Tag Archives: University of Minnesota

And then the house and the sky fell quiet

3 Jan

zooey122161

“Good morning, Zooey.”

For the past twelve years Zooey has slept in her crate next to our bed. Yesterday, like so many mornings before, I woke up, rolled over and said those three little words. In that moment, I didn’t know it would be the last time.

When I opened her crate door, I noticed right away something was wrong. Zooey was having trouble walking and the fluid had built up significantly outside her abdomen. As the cardiology vets had told us, they could drain the fluid from her abdomen a couple more times, but there was no way to remove the fluid that was building up in her skin outside her abdomen.

For weeks I’d been reading end-of-life articles and trying to find an answer to the question: When is the right time to let go? (Here’s one of the best articles I came across)

Now I knew we’d reached that time. Veronika and I talked it over, and made the incredibly painful decision to schedule Zooey’s euthanasia later in the afternoon. We made the call at 11AM and set up an appointment for 4PM.

Once the decision was made, the waiting became excruciating. Emotions and thoughts started rushing through my mind and I was constantly questioning whether or not we were doing the right thing.

We were also questioning where we should do this. With Jasper we settled on an at-home procedure, but for Zooey that just didn’t feel right. We decided returning to the University of Minnesota’s Small Animal Hospital made the most sense for us given that Zooey had become comfortable with the doctors and technicians there.

With everything in place, there was one last thing we wanted to do … take Zooey for a final walk in one of her favorite parks.

Around 3PM we drove to Battle Creek Regional Park. Dogs can run off-leash on wooded trails and across open fields in this park, so we’ve visited and hiked these paths countless times over the years.

When we arrived, the sun was shining, the sky was a brilliant blue and the park — covered in snow — was as beautiful as we’d ever seen it.

zooey122162

But Zooey struggled to walk along trails she had once raced down. If we needed a final sign, this was it. Her time had come and there was nothing more we could do. After a short while we returned to the car and started to drive to the small animal hospital.

We arrived shortly thereafter and were taken to a private room with wood floors, comfortable chairs and soft blanket for Zooey to lay down on. We should pause here and say how thankful we were for all the people at the University of Minnesota’s Small Animal Hospital. Everyone from the front desk staff to the lead veterinarian treated us with the utmost care and respect — that day and throughout the entire past few months.

Once in the room, we were given time alone with Zooey to say final goodbyes. I can hardly describe how difficult this was. The one good thing is that Zooey was still being Zooey — sniffing around the room and sticking her nose in the garbage pail.

Once we gave the go ahead, one of the vet techs took her away for a few minutes to insert a small catheter into her leg. This helps assist with the process.

Zooey then returned and we were given more alone time. After awhile, we pushed the small buzzer on the wall and the lead veterinarian arrived.

When we were ready, she inserted the first solution into the catheter. This caused Zooey to fall asleep quickly. Then she inserted the second solution and Zooey’s heart stopped almost instantly. The whole thing seemed to happen in less than 30 seconds.

I was shocked by the suddenness of it. The doctor quickly stepped out of the room to give us privacy and Veronika and I were left with Zooey and tears streaming down our faces. I remember both us of saying how much we loved her and then I leaned over, and through the tears, whispered, “I’m so sorry Zooey. I did everything I could to save you.” Together we pet her soft fur and held her one last time.

After a few more moments, we asked for the vet technician to return. Together we lifted Zooey’s body up and then she took her away to be placed in a small casket for us to transport her to Pets Remembered Cremation.

Like so many times before, Veronika and I drove though the darkness with Zooey in the back of the car. Although this time she wasn’t bouncing around and staring out the window looking for another dog or passing squirrel to bark at. All I remember is silence.

—–

One of the hardest parts of losing a pet is coming home.

As soon as we stepped in the door, I was hit with a wave of emotion. Everywhere I look there’s something to remind me of Zooey — her water dish by the door, her blanket on the couch, her running gear and winter booties in the front closet.

And everything you’ve known for all those years changes, too. It’s habit to not leave food or tissues on the counter because Zooey will snap them up. Or to close doors so she doesn’t rummage around in a garbage can or chew on a sock. To lay out her “dog blanket” on our bed in the morning. She’s no longer there to let outside or take for a walk. And she doesn’t come running when I open the cereal box late at night. In an instance, everything changes and life is thrown upside down.

All day the lyrics from the song “Landslide” have been running through my head:

And can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Oh oh I don’t know, oh I don’t know
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you

I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know what comes next. For the first time in fifteen years, we’re waking up without a dog in the house.

I keep thinking Zooey is still sleeping in her crate and will come running into the kitchen at any moment.

