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The Unaccomplished Angler’s Best Friend

 

UABFF

Hemangiosarcoma is a form of cancer fairly common to certain breeds of dogs, including Labrador Retrievers. Typically it occurs in middle-aged dogs and older. It’s an aggressive cancer that involves the blood vessels and most commonly manifests itself in the spleen. By the time it is detected it’s nearly always too late due to the rapid rate at which it metastasizes. I’ve learned more about this horrible form of cancer in the last month and a half than I never wanted to know. Frankly, I wish I’d never heard of the disease before.

Eddie on the day we brought him home.

My dog, Eddie, is a chocolate Lab. His whelp day was March 8, 2006;  which makes him 8, approaching 9, at the time of this writing.  We first started noticing a change in Ed’s behavior on December 8th. He acted like he didn’t feel too good—as if he’d eaten something that didn’t agree with him. We just assumed he had gotten into something he shouldn’t have gotten into because he’s been a notorious garbage gut since he was a 6 week old pup.  But he was drinking water and passing stools so I wasn’t concerned about an obstruction. I was concerned because his appetite was suppressed—he wasn’t interested in his kibble. Labs are always hungry. Eddie is always interested in his kibble. For him to not be meant something was wrong. He did eat some boiled chicken breast, but wouldn’t touch his regular food for a day or so.

The little acorn, soon to be a mighty, gentle oak.

Gradually he began to feel better, and after a couple days he was back to his normal routine of going on daily walks with me. But after these walks he would appear tired; more so than normal. These tired spells—during which he appeared somewhat unresponsive—wouldn’t last too long, though. He would snap out of it after a while. His belly seemed a bit distended, too, but it was hard to be too concerned about it because he’s a big boy and is prone to packing on a few extra lbs each winter. He’s very tall and long for a Lab, not stocky, so with his frame he can carry a few extra pounds before it becomes too obvious. I was always conscious of his hips, and as he got older I tried to keep his weight around 100 lbs so as not to put any extra stress on his body.

At 2 mos: Going for a walk with the whole family, including our old brown girl, Kate.

After being out of town for a couple days I returned home and Eddie continued to show signs of abnormal behavior. His appetite was inconsistent and his stools were a bit soft. From time to time he would grow weak, and although he was awake he appeared almost unresponsive—his head hung low and eyes glazed over. And then he would be fine.  I decided it wasn’t just a passing bug so I made an appointment at the local veterinary office for Monday, December 15th.

Mama’s boy at 4 mos.

When the vet weighed Eddie I was a bit shocked—107.3!  That was higher than I expected by at least 5 pounds anyway. He was running a temperature and his pulse rate was elevated. Well, considering he shakes and shimmies and absolutely becomes a nervous wreck at the vet, I figured elevated vitals were to be expected. He was x-rayed for an obstruction but it turned out negative. Still, he acted like his digestive system was out of whack.  Blood work revealed that he was also slightly anemic; his red blood count was down a bit, but there didn’t appear to be any immediate concern about that. We went on our way with a mild antibiotic to ward off any infection that might be causing the elevated temperature. Eddie was always glad to leave the vet’s office and he had a skip in his step as we did.  I should note that he appeared to be his same old self that entire day, and the next day he was hungry for his breakfast chow and acted just like the old Eddie. We went for a good 2 mile walk that afternoon, after which he took a nap like he always does.

Edward Dorkopotamus at 5 mos.

At 9pm that night (December 16th) Eddie lapsed into that semi-unresponsive, weakened state and remained that way throughout the night. I slept on the couch in the family room, next to his bed so that I could keep an eye on him if he should become somehow distressed during the night. The next morning he remained the same so I called the vet’s office.  Unfortunately the entire staff, including the doctor, were sick with the seasonal crud so they referred me to an emergency veterinary hospital a few miles away.  We arrived there at 9:30 AM, by which time Eddie’s files and films had already been sent over by his regular vet’s office. Eddie was not shivering or shaking like he did every other time he’d gone to the vet. In fact, he was remarkably calm as he walked in laid down on the floor.  He was miserable and I could see it in his eyes: he knew that I’d brought him to this place to help him.

7 months and finally starting to grow into his ears.

