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Day Forty-One

March 12th, 2019

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Adjusting to life on three legs was a challenge for Izzi and for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect, what was normal, or what I should be concerned about.  I wasn’t sure how to care for her but I really wanted to do ‘all the right things.’ I read, and read, and read and my head was spinning with an overload of information.  There are so many theories and ideas of what works and what doesn’t work and it seems every single dog’s experience with cancer is different. It’s a little overwhelming to say the least.

I decided not to put her through chemotherapy. I have been told the process is much different for dogs than it is for humans but the thought of it still bothered me very much. My next step was to visit a homeopathic vet to see what sort of natural treatment options we might have. Her first visit was on 10/15 and I really liked the vet. The office was small and cozy and she had a big soft bed in the floor for the patient to lay on during the visit. Izzi loved big soft beds. This initial visit was more of a consultation. We discussed her diagnosis and prognosis. We discussed diets and she highly recommended feeding raw but I wasn’t sure I could make that work. In case you missed it, I have a lot of dogs. I couldn’t financially manage much more than what I was already doing. She also recommended a ton of vitamins and supplements but again, I couldn’t make it work. Not to mention, Izzi hates taking pills. We discussed some at-home activities with an exercise ball to help Izzi improve her balance and strengthen her remaining back leg. Then we scheduled a second visit for the next week. When we returned, Izzi had a chiropractic adjustment, acupuncture, and a massage with aromatherapy. Izzi had never, ever put up any sort of argument at the vet before. She was always the most laid-back, easy-going, happy dog. She didn’t care if she was getting poked, or prodded, or pushed, or pulled as long as she was getting attention she was happy. Sometimes she would let out a fart if she wanted to retaliate but she was never rude in any other way. But this was different. She actually tried to bite during the adjustment and she was very antsy with all the acupuncture needles in her back. It was clear she was not happy at all. This experience really opened my eyes. I realized that all of my decisions from here on out had to revolve around whether or not Izzi was happy. I had already put her through a major surgery, a difficult recovery, and asked her to learn how to hop around without an entire leg. I was not going to do anything else that she didn’t want to do. Yes, sometimes there were necessary things that she didn’t *love* doing but they were for the greater good. But overall, my new philosophy was to just do whatever Izzi wants to do. Whatever amount of time she had left needed to be the best time of her life.

Since I had no idea how much time she would actually have, I decided to contact a pet photographer to take some photos of Izzi so I could have them as keepsakes. We met out at a park on a Saturday and it was easily the windiest day of the year. But we made it work and got some really nice photos. I didn’t realize how far of a walk it would be from the car to the trees and then back to the car. Poor Izzi was really struggling by the time we got finished with the photo shoot. I felt like a bit of a dummy for not planning that a little better.

Recovery from this point over the next couple of months seemed to plateau. She was tired and she was weak. She scooted around the house a lot as an alternative to walking. It was easier for her and that was okay. I spread long rugs out across the entire house so she could hop around on the wood floors if she wanted but she preferred to scoot most of the time. She reserved her hopping strength for trips outside to frolic in the grass or splash in her pool. She took pain medicine for quite a while and she took Dasuquin for her joints. I got a sling to wrap around her waist with long handles so I could easily assist her with walking any time she needed help.  We had an oddly warm October so she got to splash in her pool quite a bit which was awesome. We started going for short walks, just to the end of the street and back and she would be flat out exhausted afterwards. I started to worry she was never going to be strong enough to do much more. I invested in a cart with wheels because I thought that would help ease some of her frustrations from the loss of mobility. With wheels she would be able to run and play more. Boy was I wrong. She was a very independent and somewhat stubborn girl. She did not want anything to do with that dumb cart.

By mid-December, she was perking up. She was able to go on longer walks and she went without her lifting harness about halfway. She would ‘run’ all the way to the park but when it was time to go home, she wasn’t as enthusiastic.  I would have to put the harness on and support her on the way home. Christmas time came and we took our annual Christmas photos with the tree. Then we got some snow just after the new year. Izzi always loved snow but we don’t get much in OK so it was a real treat when it happened. When we woke up that morning and saw the snow she did tripawd zoomies all over the backyard. Then just like that, it was warm again. By March her swimming pool was set up again and she was splashing in it every chance she got. Looking back, I’m really thankful for all the extra warm days she was able to enjoy.

