Monday, June 29, 2015

Best. Dog. EVER! (We'll miss you, friend!)

So.... I realize that it's March April May June already (dammit, I WILL post this before July), and my renewed resolution to post to this blog at least once a month has already reached epic fail status, but it HAS been a little.... well... sad here, for lack of a better word. (Hence, the occasional over-indulgence as noted in the previous post.... some days are really hard.)  ..... Also, this post was extremely difficult to get through writing. Yes, it's long... it was also difficult to try and edit down. Bear with me.

You see, we lost our beloved Hobey Baker on February 10th. If you've read much of this blog, you know how much our 4-legged furry son meant to us. He was the light of our lives, and was a special dog to EVERYONE who met him.

We adopted Hobey from the Humane Society when he was just eight weeks old. That was in early October of 2000. We had been looking for a dog since we closed on our house (a.k.a. the LoveShack) earlier that year, but no dog ever felt like the right fit. We frequently visited our area shelters, looking for a dog that was about a year old and already housebroken, who needed a good home. There were a few "almost rights", but we didn't think it was fair to any dog to settle one that was not quite right for us.

Then one day at the Humane Society, there were three puppies in one of the pens. Two of them were jumping up and down in the front, begging for attention and affection, and the third was sleeping soundly in the back of the pen. Mr. Remarkable Monkey said to me "Oh let's get one of these puppies! They're so cute! They're so fun!" "No... we're really looking for one a little older who's already housebroken. They're awfully cute, but I don't think we can handle a puppy right now," I reminded him.

"But look how fun they are! And I'm home enough to potty train a puppy," Mr. RM said. He continued to cajole and sweet talk me, and the two puppies up front were SO dang cute, that I gave in. We even considered taking BOTH of the active little imps that were performing so adoringly for us at the front of the pen. So we asked one of the volunteers about their availability for adoption.

"Hmmm..." he said as he looked at the forms in the packet attached to the pen. "Well, these two are already spoken for and are on hold for adoption. But THAT one is still available" he said, referring to the third pup, who was still just solidly sleeping in the back of the pen.

"Aawwww... " Mr. RM and I said to each other... "He's no fun! All he does is sleep. He must be the dud of the litter."

But for some reason, we decided to at least meet him. So the volunteer worker escorted us to one of the pet "meeting" rooms and we waited there while he went to fetch the "leftover" third puppy. I asked Mr. RM if he was sure he wanted a puppy that young... they were only eight weeks old after all, and would require a LOT of training and housebreaking. Mr. RM had a field tech job at the time, and was home off and on during the day, so he said he could take on the housebreaking and some of the training. I was still dubious about adopting such a young puppy.

After a few minutes, the shelter volunteer brought in the pup. I was sitting on the floor at the back of the "meet n' greet" room. He put the puppy down, who then proceed to yawn, stretch, pee on the floor, and then scamper over toward me. He climbed up on my lap and kept climbing. I lifted his little eight pound fuzzy body to my shoulder where he was trying to go, and there he started chewing on my hair and sniffing my face.
Hobey Baker at eight weeks old,
the day we brought him home.

"Oh... this dog is going home with us right now!" I said. And that was it. The puppy had essentially chosen us. We took him home that day, after a stop at PetSmart to get some necessities and a few toys for our new family member. He was just the cutest, sweetest thing! And despite our initial impression that he was the dud of the litter because he was just sleeping and not participating in the front-of-pen antics with his siblings, he actually turned out to be the best one. I am sure of that.

I don't mean he was the best one of the litter... I mean he was the best dog EVER. Now, admittedly, we're quite partial to him, but almost EVERYONE that ever met our beautiful boy said he was a special dog. Even one of our vets said he was "one of those once-in-a-lifetime dogs". He grew up to be a big boy... Akita/Lab mix, and his average healthy weight was about 76-80 lbs. (which was 20-40 pounds bigger than the Humane Society thought he'd be), but he had such a loving, gentle and sweet disposition. He loved everybody he met, and everyone loved him. We named him Hobey Baker after the hockey legend.

