A lot happened in my blogging absence this summer. Some of it was fantastic, but a lot of it was not. I promise to update on happier things soon, but something that’s especially been weighing on my mind this week is Eliot’s health.
I got Eliot, the most beautiful dog I’ll ever known, for my 21st birthday. All of my other dogs have been rescues, but Eliot is the embodiment of my deep rooted love for purebred dogs. In his prime, people routinely asked me if he was a show dog. Even in his old age, we’ll go on walks and folks will gasp and tell me how pretty he is. He knows it too. The dog is not humble.
Last Christmas when I was home in Austin, I took Eliot to my Texas vet. He had been dragging his feet more often, and I noticed some unusual wear on the two center nails on his hind feet. My vet told me it was most likely arthritis, and that I shouldn’t worry too much since he could easily go up and down stairs. For a twelve year old dog, he was in fantastic shape.
Over the next few, the dragging started getting worse. Eliot began slowly losing control of his bowel function. He couldn’t tell if he was pooping or not until said poo actually began to drop. Never a dog to have accidents, I had to start keeping a very strict schedule to keep him from defecating in the house in the mornings. Stuck in California without a vet that I really liked, I took to the internet… which is always, always a bad choice. I convinced myself that my beloved old dog had Canine Degenerative Myelopathy, even though it rarely (if ever) occurs in spaniels. I got into this routine where I cried over him for days, convinced this neurological degeneration would kill him, and then realized that his health wasn’t that bad. CDM paralyzes dogs in 3-6 months total. Eliot had symptoms for well over six, so I tried to stop being so neurotic.
Still, the dragging continued. He was happy going for long walks, but I noticed the wear on his claws getting worse and worse. In June, I finally broke down and took him to a new vet in California. They also thought the problem was skeletal, even though I was convinced it was a neurological issue. We took X-rays of his spine, which revealed some minor arthritis but nothing major. The new vet suggested a package of cold laser therapy treatment, but the real discovery of that visit was a dark mass on his spleen. An incidental finding, but something she said we needed to investigate.
So I brought him back to the vet two weeks later for an ultrasound, only to find out that the first vet I saw was no longer with the practice. With another new vet, we went over everything again and this time she agreed with me that he looked neurological. By this point in early July, his balance was way off. If you rubbed his butt in a certain way, he flexed his tail or his back legs in some kind of automatic response. He did not appear to be in pain, but he wasn’t right either.
The ultrasound revealed that the dark spot was most likely some kind of tumor. There was a 2/3rd chance that it was a tumor, and if it was a tumor there was a 2/3rd chance it was cancerous. Since it was located in his spleen, my vet said she thought it was a matter of when, not if, that his spleen ruptured. And a ruptured spleen means a dead dog. We still had no idea what was causing the neurological issues, but I couldn’t sleep knowing that I could come home at any time to find Eliot unconscious and in terrible pain from a ruptured spleen. So I made an appointment to have a splenectomy, and figure out exactly what this tumor was.
We did the surgery in mid-July, and it was a huge success. They poked around inside him, and didn’t see evidence of any other cancer. The first 24 hours were rough for Eliot, but by day three he was acting like his old self and didn’t seem to be in any pain. I waited for the biopsy results, but my vet and I felt cautiously optimistic. It was a really, really good sign that there wasn’t cancer in his liver or surrounding organs.
Close to the end of August, I got the call I had been waiting for but the news wasn’t what I hoped. The tumor was a Stromal Sarcoma, a rare and aggressive kind of cancer. My vet told me that with chemo, he could get six, maybe nine months if we were super lucky. Without chemo, two months was the life expectancy.
I stared at my dog, curled up in the pillows on my bed in a deep sleep. He hates vets. Even going in for his cold laser therapy treatments (which did nothing for the mobility issues) put him into a panic twice a week. After surgery, his quality of life was good. He ate, enjoyed chewies, and went for short walks. Plus, he was almost thirteen. I didn’t feel right pursuing chemo, so I made the decision to help him live out his days peacefully.
That was three months ago. By the vet’s timeline, Eliot should have been gone by the end of September. Instead, we celebrated his 13th birthday in true California style with In-N-Out. Realistically, I’m not sure how much time he has left.
The neurological issues have gotten worse. My vet said sometimes this kind of cancer starts in the nerve sheath, and that may be what’s causing his mobility issues. He falls over sometimes if he loses his balance, but is quick to get up. He still enjoys his walks, but they are slower and it’s pretty clear to me that he’s most comfortable at home in my small apartment. I’ve started making a log of his “bad” days, and a list of the things that he no longer does.
He can still jump on the bed, but he no longer goes through the trash (one of his favorite activities). He likes some chew bones, but only bully sticks or small rawhides wrapped in jerky. He doesn’t care for toys anymore. He doesn’t want to roll in the grass after his walks. Occasionally he yodels and jumps around when I come home, excited to greet me, but more often he takes a long time to get going from a deep sleep. It’s not hard for me to see where this is all trending.
Right now I’m in that gray area that I hate the most. I want nothing more than to do right by my pet, but I don’t know the right timeline. Everyone says, he’ll tell you when, but he’s a stubborn old bastard. He clings to life, and me, like the whole world depends on it. For him, I guess it does.
I’m waiting around, and watching him. Trying to determine when it’s the right time to let him go. I say that I’m ready, that I’ve been mourning him for months, but I’m not. He’s the dog I’ve had for my entire adulthood. The only one that’s been around before, and after, Tim. He trusts me implicitly, and loves me more than he does anything else. I hope I can tell when it’s time.