The worst news possible

The worst news possible
Ella, as captured by her puppy-raisers

I got a bone-chilling e-mail yesterday from Kathy Alameda, puppy-raiser of Ella. Kathy picked up Ella from CCI on the very same day I collected Dionne. Since then Ella was our house guest on two separate occasions, and Dionne visited Ella in her home several times. We thus have felt a special bond with both of them, so it was particularly horrible to hear that Ella was in the veterinary hospital, battling for her life. Kathy reported that the cause of her illness was mysterious. She had been unable to keep down food or fluids and had become very lethargic.

A few hours later, Kathy sent an update: Ella’s liver was failing. At 6:20 last night, she reported that she had just spent two hours at the vet’s with her girl, trying to comfort and cheer her. But a little after 3:30 today she sent the worst possible news:

“With a very sad heart I write to tell you that Ella passed away today. We are all in shock. We never found out the cause of her liver failure.”

Steve and I feel shocked too. Ella was a gorgeous blonde and a vortex of energy and high spirits. She and Dionne adored each other and had glorious, ecstatic times running around the Alameda’s Rancho Santa Fe property. Times like this, which Kathy captured on her phone in January:

You know when you volunteer to raise a puppy that something could go wrong. I’ve heard of several examples. But the dogs are almost all so vibrantly, jubilantly happy and alive, you don’t expect anything will go wrong. It seems almost unthinkable.
Now it’s happened, to an exemplary family. I can’t imagine she’s in a happier place than she lived in. If brief, her life was extraordinarily happy. This is one of my favorite moments of what I was privileged to share of it:
Sweet dreams, Ella.

She’s baaaaack

She’s baaaaack

Last week when Dionne was limping most piteously, Steve uncharacteristically reacted by buying something — bright pink “Pawtectors” that he hoped might stay on her better than the loaner booty we got from the vet.

Dionne was NOT impressed. Getting them on her was a nightmare, and she looked mortified when we hoisted her upright.

Attempts to walk in them resulted in some hilarious gyrations:

The whole attempt was an abject failure.

The GOOD news was that starting last Friday, she obviously began to feel better. She stopped sleeping all the time and started snatching our slippers again and attacking Tucker.

Steve took her grocery shopping on Saturday, and yesterday we all did our customary hour-long walk up the hill. The cyst is still tender, and we’re still cleaning and medicating it daily.  But it has developed a protective crust that must make it hurt less. Dionne is still limping somewhat, but often it’s barely perceptible.

As icing on the cake, when Steve tried to return the Pawtectors to Amazon this morning, they told him not even to send them back. They would just credit his account.

Sounds like we’re not the first to try them and find them wanting…

Patient patient

Patient patient

I’m a little surprised by the way Dionne is handling being incapacitated by her paw tumor.  This formerly wild, boisterously exuberant girl has spent most of the last few days resting quietly. She limps to meals or outside for water or toileting breaks, and once in a while, she accelerates and the limp disappears. But more than anything, she’s been sleeping.

Fortunately, we’ve gotten a few bits of encouragement, to counterbalance this depressing state of affairs. We e-mailed the local CCI headquarters to see if the folks there could add to or amend what we heard from our vet.  But Stu, the program manager, only replied that Our national office refers to these as “CCI Warts” as they are not uncommon and they do resolve with no surgery.

That was mildly comforting, and my dog-savvy cousin Mary offered some welcome advice and encouragement. (“It will go away…Don’t worry, I know how you feel…it’s sad for us, but the dogs don’t care…they carry on!)

I know she’s right. They do. And I’ve also nursed a pipe dream: namely, that this hopefully very BRIEF experience with pain and disability will somehow make Dionne more attuned to her potential mission in life. More empathetic and motivated to serve. 

That’s pretty silly. But at least for the moment, she does seem like a changed girl. 

Sore and sad

Sore and sad

We couldn’t get a vet appointment yesterday, but today Steve was able to get Dionne in to see Dr. Scoggin first thing this morning. After what he learned, all I can say is: it’s a good thing Steve and I have day jobs. Maybe we should consider abandoning amateur veterinary science altogether.

Dr. Scoggin quickly rejected the notion that Dionne was suffering from panosteitis. She also dismissed our weekend theory that the little bump between the toes of the topside of her right paw was causing her pain. (She thought it was nothing.) Instead she focused on the angry red growth on the underside of the paw.

Here it is. Nasty looking little thing, isn’t it?

It was a histiocytoma, she declared — a benign tumor of a sort that commonly afflicts pets. The unfortunate part was its location. (Steve says the vet didn’t make him feel bad that we had not recognized its presence immediately; she said they can be hard to see at first.)

I suppose some good news is that it should go away by itself. Dr. Scoggin said she could remove it surgically, but given its location, there were likely to be complications (such as Dionne ripping out the stitches.) She gave us an antiseptic solution in which to wash it daily, oral antibiotics (to help prevent any infection), and a cream to apply to it every evening.

The bad news is she said it could take a couple of months to disappear. She said we need not restrict Dionne’s activity during that time; we could even take her on walks.

She also lent us a leather booty that she hoped might protect the paw from irritation.

Dionne may not have liked the boot, but Tucker thought it was intriguing.

We took it off when Dionne was napping in her kennel (so that she wouldn’t try to chew it off). But when we tried to put it on before I walked with her to the mailbox, she almost instantly flung it off, and we couldn’t figure out how to secure it.

So I walked her bootless.  Or rather, I walked. She limped. Steve and I are sad to see this. I’m not sure how Dionne feels.  Steve and I have been reading Temple Grandin’s book, Animals in Translation, and Grandin says animals don’t get depressed when they’re in pain, the way people do.

I hope not.

A clue?

A clue?

Dionne’s still limping. She’s not limping any more badly than she was when it started last Tuesday. But she’s not any better either. However, we have more insight into what’s going on.

Steve very intelligently sat down with her last night and carefully massaged both her legs. She was totally relaxed, and she never whimpered or otherwise reacted, even when he squeezed pretty hard.

But her right paw was another story. That’s the one she’s been favoring, and she struggled every time he probed it. He finally found a small but distinct bump between the pads.

In the sunlight today, we could see it clearly, though we have no idea what it is — a tick? an infected thorn? A cyst?

We’ll try to get her in to the vet tomorrow.  But at least we have a clearer idea of where the problem lies…




I hate, hate, HATE when any of my dogs, long-term or CCI loaners, show signs of illness or injury. They can’t tell you what’s going on, which makes it hard to assess the gravity of the situation. Ill or injured puppies seem like a crime against nature. I want them robustly, strappingly healthy.

I’m commenting on this here because Dionne has started limping. I thought I noticed a different rhythm in her walk a day or two ago, but the limp only really became apparent last night. Today it has varied from “almost imperceptible” to “definite” (but not extreme.) We keep scrutinizing her right front paw, feeling the pads and furry spaces in between them, but we see nothing and we can’t seem to identify a specific point of pain.

Such a well-behaved patient

By coincidence, she was due for her final set of shots today. Steve took her in to the vet’s office, where she was very brave (by his account), not flinching at the injections or resisting the intranasal bordatella vaccine. Steve mentioned the limp to the vet tech, who agreed that it didn’t seem very pronounced. She suggested we wait a few days and see if it clears up.

In the meantime, I’m wondering if it could be panosteitis. None of our puppies has ever had that, but I’ve seen other dogs afflicted with it in dog class. It’s an inflammation of the bone shaft that people sometimes refer to as growing pains. The good thing is that it goes away, often quite suddenly and usually by the time they’re two.

Not a horrible affliction, if a pup has to have something.