Caring for a Three Legged Dog or Cat
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Max is slowing down. Way down. He’s sleeping peacefully right now, so I’m crying my eyes out while he can’t see me. I’ve been crying in secret for the last three days.
Our Friday morning walk took a lot longer than usual—a slower pace, lots of stops and starts. The trail back up to the house goes along a creek and up a steep ridge. We’ve hiked it a thousand times in our three-plus years together. But on Friday he stopped halfway up and looked out over the creek gorge, standing there for a long, long time, taking it all in. I just watched him, watching the world. It struck me that this might be his final view of that everyday sight. And that he might very well know it.
I think my instinct was right. Just like that, he no longer has the stamina for an uphill haul. On Saturday morning I sensed he wasn’t up to an actual hike and took him to a park instead. It’s a big, beautiful park with lots of short trails and different gardens. We meandered around for a few hours, stopping to rest and watch people or lie in the grass, then moving on again. We had to take a quick but steep path back toward the car, and he managed it valiantly. But a few yards down the line, we had to step up onto a rock, only about two stairs high, and he just plain didn’t have it in him. Nothing left in the tank. This sensationally athletic, trim, powerhouse of an animal had to rely on a 43-year-old bipedal woman to lift him over it! Another dagger to the heart.
And tonight—tonight he wouldn’t go out for the usual quickie nightcap stroll. Wouldn’t budge. Max wouldn’t budge! That’s a first.
So here I am now, weeping and sobbing under wraps. I miss him in the midst of him! I’m looking at him lying here on the floor, his chest rising and falling like breathing is so natural and easy and just this thing we take for granted. Since we quit all failed forms of chemo a few weeks ago, his red-gold coat has gotten much of its luster and softness back, even the huge area they shaved around the amputation site (which grew back in kind of course and dull). And his big, copper-lashed eyes are clear and bright under those sleepy lids. His face is so sweet and serene, and the small scratch on his tummy from rolling around in a juniper shrub has healed up nicely. It’s so astonishing and bewildering that everything about this glorious body is working perfectly normally—except for that crap in his lungs that’s taking over and moving in for the kill. It’s like it’s circling us in the water, nipping menacingly at us, just waiting for the moment it wants to swoop in and take him from me once and for all.
What the hell am I going to do without my little beastie boy padding along beside me everywhere I go and waking me with kisses in the morning and bringing me a shoe, all giddy and joyful, when I come back in from taking out the garbage, like I was away for hours? This gut-wrenching loss is lingering so close, and I’m forced to square with the inevitabilities. I’ve started making inquiries about things I know nothing about and have been putting off, like euthanasia house calls and pet cremation services. I’ve sized up small plots of land at the lake where I can bury his ashes and mark a grave. I catch myself planning after-the-fact distractions, like making soap and taking up tennis. (Making soap? Really?)
I am so, so sad.
And you know what? I’m tired of having to justify that. Some people think I’ve lost all sense of proportion. Such drastic measures (amputation! chemotherapy! oncologists!), such grief over a dog. But it hurts so deeply, and I don’t want to feel weird or stupid for that. Well-meaning people cock their heads and say that true but rote thing about dogs being a part of the family. But Max is a part of me. He swells my heart up every day with his relentless love and companionship, and tonight the impending loss of him feels a bit too much. All that flat-out, no-holds-barred, against-all-odds hope in a miracle I’ve been clinging to suddenly feels naïve and trite.
But I’m going to go wash my face and brush my teeth now, then I’ll lift Max onto the bed, and I’ll pray yet another pleading Rosary before I fall asleep with my fingers in his fur. In the morning I’ll “Be More Dog ” and let a few more deadlines pass and a few more loads of laundry pile up, and we’ll sit in the sun and plod through a park and eat whipped cream out of the can on the living room floor.
28 March 2015
Oh, how my heart breaks for you! Your subject line 'missing him in the midst of him' is so poetic and so true. We know our time is limited and there is such a bittersweet tug between loving them and missing them at the same time.
