Lucas is dying, sooner than later. Near as we can figure it, he turns 16 this November. He has been on phenobarbital to control seizures since April of 2004. He had has first seizure the night Guthrey “moved on to the clearing at the end of the path”. (Thanks to Stephen King for the image and the phrase.) Jake and I were asleep with Lucas in the bed that Guthrey died on and were awoken by the tremors.
We do a blood test every 6 months to monitor the level of phenobarbital in his blood, and to track the effect on his liver. His liver numbers have been higher than a “normal” dog, but within expected parameters for his situation. The blood work we did on Sept 29 showed a marked increase, from about 600 six months ago to over 1,000 now.
We did some further tests and he has Chushings disease. This takes many forms and has many symptoms. In Lucas’ case, he has had a severe and rapid decrease in his activity levels over the past 6 months. His belly looks a little swollen or distended. His hair is not growing back very well. Since 2006, I have either cut his hair, or had it cut two or three times between April and September, and he always grows a nice thick coat back before the frosts, cold, and snow return. This year I cut his hair only once, in late April or early May, and his hair is still only about ¼ – ½ inch long over most of his body.
The disease manifests in one of two areas (or both); a problem in the brain that tells the adrenal glands to produce too much of something, or a problem with the gland itself or the liver (we are passing beyond the scope of my understanding at this point). You determine which area is the culprit by doing an ultrasound of the belly. If you find something, then you know you need to do abdominal surgery and probably remove a bad mass and part of the liver. If you do not see anything abnormal on the ultrasound, you use a kind of Chemotherapy pill and hope it selectively kills the correct bad cells.
Otherwise healthy dogs can be treated and live for up to about 4 years. The treatments are not easy and do carry significant risks on their own. We have decided not to pursue either of these options for Lucas. Even if the surgery itself were successful in dealing with the problem, there is a large risk that a dog his age would die on the table, or not come back after being under anesthesia for a few hours. I don’t think that the odds of him surviving the recovery period of serious abdominal surgery are very high either, and feel that this route would only decrease his quality of life. And we are not putting him through Chemotherapy at his age, and given his current happy temperament.
Another thing that you tend to check when a dog has the symptoms Lucas exhibits is the thyroid. We took blood for that test as well, but the results for the Cushings test came back first. When the thyroid test comes back it could be that he also has a problem there.
All that said, he is doing pretty good. He does not seem to be in pain. He enjoys his life. He doesn’t walk as far as he used to. I have not seen him run for a few months (though he will jog when it strikes him, or when he smells groundhogs) and he can’t do that little happy skip thing he does when he is excited to see someone – but all of that could also just be age. He can still jump in and out of the car mostly unassisted.
We plan to continue to shower him with love, do what we can to make this phase of his life as comfortable as can be, and look for his signal when he is ready to move on and play with Guthrey in the clearing and wait there for me and Jake. I am trying to stay happy and positive around Lucas and wait until later to do my grieving.
I do not have any understanding of the timeline involved here, though I am in contact with my vet to try and get a picture of what to look for – this is all still pretty new. Chusings is degenerative and tends to lead to organ failure. My awesome vet, Dr. Bill, told me yesterday that he has looked at each month we get with Lucas as a gift for several years now. When we leave the office after every 6 month check-up, he has not really expected to see us make it to the next one. That makes it extra difficult for him to try and read the tea leaves to say when Lucas will be ready to move on.
Lucas has many nicknames and my favorite, aside from “Fluffy Pants”, was coined by a child with a beautiful mind. Kelly’s daughter called me “sleepover guy” after Lucas and I visited with them for a few weeks in the summer of 2009. “Sleepover Dog” and I do plan to do some traveling between now and the end of the holiday season and I hope that he gets to see all his favorite folks. We have to go back to Richmond and let him see his birthplace and his first indoor home and all his friends there. That will be a short visit near October 21stas we pass through on the way to VA Beach for a little more construction work at Kristen Menefee Runberg’s place.
Where we go from there depends on where I can get the next paying gig. (More on that soon but in a separate post – offers welcome!)
I have tried to contact all his favorite bipeds by phone, but this is hard for me and I am sure that I missed some of you. Please don’t take offense if you did not get the call – I do what I can manage.
Lucas touched a lot of lives and brought love and joy to each one. I just thought you folks should know.