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Old English Sheepdog Sylvia's journey

Celebrating Again!!

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Dutchmans Breeches


Wow – We’ve been gone a long time. I’ve not even spent much time checking out the forums, other blogs, etc., much less posted on Sweet Sylvie’s blog. In a way I guess this is sort of a good sign . . . That is, it’s good that things are pretty much “life as usual” in our house so I haven’t had any unusual news to post. On the other hand, I’m really missing the tripawds community.

Anyway – It’s a great day for us to post, as we celebrated Sylvia’s 5-month ampuversary on April 9, 2011! The weeks seem to go by faster and faster, and every four weeks we note with much happiness another milestone in our Silly Sheepdog’s life as a tripawd. THIS month, tho, with spring finally displaying her beautiful displays of flowers, buds, and greening of the trees, it’s a pawfect time to TAKE the time to celebrate how lucky we all are to be together, happy and healthy.

When I last posted, we were struggling with Sylvia’s back problems – the pain and stiffness of those darned bulging discs.  But, she went through several weeks of physical therapy with her favorite stretcher, Jean.  She now gets the new, prescription ($$) food (Hill’s JD), which she adores.  (At least we think she likes it.  Once it hits the bowl, there’s a hairy dog head bent over itmaking incredible snuffling sounds and when we next view the bowl, its empty and there’s a very audible belch from the consumer.)  She’s also on a gabepentin compound and continues to get P.T. from us at home, and to go for walks.  She is definitely back to her usual loud, playful, obnoxious self.  She grabs a toy, bounces across the room to one of the other dogs and shoves the toy into their faces, growling all the while.

Yesterday (the 9th) I stopped on the way home from work (YEA!  I’m still employed as a National Park Ranger! . . . at least through this coming week!) and picked up some ice cream and party hats.  In the photos below, you can see a bit of the pawty.  Actually, you can see pretty much the whole thing.  Although this wasn’t Sylvia’s first experience with ice cream, it was the first time we’ve seen her eat an entire scoop, WHOLE!  My husband had to be pretty quick with the camera to get ANY of the actual consumption of the treat on “film”.

y-e-a-hhh - - Let's pawty down, dudes!

Oh boy! Pawty games!

ICE CREAM?! . . .

. . . Was there ICE CREAM in this bowl??! . . .

. . . well, if there WAS ice cream here, its all gone NOW . . .

I've been told I actually have alot in common with Spongebob.

I think Charlie and Banjo are just jealous that this is all for ME!

At the beginning of May, we return to Cincinnati for her next check-up.  This’ll be her first check after the last chemotherapy treatment.  Like the rest of you, we are praying for Sylv to be one of those amazing canine cancer survivors whose lives are both good and L-O-N-G!


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O, My Achin’ Back!

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From doggie playground to wading pool . . . Ah, Spring!

It’s a very rainy afternoon here in western Ohio, and we’re all SOOOO lookin’ forward to spring.  The REAL spring, not the tantalizing teaser that we had at the end of last week!

When last we wrote, we were on the verge of seeing Sylvie’s surgeon concerning her back.  We’d been trying to keep her on “strict crate rest” for 4 weeks, but weren’t seeing any signs of improvement.  Also, we’d just had the mega-poop experience (I love that description, East Tennessee Gayle!) and I was wondering what was going on with that.  Turns out that the regimen of resting her spine was not helping with her sore back problem, and x-rays showed that she actually has several bulging discs in her spine.  The doctor said that Sylvia may have had this back issue for quite a while, but until the removal of a rear leg there was no outward sign of any problem.  With her now having to torque her back to readjust her gait, the bulging discs became painful.  Luckily, the doctor indicated that surgery was not called for at all and that his recommendation was to manage the pain and strengthen the muscles.

"Crate Rest". Hmmphff.

He told us that we can now get back to a regular walking routine as part of low-impact exercise.  I can’t begin to express how happy that will make ALL of us – especially since everyone at our house is trying hard to deal effectively with extreme cabin fever.

I’d been searching for a possible canine physical therapist in our area, and came across one of the only ones nearby who is a certified canine rehab practitioner.  Turned out to be a woman who had presented a workshop on caring for canine athletes to my dog agility organization a year or two ago.  I was so impressed with her at the workshop, and when Miss Sylvie’s doctor recommended her, I practically jumped for joy!  These are some pics my husband took on Sylvia’s first visit to see Jean, her new physical therapist.

