"...In the end, people either have excuses or experiences; reasons or results; buts or
brilliance. They either have what they wanted or they have a detailed list of all the rational reasons why not."

~ Anonymous
(taken from Matt Erbele's, It Takes Time to Get Good)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cassie's Story

I had always meant to write Cassie's story. I didn't want to write it as a memorial, but I guess it will have to be. I had to take her to be put down on Tuesday.

Cassie was Mary's dog. She had mammary adenocarcinoma two and a half years ago. We knew it would come back and 3 months ago it did. It was in several places in her abdomen, but she was not showing any signs of illness at that time. Mary and I had decided that we would not do chemotherapy on her. I am a veterinary nurse. I believe in medicine. I did chemotherapy on my cat Winston and I am grateful I did. I also believe in quality of life and that there are many factors that go into a decision like this. It was the right decision for Cassie and Mary.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Cassie's Story

One Sunday morning, at my regular meeting in a local park, I drove up to see a pretty red and white dog playing with some children. Sweet scene. But, what struck me most was the softball sized tumor swinging wildly from her mammary glands as she played.

I think: Assholes, that don't take care of their dog!

After the meeting, I came out to see that the dog was still there, but the last of the children were leaving and no one was taking the dog.

I asked the group of kids, "Is this your dog?"

"No, it was here when we got here" they replied.

I think: Great. I have a lot of shit to do today.

(not nice, but it is always what goes through my mind as I grab the extra leash and a can of cat food from, what my husband calls, my 'stray dog kit' in my car.)

I spent the next four and half hours wandering through the nearby neighborhoods looking for this dog's home. She was so sweet that she had to owned by someone! She was wearing a collar, but no tags.

Aside: this is a MAJOR frustration for me. Why put a collar on a dog if you don't put a tag? I have heard every reason in the book, "she never goes out", "the tags jingle and keep me awake", "I am not giving strangers my address". They repeat all these reasons when I return their dog that 'never goes out'. No one expects their dog to get out, but it happens. If you put an address tag on your dog I can get it back to you. Otherwise, it makes it very hard for people to help you and your dog. Lucy, my dog, has four tags with my full address and three phone number options to call. If you hate the jingling, tape them together. I'm just saying..

Anyhoo, back to the story...

After about 2 hours of this in the 95 degree, August heat, I was practically dragging this poor tired dog behind me. I decided to load her up in the car and drive around. She immediately fell asleep on the back seat. I would pull up to people, roll down the back window and ask them if they had every see this dog, almost universally they replied, "No, but she sure looks tired" several even asked if she was dead.

Yep. I am driving around in 95 degree weather, with a dead dog on my backseat, trying to find her owners. That makes perfect sense.

Almost every person I met thought they had seen her before and sent me to another neighborhood. I was was getting really upset. I figured she had to have a family. Had to have kids that loved her and that she loved. I was leaving for a vacation to Tahoe the next day. My dog is not a fan of other dogs and I had six cats that I needed to protect and I didn't know her 'cat friendly' status. I made the tough decision to take her to the Humane Society so that her family could find her if they were looking.

Another "less preachy" Aside: You don't have to turn a dog/cat/rabbit/etc. that you find into the Humane Society if you want to take them home, but still give their owners the option of finding them. The Humane Society will file a "Found" card for you, free of charge, and direct owners to the card list. This allows owners to search through the cards when they come in looking for the dog, but you can keep the dog or privately adopt it out if no one claims it.

My concern with putting her at the Humane Society is that once I relinquished control of her I lose control over her fate. Is is not as simple as "I will take her if no one comes to get her." She was an older dog with a huge tumor, if the Humane Society deemed her unadoptable I may have a tough time getting her back.