But for now, there’s only silence where there was up until recently so much activity.

Zooey came into our lives as a rescue dog with a blue blanket and not much more. She was our much beloved “trouble dog” with an abundance of positive energy and personality. Yesterday, on a gorgeous sunny day, after all these years, she was cremated with her same raggedy blue blanket wrapped around her. As we ponder how to deal with the days ahead, we take comfort in thinking somehow we came full circle.

Goodbye, dear Zooey. We’ll never forget you.

(Zooey, June 11, 2003 to January 2, 2016)

7 things you might not realize when you get a dog

2 Jan

Zooey12216

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the things I’ve learned from our two dogs over the past 14 years. Some of this should have been obvious while other tidbits came as a surprise. So, here’s my list of 7 things you might not realize when you get a new puppy or dog.

1) Prepare to be followed. If you walk around the house, the dog is most likely to follow you. If you lay down, the dog will probably lay down. If you go outside … OK, you get the picture.

2) Get ready to pick up a lot of poop. And barf. And that half-chewed stick the dog just spit up on the living room rug. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. Someday you might even miss doing it.

3) The dog is going to drive you crazy. They’ll bark to go out and then turn around and bark to come back in. They won’t come back in the house when they know you’re running late to that 9AM meeting at work. They’ll try to eat things they’re not supposed to like socks, rabbit turds, dead squirrels, etc. They’ll constantly nudge you when you’re working on the computer. But you’ll miss these moments someday, too.

4) You’re going to spend a lot of money. We’ve easily spent tens of thousands over the years on vet bills, food, crates (yes, plural for one dog), rawhide, treats, leashes, more rawhide, collars, registrations, even more rawhide … Easily the best money we’ve ever spent.

5) You’re going to love them like a member of the family. Maybe more so, if that’s possible.

6) You’re going to change your schedule to fit their schedule. You’ll leave parties early to “let the dog out.” You’ll adjust your vacations to be away from them as little as possible. You’ll flex your work schedule so they don’t have to be home alone for more than X hours (you’ll come to learn this magic number from experience).

7) Saying goodbye to them will be one of the hardest things you ever do. Ever.

Which brings me to today.

We were planning on bringing Zooey in to the vet to say goodbye tomorrow afternoon, but when we woke up today, we noticed that her condition had taken a turn for the worse. There’s more fluid build-up outside her abdomen and her breathing has become more labored. Waiting until tomorrow doesn’t seem fair to her, so we’ve made the incredibly painful decision to schedule an appointment for this afternoon.

My heart is feeling completely broken.

p.s. As I type this, Zooey is laying on the floor right next to my chair. Right up until the very end she doesn’t want to leave my side …

Is there a good day to say goodbye?

29 Oct

October 29, 2015 — Wow, the last post below was from 2011. Amazing how the years pass.

For a long time now this site has sat idle. I’ve thought about taking it down, but for some reason I just let it float out across the Web. Now I know why. The story wasn’t over.

In 2010 this started out as a blog about Jasper and his cancer diagnosis. But there were always two Vizslas in our lives. There was Zooey, too.

Now over 12-years old, she is still with us, but not for much longer.

z2

You see, back in mid-September Zooey was diagnosed with a rare heart-based cancer tumor. We first noticed she was having trouble breathing, so we took her in to see our regular veterinarian at Como Park Animal Hospital. They did a few tests and a chest scan and immediately sent us over the University of Minnesota Small Animal Hospital. That’s when my heart dropped and I was transported back to 2009-10 and the ordeal we endured with Jasper’s cancer.

My wife and I know we’ve had a great life together with Zooey, but she’s always been so healthy. We thought she’d live at least another couple years, so needless to say this has been a huge shock.

The tumor itself isn’t causing Zooey pain, but what happens is it causes fluid to build up in her abdomen and press on the outside of her lungs which restricts breathing. Each time this has happened — four times now — we’ve taken her in and had the fluid pumped out. And the amount of fluid is amazing — sometimes up to 3/4 of a gallon! It’s a pretty straightforward procedure and each time when she’s done, Zooey charges out of the hospital. Afterwards she has a few good days and then a slow decline until we’re back for another procedure.

The unfortunate part is the time between chest pumps is decreasing, meaning that the end is drawing near.

With Jasper, it was easier (never “easy”) knowing it was time. He almost stopping eating completely and wouldn’t get up any more. It was clear that he was ready to say goodbye.

With Zooey I think it will be a much harder decision. Like I said, after each vet visit she slows down a little but still likes going for hikes, exploring the beach along the Mississippi River and chewing her nylabones. But she’s getting more and more tired. And food, well, that’s becoming an almost-daily challenge.

