Mar 172012

Today, Thursday, March 15, is the day that we go to pick up our Sasha from the Vet after amputation of her right arm due to osteosarcoma.  Liliana and I are feeling many emotions as we get closer to the vet’s office.  How will Sasha react when she sees us?  How will we feel when first we see our girl with no right arm?  The questions pile, one on top of the other, and  tears begin to fill Liliana’s eyes.  I hope Sasha is happy to see us.

After we review all of the care instructions, receive Sasha’s medications, and pay the bill, we are ready to take Sasha home.  Liliana and I follow Dr. Patterson (he fills in for Dr. N. on Thursdays), Shelly and a tech back to where Sasha is being kept. The kennel door is opened, and Sasha looks around nervously.  She is probably scared about what might be in store for her next, but our eyes meet.  Now she knows that she is going home.  As Dr. Patterson and the tech get Sasha out of the kennel, she let out a screech.  Her scream makes it abundantly clear that she is in considerable pain, and that we need to be very cautious with her.  Like the Stoic American bulldog that Sasha has always been, she ignores her pain and the fact that she is missing a limb, and makes a beeline directly for me.  To be completely honest, Sasha was more likely heading for the door to get the heck out of Dodge.

Dr. Patterson helps Sasha walk to the car using a towel under her belly to help stabilize her.  It’s time for me to lift her into the back of our Jeep, but I am so scared of hurting her.  With my right arm under her belly, and my left hand contorted under her chest to keep as much pressure away from her right side as possible, I hoisted her into the Jeep.  I carefully climbed in the back with her so that I could keep her from getting hurt during the short ride home.  Sasha is happy to be with her family again, but there is no disguising the fact that she has been through a traumatizing experience.  It will take time for her wound to heal, and for her to learn to be a three-legged dog.  I will continue to chronicle Sasha’s road to recovery from the surgery, and her battle with cancer.

Mar 152012

When I wrote my last post/entry, Liliana and I had just learned that our eleven year old  American bulldog, Sasha, had a tumor on her right humerus.  Our vet, Dr. N., and Dr. Clary, an orthopedic surgeon, agree that the tumor is likely the result of a type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.  After speaking with Dr. N., and doing extensive research on canine osteosarcoma, Liliana and I decided that the best course of action would be to amputate Sasha’s arm.  We did not believe that Sasha was ready to leave her family yet.  She is very healthy aside from the tumor, and she acts younger than her age.  Immediate amputation of the affected arm was the advice given to Liliana and me by both, doctors N. and Clary.  Their advice was consistent with the accepted course of action of all similar cases that I was able to read about on-line.

We brought Sasha into the vet’s office on Tuesday for some final X-Rays to make sure that the cancer had not visibly  metastasized  into her lungs, and to have a fentanyl patch applied to her neck for pain management.  I was so happy to see that the radio-graphs showed no signs of additional cancer.  Unfortunately, just because no tumors were visible in Sasha’s lungs, does not mean that they are in fact clean.  Apparently, osteosarcoma does metastasize in 90% of all dogs that  present with a tumor.  I am just glad that the cancer has not progressed to the point where it is actually visible in her other organs.  I will write more posts in the future to cover Sasha’s continued battle with osteosarcoma post amputation.

Mar 132012

Tuesday, March 6th was a very sad day at the Ruano house.  Liliana answered her phone, and it was Dr. N. on the other end.  He was calling to give us his findings about why Sasha had developed an increasingly worsening limp due to pain in her front right arm.  In the back of our minds, Liliana and I may have had suspicions of ominous news, but on the surface we had expectations, and even hope of learning that Sasha had a broken or fractured bone.  Yes, I do understand how strange and morbid it sounds that I was hoping for broken bones in my beloved pet.  The news was much worse, however.  I knew that our dear Sasha was in real trouble when I turned around and saw Liliana in tears while holding the phone.  Before that moment, I did not know that Dr. N. had called, but the sadness and pain in my wife’s face made it instantly clear to me what was going on.  Liliana could not bear to listen any longer and handed the phone to me while the Doctor was in the middle of delivering the bad news.

Dr. N. explained that he and Dr. Clary, an orthopedic specialist brought in to examine Sasha that day, had found a tumor on the upper part of Sasha’s right humerus (upper arm bone).  There was no way to say for certain without a bone biopsy, but the doctors suspected that the tumor was caused be a type of cancer called osteosarcoma.  Osteosarcoma is a very aggressive bone cancer, and it is the most common type of bone cancer seen in dogs.  The good news is that osteosarcoma almost never spreads from bone to bone.  The bad news is that it does metastasize into other parts of the body – usually the lungs.  The prognosis for dogs diagnosed with osteosarcoma is rather grim.

