Honestly, I still can’t believe I’m writing this post.
Our beloved Sherman, the “blue speckled pup” after whom my blog is named has died. We are so very devastated to lose him at only eight years old.
Sherman was diagnosed four days ago with an aggressive form of lymphoma. The only treatment his excellent vet could offer was steroids that could have potentially bought him a little more time, but would not have made much impact on the quality of his life.
At the end of September, Sherman suddenly started gulping water wherever he could find it and producing massive volumes of pee. Most of the time, he was unable to hold his bladder. The Electrician and I knew something was up, and didn’t blame the poor dog for his accidents, but Sherman seemed embarrassed whenever he sprang a leak.
After a few days, we took our boy in, with a fresh urine sample I caught in a mason jar. Urinalysis indicated a UTI. We immediately started antibiotics since a bladder infection isn’t an experience I’d wish on anyone.
Our vet changed the prescription to a different antibiotic after six days because Sherman experienced repeated vomiting on the first capsules. He tolerated the new medication much better, and the drinking frenzy and wild peeing stopped.
Follow-up urine testing showed that his infection was corrected, but his pee was still far more dilute than they would expect in a dog his age. We started to talk about the strong possibility Sherman was in the early stages of kidney disease. The veterinarian suggested we repeat the urine testing as well as a CBC to inspect his blood in a few weeks, so we could gather information on how to help Sherman stay in the best health possible. I scheduled that appointment.
At first, we thought Sherman was losing weight because he did so much puking while we were figuring out his antibiotics. We attributed his fatigue and disinterest in his favourite things to the fact he wasn’t eating much.
Then, we wondered if he was off his food because he was so incredibly nauseous on the first prescription. The Electrician and I tried a fancy wet food.
Sherman ate the wet food for roughly two days. So I bought a different flavour. He stopped eating that variety after another couple days. We repeated the process with a few more brands of wet food.
I cooked Sherman boiled ground beef and white rice. I scrambled eggs in coconut oil. We fed him stewed pumpkin. I added organic Greek yogurt to try to reset his digestive tract. I made pancakes. Sherman had a mild interest in most of the items on his menu for a very short time.
By the time we went for the scheduled blood draw and CBC this past Tuesday, Sherman was very thin. Since he was lean all his life, the lack of appetite affected his overall appearance dramatically. His weight tracking from the vet showed a loss of 9.5 pounds from October 13 to November 13.
I mentioned to the vet technician who was taking Sherman to the back for his blood draw that I’d noticed the lymph nodes under his jaw were swollen.
The next thing I knew, a space was made in the schedule for us, and fine needle aspiration to provide samples for biopsies was strongly recommended.
I held Sherman and rubbed his ears while a lovely vet stuck huge needles into lymph nodes on his throat, chest, and back leg. He winced a little during some of the pokes, but didn’t try to resist the procedures. The vet, a colleague of our regular doctor, was very kind. Partway through the aspirations, she started to talk to me about cancer.
Think of the last time you dropped something valuable and watched helplessly as it shattered at your feet. It seems to happen in slow motion, doesn’t it? That’s the best way I can describe the sick feeling that crashed over me while the lovely young vet and I discussed lymphoma.
She told me not to get too worried about Sherman until the test results came back, and she promised to call me in about 24 hours to tell me the news.
“I’m pretty sure it’s cancer,” I told her. She froze with a needle in one hand and a glass slide in the other. “I just have a gut feeling he’s way sicker than we thought, and my gut feelings are usually pretty accurate.” The sweet veterinarian with the ponytail kept trying to reassure me, but I knew.
Still, when she called the next day, I let it ring for so much longer than I needed to. There is a big difference between a gut feeling and a medical confirmation.
The testing showed our sweet Sherman had an aggressive lymphoma, one that most likely started in his intestines and caused his swift weight loss. By the time his lymph nodes inflated, the cancer had a crushing grip on his whole body.
It is hurting me so much to write about him in the past tense.
One option for palliative treatment was to try prednisone to see if it could boost Sherman’s appetite and perhaps, if we were lucky, slow down the reproduction of the cancer cells temporarily. I spoke to a friend who had experienced lymphoma first-hand, as she grew up with a breed of dog that is more prone to this cancers. In her experience, the steroids prolonged the inevitable and only resulted in a few short days of minor improvement for the dog.
I read studies, and talked with my husband about what could be done for Sherman. We wanted so deeply to keep him with us longer, to fight back against the cancer that was stealing him from us a pound at a time.
