My dog, Paws, was a Pembroke Welsh Corgi I adopted when I was only twelve years old, and she was only eight weeks old. She was my first dog, and I still remember holding her in my lap on the car ride home, beyond excited to have her in my family.
We literally did everything together. Anywhere I went, she went. She was my very best friend throughout all of the fun times, hard times and all the times in between. She was even the ‘flowerdog’ in my wedding. After six years of faithful companionship, she had earned a place in my wedding party. She wore a veil and greeted guests as they walked around the venue.
Out of the Blue
When Paws was ten, I came around the corner from my kitchen into my office and saw she had a horrific nosebleed. The blood was running fast, and where she was sitting there was a giant puddle of the blood on the floor. Her nose was bleeding way too much for this to just be a normal nosebleed.
I immediately called my local family veterinarian who instructed me to keep an eye on it as nosebleeds weren’t quite an emergency visit. I was still extremely concerned but waited an extra forty-five minutes to see if the bleeding would stop.
Well, by 6PM, she was still bleeding, and my veterinarian’s office was closed for the night. I was frantic. I rushed Paws to an emergency veterinary hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania, about forty-five minutes from my house. Throughout the car ride, her nose continued to bleed.
I felt helpless. I couldn’t do anything while driving, so I just drove as fast as I could. Luckily, I didn’t get pulled over for speeding.
Upon arrival, Paws was lethargic, and I was a nervous wreck. Over the last two and a half hours, she had lost a lot of blood. They took her back immediately to get bathed, have tests completed and be evaluated. It felt like I was waiting an eternity for her results as I sat in the waiting room. The nurse came out and told me to remain calm, and go grab a coffee to bring back. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I needed to calm down for a moment. The veterinarian still had a few tests to run so it would be a while longer, and Paws would be able to feel my tension and I didn’t want that. I went to get coffee.
Later, after all the tests had been completed, the look on the tech’s face gave it away: there was something wrong, and this wasn’t ‘just a nosebleed.’
Of course, I thought the worst: that Paws wouldn’t make it, or worse, that she had already passed away from losing so much blood. But no, Paws was alive, and stable, at least. But she did have a type of cancer rare in dogs: esophageal cancer.
More devastating news: they didn’t know how long she would live. Esophageal cancer is aggressive, and they didn’t want to give me a timeframe.
No Good Options
In 2007, there wasn’t yet a lot of knowledge about cancer in dogs. (Dr. Dressler was literally writing the first edition of his book that year.) But my vet still offered me a few options.
We could try chemo, radiation or surgery … but my veterinarian warned against them. And, the drive alone would be hard on her.
It would all reduce her quality of life. I pondered this, and thought, “she’s ten years old, how do I want her to spend the last of her time?” I decided that ensuring her quality of life was as high as possible was most important to me. I didn’t want her to go through the last of her time going through treatments that might or might not work. (I’ve since learned that I’m what Dr. Dressler calls a Type C dog lover – someone who values the quality of life over longevity when I’m making decisions.)
This time was incredibly hard for me. The thought of losing her was tragic. It’s been ten years since she died, and I still think of her every day. And back then? I grieved, hard, even while I was making her comfortable and making sure life was normal (at least to her).
Over the next couple of weeks, I deliberately remembered all the wonderful times we shared together, and still took her for walks as much as she was able to handle. She still wanted her routine, and I tried my best to accommodate her. She was just so tired, she could barely walk to the end of my driveway without being completely exhausted. My veterinarian had said her fatigue was from losing so much blood the week before, but to keep her routine as normal as I could (while giving her enough time to rest).
The constant nose bleeds continued, and Paws was prescribed epinephrine to stop them. Each time she had a nose bleed, I had to place a tube in her nose and inject a squirt of epinephrine to stop the bleeding. The epinephrine worked well at first, and the nosebleed would stop for up to two days.
Then, the time came. After a week or two, the epinephrine no longer stopped the nosebleeds. After she had been bleeding continually for two weeks, I finally rushed her to my family veterinarian. He examined Paws, and recommended euthanasia. He told me that her bleeds would only become more frequent, and her quality of life was already deteriorating beyond what I wanted for her.
He asked if I wanted to be in the room while she was euthanized… and I did. I wanted to be there to say ‘goodbye’ to this best friend I had shared so many memories with for so many years. I didn’t want her to be alone. I wanted her to know I was there for her.
As she received the injection for euthanasia, it left me breathless. The walls felt like they were closing in on me, and there was nothing I could do except stand there alone with my beloved dog, cherishing our last few moments together before she slipped away.
Grieving, Grieving. And More Grieving.
After Paws was euthanized, I was lost. No longer were there ‘pitter patter’ noises on the floor from her short little legs running around the house. The bed she used to lay in was now empty, and it felt like there was a hole in my heart. The pain was inescapable.
But, would this dog who gave me so many wonderful years want me to sit around depressed? About a week passed, and that’s when I decided it was better to remember and cherish the memories, instead of being depressed that she was no longer here with me.
It’s been ten years since Paws passed away, and I am now working with all of you and listening to your stories of your dogs with cancer, and how much Dr. Dressler’s book has helped you. I wish I would have had Dr. Dressler’s guidance, and The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, throughout my dog’s journey with cancer.
Dr. D’s emotional support techniques and all the knowledge he has shared would have helped me tremendously throughout that difficult time. Like many of you, after she was gone I felt like I could have done more for her, but I did the best I could to ensure her quality of life was high throughout her last days.
Looking back, there’s not much else I could have done. I took all the measures I was instructed to by the emergency clinic and my family veterinarian. And, I took a lot of pictures, including one last picture before she passed away. I cherished every moment we had together up until the very last second of her life, and that’s something I’ll never regret.
I couldn’t have written about this even a year ago, because it was still too painful. But I’m glad now to be able to share her story, and help others who are going through similar experiences. The bond I shared with Paws throughout her life is what encouraged me to work with dogs for a living. And, the experience with her and her cancer is what encouraged me to take one step further, into the field of dog cancer.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my story. As I listen to stories about your dogs, know you are close to my heart and I wish the best for you.
Amber L. Drake has been working with dogs for over 10 years. Throughout this time, she has served as a Canine Behaviorist and Canine Nutritionist working with dogs throughout the United States. She has worked with private clients, rescue organizations, shelter organizations and corporations. She has also been an Adjunct Instructor of Biology at a local community college teaching Animal Sciences for the past seven years and Kaplan University for the past two years.
In addition to experience in the field, she has earned a Doctor of Education (ABD), a Master of Arts in Education and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She has completed coursework in Pre-Veterinary Science at Cornell University, Veterinary Technology at Penn Foster and Biochemistry at UC Berkeley. Drake is currently finishing a second Master’s Degree with Kaplan University.
She is continuously enrolling in additional courses, seminars and conferences to remain up-to-date in all dog-related topics. She has a desire to share her passion, knowledge and experiences with others.