Losing a beloved pet is never easy.
Growing up, my only real experience with loosing a pet was when I was in High School and our elderly cat “went to the farm”. Our family dog didn’t die until after I had moved away and married so while I was saddened by it, I was so far removed that it wasn’t a major impact on my life. When I married Richie and moved out to our small farm where there were lots of animals, their deaths became something I had to learn to deal with.
Oddly I can butcher a chicken without flinching. I’ve stood by while my husband cleaned a deer and took pictures. Those events never bothered me perhaps because I felt those animals were serving their purpose as food.
Over the years we have lost 6 dogs, countless cats, chickens and even a horse. With each death there was sadness but nothing that just stopped me cold. Sure I shed some tears but I saw it as a part of life, part of owning a pet, and I moved on. At least until a few weeks ago.
In early January we lost our English Mastiff, Thunder. He was young. He’d been born into my hands in our kitchen not five years earlier. Thunder died of spleen cancer.
Although given that with his bleak prognosis he graced our lives longer than expected it all happened so quickly that I am still shocked that he is *gone*.
On Christmas Eve I noticed that Thunder’s belly was really swollen. My immediate concern was the issue of bloat which is a common problem in larger dogs. I had given him a ham hock a day or two prior and Thunder is notorious for swallowing things whole. I’ve seen him swallow and entire rib bone and when he was a puppy he had gotten worms and ate so many rocks that when you poked his belly you could feel them and hear them crunching around! I swear the vet thought we were horrible dog parents. Anyway, I was afraid that he had swallowed the ham hock and it was lodged somewhere and he was suffering from bloat which is a life threatening condition.
Since it was Christmas eve, we didn’t know what to do. Our regular vets office was closed. A few phone calls and we found that the Westside Vet Clinic in Searcy was open to accept dogs for boarding although the office itself was closed. The vet tech called the vet and explained what was happening and he agreed to make a special trip in just to see Thunder!
I stayed home to get some things ready for Christmas and for my parents who were coming in two days while Richie and his mom drove Thunder to Searcy. As the minutes turned into hours and Richie’s texts read “just one more test” and “they found a mass” I knew things were not good. Nothing broke my heart more when my husband walked through the door and broke into tears as he told me that Thunder had cancer. Spleen Cancer.
Cancer in dogs (or people for that matter) is always difficult to treat but many cancers can be treated effectively. Spleen cancer was not one of those. Spleen cancer is extremely invasive and even with complete removal of the spleen the survival rate is only about 19 days. Extensive chemotherapy can often extend the dogs life a little longer but even then less than 1 in 10,000 dogs will live longer than a year. The diagnosis pretty much sealed his fate.
The vet suggested that we take him home to live out his days happily munching on hamburgers and all kinds of goodies that dogs love and that we give him as much love as possible in the days we had left.
Thunder stayed with us for 17 more days after his diagnosis. The last three days were really tough for me and I was racked with guilt as I went back and forth between praying for God to heal him and praying for God to take him. Euthanization is a common choice for many pet owners in our situation. I struggled each day of the 17 days to know if we were making the right choice to allow him to die in his own time at home. In the end, he went peacefully in his sleep. He knew he was loved and while he was uncomfortable the last few days he never acted like he was in pain and I know he felt an outpouring of love from us.
We miss you Thunder!