Dr. N. layed out our options for Sasha.  He first explained that if we did nothing, Sasha would probably live another three to four months, and be in a lot of pain for the rest of her days.  The second option was euthanasia.  The third option was to amputate Sasha’s arm, and the final option was amputation and chemotherapy.  My eyes began to swell with tears and my throat tightened.  I knew that if the doctor stopped speaking, I would not be able to respond to his diagnosis.  Dr. N. spared me for another moment as he explained his opinion of the situation, and what he would do.  His recommendation was to spare Sasha the trauma of a biopsy, and amputate the leg.  Once the leg was removed, he reasoned, a pathologist could make the determination of exactly what the cause of the tumor on Sasha’s arm was.  Regardless of the cause, he said, the arm would almost certainly need to be amputated anyway.  I continued to listen to Dr. N., in a state of half disbelief, and then in a broken voice and a couple octaves higher than usual, I thanked him and told him that I would see him soon.

While Liliana and I waited for the time to pick up our girl from the vet’s office, I began devouring as much information as I could possibly find on the internet about canine osteosarcoma.  As usual, I began my search with a simple google search of the topic.  I find that, while much of the information I find using this method is anecdotal, it gets me going in the right direction.  Other people have gone through the same situation that I am facing right now with Sasha.  I can read about the choices that they made, and possibly learn some valuable information at the same time.  The next step in my research process is to pull up as many academic research papers on the topic as I can find.  What I learned during my search for information about osteosarcoma in dogs, is that Sasha is in a very precarious situation.  In talking to Liliana about our options, we both agreed that we needed to take action.  Doing nothing was not an option, and it was very important to us that we make a morally ethical decision, which, of course, was very difficult to do in a situation like the one we were in.  Dogs cannot speak for themselves, so it is up to their human guardians to make decisions for them.  Euthanasia was almost unfathomable, but would it be fair to Sasha, a dog of almost twelve years of age, to amputate her leg, and expect her to relearn how to walk on three legs?  Would it be fair to put Sasha through the trauma of surgery, and the difficulties of recovering from such a major operation?

I continued my research and found that dogs that undergo amputations usually recover fairly quickly (begin acting somewhat normally in about a month’s time).  Animals do not share the same feelings of shame or feel the stigma attached to being an amputee.  They do not sit and think about how they are different than all of their buddies at the dog park.  Dogs get right back in the game, so to speak.  Their new condition is simply their new reality, and they continue on without a second thought.  Sasha may never be quite as agile as she once was, but if she can still enjoy things like chewing on sticks in the back yard, chasing down frisbees (albeit more slowly than before), and swimming in the ocean, then her life is worth sparing.  As long as Sasha is happy and her quality of life is good, we will do whatever we can within our power to ensure that we can continue to make good memories with our girl.

My Dogs

 Posted by
Mar 122012

Liliana and I share our home and lives with five of the most wonderful and amazing beings that exist.  They are our dogs; they are our family.  Their names, in the order that they joined our pack, are, Sasha, Argus, Alli, Shelby and Tommy.  Sasha is the matriarch, and she enjoys the rest of the pack’s unmitigated respect.  Liliana and I had just returned to Pennsylvania from a cross-country trip, and we decided that we were ready to expand our family.  First we needed to find our own place.  We were newly weds you see, and up until this point in our marriage, we were living with my grand parents in their small, but love-filled, apartment.  I must give credit to Liliana here for taking the initiative and being the motivating force behind our stepping forward into the next stage of our life together.

So that this post does not turn into a novel, I’ll just say that we found ourselves an apartment to move into in Limerick, PA which allowed pets.  Liliana and I had already met Sasha, a beautiful American bulldog, by this point.  At the time, Sasha was living with her siblings at the Frazer Zoo in Frazer, PA.  It was a cool place as pet stores go, and even though our opinions of pet stores have changed drastically since those days, we still have fond memories of visiting Sasha there everyday after work.  We were  on very friendly terms with the manager of the store, and so that meant that we could take Sasha out of her pen on our own, and walk around the store with her.  One of Liliana’s fondest memories of this time was taking Sasha back to the treat bins and feeding her a marrow bone or two.  Sasha was quite fond of these times as well.

Sasha’s first night with us in our new apartment was very memorable.  Our place was almost totally barren at the time.  We didn’t even have a bed!  I was fine with our sparse accommodations; Liliana was less than happy with our minimalistic lifestyle, but that’s a topic for another post.  When night came, and it was time to sleep, we layed down on some blankets on the floor that we had been using as a makeshift bed.  Sasha layed just below our feet in her new doggy bed with blanket that we had recently gotten her.  In the morning, Liliana woke me with a gentle touch and soft voice.  She motioned for me to look down between our bodies, and there was Sasha.  Sometime during the night, Sasha had made her way up and between our sleeping bodies just below our pillows.  If she wasn’t already part of our family before that moment, she was then.

