers if I had any hope of keeping control.  Once we found such a place – I broke open a new package of “chuck-it” balls – and let the fun begin.

Roxie is the black tripawd, part heeler, part border collie, etc., and Buster (Ibs) is the mutant golden retriever weighing in at about 110 lbs (he’s not yet 2 years old). Sophie is, of course, the other tripawd in the group.

It was a fun day – the balls lost – we came home with 2 fewer balls than we started with – but home with big golden smiles – and a black dog panting heavily. No gophers were hurt during the taking of these pictures.

Sophie bringing one back for another toss

There is no escape for these balls

Out of the way red dog !!

Roxie needing a drink

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz …

I wonder where my Sophie is…

Ah – there she is – launching herself out of my vehicle – off the top steps into the garage – down the stairs at the front porch … I swear – if she could sing – it would be that song…”I believe I can fly…” you know the one I mean?  The spirit is certainly willing – but the leg is missing ! Landing on one front foot instead of two tends to be less stable than the two-footed landing. Score – 10 for effort – 1.5 for the overall jump – didn’t stick the landing. Definite disqualification. Definite face plant.

Sophie has a step-sister/dog – a heeler/border collie cross named Roxie – who is a tripawd due to an incident when she was a very young puppy. Roxie is about 3 now and has never really known life as a quadpawd. Nothing – and I mean nothing – gets by Roxie – particularly if it happens to have long ears, a powder puff tail, and very large back feet. Upon sighting one of THEM – her brain turns to auto pilot and her turbo engine kicks in – I would bet my second last dollar on her in any race against a quadpawd if there was a rabbit involved. But – I digress. The point I was going to make is that Roxie CAN launch herself out of cars, down stairs, out of second story windows (ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point) – and stick a landing. Sophie cannot. Hanging out with Roxie has, I think, given Sophie confidence in her potential as a tripawd and, when coupled with Sophie’s general optimistic outlook on life – she has seemingly chosen to ignore the fact that she has only been a tripawd for about a month. Her one front leg supports a substantial amount of dog, and will take a little time to build up appropriate strength for such things as flying out of the vehicle the second the hatch opens, or skidding around the corner to knock us over in her launch down the stairs the second the garage door opens (in case we’re planning to leave without her). Which is not to say that she WON’T be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, eventually.

One simple law of physics keeps thwarting her efforts to fly – what goes up must come down… the higher you go the farther you fall… the bigger they are the harder they fall… golden retrievers are not meant to fly … but don’t tell Sophie. 🙂   She’s a rebel dog – flying contrary to the law is what gives her that twinkle in her eyes.

“Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.”
Anonymous.

A wee bit of (the former) normal

My Golden Girl

Today my beautiful Sophie made me laugh out loud. I couldn’t help it. It was so good to laugh with her again. She was feeling very playful – ran into the den and grabbed one of her toys. In her quadpawd days she used to shake the living daylights out of this particular toy – throw it in the air – hold it down with her front paws and pull up with it firmly gripped in her soft muzzle. The toy never stood a chance. Today – however – the toy got the last laugh. She attacked it with vigor – unexpected and suddenly – whipping it side to side – beating against her ears – her tail wagging happily. But when she gave the toy the flip into the air – she found herself flipping over in mid-air, too – having wagged and whipped herself off balance. The toy landed on her unharmed and victorious for the first time in their relationship. Sophie was understandably confused.. If she was a cat – she would have walked off with an “I meant to do that” look. As a Goldie – she just smiled and lunged at the toy for another round. I’m sure she won the second heat.