In early March she sprouted a new bump on top of her head. It was a little scary because I didn’t know if it was some form of cancer returning or if it was just a coincidence. She had it removed almost immediately just to be safe. We didn’t send it off because I was literally as broke as you can be by this point. But they examined it there in the office and it appeared to be just a run of the mill cyst so we felt fairly confident there was nothing to be worried about. She had a little Frankenstein scar on her head now to go with all the others.

After this we had a very uneventful summer… which meant it was a great summer. We spent a lot of time outside enjoying the sunshine and the swimming pool. We had a lot of great foster dogs during that summer too. Izzi didn’t like sharing her pool with them so I had to make sure she didn’t get too sassy about it. I took a whole week off work in August to hang out with Izzi and the other dogs at home. And then Izzi got to celebrate her 10th birthday in September. A year prior, I was told she may only live for 3-6 more months so this was an enormous and exciting milestone. We made it 365 days.

Trying out the new wheels: https://www.instagram.com/p/BNmzRB7B5-c/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

A pupaccino just for fun: https://www.instagram.com/p/BN7GJCWDKG3/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Going for a walk: https://www.instagram.com/p/BOGCk-ihfO2/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Christmas: https://www.instagram.com/p/BOWTZUHDoVU/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Opening a gift: https://www.instagram.com/p/BOlcqyEDWPS/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Snow Day: https://www.instagram.com/p/BO97XL5hNBS/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Frankenstein: https://www.instagram.com/p/BRoQpuHB1RZ/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

More swimming: https://www.instagram.com/p/BSHB5MNhUET/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Running around like a champ: https://www.instagram.com/p/BWIk4VNFhST/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Hanging out with some friends: https://www.instagram.com/p/BYCM7_clXTq/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Day Seven

March 10th, 2019

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Izzi came home on September 11th, 2016. I had tried to imagine what she would look like with three legs but it didn’t really make sense until I saw it with my own eyes. It was surreal to see her hopping around, standing at her bowl getting a drink, or laying in bed with three legs and a nub. I also wasn’t prepared for how gruesome the nub would look at first. The bruising spread across her entire abdomen and it was the brightest shades of red, pink, and purple I’d ever seen. When we left the vet, she was more than ready to go home. She hopped all the way out to the car by herself. I did have to teach myself how to carefully lift her in and out of the car because she couldn’t make that jump on her own. I purchased a twin sized memory foam mattress and set up a giant nest in the living room. We spent the next week laying in her bed, snuggling, eating treats, and watching Parks and Recreation. She didn’t have a big appetite at first so I had to top her food with shredded chicken to tempt her. She was also very naughty about licking her stitches every time I turned my back.  I eventually had to invest in one of the largest plastic cones I’ve ever seen. The cone made her furious. As her way of protesting, she would walk extra close to the walls and drag the cone along them to make a ton of obnoxious noise. It was hilarious.

She was supposed to get her stitches out after 2 weeks but about a week in, she started developing an opening along the side of her stitches. I wasn’t sure it it was normal so I took her into the vet for a checkup. They put her on some antibiotics as a precaution. A few days later, the opening had grown and there was a lot of fluid leakage. It was looking worse, not better. I called the vet and asked if I should be worried and he told me to come back in right away. They suspected she may have contracted MRSA during her hospital stay. The cultures came back and she definitely had it. She was prescribed Chloramphenicol and I was sent home with a large box of gloves. Apparently it’s a pretty serious drug and I was supposed to avoid touching it. Needless to say I was a little freaked out!!

Izzi was always difficult to medicate. She always knew when I was trying to sneak her a pill via a piece of cheese or lunch meat. Unfortunately chloramphenicol tablets are ENORMOUS and I couldn’t effectively hide them in anything. I had to get creative and I went through a lot of chicken that week trying to force those pills down her. Some times she didn’t even want the chicken so I had to give up and try again later. I’m not sure if it was the medication, the serious infection, or a combination of both but she felt extra cruddy. She didn’t want to eat at all and she just wasn’t her self. She was leaking a ton of thick fluid from the opening of her incision. I had to fashion a pair of shorts for her to wear to collect it so she wasn’t spreading her infection all over the house. I had to take her to the vet daily for cold laser therapy on her wound and I hated dragging her up there. She didn’t feel like it. She was tired of being there. She was over it. This was the very worst part of recovery. She was miserable and I felt so terrible for putting her through all of this. Thankfully, after only three days on this medication, I could see a real difference. She was finally healing. I was taking photos every day to track her progress and it was crazy to see them side by side.

