Staff Pet of the Month
This is the story of Marley (a.k.a Mar Dog, Marley Doo, Mar Doo, Doo Doo, and Mar Mar or Eeyore for short ?):
When my fiancé and I were in college, we decided we could handle a puppy. After all, I was going to college to be a Licensed Veterinary Technician and I had always had a dog. Surely we could handle a puppy in addition to all of our classes, our jobs, and other new found responsibilities. It would be a piece of cake! Since we were living off-campus, we decided to get two! (Rottweiler puppies are so cute. They look like little bears.)
Life wasn’t all peaches and cream. Since the time Marley was 3 months old, he had a limp. This was primarily on his left hind leg. He could still run, jump, and play. It didn’t bother him to the point where he couldn’t tackle his brother, but nonetheless, we were concerned. I checked with the veterinarians at school and the primary concern was hip dysplasia. In this case, the hip joint is like a ball and socket. The ball of the hip doesn’t sit properly in the hip and causes a painful erosion of the ball of the hip with normal exercise. We would have to consider x-rays in the future to diagnose any abnormality.
In the meantime, it was discovered by our landlord that we had dogs. Since we weren’t allowed to have dogs in our apartment, Marley and his brother Tyler went to live with my parents for a couple of months until we graduated college. They enjoyed country living but were ready to stir up some trouble in Rochester.
Marley and Tyler escaped from the backyard on Memorial Day weekend. That’s just 2 weeks after arriving in Rochester. They were only 6 months old and curious little devils! We were very concerned and feared we wouldn’t find them. Luckily after scouring the neighborhood and coming up empty handed, a neighbor reported that they saw an Animal Control officer with our dogs. Unfortunately, the neighbor didn’t know who the dogs belonged to, so our boys were taken to the animal control facility. First thing Monday morning, my fiancé went to animal control, paid all the fees, and brought our boys home!
When the boys were eight months old, we had them neutered. Their play fighting was becoming a little aggressive and we feared the hormones may have been playing a part in their behavior. Ideally it is best to spay and neuter your house pets at 4-6 months of age. At the time of neuter, we took x-rays to check Marley’s hips. The doctor confirmed that he did have hip dysplasia. It was worse on his left side. This explained his occasional limping and the excessive limping we saw after long walks. We started him on a glucosamine and chrondroitin joint supplement to help ease his pain and lubricate his joints.
After 2 months he was limp free. I was faithful with his medications. It was a priority for me. Over the years Marley was a very healthy boy. He was a gentle soul. He was kind and big hearted. He would whimper and whine when he met other dogs at the park. He was a gentle giant who wanted to play ever so gently with the little dogs. He would roll over on his back in an attempt to show them he wouldn’t hurt them. He would saunter around the house and seemed to sulk unless he could be in your lap…. Yes, in your lap. For a 95 pound dog, laying in a person’s lap is not a convenient place to be, but he was a baby, our baby. ?
One morning I fed the dogs as normal. I gave them each a bone to chew on and went back to bed. When I awoke, Marley was not well. Although it was only an hour or so later, I could tell by the look on his face, this was an emergency! I checked him over quickly. I opened his mouth to make sure the bone I had given him wasn’t stuck. He was drooling, depressed, and his belly looked like he swallowed a basketball! I thought to myself, how can I pick him up and carry him? He weighs too much for me to carry him. Luckily I was able to coax him to his feet and we walked very slowly out of the house. As I begged and pleaded with each step, he mustered the courage to help me help him. I knew time was of the essence because his belly was filling with gas. This was a GDV (Gastric Dilitation Volvulus or bloat)! That means his stomach got twisted up and nothing could pass in or out. He needed surgery to untwist his stomach, relieve the gas buildup, and secure his stomach so it wouldn’t be able to twist again.
I called the veterinary hospital and asked for a doctor. I explained to the technician on the phone what was happening. She assured me she would prepare everything for this emergency surgery. This was a Saturday and surgery is not a routine service. I was worried that Marley wouldn’t have a doctor to perform this surgery. I called Dr. Markel and she assured me we would do the best we could to save him. She was on her way.
As I arrived at the hospital, I was overwhelmed with fear, sadness, and helplessness. What if this was it? It was all so sudden. I knew how time sensitive this situation was and worried that my long commute to the hospital may have caused me to lose the window of opportunity to save his life. What could I have done differently? How did this happen? I am always so careful with my boys. Will he die? What will his brother think? They haven’t been apart in 9 years and 5 months, since the day they were born. I took a deep breath and prayed he would muster the energy and courage to get from the car to the hospital. Slowly but surely, he did.
