They say that a dog is a man’s best friend. If our own canine companions (Veloce – Whippet, and Cicero – German Shorthair Pointer) are any example, then that phrase is indisputable.
No human could or would exhibit the unconditional love, obedience, and trust that is a natural component of most dogs’ personalities. Our two dogs have become an integral part of our family, a family we would do anything for.
Sadly, the focus of this blog is in Cicero, who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer
February 1, 2017
Cicero is in great spirits today, he has been spending much of his time outdoor, exploring every nook, shrub, and hole as is his predilection. An outsider would even describe his behavior and energy as “normal”. But we know better, as we can clearly see, day by day, his energy levels dropping. Just last night, he had a very hard time breathing, and we could hear his noisy, shallow, and rapid gulps all night long. The vet says this is to be expected, as his red blood cell count is low, and diminishing weekly. These cells carry oxygen to the body, so with the limited carrying capacity, the lungs have to work harder to compensate.
We have both pledged to make his final days here as pleasant and comfortable as possible. For me, this includes taking the time to take him on a short ride in the cab of the truck, as it is his favorite activity by far. It gives me great pleasure to watch him thrust that great snout out the window, taking in all the strange sights and scents, his “lips” flapping in the wind. I have learned that his tolerance for speed (with head out the window) is about 30 mph or so. Anything above that just discourages him from venturing into the wind flow. So, I limit our route to a drive around the neighborhood (likely more intriguing scents along these country roads anyway).
February 11, 2017
It has been a good couple of weeks for Cicero, at least during the day, maybe not so much for Dorothee and me. Cicero has settled into a new routine, which consists of heading to bed in his old familiar crate/cage around 9:00 or so. Then, sometime between midnight and 2:00, Dorothee’s keen hearing is alerted by Cicero’s rapid and labored breathing. He never whimpers or makes a peep, but that heaving breathing seems to signal his need to go outside for a pee. That obligation falls on me, and one I cheerfully accept. Sure enough, when I remove the cloth covering from his cage, he will already be standing, patiently awaiting me.
Once Cicero finishes his late evening duties, he comes back inside, wanders aimlessly around the great room for several minutes, finally finding himself at the watering bowl, where he engages in a major, multi-minute tanking up. He seems to have a voracious appetite for water now. Satisfied, he then heads back in the bedroom, but instead of the crate, he elects to spend the rest of the evening on a double layered dog pad we’ve set up right next to his ‘brother’ , Veloce, and that is where he sleeps without interruption until morning (except for the heavy breathing).
Dorothee has the most incredible silent conversation and understanding with both the dogs, and she just seems to sense when Cicero, who would never complain, is experiencing pain. She is now administering pain pills to him each evening before bed, and experimenting with the exact dosage to make him comfortable without turning into a zombie the following morning when he wakes.
We are just happy each day to have another precious time with him, and have been going out of our way to assure maximum interaction and make his remaining days as pleasant as possible (as if that were a departure from his ‘normal’ earlier life).
Today Cicero treed a squirrel just outside the front porch, and that kept him occupied for quite some time. First, just standing motionless and pointing, then finally giving into to his born instincts and setting up a barking brigade at the base of the tree. The squirrel, rattled by the constant barking, finally decided to scamper down the base of the tree, but Cicero was on top of the situation and gave quick chase. Fortunately for the squirrel, it decided to reverse course and boogie back up the tree, just missing a GSP chomp by inches. Then he set up a continual scolding chatter to further incite Cicero. Ah, a dog’s life..
One of Cicero’s great pleasures in life has been to sing along with my piano. For some reason, he is particularly triggered into full voice when I play Michael Jackson’s “I Want you Back”. He can be in the back room, but just as soon as I strike a chord on the piano, he comes running, then sits and listens patiently until Michael Jackson’s tune comes up, at which time he joins in with full song (Unfortunately, I have noted that recently he is still drawn to the music room when there is activity, he just doesn’t have the energy to join in, other than a few half-hearted howls):
We have been pleasantly surprised to find that the initial vet’s estimate of 2-3 months for Cicero seems to have been overly pessimistic. Yes, we can definitely see gradual and inescapable signs of deteriorating mental and physical capabilities, but, they are gradual. Cicero still spends a good amount of time outside, scurrying around the property, jamming his big snout underneath every bush, but a growing amount of time is inside, frequently laying directly on the concrete floor, presumably because of the coolness.