She was feeling better and better. She wanted to hop around the yard and sunbathe. She gradually started wanting her meals without me having to beg her to eat. And her wound healed up enough that she was finally able to get her stitches out almost three weeks post-op.

Here is a video of her first time trying out the new ramp. I love her little tail wag at the end. https://www.instagram.com/p/BKRSGSmhvS1/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Some photos of her bruising from her first day home vs. about five days later.  https://www.instagram.com/p/BKY1pbVhCS0/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

The giant cone of shame. Hahaha!  https://www.instagram.com/p/BKax9v-BmoR/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Izzi’s pharmacy. https://www.instagram.com/p/BKt1ny8hQ_H/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Progression photos showing MRSA infection healing over a span of three days. https://www.instagram.com/p/BK0q6Q-h0Lx/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

On this day, she was feeling a lot better and she really wanted to swim. She was not happy that her pool was empty. https://www.instagram.com/p/BK4SL40jfaC/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

We went for ice cream after she got her stitches out.  https://www.instagram.com/p/BK_0emAjH5U/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Day One

March 9th, 2019

September 5, 2016 was Izzi’s 9th “birthday.” She had been limping for a while and it was getting gradually worse. Initially we suspected arthritis, then possibly a complication from her previous knee surgeries. It seemed pain medicine was doing nothing and eventually the dreaded lump appeared on her ankle. I remember the vet sighing when he felt it and I remember his tone when he said “we need to get an x-ray of this leg.” I could see the pain in his face as we looked over the x-ray together and saw the damage to her bone. It’s pretty crazy and unbelievable how quickly cancer appears, grows, and takes over its target. I would be reminded of this several times throughout the course of this journey.

After seeing the reality of the limp and seemingly tiny lump, I was faced with a decision on how to proceed. Do we biopsy this thing to see what it is? Odds are, it’s osteosarcoma. It’s going to continue to grow and she’s going to be at risk of breaking her leg. Odds of it being literally anything else are slim to none, so why even put her through the biopsy and why wait any longer? After asking approximately one hundred questions, I opted for amputation. The vet assured me dogs do very well on three legs. I had the nagging questions of whether or not Izzi would choose this. Would she choose to go through the excruciating pain of losing her leg and learning to walk again on three? Would she choose extraordinary measures to give herself just a little more time? I didn’t know what she would choose but I knew she was strong enough to give it a try. I knew if I didn’t at least try,  I would regret it immensely. I decided we were going to move forward with amputation and if she just couldn’t do it, I would face the decisions that would come along with it. But I had to give her a chance. The surgery was scheduled for September 9th and it was time to prepare for our new life on 3 legs. There were SO MANY unknowns and what-ifs.

Day 4: We went to the dog park to have one last 4-legged adventure. She always loved swimming at the dog park. I couldn’t let her off leash because her leg had gotten so bad and I didn’t want her to overdo it. We still went to the pond and she waddled in, followed around some of the other dogs, stole their tennis balls, and drank some pond water. It was a really nice farewell to the fourth leg.   https://www.instagram.com/p/BKHfYQxhhUc/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Day 5: 9/9/16 was surgery day! She went in early for x-rays and blood work. We needed to make sure there were no lung mets before proceeding with amputation. I waited anxiously for the call with the results and was so relieved to hear her lungs were clear and they were able to take her back soon. This was a Friday and I had to work which was probably a good thing because it helped keep my mind off all the worries. I came home for my lunch break and was surprised to find out that a couple of dear friends came over and built Izzi a custom ramp out back so she would have an easier time getting up and down the steps. I was still so nervous but this helped me feel like everything was going to be okay because I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded by helpers.                                                  https://www.instagram.com/p/BKJsI_CBW_g/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Day 6: I was able to go visit Izzi in the ICU. She had to stay a couple of days but I went to visit her as much as possible. She was on an IV drip with good pain meds and the techs were helping her adjust to tripawd life. She figured out how to hop around pretty quickly and she was even getting up to go potty on her own.