The first thing the ER vet did was take Eddie’s temperature and pulse. Temp was still high, but down from the day before. His pulse was still elevated and his gums were still pale. The first test was a stool sample to rule out an intestinal parasite. That would have been too good to be true but I was hopeful—after all, he’d been to the boarding facility over Thanksgiving so the chances that he may have picked up something there seemed not out of the question. When the test came back negative I could sense that the doc knew what it likely was. When he mentioned ‘splenic mass’ my stomach jumped into my throat. “Mass” is not a word one wants to hear any time one is sitting in front of a doctor. An ultrasound was next and I was told it would take a few minutes to prep Eddie for that.  When they finally called me back into the room there was my big guy, looking very comfortable (thanks to the pain pills they’d given him to help him relax) laying on his back in a foam cradle, legs splayed like a frog. His belly was shaved and covered in jelly. The vet moved a “mouse” around on Eddie’s abdomen just the way the doctor had done on Mrs. UA’s belly when she was pregnant with our two kids. He showed me one edge of Eddie’s spleen, describing that the nice clean edge is what we want to see. But as he moused to the right the spleen became less defined to the point where I didn’t know what I was looking at. The Doc noted that it was an indication of a sizeable mass. The black areas which seemed to dominate the screen indicated blood.  This mass on Eddie’s spleen was bleeding into his abdomen. That accounted for his pale gums and enemia. It explained his bouts of weakness: when he had a bleeding episode he grew weak. Then the bleed would clot and he’d feel better.  Gradually over the days the bleeding became more prominent and prolonged.  He would need surgery immediately, I was told.  The vet also said, “But before do that I want to take an x-ray of his chest to look for signs of tumors in his lungs. If we find that, there’s no point in performing the surgery.” It would be another nerve-wracking 15 minutes of waiting before I heard the “good” news: no sign of tumors in his lungs. They would prepare Eddie for emergency surgery to remove his spleen.  I went home and waited for the call, which came three hours later.

One year old, enjoying his first snow.

The good news was that Eddie came through the surgery “pretty well”. He had lost a lot of blood—in fact, they pumped nearly 3 liters of blood from his abdomen—no wonder his belly was distended, he was acting weak, and he was so heavy! His red blood count had been low before surgery and the Doc said he expected it to drop to an even lower level. As long as it held there he’d be fine. The doctor would be monitoring Eddie through the night but for now he was resting comfortably and on plenty of good drugs to keep him quiet. The vet also mentioned that while he was removing the spleen he did not see any obvious signs of tumors elsewhere.  This was good news, but I understood that it did not in any way mean that the cancer hadn’t already spread. There was just no visible indication of it having done so. I latched onto that thread of hope.

Those of us who are owned by dogs know they’re not going to live long enough—there’s no such thing as long enough—and when our canine companions reach a certain age we cannot help but acknowledge that they have fewer years ahead than they do behind them.  Following the diagnosis and surgery it was particularly hard for us knowing that Eddie’s time was limited.

Eddie’s and Schpanky’s first pheasant.

Eddie came home the day after surgery, on December 18th. In the days that followed, he healed nicely and gradually got his energy back. By December 23rd he seemed to be 100% of his old self. Our Christmas gift was that, except for his shaved belly and long incision, you couldn’t tell Eddie had just had major surgery: Appetite, check. Enthusiasm, check. Stamina? Well, we had to gradually work up to our normal daily walking distances but he was eager to get out of the house each day. During this post-op period it was hard to look Eddie in the eyes and hide my inner sadness, knowing that sooner or later—hopefully later—this cancer would once again rear its ugly head.

Eddie had an affinity for sticks.

On December 29th we had a follow-up visit with Eddie’s regular veterinarian and everything looked good. His red count was a little lower than normal but it appeared to be coming back nicely—the bone marrow doesn’t replenish the lost red cells overnight. We would follow up again in a couple of weeks to make sure the numbers were normal, but for now we were assured that he was doing very well. At this time we were also given the name of a veterinary oncologist who would be able to provide us with a better idea of what to expect going forward, long term. I would make that appointment after our week-long family (sans Eddie) vacation.

