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Griffin's Journey

Oct 09

When I began fostering Gracie, we thought that her body condition was a result of malnutrition and given the financial difficulties faced by many people due to the pandemic, that was not such a far fetched idea.  After spending time with Gracie, I knew that she had been very loved because of her sweet nature and impeccable manners.  Once we learned that she had cancer which was causing her inappetence, I was convinced that her family had surrendered her because they could not afford vet care.  After Gracie passed, I kept thinking about her family – how they must have been agonized to give her up and not have any idea what became of her.  I was determined to return her ashes to her family and let them know that even though she was not with them at the end, she was loved.  And last weekend, I did just that.

I know the world of rescue is filled with heartache and broken promises.  I wasn’t naïve, but I just felt it in my gut that Gracie’s family had not willingly parted with her.  The head of Rescue City was a bit skeptical and warned me that the outcome might not be what I wanted, but she acceded to my wishes and reached out to the municipal shelter to give permission for them to share my phone number with the family that had surrendered Gracie.  We were busy that morning with an intake of 40 dogs from Kentucky, so I did not hear my phone ring.  Later that afternoon I saw I had missed calls and a message from an unknown number.  It took Gracie’s mom less than an hour to reach me from the time the recue reached out to the shelter.

Lisa and I spoke later that day.  She had simply been provided my number and told I had information about her Bella with no updates.  And so it fell to me to break the news that her beloved dog had passed.  I gave her a brief update of the cancer and osteoarthritis diagnoses, and even through her pain, Lisa kept expressing gratitude that Bella had been loved and well cared for in her final months.  We agreed to meet up the following Saturday so we could talk more and so I could return Bella’s ashes.

October 2, 2021, one month after Gracie passed, was a gorgeous autumn day in New York City.  Lisa, her son (Karl), my friend (Virginia), and I met in the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, at a fountain dedicated to Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of A Little Princess, which seemed a fitting place to honor Gracie.  While I had learned a bit about her story in our phone call, meeting with Lisa gave me the chance to hear the full story.

Bella was born on April 1, 2011 in Texas and came to live with her family when she was 8 weeks old.  Around age 6, Bella and her family moved to the Northeast region, living in Connecticut and upstate New York before recently settling in New York City.  She was loved by everyone who met her, a treasured companion, and sister to a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Kane.  She began losing weight in the spring, which was attributed to her temporarily living with Lisa’s daughter and not being fed the same dog food.  Then came housing struggles that left Lisa with no place to keep her dogs.  She brought Bella and Kane to the municipal shelter asking them to hold the dogs for a few days until she figured out where she would land.  When Lisa went back for her dogs, Kane was returned to her, but Bella was gone.  Shelter staff told her that Bella was severely anorexic, likely had very little time to live, and was sent to hospice.  When Lisa asked if she could contact the hospice to be there when Bella was euthanized (which she assumed is what they meant would happen), they told her there was no way to contact the group that had Bella.  Lisa explained how she tried to put thoughts of Bella out of her mind but kept thinking that Bella would never understand why they never came back for her and was heartbroken that after being with Bella her whole life, she was not with her at the end.

I told Lisa and Karl about my time with Bella, her love of long walks and car rides, her medical issues, that she started eating again, and about her mobility decline at the end.  I gave them her ashes, a paw print, lock of her hair, and printed photos.  Lisa kept thanking me for caring for Bella and I kept insisting that it was my honor to love her Bella.  We laughed and cried, and expressed that despite our sadness, our hearts felt lighter to have this closure.

I don’t think Lisa had the financial means to bring Bella to the vet in the spring when she was losing weight and knowing that it took an expensive ultrasound and biopsy to diagnose the cancer, I’m pretty sure Bella would have died a painful death without an intervention.  It’s distressing that Bella had to be separated from her family to receive a diagnosis and medication that allowed her to begin eating and gaining weight.  And while I know Bella bonded to me and had good quality of life at the end, it does not replace the 10+ years of love from her family.  I keep thinking how lucky I am that had anything ever happened to me while Griffin was alive, any number of family and friends would have stepped up to care for him and keep him in my life.  And I’m so heartbroken that Lisa did not have that same support system in her life.

I’m not sure if I believe that there is always a reason why things happen, but in this case, I’m glad that it was me chosen to care for Bella.  Lisa and I have kept in touch via text since we met in person, and I hope that I can be a support for her if she ever needs it in the future.  And I am ever so thankful that we were given the chance to meet and that Bella is back home with her family where she belongs. ❤

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