Argus, also an American bulldog, was next to join our small, but growing family.  We named him after Odysseus’ forever-faithful dog, Argos or Argus, in Homer’s, The Odyssey.  Every dog owner feels that their dog is special, and they are all right.  We have five dogs, and Argus stands out among the rest for his loyalty, immutable drive, and unequaled big heart.  My cousin Michael says that every person will have a once-in-a-lifetime dog, and that Argus is my such dog.  We knew that Argus was special beyond his cuteness and playful nature when we first brought him home, and for my quazi sadistic pleasure, I put him down at the base of our long stairway.  This is the same stairway that had given Sasha so much difficulty when she first faced it.  It took Sasha a solid week before she was able to somewhat confidently scale the twenty-two treacherous carpet covered steps.  As I stood back to see how Argus would face such a challenge, half expecting him to make it halfway up one step and then look to me for help, I was stunned to watch our new four legger jump and run up the entire staircase as if he had been doing it for years!  Argus was just eight weeks old, and he was shorter and far stubbier than Sasha was when she first attempted to negotiate the mountain of steps.  Argus has been impressing us ever since day one.  No challenge is too great for him.  He does not understand fear (except for his own reflection) or timidity, and just as the love in his heart, his bravery knows no bounds.

On November 19th, 2002, Alli joined the family.  Alli is Argus’ and Sasha’s puppy. <<Read about why Liliana and I will never breed our dogs again>> As with Sasha finding her way between Liliana’s and my body on her first night with us, and Argus running up our apartment stairs as soon as we brought him home, I also have a special early memory of Alli.  It’s quite a different sort of memory, but it’s still special, and I’ll explain why in a moment.  From the time that Alli first stepped out of the whelping room when she was eight weeks old, she never had an accident inside of our home.  I am still so impressed with her because of this.  I won’t try to embarrass Alli’s parents here, but I am pretty sure that Bounty and Nature’s Miracle made record profits during the first six or so months of Argus’ and Sasha’s lives.  The reason that this memory is special, aside from the fact that I am eternally grateful to Alli for not giving me frequent poop and pee cleanup work, is that it was the first sign that we had that Alli was intellectually superior (that’s my girl).  She has always been able to figure out puzzles.  Whether the problem before her was to figure out how to get to find her way to Liliana and I through fences and railing and steps, or deciphering her human’s faces and emotions.  Alli is just smart.  She is also warm.  And I mean warm in both senses of the word.  She is a sweet girl, but somehow she feels very warm to the touch.  Obviously, her body temperature has to be within normal parameters of a healthy canine, but ask anyone who has ever cuddled with her, and they will surely tell you that Alli is a little oven.  Alli is the one that you want next to you on a cold winter’s night.

Shelby is an adoptee.  She came into our home during some rough times, and helped out with her comedic and clownish personality.  We have many nicknames for our Shelby: Blondie, Jar Jar, Chewbaca, Dingyote, and several others which I will not share until we are on more familiar terms with each other.  Shelby is a super sweet girl, and has brought so much pleasure into our lives.  She has some naughty habits, but so do I, so I will not judge her too harshly.  Liliana was told by the shelter from where we got Shelby from that she is half pitbull and half German shepherd.  We have no idea what Shelby’s true lineage is, but she seems to think that she is a bulldog like the rest of the pack.  She’s a tough little girl and will not back down to anyone (save for humans).  She also holds grudges, so we need to keep an eye on her for a little while after her and one the other dogs get into a disagreement.  Thankfully, our dogs have never gotten into a real scuffle.

Tommy was the last new member to join the pack.  Like Shelby, he is a bit of a clown.  He’s also the baby of the house, and he acts like it most of the time.  Tommy know’s just how to turn on the cute puppy dog face, and he does it often to at least attempt to get what he wants.  Tommy is a pitbull with a sweet heart who loves everyone – except for the neighbor’s dog. We found him wandering on a busy street on our way home from the beach with the rest of the gang.  As we always do whenever we see a loose dog on the street, we hung a quick U-ey, and made our way over to him.  After some time looking for his owner, I told Liliana to give me a leash and head home with the rest of the dogs.  I was going to walk the rest of the way home with the little fellow.  We spent over a month trying to find his owner, and then trying to find him a new home, but I suppose I should have known that he wasn’t going anywhere when I named him during that first walk to new home.  We treated Tommy for mange and a few other parasites during his initial visit with us.  He was also a little underweight when we found him, so I like to think that we improved his life a little just like he improved ours.

Liliana and I never intended on having a house with five dogs.  We weren’t going to be those people.  In my opinion, we still aren’t “those people”, and I’ve come to realize that not everyone else with more than the average number of pets are “those people” either.  We have drawn a hard line at five though.  That’s not to say that other escapees from around the neighborhood haven’t spent some time at our house while their parent’s were notified, but there is no way that we can, in any fairness to us or the dogs, invite another dog into our lives at this time.  There is something so special about dogs and the connection that we as people have with them.  Not everyone understands this or feels this way, and that is fine, but I am so glad that we get it.  We really get it.

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