Hey! This "traction" stuff actually feels GOOD!

Umm-m-m . . . That's getting sort of personal.

He said Sylvie really liked Jean (altho didn’t like some of the initial stuff she did to evaluate her back), and was a perfect patient for all of the exercises.  She is a little LESS than perfect as we try to do these at home.  She’s taken to running into her crate when I try to stand astride her to provide the traction.  We’re stocking up with plenty of treats to entice her to embrace her new therapy!

Sylvie’s doctor (her surgeon) recommended going on a different diet, so we’ve begun Hill’s J D .  He also told us about  getting her onto a gabapentin compound for the pain and/or doing injectable adaquan (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan) for joint therapy.  We’ve decided to wait on the adaquan injections, but we’re trying the gabapentin compound to help manage the pain.

Wow.  I really hadn’t even considered that we’d be dealing with anything besides the recovery from the amputation, the cancer (chemo treatments), and just working up to being as mobile on three legs as she’d been on four.  Now we’re dealing with a back problem, pain management, mobility (after we thought she was fully functional back in December).

When I read about other pawrents’ experiences tho, I now realize that there is no “typical” osteosarcoma amputation experience.  Every dog, every dog-mom and dog-dad, each and every family of canine amputees has a unique experience and again I’m thankful to have the Tripawds website to exchange information.

Did you say, ". . . go for a WALK"?! Woo-Hoo!! Let's go, GO, GOOOO!

So – Miss Sylvia is VERY happy (overjoyed might be appropriate!) to be going for walks again.

As for the diarrhea she experienced . . . I’m mortified to say that a really big mistake that I made was responsible for that phenomenon.  She was still on the Prednisone but seemed a bit more uncomfortable than usual one evening.  I had Tramadol, but was wary about overdoing it and knew that we had some Rimadyl left from some episode of doggie pain in one of the three dogs at some time in the past.  Anyway, I gave Sylvie a Rimadyl tablet.

IF YOU ARE NEW TO THE WHOLE WORLD OF MANAGING CANINE DISCOMFORT AND/OR ILLNESS, BE CAREFUL AND EDUCATE YOURSELF!!!!!!!!! When we saw the surgeon and were discussing Sylvia’s treatment, I mentioned off-handedly that I’d given her a Rimadyl a few days earlier.  The doctor, in no uncertain terms, admonished me for having done this, as the combination of these drugs (Pred. and Rimadyl) could very seriously damage a dog’s digestive system and in some cases can literally eat holes in their stomachs.  Oh my gosh!  I could’ve killed my dog because I wasn’t knowledgeable about some of the meds were were giving, interactions, etc.  My other really big mistake was giving my dog a medication that the vet had not told expressly told me to give.  I just took it on myself to do this.  I’m pretty sure that, since the diarrhea happened within a couple of days of the Rimydal, that was the cause.  This was a critical lesson for me, and knowing that I could have seriously hurt or killed my precious Sylvia is something I’ll never forget.  Luckily, she hasn’t had additional diarrhea since, so I’m hoping that this “lesson” will not have too high of a price.

So, wiser and much more attentive to detail, we continue on with Sylvia’s back rehab.  At some point in the near future, she gets to try out the underwater treadmill.  She’s the only one of our three dogs who is not particularly fond of water, so I’m going to send a camera with my husband when he takes her.  I’ve got to see for myself what fun they have in that session.  In the meantime, we continue to slog through the puddley, soggy backyard and wait eagerly for the first blooms of spring!

Skunk cabbage. Ugly name, but beautiful first harbinger of spring!

Appreciating every moment!

YEE-HA!!! Happy ampuversary to me!

It’s still cold (supposed to be 4 degrees F. tonight), icy, and dreary outside . . . But we’re celebrating in our cozy, warm house today. Today is 3 months since Sweet Sylvie made the transition from a quad to a tri; 3 months and 5 days since we got the diagnosis that changed but didn’t ruin our lives.

Sylvia, the sweet, shaggy, super sheepdog is still here and is loudly vocalizing her joy at being able to push her quad-siblings around . . . Or maybe the vocalization is anger at being in her crate at the moment (still “resting” her back). Either way – It’s sure great to have her loud, rambunctious doggy self still here to love and cuddle!!

We received her “Help ‘Em Up” harness just three days after I ordered it, and are very happy with it so far. It is SO MUCH easier to support her hindquarters, especially when we’re making our forays out into the snowy, icy realm of our backyard.