The bigger the stick, the better.

When we returned home from vacation on January 14th our big brown guy looked great. He was the only reason we were glad to be back home after a week in the sunshine of Maui. I scheduled a consultation with the oncologist for January 28th, and with each day that passed Eddie seemed as fit as he’d ever been. We walked daily, sometimes twice when the weather beckoned. I thought a lot about the oncologist meeting during these walks: I had a lot of questions for them. I didn’t expect the oncologist to be able to give us an exact answer but I hoped they’d be able to give us an indication as to whether it would be 3 months or a year, or…?

We never made it to that consultation.

Always on Squatch Watch in the back yard.

On Friday January 23rd Mrs. UA and I set out with Eddie for our morning walk. We got as far as a couple hundred yards down the road when it became clear that Eddie wasn’t feeling very well. There was no skip in his step and his eyes told us he was uncomfortable. He’d also been slow to eat his breakfast that morning. We turned around and walked slowly home.  As much as we hoped it might be something else there was no denying the familiar symptoms. During the day his belly had begun to appear more and more distended, again. When he refused his afternoon kibble, I called the veterinarian. We arrived at the clinic and were quickly admitted to an exam room where the doc drew blood and ran an analysis. Eddie was anemic. Again. There was blood in his abdomen. Again. Without an ultrasound or surgery to confirm, there was no way to know for sure the source of the bleeding. Probably a tumor on his liver. Damnit, hemangiosarcoma moves fast. Everyting was happening too fast—I just wanted to take Eddie home. I also wanted to make sure he was comfortable so we were sent home with 24 hours worth of pain relievers. The rest of that afternoon and evening were torturous for my family, and while Eddie could sense something wasn’t quite right, he gladly accepted a few extra treats and many offerings of usually forbidden foodstuffs. Time passes so slowly once you’ve made the decision that nobody ever wants to make—it was a long night.

He was a very handsome boy.

On Saturday January 24th at 1pm, after a long, quiet morning that seemed to last for eternity, we made one last visit to the veterinarian. This wasn’t my first time doing this—I’d done it twice before as an adult. And while each time had been painful, this time it hurt the most. Eddie was a big, soft-headed, sensitive, calm, gentle and kind boy. Everyone who met him loved him and generally he returned the sentiment. He had not one ounce of malice in him except perhaps when it came to coyotes, squirrels and cats, and who could fault him for that? Dogs are never with us long enough, and certainly Eddie was taken too soon. But he gave us everything he had in the 8 years and 8 months that he was ours we were his.

He loved his ball right up until the end.

 

 

 

41 thoughts on “The Unaccomplished Angler’s Best Friend”

  1. Steve Z says:

    Damn, sorry to hear. These critters sure do find their way into our hearts.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      That they do, my friend. And they don’t mean to, but when they leave us the break our hearts just a little. I don’t fault Eddie for that, though. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Holly Gault says:

    I’ll just repeat Steve Z’s words: Damn, sorry to hear.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thank you, Aunt Holly. I appreciate the kind thoughts.

  3. Mumbles says:

    Itchy, I’m sobbing. I’ve read a lot of your work and have enjoyed it all until right now. I’ve read and heard that horrible word before, and I’ve been incomplete in the years since. Best to you and your clan in this tough time. Eddie has the biggest and best stick now!

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks for the good words of encouragement and support, Ed. I guarantee I’ll write about lighter matters in the future.

  4. JD says:

    I’m so sorry Kirk. There is a reason that dogs are called Man’s Best Friend; they become like kids. Eddie was a sweet dog and a boon companion. Hang in there my friend.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      I’m glad that Eddie got to meet you on at least a couple occasions. His vote of approval was key in our ongoing friendship. Give your little Rusty boy an extra scratch tonight, amigo. Thanks for the kind words.

  5. Kirk, my heart is breaking for you and your family. What a beautiful boy. We put our yellow lab Cody to rest several years ago. He suffered from diabetes, blindness and other assorted issues until he could no longer climb stairs or find his way around outside. At 130 pounds, he got to heavy to carry around any more. Cody was a huge part of our family and he is missed. May Eddie meet new friends at the Rainbow Bridge.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thank you, Howard. Hearing from others and of their stories is healing medicine. I always appreciate when you stop by.

