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A Veterinarian’s Personal Perspective: Making Tough Decisions for Our Pets Pt. 2

May 23, 2011

Part Two:

So many things are running through my mind as I try to choose a course of action for Tsisdu. She was six months old when I adopted her as a rescue. She was happy and intelligent, like most heelers. She was also hiding a strange illness that caused a cyclical fever about every nine weeks. The day I brought Tsisdu home, she was coming out of that cycle and somewhat subdued. I was totally unprepared for the fireball that erupted a few days later. The name Tsisdu, the word for “rabbit” in Cherokee, came about because of her tall ears and the fact that she raced around the yard, jumping for joy, barking at anyone and anything. It took me months to stop her from leaping over every chain link fence down the block chasing the garbage truck. She is the smallest of my three dogs, at only 35 pounds, but she runs a tight ship. If she’s barking, the other two had better be barking too, or else. Tsisdu is fiercely protective; the reason for “Beware of Dog” signs on the fence. Her incredible intensity and profound loyalty make her one of the most challenging dogs I have ever owned, but also one of the most special. She has taught me how to love unconditionally, as she loves me.

I share this because it matters. How will she do with the weekly visits (30-90 minutes per visit) for treatment, for blood draws, for other procedures? She will have to be sedated to receive IV treatments—there is no way she could be still for that length of time. IV chemo treatments can cause tremendous damage to the skin and tissue surrounding the blood vessels if the line is dislodged. If I can’t manage the weekly appointments, she will have to be caged the entire day until I can pick her up. Will I be exchanging a poorer quality of life now for the chance of a prolonged one?

And what does it say about me as a vet if I choose not to pursue cancer treatment for Tsisdu? Am I killing my dog, giving up, setting a bad example? Am I saying I don’t support my fellow professionals or oncology as a discipline?

As a practicing veterinarian, I saw owners choose to subject their pets to painful diagnostic procedures, surgeries, extensive hospitalizations and experimental treatments out of their own grief or need to believe they had done everything they could to make the pet well again. I saw a few amazing recoveries as a result. I also saw pets suffer because of an owner’s need to keep them alive at all costs. I am determined to be the kind of owner that chooses what’s best for my dog, not what is best for me. What does that look like for Tsisdu? For me? I’m still not certain. I wish I didn’t have to choose at all.

A series of guest posts by: Delana Taylor McNac
To see the original post, go here.

Delana is a friend and we want to thank her for sharing this trying time with us. Please support her in this difficult trial. She is the founder of Pet Peace of Mind, an amazing organization that helps hospice patients keep their pets. We hope that her personal story can help others and also be a therapeutic tool for all of you who are facing a similar issue, pet related, or human related. If you would like to learn more about pet cancer, please go here.

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About Austin Dog Zone

Austin Dog Zone formed in 2011. We offer dog training for all breeds and temperaments. We are committed to staying up-to-date on the most current scientific research available for dogs regarding both behavior and wellness. Our methods are effective, dog-friendly and family friendly.

6 Comments to “A Veterinarian’s Personal Perspective: Making Tough Decisions for Our Pets Pt. 2”

  1. April Johnson says:

    Thank you so much, Dr. Delana (& Austin Dog Zone) for sharing your heart break, thoughts, and experiences with us! I too have made the difficult decision not to treat my two dogs’ cancer w/chemo, etc. In both cases, the odds of overcoming the cancer were very small or none and both dogs would have been miserable cooped up at the University Vet’s office for treatment (one had separation anxiety and the other LOVED the outdoors). (Tramadol become our friend – their pain reliever (in lieu of chemo) to keep them as comfortable as possible for a long as possible, in their home.) Instead of extending their lives for me, I tried to make the absolute best of each day that remained in their lives. In hind site, I wouldn’t change a thing (except to remove all cancer from our world!:). Cancer is heartbreaking and especially heartbreaking in animals, but, to me, it would have been even more heartbreaking to keep them alive for me. (As heartbreaking as it is, they loved me too much for me to keep them alive for my needs.) It was clear, cancer would ultimately take their lives; the only decision (power) I had was to determine the time frame-to a point (longer but less quality w/chemo or shorter but better quality w/o chemo).