I don't care what people say, for me there is no joy like the pure love between a dog and it's person. Sometimes I take my new dog Toby for a walk and he is just so happy, his head is up, his tail is wagging, he's prancing along practically giddy with the excitement of going for a walk. And the happiness is just so contagious I feel my heart melt and I just give in to the pure happiness of a walk with my dog.
And even though Toby is only 2, even in the midst of all that happiness there is a niggling voice at the back of my mind that he could get OSA, or MCT or whatever and our lives could change in an instant. I know the heartbreak, I've already felt the heartbreak of that. And yet I wouldn't give up Toby and the joy he brings me for an instant, even knowing the heartbreak that will come, eventually, for some reason, at some time. So love Max as long as you have him. Enjoy every sweet moment of it. Try not to look over that horizon. It won't work, but try anyway.
Denise, Bill and Angel Ellie (....and Toby Two Toes).
Active 10+ Pyr mix suddenly came up lame with ACL tear in left rear leg. Scheduled for a TPLO but final pre-op x-rays indicated a small suspicious area, possibly OSA, which could have caused the ACL tear. Surgeon opened the knee for TPLO but found soft bone. Biopsy came back positive for OSA. Became a Tripawd 9/18/14. Carbo6 with Cerenia and Fluids. Pain free and living in the moment. Crossed the Bridge on 7/12/15 after probable spread of cancer to her cervical spine. A whole lifetime of memories squeezed into 10 months. Here's her story: Eloise
As Denise said, your subject line is so poetic. You've expressed your feelings with a courageous grace.
Okay, now that youve had a bit of sleep and prayed on your rosary, maybe we can look at things a little differently this morniing! Based on what you've said, Max is NOT giving up and is still finding joy in just being with you!
If I may, one of the first things I would consider to help Max compensate with his lower energy is to shorten these walks a lot!!! And I can only go by what my "visual" is of his outdoor excursions, but it sounds like it would be sooo exhausting for a dog with compromised lung capacity.
Sure, Max loves his outside adventures with you, but it may not mean nearly as much to him now that he tires so readily. He may prefer much more just sitting ourside in the sun with yiu and getting tummy rubs or having his whip cream fed to him on a spoon!
For me, I never felt like my Happy Hannah was in pain with mets, she just tired very easily and that is not pain.
I think just by changing your routine with Max some and redefining ways to be together and enjoy the bliss of the moment without involving a lot of walks is a way to stay more in the moment.
And yes, to grieve for what you haven't yet lost is to take away from enjoying the sacred time you are having now.
You stay connected to us and reach out anytime...especially when you feel overwhelmed and need a little help getting back into the present with Max. It's hard to do that in your own sometimes..so hard.
We love you and Max and we understand the love you have for each other like no one else can.
Now go sit in the sun and have a whip cream pawty....and maybe some ice cream too!
Sally and Alumni Happy Hannah and Merry Myrtle too!
Happy Hannah had a glorious additional bonus time of over one yr & two months after amp for osteo! She made me laugh everyday! Joined April's Angels after send off meal of steak, ice cream, M&Ms & deer poop!
13 August 2015
Oh Susanna my heart hurts for you! I know it's so hard for you but try to do what Sally suggests and enjoy each moment with Max and make wonderful memories. Know Max isn't in pain and let him set the pace. Just being with you makes Max's day complete. Try not to worry about the future Max isn't. Much love and hugs!
Linda, Bob and our Max
24 September 2009
That is so beautifully said, and I can relate to it completely. Many of us can. It's hard to be in the moment when these reminders come up and the grief hits us like a ton of bricks. There's even a term for it, it's called "Anticipatory Grief." We've written about it through the years, these posts might help your heart a bit:
Help for Coping with Anticipatory Grief
Award Winning Must Read from Beezer and Boomer
Beezer and Boomer Say: Seize the Day, Silly Humans
We also experienced many similar moments with our Jerry as the mets took over, like when we realized that he couldn't do the stairs without help, or when a walk was no more than a lingering potty walk of 5 minutes, if that. He fell while getting out of our RV on the day before he passed, and it broke my heart into a million pieces.
