||Life isnít fair At
best, itís a challenge that gives us more moments of
happiness than of despair, and happy or sad, each lesson
helps us grow a little, if we pay attention.
This is the story of one of the most difficult life lessons
that we can face, the sudden loss of a beautiful, vibrant
family member. In my case, the death of Am/Int Ch. Legacyís
Braveheart Angus, CGC, BHIT, claimed by lymphoma at age 5.
Despite an aggressive battle with this terrible disease, my
husband and I watched our beloved Angus slip away in a
matter of a few short weeks. What is truly difficult about
lymphoma is that it is such a rollercoaster ride. Angus went
from being an apparently healthy dog to a very sick boy
almost from one day to the next, and throughout the
treatment, he went from frisky to frail and back to frisky
and finally to collapse on a day that I never expected it to
To truly appreciate the depth of this loss, one
needs to understand that Angus is the Bouvier that I dreamed about
over the many busy dogless years of child raising and career
building. But finally we could slow down and I had the time to enjoy
a dog. I learned of a breeder in Iowa, Denise Mankin DVM, and
arranged for a puppy. My husband I drove to Iowa to get him, and
Angus rode the 1,100 miles home on my lap and was housetrained and
learned to behave in public as a little canine gentleman before we
got back to Florida.
Grown-up Angus was black, beautiful, impressive in size and looks,
and had a wonderful, striking personality. He had ďpresenceĒ and
people were drawn to him. He was deeply devoted to me, and I to him.
He was my husbandís best friend until I got home from work, and then
he was all mine. We showed him for fun, and he took many Best Puppy
awards and easily attained his championship. I did obedience
training with him and hoped to do some competing. As he matured, he
behaved beautifully in any situation.
His name was special, chosen from the film ďBraveheart.Ē I never
thought he would have to live up to it, but Angus was very brave, to
his last moment.
Gradually, Angus had been acting differently. His eyes were a little
red, he had a little less energy, wasnít eating well, and seemed to
be losing weight starting sometime early in February, 2006. I didnít
worry, though, because he got that way occasionally, and I tried to
keep him lean. Then we noticed a change in his breath. He was on a
raw-cooked diet and we took him to a vet who said that we werenít
washing his beard carefully enough. We scrubbed, but still the bad
breath. On a second visit we asked the vet about the slight redness
of his eyes, and she gave us the name of an ophthalmologist but
didnít indicate any urgency.
When I got home from work after that visit, my husband said that
Angus seemed uncomfortable walking. I found some matted fur and a
pebble in his paw and took it out, putting some comforting medicine
on. He still seemed to be walking gingerly and when I pulled him
toward me on the tile floor, he cried out in pain, yet I couldnít
feel anything when I palpated. When Angus got up, we noticed a few
drops of blood on the tile floor so we called the emergency vet who
said it all Ė blood drops, physical discomfort Ė was related to a
sperm collection that had been done and not to worry.
With his front fall, Angusís eyes were difficult to see at the best
of times, but the next evening he just stood in the middle of the
floor with his eyes closed. We took him to the emergency vet who
diagnosed conjunctivitis. She gave us eye cream, and he immediately
was more comfortable.
Two days later, we took him to our regular vet, who did blood work
and evaluated Angusís eyes. He said Angus had uveitis but that there
was something else going on Ė either a tick infection, or worse,
lymphoma. He took samples from lymph nodes to be sent for testing.
Two days later, on our daughterís birthday, our vet called with the
terrible diagnosis of lymphoblastic lymphoma, a high-grade
lymphoreticular cancer. All four sampled lymph nodes were
extensively infiltrated. We were devastated. The next day we took
him to the vet for staging. His cancer was Stage IV, with enlarged
spleen and liver, as well as swelling of abdominal and thoracic
lymph nodes. Our vet recommended the Wisconsin Madison protocol,
which offered 80-90% possibility of remission for 12-18 months. The
first dose would be given Feb. 20.
Angus had a good weekend, enjoying lying on the cool pool deck,
playing a little in the yard, eating heartily. I worked the weekend
at the hospital and on breaks did a lot of research, and I tried
unsuccessfully to keep the tears at bay. On Sunday evening, Angus
was very loving and spent a long time receiving hugs and strokes.
