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Griffin's Journey

Sep 02

Gracie passed away peacefully this afternoon.  While she had improved in her ability to walk since last week, she never recovered the ability to get up on her own.  Last night she started limping on her front left leg and this morning she was unable to bear weight on it at all.  She was listless, disinterested in food, and had great difficulty toileting outside.  I let the recue know that I thought it was her time and they agreed, graciously allowing me to bring Gracie to my vet this afternoon.  Before that, we took a walk to Gracie’s favorite spot in Griffin’s park where she could see the Hudson River and enjoy the sunshine and cool breezes.

I know I did everything I could to make Gracie’s final months joyful, safe, and loving.  My heart aches for the loss of her gentle, loyal spirit, but in her eyes I could see that it was time for her to go.  My heart also aches for the family that surrendered her in July.  They may not have had the resources to care for her medically, but based on how well-trained and sweet she was, I know they must have loved Gracie very much and not knowing what became of her must be agonizing for them.

As challenging as our time together was occassionally, I do not regret for one second taking Gracie into my care.  And while some common medical issues with Griffin brought up painful memories, I am so very grateful that my experiences with Griffin made me a better advocate for Gracie, including knowing when her quality of life was compromised to the point where I needed to let her go peacefully and pain free.

Gracie met so many of my family, friends, & neighbors, experienced Beaver Creek in Pennsylvania, and took long walks in the park almost every day.  I am thankful to have shared such fun times with Gracie and I will hold her in my heart forever.  May her memory be a blessing. sp_hearticon2

Aug 27

Gracie, the petite Golden Retriever, came to live with me on July 11, 2021 as a foster through Rescue City.  Two days prior, she had been surrendered by her family to the NYC public shelter severely malnourished, weighing only 29lbs.  While understandably needing a bit of time to decompress and adjust to a new home, Gracie showed her sweet, calm, smart, and loving nature from the start.  She struggled to eat even when presented with tempting foods like chicken and hamburger, some days showing interest and most days not.  She was diagnosed with kennel cough and her inappetence issues continued for several weeks.  Through it all, Gracie loved being outside, going for long walks in the park and taking car rides with her inquisitive little nose resting on the back seat windows.  An ultrasound was finally performed on July 29 and one of her abdominal lymph nodes was aspirated at that time.  The pathology results came back positive for high grade lymphoma, a cancer that spreads through the lymph nodes.  It is difficult to pinpoint when Gracie’s cancer might have first presented and the rescue decided to proceed with a course of oral chemotherapy in the hopes of extending Gracie’s life.

On the day of her ultrasound, Gracie started taking prednisone, a steroid which has worked wonders to improve her appetite and overall gastrointestinal function.  She has been steadily gaining weight (up to 36lbs now) and looks like a different dog than the one who came to live with me almost 7 weeks ago.  Earlier this month, she accompanied me to Beaver Creek Farm Cabins in Lancaster County, PA for a week of vacation with family and friends, and thoroughly enjoyed her time at one of Griffin’s all-time favorite places.  Despite the cancer, Gracie has been living a great life and the plans were to proceed with finding her a forever family.

Not today Peanut – that stuffed elephant is mine!

Gracie scratched her back all the way down the hill!

About a week ago, Gracie exhibited lameness and swelling in her right hind foot that was diagnosed as a soft tissue injury and she was prescribed gabapentin for the pain.  She bounced back quickly and was walking normally a few days later.  Three days ago, Gracie woke up with pronounced weakness in her left hind leg – limping, swaying when standing, staggering when walking, and having difficulty getting up and down.  I initially thought that Gracie might be experiencing a delayed reaction to the gabapentin, which can cause ataxia in dogs, especially in their hind legs.  More worrisome, the thought also crossed my mind that her cancer could have spread to her spine.  We made an appointment with the neurology department at the Animal Medical Center (the hospital where Griffin was treated) and Gracie was seen there yesterday.  A physical exam revealed that Gracie was very painful in her left hip and femoral area.  Subsequent pelvic x-rays showed severe osteoarthritis in both hips; the vet said that it was the worst case of osteoarthritis in the hip area that she had ever seen.  Both of Gracie’s femur bone “balls” are out of the “sockets” in her pelvis.  It is unclear if the recent lameness in her right leg caused the condition of her left hip to worsen, but this is a medical condition with which Gracie has been living for quite some time.  Until three days ago, Gracie was compensating well for her condition and our hope is to manage her pain well enough to allow her to return to that level of mobility.  In addition to the prednisone and gabapentin, Gracie will start taking amantadine long term and codeine for the next 5-7 days.  Once she is fully mobile and pain free, we will decide how to continue treating her cancer.  If Gracie does not show improvement to the level of being able to walk comfortably in the next 10 days, we will likely make the decision to humanely euthanize her as her quality of life would be so significantly compromised without the ability to take pleasure in doing the things she loved best.