We took an x-ray first to confirm his situation. The x-ray confirmed my fear. He needed emergency surgery for bloat. Dr. Markel readied her materials, the technicians and technician assistants helped however they could. They lent their hands, their support, and offered comforting petting and kissing to help soothe Marley in his time of fear and pain.
We made it through surgery without a hitch and Marley recovered without complications! Wow! What a relief. I thought…that old man just keeps on trucking. Although his trucking is low key, with an Eeyore attitude of “nobody loves me, nobody cares,” he keeps on going!
We all lived life with a newfound respect and realization of just how sudden these things can happen. How quickly something can really go wrong. Almost one year later, the boys were rough housing and Marley cried as he fell to the ground. Marley and his brother at 10 years of age still played rough like they were puppies. As I checked him over, I noticed he was sore on his right hind leg. This was not the leg that had always been a concern with the hip dysplasia. I was worried.
I took him in to the vet the next day. He had a slight swelling but the limp was better. We gave him some pain medication and chose to rest him. After all, it may have merely been a strain or a sprain. The limp went away, but the swelling got bigger. It was time for an x-ray. In older animals, especially certain breeds, like the Rottweiler, we worry about bone cancer.
The x-ray confirmed that Marley had bone cancer. This was a sad day. I called my fiancé and told him. Although we knew that Marley and his brother couldn’t live forever as we would choose (and he had already beat the odds once before) what could we do to help him? I talked over the options with the veterinarians. We could do surgery to amputate the affected leg, but this would leave Marley a 3-legged, but essentially a 2-legged dog as his left hind leg couldn’t fully support his weight due to the hip dysplasia. This would be chronically painful. We could go to Cornell University to the oncology department and explore options of radiation therapy. This would be outside my budget and the end result would potentially be the same as doing no treatment, or it could help to prolong his life for 6 months or more. The final option was pain control. I chose aggressive pain control.
The staff was very helpful and supportive. They gave Mar Dog kisses and hugs. They helped to care for him daily. They helped to ensure he received his medications. They fed him treats with his medication every four hours throughout the day when we were at work (Marley always enjoyed his doggy daycare at East Ridge Animal Hospital). This ensured he received the maximum possible pain relief control.
My fiancé and I discussed what we would do. How would we know when it was time? What signs do we look for? Is it cruel to keep him alive? We wanted to know that we gave him the best possible care with the least amount of suffering. He deserved that from us. We wanted nothing more than to make sure he wasn’t in pain and that he had good quality of life.
We knew that he may continue to eat and drink. He may not vomit or have diarrhea. He may not lose weight or stop eating. These signs are easy to attribute as abnormal or to signal that something else is terribly wrong. He may not give us a sign at all. So, how would we know when it was time? Only time would tell; and our decision may not be an easy one. So for the time being, we kept living every day to its fullest.
We went to the park every day. We played by the pool and enjoyed the 4th of July. My fiancé and I talked multiple times about how we would know when it was time. Then, on July 9th, he called me at work. He was upset. He said, “I think it’s time.” I think my heart stopped. I took a deep breath and said, “What happened?” He told me how he asked Marley to go outside, but Marley didn’t want to. He had been having some trouble with the stairs. He had tried to help Marley up, but instead Marley rolled over on his back. He urinated all over himself. This was his plea to us. He was trying to tell us, “It’s time.” He didn’t want to go on. He was starting to suffer.
The swelling on his leg was much larger and his foot had even started to swell. He barely placed any weight on it. Although everything else was normal, his pleading behavior told us we must be the advocate for him and ease his suffering. This was our only choice.
We took him for a final walk at the park. He was happy to see the people and the dogs, but he didn’t want to walk far. He played briefly in the water and came back to us as if to say thank you, but it is time. We drove him to the hospital and performed the euthanasia. It was very private. We held him in our arms and told him how he had been such a good boy! He was that gentle giant, a sensitive, big, goofy, loving, caring, kind, and playful Eeyore of a dog! We would miss him, but we knew this was best. We told him how we were sorry, but maybe one day we would see each other again.
When he was gone, we held him tight. We talked about the funny little things he used to do like rub his eyes with his front legs and groan all while rolling on his back. We remembered how Marley and his brother ate a whole through the sheet rock wall and looked at us with white noses and smiles. We remembered his fierce bark and how we knew he would protect us. He had the courage of a giant and yet was as gentle as a mouse. He loved children and all living things and we will remember and love him forever with all our hearts. Marley was loved by all who met him.
A similar story can be found in the book by John Grogan titled Marley and Me. A DVD is available based on the novel which is also entitled Marley and Me.
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