Hobey Baker at approx.
10 weeks old. How could
your heart NOT melt?
The first couple of nights we had him, we tried to crate train him. Epic fail! He hated his crate! The first night, we had the crate in another room, and Hobey cried and cried...LOUDLY. Nobody was getting any sleep. So I moved the crate into our bedroom. He still cried. I put the crate on the nightstand right beside the bed. And STILL he cried! Finally, I stuck my fingers through the mesh on the front of the crate. Hobey leaned up against them, and his cries quieted to a soft whimper until we both fell asleep.

That was the only thing that worked, and that's how it stayed for a couple weeks until he got big enough to snuggle in the bed with us. (Spoiled much?) It didn't take long for him to wrangle control of the bed, either. He'd climb up on the pillow, and sprawl out on the top of it above my head or Mr. RM's head, and eventually he'd stretch and kick until he had claimed the entire pillow for himself! (Yes, he was pretty much the king of the LoveShack.) When he was little bigger, he migrated to the bottom half of the bed. Well, actually, just my half of the bottom of the bed. Mr. RM had his half, Hobey had the bottom half of my half, and I got whatever space was left.... scrunched up on 1/4 of the bed by the time he became a full grown 80 lb. dog. But Hobey would always jump down after a while and go to sleep in his own bed on the floor in our room.

Hobey at about 4 months old, with his first bed
when it was new...  aaahhh, young love!
(Confidentially, he had torrid love affair with his first bed... so much so that we kept it when we got him a new bed a few years later. Bless his heart, once he was about a year old, he never humped anything else, but he really had a thing for that bed! Hey... better he do that with his old bed than peoples' legs, right?)

Our boy was super smart too. He was pretty much housebroken within two weeks. And he knew all his toys by name. His favorite was Red Ball. Almost every night after dinner, until he got old and started having mobility issues, I would have to sit on the step leading from the living room to the den and throw Red Ball down the hall. Hobey would run after it and bring it back over and over. Sometimes he'd stop for romantic break with "Old Bed". And sometimes we'd hear him back in the bedroom, chomping on a squeaky toy. Eventually he'd always come back with Red Ball though.

Our beautiful boy at the beach.
He loved to swim!

But before play time, he'd insist on helping with the dinner dishes. Well, not so much the dishes, but the leftovers. Seriously... if I didn't get up after dinner to put away the leftovers in a timely fashion, Hobey would let me know it! He'd go into the kitchen and sniff around for a while, and maybe eat a little kibble from his bowl. But if I didn't come in there soon, he'd stand in the kitchen and poke his head around into the hall toward the den where he could see us. And he'd bark once. And then again if we didn't heed his command. He was basically telling us that somebody better hurry up and come into the kitchen to put the leftovers away NOW so that he could have a bite. (I have no idea how he got so spoiled... **wink**!)

Hobey was a beautiful dog. People used to stop us on the street and comment on how beautiful he was. And he really WAS a pretty boy. But he was also beautiful on the inside. I don't know if I'll ever meet another creature with a soul as sweet and Hobey's.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know about Hobey's Cushing's diagnosis and the start of his mobility issues. Since late spring of 2012, he'd been on Vetoryl for the Cushing's, and was doing really well. His test results at every check-up and follow-up came back well within normal range. We had wanted to get him stem-cell therapy for his mobility issues when our vet started offering it, but that was at the same time he was diagnosed with the Cushing's, and so we couldn't do it due to the risk that it would stimulate the tumor that caused his Cushing's and make it grow larger. So we managed his arthritis and mobility issues as best we could with medication, exercise and supplements. But as he got older his mobility issues slowly got worse. We were able to keep them fairly well in control with increased carprofen, and later with the addition of gabapentin for neurological pain and methocarbamol at night to help relax his muscles. We also took him in for monthly injections of Adequan to keep his arthritis symptoms in check, and even added a hyaluronic acid supplement as well. All of this kept him mobile, pain-free and happy for a good long time.