When I agreed to foster Gracie, I thought I was getting a dog that needed to be well fed for a while.  I did not anticipate that Gracie’s medical issues would so closely mirror Griffin’s – struggles with cancer, inappetence, and mobility.  So many times in the last few weeks I have found myself grieving for Gracie and for me, struggling to stop comparing her experience to my boy’s, and hoping that Gracie would find a forever family that would love and care for her for whatever time she had remaining so that I could avoid the pain of her dying while in my care.  And then a few nights ago while watching a César Milan show, I heard him say, “You don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need” and it stopped me in my tracks.  I know I have been a better advocate for Gracie because of my experience with Griffin. I also know that her quality of life is vastly improved from when I first met her because of those advocacy efforts.  And while I’m still trying to figure out what I need to learn from loving Gracie, perhaps it is enough to know that I got the dog that needed me.

 

Jun 28

A lot has happened for Nori in the last 2 months!  She had TTA (not TPLO) surgery on her left hind leg on May 24th, and came through like a champ!  After trying a soft, padded cone for a few days, I bought a surgical sleeve that worked amazingly well (after I figured out how to anchor it so the straps didn’t slip off her hind end!) at protecting her leg without needing a cone.  Before the surgery, Nori was very protective of her body overall, but especially wary of any touching on her legs or near her hind end.  After surgery I was able to handle her leg with gentle persuasion and about a week later she had no reaction at all to having any body part touched.

We took recovery slow and easy, although as she started feeling better and was weaned from all meds, Nori definitely wanted to walk further and longer than she was allowed.  Benebones and Himalayan Yak treats were very helpful in keeping her busy!  About 3 weeks after her surgery, Nori was my travel companion for a 3-state, 10 day road trip that gave her the opportunity to meet many new friends of the kid, dog, and even cat variety!  She was a very good girl for a grooming session in Baltimore and looked so sleek afterwards!  Nori especially loved our last stop at my sister’s house in Virginia where she had the freedom to roam in a large backyard with my 5-year old niece trailing her every step!

The best news is that Nori was adopted on Saturday!  She is living a fabulous life in Massachusetts with parents who are experienced with Airedales, lots of neighborhoods dog friends, and a mom who will be home all day.  And her new name is Faith! sp_hearticon2

I do miss having Nori in the house, but I actually find myself missing Griffin more.  The day of Nori’s surgery, I of course was hoping for everything to go well for her, but I also found myself grieving for Griffin and how his surgery was not curative like hers would be.  And now that she has been adopted, I know that she is gone but living a great life while Griffin’s absence is permanent.  Overall, I loved being Nori’s foster mom and feel like I can add “skilled canine nurse” to my resume now!  I might serve as a respite foster for about a week in July for a heartworm positive pup whose foster family has vacation plans but otherwise I’ll be taking a short break from fostering until August due to my own travel plans.

I hope everyone is having a safe and fun summer, and enjoying time with family and friends!

May 03

This is Nori and she came to stay with me on May 1.  She is an almost 6 year old Airedale Terrier (likely a mix due to her size, which is currently 107lbs).  She has a cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) tear in her left knee and will undergo tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) surgery to repair it on May 17th.  She was surrendered by her previous family to the NYC Brooklyn shelter and then taken in by Rescue City, an organization with which I volunteer and foster.  She was placed with an emergency foster family for a week before coming to me, so this poor girl has been through quite a lot in recent weeks.  I’m not sure how long I’ll have her, but I hope I’ll be able to see her through surgery and recovery, and give her a solid start down her weight loss journey.

Nori is an absolute dream in the house and walks reasonably well on leash.  She loves other dogs of all sizes, kids, and adults, though she is in more of a “say hello quickly and move on” stage with humans – not sure if that will change.  She enjoys lengthy naps after our leisurely morning and afternoon walks.  She is starting to show some interest in toys and loves bones/chews.  Her leg is clearly bothering her, but she is so sweet and acting more relaxed with each passing day.  I am supposed to be crating her overnight and when I leave her alone, but she is definitely not a fan.  Like Griffin, her favorite sleeping position is sprawled on her side and even the XL crate (currently taking up quite a bit of real estate in my living room) does not allow her to stretch out.  I left her loose in my bedroom when I went out for a few hours today and she was snoozing contently when I returned, so I’m not going to push the crate.  I am home full-time, so I’ll be able to enforce rest and limited activity after her surgery without needing the crate.

Her pain seems well managed for now.  My Tripawd experience has given me the confidence to advocate for her to be appropriately medicated…and to know to use Velveeta for administering meds easily.   She came with prescriptions for Carprofen, Gabapentin, and Amantadine, but the Carprofen has already run out and the Gabapentin will run out on Wednesday.  I know I have to go through the foster chain of command, but I really wish I could simply contact Rescue City’s vet directly to get what she needs.  Fingers crossed that the meds issue is resolved promptly!