Wearin' my new harness

Speaking of which, we have had a little bit of an issue that is causing us to put the ice cream celebration on hold. Yep, it’s back to the “poop report”. At about 3:15 a.m., I was awakened by the hairy head, torpedo nose, and insistent paw of Miss Sylvia. Of course, I made myself hope that she just woke up and wanted attention, until she shifted to my husband’s side of the bed to try to rouse him, too. O.K. Must be a “REAL NEED”. On with the socks, long underwear, heavy sweatpants, sweatshirt, scarf, hat, coat, Sorel pacs, and on with Sylvie’s harness (thank God it’s fast!). After all of the recovery, then chemo treatments with no vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea and NOW she gets the runs. Back outside in a hurry at 6:00, 8:30, 10:45 a.m. Of course, I tried the Metronidazole that we’d  been given  after the first chemo treatment (which we’d never needed to use) right after the 3:15 trip outside.  But, as it seems with most of the meds Sylvie’s been given, it sure took a long time to work.  Quickly shifting into my best worried-dogmom mode, I stayed home from work this a.m. until she wasn’t asking to go out as frequently.  Things seem to be O.K. now.  Hopefully it didn’t have anything to do with the big C.

Banjo tunneling

This weekend will also be the first agility trial that Banjo, Charlie and I will be participating in since the weekend of Sylvia’s diagnosis.  I recall how it felt to be at an event that was designed for dogs and their people to enjoy running a course of obstacles . . . and I’d just found out that my dog at home had cancer and was scheduled to have a leg amputated the following week.  I’m sure this coming weekend will be much more enjoyable, knowing my silly Sylvie is alive and hopping! Hey! Bring on the ice cream and cake! Let the good times roll!

Tomorrow, we’ll be going back to see the surgeon in Cincinnati about Sylvia’s back.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to get her some help through acupuncture, exercises, etc.

This post, it just seemed to be a good idea to post some photos of Miss Sylvie in her pre-amp days.  I’d just like everybody to know more about this crazy girl!

Right after my spring clip

Me and Banjo - Our favorite game!

My costume for the Children's Christmas Parade in Dayton

Ice is not nice!

THIS obstacle course is not approved by any agility venue!

Well, it’s the day after the big, 2-day winter storm that covered much of the country, including Sweet Sylvie’s domain. YUCK! I actually LOVE winter storms – the more snow, the better – after growing up in the southwest desert.   But I can really do without the ice.

Not only did we lose several BIG branches off most of our aging trees, but we got about 3/4 of an inch ice buildup on every outdoor surface. This includes on top of the snow in the backyard in which the quad-dogs have been merrily playing for days. Now, taking a stroll through the yard is like trying to walk across a field full of croquet balls and gopher holes. Add to this taking a three-legged dog with a bad back out to take care of business and you have a situation that someone should film for one of those funniest home videos programs. And I’m NOT talking about the dog slipping around either. The human hanging on desperately and trying to remain upright would be worth the film! And that’s even WITH the “yak-trax”.

Boy! I'll be glad when the new harness arrives . . . Maybe Mom will loosen up a bit!

My sympathies go out to all the rest of you tripawds pawrents who are having to negotiate these conditions (and I’m sure there are many of you!). And if you have other quad-dogs who are, like mine, fairly oblivious to their dog-mom shouting “EASY! EASY! SLOWWWW DOWN!!!, keep an eye on them, too. None of us want mobility problems with the rest of our pack members. (In my case, both Banjo and Charlie are registered for an agility trial next weekend, so I’m also warning them not to hurt themselves prior to a competition. Yeah. Right. They’re really listening to that.)

Take care, everybody! Stay warm and upright! I have a feeling that, no matter what Phil says, we’ve got plenty of winter yet to come!

Do yaks really wear these?

We have cabin fever, too!

YIPPEE! Done with chemo!

O.K. - I'll try to be quiet for another week . . . as long as I get to snuggle with pinkman.

I just returned home from taking Sylvie for her (hopefully!) last round of chemotherapy, and am so happy and relieved!  X-rays showed clear lungs and everything else looks great. Now, we just have to get her back healed and we’ll again be on the way to our “New Normal” life.

Per some wonderful input from other tripawd pawrents, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time looking through the forums and am so hopeful and re-energized. We’re still taking it real easy (really trying to be good about the “strict crate rest” the dr. ordered) and have another week to go to get through the four weeks of rest. We’ll go back to see Sylvia’s surgeon next week to see where we want to head next to get her back in better shape. As we were checking out today, the vet tech let us know that the surgeon is likely going to give us the go-ahead for acupuncture, but we may have to wait a bit before we move forward on PT.

