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It Still Hurts


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Our beloved 10 year old female German Shepherd Binky passed away four weeks ago on 11/16/2009. She was doing just fine and happy not one week earlier. Then she threw up a couple times, looked more tired. She kept sniffing her rear so I thought she needed an anal gland expression even though she had one not 12 weeks earlier.

She had anal gland issues prior and after an abscess and surgery for one side which resulted in open fistulas for 2008 along with painful treatment. We were determined to always take care of her so it would not happen again. We were diligent about getting her expressed on the remaining anal gland.

So we took her to the vets office who took her in the back for an expression. Time passed and I finally said “gee it has been a long time…”.

Finally the vet came out and told us that our beautiful baby had at least a golf ball sized tumor where her gland had once been. We were referred to the surgical center. The next morning her entire underside of her tail had swollen (probably from the tumor being so manipulated)and defecating was painful and when she could it was diarrhea.

We got her to the surgical center for examination. The news was not good. They said the mass inside was large and extended in farther than the ultrasound could even show and that it wrapped from 8pm to 2pm around her colon. The surgeon said it was one of the worst he had seen along with the inflammation.

They said that it was anal sac adenocarcinoma and that due to the size it was impossible to remove the tumor. The only thing they could offer was surgery to do a bigger biopsy to try and figure out what chemo could be done but that the chemo would only be palliative. After I pleaded with the possibility that it could be just another inflamed or impacted gland, they told us that it really could not be anything else but ASA due to its size location, my dogs age, etc. But she would have to have full surgery to be 100% sure rather than 99% sure.

Since surgery was out (her surgical wounds become non healing fistulas) and we did not want to inflict chemo on her with no hope for remission, they could offer palliative treatments of pain killers and anti-inflamattories.

We took her home crying. She had battled so much in the past including a years recovery from a normal anal saculectomy. We knew that because of the thinness of her rectal skin that we could not even risk any more surgery.

By that night, she ran in fear from medication when we tried to administer it. She bucked in our arms when we tried to put cream on her rear because it hurt to touch it and the skin under the tail inflammation started to tear open and began bleeding. I never ever ever wanted my dog to fear me or relate me to causing her any pain.

Because of all the inflammation and swelling, you could see it hurt to bark and she spent the night trying to lick the blood from the tear. we continued to change the towels and wash them as the blood got on them.

With torn out hearts we decided to stop. Stop trying to force medicine down her. Stop trying to get inflammatory cream on her anal area. Stop trying to use the liquid drugs also.

She was grateful for this and it was easy to see.

We knew though also that if we tried to keep her, the pain would just keep increasing, the wound that was now 1 inch long under the tail inflammation swelling would not heal and the dog we so loved like a child would be in constant pain as we dealt with the cancer and non healing wounds again.

So on Monday morning, we gave her her favorite treat in the world, took her to the park for a walk, gave her a ride in the car and then went to the surgical center. She wagged and kissed my face, which killed me to my very core. She probably thought it was another surgical visit and we would go home and she would get better.

After the vet administered the drugs, she passed away held deeply in my arms with her head in the crook of my elbow as I sobbed uncontrollably onto her head and held for after for a very long time. My baby was gone.

The weeks that have followed I have questioned everything. Did the first vet inflame the condition causing the swelling and tearing? Should we have kept her home until the pain became too bad? Should I have continued to try to force medications into her to try to improve the conditions even though she fought? Should we have waited until she was truly suffering? Were the surgeons right? Was I too early? Did I not ask enough of the right questions about her condition?

I am so angry at myself now and feel guilty that I did not take her home and work harder with the medications to see if we could get things better. Things went so fast over a total of 4 days. Everyone tells me that the cancer was there. It was not going anywhere and it only would have gotten worse. I just keep feeling like I did not try hard enough to keep her here longer and that I failed her. I keep thinking that if I had to do it again, I would have walked out that vets door when she wanted to go home on the day we put her to sleep.

I keep thinking that she will not forgive me for not trying and she will feel like I gave up on her. I see so many owners talk about how they fought and fought and fought until their dog could not longer walk, stand or eat and I did not do that. I did that with my lab 5 years ago and she was barely a shell who could not walk in the end and the decision was made for me. We kept her too long in the end. Now I had to make the decision based on a probable future and feel I keep wondering if I went too early with my baby trying to prevent the suffering she would have. How do I forgive myself?