    I’ve received questions and odd looks when some people learn that I did not treat my dogs’ cancer with chemo. As time has gone by, I’ve learned more about this. I’ve learned that some people don’t know or understand that it is ok to say no to chemo for a pet if that’s what is truly best for your pet (as with mine) (Just as it is also ok to treat w/chemo if that is what is truly best). I’ve learned that some people will keep an animal alive at all costs (heartbreaking in my opinion). I’ve learned that some people cannot see beyond their own pain and grief to what is really happening with their pet (also heartbreaking, in my opinion). I’ve learned that some people will ask because they genuinely want to learn from my experience. And I’ve learned that some people just want to judge. In the end, I believe, the best thing we can do is trust our “inner pet parent voice” and do what we believe (often strongly) is best for our pet.

    I wish you and your loved dog as much peace in this journey as possible. Listen to your heart, it always knows what is best for your furry-friend. (Pet Parents have amazing “gut instincts” when it comes to our pets!)

    Thank you again for sharing,
    -April

    • Delana Taylor McNac says:

      Thank you, April, for taking the time to respond to my post. I am also anticipating some pushback from people who don’t understand why I would not do everything possible to postpone the death of my beloved dog. I think it’s important to let people know that just because we CAN do something, doesn’t always mean we should. Your response tells me that I am not alone in this and I appreciate that more than I can say. As a veterinarian, I felt it was important to let others know that its okay to consider going against the advice of a specialist and even choosing to do so if it’s in the best interest of a pet. No one can make that choice except the one who knows and loves a pet best.

  2. Doralee Thrasher says:

    Thank you for sharing your story about your beloved Tsisdu. I feel your heartbreak as well as April’s. Two and a half years ago my precious Scout became ill with a mysterious fever that could not be brought under control. Our local vet was at a loss and sent us to Texas A&M for treatment. Six weeks and thousands of dollars later, after surgery that removed her spleen and an adrenal gland, she was ultimately diagnosed by the oncologist with cancer. They explained treatment options, but in the end, gave her 6 months to a year left in her life. We were obviously willing to do anything to save her, but I remember the oncologist saying we could put her through the treatment, or take her home, manage her symptoms, and let her be happy for whatever time she had left. As her parents we were devastated, but we ultimately decided, after all she had been through already, to just take her home and simply love her during the short time she had left. Whether it was the power of love, her will to live, or just pure luck, we were blessed to be able to be with her for two and a half more years before the cancer won the war.

    I know at the beginning of Scout’s illness we were judged by some as being foolish to have spent so much money trying to save her, and then I’m not sure our local vet agreed with our decision to not pursue chemo, but in the end we realized no treatment or any amount of money could give us the miracle that we prayed for, so we focused completely on her happiness and quality of life. I like to believe that we were successful at keeping that promise to her.

    All of this is to say, the decision to treat further or not is gut wrenching, heart breaking, exhausting, and one of the most difficult personal decisions ever to be made. For those of us who have been through this, it doesn’t matter what others may think. It only matters that we are still willing to give them our unconditional love, regardless of which approach is chosen. I know you already know all this and I appreciate your willingness to share your story from your perspective. You don’t know how many times I wished that Scout’s doctors could just tell me definitively what to do. As you eloquently describe, there is not always a clinical answer ready and waiting to solve our problems.

    I still miss Scout with all my heart, and still feel that familiar lump in my throat when I think of her. I will never know with 100% certainty that we made the right decision regarding her care, but I do know with 100% certainty that she was loved and cherished.

    Prayers to you and Tsisdu. She is clearly loved and cherished too, just like my Scout.

    Doralee Thrasher

    • Delana Taylor McNac says:

      Doralee–thank you so much for sharing Scout’s story. It helps to know that I’m not the only one who has been through this process. Sometimes it’s not about the money, it’s about the process and the quality of life. I think this is why having the option of pet hospice would be a valuable addition to any community. Unfortunately, even human hospice is shunned in some quarters and perceived as “giving up.” Until we as a culture are ready to embrace the possibilities of hospice for pets, it will still be difficult to find.
      I so appreciate the last sentence you wrote about Scout being 100% loved and cherished…that is such a profound statement and one that brings me great comfort even now. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post.

      Delana

    • April Johnson says:

      Doralee, thank you for your beautiful reply and words. I’m moved to tears to read you were given two and a half more years with your Scout! From diagnosis to death I got 2 to 3 months more with each of my dogs (Sammie & Winston). I am so happy you were blessed with what seems to me to be “extra time.” (Even though it’s not enough.) Your love for Scout is so very clear. She was such a lucky dog to have you as her dog mom.

  3. Austin Dog Zone says:

    Thank you all for sharing your personal stories and experiences with us. It never ceases to amaze me how compassionate and warm dog people can be! 🙂

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