But you know what? Looking back, that accumulation of bittersweet moments was also a way to prepare me for the inevitable, to be ready for "the call" to the vet and dealing with the aftermath. As it was happening, I had to try so hard not to cry around him (Jim aka "Admin" telling me constantly "there will be plenty of time for tears later" was what kept me from totally losing it every day). I know exactly how you are feeling. All you can do is your best to live in the now and know that some day, you can cry your eyes out but not now, now while he's still here and savoring every minute.
Here is one of our podcasts that might help you with the technical aspect of saying goodbye. NOT an easy topic, but I wish I had known a lot of this when we were going through Jerry's last days. Listen to it in another room with a box of tissues and try to stay strong, but I hope it helps:
Tripawds Founders Jim and Rene
tripawds.com | tripawds.org | bemoredog.net | triday.pet
18 October 2009
Thank you for sharing that a beautiful expression of your place on this journey, a place so many of us have been.
I'm sorry you are here with Max, but there is still time to hold your boy, to stroke his fur, to build memories.
When I came to this point with Maggie I focused on making each day her best day and tried very hard not to think about when we would part company. Of course I had my moments- I did my crying in the shower.
You don't have to justify being sad, at least not here. Maggie is my heart dog, and although she left me physically more than 5 years ago I carry her in my heart every day.
I'm glad you felt comfortable enough to share such deep feelings here. I hope it helped you, and know that your courage to write here will help others when they find themselves at this point in their journey.
Karen and Spirit Maggie
Tri-pug Maggie survived a 4.5 year mast cell cancer battle only to be lost to oral melanoma.
1999 to 2010
13 June 2013
Like the others have said.... I am sorry you are facing this part of the journey with Max. It's horribly sad and painful. I remember those days all to well with my dear Shelby... I cried in the car, in the shower, at work... but she was my soulmate so she knew. And she fought so hard ... but it's sad when you are in that moment and it's so very real. You said it so well - missing in the midst ....
I think about Shelby every day and some days are worse than others but it's a permanent hole in my heart and I try not to have regrets about our last days. It was very hard to live in the NOW and I think Shelby's lessons left to me is that I actually do that more NOW than I did when I was going through it.
So as hard as it is ... try and stay in the now. I know it will be hard and come to us to vent, cry and be angry.... we are ALL here for you!
Hugs and love,
alison with spirit shelby in her heart (and little jasper)
Shelby Lynne; Jack Russell/Shiba Inu mix. Proud member of the April Angels of 2014.
October 15, 2000 to April 8, 2014
Our story: Broke rear leg in June 2013 - non-conclusive results for cancer so leg was plated and pinned. Enlarged spleen in September 2013 and had it removed and was diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma and started chemotherapy. Became a Tripawd January 8th, 2014 and definitive Hemangiosarcoma diagnosis. Three major surgeries in 7 months and Shelby took them all like a champ only to lose her battle to cancer in her brain. We had 8 amazing extra months together and no regrets. #shelbystrong #loveofmylife
31 August 2013
Your heart-wrenching story of your beautiful Max hit me square in my heart, and to the very depth of my soul...... I agree with what everyone else has said, and mostly that we all DO completely understand what you are feeling. All these up and down feelings, and even the feeling of loss before it actually happens.... But what Sally said is so, so true, to grieve what you haven't yet lost is to take away from enjoying the sacred time you are having now..... And yes, what you said too, being more dog and all that goes with it....
Thinking of you and sweet Max tonight,
Bonnie, Angel Polly, and new girls
16 October 2012
I agree with everything everyone said here. We all know that hurt and watching and knowing what could be our babies final days. They let us know when they are ready. Some more than others. 🙁 I am sitting here and crying too with you. Try to enjoy those days & don't let that grief rob you of those last few days and
Thinking of you & Max
Michelle & Angel Sassy
Sassy is a proud member of the Winter Warriors. Live long, & strong Winter Warriors.