Hobey at the park in June of 2014
But starting last summer, he stopped wanting to go for his afternoon walks. He was nearly 14 by then, and I figured the Florida heat was probably too much for him. But he was still eager to go for his morning walks, and would pester me if I was running late for them! By autumn, he had begun to fall down or unintentionally sit down every once in a while during our morning walks and play time in the park. Little by little, this got worse, and he lost more and more muscle mass in his back end. He slowly developed a bit of fecal incontinence too. But he was still happy and healthy, and we figured that as long as he wanted to keep going we'd do whatever we needed to in order to keep him mobile and pain free. When the time came, I would get him one of those doggy carts with wheels so he could keep on rollin'. By the time the holidays rolled around, his age was really showing. He slept a lot more, and didn't play as much. (He still insisted on going to the park every morning though!) His fecal incontinence was a little worse, and he often peed a little when he got up from lying down. No worries... puppy pads helped save us some cleanup. Again, as long as Hobey was happy and healthy, we'd do whatever we needed to. What's a little pee and poop between friends? He was still interested and engaged, eating well and content. But we figured it was probably our last holiday with him, and that we'd be lucky if we got another six months. Fourteen is pretty old for a big dog after all.

January came and I took him in for his semi-annual checkup and periodic Cushing's follow-up testing. All the bloodwork came back great. A few days later, the head vet called me. He said he'd been at a conference and had spoken with a vet from UF about Hobey's case and stem cell therapy. Hobey had been on his mind because he'd seen our boy struggling to walk while at his checkup (the ceramic tile floors there didn't help!), and also had another patient who came in for stem cell therapy but was diagnosed with Cushing's during his preliminary bloodwork. The UF vet said that if they only injected the stem cells into the joints and didn't do them intravenously (standard procedure is to do both), that any tumors and cancers shouldn't be affected. So our vet thought Hobey would be a good candidate for the procedure.

Well, that would have been GREAT two years when he was only 12 and a half, but now he was 14 and a half! I was concerned about putting him through the surgery, even though it's relatively minor and not a very invasive procedure. So we took Hobey in to talk about it some more with the vet. Given his otherwise good health and great bloodwork, our vet thought that Hobey could live another year or two or longer, and still believed he was good candidate and would get some benefit from the stem cell therapy. Mr. RM and I thought about it, and decided that if it would help Hobey's mobility, it would be worth it. Even if we only had him for another few months, we wanted him to be as comfortable and mobile as possible. So we made an appointment for couple weeks later on February 9th.

Due to Hobey's age, the plan was to have chest x-rays and an ultrasound done on Monday to make sure his heart wasn't enlarged and everything looked good. Then if all was clear, he'd have the stem cell procedure done on Tuesday, and would come home Tuesday night. I wasn't crazy about leaving him there overnight... he didn't like to be away from home... but we were at the vet's office at least every two weeks over the last year or so, whether it was just to pick up meds or get a shot, or some other appointment. And we'd been going to the same vet practice since his very first vet visit at eight weeks old, so he was familiar with the place and the people, and everyone there loved him.

Because it can contribute to bleeding during surgery, we had to take Hobey off the Carprofen (doggy ibuprofen) for 10 days prior to the surgery. We could keep him on his other pain meds though, and could also give him Tramadol to help control the pain. Hobey hated Tramadol though.... it made him loopy, and caused him to fall down even more, so I tried at first to just give him enough to keep him comfortable. But the longer he was off the Carprofen, the more miserable our poor boy became. So whether he liked it or not I ended up giving him the full dose he was allowed. The last few of those 10 days, he avoided walking much at all. He was clearly uncomfortable and suffering. If that had been his normal, I would have put him down. He was miserable and it broke my heart to see him hurting. I hated to see him struggling without his Carprofen, and just tried to focus on getting through to Monday. If the stem cell procedure didn't work for him, he'd go back on the Carprofen, which had obviously been working well for him, and we'd get him some doggy wheels. At least then he'd be comfortable for the rest of whatever time he had left.