Then there were all my other concerns, if I did get her back could I justify the $2500 or so it would cost to get her evaluated and have the tumor removed for a dog I couldn't keep and didn't have a home for? I knew from experience that an unneutered female, over 6 years old, with a mammary tumor, mostly likely had mammary adenocarcinoma. How do I adopt out a dog that, even after surgery, had an uncertain future? It would recur, it would metastasize. I looked in her face. I remembered her playing with those kids. So happy making them so happy. I knew I had to try to save her.

I cried all the way home from the shelter. The shelter employee that took her in for me gave me the name and number of the Special Needs Adoptions coordinator. Her name was Cassaundra, and when I finally adopted the dog, I named her Cassie after this special woman with a really hard job. But I am getting ahead of myself again.

I called Cassaundra first thing Monday morning and explained my situation. She sounded doubtful that it would work out well. We had to wait the 3 day waiting period to give the owners to claim her before anything could be done, but she said "let me evaluate the dog, have my veterinarian look at her, and I will give you a call back after the three day period."

3 days came and went. I called everyday and no one came looking for Cassie. On the third day, I talked to Cassaundra again. She had met Cassie, the veterinarian had evaluated her and the vet had said exactly what I already knew, "she is a unneutered female, over 6 years old, .... mostly likely mammary adenocarcinoma. Not adoptable."

But what I didn't know is that Cassaundra had JUICE and she had met Cassie and Cassie was special. I tell you, there was something about that dog. Cassaundra went to the Vice President of Medical Services and had a full battery of evaluation tests authorized to see if the suspected cancer had metastasized. Don't fuck with Cassaundra, she may be able to get you rubbed out. I am only half kidding.

I spent most of my Tahoe vacation on the phone with Cassaundra and the Vice President of Medical Services (Cassaundra gave me her direct line. I can be more than a little driven when I want something. Hee hee.) Picture: Lucy and Floyd on that trip to Tahoe. Two of my cats, Floyd and Autumn, were still young so they went on the trip with us.

It was an emotional roller coaster. In the morning, "she has no evidence of metastasis", in the afternoon, "we can't authorize any more medical services". Then the next morning, "we can spay her and do a mass removal (wouldn't take care of the cancer for long)", the next afternoon, "she needs to be picked up tomorrow". Then on one call, the Vice President of Medical Services said she found a surgeon willing to do the full chain mastectomy (the best surgery option for longer term remission). I cried for a good reason for the first time since I found the damn dog.

Now I only had one thing left to do. I just had to find a home for a 8-10 year old dog, with cancer, who was recovering from MAJOR surgery, and had a 99.9% chance of the cancer recurring.

Easy peasy.

What I also had was an amazing dog that LOVED children. Fortunately, I knew an amazing woman that loved both dogs AND children.


Thank sweet life for Mary.

She didn't even hesitate one second when I asked her to do it for me. She knew it may be for only a short time. I would handle any medical issues and recheck appointments, but she had the hard part, falling in love with a dog that may not live very long.

As it turned out Cassie was there for Mary during two very painful and scary moments in her life: the death of her dog Katie and her own diagnosis with breast cancer and chemotherapy. I know Mary, Mary's family, and I were very grateful she had a dog that worshiped the very ground she walked on during these painful and stressful times.

I am not a religious person. I don't believe in fate or destiny or anything like that, but I believe in innate goodness of living beings, I believe there are beings that belong together and that those beings are made even better by that togetherness.

It is hard to conceive that either Mary or Cassie could have been made better, but I know I was for knowing them.


Aka Alice said...

What a tough week for you RBR...and what a sweet story. You really are an amazing person. I don't know many who would have gone to that effort for a stray...your story completely made me cry...

Hope you have a great weekend! You deserve it, and then some.

ShirleyPerly said...

I'm glad Cassie could help out Mary and vice versa. And you helped them both. You truly have a heart of gold.

Lou said...

This was a sweet story. I love that you truly practice what you preach when it comes to saving these animals. I understand why you supported PAWS, even though it isn't even in your state, and you only know me through the internets.

Thank you.