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April 24, 2008 / Brittany Hendrick

Doggy oncology

Levin

Levin knew he was coming home with me before I even knew.

Nine weeks after the litter was born, the breeder, who lives in South Carolina, informed me that it was time for me to get my puppy. It so happened that she had some other Atlanta-area puppy pickups, and a couple puppies were being shipped out of Hartsfield Airport, west. So, I didn’t have to drive but to a hotel near the airport, which was just as well, because I don’t think I could’ve withstood anything longer considering the anticipation over my puppy.

My sister Danielle went with me. The hotel room was a sight: there were about six puffballs running around, on top of each other, rolling on each other, chasing each other, tripping over each other, peeing on each other. Itwasjusthecutestscene!

I didn’t know which puppy would be mine. My only request was that it be a male. He didn’t have to be the biggest in size, he didn’t have to be show dog quality. The breeder, beforehand, I assume, had already assigned who gets which puppy. To keep track of this, each puppy wore a different colored collar: black, green, etc… and plaid.

Danielle and I played with all the pups (whenever they didn’t drop into an impromptu nap) and chatted with the breeder. The puffballs were all equally hilarious and justsocute! But there was something different about Plaid, who was neither the biggest nor smallest of this bunch: he was the funniest one. Plaid instantly gravitated to Danielle and me, all on his own. He seemed especially goofy, playful, and not interested in leaving our side– and eventually fell asleep on us (more like on Danielle, I think).

Finally, I wrapped up business with the breeder and it was time to go. She looked over her notes and told me that Plaid was my puppy. I was in disbelief. Earlier, I didn’t even know Plaid was male — I didn’t exactly turn him upside-down to check. But I was so happy that he ended up being mine. Best of all, it seemed like Plaid instinctively knew that he belonged with me. Later, with Levin in the back seat, as my truck rounded the corners in our subdivision, he started whimpering and clambering up the backside of my seat.  He knew he was almost home. That night was one of the coolest moments of my life.

Four short years later, I’m having one of the worst moments of my life. I’ll be taking Levin to UGA next week for some tests to determine if/how I’ll need to treat his cancer. I never imagined that I’d be doing anything like this.

Levin had a small cyst on his hip that appeared to be the size of a golf ball. I had it checked out a few years ago: the vet had aspirated it, told me to keep an eye on it and said that those things are usually harmless — and they really are. It never bothered Levin, but it did burst a couple times, which would cause infection and Levin irritation, which I’d treat with antibiotics and it would heal without a problem.

However, after this last round of medication, no sooner than it healed over, it burst again. Levin was so agitated this time that night he slept closer to my side of the bed with his head on my pillow, practically on top of me (he never does this) as I kept him calm. I took him in for surgery the next day.

My poor boy after surgery. First, he had to be shaven at the surgery site, of course– about a 10″ diameter. Four years’ worth of dreadlocks, gone!  He looks mangey on one side now. Second, his incision is about 6″ long, stapled shut. Third, it turned out that what looked like a golf ball cyst at the surface, was a tumor the size of a softball!

A couple weeks later, it was time for the staples to be removed and I got the bad news: the softball was malignant. It is rare for these tumors [pilomatricoma] to be cancerous, the vet explained. She had even consulted an associate at UGA’s vet school, who looked through her cases and had never encountered this before, only to determine, yes, indeed it is rare. How could this happen? Levin is always so happy and playful, a normal weight, healthy…  I never would’ve suspected anything could be seriously wrong.

So, the vet referred me to UGA to have them look at Levin and run additional tests. She said that we’d then be able to see if there are any cancer cells remaining; if so, perhaps another, deeper surgery at the cyst site can eradicate the cancer; or if it metastasized and Levin will need chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy?! I can’t do that to Levin. Or myself.   can’t even afford that! I can’t… do that. I’d have to have Levin euthanized if it came to that… and I don’t want to think about that possibility either. I expect Levin to be around for a good 9-11 years. Even seven or eight would be decent! But if I lose him at just 4 years old… I’ll be devastated.

There are so many reasons why I have Levin, from general reasons for wanting a dog to choosing that specific breed. He wasn’t a whimsical purchase, not a trophy, and not a “pet.” He means so much more than that to me because he is MINE and he fulfills my life. My life would be empty without him. My mom said my next dog should be smaller. “I don’t want another dog after Levin,” I retorted.

I’ll know more on Wednesday when I take Levin to UGA. Everything could be fine, but I am still so worried… and I’m not a worrier.

 

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