Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My Tripawd Dog | #GiveCancerthePaw

Not a day goes by that I don't run my hands all over my dogs' bodies.  

I'm not just "petting" them and, though I'm sure they think I'm just massaging them, it's more than that.  

It's a learned habit.  It is being vigilant.  And it is a lesson I learned long ago with my dog, Benji.

This a story without a lot of medical jargon and details.  It's just story about a dog with cancer. It happened before I had internet access and before the explosion of traditional and non-traditional medical advances.

Benji, aka Ben, Bennie, Bennie Ennie Ennie, Benopolis, was my first on-my-own dog.  While in college I accompanied some friends to the local animal shelter.  I was going along because I adored dogs.  My friends went with the intention to adopt one.   

There I encountered a 4 month old puppy who was scheduled for euthanasia.  At the "midnight hour," I raced back to the shelter and adopted him.  I had no business with a pup at that time in my life.  

However, he was now mine and I was his.  We were a team of two.  We were halves that made a whole.  

He was my dancing dog.  He was my first heart dog.

My dancing dog the morning of his amputation surgery.
Benji was 3 years old when I noticed the strange little growth in his "armpit."  

We were living a new city and I thought I'd found a good vet, thanks to co-worker recommendations.  When I found the growth, I made a vet appointment.  After examining Benji, the vet washed his hands and told me that since my dog was not a purebred, it was no big deal.   It could be "something," but probably wasn't and since my dog was a mutt...   He shrugged his shoulders and figuratively washed his hands of me.

I was young.  I was speechless.  And devastated.  In tears I drove away.  

Two days later I had an appointment with another vet, thanks to a friend's recommendation.  This vet, Dr. H, was a dog lover.  He examined Benji and decreed that the growth was, indeed, probably nothing, but should come off.  It was in an awkward place where just by virtue of walking, it would be irritated.  Surgery was scheduled.  Growth removed and biopsied.   Benign.

When Benji was 8 years old he had another strange growth, but this time it was on a back foot.  Back to the vet.  

Same song; second verse.  Surgery, biopsy, benign.

Ben on the morning of his amputation surgery.
Benji was 9 when the growth came back.  Same location.  Dr. H warned me that the recurrence was probably not good news. 

Third verse:  Surgery, biopsy, malignant Mast cell tumor.

I was overwhelmed with fear and felt helpless.  

Options were discussed and the case for amputation was made to me by both Dr. H and his partner, Dr. C.   Just the thought of amputation horrified me and that horror hung around me like a dark cloud until Benji taught me different.

Benji, my Doberman / Shepherd Mutt

Benji came through the surgery with flying colors.  In fact, the vet clinic staff just couldn't keep him down.  He was up and hopping around right away.  While they marveled, Dr. H told me he'd never seen a dog with such life force and will to live.

Post surgery
Dr. H repeated that to me many times over the next few years.  Because the odds were that we'd only bought "a little" extra time.  Both vets warned me of the signs to watch out for that the cancer had spread.  Vigilant became my middle name.

Before he wore the muzzle (only while I was at work), we made 3 trips back to the vet to repair stitches. Unfortunately, nothing short of this "get up" worked.
Benji came home early and got right back to teaching me life lessons.  He couldn't dance anymore, but otherwise nothing had changed.  Life was good.

In fact, he was so good on 3 legs that people didn't realize he was missing a leg.  People would play with him and after a few hours exclaim:  where's his leg?! 
Benji was 11 when we moved from the city to what we call "the big farm."   He roamed 150 acres with me and enjoyed his new incarnation as farm dog.  Good times.
Benji and Sherman on the farm.

He was 13 when he had his first seizure.  Tests revealed cancer of the liver.  Our vet prescribed a special diet, medication, and offered radiation treatment.  However, that was only available at the Vet School 5 hours away.  

He would have to stay at the Vet school to be treated and I would not be allowed to be with him.  His odds were not good.  He was 13 years old.

Benji, 14 years old
I chose to keep him at home and live with joy on the farm.  As long as he was not in pain, he would be with me.    Benji was 14 years old when he passed away in his sleep.

