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A Tribute to Angus
by Carol Corley
March 31 2006

 

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 happen.

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.

Feb. 21 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 developed diarrhea.

Feb. 22 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

Feb. 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.

Feb. 28. 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 sleeping.

March. 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 treatment.

March 20. 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 sitting.

March 25. 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 the eye.

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 pills.

March 30. 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.

March 31. 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 and abdomen.

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.

April 11. 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.

April 19. 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.


 

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