It sort of feels like we’re on hold and won’t be able to get back on track with Sylvie’s recovery until we can get her back problem figured out. I just want to be able to let her out into the backyard to roam around without having to keep her on a leash and hover over her. I really want to totally enjoy the fact that, at this point, we’ve taken the steps we’ve needed to in order to get that awful cancer out of her.  I want to celebrate the fact that I can play with my big Silly Sylvie and enjoy having her with us.  That’s challenging to do when we’re walking on eggshells to ensure that she doesn’t do any additional damage to her back.

I just look at so many postings of our loved, hairy companions crossing the bridge, and get anxious to live it up with Miss Sylvia while we can ’cause the length of our time together is so very uncertain.  So.  We’ll “live it up” somewhat quietly this coming week, and get our minds in gear to enjoy the next phase of her journey that  will involve alternative healing choices.  We WILL again get to giggle at her antics outdoors!

As long as I have all of my teeth, who cares how many legs I have!

In fact, we have an ulterior motive in getting outdoors . . . Have any of you had, as another side effect of chemotherapy, really noxious gas emitting from the nether portion of your beloved furry friend?  This is sort of an indelicate topic, but let’s put it this way:  If ever there was a classic example of “silent but deadly”, my Sweet Sylvie and the odors coming from her would be it.  WHEW!  WHEWEEE!  Open the windows!  Move to a different room!

Smell? What smell?

And she continues to lose hair.  Poor shivering sheepdog, with teeth still rat-a-tat-tatting.  But she is NOT enjoying wearing Banjo’s hand-me-down winter coat, so we’re trying to get her more focused on the job at hand on her evening outings.  For some reason, my husband has greater success in getting her to get business taken care of and getting back into the warm house.  We’ve got the big winter storm on the way (my husband tells me that “they’re” anticipating that Dayton will get the double-whammy), so hopefully the new harness I just ordered for Sylvia will get here quickly.  I think that with the ice that’s predicted, we’ll need that extra help to keep her on her “pawds”!

Ah-h-h! Yep, that was the life back before the "Big A" (amputation) when I was still allowed to jump up on mom and dad's bed!

Relaxing with my dad

Ya know . . . when it's freezing outside, ANY location for an inside snooze will work!

Three chemos forward . . . Four steps back

On my 2-month ampuversary!

Haven’t updated Sweet Sylvie for a while now and we’ve ended up in some territory that we hadn’t expected. I guess it’s time to catch up (again) and to see whether others might have had similar experiences.

Off we went to Cincinnati for another day of chemo, back on Monday, Jan. 10. First off, the CBC news was once again good. All bloodwork looked normal, and we could depend on getting through round three of chemo without incident. Then, we’d just need to focus on staying healthy and gaining strength to get to and through the final treatment on Jan. 31.

As usual, I chatted with the vet tech prior to the treatment about Sylvia’s previous three weeks. Still no vomit/diarrhea/nausea; still eager to play in the snow; beginning to go for walks. But there has been that apparent discomfort upon laying down and standing up, and the time she was patrolling the perimeter of the yard and suddenly just sat down, refusing to move. I’ve been concerned that we were allowing her to have too much fun and she was just getting tired. But I definitely wanted Sylvie’s oncologist to know, and asked the tech if Dr. Valerius would come and talk with me after the chemo. The treatment went without incident (it seems to take less time with every visit). However, when the doctor came out to talk, she gave me some info. that, though not that of mets or any nasty, cancer-related issue, was not what I wanted to hear.

Seems that Miss Sylvia has injured her back (probably some sort of disk problem) and would need to be on “strict crate rest” for the next four weeks. Just when we were feeling so good about her progress – playing with her ball, running around the yard, going for walks . . .

Me and Mom after my first outside-of-the-yard walk as a Tripawd! (notice the "poodle legs")

. . . and exactly WHY would I lay on a dog bed on the floor when I've got this whole comfy couch to myself?

We’d even begun allowing her to get up on the couch (which is quite low) with only a bit of supervision during her descents back to the floor. I’d worried about overdoing it, but the fact that she’d actually injured her back made me feel like I’d really failed her. Now we were going to have to go back to where we were several weeks ago. And how on earth were we going to accomplish the “strict crate rest” with our bouncy, crate-destroying girl?!