Benji taught me a lot.  Too much to tell here, but he would want me to tell you this:
  • Be vigilant.  Check for lumps and bumps often.  Do not procrastinate if you find something.  Time is of the essence.
  • Make sure you have a vet you trust who also has a compassionate "bedside" manner. 
  • Amputation bothers humans, not dogs.  As horrific as it sounds (and looks immediately post-op), Dogs get on with life and don't care how it looks.  
  • Keep your dog lean and fit.  This was very much in Benji's favor and helped him quickly adjust to tripawd life.
  • If your dog is diagnosed with cancer, you need to get your own feelings of panic under control first in order to make good decisions.  Then trust your gut and forget about being perfect - there is no such thing.
  • Be positive.  Be hopeful. 
  • Live fully in the present moment.
Benji beat the odds and lived a long, joy filled 5 years as a tripawd.

My heart dog, Benji.
Talking Dogs is participating in the Give Cancer the Paw blog hop, hosted by Pooch Smooches and Peggy's Pet Place.  Join us with a  tribute to a lost pet, personal experiences, tips, research - anything related to pet cancer.

Talking Dogs is the official blog of For Love of a Dog Jewelry.


  1. What a wonderful post Sue. I love Benji. He reminds me a lot of Aspen. I am so glad you went for that second opinion and had him for so long. Sharing this one.

    BTW - I used to do the same check on all my dog clients and I continue to do it with my dogs today.

    I forgot about Peggy's Blog Hop darn it. Didn't even realize it was the 6th today.

    1. Thanks, Mel. A very difficult post to write. And join in! It's not too late!

  2. Thanks for sharing. That Benji was one great pup.

    You are right-- stay vigilant and be aware of changes in your dog's skin or gait. If you see lumps, have them checked and marked so you can stay on top of location/size.

  3. Fantastic post. I may join the hop this evening…but I don't think I can say anything as levelheaded yet touching as Benji's story.

  4. What a beautiful post, and what a beautiful boy Benji was! Such great things he taught you, and those are all great tips too. That's amazing that he made it to 14, even with the mast cell cancer. Thanks for joining the hop!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I love the statement "heart dog," because Blue was that to us. The love in this post is palatable. Thank you.

  6. Wow what a story, I read every word with tears mixed with awe. Benji had a beautiful face and expressive eyes. Your tips are great too, when Ike presented low red blood count and other concerns, the first thing our vet told us to do was to check his lymph nodes, behind his ears, elbows, and knees for swelling every day. So far so good. Of course, when Brooks was diagnosed with cancer the vet detected no swellings anywhere, so it's notic foolproof , but it is a good step. You did such a great job with Benji and gave him a wonderful life. He will always be in your heart.

  7. What a heart touching story Sue, it had me tears because I could feel your love for Benji shining through:)

  8. Your story on Benji literally made me cry! The way you got him, saved him I should say at the shelter, its something I would do. This has brought a lot of insight and knowledge with my own dogs and I thank you for sharing your journey with Benji.

  9. A wonderful, yet sad story, but he had a great long life. Mom is always feeling us up too, it is sometimes hard with all the fur. Katie has a lump that is just old age, and I have had them on and off my whole life, they come and then they go, never been bad ones. It is just as important as checking for ticks, etc.

  10. What a wonderful, inspiring story. Benji was strong and we can learn a lot from a dog's strength and their ability to not let things slow them down. You did all the right things for him and how great that you got to be together for 14 years, even though I'm sure you would have liked even more than that. Thank you for sharing all the great tips too.

  11. I read the same story again and again - tripawd dogs don't know the difference and are just as exuberant as before. So glad you got 14 good years with your Benji. :)

  12. Benji sounds like a great dog. Interesting that they amputated his leg for the mast cell tumor. I guess that's a good thing since he lived so long afterwards. He was very handsome and I enjoyed reading his story!

  13. I can just feel how hard this must have been to write. Thank you so much for sharing this story. (((hugs)))

  14. This is a VERY beautiful post! Benji has a wonderful parents

  15. Benji sounds like a great dog! Lucky you to have him and him to have you. Mommy checks us for lumps and bumps too. She learned a lot after Summer and tries to be a better doggie parent to us.

  16. Sweet. Benji sounds like he was a wonderful boy.

  17. Gosh what a great story. Benji sure was handsome. Thanks for sharing it.

  18. Sue, what a great story and a beautiful guy. Benji did teach you some valuable stuff and thank you for sharing it. How great to have him live 5 years past his amputation and to make it to 14 you were doing something right even when you thought you didn't know what to do. :)


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