There were two things that Joanne, the breeder, had made clear when I adopted Charlie. First, that she would always take her dogs back if it didn’t work out and second, that she actually preferred if we would board Charlie with her when we were out of town. She liked to still be involved in her dogs' lives when possible. Joanne admitted to often having a hard time parting with the litters, hence why she always ended up keeping one or two from each one. This usually meant she had at least 12-15 dogs in her home at any given time. Her motto, there’s always room for one more, really held true.
I liked knowing how well my dogs would be taken care of, so every time I went away, I would schlep up to Port Perry to leave Charlie, and eventually Lucy, at the LhasaPosa farm. It was well worth the drive to “Acton,” or so to speak.
When we would go back to pick Charlie and Lucy up, Joanne would always tell us tales of the shenanigans the dogs had gotten into while we were away. One incident that happened to blow her mind and always sticks in mine, was when one day about seven of the dogs, including Charlie and Lucy, took off towards a big Church, down the road from the kennel. Joanne and her husband, John, went after them and when they finally reached the church, they realized there was a funeral going on right behind the building. Joanne felt terrible as she searched around the grounds looking for all the Lhasas. One of her neighbors happened to spot her and pointed her attention towards the front. Joanne looked and saw all of the dogs sitting quietly by the coffin. She was in such shock over how they had settled there, watching the procession, as if they had been invited guests. She told me how embarassed she had felt about the dogs interrupting the funeral, but afterwards, while John and her were gathering up all the dogs, one of the family members of the deceased came up to them to say thank you. She thought the doggy tribute to her father had been magical. Joanne smiled at her and said her life was filled with surprises, daily.
We left Charlie and Lucy with Joanne and John for about five or six years, and then one day my mother called to make a plan to take them out there for Christmas break, and received the terrible news that Joanne had had a heart attack and passed away a few months earlier. John and their daughter were still running the business, but they were no longer able to board the dogs. Even as I write this, I have a lump in my throat thinking of the sadness I felt upon hearing of Joanne’s untimely death. She was such a special woman, who brought so much joy into peoples’ lives with the gift of her magical dogs.
So after that, we started boarding them with another wonderful woman named Bambi, who, at the time, was living over at York Mills and Leslie, in Toronto. Bambi was definitely a silver lining for us after Joanne’s death. She had such a passion for all animals, and her life was devoted to taking care of them.
About two years ago, when I went to pick my dogs up at Bambi’s house after Christmas break, she mentioned that Charlie seemed to be having trouble getting up the stairs. She thought his back was bothering him. After having tests done on him at the vet, he was diagnosed as having a herniated disc in his neck, which is a common ailment in an aging Lhasa Apso. The vet told me that this was something that was fixable by surgery, and that we should consider having it done if his situation started to worsen.
As the winter of 2008 grew colder, Charlie began having more difficulty walking, and I could tell he was in pain. One morning in early April, I woke up and not only could Charlie not walk, but he couldn’t even stand. It was as if overnight he had become paralyzed. We rushed him to the emergency vet in Oakville, where his specialist was, and as I handed him over to the technician. I was teary eyed, believing that it might be the last time I ever saw him again. Two hours later, the vet walked out with Charlie on a leash. He was walking perfectly. They had put an opium patch on his stomach for the pain and given him something through an IV. Here he was, totally happy and totally wasted. At that point, I could have used one of those opium patches for myself.
“He’s a remarkable dog,” the vet said. If that wasn’t foreshadowing what was to come, I don’t know what was.
We decided to book the appointment for Charlie’s neck surgery. Although it was risky, due to his age and the uncertainty that the anesthetic would have on him, there was no other choice. I wanted him to be able live the rest of his life comfortably. A few weeks later, my mother took Charlie back to Oakville for his surgery. Within an hour and a half, she was home with Charlie and crying. In pre-surgery, they had discovered a large mass on Charlie’s liver. They believed it was cancer. I was devastated. At a follow up appointment for Charlie, a few days later, the vet explained that although they could not be 100% certain if it was malignant or not, they needed to treat it like it was. The only way to know for sure would be to do a biopsy on it, however, if it was cancer, it would most likely bleed out instantly from the needle and Charlie would die. That had recently happened to the vet’s own dog. She also warned us that because of the aggressiveness of liver cancer in dogs, Charlie probably only had another six weeks to live. She said most likely he would bleed internally and die one day, without pain. Can you even imagine the anxiety I had every time I had to leave the house and think that I’d be coming home to find my dog dead? It was not a pleasant feeling.
One of the many things Bambi had taught me a few years ago, was the health benefits that wheatgrass has on animals. She had told me that there was a man who had come up with his own blend of it, and used it to cure cancer in his wife. I immediately started ordering the blend for my dogs as a preventative. The main reason I did not believe Charlie actually had cancer was because of the many years I had been feeding him wheatgrass. Even after this dismal trip to the vet, I still believed in the wheatgrass, and upped the dosage for him. We also started taking Charlie to Rona, the naturopath vet at Secord Animal Hospital. She gave him all sorts of natural healing medicines to strengthen his liver.
Charlie’s six week death sentence came and went, and he was still here. Then those six weeks turned into six months and when we returned to Oakville to have the mass rechecked, it had nearly vanished. The veterinarian was shocked. How was this possible? How could such a little, old dog fight off cancer? She highly recommended that we proceed with the neck surgery. By this time, Charlie was in his fifteenth year and as you can imagine, there is a huge risk in putting a dog of his age under anesthetic. There were a lot of stressful decisions that needed to be made in those early days of 2009. I can only imagine what people were saying behind my back that never owned a pet, or don't believe in the fight. In my next posting you will learn about how my friend at “The Centre,” put it all into perspective for me, helping me make that decision, and the final outcome of Charlie’s situation. Until then...