  6. Bud Alcock says:

    Damn Kirk I am so sorry to hear the news. I have a bunch of furkids and love/hate them all so I do know your pain…….I hope you and the family heal soon.

    Bud

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks, Bud. Time will take care of the heavy hurt, but as you know we’ll carry a wee bit around with us forever, as a reminder. I appreciate your kind words.

  7. Mindy says:

    Again, I am so sorry about Eddie’s passing Kirk. Though I never met Eddie, I can tell by the pics of him how sweet and wonderful he really was, and how much you all loved him. I couldn’t get through your story without tears…and it reminded me all too much of my last dog who had lab in him also and was suspected to have the same thing as Eddie did (I too know more about that form of cancer than I care to). Though my dog’s “mass” ended up being benign, we weren’t out of the woods. He lasted a while but did have a few bouts of similar symptoms Eddie had over the course of time, and so I know that feeling when you think they’re doing better and then all of a sudden…they aren’t. Huge hugs to you and your family for your loss.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks for sharing, Mindy. Eddie was very special (Special Ed) as I know yours are to you as well. I just wish we all had more time with them. That said, our dogs pack so much love into their short lives—enough to see us through the rest of ours.

  8. Sanders says:

    what a blessing to receive ones love. Four legs and all. Cheers to the big guy. Hopefully He finds himself in a big lawn full of trout

    Sorry for your loss Kirk. Eddie will be missed

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks for the comment, Sanders. I hope your Bulldogs are still putting smiles on your face. Good to see you around again, my friend.

  9. Bob Blevins says:

    We’re very sorry for your loss and our thoughts go out to you and the whole family. We all know their time will be limited with us and it is never enough regardless of the circumstances. You have so much to celebrate with what Eddie brought to your lives and I feel fortunate having known him, to me he was family. As much as I loved to throw his ball, it was me who tired when he was young….but the rolls changed as he would decide when he would bring his ball back to me after a dozen long fetches. Smart pup.

    Eddie was such a great dog, gentle and what a personality. One of my fondest and the most comical antics of him was a few years ago on the Canal when we were hitting golf balls over at Mikes. Eddie was crouched down in the tall grass, just off of the beach between the tee box and the water….like a Ninja, no really…..like a NINJA….and every time a ball would be launched, his reaction was….I got it…..then he would realize it was gone. Back into the Ninja crouch…….and this went on and on. We all had a great belly laugh.

    Thank you for sharing such a well written story Kirk, we will all miss Eddie.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks, Baab. You brought tears to my eyes by refreshing the story of Eddie the crouching Tahuya Golfball Ninja. I vividly recall that day. Every Lab needs to know a guy with a rocket of an arm so Eddie was glad to know you. Next time you’re icing your shoulder, think of Ed! I appreciate your kind words, amigo.

  10. paula heath says:

    Kirk, this is a really wonderful, heart-breaking piece of writing, straight in language, and straight from the heart. Funny, BindySue’s story is very similar. Starting about last February, I felt something was wrong as she made an odd sound every single time she lay down. Vet found nothing alarming. Then she began to pant, almost constantly. Again nothing alarming. No MRI or x-ray were felt needed because all vitals, appetite, vigor, and happiness were there. Finally one day in October, after a fine romp with her boyfriend Shep in the garage of my apartment building, she came upstairs, lay down, and within minutes she lapsed into a condition which made in impossible for her to move anything. not ears, not eyes, not her poor tongue which I tried to push back in. We had to carry her to the vet in a sling, and still no sign of life – except she was still breathing. Like Eddie, Bindy hated visits to the vet. This time, not a twitch. We put the sling down on the floor and waited for the vet. I’m sure half-expecting to see her flying around in a panic, his shoulders slumped as he knelt down next to her. He took x-rays and had a radiologist look at them to confirm. She had cancer on her heart as well as her spleen. Something about that combination made it impossible to operate. There was no saving her. Even if back in February we had had x-rays, it wouldn’t have mattered and we would have spent the next few months sadly, which she would likely have felt. You are right, writing about it helps. And I ask her every day to save me a place.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Paula, thank you for taking the time to share your story of your BindySue. She was obviously very special—they all are in their own unique ways, which makes it possible for us to love new dogs while honoring those that came before. Dogs are good people, and Dog People are too. Peace.