 

 

 

 

The Life and Times of Izzi the Great

March 2nd, 2019

I don’t know for sure when Izzi was born but when I adopted her in February 2008 she was around 6 months old. The ‘birthday’ I chose for her was around Labor Day, that way she always had a three-day weekend to celebrate. Izzi spent the first 6 months of her life with someone else. One day, they were traveling through my hometown and staying in a hotel. Her original owner made her a boarding appointment, claiming she wasn’t allowed at the hotel. She was dropped off with a bed and some food and was terrified of everything. They told me she ran and hid under a vehicle and it took forever to coax her out. She stayed in boarding for a while and her owner never showed up to retrieve her. He didn’t respond to any attempts to contact him. He just vanished. Which is definitely sad but it was lucky for me because I got a great dog out of the deal.

The boarding facility was also a grooming facility where I took my miniature schnauzer, Maci, for her haircuts. One day when I arrived to pick up Maci, a little brindle and white pitbull named Missy was running around outside playing. For some reason, she captured my heart that day. I asked about her and was told a little about her history and that she needed a home. I decided to ‘foster’ her and see how she would fit in at my house. It took literally no time for me to decide she was mine. I changed her name to Izzi and from that day forward, I had my soulmate in dog form.

Izzi came home with a terrible case of kennel cough. I thought it would never go away. Turns out this was the start of a very long and expensive medical journey but she was worth every penny. She had a small hernia that needed to be repaired when she was spayed. From there, about a year later she needed knee surgery for a luxating patella on the left knee. She recovered nicely from this and went on to be a  wild, playful girl. A few years later, we moved to a new city. We got a small rent house with a backyard. She was able to run and play but she escaped ALL the time. She was an expert digger and she loved to chase cars. My wonderful neighbor knew this so if he saw her out on the lam, he’d lure her back to the house with his car :).

Moving to a new city was pretty tough. I didn’t have any family here and only a couple friends. I could have never made it without my dogs, especially Izzi. Maci is the the tiny dog version of me: uptight, anxious, and hates most people. I have never been good at trying new things or going anywhere alone but with Izzi, I never had to worry. She loved to go everywhere with me. If I wanted to try a new food truck, go eat on a patio, or drive around and look at Christmas lights she would happily accompany me and easily introduce me to new people. She was such a social butterfly and an amazing ambassador for bully breeds. Everywhere we went, she changed hearts and minds. People who were previously terrified of pitbull-type dogs fell in love. I received so many ‘compliments’ from shocked people who couldn’t believe how sweet she was. I will always remember one specific evening at the vet, we were seated next to a couple who were waiting for their dog to be released. The woman was genuinely frightened of Izzi just because of the way she looked. But the man was in love. He spent the entire evening petting her and talking with her. By the end of that night, the woman was sitting in the floor rubbing Izzi’s belly. Several other times when we were out eating or shopping, children would ask to pet her and their parents would be afraid. I would always encourage them to come say hello and they were always so delighted with her kisses. It’s almost like she knew when to put on an extra sweet show. When people were unsure of her, she would demand their attention and would not take no for an answer.

Eventually we moved out of our rent house and into an apartment. It was tough finding an apartment that allowed big dogs and pretty much all of them disallow ‘bully breeds’ so I fibbed my way through several years of apartment life. I am so fortunate to have never gotten in trouble. Apartment life was quite an adjustment for all of us. We had to go outside on a leash at all times and there were no breaks – rain, shine, ice, snow, flu, or otherwise – we had to go for walks every single day. It was hard at first, but it became the norm. Every time I touched the leash, a riot ensued. She loved her walks. One night  after a few months of living in my new place, I went to the store with a friend to buy a new blow dryer. Upon leaving, we encountered a box of free pitbull puppies out front. There were two left. One was brown and kind of fluffy, must have been some kind of mix. The other was a teeny, tiny black puppy who was laying in the bottom of the box, barely even moving. It was late December and freezing cold. These puppies had no business being outside. After chatting with the owner, we learned they had a large litter on accident. Mom and puppies had been living in a closet at their house. They were trying to do the right thing by finding the puppies new homes which I can respect but it scared me to death to think of the type of people who could walk away with those puppies. My friend and I decided to take the last two puppies home and get them vetted and spayed before finding them suitable new homes. This is where we introduce you to Dori. Dori is the little black puppy who came home with me that day. She was covered in a rash and her paw pads were raw from spending so much time in her own urine. She had a minor heart murmur but a feisty spirit. She loved to play and she brought out the wildest side of Izzi. Those two spent all their time rough housing and destroying toys. Dori was spayed, and microchipped, and all the right things but after months of networking and trying to find a new home, I finally decided she was meant to stay with me. So now I lived in an apartment with three dogs and yes I might be a little insane.

