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Argus The Dog: 10/15/05 – 7/29/11

August 5, 2011 Family, Fido 1 Comment

Argus left this world with a howl on Friday July 29, 2011. Diagnosed with bone cancer in October 2010, Argus fought hard until the very end and never lost his sense of humor — he snagged a piece of fresh salmon off the dining room table the night before he died.

Argus’ early life was fraught with peril. Rescued by a shelter in Woodland, CA, “Tad” had already suffered a broken leg by the time he was three months old. Just as he was getting used to his new name and home in San Mateo, Argus contracted a mild case of parvo and fought bravely to overcome it. There were numerous other near-death experiences during his puppyhood, often triggered by his own misbehavior. It was joked that he was just one poo-rolling incident away from an early demise. He was famous for escaping from the back yard and splashing around in the nearby creek, choosing to beg forgiveness rather than ask permission.

In adolescence, Argus developed characteristics of the breed his trainers believe he was partially descended from — Anatolian Shepherd.¬†With acute hearing, exceptional eyesight, and the strength to take down wolves, horses, and even lions, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is a superb guardian of his flock. Argus took his role of guarding his flock very seriously, lovingly earning him the nickname “Killer” by friends. He loved adults and children of all ages, but did not take kindly to dogs he felt were a threat to his territory.

Most notably, Argus was an adventurous dog and enjoyed exploring new places with his people:

Tahoe!

The Beach!

Yosemite!

Camping!

Hiking!

Kayaking!

Stand-up Paddling!

He mostly just wanted to be along for the ride…

Argus is survived by his adoptive parents, Greg and Molly, and numerous friends — both human and canine — who will miss his stoic charm and unconditional love.

Duct Tape Use #432

July 13, 2011 Fido 3 Comments

The tumor on Argus’ neck/throat has reached critical mass. I woke up to a bloody damn mess yesterday — literally. I will spare you the pictures.

We were just at the vet on Monday to see if there’s anything we can do about it (like remove it), but Dr. Sutter is worried about the can of worms he might be cutting into if he takes off the small section that’s bleeding. Based on the smell emanating from the wound, I think he’s right…

As you can imagine, it’s hard to get a Band-Aid to stick on a furry dog…but duct tape does the trick. It actually does it little too well; he flinches when I remove it to change the bandages. We’re also trying a styptic powder to help stop the bleeding, though I am pretty sure this wound is too big for what it’s intended for. I changed the dressing three times yesterday and it was soaked through each time. This is far worse than cutting a toenail past the quick…

No fun, my friends. No fun at all.

He still looks handsome as ever, though. I think we’ll be seeing more duct tape in the fashion scene this fall.

My Good Boy

July 12, 2011 Fido 3 Comments

I love this guy. I’m so sad that the end is near.

Good Days and Bad Days

June 15, 2011 Fido 4 Comments

Like most cancer patients, Argus has good days and bad days. For a long time now, the good days have outnumbered the bad though we may be reaching the point of diminishing returns on that. Since he can’t talk, it’s hard to tell how he’s feeling. We hope to get a dog that talks next time…

External Changes
The lumps and bumps are hard to overlook. The one on his neck — the very one that came back as dead cells when the doctors tested it in Davis — is growing seemingly as we watch. Whether these cells are cancerous or not, they are alive and well!

He also has a large mass on his back. This one is different than the one on his neck. It’s harder than the one on his neck and much larger. The one on the neck seems to be a soft mass and this one is hard. Maybe it’s a bone tumor?

Finally, we can’t deny that there is another bone tumor on his remaining front paw. He licks this paw often (more than just grooming) and it’s very clear to us he is in more pain. Dogs carry 60-70% of their body weight in their front paws, and Argus now only has the one in front to carry his ~80-pound load. He is much more selective about which events are important enough to come down the deck stairs out back (neither Greg nor me coming home makes the list) and his walks are shorter. We’ve got him on 30 mg of prednisone at this point, given to him in one dose with his breakfast. Dr. Sutter has assured us we can’t OD him on the prednisone, so we feel like we can give him more if/when it appears he needs it. We started at 5 mg back in March and have ticked it up along the way.

Internal Changes
His breathing has been pretty steady up to this point. When we met with Dr. Martin in April, she recommended we take a baseline measurement of his breaths per minute when sleeping soundly. At that point, it was 9 breaths per minute. His sound sleeping is still consistent, but he is coughing more often and more things trigger coughing. This could be a result of the lump(s) they found on his lungs or perhaps the one on his neck is affecting his windpipe.