Luckily, when I dragged one of our big, wire crates out of the storage shed out back, lugged it into the living room, and began to set it up, the patient actually tried to shove me out of the way so she could climb inside!  NOT what I’d expected!  I guess the anti-crate sentiment was only reserved for riding in a crate in a vehicle.  So, after fitting it out with a nice layering of blanket and folded old comforter, Sylvie headed straight in and settled down.  So, it’s a partial relief.  However, when Banjo and Charlie get all riled up over whatever they’re hearing outside, it’s contagious and frankly, I’m not sure whether it’s worse on her healing process to flail around in her crate, or to jump around outside of the crate.  She’s on Prednisone and occasionally gets a Tramadol (for pain, but also because it’s supposed to make her sleepy).  But she’s just very “spirited” and it’s so difficult to keep her calmed down – in or out of the crate.  She’s not supposed to play, run or jump.  We only go outside for potty business and then, only on leash.  I’ve been putting on her harness when we go out so I can try to take some of the weight off of her back leg, and thus off of her back.  But she still wants to surge ahead of me (or just stand still and simply gaze around the yard for 10 or 15 minutes or so).  And I get so worried about the apparent contortions she has to make to turn around in her crate.

So, I know from reading some of your blogs that others have run into the problem of their tripawds “overdoing it”.  But I hadn’t noticed any postings concerning actual injury to the back.  I am so worried about the fact that, if I follow doctors’ orders and achieve “strict crate rest”, she’s going to injure herself by jumping around in the crate.  But if I continue to let her just hang out in the living room (a pretty small area where we can keep her partially controlled by the use of baby gates) I’m afraid that even limited movement will prevent her back injury from healing and she’ll wind up with arthritis or worse.

Has anyone in this sort of situation used chiropractic or massage or acupuncture to assist in the healing process?  I see several blogs where people are writing about their tripawds doing physical therapy to strengthen their remaining legs and other muscles.  I’d asked my vet about this many weeks ago and neither the surgeon nor the oncologist really seemed to think that this was worth pursuing.  I’m going to broach the subject with them again, but wanted to get a feel from you all what your experiences with this have been.

Also – Is anybody experiencing the only other side effect we’ve seen in Sylvie . . . that of hair loss?  Most dogs do not have this side effect like most humans do.  This is because some breeds of dogs (Old English sheepdogs, poodles, Portugese Water Dogs, etc.) have hair, like humans, which continues to grow and needs to be cut occasionally.  This is because the cells which make up the hair on these breeds grow/divide quickly.  Dogs like my English shepherd, Banjo, and my Aussie, Charlie, don’t need their fur cut when being groomed; it grows to a certain point and then fur is shed.  The hair of dogs like my Sylvia has cells that are continuously and rapidly dividing.  Since chemotherapy drugs work on the rapidly growing cancer cells, they also impact other fast-growing cells like hair.  Hence, hair loss.  So winter is a crummy time to have to go through chemotherapy for some of us!

Getting a bit thin there on top (I think I still look good! Just need a nose-mitten . . .)

Poor Sylvia!  She’s got LOTS of very pink skin showing through her thinning white hair, and her snout is progressively balding.  Luckily, she is, of course, pretty oblivious.  Other than the fact that the other day when we were outdoors trying to get some inspiration for bedtime elimination, I started to hear a funny noise coming from her . . . I could swear it sounded like teeth chattering . . . It was! (Hers, not mine.)  The worst part of this process is the fact that, as her hair gets thinner, it also mats worse.  I feel like I need to keep on top of the grooming to forestall any potential hotspots developing under the mats.  But GEEZE!  I get brushfuls of hair with even the briefest brushing.  Thankfully Banjo’s winter coat (got it so she wouldn’t get stiff muscles between agility rounds in the cold) fits Sylvia!  Is anybody else out there dealing with the hair thing?

So – We’ll continue to try to discourage Sylvie’s natural exuberance and pray that the damage to her back is actually healing.  And we’ll continue to look forward to getting back to our new normal!

Me and Dad - Best friends!

We still do this - - There's just one less leg!

I don't want to miss any more SNOW!!

