We knew this day would come, but it still rocked us to our soul. Bravo died and earned his angel wings on March 4, 2021 at 4:30 pm, surrounded by his people and with my arms around his failing body. Euthanasia hurts those left behind more than the beloved pet. Bravo wagged until the end. He was three years and one month old.
I just realized that March 4 was Shadow-Pup’s first birthday. Awww damn… So any pictures on this post will be HAPPY pictures because that’s how we’ll remember him. Always grinning, head cocked to one side, tail waving, and loving on Karma-Kat and Shadow.
Bravo’s Cancer Journey
I hope the story of Bravo’s short life might help other dog lovers facing similar situations. There are a few things we would do differently if given the chance. I pray you never go through this.
A year ago, Bravo began favoring his front leg. His veterinarian thought a strain or sprain, and Rimadyl helped for a time. When the limp returned, X-rays revealed the horrible news: osteosarcoma. Y’all have followed along on his bone cancer journey ever since, offering prayers and support, cheers with the good news and virtual hugs with the bad.
Cancer Treatment Brings Hope
Through it all, Bravo remained brave, a happy boy eager to play keep-away with his “big ball” on a rope. And a joyous big brother when Shadow-Pup arrived as if in answer to the many prayers. His stoic attitude and quick recovery following amputation amazed us. Even his oncology team including Dr. Zachary Wright and Dr. Rachel Kovac at the Animal Diagnostic Center told how his kisses and happy wags brought the entire staff to give him the attention he loved. Bravo’s primary veterinarian Dr. Clay Morris and the staff at Brakebill Veterinary Hospital cheered him on and gave him (and his human family) wonderful support and care.
We knew cancer would take him eventually but wanted to give him months–or longer if possible–with no pain and a normal doggy life. Bravo did very well, too. He finished five rounds of chemotherapy and felt fine. Three months later, we held our breath over his follow-up lung X-ray (bone cancer typically metastasizes there), and his lungs remained healthy and clear. He celebrated his birthday and had his second lung X-ray on February 3rd–still no sign of cancer. Oh, we thought he’d beaten the odds!
Listen To Your Heart When They’re “Off”
But less than two weeks later, during the week of the horrific freezing weather, Bravo acted off. He tripped. Acted weak and unsteady. Slept constantly. Snarked at his best dog buddy Shadow-Pup. He hated the cold weather and barely moved off the patio to eliminate. All this we attributed to the ice and cold, but when it continued despite warmer weather, we called Dr. Clay. I’d noticed Bravo’s tummy looked swollen. And so, I searched my resources to find something, anything treatable that might have caused the change. Anything but a reoccurrence of cancer.
What I feared came true. On March 1st, Bravo’s blood tests showed severe anemia caused his weakness. Dr. Clay suspected internal bleeding filled his swollen abdomen probably because of hemangiosarcoma–a type of bleeding malignant cancer of the spleen. An ultrasound confirmed multiple tumors in Bravo’s abdomen.
But Bravo felt no pain, thank doG. And we learned dogs with hemangiosarcoma sometimes rally when bleeding temporarily stops. They do better for a while, and we elected to bring him home and spoil him for whatever time we had left.
When Cancer Returns
He rallied. Oh, not like before–he still struggled with weakness, but he felt better for two days. Meanwhile, I heard from friends and colleagues with dogs suffering from hemangiosarcoma. Several shared information about certain Chinese herbal medicine supplements that improved quality of life and, sometimes, longevity.
I’m a science nerd–and liked that the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School conducted the controlled studies on I’m-Yunity with such significant results. A second supplement called Yunnan Baiyao helps slow bleeding (available from Walmart). He felt so much better on Wednesday, I had to give Bravo the option–maybe slow the bleeding so he felt better, and (paws crossed) shrink the tumors for a few weeks more of happy wags.
If your beloved pet gets cancer, please remember that dogs and cats don’t know or care about scary a diagnosis. Bravo only cared how he felt each day. I wished now we’d not delayed having him X-rayed when he first limped back in March 2020–but Covid kept us leery of doing anything. An earlier diagnosis wouldn’t have changed much, since bone cancer suppresses metastasis, and only spreads once removed. But it would relieve my guilt over waiting. I’ll never wait-and-see again.
Expect The Unexpected
We were told to watch for lung signs–coughing or gagging, and he had none of those. I now know that bone cancer sometimes spreads to the liver and spleen. If I’d expected that, maybe the Chinese herbal supplements could have arrived in time to make a difference for Bravo. Maybe they will make a difference to your dog.
But the day after I ordered the supplements, Bravo asked me to help him one last time. Hell, it’s what we do for our best friends, no matter how much it hurts.
So I called my husband, and he drove home so we could be together. Bravo used up the last of his energy to greet my husband with happy woofs and wide tail wags. We alerted Dr. Clay, and together we gave good-dog Bravo the gift of a new life with four strong limbs and slow squirrels to chase, and a Seren-Kitty to tease. I hope he meets Magical-Dawg.
He was our unexpected gift of joy and packed a lifetime of love into three years. I will miss my sweet big red puppy-dawg for the rest of my life. UPDATE: Morris Animal Foundation posted this podcast about hemangiosarcoma and new treatments on January 5, 2023. Hopefully, future dogs will have better outcomes than our beautiful boy.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!