He has now completely abandoned his crate, and we don’t encourage him for toward early bedtime as previously was his regimen. Instead, it is 11 or 12:00 when he finally goes to bed on one of the sleeping pads in our bedroom (neither dog seems to claim a particular pad.. each just taking what is convenient or available). However, now it is more common for Cicero to get up, and then just lay right on the bare wooden floor, again presumably because it is cooler. I am going to suggest tonight that we set up a fan near his pad which may make him more comfortable.
Last night was a seminal change in routine: round about 2:00, Cicero was really having trouble breathing.. rapid and noisy gulps of air. Then he got up, came and stood next to the bed, and clearly wanted to jump up on the bed (something he has never done, nor been allowed before). We helped him up, and he lay there for about an hour, then finally decided to get down, walk outside (with me serving as the doorman), finally came back inside, gulped down a few quarts of water, then returned to his pad for the remainder of the night. It just almost feels that he is sensing the end is near, and wants to be closer to us.
It is an agonizing position for Dorothee and I to be in. We have previously discussed how we want Cicero’s last days to be, and have mutually agreed that, when the time comes, he should be put to sleep right here at home, in familiar surroundings. This seems mandatory, especially for him, as he has always had an inordinate dislike for veterinary offices. To that end, we have been in contact with a two-woman team of practicing vets who specialize in making end-of-life house calls, administering painless sedatives when the time comes. I dread that day, and even when writing this, tears form in my eyes thinking about having to make that decision and participate in those final moments of this sweet dog. We have further decided to have him cremated (arrangements for that to be handled by the vet team), and then we will spread his ashes around his favorite spots in the hard.
And, sadly, it does seem that that final decision is looming closer. At what point must we decide that Cicero’s nightly suffering no longer justifies keeping him alive? Although we haven’t discussed how to make that determination, I know the thought is heavy on both our minds. For me, I guess I feel that as long as Cicero is able to get up in the morning and get out and make his daily discovery rounds, then that bit of pleasure for him trumps the discomfort he is clearly suffering at night.
April 21, 2017
Cicero’s condition continues to worsen, and has been manifested in several ways… small lesions are popping up over his body, and new subsurface tumors seem to be growing. When he is outside, he scurries around the yard almost like always, driven, we think, by pure instinctual behavior. But when he is in the house (more and more frequently) he just lays down, usually right on the cool concrete floor.
He seems to be losing some of his mental focus. For example, if he sees one of us heading for the front or back door, he will jump right up for the opportunity to go outside himself (although he clearly knows he always has reliable “doormen” to let him in and out at will. Then he will rush out, stand on the porch for a minute or so to get his bearing. If one of us says “Cicero, you want to come inside?”, he immediately turns around and comes back inside, satisfied he has achieved his outside goals.
About a week ago, he developed a slow bleeding on the lower side of his mouth, in the soft fleshy part of his lip. There was nothing we could do to stop the bleeding (just a little drop here or there at irregular intervals), but we tried. at Dorothee’s suggestion, I tried applying liquid from a shaving nicks and cuts styptic pencil. I know from experience how much that solution burns on an open cut, but Cicero didn’t make a whimper or show any resistance when we applied it. He is such a patient trouper. Dorothee finally resorted to just covering his sleeping/resting pad (and the great room rug) with old sheets to prevent blood stains.