One example: he loves to bark at the mail person each morning until she gives him his well-earned three treats. The barking now results in a coughing fit every time. The same thing happens when he barks at the raccoons at night. Also, he will get into a play stance to instigate one of us to play with him, but as soon as he makes a sudden movement to be chased, he starts coughing. It sounds and looks like he’s trying to hack something up, but nothing (thankfully) ever comes.

His spirits still seem good and his appetite has certainly not waned (though we know this is also a side effect from the steroids). He is interested in going out each afternoon and enjoys being around us when we’re going about our day around the house. I took all the above photos Tuesday evening when we went over to the lagoon for a paddle and he was game to tag along.

Around The House
His favorite spot used to be on the couch, but he never gets up there anymore. Even when I lift him up there to snuggle with me, he quickly jumps back down. This is one of my all-time favorite pictures of him from a couple of years ago:

The next best spot was the overstuffed chair and he rarely gets up there anymore. It seems that he can’t get comfortable when he’s folded up, which used to be his normal sleeping position. I haven’t see him curled into a ball in at least a month. This picture was taken immediately after surgery; I couldn’t believe he got up there unassisted:

He has found a comfortable spot on the guest bed and he gets himself fully spread out when he lays there. My desk is in the guest bedroom, which means we spend a lot of time together during the day.¬†While we miss him at the foot of our bed each night, we’re grateful he has found a place where he can get the rest he needs. Luckily, our overnight guests have been happy to share the bed with him!

The heartbreaking thing, of course, is that we don’t know how long we have with him or what will end up being the last straw. Will it be his own breathing? Or will we have to make that awful decision that the pain is too much? Of course, our hope is that he goes to sleep one night and just doesn’t wake up…but we are not fooling ourselves to believe it will be that easy — for him or for us. We continue to live in the moment with him and be thankful for each good day we have with him.

Argus Update: Still Going Strong!

May 12, 2011 Fido 2 Comments

Our last appointment with Argus was on March 9. That was the fateful day we learned the cancer had spread and we stopped the conventional treatment. The doctors told us that we could expect somewhere around two months with him. Their advice was to feed him as many hamburgers and ice cream as we can. *sigh* We are definitely being more lenient with the people food he gets, and we have continued with the homemade diet and myriad supplements that are [hopefully] slowing the cancer’s progress.

In April, we met with a “Wise and Wonderful” mobile vet, Dr. Martin, who will likely do the euthanization when the time comes. She came to the house to meet us all and did a full examination on Argus while she was here. Her assessment was this: “If you hadn’t told me Argus was sick, I wouldn’t have guessed it from the exam.” We were thrilled to learn that his lungs sounded good and his heart rate was well within the normal ranges, meaning he’s not in stress or pain.

Since that meeting about a month ago, there have been a couple of setbacks. He has begun coughing, but not every day. He can usually get it under control within a minute and the episodes don’t happen more than twice a day when they happen. He also seems to be in more pain. I think there is another bone tumor in his remaining front paw, based on the way he favors it similarly to what he was doing with the left one. Also, he isn’t interested in walking long distances. He wants to get out of the house, but is happy to sit down quickly in the car and at our destination. He gives stairs a second look before going down them — it may be time for the ramp again. Even so, I don’t believe that my dog is going to drop dead any day now. Maybe it happens that fast, but I don’t feel like he’s on his last leg (ha).

Here’s a day in the life:

6:15 AM – BREAKFAST
1/2 c cottage cheese + 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
4-5 oz homemade dog food with the following mixed in:
1 scoop DiGuPi
1 scoop wheat grass powder
1 teaspoon canine digestive enzymes
A few squirts of fish oil
3 krill oil tablets
10 mg prednisone
A little hot water to mix it all up

10 AM – SNACK
1/2 scoop vanilla ice cream with 4 Apocaps hidden in it

10:30 AM – USPS TREAT FEST
The mail carrier brings him three treats every day. He barks at her incessantly if she tries to get away with anything less than three treats.

1:00 PM – IMMUNITY BOOSTER
1 meat-flavored treat full of immunity-boosting ingredients

4:30 PM – HAPPY HOUR
The family unit heads over to the Bay Trail for a walk and a sniff. Argus isn’t interested in walking long distances these days, but he visibly enjoys sitting down and taking in the scenery.

6:00 PM – DINNER
1/2 c cottage cheese + 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
8 oz homemade dog food with the same mix-ins as at breakfast
12 oz raw meaty bone, like a chicken back or turkey neck

10 PM – BEDTIME SNACK
4 Apocaps, delivered via almond butter

New Symptoms

March 23, 2011 Fear, Fido 1 Comment

Argus has been his normal self, which has been a blessing to us. For all intents and purposes, he doesn’t know he’s sick. We have been doing our best to live in the moment with him and not think too much about the reality of it all. He still gets excited every time one of us puts shoes on or grabs car keys. He still barks incessantly at the mail person, begging for (and receiving) treats. He still eats his food and begs for ice cream every time the freezer opens.