Finally, Monday came. I packed up some food and treats, all of Hobey's meds, one of his favorite toys that always went to the vet with him whenever he had to stay there for a few hours, and a t-shirt that I'd worn to sleep in the night before so he'd have something with him that smelled like home. Then I loaded Hobey into the car for the ride to the vet. He always liked going for rides, and loved to "go see the ladies" at the vet. As we often did, we stopped at Dunkin' Donuts on the way to pick up some Munchkins for the vet's staff. Of course I almost always slipped one to Hobey before we went in, and I made sure he got one that day. Once we got to the vet's office, I had a difficult time getting him inside. He was really having a hard time walking. I was helping with a sling lift harness we'd been using, but he was still close to 70 pounds, and still stubborn enough to insist on going where HE wanted to go, which meant meandering around the grounds around the parking lot sniffing all the bushes and peeing on everything interesting. I let him roam around as long as I could, and on the way in we even met the parents of the other Cushing's dog who, coincidentally, was having the same stem cell procedure that day! They had just dropped their baby off and were their way out.
Hobey on his way to "see the ladies"
at the vet's in October 2014

We finally went inside and after a challenging attempt to get an accurate weight on the scales, we went into one of the exam rooms. One of the techs came in to get some quick prelim info, took Hobey's temperature, listened to his heart, etc., and then it was time to leave him there. I gave him a big hug and lots of kisses, and said, "I love you, Baby. Be a good boy! I'll come and get you tomorrow."

And then I went home and tried to focus on work. It was always too quiet in the house on the occasions when Hobey had to be at the vet for a few hours anyway, and I knew it was going to be really rough leaving him there overnight. But one thing at a time... today (that Monday) was just ultrasound and x-rays, and seeing if they showed anything abnormal, which the vet didn't think they would. Later in the afternoon, the vet (Dr. H) called. He said the x-rays showed a mass in Hobey's abdomen. He said it was possibly a tumor, but could just be inflammation, and he was having a radiologist look at it and would call me when he heard from him. Finally at about 6:00, he called back and said that it was definitely his adrenal gland, but felt reasonably sure that it WAS just inflammation. However, they needed to test it before they could do the stem cell procedure to make sure Hobey's blood would clot, or something like that, and that they'd do that testing at about 10:00 in the morning. If the clotting test was good, they'd move forward with the stem cell procedure.

I asked if Hobey was okay there, or if I should come and get him and just bring him back in the morning. The vet said that he was doing fine, but that I could come and get him if I wanted to. I asked what he thought would be better for Hobey... leave him or bring him home. It was a bit stormy that evening, and he said that we might as well leave Hobey there rather than subject him to the hassle of going back and forth. I didn't mind the hassle, but having seen how uncomfortable he was the last couple nights at home, I thought they'd probably be better able to manage his pain there than I could if he was here. At least at the vet he'd be in a kennel and more likely to just rest, and they'd be able to adjust his pain meds as needed.

Hobey was the best assistant
I could have asked for!
Still, I had second thoughts. So I called at about 8:30 Monday night to check on how he was doing. I spoke the night shift vet, who used to be the vet we usually saw at the practice when Hobey was younger. (She had gone to another clinic for a few years to work on emergency veterinary medicine, and was now back at the practice.) She's the one who had said that Hobey was a once-in-a-lifetime dog so many years ago. So I knew she loved him too, and she'd take good care of him. She told me he was doing okay. Said he was vocalizing a little which could be due to discomfort. I told her it was about the time I usually gave him his nighttime meds. She said she'd make sure he got them, and even agreed to give him a little sedation if he seemed anxious enough to need it. She said he was okay and not to worry about keeping him there, they were taking good care of him. And so I didn't go and get him. (I'll always wonder if I should have.)
But he sucked at filing!

