Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The story in a car window

What is it that makes a family?  Who does a family include?
Sometimes when I drive behind mini vans I notice graphics in the window, cartoon pictures telling us who usually rides in that mini van: Father, Mother, child, child, dog, dog, cat.  A Family.  Some families don't fit the usual prescription.  Some have no father, some no mother, some have two fathers, some two mothers, some have lots of children, and some have no children at all.  If we had the little graphics that the mini van people always seem to have, it would show Father, Mother, dog, dog.  When you see the mini vans, the cartoon figures don't tell you what is going on in the family, only who is a part of the family.  If someone dies, I wonder, do they ever peel one of the graphics off the window?

One of our family is dying, our girl Sarah.  Sarah is our five year old Silky Terrier.  She is 'only a dog' some of you may be thinking, but to us she is a member of our family.  Sarah has a little brother, a 'half' brother, named Ulee, same mother, different father, but if we had graphics on our car window they wouldn't tell you that.
Neither would the graphics tell you that Sarah came into our lives at a time when she was desperately needed, and we doted on her.  She was given the best food, the best veterinary care, the longest walks, a pool, a wardrobe of leads, harnesses, and coats for the winter.  At times the human members of our extended family would sigh and roll their eyes at us, because after all she was 'only a dog'.
Sarah was born on 27 April 2006 at 2:30 am.  Her breeder called us early the next morning to tell us there were only two puppies in the litter, Sarah and her sister.  We would be allowed to visit them in two weeks, and then again at six weeks.  We could take one of them home when they were around ten weeks old, depending on how they were developing.  Sarah is a purebred Australian Silky Terrier, born into the home of what was then one of only two fully accredited Silky Terrier breeders in Canada, a breeder who produced only two litters per year, and usually only every second year.  Marg didn't make a lot of money in the breeding business, and she is now retired, but she was very serious about it.  Sarah is a 'true' Australian Silky, and has a pedigree that goes all the way back to Australia.  We have her family tree with her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents listed, with many champions among them.

Sarah's breeder thought we would raise her as a show dog, but we only wanted to bring her home, to be a 'regular' dog, to be part of our family.  Sarah's registered name is a long one, that is how it works in the world of purebred dogs, but the first part of it is 'Sarah Jessica Barker'.  We call her Sarah, and like so many of you who have pets, we also have a host of nicknames for our girl: 'Saree Boo', 'Bunna', 'Pretty Girl', 'Lovie'.
Sarah has been a wonderful traveller, right from the very beginning, and has been a big part of many road trips with us. She has walked the streets of New York City, and has stayed in hotels in which she was a staff favorite.   Sarah has a smile, and a warmth, that just draws people to her, and she loves to kiss faces.  Silky Terriers as a breed are known for their 'joie de vive', joy of life, and Sarah has that in spades.  Sarah also has an amazing capacity for empathy, is drawn to people who seem sad, and does her best to draw them out of their sadness.  Just like her brother, she is also a very funny little dog, and sometimes does things that make us howl with laughter.  She is an amazing little dog.
A few days ago we noticed Sarah was not quite herself.  She was not eating as she usually does, had an upset stomach at times, and was very low energy.  On Monday morning we called our Vets and took her in to see them.  Sarah's care has always been in the hands of a husband and wife team of Veterinary doctors, Dr. Stuart and Dr. Sarah, who dote on Sarah and Ulee almost as much as we do.
We expected Sarah had a bug of some kind, but during a thorough examination, Dr. Stuart found a lump in Sarah's abdomen that had never been there before.  He took x-rays which did not make the mass immediately apparent, but said he wanted to send us to a large animal hospital in Oakville , a town just west of Toronto, so that Sarah could have an ultrasound.  "It will be expensive", he said, "and it may just be a fluke; they may find nothing."   Dr. Stuart seemed very troubled, and so we loaded our little family into our car and headed to Oakville.  Along the way we reassured ourselves, convinced that they would find nothing which could not be easily solvable, with a little bit of medicine and some quiet time, after all Sarah is only five, going on six years old.
Truth be told we didn't like the first doctor at the hospital.  His manner was very clinical.  He skeptically viewed the x-rays, and said it was probably nothing, but they would run a battery of tests and go ahead with the ultrasound "if we wanted to". We trust Dr. Stuart's wisdom and expertise, and he had sent us there, so "yes, we do want all the tests and the ultrasound" was our reply.  We had to sign papers, absolving them of practically all responsibility in the event of 'anything', and I wondered when did everyone become so litigious?
We played with Ulee while we waited for the tests to be done on Sarah, and decided that it was probably something minor and all would be well.  When the internist came back into the room he seemed upbeat and happily announced, "well your vet was right, there is a large mass and not only that but all the lymph nodes are involved".

