Monday, September 1, 2008

The Mortality of Pets

Unbelievably, Maggie is still with us--and thriving.  Rod and I never expected her to make it past July, much into September.  Her bladder is still compromised but improved: she makes it through the night and doesn't need to wear a diaper unless we're gone for several hours.  Best of all, she's enjoying what's left of her life.  Mags cavorts outside with Chloe, cuddles with us in the morning, and barks indignantly at the crows, her particular nemesis (nemeses?). She gobbles her meals greedily and looks at me expectantly when I'm cooking, knowing full well that eventually a little taste of something will come her way.  From a dog's perspective, life is pretty good.

Several months ago, I questioned Rod's sanity in giving chemotherapy to a pet, a much-loved pet, mind you, but still a pet.  I have since questioned my views.  If Maggie lives until Christmas, we will have extended her life by 9-10 months, nearly 6 years in human terms.  She has endured some discomfort during that time, but overall the quality of her life has been pretty good.  The extra time has given Rod a chance to come to terms with Maggie's impending end.

If it had been my choice, I'm still not sure I would have opted for chemotherapy. Tomorrow I trailer Beau up to New Bolton to have a melanoma under his tail removed.  It's ulcerating and could become infected.  There's also a chance it will be malignant. 80% of grey horses have melanomas by the age of 15, a strange genetic abnormality; most are benign, if sometimes unsightly.  In some instances, though, a small, harmless black bump will grow exponentially, exploding into a huge, cancerous mass.  Further testing usually reveals cancer spreading through internal organs.  

Beau seems his usual cantankerous self to me, but I am bracing for the worst: what was a little knob has suddenly morphed into an oozy, repellant mass.  I have already decided that if the melanoma is malignant and has already spread (or is about to spread), I will have New Bolton put him down before pain sets in.  Brutally, disposing of a horse is quite a different matter from euthanizing a cat or dog: the logistics of burying, rendering, or cremating an 1100 pound animal requires forethought, planning, and considerable expense.  New Bolton is set up to euthanize large animals in a humane manner.  There's nothing I can do if Beau's melanoma has metastasized; unlike Maggie's lymphoma, it cannot be treated with chemotherapy.  Even if treatment were an option, I would not subject Beau to the regimen.

So I hope for the best.  Losing one of our pets to cancer is bad enough; possibly losing two out of three is just wrenching.

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