In May, all of Petco gets behind Blue Buffalo’s Pet Cancer Awareness efforts. This year, that holds special meaning to me. I decided to share this story in the hope that it will some how, some way make a difference in how we all think about the devastation of pet cancer and how much more we need to learn in order to help so many pets in need. Fonzie was a member of our family. Unfortunately the research and the treatment options simply were not there to save him. Perhaps from our efforts in raising funds for pet cancer research, we will help enrich the lives of many other future family members.
On November 26, Fonzie, my beloved English Bulldog, sauntered up the stairs in search of treats. Thanksgiving had been particularly bountiful for him, so I am sure he thought every other day thereafter would prove just as rewarding. On this evening, however, treats would be come a small sub-plot as our lives together would change forever.
Fonzie collapsed that night. As my family cried out, I came rushing in only to find him on the floor, motionless and not breathing. In the moment, I picked him up not knowing if he was still alive or if the day all pet lovers fear had arrived with brutal suddenness. I secured him in my arms, disoriented with disbelief, not even knowing exactly what to do. Miraculously, the jolt of lifting him up somehow revived him. He coughed and his eyelids fluttered. For a very brief moment, the aching in my belly subsided as I was flooded with optimism and hope that he was OK. My buddy was still with me.
The reality of the situation devastated me later that night when ultrasound scans revealed a tumor growing at the base of his heart. It was so entwined with the wall of the heart and all the blood vessels that it was impossible for it to be removed–incurable cancer. His collapse was a result of heart arrhythmia, which was caused by the tumor growth. While the cardiologist prescribed a medication that would treat the arrhythmia, the prognosis was not good. The medication would allow him to live for a few months, maybe only weeks.
My next stop was to visit an oncologist. Perhaps radiation or chemotherapy could shrink the tumor. To my dismay, I learned there little known about this kind of tumor. She told me that there were some experimental treatments being done using low dosages of chemotherapy, but there were no proven results and very few studies underway. Even with this bleak explanation, I decided to move forward with the treatment. I knew how hard he was fighting and I reasoned to myself that I wouldn’t stop fighting for him.
Fonzie had been a fixture in my life. When he came home as a puppy eight years earlier, I was living in an apartment in the Twin Cities and unmarried. Fonzie was there by my side for every major life change afterward. He was with me when I got married. He hung in there while we moved four times, including the one across the country to San Diego. He was home when we welcomed our baby boy into the world. So much changed over the years, but Fonzie was the constant, always happy to see me and gentle to all those around him.
My fondest memory will be how I would pick him up and put him ton the bed at night. He would always wait at the foot of the bed until I gave him the “come here” queue. He would then nestle up against my chest and fall asleep by my side.
The months after the initial collapse were bittersweet. On the hand, I felt grateful that I was awarded time to properly say goodbye to him. We lavished him with love and attention during that time. Fonzie never had it so good. He was the king of the house. Those good times, though were intermixed with sudden trips to the vet, all related to his worsening condition.
We attempted one last surgical procedure to try and relieve fluid build-up around his heart. He came out of the surgery OK but something was wrong. He was lethargic. His shining bright eyes were dimming. I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but life was beginning to fade. That night, my wife woke me up. Fonzie was breathing heavier than usual. She looked at me and said “I think it is time now. I told him that it was OK and that he didn’t have to stay here just for us. He could go now if he wanted.” I knelt down and held him in my arms. He was still breathing, and he looked up at me with his last bit of energy. All I could do is cry and tell him that I loved him. At that moment, he closed his eyes and stopped breathing. I frantically decided to try and fight one last time–maybe I could perform CPR. My wife put her hand on my shoulder and gently stopped me. It was his time. We had our chance to spend those last three months cherishing him, but now we needed to let him go.
While this story has a sad ending, there is optimism for the future. Blue Buffalo dedicates the month of May to honor the pets that have been lost to pet cancer, to generate awareness and to raise donations to finding a cure. If you have lost a pet to cancer, you can share your memories with fellow pet parents. or make a contribution to their pet cancer fundraising efforts. Together, we can help improve the lives of pets who are currently dealing with cancer, and hopefully, help Blue Buffalo find a cure.