Tuesday, August 05, 2008

RIP Shelby, 1997-2008

Shelby was a puppy from my sister's dog Sheba, a Queensland Heeler/Border Collie mix. We don't know who the father was, but Shelby had a black tongue and seemed to have some Chow in her. She was born on February 7, 1997, and I adopted her a few months later. She was a smart dog--I took her to obedience training at six months, and she picked up the basics and retained them her whole life, though often when she wanted a treat she would go through the whole routine instead of responding to the specific command given. She had a strong herding instinct, and acted to police the behavior of other dogs.

In her early years her constant companion was my Shih-Tzu, Blossom, who I adopted from Shih-Tzu rescue in late 1996. Blossom was the top dog despite her smaller size, and the two of them would frequently wrestle and play. Shelby loved to go for walks or runs--I think she would be happy to run continuously until she dropped from exhaustion, given the opportunity. My father adopted her brother, Fox, and we'd occasionally take the two of them to hike on the trails at Squaw Peak. She had serious separation anxiety for the first few years, and I'd often come home from work to find the couch cushions on the floor with stuffing ripped out of them. I used to leave the doggie door open back then, and I remember one time I came home to find the backyard strewn with tiny fragments of foam from the inside of Blossom's bed. It took me a couple days to get them all picked up. Fortunately, she grew out of this habit and the only messes she made in subsequent years were when she learned to knock over the kitchen garbage cans or when some food items like a loaf of bread were left to close to the edge of the counter.

In August of 2001 I moved to a new house with a very large backyard and a fence around the entire property, including a gated driveway. I had a doggie door put in, and again used to leave it open. On August 11, I spent the night away from home, with the doggie door open, and on my way home received a call on my cell phone from a woman who said she had found my dog in the road in front of my house and had put her in a plastic bag by the gate. When I got home I found that there was a missing iron bar on the front gate that made a hole that Blossom had gotten through, and just outside of the gate was Shelby's collar. Shelby had apparently tried to get through the hole to follow Blossom, but was unable to fit, and pulled her collar off in the process--I found her waiting for me inside the house. From that point on, we've never left the doggie door open when we're not home. I also fixed the hole in the front gate and added additional fencing to separate the front and back yards--a defense-in-depth strategy that has occasionally still been tested by some foster dogs who were particularly small or efficient at digging under fences and gates and finding points of failure that I've fixed by burying bricks. Fortunately, no other dog has met Blossom's fate through an escape.

Shelby was somewhat particular about what dogs she'd get along with, which limited our options when we started fostering rescue dogs. Kat's dog, a very large German short-haired pointer named Oscar, stayed at her parents' house because Shelby didn't get along with him. Oscar ended up suffering from a degenerative neurological condition which deprived him of the use of his back legs, and he had to use a cart to go on walks. His condition deteriorated and he was euthanized in November 2007.

In December 2001 I adopted Otto, a rescue dog, who became Shelby's new closest companion and regular morning wrestling partner. In August 2002, Kat found an Australian cattle dog outside her work place, which we took to the pound, notified RESCUE about, and ended up fostering and very quickly adopting. She typically didn't get along with females or with dogs her size or larger, so we've mostly fostered smaller male dogs.

Shelby started to have trouble with arthritis in her back legs in 2005, and would have trouble getting up and going up stairs after walks, so we put her on medication, which was extremely effective. She would occasionally show some signs of weakness or pain in her legs after a long walk, but she'd quickly recover and be ready to go again.

On April 21, we awoke to hear her breathing heavily and whining downstairs. X-rays showed that her bowel was full of fecal matter, and an enema provided her with relief. Her white blood cell count was slightly low, so we treated her with a cycle of antibiotics to fight any infection, and she seemed fine after that. This last Saturday night, August 2, I let the dogs out at midnight to go to the bathroom, and they all came back inside for a treat, and everything seemed fine. But at about four a.m., it seemed like a repeat of April 21. Shelby was breathing rapidly and shallowly, whining, and didn't want to get up. She was having periodic spasms of her abdomen, and seemed like she couldn't get comfortable. We took her in to the vet, where her X-rays showed some fecal material in her bowel, but nothing like April 21. Her blood work showed a low white blood cell count again, and also a low platelet count. The doctor suggested that there was something else going on now, that could include tick fever, an autoimmune disorder, or internal bleeding. They had no one at the hospital overnight, so we took her home Sunday and were under instructions to immediately take her to a 24-hour emergency clinic if she showed any signs of bruising under the skin, petechiae on her gums, or blood from her nose, or if she showed difficulty breathing or otherwise seemed to be in distress. She devoured the canned food we bought for her at the vet when we got her home, and I slept downstairs with her.

