Friday, July 29, 2005

Viva Terlingua

Terlingua died a year ago (last Friday in July, 2004). For those of you who didn't know her, Terlingua was our remarkable dog, the one we got before we were even engaged, the one who was with me through vet school. Our first baby.

I thought of her a lot today as I helped a family come to the terribly difficult decision to euthanize their old labrador retriever, who had lung cancer. I diagnosed him in January, and he had been coughing his head off since May. But today, the owners, who loved him like a family member, saw the joy go out of his eyes. They were concerned they were giving up on him too soon, and also didn't want to end it for convenience sake (they've been up with him multiple times every night, and having to clean up some diarrhea). I helped them realize he wasn't going to get any better, and only had more suffering ahead of him. It was excruciating, but they chose to end his misery, and give him an easy, dignified death, surrounded by those he loved.

Terlingua in the baby room, before Anna was born.

Here is what I wrote last year about our girl:

Just a note to commemorate our beautiful dog, Terlingua, who died on July 30, 2004. She lived to the grand canine age of 13 1/2, but we found even that was far too short.

Anthony and I found Terlingua in the town of the same name near Big Bend. We actually saw her sister first, and thought she was a cute puppy, but one look at Terlingua's eyebrows and we were smitten. Her father was a Golden Retriever, and her mother a Lab/Hound mix, and her owner was a traveling carpenter. Terlingua was following him everywhere he went, working on the little restaurant theater there. He said he needed to find a home for her, and was happy to give her to us when he found out I'd just been accepted to vet school. We scooped up this scuffy little 12 week old puppy, fleas, ticks and all, and drove her to El Paso. She slept at my feet on the floorboard the entire trip (this proved to be her favorite car traveling position). At my parents' front porch, my father took one look at Terlingua's big feet and pronounced, "You will live to rue the day you got that dog." Fortunately, more untrue words were never said (I know my father agrees)!

Terlingua proved to be a great dog who lived up to her great name. She loved to jump high and catch the Frisbee. She traveled with me to schools and to nursing homes. I remember one large old lady who couldn't see very well always said, "Bring that big ol' dog to me. I grew up on a farm and I like big dogs!" Terlingua liked going camping, and she would haul us enormous logs for the fire. The smaller ones she would chew to shreds like a woodchuck. One year, in front of an entire class of incoming vet students, she performed a great trick: she fetched a beer out of a cooler. I was so proud of her for successfully completing the trick under pressure! And, long before we had children of our own, many kids called Terlingua their friend. There was a lonely little girl in Bryan who used to knock on my door and ask if she could throw the tennis ball for her. Anthony's nephew Andrew loved Terlingua's eyebrows and canine teeth when he was just little, and Terlingua gently stole sausage balls right out of his toddler hands one Christmas. Young Samantha and Caitlin Bennett were actually afraid of dogs until Terlingua (and sister Montana) acted as good canine ambassadors.

Terlingua and Montana share a stick in summer.

Terlingua may have been free, but she wasn't cheap. Even with my professional discount, her nearly annual surgeries added up. Here is a true list of body parts removed from Terlingua: dewclaws (extra toes), uterus and ovaries (of course), one anal gland, foot long piece of small intestine, right femoral head, left upper 4th premolar, spleen, multiple lipomas, and one fibroma.

Some of those may require further explanation. Terlingua had severe hip displasia. When the arthritis pain curbed her Frisbee catching, we gave her a hip replacement. After a long recovery, she was racing across the field behind our house once again, hurling her body in the air to catch with precision the Frisbee Anthony had flung with all his might. Then one evening, I chucked one of her toys across the yard as I walked to the garden, and heard a sickening pop and yelp, and she fell to the ground. In a freak accident of physics, she had fractured her femur in a horrifying spiral just distal to the pin in her hip. After calling many veterinary surgeons across the state, we decided to take her to Houston, where Dr. Liska put a 10 screw plate on the femur, and quickly restored her mobility.

The other most noteworthy surgery occurred when we were on vacation in the Napa Valley. Due to her rough beginning, Terlingua always was a garbage hound (to put it mildly). She decided to consume a kitchen rag and get an intestinal obstruction while we were gone. Fortunately, our consciencious neighbors, the Owens, we watching the dogs that weekend. They took her in to the hospital where I was working, and Dr Riddle (an excellent surgeon) removed the nasty obstruction, as well as a foot of necrotic intestine, while we were out of town. The kind people I worked with took excellent care of her while I was gone. She recovered uneventfully, and proceeded to eat (in the following years): bills (envelopes licked shut, stamps applied), many breast pads, an entire cloth diaper, several cloth baby toys, tomatoes directly from the garden, innumerable tissues and paper towels, and at least 12 of Anna's socks. Amazingly, these items all passed through her entire GI tract uneventfully. In the last year of her life, I heard her even lift the lid of the kitchen garbage can late at night, hunting for treats.

