This October, we’ve been focusing on pitties, in honor of Pit Bull Awareness Month. We’ve debunked myths, discussed using doggone common sense instead, and tried to make the case for treating pit bulls like any other dog, because they are like any other dog. And, as with any other breed or type, sometimes they need help getting through their last days as comfortably as possible. Palliative care isn’t easy on fosters, but, as noted in a previous post about fostering special needs seniors, it’s worth the inevitable heartache. That opinion is shared by AliCarmen Carico. In this week’s article, she describes her family’s recent experience with dog hospice care.
Sometimes the most poignant rescue stories are the most beautiful
I was working the front desk at the Ranch in early June when I received a call from a man who had found an abandoned dog on his property. He lived in an out-of-the-way rural area, and the dog had clearly been dumped there. He couldn’t take her in, but he told me he had put out some water and a blanket in the shade. However, she was in such bad shape, he was afraid she might die if she didn’t receive care soon.
When animal control is not able to respond to a call, Rescue Ranch can sometimes step in. That evening, Rick Formanek drove out to pick up the dog and bring her back to the shelter. I knew as soon as I saw her that I needed to take her home. She appeared to be blind. She was lame, filthy, weak, emaciated, and had open sores as well as a distended abdomen. In fact, her belly was so swollen we feared she was pregnant, which would have been disastrous. Rick and I gave her an anti-fungal bath and some tapeworm medication before sending her up to the vet. An ultrasound revealed a belly packed with worms, not puppies.
Spirit learns the meaning of love and care
Our staff soon named the pittie “Spirit” because of her gentleness and resilience. She was exhausted yet grateful for every kindness. We gave her a few days at the Ranch to stabilize, and then I took her home to foster. At first, she recuperated in a shady kennel, away from our household animals. At night she snuggled in her Dogloo.
Every afternoon, she wandered around in our fenced front yard and stretched out in the sunshine. Though mostly blind, she could distinguish large objects like tree trunks. She initially appeared to be deaf, but after a few days, she began to respond to my voice. If she got confused, I’d call her and she’d lumber over, guiding herself by touch and smell. She seemed accustomed to neglect because she never expected anything from us. But she savored every second of attention my husband and I gave her.
With the advent of summer, she needed to move out of the heat. We had already introduced her to the family dogs but had no idea if she had ever lived indoors. Spirit made the whole process easy: she had impeccable house manners and greeted each of our other animals with a softly wagging tail and a benevolent kiss (even the cats!). She then settled onto her first real bed with the dignity of a queen.
Our biggest concern was to prevent her from accidentally blundering into one of the other dogs while they were sleeping. Rowdiness startled her, and if they jumped up or wanted to play, she would try to escape.
With a roof over her head, proper care, and plenty of good food, Spirit improved visibly. By the end of her first month with us, her coat was shinier, she had gained weight, and her sores were almost entirely healed. We looked forward to her full recovery and watching her go on to a long life as a beloved senior pet. The vet told us she was only about eight, which is at the very low end of senior for a pittie. She should have had many good years ahead of her. It wasn’t to be.
Dog hospice care: rescue work is not always about happy endings
Her next medical exam revealed anemia. The vet suspected an underlying condition and requested follow-up imaging. The news was devastating: Spirit had several inoperable cancerous tumors. She had a few months at best. After we had absorbed the shock, my husband and I were more determined than ever to give her the best life possible for whatever time she had left.
Sometimes, visitors to the Ranch tell me they couldn’t adopt an older dog because they don’t want to have to part so soon. But, given the choice, I’d live those weeks with Spirit over again in place of an entire lifetime with a younger, healthier dog. As she gained strength, we enjoyed (very) slow walks together. We strolled around the yard and to the mail box and back. She guided herself by my voice and contact. She loved to sniff the deer trails and the lavender bushes. Her favorite treat was a drive to the grassy park, where she could wander through the clover as slowly as she liked. Mostly, though, she slept, cushioned on the comfiest beds I could find.
During her last week with us, it was clear that she was failing. It was all so unfair, she had come so far! But we couldn’t let her struggle. Exactly one month to the day after we officially signed her adoption contract, we said goodbye to our beautiful lady.
I think of my Spirit every day and miss her more than words can express. Everyone she met remarked on her gentleness, but I loved her also for her dignity, humility, and peaceful nature. I am forever grateful to have earned her affection and trust.