The next morning, Feb. 20, my husband came to me barely able to talk
for the tears Ė Angus was disoriented and unable to see. I helped
Angus outside and he walked with great difficulty, almost unable to
follow me even though I held his collar and guided him. We took him
to the vet and had to lift him out of the car. He perked up with the
mention of ďcat.Ē His blood work was acceptable, with an improved
platelet count, so the vet decided to go ahead with chemo.
Angusís first treatment involved Elspar, Vincristine, Prednisone and
Benadryl. When we got him home, again lifting him out of the van
because he had no awareness of space, he was obviously stressed,
unable to lie down even for a few seconds. His breathing was rapid
and shallow, his heartbeat rapid. I sat with him and offered comfort
as he leaned against my legs. We obtained pain medication. Angus
then relaxed and slept, although there was a moment when I went to
him, unsure that he was still breathing. Later in the day he perked
up somewhat, although he didnít regain his vision. He seemed to be
able to see large shapes enough to be afraid of running into them
but couldnít see his water dish.
Tuesday Angus had a fairly good day. He ate well and drank a lot,
peeing frequently. My husband worked from home today since I had to
go in to the hospital. Angusís vision didnít improve, and he
Angus didnít want to get up, although he went out on the
leash. He had profuse watery diarrhea, refused food and
was very lethargic, barely able to move. Distraught, my
husband awakened me. I dressed quickly and went to
comfort Angus. Our boy was to see the vet that morning
because of his vision, and both of us feared that our
vet would tell us there was no hope. I took Shadow
outside and turned to see Angus following and he seemed
almost frisky. At the vetís, Angusís left eye pressure
was high and the right eye normal. We were sent to an
ophthalmologist who diagnosed glaucoma, which may either
be temporary or permanent
24. Angus went to the eye clinic again today and his
left eye pressure was still too high. They added another drop to
that eye only. At this point Angus was eating and drinking well
and apparently enjoying life between long naps. We were hopeful.
He enjoyed a couple of trips to the coffee shop and walks
downtown, his favorite activities.
Angus was due for his Cytoxin treatment. His WBCs were a little
low, and HCT had dropped. His left eye pressure had increased
and right eye remained stable. There was still a lot of uveitis,
and the vet was hopeful Cytoxin would do the trick. The trip to
the vet exhausted Angus and he spent the better part of the day
This month went by in a blur. Angus had his second Vincristine
injection without too much difficulty, and his eyes continued to
be a problem so he stayed on eye medication. Generally, he ate
well, drank well and had good urine output. I worked Fridays
through Mondays, and my husband worked Mondays through Fridays,
so when we were both gone, Angus spent the day at the vetís
hospital. His WBCs and H&H remained low but neither required
Angus got the ďbig gun,Ē his Adriamycin injection. He tolerated
it well, although a few days later he become very picky about
eating and his energy level dropped. His big activity for the
day was to go out and pee. That exhausted him. A trip in the car
to the eye doctor in Orlando tired him for hours afterwards.
Although he had little energy, occasionally he would surprise us
and down 2 lbs of poached chicken or ground beef at a single
Angus woke up with what appeared to be green fluid oozing out of
his left eyeball and the eye looked horrible. I tried to wipe
away some of the ooze but realized he needed medical care
quickly. Angus was diagnosed with a melting corneal ulceration
and required hourly eye drops day and night. The opthalmolotist
said that Angus wasnít a good surgical candidate for removal of
Angus was becoming weaker and it was very difficult for him to
get into the van, even though itís low to the ground. He
sometimes needed help to get up from lying on the tile. He was
refusing meals and refusing pills in cheese. We had to poke the
pills down his throat and my husband commented on his huge teeth
as my hand disappeared inside Angusís mouth. Angus accepted the
I got up at 5:30 a.m. to drive north of Orlando to see Angusís
opthalmologist. The doctor pronounced his ulcerated eye
ďrecoveringĒ and gave us an additional eye drop to help shrink
the bubble. We returned home and Angus was ďflat outĒ the rest
of the day. He was so down that I wondered if he would make it
through the weekend. That evening I tried to see if a walk would
perk his interest. With some difficulty he got up and we made it
as far as the bench in the front yard. He had refused food all
day but he accepted ground beef and ate a pound of it with great
relish. We then went in the house and he walked straight to the
back door so we took him out. He was almost frisky, running up
to the front fence, then he stopped and sat down. We stayed with
him a little and he followed us back into the house.