Sylvia’s recovery

I’m glad I have lots of friends in the dog world, else I would’ve been sure we were really taking it beyond reasonable limits when we set up a bedroom/recovery room for Sylvia and us for her return home from her amputation surgery.  I’d been thinking that we just couldn’t barricade her alone in a room at night.  What if she woke up in pain?  What if she, in her drugged state, didn’t know where she was?  What if she moved around and injured herself?  The only obvious solution was to move all the furniture out of the dining room, drag an old futon mattress in, stock with plenty of blankets and comforters, and take turns bedding down beside her.  Of course I now know that this is pretty much the norm for pawrents of new amputees.  Thank goodness for my dog agility instructor who’d been through all of this with his Doberman.  When this gruff, no-nonsense guy described sleeping on the floor with his recovering pooch . . . Definitely the right thing to do!

Sylvia’s recovery from surgery and beginning of her new life as a tripawd began on November 11, when we brought her home from the vet.  It seems so long ago now, but oh! – Those nights of always being on the verge of sleep but afraid to really go there.  Comfort the dog . . .

Sigh . . . Tired of being tired

. . .  Help her get up and down and turn around (which seemed to happen continuously throughout those nights).  Be alert to any sign that she might need to go outdoors to relieve herself.  Follow the medication schedule.  Hallelujah when she was weaned off the drugs that made her groggy and grumpy and was able to be with sister Banjo and brother Charlie!  But it wasn’t all smooth sailing, as you other amputee pawrents know . . .

ARRGH! The Cone of Shame

Sylvia initially accepted her regimen of antibiotics as long as they were thoroughly disguised in plenty of cheese.  Then came the day when – PAHTOOEY!!  Out came the pill and – GULP! – down went the cheese.  And since she was trapped in that dreaded “cone of shame”, the “pahtooey” ritual evolved into the whole cheese-encapsulated-capsule sort of popping out the side of her mouth and rolling back into the cone, becoming embedded in her hair.  Or, later came the capsule hidden in the hotdog.  In that case, the whole thing got chewed up and spit out with the powdery capsule contents spraying across the living room carpet.

And that danged cone!  It got to the point where Banjo and Charlie would see Sylvia barreling toward them (bouncing off the doorframes) and run for their lives (or risk being side-swiped by Sylvia’s large, plastic headgear).

Now Sylvia loves going places, and loves simply getting into the back of the pickup whether it’s going somewhere or not. It’s just when the vehicle actually starts moving her sweet demeanor morphs into something that resembles the Tasmanian Devil in the old cartoons.  (I should quickly say that we DO NOT allow our dogs to ride in the open back of the truck!!!  We’re crate people, but we decked out the rear of my Subaru Forester with piles of blankets and comforters for Sylvia’s trips to the Doc.)   I begged for some sort of sedative to give her for the hour-long ride back to Cincinnati to have her sutures removed – as long as it wouldn’t interact badly with the other drugs she’s on.  “Sure – Give her one of these 1/2 hour before the car ride.”  In that case, she did calm down . . . After ripping a shade screen from the window and consuming a fair portion of it, then beginning on the back seat seatbelt.  Crating?  She’s a whiz at destroying those before we’ve even hit the Interstate.  So for the first chemo treatment:  “Try 2, one hour before the car ride.”  That worked better.  No chewing, and the jumping and barking dwindled about half way to our destination.  Chemo treatment #2?  Tried the 2 pills one hour before the ride and this time, she calmed to the point where she only barked at about every other vehicle on the road and ended her tirade about 10 minutes from our destination.

But, in the meantime, Sylvie managed to get the hang of this 3-legged ambulation thing pretty quickly.  I remember hovering near for her first time down, then up the 5 steps from our back porch into the yard.  “No problem, Ma!  And don’t cramp my style!”  This year’s Thanksgiving found the humans in our household quietly optimistic, and supremely thankful!

Sylvie’s first chemo treatment was on December 1st.  Adriamycin.  My husband and I hovered again.  She looked so wiped out when we got home.  From time to time a leg would tremble, or she’d raise her head and look pathetically around.  Altho we didn’t reassemble the recovery room, Jim did spend the night on the living room floor next to her.  And that was it, as far as that first round went!  In the a.m., the old Sylvia was once again jumping around, demanding breakfast and ready to play.  No nausea.  No diarrhea.  No vomiting.  DEFINITELY no loss of appetite.  Same with the next treatment, on Dec. 17.  By Christmas, Sylvia was out in the snow, playing with the wonderful basketball that Santa left for our three good kids.  And I mean PLAYING!!! When she’s going after the ball at top speed, we two-leggeds can’t catch her!

