Friday, June 10, 2011

Pet Guilt

This isn't an unfamiliar feeling for me, feeling guilty about my pet. Although, not something I ever felt growing up. We had cats in our house. I remember my mom showing me, even when I was just 3-4 years old, how to be gentle with the cat and explaining that she could feel things, etc. I grew up to love animals, but I also never felt any fear or guilt over a pet dying. In our rural town, the vet was really no-nonsense and pretty straight forward. At least, that's how I remember him. If you felt like the better choice was to put your pet down rather than to extend their life with expensive or complicated treatments, then he was fine with that. I appreciated that - especially when somehow the task of taking our long time siamese cat Sam to the vet for that express purpose became my responsibility. I had insisted for weeks that when it was time, I had to be there. And then I found myself being the one to take him. I wasn't happy about it, you know. But he was old and sick and it was just time. You know? I know I was pretty sad and I may or may not have made him some promises in the car on the way there - cause I believe I'll see him again someday - and I cried. It was hard. But it's just life, isn't it? May 22, I'm pretty sure, and my brother wrote on the fridge in the kitchen, "May 22 - Sam Day."

When Bailey was about 6, she hurt her back. We tried the slow and cheap way to fix it. Meds and lot's of rest. But it didn't work and finally we had to decide. Surgery or...not. She was only 6. So we went for the surgery. That was 7 years ago. I believe it was worth the cost. When Sammy was 9, she messed her back up. This was harder. We had a very long talk about what to do and had essentially decided we weren't going to fork out all that cash again. But let me tell you - there is something about that vet standing there looking at you waiting for your decision and you can just seeeeee it in their eyes. They'll hate you if you don't go for it. Then they start rationalizing why it would be a good idea, why it would be worth the money, why you should give them a chance. I hate pressure like that. It irritates me. But then I went over to see the dog and I couldn't stand it. And we caved. Now I'm very glad that we did. She has lived a full and happy life, healed up great, can run like crazy and everything. Her only issues are a little arthritis, but she's 11 now. Like, 70-something years old. Quite appropriate.

So now - at 13 1/2 - my dog Bailey has been diagnosed with Cushing's Disease. It causes a variety of problems and is very likely caused by a tumor on her pituitary. This is not operable. It is also not cureable. Treatment is simply to make them feel better. But treatment is very expensive. We've already spent $200 to get the first bit of news. It's another $500+ just to get her the blood and ultrasound diagnosis. Then, the medication is $6.99 per pill and every few weeks, she would need another blood test ($260 repeated 2-6 times). The medication would be permanent, especially since the tumor causing the problem can not be removed or changed. So here we are, with the news from the vet and the guilt. The guilt that tells me we'd be cruel horrible animal haters if we don't do whatever we can to make her feel better.

Let me be clear though. The vet was very kind on the phone when she gave me the news and told us about our treatment options. She was fairly straight forward about the costs. I had to search online to get the cost of the medication. But I almost felt an anxiousness from her for us to do something about it. "We need to do the blood test and get the ultrasound done." Those two things are the initial $500. Another piece of the puzzle is Bailey's liver. I hope you don't mind some technicality. Results were:

Alkaline Phosphotase. Normal 150. Typical Cushing's Dog 1500-2000. Bailey....4210.
ALT. Normal 107. Bailey....937.
Another one I can't remember the name of. Normal 55. Bailey....92.

Don't ask me what those numbers mean. Just that her liver enzymes are freakishly out of whack and the vet even said she's never seen numbers as high as her 4210.

My fear is that we'll fork out that $500 and they'll do an ultrasound and discover that her liver is dying and we can't do anymore for her. My fear is that we'll fork all of that out and 4 months from now, she'll die anyway. This could happen various ways. A seizure, congestive heart failure, kidney and/or liver failure, a blood clot to her lungs, or rarely the pituitary tumor could be growing rapidly and she'll lose brain function and her behavior will get freaky. In the meantime, she shows nearly all of the symptoms of Cushings, save a couple. Panting for no reason and peeing all over the house. I can handle the panting. I can handle her drinking tons of water and acting like she's starving all the time. I can handle carrying her up the stairs because she's losing muscle mass and it's getting really hard for her to get around. I can handle all kinds of things, but peeing all over the house? But does our choice to not fork out the money mean we don't care about her?

So maybe we're terrible horrible animal haters, but we are simply not going to treat her Cushings. We're going to let it run it's course for a few weeks and see what happens. As it is, she sleeps nearly all day. Her happiest moments are mealtime and when we come home from somewhere. As long as she still gets happy about dinner and still gets up and wags her tail for us, I'm pretty satisfied that she's still happy enough to be here. I know she's uncomfortable in some ways. I can see it. I guess we'll just have to play it by ear as to whether or not we have to make that hard decision for her, unless it happens quietly on it's own.

Thirteen point five years is a very decent and typical lifespan for a dachshund. My gut says that she will probably make the summer. But for some reason, I don't think it will be much beyond that. I'll have to write some post with pictures of her as a baby and stuff - tell you about the cute things she would do and why I always called her honey. Why we always thought she would have been a fabulous mommy dog, but never had the chance. How I think she would have been a perfect pet - if Sammy hadn't come around and showed her how to bark at everything. Yes. I blame Sammy. This is morbid and weird. She's not gone yet.

I did sit my kids down and explain it all to them. There is a definite chance that one of them could find her gone one of these days and I didn't want to feel guilty that I hadn't warned them. I also wanted them to be aware so that they can be more careful of her and kinder to her. And so they could help me keep an eye on her. I know they will let me know if they see anything unusual. Sweetly enough, George spent the time during the discussion wiping at his eyes. Not crying or bawling like he always does about everything else. Just very quietly clearing a few tears from his eyes before they could go anywhere. Link didn't do much or say much, but it's more like him to keep that to himself until a later time. Sassy didn't say much until about 20 minutes later. We were in the car going somewhere and she started to sob. Awwww....the tender hearts of my children. I love being able to tell them that Bailey won't be gone forever. That we can see her again someday. That I fully believe that God would not give us these animals that we love so much and then never let us see them again. And I told them that she'd be perfectly healthy there, happy and running around. And it really made my kids feel better to know that.

As for me, it's all I can think about right now. I find myself saying the word Cushing's in my head a hundred times a day. So explains my post. I had to write it down to make myself feel better. Honestly, I don't feel surprised by it or dreadful about it. But last night I was petting her and listening to her breathe and wondering what she felt like in that little dog body of hers and in the middle of her steady breaths, she stopped. What would have been 3 or 4 breaths, and felt like an eternity, passed in silence and I felt this horrid feeling creeping up into my throat and bang....she was breathing again like normal and it was like it never happened. That tells me that it's going to hurt a little more than I'm preparing myself for.