I am really enjoying having a dog in the house again and having a routine of caring for another living being.  And my Tripawd experience has ensured that our home is well prepared for Nori – rugs for traction, elevated feeder, and firm dog beds (although like Griffin, Nori seems to prefer the floor over beds!).  I am not certain I can lift Nori into the wagon at her current weight, and I’d like her to be a bit more comfortable with me before I try, but hopefully I’ll be able to use the wagon during her recovery period.

Nori and Griffin are very different in a lot of ways – size and training are 2 big ones – but there are things she does that remind me of him which makes me smile.  And then there was this photo of Nori…kind of took my breath away how much the close-up resembles Griffin.

I probably won’t post too often, but I’ll definitely be back to provide a Nori update after her surgery.  In the meanwhile, please enjoy these videos and send healing thoughts her way! sp_hearticon2

Mar 11

It has been one month since I said goodbye to Griffin.  The sharp sting of grief has mellowed to an ache that has burrowed deep into my bones.  I still look before moving the ottoman.  I still catch myself automatically soothing, “You’re okay” when I hear a car backfire outside.  I still feel disoriented when I wake up without a solid warmth snugged up against my side.  My days feel adrift without our routine and the house is so very quiet.  I miss Griffin tremendously and I expect that I always will.

From Griffin’s diagnosis to his surgery through five different chemotherapy protocols to the very end, I was grieving.  Not every day and not all the time, but the anticipatory grief of losing him was pretty consistent and every oncology appointment that never resulted in good news brought me low again.  Each time I cycled through denial, anger, bargaining, and depression a little quicker, trying desperately to stay in a positive mindset knowing there would be plenty of time for tears later.  And now it is time for me to practice acceptance.  My beloved boy is gone, and nothing will bring him back to me.

My very wise 14-year old niece shared this quote with me: “As long as there is love and memory, there is no true loss” (Cassandra Clare).  One of the best things I did after Griffin passed was to ask everyone to share their favorite memories of him.  From family and friends, to colleagues at schools where Griffin accompanied me, to staff at the hospital that treated Griffin and the hospital where we volunteered, to my neighbors – over 100 people shared stories about Griffin.  I knew most of the stories, but the new ones were lovely surprises, as were some photos and videos that I had not previously seen.  Each story affirmed what I already knew – Griffin was an amazing soul who touched so very many people with his joy, his gentleness, his empathy, his silliness, and most of all, with his capacity for unconditional love.  Reading those shared memories is a balm to my aching heart and the document into which I have compiled them all will be a treasured legacy.

It has been one month since Griffin passed and while I feel sad every day, I am doing okay.  I go for daily walks in our favorite park.  I attended an individual therapy session and a pet loss support group meeting.  I started volunteering with a local dog rescue processing adoption applications and completed initial steps to become a volunteer with two other organizations.  I am steadily working through a list of spring cleaning tasks.  I have buckled down to find a full-time job.  I am reading a ton of books.

One of those books was The Beauty of What Remains: How Our Greatest Fear Becomes Our Greatest Gift by (Rabbi) Steve Leder.  He writes, “We lose so much love to death, and if that love was real and deep, the grief is real and deep.  Grief is not a race to be won or an illness to be cured.  To deny grief its due is to deny love.”  I am very lucky to have the support of so many and no one would question my need to grieve, but somehow reading that passage really made plain to me in a way that I did not fully understand before that love and grief go hand in hand, mirroring each other in their depths.  It is comforting to think that when my grieving is over, the beauty of our love will remain.

On a practical level, I know that how long or how much I grieve will not change the fact that Griffin is no longer by my side.  And so from a self-preservation perspective, I try to focus on gratitude rather than sadness.  I am grateful for so many things about how Griffin passed – that he did so peacefully at home, that he was not in pain or scared, and that it was so clearly his time to go.  I am grateful for the 11 years that I shared with Griffin, and considering we were rarely apart even when I was working, it probably adds up to far more time than most people get to spend with their pups.  I am grateful for Griffin’s magic, as evident in the outpouring of stories, and that I lived in the presence of that magic up close each day.  I am grateful that Griffin inspired me to work towards a healthier lifestyle and made even the bitterly cold morning walks fun.  I am grateful for all that Griffin taught me – patience, kindness, being fully present, determination, curiosity, and finding joy every day.  Griffin truly was the sunshine of my life and I will love him forever.

One day I will create a video to celebrate all of Griffin’s life, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy these photos that each represent a year, from 2010-2021, that Griffin spread his sunshine to all of us.  Thank you all for the love and support that you gifted us throughout Griffin’s journey.  May his memory be a blessing.