And then I sat down and had a really blunt conversation with my dog. I told him about the cancer, but I’m sure he already knew.
I offered him homemade pancakes, which he took politely and then hid under some dirty laundry rather than eating.
I tried to play with him. Sherman took his favourite stuffed dinosaur from me, but instead of starting a game of chase for the thousandth time, he set the toy on his bed, and curled up to sleep with a sigh.
I snuggled him and pet him lovingly, and he cringed when my hands passed over his swollen lymph nodes. The very “Sherman-ness” of my beloved dog was disappearing more each day, and I don’t think there was any joy left for him.
Sherman was a part of my life from the time he was eight weeks old. All his life, he was in beautiful health, and before he became ill people often mistook him for a pup, even at eight years old. He was a gentle soul with a goofy streak a mile wide, an irreplaceable member of our weird little family.
I booked the final appointment on short notice, partly because I couldn’t bear to “count down” for any length of time, and partly because seeing the look of illness in Sherman’s eyes hurt me so much.
Sherman left us with the help of his favourite vet. He greeted her with kisses all over her face as usual, even though I think he knew this was their last meeting. She commented that he was putting on a brave face with his enthusiasm at seeing her, but that he was leaning most of his weight on her and was clearly very weak.
I can’t even explain how I felt watching the vet tech prep Sherman to leave us. They offered to take him to the procedure space to set up the IV catheter, but we preferred to keep him with us. He was so gentle, as always, through the shaving of his leg and the placing of the catheter, even kissing the lady who did the poke. The site was wrapped in bright green co-flex bandage, with a pink heart on the outside end.
We spent a few last minutes with Sherman. The Electrician and I rubbed his soft velvety ears, and told him he was such a good boy. As we requested, the florescent lighting was off, and only a small bulb on the wall and the candles we brought lit the space. He had a cushy bed to lie on, and we brought in a soft towel that smelled like home. Earlier that day, my husband dug out Sherman’s first baby toy, a stuffed monkey, now rather the worse for wear, which we brought and tucked up against Sherman’s chest while we cuddled him and told him all the things that were in our hearts.
Ava was there too, since we thought it would be better for her to know rather than wondering what had happened to her friend. She got the odd chunk of freeze-dried beef liver, but Sherman ate the liver like there was no tomorrow. I think he knew there wouldn’t be for him.
When our veterinarian connected the syringe to the catheter and started the euthanasia procedure, I had a moment of panic that I wasn’t ready. Something in my heart told me I’d really never be ready, so I said nothing and let it continue.
Sherman fell asleep with his loved ones around him. The last words he heard were affirmations of what a great dog was, how much he was loved, and how sorry we were that we couldn’t help him any other way. He died peacefully, slipping away so quickly that even the vet was surprised. She told us that larger dogs’ hearts typically keep beating quite a bit longer than other animals, but Sherman was so exhausted that his gentle, loving heart stopped almost instantly when the medication entered his system.
We had a ceramic cast of Sherman’s paw print made to hang in our house. His ashes will be returned to us, and we will inter them when we plant the tree that was already planned for our front yard in the spring. Both of the humans who live in our house feel it’s important to keep him close, especially since Sherman won’t be helping us raise our twins as planned.
I spent a lot of time this weekend thinking of how I was going to write this post, how on earth I could express in words how I feel after losing a family member so suddenly, and after having to make the decision to let him go. It sometimes doesn’t feel right to use the word “devastated” to describe my feelings over losing a dog, but it’s the only word that comes close to accuracy.
I’ve never told a euthanasia story before. Really, thought, this isn’t a euthanasia story. It’s a love story. It truly is.
Sherman’s life and his death are a series of stories of a dog who was so deeply loved, even in the moments he was a bit of a turd. Many of the stories of his life are published here on the blog I named after him.
The final chapter in the long list of Sherman love stories is the one where we looked at our boy, knew he was struggling, and decided it was better to let him go for his sake than to ask him to stick around for ours. Watching him continue to fight with lymphoma would have meant Sherman increasingly suffering, which we couldn’t ethically ask of him. I have always believed that the ultimate responsibility of a pet owner is to take on the suffering at the end of their pet’s life, so the animal can have a peaceful passing. Our hearts are currently broken, but our consciences are clear.
Sherman, you were such a beloved member of our family and we will miss you. Until we meet again, my speckled friend.