It seems the mouth wound was exacerbated by Cicero’s continued licking of areas on his legs that we think are causing him pain. Finally, we came to the solution of attaching a plastic cone on his head, so he couldn’t lick anymore, and that allowed his wound to heal. Our other dog, Veloce, would never stand for having a cone on his head 24/7.. he would make it his full time job to get free of that cone, but not Cicero. He just accepts his new appendage with dignity, and goes on about his business as though nothing were amiss. Still, it makes us sad to see him be so hampered when he goes to drink water, or eat his food (still a voracious appetite).
Perhaps today we will remove the cone and see if he can continue without it, and without further issues with his mouth.
June 14, 2017
It has been a trying couple of months for us and Cicero. He is very clearly on his way out, yet stubbornly refuses to give up. We were able to remove the cone, although his lip continues to have some bleeding, but not as heavy as before. I am so glad he doesn’t have to spend his final days with that cone on.
The routine has changed considerably since my last post; Cicero now spends most nights outside, and we have felt that he gets to choose the manner in which he spends his final days. It seems that when he is in the house, he mostly just lays on the floor, all spread out, but once he goes outside, he does still frequently get up and walk, or even run, checking out all his favorite places for critters.
Dorothee has been his guardian angel, and seems to be able to anticipate his every need. She keeps spare pillows on hand to prop underneath his head, and has tried every imaginable food. But, for the past week or 10 days, Cicero has exhibited little or no interest in food or drink, not even a tasty steak, salmon, chicken, or anything else Dorothee can try. She keeps drinking water in a squirt bottle, and literally has to force feed him a bit of water several times a day.
One of his recently new favorite past times is to go out to the pond and just stand there in the water, near the waterfall, almost motionless, for 10-20 minutes at a time. It is the only time we see him drinking water, and he seems to love that pond muck. We are just happy to see him drinking something!
We can see his body just shrinking to a mere skeleton of his former self, with visible changes daily. It just seems that the end is very near, and wonder how he can keep soldiering on with no food or water. His eyes have a vacant, distant look, but we give him lots of attention all day long, and he still clearly responds to our voices. We have decided that the minute he is unable to skirt around the yard on his own, it will be time to finally let him go.. but it is a hard a trying time for both of us.
Cicero’s Last Day June 17, 2017
We had initially told ourselves that as long as Cicero could go outside and sniff around, we would delay the inevitable.
On June 15-16 Dorothee traveled to Phoenix for work training. During that time, I did more research on a dog’s last days, and learned that dogs rarely show outward sign of pain. It just seemed obvious that now it had been a good 10 days since he had eaten ANYTHING, and would only drink water when we forced it in his mouth by syringe, that he most surely must be in serious pain.
Yes, he was still ambulatory, and even could make a short sprint around the yard, making his usual rounds, but he then spent most of his day laying on the stone floor with a vacant look in his eyes.
I called Dorothee, and found that she had been thinking along the same lines, and we reluctantly agreed that we were being selfish to keep him hanging on until there was little life or dignity left.
Dorothee would arrive home Friday night, and we mutually agreed that Saturday needed to be Cicero’s last day. I called the wonderful at-home vet (Dr. Maggie) and set a mid-afternoon time for her Saturday arrival.
Saturday morning, we were up bright and early, and decided to dedicate our time exclusively to Cicero. First, I put him in the back of the wagon (he needed help getting in), rolled the rear window partially down, then he and I went for a very long car ride, his most favorite past time. He just seemed like the old Cicero.. head out the window, lips flapping in the breeze, and that big old schnoz sniffing all the wonderful smells.
Afterward, he came back in and settled comfortably on his favorite pad. We spent most of the remaining time just hanging out with him, petting and massaging until Dr. Maggie arrived.
The process was quick and painless (we think).. a slight prick from the needle, which did get a flicker of protest, then he just settled into a peaceful sleep, and it was all over.
Dr. Maggie had professionally coordinated a pickup from the pet crematorium, and the driver was waiting just outside the gate as soon as she was finished. He came in with a tasteful, covered wicker basket, and then he was gone. Surely the sadest day in our lives for such a long time, perhaps since my father died.
He is gone physically, but his memory will stay with us.