Dumped at the Pima County Animal Care Center (“PACC”) in Tucson, innocent victims of their humans’ divorce, two bonded older dogs, are struggling at the shelter.
Max is starving to death. Okay, well maybe he is not really starving to death, but he thinks he is, which I have to believe is nearly as bad. He sits in front of the fridge, waiting for a handout. All. The. Time. He follows me into the kitchen every time I head there, and even when I don’t. He is so hungry, he can eat his regular meals and then look at you with eyes that say, “Really? That’s it?” He thinks he is this hungry all the time because he’s been on high doses of Prednisone for weeks now, and that is one of its less terrifying, but very sad, side effects.
Max was diagnosed in early June with non-regenerative immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. I know. What the hell is that? It is the nastiest little disease that I hope I never have to see again, that’s what it is. I always thought the biggest worry we had as pet parents was the “C” word, but let me tell you, IMHA laughs at cancer and calls it foul names. Why? Because although it occurs with a fair amount of frequency, there doesn’t seem to be as much known about it, it can be impossibly complicated to treat, is frighteningly fast to take dogs down, and the treatment protocol can be as dangerous as the disease itself for some dogs.
So far, we’ve been lucky – he has not died. More than half of IMHA dogs die. Max has had two blood transfusions to bring him back from life-threatening anemia, and is on a crazy cocktail of medicine that is given in four different shifts a day. He has endured a bone marrow aspiration, CT scan, x-rays, and weekly (sometimes twice a week) vet visits for packed blood cell checks – and still goes weekly.
He is finally regenerating new red blood cells on his own, and we are holding our breath while he begins the slow process of weaning him off his immune-suppressant drugs, to see if he continues to make red blood cells as his immune system kicks in, without destroying them.
I couldn’t even write about everything that Max has been going through until now, because I was literally scared to put it in words. I had trouble talking to people about it, and still do. Max is my heart dog – which means exactly what it sounds like. When Max does leave this world, a giant portion of my heart will go with him, more so than any dog I’ve ever had the privilege to share my life with. So much of my heart, that I don’t even want to think about how hard it will be to exist without my little Max. I don’t know why we bond sometimes so particularly to one dog over others, but most people that have more than one dog find that they have at least one “heart dog.” It doesn’t mean you love the others less, you just have something special with your heart dog.
Having my heart dog nearly leave me so soon (he’s only 8), changed me. Something I have always strived to do was live in the here and now, and to some extent I had accomplished that, and to some extent I had not. I strive to make the right things in my life a priority – to know what matters and what does not. Again, to some extent I had made progress there, and to some extent I had not. Knowing that Max could go literally any day, really drove these ideas home. I am finding it much easier to stop focusing too much on tomorrow and worrying about yesterday, and instead focusing on today. I am finding it much easier to look at each day and know what matters and what doesn’t, what needs my concern, what doesn’t, and to peel away the layers and find the happy parts.
But it is still work. Having Max so sick has also brought me closer to the brink of a mental meltdown than I’ve ever been…even though he is progressing so much better now, I still cry in the shower every morning, more of a stress release than anything else, as there is still much to be concerned about. Trying to make each day as happy as it can be, does not mean that every day you wake up with birds chirping around your head, and squirrels and rabbits helping you dress as you dance off to your castle in the hills with flowers in your hair…you still live in the real world with all of its craziness, annoyances, irritations, drawbacks, and letdowns that everyone else lives through. You just have to work at not letting those things rule the day. Because it is a choice – what rules your day, what you give power to, what you do not. I had to choose to not give in to most of the crazy, scared, fruitless thoughts that swim in my head from worry. I had to make conscious decisions about how to spend my time to alleviate my stress. I had to stop delaying happiness. Most of us wait for a better day to be happy. How often have we delayed our happiness because today “was so awful” – we swim in the awfulness, and wait for the universe to bring us a perfect day, so that we can finally be happy.
Waiting for a better day may leave you waiting forever. Making today a better day is more within my power. With Max so sick, it all finally clicked in my head. He may not have a tomorrow, or next week, so letting the stress, worry, sadness of his sickness control our days was just not an option. It’s simple, but can be hard work until it becomes second nature. Focus on what matters. Cherish the good. Don’t worry needlessly. Prepare for the future, but don’t let it rule you so much that you ruin today. And as for the past, keep the good times, the good memories, and the lessons learned from the bad ones, in your heart, and forget the rest.