07/26/2006 - Sassy earned her wings 08/20/2013
05/04/2006 - Bosch, Sassy's pal, earned his wings 03/29/19 fought cancer for 4 months.
"You aren't doing it TO her, you are doing it FOR her. Give her a chance at life."
25 January 2014
Boy, did your title reach out and grab at my heartstrings! If I could have put words to what I felt at the time I was watching My Ty Guy get sicker, that would have been spot on. We completely understand what you are feeling. That makes my heart break for you. People who don't get everything we tried to cure our dogs, well, they just don't get it! It is hard to accept the " new normal" we want what once was. I too, did not know how I was going to make it without my daily shoe offering. Hug him, breathe him in, the beauty of his being a dog is that he is not at all worried, not at all afraid. If he has you by his side, all is well in his little world.
TY GUY, Best Black Lab ever! Diagnosed and had amp in January, 2014. Kicked MRSA's butt. Earned his angel wings on April 16, 2014. Run Free my boy and don't forget a shoe. Ty is a proud member of the " April Angels". Ty sent us Daryl, a Tripawd rescue in Sept. of 2016. Daryl is 5 +or -. We are also Pawrents to Chandler, a Border Collie mix who is 15 and 1/2, Lucy, a Corgi who is 7, 2 minis, 2 horses, and a feisty cat named Zoe. Zoe had a non skeletal Osteosarcoma removed in July 2015. No Chemo, she was at least 16. She is going strong although she is now completely blind. She is now close to 20 and her hobbies are eating and sleeping in front of her personal heater.
Thank you all, so much! You know, when it’s all said and done, the thing that will surely remain is genuine, profound gratitude. Between those periods of sadness and grief, I am overwhelmed with gratitude! I’m so thankful that there are sensitive, intelligent people like you all who are so effusive in your kindness and support. And I’m thankful for ALL of it—the whole crazy package.
I know I whined a little bit about some people’s incredulousness over Max’s treatment and my sorrow, but it’s completely inaccurate to say there’s a large lack of understanding out there. For each person who thinks I’m nutty there are at least a dozen who get it. In these last six months, we have encountered countless sympathetic strangers. I can’t tell you how many people who have inquired about the beautiful three-legged dog have promised to pray for us or wish us their best or offer advice. Several have taken my email address and sent me links to certain miracle cures they’ve heard of or information they have on herbal supplements or whatever.
A few weeks ago a group of teenage boys on skateboards stopped and actually applauded Max as he bounded past them, wet from a swim and proudly carrying a big stick. A toothless meth-head chased me down once, sobbing with sympathy and wanting to know more about the “rescue” dog, like he identified with him on some level—in need of rescue himself. I’ve seen serious-looking people melt into baby talk and smiles at the sight of him. Parents have had the chance to explain disabilities to curious children and point out how great it is that “the dog with the missing leg” is still living a pretty awesome, happy life.
I’ve once again been privileged to experience my parents’ and sisters’ love and concern. Super smart people who have dedicated their lives to veterinary surgery and oncology have suffered my relentless questions with patience and care. And the fact that there are veterinary oncologists out there at all—how amazing is that? In the WSU vet teaching hospital, I’ve encountered people with birds, turtles, horses, cats, dogs, iguanas, ferrets—all anxious over their beloved pets’ health and being served by others who have studied and trained and want to help them! It’s marvelous!
In the last six months, I’ve witnessed Max stubbornly, persistently, triumphantly return to full activity, to six or seven or eight miles a day. This creature doesn’t have any quit in him. We’ve celebrated the return to old trails and familiar stomping grounds. He taught himself how to sail off the dock all over again, to outrun four-legged dogs, to sprint after a ball like he was on wheels, to wrangle himself up a marmot or give a squirrel the scare of its life.