Over 10 years she was our baby and we gave her the best of everything. She had a life any dog would have envied (including probably over 200 toys) and when she could not kennel at the age of 6 or stay elsewhere (stomach issues), we stopped going on any vacation unless we could take her. We dealt with her irritable bowel disease, her pannus, her hip displaysia, her anal sac abscess followed by a years recovery from that (non healing surgical site that had to heal open from the inside out) and then she was gone in 7 days..........all I did was take in her for an expression. I almost wished I had never gone in the first place.

Everyone tells me we did the right thing.

God I miss her. I wish I had her back.


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I am so sorry you lost your dog, Binky. I lost my heart kitty just a year ago, so I understand the deep loss and hole in the heart. I had something similar happen when I took him in for a Senior Exam. He was feeling fine and showing no symptoms. The Vet did find a tumor and handled/manipulated it plus did a needle aspiration. My kitty came home very ill and traumatized. I did contact the Vet with many questions which helped. It could have been a number of things as to why he came home so sick that day. He would have eventually showed the symptoms of cancer.

I think you did what you felt was right for Binky. It was selfless, as you were only thinking of her and not wanting her to suffer. You had the courage to let her go and be released from the pain. It's not unusual to question yourself if it was the right decision. I did everything I could to help my 16 year old kitty fight intestinal lymphoma for seven months, but after he died, I wondered if I had put him thru too much with going back and forth to the Vet and taking his medicine.

My condolences again go out to you.

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Thank you Ann for your story. I loved my dog with my heart and soul.

As I look back to the week or two before I took her, I now remember her throwing up a couple times the week before, drinking alot of water in the days before we went (a sign of pain from what many say) grunting out loud when laying down, not jumping up on the bed like she usually would, putting her paws up to be lifted the two feet into the car, being much slower in trying to lift herself up and her feces being fairly small and taking a while to come out with some good straining.

At the time I attributed that to her hips being sore or having a 24 hour doggy flu. But now I think that she may have been having pain from the tumor pressing on the left side of her colon and I did not know.

She never liked to show pain outright. When she ran one time and tore her ACL, all she did was make a clicking sound as she walked, never limped and the thing was torn right in half. After surgery she ate all the way home and did not whimper once during recovery and therapy.

The swelling after the first rectal exam started ripping her anal skin, bleeding etc (which is what really sent her the wrong direction) and that was when she really had visible pain. For her to have visible pain (tuck and run when barking) must have been extreme based on her history. Her last open wounds there took a year to heal and that was with letting us touch the area which she did not this time.

In many ways I wish I had not take her for the anal gland expression and maybe it out not have fallen apart so fast. But I cannot go back.

I did with my Labrador what you did with your kitty. She had chronic kidney failure and over three years we did everything including IV washes ever few months. In the last week or so she lay on the floor, not being able to move or eat or drink as we tried to use a baster syringe to put baby food in her and slow running water hose to try and get water across her mouth. We kept her too long and she really suffered at the end.

Sometimes it seems like you cannot win.

If you wait too long for "the sign" all of a sudden within a few days you end up with a shell of your fuzzy child laying before you lost of all life gasping in pain and sever suffering while you continue to try and keep them. If you don't wait too long and try to reduce that suffering, you question if you were too soon.

Each day I pray and each day is a little better than the one before. I am finding that second guessing the doctors diagnosis and researching it over and over again does nothing to help. Prayer seems my best.

Two nights ago I asked God to just let me know she was okay and still loved me after all we had been through that terrible week. That night for the first time in a month, I saw her in a dream looking exactly like she did the week we lost her. She even had on her favorite harness and collar that always meant we were going out for fun. She came down the hall turned the corner following me to where I was and then ran off as if to play. Since then my heart has been lighter.

Again, thank you for your post.

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Hi again,

You're so welcome! I think your dream was an answer to prayer. I also had a dream about my heart kitty a couple weeks after he died. In the dream he jumped from my bed onto the floor and went into the bathroom. It seemeed so real I actually thought it was my other kitty, except she never ventured into the bathroom. I got up and my other kitty was asleep on my Lazy Boy! And another strange thing. My lamp was on in the living room, and I never leave a light on before going to bed, Strange! After that dream I felt my kitty was okay and I would be seeing him again.