  11. Deanwo says:

    I’m crying right now, Kirk. Our deepest and most sincere condolences to you and family. I too had made these final visits to the vet more than once and these feelings will never leave us. We gather strength and heal from the good memories and unconditional love our four pawed children have blessed us with. Thank you for sharing this difficult and moving story about Eddie. God bless.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Your thoughts are very much appreciated, Dean. Thank you.

  12. Kevin Hess says:

    Never met you or your dog, but your story breaks my heart. Eddie sounds like he was an awesome pup.

    Sorry for the loss of your buddy.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Kevin, thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment about my buddy, Ed. Had you met him, I’m sure he’d have liked you.

  13. Leslie says:

    Beautifully written, Kirk. My heart is broken for your family. I’m so sorry. Eddie was a big love gone way too soon….
    Kermit is our first dog. We had no idea when we got him how much he would change our lives, how much we would love him or how quickly he would become our little best friend. Can’t image losing him or how painful that loss must be. <3 Know that we're thinking about you all.
    Dog bless you guys.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thank you, Color Girl. Our dogs give us so much unconditional love that it can’t be measured by the size of the pooch. Dogs make us better. Give Kermit some extra love today.

  14. Patrick says:

    From what I’ve read and heard, measured by how he live and what he gave, Eddie was a great companion and I’m sorry that he was called away much too soon. I hope the love for him and from him ensures he’s always a part of everyone in your family.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Pat. There’s no doubt Eddie will be a part of us forever.

  15. Jeff Holberg says:

    So sorry to learn of your loss Kirk.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks for the time you took to read and comment, Jeff. I appreciate that.

  16. Cathy Zamora says:

    Kirk, Eddie sure did wrangle your angler heart and the hearts of your loved ones too! Our canine angels are such a gift and will always be treasured. We can pray for more research and a cure for this cancer Eddie had and hope that there will be less suffering for other dogs in the future. Thanks for sharing Eddie and his life with us. May peace be with your family as it is now with Eddie.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thank you, Cathy. It’s always comforting to be reminded that they’re instantly relieved of their pain when they go. That does little, initially, to console those left behind, but in time it all gets better. I appreciate your kind thoughts.

  17. Cinda Crouch says:

    My dear friend Kirk and your wonderful family, As I try to see the keyboard thru my tears of sadness for you all I know in my heart that Eddie had the very best life with all of you any dog could ever have. Our dogs become our family the minute they appear in our arms wherever we get them from and they never ever leave our hearts or our minds as long as we live. I know your pain and the deep empty feeling of loss–we have been thru it so many times I’ve lost count and we are looking at the last of ours in the not to distant future as well so please know we deeply share in your loss of the Big Boy who loved his sticks. I will be saying prayers for you all. Love, Cinda and Den

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks, ‘Mom’. Your kind words mean a LOT during this deeply sad time. You said it exactly right: they become our family instantly. Enjoy the time you have with your brown girl and cherish every day with her. I very much appreciate the time you took to read this and leave me a comment. Love back to you guys.

  18. JJZ says:

    I am sorry for your loss my friend. You are right, they are not around us for long..

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. The kindness is much appreciated.

    2. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read and for the nice comment. Much appreciated.

  19. Tom Sadler says:

    Our hearts go out to you and the family. We are forever bonded in spirit with our dogs. May Eddie rest in peace and you and the family find some comfort in the memories. Eddie was blessed to have you.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Tom, knowing that you are a man of the same good Lab persuasion, your words are of some comfort. Thanks for that, amigo.

  20. Kevin Breen says:

    Kirk..and UA Family..

    I am so sorry for your loss of a great friend and family member…I’m all too familiar with the heart wrenching decision one must make when that time has come to ease the suffering of our best friends…their time with us is always too short, but so full of wonderful rewards for both. Take care, be well…

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Thanks, Kevin. I always appreciate you stopping by—now more than ever. Thank you for the kind words.

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