I had to work and Angus went to the vetís office for day care
and to be sure he can get his meds on time. I called during the
day and was told Angus was doing well. When I went to pick him
up, the secretary said the vet wanted to talk with me because
Angus refused food and drink and wouldnít get up. I immediately
called my husband. I knew what was coming. It was the
inevitable, and no matter how hard I tried to pretend it wasnít
going to happen, somewhere inside me I knew that it would. I
just didnít think it would be that day. I wasnít ready to let go
of my special boy.
Angus was in the exam room when I was taken back. He looked so
sad, so worn out. He was barely able to come the few inches to
me, but he came and buried his face in my lap and I stroked him.
Our vet explained that Angusís heart was giving out. He had gone
into junctional rhythm, and despite an attempt at medical
intervention, he wasnít responding. His heart rate was
dangerously low, only about 40 beats. He had edema of the throat
People have said your dog will tell you when itís time to go,
although I could never understand how one would know. Yet on
that Friday, I believe that Angus was telling me that he
couldnít take any more; it was time. I made the devastating
decision and the vet left me alone with Angus at my request,
waiting for my husband. I stroked Angus and talked softly to
him. His ears perked up when I mentioned ďcatĒ or ďchicken,Ē or
ďcar.Ē But he couldnít lift his head. When my husband arrived,
Angus briefly raised his head but went into a coughing fit.
We spent some time comforting Angus and ourselves then told the
vet that we were ready. Our vet gave the injection in Angusís
back leg as I lay at his front, stroking him and talking to him.
His trusting eyes were on me and I told him it was OK to go to
sleep. Very quickly his noisy breathing ceased, and our vet
listened and confirmed his heart had stopped. We stayed with him
a few moments then covered him with the cloth that the assistant
had placed over his back.
We went home to Shadow, our 3-year-old female, who was wriggly
excited to see us. But even Shadowís energy and excitement
couldnít erase the emptiness I felt. I will never forget the
trusting look and the favorite puppy position that Angus was in
for his last moment.
Life isnít fair.
I had to work the next two days at the hospital. My face was
swollen from crying, I wore shaded glasses and told no one
because I couldnít speak without breaking down. Somehow I made
it through the weekend. The next week was also very difficult. I
wrote to my online friends and received many wonderful messages
of condolence, each one bringing a new wave of crying. I
followed the suggestion of one writer and picked out a star that
would be Angusís. Every evening I would go out and speak to that
star to tell Angus he was still in my thoughts.
Itís too soon, but maybe Angus had an ethereal hand it in
somehow. Angusís sister had puppies just a week before we lost
our special boy, and there is a nephew for me. It might be too
soon Ė I donít want to let go of the closeness I felt with
Angus. But maybe itís time to live in the present and know that
I can keep Angusís memory close while enjoying the new life. And
I think Shadow would appreciate a friend. I have prepared an
Angus memory book, so that whenever I want to think of him, I
will have that book.
I believe that everyone, human or animal, touches our lives for
a reason, and Iím still trying to learn the message from Angusís
short life with me. He was a special dog with great presence,
great confidence, and he was much loved and is deeply missed.
two days before my birthday: Last night my husband and I
selected a tree to be planted in honor of Angus, an elm. This
tree will give us shade and we can put a bench under it to sit
and read. Angusís remains are with us in an urn. I am sponsoring
a trophy in Angusís memory at the 2006 ABdFC Nationals.
Angus, I will never forget you. I write this through tears. If
you were with me, you would know and come to sit beside me,
perhaps putting a paw on my lap or just sitting very close. I
will always miss you. You will always be my special boy.