And then there were the three years before his cancer that completely transformed me. My three- and four-inch heels are all at the back of the closet (apologies to my boyfriend for that) and have been replaced with walking shoes, snow boots, hiking sandals. There’s a ten-mile swath of land along the river that I hardly knew existed; now I know its terrain and trails intimately, and I’ve explored the lakes and conservation areas that were only places on a map before. We’ve seen deer and moose and elk. I know the eagles’ seasonal patterns, when to expect them in the fall and when they’ll leave for the summer. I can identify all the other raptors—the red-tail hawks and the osprey and the turkey vultures. There’s a blue heron gives us interlopers a good talking-to when we get too close. (I call him Ebenezer.) We tangled with a really aggressive coyote once, and we even saw a cougar flash across the trail ahead of us. (Still spooked by that!) I know the progression of wildflowers in the spring and summer; if you could time-lapse it, it would look like a fireworks show. We’ve been outside in the woods every single day, even in sub-zero temperatures, so now I know I’m made of tougher stuff than I thought. The first time Max got a tick, this girly-girl brought out a book of matches (after freaking out a little); now I can pluck ticks like a pro. (Tip: Easy Off Oven Cleaner kills a jarful of those bastards faster and deader than anything else.)
And Max, aka Mr. Social, has forced me into conversations with my neighbors, who were once unknown to me. I’ve met so many people living right next to me I otherwise would have never known.
In fact, one of those neighbors found me choking up in the park the other morning. He gave me a hug and reminded me that death is a meaningful experience. He encouraged me to do all I can to prepare a good death for Max. And I know he’s right. This is part of life, after all. There’s no escaping it. We have to rise to the occasion. So I’m back to focusing on making these last weeks or days or whatever we have left the best they can be, and I’ll have to buck up and get things in order so that when Max’s moment comes it can be as peaceful as possible.
I sincerely, deeply thank each of you for your thoughtful, heartfelt responses here. The tips and resources are invaluable, and your kindness is simply priceless. I feel so blessed!
I am in absolute awe of this beautiful from- the -heart tribute to magnificent Mr. Social Max. You are a very enlightened Soul with a gift for expression that is truly guided.
I want to come back and re-read this, several times over, and respond more later from a quiet and centered state. This is a lovely celebration of two connected Souls who understand what "one heart" really means.
What an incredible gift you are to each other...and to us...and to everyone who has had the privilege of being tpuched.by Max's light.
Sally and My Chunky Spiritual Being Happy Hannah and Merry Myrtle too!
Happy Hannah had a glorious additional bonus time of over one yr & two months after amp for osteo! She made me laugh everyday! Joined April's Angels after send off meal of steak, ice cream, M&Ms & deer poop!
27 December 2011
You have written so beautifully about your furbaby, and we can all so totally understand. Please know that we're thinking of you and your handsome Max-please give him scratchies from Lily and me. He knows how very much you love him.
Sending love and hugs,
Joan and Lily
Our beautiful Lily was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her front leg on 12/14/11 at age 8 and had amp on 12/16/11. She completed 5 rounds of carbo. She was so brave and kicked cancer's butt daily! She lived life fully for 4 years, 3 months, and 15 days after her amp. My angel is a warrior princess. I miss her so much.
21 October 2014
My heart is breaking for you. And yes, we all know exactly what you're saying. I really like the advice your neighbor said to you about death; very true and the most confusing (emotionally) part of the entire journey. You're torn with grief and gratitude. One minute you feel guilty all the while feeling thankful for the transition. And then there is our logical thoughts; everyone dies. Having to marry all of these feelings together is very, very difficult. However, knowing up front is half the battle. We're all here to share the burden.
May you find joy and comfort as you bravely continue down this path.
Love to you, Max and the rest of your pack,
Harmony became a Tripawd on 10/21/14 (MCT). She left us way too soon on 11/1/14.
"We miss you so much; our love, our heart, our Harmony."
- Pam, Ron and Melody, Meesha, Doublestuff and Mariah Carey