My Special Little Pirate Pup
|1st October 2010 - 8th April 2011|
|Nicknames:||Fletch, Pirate, Fletchie. Goose.|
|Pet Type:||Shetland sheepdog|
Barking, chasing the hose, pig's ears, "herding" his dinner bowl, games of tug, his big brother Charlie.
Loved everyone he met, courageous, sweet, hilarious, cuddly, absolutely adorable.
On the seventh of April 2011, I made the heartbreaking decision my gorgeous little sheltie puppy would be put to rest the following afternoon, at just twenty seven weeks old.
He was always special. My dad drove me on a sixteen hour round trip on a Saturday all the way to Salt Ash in NSW to pick him up from his breeder's place. On the way out to the car, the breeder stopped us because she thought his right eye looked funny. A bit like a little squint. No one was particularly fussed- could have been the sun, could have been because he was such a nutbar and liked to wrestle too rough with the littermate he had remaining. I had him booked in for a post-purchase vet visit that Monday morning anyway, and because of the distance we decided it would work out better if I took him with me, got the eye looked at by my vet, and let the breeder know what the problem was.
Whether or not that funky eye was an indicator of what was to come or not I'll never know. But from the very beginning, Fletch was an anomaly. A special little puppy.
At first he was diagnosed with having a simple micropalpebral fissure- unusual, but not something that would affect him apart from maybe affecting his peripheral vision ever so slightly. If desired, a little nip and tick when he was finished growing would have sorted it out.
So home from the we went, satisified that nothing was going to go further with it. His breeder refunded a third of his purchase price and I was still satisified with my amazing little dog: he had everything I wanted in a puppy. The personality, the pep, the incredibly confidence, the happy attitude... I couldn't have picked him out any better myself.
The eye itself was deemed to be fine. Totally normal. No issues there. He had a few hiccups with his third eyelid as the weeks went by, and it looked like that would probably need a bit of nip and tuck later on, too. The weeks went by, and apart from a few issues with the eye, head shyness and a sudden reluctance with food motivation (which made training a pain) there wasn't anything abnormal.
We went to the chiropractor, firstly for my kelpie cross, Charlie, who was out all over the place, but I'd taken Fletch as well because he seemed to be sitting funny and I wanted to make sure his hips were where they were meant to be. He was slightly out, but the bigger surprise was that his whole jaw was out of its place. It was popped back in- with a lot of screeching from Fletcher- and he regained his crazy appetite. I didn't think anything else of it.
I was meant to get a referral to an eye specialist, but "due to the floods" they wouldn't agree to see us because we weren't an emergency case. After hearing wonderful things about another vet, I switched and on our first visit there we were given a referral to a sister clinic of the other eye specialist and booked in for an appointment the next week.
We went down and to my horror the specialist, after a twenty minute examination of both eyes, told me that Fletcher was "without functional vision" in his right eye. He had microphthalmos- a small eye- and something was wrong with his optic nerve, and it wasn't wired properly to his brain or to his left eye. It explained a few things, but when the specialist told me that he'd probably never had vision- or proper vision- in that eye I was so confused how no one could have picked it up. She assured me that at the age he was examined for CEA it couldn't have been noticed. But still, our other vet hadn't been concerned- her tests, though, had been brief because Fletcher "wouldn't sit still".
It still seemed okay. I could do agility with a dog that only had one good eye. Fletcher could still function alright; if he'd never known vision in that eye then he would still be able to continue to cope fine for the rest of his days.
Throughout this time he'd been blocked up in one nostril, on the right side, and at first we thought it was to do with the out of whack jaw. Then when it came back we thought respiratory infection. I made a vet appointment to get him checked out. He'd also been reverse sneezing a lot more than was normal or healthy, and had started snoring/wheezing slightly.
Then something awful happened. We were at training, running barless jumps, and Fletcher ran into an upright- smack bang on his left eye. His good eye. By that Thursday, just four days later, he was totally blind. We had the vet appointment for his supposed respiratory infection the next day and while there I told the vet what had happened. He thought the same as I did- the logical thing. He was blind because he ran into the upright and had hurt his eye. Fingers crossed it wasn't permanent, I went home armed with all manner of drugs for his eye and respiratory infection, and the resolution that when this cleared up, he was going to be pulled from anything agility related and we'd do something else. It wasn't worth the risk.