Eventually, Izzi started having knee problems again. We tried conservative treatments including rest and anti-inflammatory meds and then Adequan injections but she just kept getting worse. I remember one day, she was hurting so bad, she was trying to stand only on her front legs. It was like nothing I had ever seen. I decided that she needed knee surgery immediately, there was no more trying this and that. She needed serious help. Izzi went on to have cruciate repair surgery on both hind legs. She had the surgeries six weeks apart. I was terrified. I didn’t know how she would handle everything and I didn’t know how I would pay for it but it happened and she was amazing. The first few days after each surgery were quite rough. I know she was hurting but she always pushed through. She did great with the water treadmill and cold laser therapy and she powered through every walk with a smile on her face. Those surgeries were life changing. She was able to run and play again. She was herself again and I couldn’t have been happier.

Shortly after all this, I found a stray dog roaming the apartment complex eating trash. I scooped her up and took her to our local shelter. It was the first time I had ever been there and I was extremely upset about leaving this poor dog alone in a cold cage in this loud, scary place. I was crying so much the front desk thought I must be lying about her being a stray. I explained I was just so worried about her and I felt awful leaving her there. They went on to explain their adoption and foster programs to me and assured me they would take the best care of her. That was the day I decided I need to get involved and start fostering animals. Although I had ‘foster failed’ with Izzi and Dori I knew I was capable of helping more dogs and this was my calling to do so. The little boxer I turned in went on to be adopted and shortly after I picked up my first foster dog, a little black chi-weenie named Lulu. Izzi and Lulu made fast friends. Every foster I brought home after that was Izzi’s new best friend. She was my foster nanny. She helped all the new kids settle in and showed them the ropes. I mostly fostered chihuahuas since I lived in an apartment and didn’t have much room. They always loved snuggling with Izzi because she was plump and warm. Eventually I brought home a tiny white and brown chi who was seized from a hoarding case. He was the most traumatized dog I had ever met. I named him Timon (like Timon & Pumba) because he reminded me of a meerkat. Timon took a very long time to come around but eventually I decided he was ready for adoption. He was adopted at his second adoption fair but returned two weeks later for biting. It turns out, he didn’t want any other family.. he only wanted me. Luckily the shelter let me take him back and adopt him myself. So in case you lost count, now I have four dogs.

After a few years of apartment living, I was finally able to buy a house. No more worries about sneaking around with my ‘illegal’ bullies in an apartment. No more leashed walks. My girls and tiny boy finally had their own enormous backyard to frolic in. About a year after living in our new home, Izzi started limping quite a bit. The vet thought she could be having complications from her knee surgeries or it could be arthritis. We weren’t completely sure but started her on more anti-inflammatory meds to see if we could ease her pain. Unfortunately, the limp only got worse and eventually a small lump appeared on her right hind leg near her ‘ankle’ joint. As soon as I saw that lump I knew it was bad. I just knew it, I can’t explain why. I knew nothing about cancer, I knew nothing about bone cancer, I knew nothing at all except that I had a gut feeling that something was very wrong. We went to the vet on her 9th birthday. I remember the vet sounding concerned and saying we really needed to get an x-ray of the leg. Then I remember the vet sounding even more concerned as he was showing me the x-rays and explaining that he suspected she had cancer.  That ‘tiny lump’ had invaded her bone and was eating away at it. He went through the potential worst-case and best-case scenarios. Best case was obviously a benign tumor. Worst case was she could potentially only have 3-6 months to live. We discussed options and landed on amputation. If we didn’t amputate, her life would be shortened and extremely painful. Her risk of breaking that leg was very high. Odds were that amputation would extend her life and improve her quality of life. I was worried and nervous but he assured me dogs do very well on 3 legs. It took me very little time to decide to go forward with amputation. I knew how resilient Izzi was and I knew she was up for it. I also knew if I didn’t give her a chance to fight this, I would regret it. I don’t mean to say this was an ‘easy’ decision for me but it was something I knew I had to do. So 9/5/2016 was the official start of Izzi’s 900 day battle with cancer.

Here’s Izzi circa 2009

And Izzi in July 2016