How we got here: More about Sylvia

I’ve been visiting the Tripawds website since Sylvia’s cancer was first diagnosed.  I didn’t know what I was really looking for, other than basic information on canine osteosarcoma and amputation.  I’m a technological dunce, but I CAN Google, which I did and stumbled onto this amazing website!  I am awed on a daily basis at how the site came about and what great information is available and, mostly, the sharing and caring on the blogs.  I was immediately hooked and read the blogs almost daily.  The fact that there are so many canine cancer/amputee pawrents who are willing to selflessly share their roller-coaster rides is inspiring and humbling.  I’ve learned so much and laughed and cried and have had so many “So this has happened to someone else, too!” moments.  Writing has always been cathartic to me and I’ve been wanting to begin a blog for my Sylvie.  However, like I said – I don’t even have a Facebook page, much less a blog!  How do I even begin??

But today is Sylvia’s two-month ampuversary and it’s time!  YIKES!  There’s so much to catch up on and I really want you to know my silly girl!  So please forgive me if my blogs jump around a bit.  I think that the best way to introduce you to Miss Sylvia is through pictures.

Old English Sheepdogs are herders.  English Shepherds are herders.  Australian Shepherds are herders.  Whatever possessed us to adopt three herding breed dogs, I’ll never know, but we wouldn’t want to be without any one of them now!  Sylvia came to us when we’d had our English Shepherd, Banjo, for about a year.  All of Banjo’s canine playmates had moved away and we were sure that she needed a pal.  Enter, Sylvia.  Big, boisterous, loud, pushy . . . I know for the first few months Banjo was ready to leave home.  The last, best hope for peace at our house was the addition of, yes, another herding dog – Charlie, the Aussie.  Odd as it sounds, introducing a male (even if he IS the shrimp of the pack) was the answer.   And somehow we all managed to find a way to live together.

Sylvia and family

Sylvia and sister Banjo

Sylvia w/ little brother Charlie

And we’re still together . . . two months after our lives were severely shaken, but our bonds made stronger by this awful disease.  I know that life is so very fragile, even at the best of times.  And just yesterday, Fortis, who appeared big and strong and not to be messed with, crossed the bridge, leaving broken hearts and such an empty feeling.  But he leaves inspiration for all of us in his wake as well thanks to the sharing of his story on his blog.  My husband and I often look at each other at times like this and agree:  “Every day is a gift”.  And on this, Sylvie’s 2-month ampuversary, as she runs through the backyard with her favorite ball, we again say, “Every day [together] is a gift”.

Sylvia's 2-month ampuversary!

A limb lost but hope found

The decision to have Sylvia’s sick leg removed and start a drug therapy was the obvious one for us. We’d known other tripawds and were pretty sure that our crazy girl would make the adaptation relatively easily.

The one thing that we did stress over was the fact that we’d purchased plane tickets and made reservations (all non-refundable) at a resort in the Caribbean and our snorkeling vacation was to begin the day after Thanksgiving. Could we somehow find a caretaker for Sylvia while we were gone? . . . Someone who could handle a dog recovering from amputation. Could we delay the amputation and chemo until we returned in three weeks? Could we begin chemo more quickly (prior to our departure)?

WAIT JUST A MINUTE!!!!! Are we actually thinking that we could cut off our dog’s leg, leave her (undoubtedly in pain) with a stranger, and go blithely off to peer at fish?

You know – Over the years we’ve been on the periphery of discussions about “How much would you spend on medical treatment for your dog before it’s TOO MUCH?” I, for one, never let a specific amount cross my mind. It was just too weird to consider how much $$ the life of any of my canine kids was “worth”. Well, now I know. I would be willing to give up a vacation, take money out of savings, and rack up (yes, even in this economy) a significant total on my credit card if I had the chance to give my dog a longer, healthier, and pain-free life. Sylvia is depending on us to care for her. We can’t put her life on hold because it’s inconvenient!

So, the Saturday before her surgery, we coaxed Miss Sylvia into the bathtub for a bath and lots of attention. (She’s not a swimmer, but boy! does she love people fussing over her. So a bath is a GOOD THING.) Over the next 3 days, lots of playing outdoors. Lots of photos of her running. Lots of video. Tuesday night, Nov. 8, one day pre-surgery, we decided to camp out on the living room floor in a giant “puppy pile”, with all the dogs snugged around. Then, early Wednesday morning, we loaded up our barking, jumping, not-good-at-riding-in-a-vehicle dog and began the hour drive to the clinic in Cincinnati. The three of us went for a last four-legged walk in a field not far from the clinic, then in to make a big transition that would hopefully prolong this wonderful dog’s life.