All of this is leading to a decision no pet parent wants to make: Is it time?

z1

During situations like this, weird thoughts cross your mind. While walking her back to the car from the vet today I was thinking, “Will it be better to say goodbye on the weekend and have quiet time to grieve a little or on a weekday after a beautiful weekend?” Strange.

Just typing those words causes tears in my eyes. I’m not ready to lose another best friend. My hiking buddy. My TV-watching companion. I can’t imagine looking in the rear view mirror and not seeing her happily panting away while we head out on our next adventure.

When Jasper passed away, we were devastated, but we came home to Zooey. Now the house will feel so painfully empty. For the first time in over 14 years we won’t be sharing our home with another creature.

I think that’s when it’s really going to hit me.

For now, I’m going to go pet Zooey while I can and hold on to the moment just a little longer.

Questions I Stopped Asking

5 Sep

I’m sitting down to type tonight while U2 plays on the stereo in the background.

“Hold me now, oh hold me now
Till this hour has gone around
And I’m gone on the rising tide…”

Just about a year ago, Veronika and I were traveling through the desert Southwest on our way to see U2 in Las Vegas. During the first five days of the trip I was a bundle of nerves as we anxiously waited for the results from Jasper’s first needle biopsy.

Outside the entrance to the Grand Canyon, we received a call from our vet. “Inconclusive.” I remember thinking, “Well, that’s better than ‘conclusive’.” On we drove… Veronika, me and my worries.

Grand Canyon
Photo: Calm on the outside. Stormy on the inside.

You see, I’ve always been a worrier. I mean a hardcore, teeth-grinding, stomach-churning kind of worrier. So, I was surprised – shocked actually – to realize that there were things I recently stopped fretting over. Questions I’ve stopped asking. Such as…

Question 1: Why did this happen to our dog?

This was one of the first questions I kept asking myself. Probably asked this question over a thousand times. After a while acceptance starts to creep in, and then you switch to survival mode. Thankfully Jasper has been up for the fight. For a shy and reserved dog, he is stronger than I could have imagined. We’ll keep going as long as he wants.

Question 2: Was it something we did?

The food we fed him? The city where we live? The water he drank? This one can really drive a person crazy because there’s just no way of knowing. Could be genetics or the environment or a combination or something else. That’s the bitch about cancer. A lot of times you just don’t know what causes it. There’s nothing I can do to change that.

Question 3: How much time does he have left?

One of the vets gave him one to six months to live. That was two and half months ago. We asked another one of our vets the same question two weeks ago. He responded, “Could be weeks or months. It’s hard to know because there are so many variables.”

The last three weeks have been great, though. If it wasn’t for the tumor on his side, you’d think he was a normal dog. Playing, swimming in the river and jumping on the bed.

I’m learning to live in the moment more and more each day. This morning I took J out to swim in the St. Croix River. The temperature was perfect. The setting was perfect. The moment was perfect. I remember thinking to myself, “There’s no place I’d rather be than right here right now.” A second later, I looked up and saw a bald eagle land on a tree branch thirty feet above us. Was it a sign? I don’t know, but it made the moment even more special.

Question 4: Why doesn’t Jasper get to live to be an old dog?

I don’t know why, but I always hoped Jasper would live to be at least 10 years old. He just turned 9. I don’t know what’s so special about 10. I must have read somewhere that the Vizsla’s average lifespan is ten to twelve.

Now when I catch this thought creeping into my head, I’m reminded of one of my best friends. His beloved black lab passed away at the age of three. I’m sure he would’ve given the world for six more years together.

Question 5: How much have we spent on Jasper’s care?

I made the mistake of asking the cashier at the University of Minnesota Small Animal Hospital this question the other day, and the answer was double what I expected.

That’s when I realized it really didn’t matter because we would have spent double that to help J.

It made me sad, though, knowing there are families and individuals out there who can’t afford cancer treatment for their pets. Just breaks my heart, but I’m starting to form a plan in my head to help others in the future. More on that later.

To end on a positive note, this has been a great weekend with the dogs. Hiking off-leash in Battle Creek Park with both dogs on Friday, going for a run with Zooey on Saturday and taking Jasper out to swim in the St. Croix River today. I wish every weekend could be this great, but right now I’m not thinking about the future or the past. I’m just sitting here listening to my favorite band – and the sound of two snoring dogs – with a smile on my face. Perfect.

You Shine Like a Burning Star

12 Aug

Another day, another round of national press for our little superstar doggy Jasper.

