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Westley has always been a happy, goofy dog. The monkey didn't survive long. Just after coming home, he proved he could charm everyone he met.  He also began demonstrating his skills in squeaky-ectomies.  The poor monkey survived several amputations, decapitations, and eviscerations before it was eventually retired.

pretty pretty princessHe puts up with a lot from me. Like testing out Happy Meal toys on him.

a very patriotic poodleWe participated in a 4th of July contest. He was very pleased to be getting so much attention. Spray hair color and stencil cut outs make for a very colorful poodle. It also washes right out.

So, from the happy, grinning goof-ball, he slowly descended into hurting and depression. It was painful for me to even watch, but I didn’t know what to do, and the vets just didn’t seem to want to keep looking for something they thought they’d solved.

I don’t want to add any sad poodle pictures. I’ll skip ahead…

Eventually we took the jump, and scheduled the amputation surgery. It was so helpful to me to read on other blogs and the forums that “two weeks of hell” were typical, and we were prepared for it, but we only got one before he was finally, finally back to his happy self.

freshly minted tripawdA week after surgery, the site is looking better. Swelling is down. No more nasty bulge of fluid shifting around. And true to poodle form, the hair is growing back quickly.

Unfortunately for his vanity, (and ask any poodle owner, they are very vain), while I might be able to even out some of the hair-do from the surgical site shaving, the mess of shaved patches on the legs is just going to have to grow before it’ll look normal again. Not the best way to parade down the aisle, but better to hop happily with a post-surgical ‘do, than limp in pain!

The Beginning of the Journey

In March 2009, Westley came back from a run limping. Hm.. Odd. But we didn’t think much of it until the 2nd or 3rd time he did it, just past it off as him being a bit older, 5 isn’t a spring chicken anymore, maybe he just wasn’t up for several miles all at once. And while I still didn’t feel like things were totally well, I didn’t think too much of it. Time passed quickly (doesn’t it always), and while he would limp, just a little, barely noticeable, but there, after running or extended hard play, it just didn’t set off the alarm bells it should have. After he got his summer-time short haircut in June, I realized something truly was wrong. His left shoulder blade was totally exposed. Just a giant rib of bone. He was still only limping when very tired, but still, the gait was a little off when you looked closely. A trip to the vet was quickly scheduled.

X-rays, blood work, everything said this should be a normal, healthy dog, except for the dramatic atrophy of the muscles above and below the shoulder blade on his left front leg.

Lucky for us, we live near the University of Florida, with its wonderful Small Animal Hospital.

The neurologists looked, poked, prodded, hmm’d and haw’d.. “It doesn’t seeeeeem to be neurological,” perhaps it’s orthopedic. So the orthopedists looked, poked, prodded, twisted and turned. “Nope, not orthopedic”, back to the neurologists. “Let’s run some tests!”  While it’s nice when the docs don’t have any other clients and can spend time on your pet, 3 hours in the MRI machine is a bit much. Even with the man who wrote the textbook on small animal MRI pouring over it, they still couldn’t figure out what’s wrong with him. It was a little frustrating.  They also sent electric pulses through his muscles to see if they were getting signal, which showed some abnormalities.

So after several days of testing, we came up with: A very nice dog, who may have sustained some serious trauma, that no one noticed at the time. Or, there is a really small possibility it could be this really rare type of tumor that we can’t see any evidence of. But it’s probably trauma. He’ll limp, it may get a little worse with more atrophy, but that’s to be expected because of the trauma.

Fast forward from June/July to November. Yes, the limping is more pronounced, and he may be losing a bit more muscle tone. The decline becomes more evident. While still operating on the trauma theory, we visit the acupuncturist several times along with adding in herbal therapies with no success.

Once we hit Christmas, he’s depressed and sleeping a lot, activity is down, and the happy, goofy, joyful dog takes more and more to smile. Appetite begins to fade by March. In April, it seems my regular vet is tired of my anxiety and paranoia and is not able to see past the trauma theory to hear me when I say things are too bad to be just trauma and orthopedic compensation. Anti-inflammatory drugs don’t help and kill the appetite further. Most of the muscle is gone from the entire shoulder and most of the leg. He’s just using it as a crutch. I need a second opinion.

Second opinion says what I knew I needed to do anyway. Go back to the vet school, or see a neurologist in Jax.

Back to the vet school at the beginning of May. More MRI, but no one is in town to read them. All the radiologists are in Hawaii for a wedding. Results look normal, but we’ll have to wait for final until they get back. The radiologists see “a small abnormality,” can’t really tell what it is, just a little something strange. Check with surgical oncology.