Binky's symptoms were probably starting to show. As I look back, my kitty was also slowing down and drinking a lot of water. When a neighbor came in to pet him, my cat actually nipped her hand, and that was very unusual. I think she must have touched him in a sensitive spot.

Each day will get better for you. I did the same thing, second guessing my Vet and wishing I had never taken him for the exam. I know it's hard but try to think of some happy times. Take care.

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Dear Binky's Mom,

My heart hurts for you as I read your story ~ I can feel the anguish and the guilt that you are suffering, and I'm so very sorry for your loss. I'm not sure that anything I can say will alleviate your pain, but I will share with you some of my thoughts.

First, the fact that you are feeling guilty for not trying harder to save your beloved Binky does not mean that you are, in fact, guilty as charged. Feelings such as this are neither right or wrong, good or bad -- they just are, and we cannot always control how we are feeling, even when we "know" (in our head, if not our heart) that what we're feeling may be irrational and unjustified. Such feelings need to be acknowledged and expressed, and exposed to the light of day, so we can examine and evaluate them more objectively, preferably with someone else who is not emotionally involved in our situation. This is why a support group (either online or in person) can be so valuable -- it is a powerful way to share with others what it is that we feel so guilty about, so we can get an objective response from others, such as the one you've already received from Ann H. Oftentimes what we hear is that, given the very same set of circumstances, others would have done exactly the same thing as we ourselves have done.

You say that "Everyone tells me we did the right thing." Ask yourself this question. Have any of these people judged you as harshly as you yourself are judging yourself for whatever "crime" you think you've committed against Binky? Or have they weighed all the extenuating circumstances, and taken them into consideration? Have they held you to some super-human standard of behavior, or have they decided that, given the extent of Binky's illness and her deteriorating condition, you did the best you could under the circumstances, your intentions certainly were the very best, and like all the rest of us, you are only human, after all?

You see, my dear, you can obtain all the understanding and forgiveness you can find from others, but in the end, the person from whom you most need forgiveness is yourself. Unless and until you are ready to forgive yourself, you will not find the peace you seek. I happen to believe that, when we feel this sort of guilt, we cannot let go of it until we feel as if we've been punished enough, or until we've made some sort of atonement, to make amends to the one we think we have harmed. (To learn what you can do with some of this guilt you're carrying around, see my article, Loss and the Burden of Guilt. )

I also happen to believe that guilt is not such a bad thing, after all. Only the really good people feel guilty ~ have you ever noticed that? Bad people don't feel guilty about anything, and certainly not about how they treat companion animals! It is only a person like yourself, clearly a loving, devoted animal lover, who would agonize over and second-guess all the decisions you made as you tried to give Binky the best possible care against the worst possible odds.

Although you may be persuaded that the guilt you feel is unjustified, my dear, it is still there, and so it still must be acknowledged and expressed and examined -- confessed, if you will -- so that you can be done with it, obtain the forgiveness that you need, and eventually let it go.

And so I urge you to find ways to unburden yourself of this heavy load of guilt you're carrying around with you now. You've taken an important step by joining this forum, where you'll continue to find people like Ann H ~ fellow animal lovers and the most caring, compassionate, understanding people who are walking the same path as you are.

You might consider writing a letter to Binky, expressing all your guilt and sorrow, and asking for her forgiveness. You could construct a private ritual around this for yourself (as elaborate as you choose), read the letter aloud to Binky, then set it afire, and let your guilt go and dissipate into the air, along with the smoke.

I don't know how how much (if any) reading you've done about grief and what is normal in pet loss. If you haven't done so already, I suggest you read some of the articles I have listed on the Pet Loss Articles page of my Grief Healing Web site. I believe that when you're struggling with grief like this, it's important to learn all you can about what is normal under such circumstances, so you feel less crazy and alone, and so you know better how to manage whatever reactions may come up for you. Some articles you might find especially helpful include Breaking the Power of Guilt by Moira Allen and Compassionate Self Forgiveness (Part I and Part II) by Irene Kendig. You might also want to listen to this radio interview: Finding Help with Pet Loss.

I hope this information helps, my dear, and please know that we're all thinking of you ~ without judgment or reproach.

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