The good folks at Petopia asked me to write a guest blog a couple weeks back. The entry I prepared for them – “The Calm Before the Storm” – is now available online. In it I write about J’s diagnosis, his never-ending love of water and waiting for what’s next. Hope you enjoy the entry.

Jasper is back at the U of M vet today for his bi-weekly update. He’s been a little more tired and stiff than usual this week, so I’m anxious to get the vet report later today.

In the meantime, I’ve been dreaming of snow, but I’ll save that for my next entry.

Miracle Drug(s)?

27 Jul

I started this blog by saying “Jasper has cancer.” Today I’d like to make a change. “Jasper is living with cancer.”

Ever since we returned from our South Dakota road trip – and after he slept for nearly two days straight – he’s been acting like a young, healthy dog once again. He’s eating all his food, hopping on the bed to wake us up in the morning and chewing on his favorite purple squeaky toy just like the good old days. I think all the hiking, swimming and fresh air did him good!

Jasper's pills
Photo: Just a few of Jasper’s cancer pills

He’s also taking a collection of 7+ different pills, but so far (fingers crossed) the latest chemo drugs don’t seem to be adversely affecting him. From what we can see, the tumor on his side appears to have stabilized. He has another appointment this Thursday at the University of Minnesota Small Animal Hospital, so we’ll have a better idea of his condition after that.

I said earlier that I was going to write about the ups and downs of living with a pet who has cancer. This has certainly been an “up” period, so we’re really thankful. I’m not sure how long it will last, but I’m not thinking about that tonight.

G’day, Dr. Claire (Part 2)

7 Jun

Having tried surgery and chemo without success, radiation was our next – and likely last – option. It’s really starting to sink in that Jasper has a terminal disease. I’m also beginning to realize that this will likely be our last summer together. I’ll comment more on that thought in a future post, though.

J began twenty-two weekdays straight of radiation in mid-April 2010. Each morning he had to be in to the hospital before 8AM and I was able to pick him up in the late afternoon.

Around the fifth day I started to notice something. The same group of us were there in the lobby each morning with our dogs. Silently going through the same experience but never really reaching out to one other beyond the cursory “Good morning.” Strange in hindsight because it probably would have been nice to chat with someone who truly knew what it’s like to be in this situation.

Jasper relaxing before going to the vetJasper was doing so well throughout the experience, that by week three we asked the vets if he could continue getting zapped beyond the 22 scheduled visits. “Nope, that’s the maximum for a dog with his condition.”

Thrown into the mix, there was also the new low-protein dog food and loss of appetite to deal with. By the end of radiation Jasper had lost nearly a quarter of his total body weight, but he soldiered on.

When he was discharged on day 22, I actually felt a bit sad. Throughout the radiation treatment I had the comfort of knowing that we were doing something to try to save him. Now that we were at the end, it started to sink in that there really wasn’t anything else we could do other than wait and hope the radiation stopped or slowed the tumor growth.

On the last day, the doctors and nurses gave us a beautiful card with words of encouragement for J.

“Congratulations, Jasper! You are such a brave guy! Have a great summer.”

“So happy for you! Love you, Jasper.”

“Congratulations! You are the sweetest guy and I will miss you.”

They also gave Jasper a new squeaky toy that Zooey (our other Vizsla) has been eyeing like a hawk checking out the latest road kill.

A few days after his last blast, we started to notice the hair loss. Slowly at first until fur started coming off in clumps. His side looked awful, but I took it as a positive. “Perhaps it’s a sign that the radiation is having an impact.”

Two weeks after the final treatment we were back to meet with good ol’ Dr. Claire, the veterinary oncologist from Australia.

“G’day. How are you doing, Jasp?”

There’s something strangely comforting about discussing a deadly disease with someone who has an Aussie accent. Plus her nickname for Jasper made me smile.

Following the initial exam, we got down to some serious Q&A.

Q: Did the radiation work?

A: The tumor has only grown slightly, so that’s a positive. The best result is to shrink the tumor, but slowing the growth is the next best outcome.

Q: I guess I need to mentally start preparing for the end of his life. Does he have three weeks or three months or something else to go?

A: Definitely more than three weeks. Beyond that it depends on a number of factors.

Q: Such as?

A: Have we slowed the tumor growth? Will it metastasize into the lungs?

So where we once had a ray of hope, now we just have a bit of light coming through the window shades. Have to stay positive and really try to live in the moment, though.

Next appointment: One month from now.

*Note: Apologies for the choppy entry today. Sometimes the emotion of the situation gets to me and it’s tough to be poetic. More upbeat entries coming in the weeks ahead. Promise.