Knowing it would be a long wait and simply sitting in the clinic lobby for hours would only increase the stress, my husband and I decided to visit a museum while we waited. Sort of like our lunch the week before . . . What did we see? Ya got me. “What did you think of that exhibit?” “WHAT exhibit?”

The surgery went smoothly, and the staff even bent the rules a bit and let us peek in to see Sylvia in her recovery “room”. How would the hole where the leg had been affect me, I wondered. So. It’s gone. BUT, there’s our Sylvia, groggily recovering and ALIVE. “What leg?”

Tests on the removed leg showed that, indeed, the cancer was osteosarcoma. So far, it looked promising for a good recovery, and hopefully, a prolonged and happier life with her human and canine family.

I know that in about 90% of osteosarcoma cases, even with amputation and chemotherapy, the cancer metastasizing in lungs or lymph nodes is what finally takes the life of our treasured, hairy kids. But at this stage, at least we can begin to have hope that Silly Sylvie will be among the 10%!

Catching up . . . Or, how did we wind up on a website for Tripawds?

Mid-October, 2010 – Busy month in the lives of all of us here in “Jim and Karen’s House of Many Dogs” in Dayton, OH. Two agility trials for Sylvia’s siblings, Banjo and Charlie . . . Two human friends from out-of-state visit our hairy home . . . The Dog-Mom takes a trip to visit Dog-Grandma and Grandpa . . . Dog-Dad is working two jobs . . . No wonder there wasn’t any real concern over an Old English Sheepdog’s slight limp, even when it was finally really noticed. Right before Mom’s trip, it was decided to take Miss Sylvia in to the vet for a check of that left hind leg. “Just watch her for a couple of weeks to see if the limp goes away or gets worse. It may be that we’re looking at an ACL injury. If it doesn’t improve, we’ll get some x-rays.”

I’ll bet this sounds pretty familiar to many of you.

Halloween and the limp is more pronounced. By this time I (worry-wart Mom) begin to research options for ACL repair. Our x-ray appt. for Nov. 2 is rescheduled because there’s a back-up of critters that need x-rays. Dog-Dad Jim drops Sylvia off for her x-ray in the morning of Nov. 4, little dreaming that anything could be worse than the possibility of ACL surgery. But there is. Jim returns to the vet in the afternoon and I call him from work.

Karen: “So, what’s the verdict? What kind of ACL repair do they recommend?”
Jim: “Well . . . It’s not the ACL.”
Karen: “Oh! Well, what is it.”
. . . silence . . . And I can feel my stomach knot and my mouth go dry . . .
Jim: I’ll tell you about it when you get home.”
. . . And after some prodding, he says the word my heart suspected but my head tried to ignore. Cancer. “The vet and everyone at the clinic was totally surprised. No one thought about cancer when she went in for the x-ray.”

I got home, threw my arms around my big, rambunctious Sheepdog’s neck and sobbed . . . for her, and for my poor husband, having to get the news by himself in the vet’s office, and for the loss that would come so much sooner than we’d ever dreamed.

Sylvia was only 6 years old; about a month and a half away from 7 as far as we knew. You see, she was a rescue, with essentially no background info. available. When Jim (the most passionate of Old English Sheepdog lovers) first saw her back in 2004, there was absolutely no doubt that she would be soon be a member of our family!

Our vet had provided Jim with some options of canine oncologists and within minutes of my arrival home, we’d selected one and called for an appointment the next morning. “As soon as possible!”, I’d requested, envisioning cancer cells swarming throughout my baby’s body. I was sure that the delay while we watched the limp and waited would have allowed the cancer to consume her.

By the time we sat in the waiting room at the specialist’s office, I had no doubt that the cancerous leg needed to come off. After sharing the x-rays and discussing all of the options with the oncologist, we went for lunch while they did an ultrasound to check for any metastasis. Yeah. Can’t remember what we had for that lunch . . . Did we actually swallow? To my relief, my husband agreed that amputation and chemotherapy was the best option, provided there was no obvious metastasis. Thankfully, the ultrasound looked clean. Sylvia’s relative youth, otherwise excellent health, and trim figure meant that she was a fine candidate for the amputation/chemo route. The surgeon would be available the next week and we made the appointment for surgery for November 9.

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