A week later, and with nothing changed with either the infection or his vision, we went back to the vet and my heart sunk. The vet took a quick look at him and told me that it was probably the opposite, and just bad timing- Fletcher ran into the upright because he was going blind. And to be perfectly honest, he added, if all of his issues weren't connected, and to do with something much worse happening, he would be very surprised. He'd also developed an ulcer on his right eye, and it looked absolutely sickening.
We got a referral and were able to get in to see the eye specialist that afternoon. The opthamologist took one look at him and told me straight up, "That right eye needs to come out". And then she looked at his left eye and went to find the medical specialist because she, too, thought this was bigger than just his eyes.
We changed consult rooms and within two minutes I had the beginnings of an answer. The specialist opened Fletch's mouth and showed me this horrible lot of pink, sore looking scratch marks on the roof of his mouth on his soft palate. He needed samples immediately: either we were looking at some rare type of fungal infection. Or a tumour. Both were rare in such a young dog, but the tests would find out for sure.
So that afternoon I left Fletcher at the clinic overnight where he had a scope put up and samples taken. I got a call that evening, after the specialist had had a quick look under the microscope for himself. He told me he thought it was a tumour, but I had to wait until the beginning of next week to get the pathology and cytology results which would say for certain.
I'd Googled enough to make a picture, and it wasn't pretty. It explained every single thing that Fletcher had wrong with him, but what I still don't know- what no one knows- is how it had happened in a dog that wasn't even seven months old.
I went to pick him up the next day and the specialist told me that even if I could have afforded the treatment, it was risky and pointless. Part of me was relieved that it wasn't purely money that was going to be the deciding factor in what happened. A bigger part of me hated the fact that literally nothing could be done for him- by anyone.
The specialist told me to give him lots of love, and to trust myself that I'd know when he was ready to go.
On the Tuesday I got told the results of his tests. Pathology said nothing. Cytology said cancer. We had to trust cytology, given what was happening to him.
He seemed okay. Coping fine, back to his usual self almost, apart from needing to be carried or clapped about everywhere because he couldn't see. He still voiced his opinions about everything- typical sheltie. He still chased the hose. He still greeted me every morning and whenever I came home from work with a huge grin and a back end wriggling so much I was surprised it never just fell off. We'd still practice his silly little tricks with verbal commands. We still played tug. He seemed a bit better, a bit brighter even. I kept my fingers crossed he'd get to seven months old at least.
But he got worse, a little bit more so every day- he was more lethargic, he was struggling to breath. Every day I woke up to him lying on my chest or at my feet and I asked both of us if he was ready.
On Thursday the seventh of April, a week after he'd had the scope done and samples taken and barely six hours after he'd spent ages playing with hose like a lunatic, we were in the lounge room and my mum suddenly said, "Oh. Emma..." I looked over and Fletcher was lying on the ground, bleeding from his nose. He seemed okay- tired, but that was usual now. For the next few hours he had a small yet steady dribble of blood coming out his nose until I stopped just before we went to bed. But I'd already decided: he was ready to go, it wasn't fair to hold onto him any longer. That's when it really hit home: I was going to lose my puppy, way before I was ready or expecting it. I was going to lose him to a cancerous tumour, and the only thing I could do was make sure he was given the most painfree, loving way out possible.
The next morning I called work and told them I couldn't come in that afternoon because I needed to have my puppy put to sleep, and then I rang the vet and made an appointment for three o'clock. We spent the day curled up on my bed, watching episodes I'd already seen as it rained outside, just enjoying each other's company one last time.
We drove down to the vet and I carried him inside, sat down and cried while one of the vet nurses and a friend of mine from agility hugged me and patted him. Then I held onto him, cried into his fur, told him I loved him and I was so, so sorry while he finally got to rest.
I wrapped him in a blanket and carried him out to car, and took him home. When my dad came home from work, we buried him down the back of our property, on a bit of a hill overlooking the river. He absolutely loved it down there, running about like a lunatic after Charlie, stalking through the grass, barking at birds, digging, playing, just being his usual crazy self.
Rest in peace, Fletch. You're a very special little boy taken far too young. I'll always love you, and always miss you. We only had five months together, but I'm so glad I got to spend even that short amount of time with you. I thought it would be so much longer, I'd hoped it would be so much longer, but I feel incredibly lucky to have had you in my life regardless. You taught me so much and had so much heart for such a little dog.
Love you, little pirate.