Everyday she shows me further improvement, greater adaptation, more return to her pre-cancer personality. We jokingly call her “Sophie-Lou” because she was born in a barn – true ! – and she is the noisiest dog I have ever met. She snores like a severely overweight, drunk, old person passed out cold – flat on their back – suffering from nasal congestion! There is nothing dainty about our girl. Everything she does is big, noisy and generally destructive in some form or fashion. When she drinks – she “submarines” – she puts her entire snout into the bowl – right to the bottom – and splashes water in a good 3 foot diameter. Her food is scattered into two different rooms – because she takes a mouth full from the bowl, and runs to another room – spits it out and then eats the kibble off the carpet. She and her brother, Keaton, were opposite ends of the golden retriever scale – Sophie is loud, noisy, forever 2 years old – Keaton was 10 from the time he was born. He was so quiet – you never knew where he was in the house. When he swam – there was never even a ripple around him – and he would walk into the water carefully so as not to disturb the calm surface. Sophie dives into the water with glee and abandon – if she could do a cannonball – she would. When she swims – it looks like someone is drowning – there is water splashing all around her. She used to try to swim on top of Keaton – nearly drowning him in the process. When Sophie comes down the stairs – when she was 4-legged – it sounded like a stampede. Now it’s more like a lone beast separated from its herd.

Sophie was always the “bad” dog – the troublemaker dog – I can’t begin to tell you all of the things she has eaten – things that weren’t even food !  Of course, she ate lots of things that were food, too. Like the time she got into my son’s Hallowe’en candy – and met me at the door, when I got home from work, with suckers stuck all over her chest and head. Where’s the camera when you need one ! That was pre-digital camera days.  Or the time I woke up in the morning to discover tiny bits of yellow paper strewn about my bedroom, down the hall, slightly larger pieces on the stairway – to almost identifiable pieces of paper on the floor at the bottom of the stairs – to the discovery of the ripped open 20 lb bag of Robin Hood flour they had found and sucked on all night. It hadn’t really occurred to me that the dogs were not in my room when I woke up. When I found them – Sophie had a plaster cast made of flour and drool coating her muzzle, her chest and both front feet. I had to chip the cured concoction off the ceramic tile with a chisel. Bad dogs.

Who’d have thought that Sophie would end up being this great dog ? She has surprised us all – and won us over with her sheer enthusiasm and love of life.

Sophie in the snow

Waving a white flag to the universe ….

Wow – it was a day. I’ve waited until it was officially over to speak of it – so as not to temp fate to add the dreaded third event to this nasty time period.

1) Went to the vet for chemo consultation.

2) Had an appointment downtown.

3) Upon leaving appointment – witnessed a pedestrian / vehicle crash.

4) Several hours later – HAD a car accident myself !! (darn, darn, darn !!) – Having trouble concentrating these days.

First of all, at 9:00 am, Sophie and I went to the vet clinic for consultation about getting Chemo. We were told that Sophie’s tumor (soft cell sarcoma) is unique even among that grouping – and that there is no way of knowing if the cancer has spread beyond the lymph node. The vet suspects that cells have spread through her lymphatic system. She told us that the type of tumor Sophie has may respond better to radiation therapy – but, again, there is no way of knowing. She says that even if we go ahead with the chemo, that there will likely be no measurable improvement, and that Sophie likely has somewhere between 4 months to 8 months – a year at most. For a 12.5 year old Golden, however, that’s a pretty old age without cancer. So – in reality, can I expect much more than that?

On the one hand, the vet said that if it were her dog, she would go ahead with the chemo; and on the other hand, she said that there would not likely be any measurable difference. I am a bit confused by these two seemingly dichotomas scenarios. Hedging her bets? She – the vet – stated that this would definitely not be a matter of curing Sophie’s cancer. So – if it’s not going to make a measurable difference in life span – and will, presumably, have some negative impact on her quality of life – if only a little – is it worth doing?

Any thoughts out there ? I’m beginning to wonder if I did the right thing by Sophie by amputating her leg …. which is something I swore not to do – don’t ever look back and second guess. I made the best decision I could make with the information and resources I had available at the time – with the best interests of Sophie in my foremost thoughts.

Thank you to all of you who are willing to share their thoughts and their journeys. It is so helpful to those of us coming down this path after you.

Sincerely,

Tana and Sophie

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