Dogs & Sorrow

I’d never keep a Boxer.

You have to admit the breed has a lot of issues, medical and genetic, but my reason is that they do crawl in under your skin and curl up next to your heart, and it hurts like a special kind of hell when you know something’s going wrong, that you’re going to lose them, and you’re helpless to stop that.

It’s like watching a trainwreck start to happen, and really, really liking that train.

BJ was one such trainwreck.

Now, BJ was a lovely boxer, as many of them are, with an excess of sweetness that seemed to make the whole world shine a little bit brighter when she was around.

In my first year out of vet school, I was working with another new graduate and classmate. BJ had started fainting, and she was initially his case. As new graduates in an isolated region of Australia with no local specialists and only three months clinical experience under our belts, this was a particular clinical challenge. She was diagnosed with a ventricular arrhythmia and took a little while to get stable on her medication. She was fainting less, but was still always at risk of sudden death, especially when challenged or excited.

That’s not perfect, but these cases never are. She got to be a reasonably normal dog in the meantime, and always happy.

Until she grew a lump.

Most people who know Boxers know that a new lump is cause for alarm, because this breed of dog is essentially a cancer factory. So it wasn’t a surprise, but more like a predictable B grade horror movie plot, when the sample from the lump came back as a Mast Cell Tumor.

These tumors are Bad News. The most aggressive types spread quickly and have a survival time of around 4 months. The not-so-bad ones can be treated with surgery, but you have no way of knowing whether a Mast Cell Tumor is a super bad one, or a moderately bad one, unless you cut it out and send it to the lab.

But… that requires a general anaesthetic. Which means challenging a dog with a potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmia. That was going to be a scary anaesthetic, with nothing close to a guarantee of success or survival.

BJ’s owners decided not to risk it.

Which meant that it was only a matter of time, and not a particularly long time either.

I was working on-call in those days, which means once the clinic closes clients can call your mobile and you come in to see patients on a case by case basis. BJ came in this way.

It was about 10 o’clock at night, and she came in because she was vomiting blood. When I saw her, she was in shock.

Mast Cell Tumors produce lots of histamine, and one of the things they can do is induce an anaphylactic-like reaction to absolutely nothing. They also often cause stomach ulcers.

I really tried to stabilize BJ. Not so much because I wanted her to live- I mean I did, but I loved this dog and I didn’t want to be the one who had to put her to sleep.

And this wasn’t even my dog. I can’t imagine how wrecked I would have been if she was.