Sunday, January 24th, 2010


Filed under: Amy,consuming,dogs,vet — alison @ 15:37

The other night a former veterinary technician described to me all the silliness people subject their animals to. Apparently they had clients bring in dogs with hairpieces.

Immediately my feverish little mind set itself to inventing a context for this to make sense, and succeeded. I pointed out that the usual way of making dogs look human is through breeding for brachycephaly (round foreheads and bulgy eyes), squashed faces and floppy ears that look like long human hair. Putting a hairpiece on your dog has a similar effect, but at least the hairpiece doesn’t obstruct breathing or cause ear infections.

“Yes,” said my companion. “Or make their eyes fall out when you whack them on the head!” Apparently boston terriers have very shallow orbits, and being very active are always getting whacked on the head. And then their eyes fall out. She says it’s very gross.

See also: kitty wigs.

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009


Filed under: compassion,death,dogs,how to,vet — alison @ 22:13

We found out about the brain tumour on a Friday. Over the weekend I called the people who needed to know (the dog lady; my ex) and mentioned it to the neighbours. By Monday I had made up my mind, so I called the vet to book the final appointment. Pepe was not in immediate distress, so I just asked for the first sunny day… which turned out to be Tuesday, the next day. I called Mark to tell him, but he just wasn’t ready. I asked if he wanted to wait, and he said yes. So I cancelled the appointment.

Over the next few days Pepe had ups and downs. Sometimes he would eat; other days he would just sleep. I asked Mark if I could make another appointment, and he agreed so I did. This appointment was again on a Tuesday, a week after the first one.

On the weekend we took Pepe on a nice long walk along the river.

When we got back we dug a nice big hole under the patio stones in the back yard.

Pepe tried out the hole and approved it.

Today I came home from work at mid day and we took the dogs out for a sunny walk in the park. Pepe peed on things.

I took off his harness and he stolidly pressed on and followed me. This was poignant because Pepe runs away and is not bright enough to come when called. Today he was slow and tired enough that for the first time ever I could let him off leash and he could walk around on his own.

When Pepe got tuckered out we dropped our other dog off at home, picked up a towel and continued to the vet.

The vet handled everything beautifully and quickly. She reassured us that we were not being premature.

We held and petted Pepe for a few minutes after his heart stopped until we were sure he could not be conscious any more, wrapped him in the towel and carried him home. Mark wanted to bury him right away, but I felt as though he were just sleeping so I insisted we wait until he got cold so that he would feel dead.

After about an hour I acknowledged that he was cold enough. We put him in the hole.

I didn’t want dirt to get in his eyes so I put a paper towel over his head. Mark filled the hole halfway with dirt, I used the hose to fill it with water, then Mark filled it in with the rest of the dirt. I put the patio stones back to cover the spot. When the soil settles Mark will reset the patio stones so they are level.

We went into the house to put away his things – collar, winter sweaters, the baby carrier I used to carry him when we went for long walks, his basket. Then we went out to a Mexican restaurant in his honour and came back to no trace of him left in the house.

(No need for sympathies in comments or emails; he had a good life and we’re fine.)

Thursday, July 30th, 2009


Filed under: compassion,death,dogs,vet — alison @ 11:01

Pepe has his final appointment at 14h40 on August 4th. The receptionist at the clinic offered me the choice of two vets, both of whom I like, so I told her to choose whichever one coped best with performing euthanasia. “It’s hard on both of them.”

Yeah, I figured as much. That’s why I had been kind of hoping it would be the vet I like less.

I’m ok with it. I’ve been reviewing my dates and I think he’s 15 years old. It’s just hard getting the balance right: you don’t want to drag an animal’s life out with indefinite suffering, but if the only goal is to spare suffering you might as well drown them at birth. 

Of course it’s going to upset me more than I think, but I’ll worry about that when I get there.

Next decision: shall we spend our weekend digging a nice deep hole in the back yard?

