In March of 2012, I brought home a sick, malnourished, anemic yellow lab who was recovering from an amputation. I had just lost Bumble the Special Child the week before, and I was not really ready to bring home another dog – so I thought. But Buddy ran out of options, and I made the decision to bring him home.
He was still wobbly on three legs, and he was still healing from the amputation. My two little Pekingeses were fascinated with him, and he was remarkably tolerant of them, even though he was obviously a little worried by their snorting nosy interest. From day one, Buddy was my boy. He took every step I took, and he watched me constantly for reassurance.
He had been surrendered to the shelter because his former owner was homeless, and he was too crippled to keep living in her car. He ended up losing that leg because he had an old, poorly done knee implant that his body rejected. He had been crippled and in pain for so long that I honestly believe the amputation came as a relief to him.
A few months later, once he was recovered from surgery, we decided it was time to clean his neglected teeth. The dental cleaning was uneventful, but the next day, he was obviously not well. He got progressively weaker, and then suddenly collapsed. We ended up at A&M, where he was hospitalized for over a week with acute Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia. Clinically, he should not have survived it. The vets at A&M told me directly that he survived because he simply refused to die. They were the ones who started calling him Miracle Boy, and he really was.
Over the ensuing months, he had a few relapses, and I learned that stress was his number one trigger. And his biggest stress trigger was me being gone overnight. So the vet prescribed sedatives to keep his anxiety in check any time I had to be gone. Slowly he gained weight, got stronger, and became medically much healthier and more stable.
His condition required frequent blood work to monitor his hematocrit levels, and one day we were at the vet for a check up. He was rolling around the floor playing with his little brother when I happened to notice a strange black lump in his mouth. My poor vet had the job of telling me what I suspected; it was oral melanoma, which is really bad news in dogs. So back to A&M we went.
I had always had the very mistaken idea that chemo and radiation for animals were cruel and barbaric, but his oncologist convinced me that it was no longer the case. He was right. Buddy sailed right through treatment without the slightest reaction. In fact, he loved A&M days, because all the vet students in the oncology department fussed over him. We were very lucky because A&M is one of the few places with the ability and equipment to do targeted pinpoint radiation on the specific site, rather than radiating a large area of the body.
Near the end of his chemo, Buddy developed what looked like a hot spot. We were on our way to A&M that day anyhow, so I asked them to take a look. Buddy being Buddy, a simple hot spot was nowhere near weird enough. Instead, he had calcinosis cutis – yet another condition I had never heard of, and which was totally unrelated to the chemo and radiation. Calcinosis was apparently the result of a lifetime of steroid usage; while we did not know for sure that he had been treated for long periods of time before coming to me, clinically he showed all the signs. And he had certainly been given megadoses of steroids to treat the acute phase of IMHA.
Calcinosis happens when long term steroid usage causes the body to lay down a fine layer of calcium crystals between the layers of the skin. When the body decides to expel those crystals, they extrude through the skin, and take the top layer of skin with them. And so it went for Buddy. Over the next several months, most of his skin peeled away, leaving him looking like he might have been through a fire or worse. It did not seem painful, and it never slowed him down. We just had to wait for the skin to heal and his beautiful coat to grow back.
And it did.
We had a long period of good health once he finished treatment. He gained 20 pounds of muscle, and he was the happiest, sweetest dog in the world (unless you happened to be a cat…he had a little problem with cats. And lawn people).
A few weeks ago, he started slowing down. We did blood work; it was perfect. Clinically, his behavior suggested that the arthritic knee on his only back leg was wearing out. The weather kept changing sharply from hot to cold, which was sure to exacerbate his achy knee. He was, to the best of my knowledge, twelve and a half years old, and with three legs and a bad knee, some slowing down was only to be expected. The vet and I made adjustments to his medication, and we did frequent laser therapy on his joints to help his mobility. We saw some improvement, but I worried that his knee was deteriorating.
The day after spring break, I came home from work to find that he had collapsed. We rushed back to A&M, where ultrasound revealed that his internal organs were riddled with dozens of tumors, which were almost certainly hemangiosarcoma. Like so many cancers, they had been growing silently until they reached critical mass; even if we had found them sooner, there would have been nothing we could have done. There were just too many. He was bleeding internally, and this time there was just nothing left to fight. We helped my baby boy to cross the bridge just before midnight on Monday March 21st.
I’m actually grateful that my precious boy didn’t have a long, slow decline. He would have hated that. He fought hard to survive, and he cheated death over and over in the four years and one week he was with me. He lived full speed ahead; I’ve never seen another animal appreciate his life so much.
In the days since his death, I have learned how many people were touched by his happy face and bright spirit. Miracle Boy made an impression on everyone he met.
Buddy was a blessing, every single day. He will never be forgotten.