Tale of Tails: Becca
I haven’t written a Tale of Tails story about Becca yet, even though we’ve written about her cancer treatment. Since we lost her just a year ago, maybe it was too fresh, but I’m anxious to share her story now in honor of her anniversary.
We adopted Becca when our first dog Sally, a chocolate lab, passed unexpectedly in 2009. We got Sally as a puppy and she lived almost 14 years, so we were pretty devastated when we lost her. It took us awhile to be ready to add another dog to our family. I knew I wanted a second dog, but our other dog Tino was old (13) and blind, so we knew we had to be thoughtful – we couldn’t get just any dog – it had to be a dog who was going to give Tino his space and accommodate his blindness.
We started watching the rescue and shelter sites, looking for the right fit. We wanted a female, but knew I couldn’t get a puppy – that would be too much for Tino. And then we saw Becca. She was older – 9 at the time – but she was being fostered in a home with a blind dog! We took it as a sign and I drove up to Santa Barbara to meet her.
I learned that she had been a service dog but they didn’t know much more about her or why she had been turned in. Her ‘service’ had been to carry a pack of school books, so she wasn’t a guide dog, but a service dog. We thought that with that training and her exposure to the blind dog at the foster, she would be perfect for our family. We brought her home and introduced her to Tino.
They were completely indifferent to each other. Tino was always a loner, preferring the solitude of his backyard. And Becca, from her service roots, stayed pretty close to me. She fit into our home and our lifestyle immediately.
During the first few weeks, there were only a few incidents of Tino stepping on Becca or walking into her space. I worried most about the fact
that he had no sense of personal space and certainly couldn’t read Becca’s body language. But Becca was as cool as a cucumber – Tino stepped on her or walked into her and she just moved away. She didn’t mind at all and quickly seemed to understand and accommodate.
Our first indication of an issue with Becca was just a few weeks after we got her. Steve was playing fetch with her in the front yard and she let out a terrible yelp that I heard inside the house. She ran in the house and then began pacing and whining. After a few minutes she settled down and went to sleep. Steve said they were just romping in the yard so we were really uncertain what it might have been. I got her in to see the vet the next day and they took xrays. The news was not good.
Her entire spine was almost completely fused from the first vertebra to the last. The vet was amazed that she was still up and about and not in terrible pain. He figured the yelp came from a pinch of her nerve, either at the neck or near the tail where there was slight space in the vertebra. He suggested we see a specialist, which we did. Sally had many orthopedic issues and we always took her to Dr. Bruecker at VMSG in Ventura. His assessment wasn’t any different, a fused spine is a fused spine. But he suggested a course of medication, exercise and physical therapy designed to relieve her pain, and help build her underutilized muscles and core.
And so began a cycle of ‘incidents’ as we called them, where she would pinch the nerve through some activity – even as simple as lying down could cause it. When this happened we would increase her pain and nerve medication until her comfort level got under control. If it was a bad incident, she would try to lie down, but would immediately get up and then pace the house looking for a spot she could get comfortable in. As she laid down in different spots and got ‘pinched’ she would not go back to that spot. Several times we ended up sleeping on the floor in the bedroom of the guest room because that’s where she finally found relief.
She developed a sort of hierarchy of comfort, and I could tell how bad the pain was by where she was sleeping. It radiated out from her favorite spots and when she got to that back bedroom, I knew it was pretty bad.
After several months of consistent medication, regular exercise, great physical therapy and even acupuncture, Becca seemed stronger and more energized and the number of incidents and their severity diminished.
In addition to the spinal issues, Becca also had knee problems and pretty bad arthritis in her feet. Her paws were the size of a 100lb Lab, while she was a dainty 60lbs. The vet wasn’t surprised and said it was likely from her service days. He thought her knees had so much scar tissue that she likely had suffered ACL injuries, that went untreated which just contributed to her overall frailty.
And yet, Becca’s favorite thing to do was play fetch. She would play whenever she could and with her Dr. permission we indulged her – very carefully and with lots of rest. But Becca was a smart girl. There were numerous times when she would stop on her own, pick up the ball and go in the house when she was tired. She self-regulated very well – I was quite impressed.
Becca always had lots of aches and pains and was usually limping on one leg or the other all the time. We walked her daily, but very short 5-10 minute walks and then a few tosses of the ball was her exercise. In early 2012 a limp she had didn’t seem to be getting any better. We took her to Dr. Bruecker for an xray to make sure she hadn’t injured it somehow. We had two steps to go down to the door in our family room and she was known to fly off those steps to greet folks at the door, so I thought she may have hurt it during one of those jumps.
Unfortunately, the news was much worse than I expected, it was osteosarcoma in her shoulder. The news was a bit like a punch in the gut. Sally had passed in 2009, Tino passed in 2011 and now Becca had cancer.
Part II: Becca’s treatment options.