Monday, July 27th, 2009

À chaque jour suffit sa peine.*

Filed under: biblical quotes,compassion,death,dogs,vet — alison @ 12:26
Thanks for everyone’s warm thoughts.
We’ll be taking Pepe for his final trip to the vet in a week or two. I’d be ready to take him this week, but Mark is not. I’m keeping an eye on the weather forecasts so I can spend a day in the sun with him and take him to the vet right after.
He’s not suffering today, and that’s the point for me. I know he will start suffering again soon and taking him in while he’s still cheerful is the only way to avoid it.
I expect it will be harder than I think when the time comes, but that is the future. I mean for Pepe and me to enjoy the present.
 *Matthew 6:34. The English version is the convoluted “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Apologies for those allergic to religious texts, but they can be goldmines of pithy aphorisims.) (Interestingly, the Dutch version “Leef dus gewoon bij de dag” does not refer to pain or evil at all, whether elegantly or inelegantly.)

Saturday, July 25th, 2009


Filed under: dogs,how to,vet — alison @ 08:47

I love watching vets work.

The vet opened the examining room door, looked at Pepe kindly and with happy anticipation, and called him to her by name. Pepe ambled in and we followed. [Cool vet tricks: How well does Pepe see and hear?  How is his gait? How does he respond to a new place? Is he confident or uncertain? Also: Communicate to Pepe’s bosses – yes, we both went – that Pepe is charming and loveable and worth this focussed attention. Establish trust.]

We told her we were there because Pepe’s seizures were getting worse but he couldn’t take the medication he had been offered. We wanted to try an alternative. The vet brought out his file to see what the notes were, commented that it was a thick file. We acknowledged that. We knew he was chronically ill and we weren’t expecting miracles. [Cool vet trick: set up the bosses for possible end-of-life conversation.]

We showed her the video Mark had shot of Pepe having a seizure. The vet had asked for this months ago, but it’s only now that he has them daily and on cue that we’ve been able to catch him at it. She watched once, carefully, asked questions about his apparent state of consciousness, then explained why she thought this wasn’t epilepsy but an epileptiform seizure. [Cool human trick: explain your reasoning so that your listeners know they’ve been heard and understood.]

Mark volunteered that epileptiform seizures were caused by tumours. The vet agreed that this was one cause, then proceeded to examine Pepe, explaining what she was doing at each step. His heart is fine, therefore his seizures are unlikely to be caused by lack of oxygen to the brain. She listened to his lungs and felt his lymph nodes for signs of metastasis but didn’t find anything obvious. [Cool human trick: explain your reasoning to get buy-in for your conclusions.]

She checked his vision. He has cataracts, but he responds normally to light shone in his eyes and can track a moving light on the wall. He reacts to a raised hand and tapping towards his right eye… but not his left. By this time we were anticipating the conclusion: his brain tumor was affecting the visual processing for his left eye. Aha! moment: so that’s why he let someone pet him while I was holding him the other day: he couldn’t see her approach. [Cool vet trick: she particularly wanted to check his vision because she’d noticed him hesitate as he walked into the room, as if he weren’t sure what was there.]

The next step, she explained, was an MRI. We protested: what would be gained? Well, she said, it was the only way to know for absolutely certain that he has brain cancer. We protested again: it doesn’t matter, because we won’t be treating the cancer anyway. She agreed, adding that a scan would be too expensive. [Cool human trick: Ensure the bosses own the decision.]

She proposed a cortisone prescription to reduce swelling. It might help temporarily. I said what I really wanted to know was how to decide when to bring him in for the final visit. Well, she said, daily seizures really are a lot. They’re physically hard for the animal. Plus, his head must hurt him terribly. [Cool vet trick: load up the bosses with information to make the ultimate decision easier.]

I was stricken by the notion of my poor little dog sleeping in dark rooms because he was laid low by headaches: I had assumed it was just general fatigue. I asked about pain medication. Well, she said, she didn’t want to give him morphine because it’s addictive, and he can’t take both NSAIDs and cortisone, but the cortisone is an antinflammatory and will treat the pain. If the cortisone works he’ll be happy and lively and his seizures will stop or be reduced. If it doesn’t work, or the tumour grows and the cortisone stops helping, we’ll know. But with the cortisone we might be able to buy him a couple more months. [Cool human trick: establish reasonable expectations and next steps.]

So far the cortisone seems to be working. He’s happy, has his appetite back, and is pissing like a fire hydrant. Two more months is just about right: he doesn’t like winter, so it’s good to know he won’t have to go through another one.

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Overheard at the vet

Filed under: dogs,food,holidays,vet — alison @ 06:17

“Fifty grams of dark chocolate? For a twenty-kilo dog? Ok, I’ll write that down and make a note, but that’s less than half the toxic dose. … Oh, no worries, I’ve been getting these calls all week.”

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