A few things are different as of the past couple of days. His eyes always have dried “sleep” in them in the mornings, but now they are much more goopy — and they are leaking this goop all day long. It doesn’t appear to be discolored (like an infection), but it’s definitely out of the ordinary.

The other change just happened. I came into our bedroom and found him napping, which is not unusual. What did alarm me was that his upper body shivers/quivers with every breath. We know the cancer has spread to his lungs and our vet mentioned a symptom of end-of-life will be labored breathing.

I have a call into the vet to ask about this and see if it’s time to start the heavy duty pain meds. In the meantime, I took a video and am asking for anyone’s opinion on what this might be. Perhaps a fever, as one friend suggested?

The one thing I do know: I’m not ready.

UPDATE March 24: We talked with our vet last night and he was concerned that Argus’ systems are busy trying to fight more cancer and are unable to fight things like small infections (his goopy eyes). The shivering could be a fever he’s unable to fight, or his response to pain. We picked up a prescription for Prednisone (steroids) last night to help with pain and he has responded well. No more shivering, the eye goop is less today, and he still has a good appetite. Thanks to everyone for your kind thoughts and words!

The Phone Call

March 9, 2011 Fido 12 Comments

My eyes stung with tears.

I was quietly minding my own business in a local coffee shop when my phone rang. It was earlier than they normally call.

“Dr. Frasier would like to discuss the test results in person. Can you please return to the clinic?”

And just like that, I knew. Doctors don’t wait to give you good news in person. If it had been good news, they would have proceeded with today’s regularly scheduled treatment. But they wanted me there to discuss it.

As the tears burned and my face flushed with heat, I called Greg. I knew he was in a meeting; I called anyway. I felt so alone and — selfishly — wanted someone else to feel as scared as I did. He said to hope for the best. I smiled to no one and said I’d try. I packed up my things and drove to the clinic.

I might as well have had a scarlet letter on my chest when I walked in. The front desk people knew why I was there; I didn’t need to check in like everyone else. A doctor who often greets me stopped her conversation with another patient to let me know someone would be with me shortly. I didn’t even get the chance to sit down before a woman quickly ushered me to The Back.

“There are a lot of people in the waiting area. Let’s bring you to a room.” I took deep breaths and held back more tears. She didn’t make eye contact.

Dr. Frasier came into the sterile room and nodded, confirming what she saw all over my face.

Argus’ cancer has spread.

She very kindly explained the test results. In between medical jargon, she gave me many heartfelt apologies on behalf of the entire staff.

“Argus is everyone’s favorite.”

“He is such a dear boy.”

“We argue over who gets to treat him each time.”

“Argus is really something special.”

As special as he is, the chemotherapy was ineffective. She explained another study we could join, which might buy us an average of nine months. It would require at-home treatments that I would administer twice each week plus one injected all-day treatment every three weeks in Davis at a cost of $500 per treatment. There are many side effects to consider. And again, the purpose of this study is not to cure the cancer, only to slow it down.

If we do nothing, the cancer will continue to metastasize and they expect his quality of life will diminish to a critical point within two months.

The end is near. My heart is broken.

Argus Update – Six Weeks

December 27, 2010 Fido No Comments

We are six weeks post-surgery and I haven’t given an update on Argus in awhile.

I thought he seemed “depressed” for the few weeks Greg was gone, but he seems to have bounced back from this (exhibiting none of the same symptoms when I was absent for a week!). He is content now that we are all home again and weasels his way onto the couch with us most nights. He takes up one half of the couch while Greg and I squeeze into the other half. We are suckers for this silly dog!

We went over to Windsurfer Beach yesterday for happy hour and I took some video. It’s a little long/boring (2 minutes), but it gives a good example of him getting around on the sand and over the rocks. Also, he pauses right in front of me for several seconds so you can see how his incision is healing.

After I took this, he went for his first swim post-surgery. I had the camera put away by then and I was too lazy to get it out. He never wanted to use his back legs to swim when he had four legs, but he’s finding that they are crucial now. We are headed over the hill to Half Moon Bay this afternoon and I hope to get him in the water again.

We are due for his second chemotherapy treatment this week and I am waiting to hear back from UC Davis to schedule it. We had a glitch when Greg took him to get it last week. Apparently something wasn’t right with his blood so they could not administer the treatment. We had sent in a CBC 10 days post-treatment and everything looked good then so I want to understand what was amiss to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Considering it’s a 2-hour drive one-way + a 2-3 hour treatment and the CBC we did locally cost $50, it was an expensive and time-consuming glitch.