The next morning (Tuesday), again I just tried to focus on work, and not the fact that my furry "assistant" wasn't here. Mr. RM texted me at 9:00 to see if I'd heard from the vet yet. I said "no... they were gonna do the clotting test around 10:00." He texted again at 11:15. Nothing yet... figured no news is good news. Then the phone rang just after 11:30. It was one of the techs. He asked if I had a few minutes to talk to Dr. H. I said "of course!" and hoped it was good news about the test results. When Dr. H got on the phone, he said that he had planned to do the test earlier but that they'd had another dog come in for emergency surgery. Once that settled down, he had sent a tech to draw Hobey's blood for the test. He said that when the tech got to Hobey's kennel, "I'm very sorry to tell you, your baby is gone.  We think probably that he had a cardiac event."

He said that Hobey had been fine earlier that morning... he'd eaten a little food, they took him outside and he did his pees and poops, and that he had been back in his kennel resting comfortably. When the tech went to draw his blood, she thought he was asleep, but he was already gone. He must have been sleeping and his heart just gave out. They said we could come and see him, and they wouldn't move him until we got there. I texted Mr. RM to come home. He rushed home from work, and I had to break the news. We composed ourselves and headed to the vet's office, where they took us into the clinic area to see our boy.

There he was, in his kennel, lying with his head on one paw as if he was napping. I'd seen him lay like that million times in a sunny spot on the patio or in the back yard. He looked peaceful. He was still warm... they had called us right after they found him that way, which was apparently right after it happened, and we got there within 30 minutes. I'm glad they didn't move him before we got there... it really did help to see how peaceful he looked.

They gave us a few minutes with him there at the kennel area, and then carried him into one of the exam rooms, brought us some tissues and left us alone with him to say goodbye. They told us to take all the time we needed. All the long-time staff who knew him well were sad and teary too. We gave him tummy rubs and nose kisses and ear scratchies, held his little hands (paws), smoothed his fur. We stayed with him in the exam room for... I don't know how long. Maybe half an hour? It was long enough that the warmth was starting to leave his little (big) body. Somehow it started to feel like he wasn't there anymore. And so we felt like it was time for us to go, as difficult as it was to leave him. Again.

There's a Hobey-shaped hold in our hearts, just
like the spot on the patio where he had been lying
when it started to drizzle a few days before we lost him.
It's been hard to forgive ourselves for not going to get him that Monday night. Part of us feels like we broke his heart, and that's why it gave out on Tuesday morning. Maybe he thought we weren't coming back for him. Another part of us feels like maybe he was just ready to go, and maybe he knew that if he let go there it would be easier on us. Mr. RM says he always felt like Hobey would never make us have to make the choice to put him to sleep. And although I'd rather have had him at home when he slipped away, we know that he was in a place where people loved him and cared about him when he went. (The vet and staff even sent us flowers... never heard of that! That's how special Hobey was!)

I still wonder if taking him off the Carprofen hastened his death... he was really struggling and increasingly uncomfortable without it for those 10 days. Did that contribute to his heart giving out? Should we have left well enough alone and not tried to do the stem cell therapy? His mobility issues would have continued to increase, but he had been content. Old, yes, and definitely having age-related difficulty, but not unhappy, and didn't seem to be terribly uncomfortable before we took him off the Carprofen prior to the planned surgery. Would we make the same choice again? I don't know... we were trying to help him. We had hoped with stem cell therapy that he'd be able to walk with less difficulty so he'd be better able to enjoy his last months or years. If only we had been able to do it when we first wanted to three years ago... but it was a new procedure then and they didn't know at that time that it would have been okay with the Cushing's if done in the joints only.

We also know that 14 and a half is pretty long life for a big dog like Hobey. And the vets always said that we were taking great care of him. Well of course we were... he was the light of our lives. His soul was pure joy, and he gave that love and joy to almost everyone he met. We were lucky to have had him in our lives at all, and even luckier that we had him for so long.

Goodbye, beautiful boy.
Thanks for coming to live with us.
We'll love and miss you forever.