I truly believe this is why we face the challenges we end up having to face. Without them, there is no way to learn, to grow, to make the adjustments in your sails, so to speak. They are always teaching experiences, if we listen, if we try, if we are willing to make the leap that these challenges urge us to make, instead of just viewing them simply as problems, as another crappy obstacle thrown into our lives. I’ve learned this time what it means to try and keep my ship steady during bad weather, and head for calm waters.
Thank you, Max. Now stop the begging, please!
I sometimes am reluctant to seem like a meddler when it comes to my friends and family and their pets. But after this Sunday, I feel like I would be doing a grave disservice to my loved ones and their loved ones, by not passing on the benefits of my sad experiences via volunteering with lost pet organizations.
These things should be non-negotiable as a pet parent:
- ID tags on all pets, at all times. Accidents do happen. They are called “accidents” because they are not planned…you can never predict an accident. So to protect your pet in the event of an accidental parting of ways, for God’s sake, do the least a person can do – put an ID TAG ON THEM with your current contact information. Microchips are great if your dog gets picked up by animal control or someone who knows/cares enough to have them scanned. BUT, as a volunteer with the Lost Dogs Arizona, I have seen firsthand finders of pets that are reluctant to be troubled with scanning – if the dog is cute, and they want them, it’s easy for them to ignore or “forget” to scan. An ID tag says in no uncertain terms: “This pet is loved and has a family that will miss them if lost. CALL ME!”
- If you microchip, for criminy’s sake, take the next step and register your contact info with the chip manufacturer! A chip is USELESS without this information. Keep the chip information updated when you move.
- LICENSE YOUR DOG. It’s actually the law. It’s not optional, and guess what? If you properly license your pet and keep the license updated, your dog will most likely not even spend ONE MINUTE in a county kennel – you will get a call, and your dog will get delivered right to your doorstep! How’s that for a win-win?
- If you dog gets loose, CHECK THE SHELTERS IMMEDIATELY AND OFTEN. Check ALL OF THE SHELTERS IN YOUR CITY, not just the one closest to you. You can’t guarantee which side of town your dog will be found or impounded. Shelters (in our city, anyway) do not share information between them. If you go looking for your dog at the East side shelter, they will not have access to information on dogs taken in at the West side shelter – you have to go there too. Why?
- Because, if you don’t, your dog will probably die.
Which brings me to the thing that motivated me to write this post in the first place. On Sunday morning, I posted a link to the Lost Dogs Arizona Facebook page as a courtesy to followers searching for their lost dog, to Amanda Chilcher’s weekly photos of dogs at the East Side shelter. Amanda does this as a courtesy. She is a volunteer at the shelter, and each Saturday she photographs each and every dog and posts the photos via her Examiner page, in the hope that some will find their families, some might get adopted, or otherwise be saved somehow. I posted the link, and then browsed through them.
I saw one dog that seemed familiar, so I went through our Lost Dog postings and found a potential match. I emailed the owner. The owner emailed back, after I’d left the computer, so I didn’t see it until hours later. “Where is the shelter?” she asked. Her dog had been missing for just over three days on Sunday. I felt my heart go into my toes. I couldn’t believe she hadn’t already been to the shelters to look for her dog – we implore all of our lost dog owners to go to both county shelters immediately and often. Then I saw second email from her, sent a little while after the first response. All it said was, “Yes, that was our dog. They told us she was already put to sleep.”
The stray hold in Arizona is only 72 hours. Her dog was held for 72 hours, and the morning after her stray hold was up, she was killed, because she did not get along with other dogs, thereby making her unadoptable, and given the overcrowding at the shelter, that is a death sentence. Her owners got to the shelter not more than hour after she had been killed.
I don’t want anyone to suffer this, least of all the innocent pets we take responsibility for. Should the stray hold be longer? I think so. Should the shelter do more for these animals? I’m not sure. City Pounds were never meant to be rescues or sanctuaries. They began as waystations for animals that got lost and needed to be reunited with their owners. Nowadays, we expect so much from our shelters, and overburden them with humans’ poor decisions and ruthless irresponsibility.
As pet parents, we are the ones that accepted the responsibility for the lives of these animals. If we can’t give them the basic protections, we shouldn’t bring them into our lives in the first place. It’s a brutal world that we live in nowadays, and we have got to be realistic about their chances alone in it.