Terlingua was mild and gentle, at least with all humans. One of her greatest roles was as boss (dictator?) to her younger "sister" Montana. Terlingua was not pleased when we brought her home as an 8 week old puppy. Her gruff growls sounded like canine curses. Eventually, sweet Montana, who was happy to be her underling, won her over. For the past 9 years, Terlingua has relished her role as lord and ruler of Montana, who would often run past me to pay submissive homage to the ruling canine of our house. Even my mother-in-law's dogs knew to defer to her. Terlingua taught Montana how to be a good dog in the Martin household, and I know Montana will miss her, too.

Terlingua and Montana in winter.

On May 1, 2004, Terlingua did not eat her breakfast. This usually meant she ate something she shouldn't have, so I decided to take her with me to work that Saturday morning. We were busy all morning, and as an afterthought, I decided to run some lab work after the office closed. I was stunned to find out that she was severely anemic -- like blood transfusion anemic. A quick scan of the ultrasound probe revealed the cause: a large hemorrhaging tumor in her spleen. My boss, Dr. Werner, took a quick look and said, "That's gotta come out today." He and our registered tech, Enricka, gave up their Saturday afternoon to help me remove Terlingua's spleen. She most certainly would have bleed to death if we hadn't. There were 2 small, similar masses in the intestinal omentum that we also removed. I had been up most of the night before with Colin running a high fever, so I let the wonderful people at the emergency clinic take care of T-dog that night. Although she was severely anemic and weak post-operatively, she rebounded quickly for an elderly patient. The pathology report was hemangiosarcoma, one of the most aggressive cancers a dog can get. My friend Regina's brave dog, Nicolas, only lived a few weeks after we took this tumor out of his abdomen. I knew the prognosis was grave. Still, it didn't seem possible we could lose her. With Enricka's help, she went through 5 rounds of chemotherapy with virtually no side effects.

We were hoping for a year. 13 weeks after the initial surgery, Terlingua was laying by the fence, listless in the July heat. I lifted her lip and saw how pale she was again. "I'm losing you, aren't I?" I whispered to her. In a strange arc of symmetry, my sister Emily, who had been visiting the weekend of her splenectomy (and was so helpful watching the kids while I was gone) was visiting again this weekend. A short time later, Terlingua ran out of my bedroom and collapsed. It was a terrible thing to see. I ran out of the house with her, left the kids with Emily, and took her to Dr. Caplan's (I didn't think she would make it to South Austin). They were great there - the put in a central line, resusitated her with fluids, and took Xrays. Dr Caplan tapped her belly and got a lot of blood. My worst fear was coming true: she had a metastasis and was bleeding into her abdomen. I had to know for sure, and Dr Locke at the specialty hospital agreed to scan her abdomen, late on a Friday afternoon. Although her liver and heart were clear, there were two new tumors (already) in her abdomen, bleeding. Gently, she told me surgery was not a good option for her. I decided to take her home.

Terlingua spent the evening at home, eating rice (one of her favorites) and being loved on by Anthony, Emily, and myself. She seemed very concerned about how upset we were. Knowing she would be gone soon was very hard to face, but I didn't want to see her collapse again. Finally, she got up and went to rest by the back door, one of her favorite places. Surrounded by us, as she layed down her head to rest, I pushed the solution into her IV catheter. Our great dog left us. It was the hardest thing I've ever done.

We buried Terlingua under the oak tree in the back yard, in the shady spot where she loved to lay. It will be nice to look out our back door and think of her as part of that tree. Terlingua was such a large part of our lives, and we feel her loss profoundly. It is some comfort to know how many other's lives she touched as well.

We still miss her and think about her all the time.


EdamameMommy said...

Oh Jenn, we all still miss her terribly. It was good to read your ode to T-dog again. I only regret that I did not get to say goodbye like I wanted. She was a huge lifeforce. It's a little eerie to see the pictures of her. She is still very, very missed.

Daddy said...

Jenn, Here I am once again all teary-eyed and snot-nosed after reading about TDog again.
She was Special to all of us who knew her.

Anonymous said...

Me, too - oh, the tears will not stop! She was so special...Love, M

dakotablueeyes said...

Wow she sounded like a really wonderful dog.

Emily said...

I still miss her and can't believe it's already been a year. Every time I come visit, I expect to see her. Just the other day, I was thinking about how she'd bow her head and give you that guilty grin when she'd done something she knew was wrong. Such a loving soul.
Viva Terlingua!

Jess said...

I know I didn't know Terlingua very long, but she was a very good dog for the short time I knew her. Rest in Peace Terlingua.

Anonymous said...

Terlingua was the sweetest,best dog I've ever known. You could just look in her eyes,and it seemed that she understood your feelings. I loved her so very much - I can't believe it's been a year since her passing. I will always remember sweet T-Dog.

Love you "T" !