In that moment I felt as though I was falling backward in time, into another place, and another completely unexpected diagnosis of terminal cancer for a human member of my family.  We were absolutely stunned.  The next few hours brought more tests for further evaluation and confirmation, and eventually we were sent home without Sarah, but with an appointment in hand to see an oncologist the next day.  
During the night I could not sleep, tormented by the idea that I must have done something wrong to make this happen, and I called the hospital a couple of times to check on our girl.  They said she was resting comfortably, with an i.v. drip, and pain medication helping her.
I do not want to tell you any more about Monday night, or even the hours of Tuesday, and the oppressive darkness that has descended over our lives, just that when we came home the second day we had a confirmed diagnosis of intestinal lymphoma, an extremely aggressive and quickly developing cancer.  The oncologist assured us that we had done nothing wrong.  "It is just the luck of the draw", she said.  "Luck?", I thought, luck had nothing to do with it.
Our little Sarah, our Silky Terrier, will have chemotherapy to make her feel better, and if it improves her state of being we will be allowed to bring her home on Friday.  Her little brother Ulee knows something is wrong, and he sniffs her and kisses her face so gently, it is heartbreaking.

Sarah will die; that is an absolute certainty, but her quality of life will be good, no matter what the length of its duration.  In a little while our family will be minus one, but when we drive around no one will know, because the little cartoon graphic which will be on our car window will never change.

(4 April, 2012: Our beautiful girl is gone)


  1. My heart is breaking for you and your family. A silky also won our hearts over 6 years ago. Keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. Isabella's mom.

  2. Hugs, fairy dust, prayers. My two yorks send puppy prayers as well. Lovely piece Jennifer. Carol who rarely is at a lack for over abundance of words, is coming up short this AM. I am so sorry, so very, very sorry.

  3. All of us who love dogs can so identify with you at this sad time. I am so sorry you are going through this.

  4. Such a sweet girl. I am so very sorry she is so sick, and I am so sorry your family is going through this.

  5. Lori & Yoda DunstanFebruary 1, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    As I sit here writing this I have the biggest tears running down my face. I only wish I had words of comfort for your family. Always remember that Sarah had the most beautiful life any baby could EVER ask for. She will take your love with her and hold onto it forever. Keep ahold of her tight everyday and every moment. kiss her all over and then kiss her more. Attach her to your hip if need be, give her the most love as humanly possible for the time you have left. That will make Sarah the happiest. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  6. We are not promised tomorrow so it is vitale that we enjoy and take full advantage of today. It sounds like you have. I am so sorry that your little Sarah is dying. It is very painful to lose a pet. My heart and prayers go out to you.

  7. Hi Everyone,

    Thank you to each one of you for your thoughtfulness and prayers for our girl Sarah, and for us. I hope you don't mind me writing just one response. We are emotionally spent from our day at the hospital with Sarah, but I do want to thank you, and update you on our girl. We were able to have a slightly longer visit with her today. Sarah still has her I.V., but the chemotherapy seems to have helped a little. Sarah was able to ingest some water today. Unfortunately she still is not taking any food, but we are hopeful that will change as she gets a little stronger. I cannot adequately express my gratitude to you, and I wish many blessings will come to each of in you own lives. Thank you.

  8. I have just finished reading your post and I know what you are going through. This post sent me back to the loss of our beloved little dog. I wish I could write just the right words of comfort but cannot except to say I know and understand what you are going through. "Just a dog" doesn't work for me. Our sweet dogs are family and when they hurt - we hurt. I send you my best wishes. Linda

  9. Hi Everyone,

    It's 4:30 am here, and I just called the hospital to see how Sarah did overnight. Thankfully she ate a little bit of food, and they said she has been barking at some of the other dogs she hears in the building. I am very glad to hear this. She is sounding a little more like herself. Later this morning we will be going to visit her, and hopefully the doctor will tell us Sarah can come home tomorrow.

  10. I'm so sad for all of you. Our pets are part of our lives and give us so much love. Sarah is in no way just a graphic...she is a loved member of your family. Thinking of you and hoping that the vets can improve her quality of life for her sake and yours. Poor Ulee will be feeling the sadness so much too. We were devastated when our old girl (cat) died while we were overseas a few years ago so I know how you feel.

  11. As a dog lover who has been through this sad time more often than I want to remember, my heart breaks for you. As much as we hate going through it though, we always end up with another dog, knowing we will go through it again. Having pets just comes with that price. The joy they bring to our lives is worth it, no doubt.

  12. Hello Everyone,

    Thank you for your support; it is really appreciated. I apologize for not updating you when we returned home last night, but I could not because I was in a full blown rage over the unfairness of our little Sarah having terminal cancer. It makes me furious that a five year old sweet little dog, who weighs less than 10 pounds, and who exists only to bring joy into the lives of everyone she meets, is dying of such an awful disease.

    Anger aside, I want to let you know that our sweet girl is scheduled to come home today, depending on the results of the second round of chemotherapy, and the final go ahead from the oncologist. I called the hospital this morning at 1 a.m., and was told that following the chemo treatment last night, Sarah ate a little food, and wanted to walk, even though she still has an i.v. in her right paw. This morning I called again at 7 a.m. and learned that Sarah went for two little walks, and ate some more food as well. She is an extraordinary girl.

    Sarah is coming home to an extended family who adore her, and who will treat her like a queen for every moment she has left on this earth.

    My husband and I want to thank each one of you from the bottom of our hearts for your positive energy. We wish for each one of you many many blessings.

  13. How is Sarah doing? I think and pray for her every day....


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Cheers, Jennifer

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