I ended up waking up several times during the night. Sometimes I found her peacefully asleep, other times she was sitting up and acting uncomfortable, but she didn't seem as bad as she had the night before. She refused to drink any water I gave her. Monday morning we decided to take her in again, and since she still hadn't had a bowel movement, we asked the vet to give her an enema. Kat also observed that her abdomen appeared to be somewhat distended. The enema was successful, and when I spoke to a vet tech later in the day, she said Shelby seemed comfortable, but said the doctor wanted to take some more X-rays, and I gave my approval. At about 4 p.m. in the afternoon, Kat called the vet for status, and he said that the new X-rays appeared to show evidence of internal bleeding, and he had found that the fluid causing her distended abdomen was blood. He asked us to please come and take her to another emergency clinic that could do an ultrasound to locate the cause of the bleeding and take appropriate action. We got to the vet around 4:30 p.m. and it seemed like we had to wait forever to consult with the doctor and get her out of there. The doctor told us her prognosis was not good--most likely the cause would be found to be a cancerous tumor of some kind. It was after 5 p.m. when we left for the emergency clinic, just in time for rush hour traffic.

We arrived at the emergency clinic at about 5:45 p.m., filled out paperwork, and met with Brian, an emergency veterinary doctor. Brian told us the same thing as the other doctor--that her prognosis, given her age and likely cause, was not good. He said that his recommended action was to perform an ultrasound, and if the cause appeared to be a single tumor, to operate and try to save her in hopes that it's benign. On the other hand, if there were multiple tumors, he advised that surgery would not significantly prolong her life and would probably reduce its quality. We agreed with his recommendation, and Shelby went in the back for her ultrasound.

It was probably around 7 p.m. when we got the news that Shelby had tumors in multiple lobes of her liver, as well as some possible metastasis to her lungs.

We spent some time with Shelby, giving her attention and letting her know she was a good dog. She spent some time laying on her side and resting, but she would frequently whine as we touched her. But she was also alert enough to sit up, to wag her tail, and to walk around when asked. We made the decision to go ahead and euthanize, given her distress and prognosis.

The doctor's first attempt to administer "Sleepaway"-brand sodium pentobarbitol to a vein in Shelby's back leg met with resistance, so he decided it was best to set up an IV, which required Shelby going back into a back room. She didn't want to go with the vet tech, she sat down and pulled against her collar. Finally, when Kat went with her, she cooperated.

She came back to the room with her IV in place on her front right paw, and laid down on the blanket that was put down for her. We petted her and I rubbed her head with my hands and told her she was a good dog. The doctor slowly administered the drug, and she let out a big last breath with a sigh and dropped her head into my hands. The doctor reported that she was asleep, with a faint heartbeat. A few moments later, at about 7:55 p.m., she was gone.

Her absence is painful. The sound of her collar clinking on the water bowl as she drinks. Her standing closely behind Kat as she cuts vegetables waiting for a piece of carrot, broccoli, or lettuce. The sound of her 55-pound body hitting the wood of the hallway floor outside my home office as she lays down waits for me to return to the living room. Her vicious-sounding wrestling with Otto in the mornings. Her putting her head on my knee for attention (or, more often, for food). Her barking at Einzige (while wagging her tail) every time he comes to visit. Whenever Kat or I would go on a trip for work, she'd wait expectantly by the door each evening hoping that we would return.

She was a loyal, intelligent, loving friend, and we'll miss her terribly.

I've put up a few pictures from her life in a public Flickr set.


The Amiable Atheist said...

That's really sad. I'm sorry for your loss. But how lucky for Shelby that she had a loving family.

I think it's wonderful what you do (fostering animals). It breaks my heart whenever I go to the "pound".

Thanks for sharing that story.

Einzige said...

I will definitely miss her barking at me. She was a silly one!

Very sad.

Schtacky said...

I am sorry for your loss. Reading through your post, one can really gain an understanding of how much Shelby meant to you and after having had to put down our 6-year-old golden 3 months ago, Kristen and I can both sympathize greatly.

Our thoughts are with you and Kat.

RBH said...

What's difficult is the sudden cessation of the regular rituals associated with a friend like Shelby. We lost a 6 year-old little blond beagle cross in late March to thyroid cancer. Even though we have three other dogs (all adopted, as was Lacey), all of the rituals -- who ate where, who got walked with whom, who slept where -- were upset and still are upset. While the other three dogs have adapted, we haven't yet. Once in a while I still call for the two little dogs to go for a walk together and then realize belatedly that Lacey isn't here any more and I'm sad again.

Reed said...

My condolences to you all.

Jim Lippard said...

Thanks very much to all of you for your condolences. Schtacky, RBH, I'm sorry to hear about your recent losses as well.

cmgomes said...

Jim and Kat, I'm so sorry for your loss. I was browsing your (Jim's) recent photos in Facebook and my heart dropped when I read "I think this is the last picture of Shelby" on one of the comments. Then I saw this tribute.

Thanks for taking the time to share your memories. There are many unknowns in this crazy life, but I do know that Shelby was very much loved by both of you.

John Wilkins said...

Having just done this with a favoured cat of 17 years partnership (Vale Chesh}, I know how you feel. My sorrows to you.

Jim Lippard said...

Carlos, John: Thanks so much. John, I'm sorry about your recent loss.

cowmix said...

Jim and Kat.. my wife and I are sorry to hear of your loss.