The Stealthy Killer
One of the worst things about having your dog die suddenly is the guilt that emerges. What did I do? What didn’t I do? What did I miss?
Because everything happened so quickly on July 2 and the fact that most places are still implementing social distancing (which I advocate), the morning I lost Scout I came away shell-shocked. My regular vet was on vacation. The emergency vet who saw Scout initially only communicated over cell phone with the shocking words: he’s dying. He’s nearly coded twice.
To hear these words about a dog who the previous day was a little slower but eating, barking at deliveries, happy, ran out to see his “daddy” when he arrived home, is mind-boggling.
My mind asked the vet to stop. Wait. What? He was there three weeks ago. How is this possible?
She replied that “yes, it could be just this quick.”
I said: “We’ve need to be there.” I wouldn’t let Scout nor any of the dogs or cat who’ve been in my life die alone.
The entire episode was over in probably less than 10 minutes: The arrival at the hospital, the technician taking Scout inside, talking to the emergency vet, walking around to the back of the building to a room where we would be isolated, talking to Scout to let him know we were there–although he might have been too far gone by that time to hear–and then the vet injecting him with the overdose of pentobarbitol. He was gone.
We stayed longer. Disbelief surrounding shock and grief.
The cause: A tumor or a broken blood vessel.
I contacted my regular vet via email. She is probably one of the best vets I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. She’s intelligent and her heart is as big as anyone’s I’ve met. When she first saw Scout, she fell in love. Let’s face it. For anyone who loves and understands dogs, knowing Scout’s history and seeing his beautiful, sweet face, his brave stoicism, meant immediate caring.
She had seen him just 23 days before. Except for needing to lose a few pounds, he was in great shape for a dog of 14(+?). Because I was worried about a cough, she x-rayed his lungs. Again no problems.
In her reply email, she said she was devastated. She looked at his chart and said that it was most probably hemangiosarcoma.
Hemangiosarcoma is a mouthful, but what it is ultimately is a dog death-sentence because even if the disease is detected early, current means of treatment don’t extend the dog’s life significantly1. In most cases, like Scout’s, the disease is not detected until the tumor has hemorrhaged.
Research being conducted by a group at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota called The Shine On Project may be yielding results via a blood test that is being modified to provide early detection of the hemangiosarcoma cells as well as a drug that may prevent the disease when it’s been identified. Their results so far provide hope.
In a follow up email, after having read about hemangiosarcoma, I asked my vet one question: was Scout in pain?
Her response, for which I was grateful in so many ways, was: He would have been acutely very weak but pain-free.
In all of the ways that we want to barter, offer anything for a bit more time, for one last hug, one last wag of the tail, the one thing I would not exchange for more time would be Scout’s pain-free death.
1I found one case of an 7 year old Aussie taken to the emergency room who had his spleen removed and survived for 14 months but the story has no follow up.