(One of the pluses and minuses of the vet school is that everyone is an expert and they’re all in the same building.)

Surgical oncology takes a look at it all, and says while they can’t be sure, they think it might be a tumor and will need to remove the leg even to get to where they think it might be.

After working through a lot of emotions, looking hard at the budget, and coming across this website, we decide to do it. He’s obviously hurting and the pain meds aren’t helping. He’s not using it much anyway, the one bony leg hanging there and the beefy one opposite are in stark contrast.

The surgery goes well. What they could barely see as “a slight abnormality” on the MRI is in reality a peripheral nerve sheath tumor which has taken over both nerve roots innervating his leg. Discolored, strangely textured, and everywhere. They go right up to the edge of the vertebrae and hope they got enough above it to get clean margins.

Tripawd status achieved: Thursday, May 27th, 2010.

I found the numerous photos of post-op dogs helpful. Compared to some, Westley’s amputation site is rather simple. Just a straight line from the top to bottom.

He came home on Saturday morning, and was doing well considering. Not a lot of food was appealing (and this from a dog who would eat anything and everything), but he’d eat some. Drinking was normal. I slept on the couch near his crate so the hop to the door was shorter if we needed to go out. He did. There was also a lot of panting and standing around unable to find a comfortable position laying down. Sunday continued much the same.

Monday what little he had been eating slacked off. The extra fluid he was carrying around started to move its way into his remaining front leg/paw. Made standing up that much more uncomfortable. Ice packs and compressing the fluid out of the leg while elevated would reduce the swelling temporarily. Recommended taking him off the Rimadyl on Monday due to lax appetite (and we already knew Deramax causes GI upset).

Tuesday, he would eat nothing, and minimal water intake. Gigantic paw swelling every time he was upright caused problems.

Wednesday I was forcing water in him by syringe.  We went back to the vet school. Blood work was still all normal for a post-op kinda guy, no bloat, nothing abnormal.  Diagnosis: just wait. Half a scrambled egg consumed. Night was rough due to whining/moaning with every breath.

Still nothing Thursday morning. More scrambled egg offered, but declined. After looking through the forums here, it seemed that most of what I was seeing, lack of appetite, lethargy, staring into space, panting, restlessness, could just as easily been the Trimadol he was still on rather than the pain. Last dose given: early Thursday.  By evening he decided to eat part of a hamburger paddy. Not much but still more than nothing.

Friday he started to wake up. He was willing to eat some hard-boiled egg, and seemed more aware of what was going on. By Friday evening, he was engaged and much more interested in eating people food and drinking a little water.

Saturday was great. My boy was finally starting to be himself again, after months of pain and limping, he wanted to follow me around the house, be petted, and beg food from anyone and everyone. Still only interested in people food, but even so! Score! Whatever you want so long as it’s something! I was prepared for the two weeks of hell I’d heard was common. But I lucked out so far. Only one week, and then he’s back to his smiling, flirty, self.

Sunday continued the improving streak. Breakfast saw him eating (wet) dog food out of his bowl! and licking it clean! (We were doing celebratory dances around the house). Repeated for dinnertime.

The joy continues until the pathology report comes back in on Tuesday. Dirty margins…. Malignant, dirty margins. They didn’t get it all. It’s in the spinal column.

It’s hard to keep the upbeat encouraging pack-leader routine up when all I want to do is cry.

Today we had the sutures removed and talked over the options.

Not sure what we’ll end up deciding to do yet….

Did I mention the punch line yet? The undercurrent to everything going on right now, is that while I’m struggling with my beloved Westley being in pain and needing surgery and having to make hard life and death choices……

I’m getting married next week.

I wasn’t sure he was going to make it, but with amputation taking away all the nasty pain, it looks like he’ll make it to the ceremony after all. 🙂

I am blessed not only to have a supportive family (who sometimes it seems is more fond of Westley than of me), but to be marrying a wonderful man who understands how important my dog is to me. He’s not my formerly-four-legged fur-kid for nothing. 🙂

I’m trying to stay in the zen zone where I can live in the happy moment of a quick recovery from amputation and continue taking care of all those wedding details that I’ve been putting off while dealing with so many “real life” struggles.

It’s been a roller coaster. I just need to keep focused on the high-points.

P.S. While I know it’s crass, it’s been plaguing my mind… Just how does one pay for expensive treatments? Surgery wiped me out, and follow up seems like a mountain. Should we go sit on a street corner with a tin cup? Suggestions?

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