Sunday, November 6, 2011

Abby's Long Road Home

We at JVC lost a good friend today. Her name was Abby and she was an Australian Cattle Dog. She was a strong, solid, short and stocky powerhouse. Her grey merle coat was short and flat and impenetrable except for a ridge of wavy hair that ran down her spine. She had a broad wide face that set her kind gentle eyes as far apart as possible. As solid and formidable as she looked she was always docile and loving. She was never an overtly affectionate dog, but she was sweet and gentle and for as much pain, suffering, and struggling as we put her through she never became curse or angry.
Her story with us begins in August of 2001 when she was an 8 week old puppy. She was the third Cattle Dog owned by Jim. He has a farm and he likes farm dogs. He is a single guy in his forties who puts forth a tough quiet demeanor but it hides a big tender heart. He never says much but he loves his Abby and she loves him back.

Abby’s puppyhood was a normal and uneventful. At two years old she had 2 litters of puppies, 14 the first round and 11 the second. He adopted all of her pups out to his friends and relatives. At three years old she had a minor altercation with the hoof of a horse. (If you harass a horse you better keep outside of the strike zone). A few stitches later she was back on duty.

Over the next few years there were scraps with a groundhog, (common in rural MD), a bout of scabies (seen around here A LOT because the foxes carry and spread it like wildfire). If you see a very itchy, almost bald, farm dog around these parts it's scabies. I guarantee it!
 In February of 2010 she came in because her dad had noticed a “lump on her belly.” That “lump” turned out to be a mammary mass. I tell owners that if you don’t spay your dog at 6 months old I will almost guarantee that I will be doing it at some point, if they live long enough. Mammary tumors, or pyometra (uterine infection), occur in almost every older unspayed female. (Both of these can kill your dog, so please consider spaying as soon as possible to avoid these diseases and cut down on the pet overpopulation problem). I spayed Abby and removed her mammary masses on March 1st of 2010. The biopsy of her mammary mass came back as an Adenocarcimona and her prognosis from the pathologist was listed as “guarded.” In typical Abby fashion she healed very well from her radical mastectomy and ovariohysterectomy.
In July her dad backed over her in the driveway. I would say that the most common “hit by car accident” I see is an owner backing over their own dog. When Jim ran her over he ripped all of the skin off of her belly. When he brought her into to me it looked like someone had sliced her skin from armpit to hip and peeled it to the opposite side. She was essentially lying on the table with a big floppy loose flap of skin that used to cover her whole belly. I immediately put her under anesthesia to see if her abdominal wall had been jeoprodized because that would require immediate surgical intervention. I had to clean and explore this massive wound before I could even give Jim any kind of estimate as to what her care would entail. I brought Jim back to see her once she was under anesthesia and I had figured out what tissue-was-what. I needed him to understand the severity if her injuries, and I also needed him to sign on for the very long, painful, intense road ahead. He was shocked to see the full extent of the damage he had caused. He asked me if I thought she would survive? I told him that I was encouraged by Abby’s determined arrival. When Abby arrived with that terribly atrocious looking wound she was standing up on all four legs in the back of his pickup truck. I thought that if she arrived looking that good, then as long as I could minimize her bleeding I expected her to leave here standing back up in the back of his truck (although I do cringe and beg every owner not to transport their pet this way, waaay to dangerous!).
After three hours of surgery I had her roughly sewn up Frankenstein style. Not pretty, but functional. I knew that this was not going to be a single surgery fix, because I knew I was going to see some of this tissue die off over the next few weeks. I also knew my biggest immediate challenge was to first control her hemorrhage, then try to beat the massive infection that getting cheese grated on asphalt causes.
Abby came off the table looking like a corseted, girdled, 18th century call girl. She was shaved, bloody, bruised and barely able to move. She needed daily sedation to change the voluminous blood soaked bandages, and mega doses of morphine to control her severe pain. Jim visited everyday. We all knew that Abby was excited to see him, even though she couldn’t move and was crippled in pain if she tried, because her face would look up and she would plead for him with her eyes. It took 1 week of constant bandage changes, very careful blood monitoring, (because she lost so much blood and valuable protein). Even after the wound was pseudo-closed there was still seepage of blood and protein. It is the same seepage as you get when you skin your knees. We had to keep her bandaged for weeks. Those bandages turned out to be inubators for more infection. Abby returned on the 20th smelling like rotten fish. It was powerful enough to make you blink and run away. The funny thing was that Jim brought Abby in because she wasn’t eating, I still don’t know how he missed the make-you-want-to-puke smell. Her whole belly was one huge festering swamp of infection. It was so severe that we had to re-hospitalize her.

By this time Jim had invested about $2000 into her treatments. I told him that after the infection was under control I had to put her back under anesthesia to close her wounds and cut away the dead skin. As I told him what I knew he already had been warned about he lowered his head and said that he “didn’t think he could put her through anymore.” This, in the Vet world is code for “I want to give up.” I told him that we had come so far, and Abby was being so brave, and determined, and that I couldn’t imagine giving up on her. I also didn’t understand why he was giving up on her after we had already been through so much and come so far. He then confessed that he couldn’t afford to treat her any longer. I had gazed into Abby's eyes too many times over the last weeks and I knew I couldn’t give up on her. I told him I would take care of the rest of her care for free.
This is what Abby's belly looked like before the second surgery; Abby's head is up.

It took two more surgeries and a WHOLE lot of TLC to get all of her parts back together again. But Abby met every obstacle head on. She was a valiant strong-willed determined dog. And we all grew very fond of her. It wasn’t until October 18th 2010, that we saw her for her last appointment from that accident.

This is 8 weeks post the last operation

On November 4th 2011, Abby returned for “not eating well.”  On her examination my associate found that her pink color to her gums was gone. They were now white, and her x-rays revealed multiple masses in her chest. Her mammary tumors had finally caught up with her. As sad as it is to say to such an old dear friend I know that 1 year and 9 months is a very long time to have when your prognosis is considered “grave.”
Today (11/6/11) Jim came into the clinic. I could tell by the look on his face that something was wrong. In the back of his (now enclosed) truck cab was Abby. Still standing on all fours, but now panting and thin. I could also see in the desperation of her eyes that something was terribly wrong. She was white, and she smelled like death. We carried her into the clinic, sedated her so she wouldn’t have to be as anxious and fearful as she was all of those weeks that she spent with us, and then she eased off into her long sleep. There wasn’t a dry eye amongst any of us. I told her that we loved her, because I knew her dad couldn’t shed the fa├žade of his armored exterior, and she let go of this life. I was so proud to have known her, and I was proud to have been by her side as she passed away. I hugged Jim and told him that I hoped he would still come by to say “hello” every once in a while. He carried her out of our doors wrapped in a blanket to be buried at home beside his other two Aussies. He smiled thorough his tears and said he would be back soon with another.

Abby hiding under her Dad
I can’t wait to meet her.

1 comment:

  1. Sniff..

    Will book 5 month old pup's spaying appointment tomorrow morning.

    What a great dog.