Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Super Model Exits The Runway

Bandit, our super model

I've been a dog man my whole life. In that time, sharing my journey with nine dogs, I've only experienced dogs passing away quickly.

I've never had to face making "the decision."

Until today.

We have four dogs. Bruno, the daddy dog, and his three kids Tyler, Bandit and Bear.

Our middle puppy, Bandit, has been battling cancer for the past 6 months. (I say "puppy," even though he's 13, because he and his brother and sister will always be "the puppies" to us).

I'm sharing this not for sympathy but I realize this journey has been new terrain for me. And it may be for others as well who face being the human in these situations.

Also, as a writer, this is to a degree how I process.

We noticed Bandit was having some urinary issues back in July and August. There was a little blood in his urine, and he was going in the house. We originally thought it was a gall stone or some such. That it would pass, and all would be well.

But the issue lingered, and lingered. Finally we took him to the vet, and our guarded suspicions were confirmed. He had tumors in his bladder and liver, and some odd spots in his lungs. Our vet sent us to Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center. Cancer takes a special doctor.

There the diagnosis was born out  - definitely cancer, and it could not be cured.

We were given three options:

1. Aggressive chemotherapy which would impact his quality of life greatly. It could buy him 4-6 months, but he would be miserable.

2. A mild, oral chemotherapy which would slow the progression and much less side effects, along with meds to keep him more comfortable.

3. Take a palliative care approach and make him comfortable for what time was left.

We chose option 2. With no chance of a cure, we didn't want to give up but placed a high priority of quality of life.

Two pills twice a day (along with canine CBD oil) was the course of treatment for the past 6 months. Bandit seemed pretty normal for the bulk of that time. The urine issues remained but otherwise, he seemed fine.

Until about two weeks ago. He woke up wobbly in his hind legs. And he was being a puny in demeanor. He didn't eat all his breakfast (and Bandit loves to eat). He had had back surgery (being a dachshund) some years ago, and we thought it was a disc issue perhaps.

We took him to the specialty vet center and they said the cancer was spreading. Really no reason to continue the chemo, but we could up his pain meds to three times a day to make him more comfortable.

Hubby Michael was worried that that day might have been goodbye, but I didn't "feel" it. Not yet.

We came home, and a day later Bandit was back to "the new normal." We sensed the journey could end soon, but not yet.

Yesterday, Michael took Bandit for a walk - which he loved. Bandit is the only dog we have who gets excited by seeing the leash. It was a short walk, but Bandit's spirits were very high.

This morning, however, it was clear he declined overnight. He had great difficulty walking, and he had no interest in his food. He was panting for no reason, and panting a lot.

After a few hours, that elusive "decision" we waited for the universe to reveal to us arrived. It was clear. The balance between quality of life and effective treatment tipped in the other direction.

We knew.

We called a pet therapist we know in town, and she recommended a veterinary doctor who would come to our home and facilitate Bandit's passing.

We had to wait six hours for the doctor to arrive.

It was, of course, spent loving on Bandit constantly; feeding him his favorite foods; all attention was on the Bandito.

When the veterinarian arrived with her assistant, we chatted with them for about 15 minutes. Clearly part of their job is to help us as much as it is to help Bandit. We explained the journey to here. We shared who Bandit was.

We explained that of all our dogs, Bandit was "the diva." The "Super-Model." See the picture at the top of this post and you'll understand.

He carried himself with a royal confidence; a bearing that conveyed his assurance that yes, he knows he is special. And he was.

All those "Bitch, I'm fabulous!" memes you've seen on the internet? Yeah, he owned that. He truly was larger than life, and without trying.

He was our super-model. He liked being catered to, and we knew how to do just that. He rarely, rarely, ever doled out kisses. He made you work for them. And if he so deigned, you might get ONE.

If you pet him with one hand, he would look at your other hand wondering why both weren't in motion.

One night, when he was only 10 or so weeks old, he was crying in the night. I got up to check on him and his siblings, and ended up sitting with him for the rest of the night (see pic below). I stayed wrapped around his little paw for his whole life.

I was not Bandit's favorite, though. While daddy dog Bruno is my constant companion, hubby Michael has always been Bandit's favorite human. I loved Bandit deeply, but I knew I was "number two." That's alright - he was worth being a "number two" to.

And so, it's fitting that Michael spent the entire day sitting next to the super model, trying to keep him calm. Michael was perfect.

When the time came, we walked the veterinarian and assistant into our bedroom so he could be calm on our bed - his favorite place. We left the room for a few minutes so they could insert a catheter in his leg, and then they called us in.

We were told he could have a sedative, if we wanted, to calm him down. but Bandit was serene laying on the bed. We passed on the tranquilizer, and began to say goodbye.

After a few minutes, Michael nodded to the doctor, and while we continued to pet him, she slowly administered the drug.

He never got anxious or upset. And after about 45 slow seconds, Bandit was gone. Our super model had exited the runway.

The docs stepped out as we let the other dogs in, giving them a chance to understand why he would be gone. Bruno, Bear and Tyler all rushed into the room, sniffing the air, wondering who the strangers who had been in the room were. They one by one noticed Bandit, and sniffed at him.

Bruno - Bandit's daddy - seemed to understand something. Tyler and Bear paused briefly to take note.

The doctors then wrapped him in a blanket to take him away for cremation. In about a week, we'll pick up his remains. They will take a paw print which will be framed for us, and his ashes will be saved in a small urn.

It's a bit surreal to know what a monumental decision you're making; the gravity of the moment. I feel calm that we did our highest duty in being Bandit's humans.

There's a silence in the house that's unmistakeable, but I know this was "the" day. I can second guess so many moments in my life, but this is not one of them. And I'm thankful for that serenity.

There's a poem that was written long ago; no one knows the author. I hadn't read it until about six years ago. I've avoided looking at it until now. If you've ever shared your life with a dog (or any furry family member), you'll get it.

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then, you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

With baby Bandit when he was about 10 weeks old
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