Monday, September 25, 2006

Memories of the Steely Man

Since Steeler's death, Chad and I have been pretty unmotivated. I haven't had much of an interest in anything--not socializing, exercising, cooking, housecleaning, or blogging--so I've pretty much done nothing all week. We've lavished Celtic and Hope (especially Celtic) with lots of attention, cried a lot, and eaten a lot of fast food. We've received an outpouring of love and concern from our friends and family, which has been so comforting. I know that many people probably think we're insane for taking this loss so hard, but as a childless couple, our dogs mean everything to us. Steeler and Celtic filled a void, at a time in our lives when we were devastated about not being able to have children of our own. They made our lives so complete, we eventually lost the desire to have human children at all. Although we've obviously always known that we would outlive the boys and Hope, they all seemed to be in such great health, we expected to enjoy Steeler's companionship for at least another 5 years. I still have such a hard time accepting that he's really gone.

Last week I stuggled with whether or not we should have noticed that something was wrong with Steeler. The vet assured us that Steeler didn't want us to know that he felt badly, because his instinct is to not to show any signs of weakness to his "pack" that might cause him to get picked on. Regardless, I just felt like because we're so much closer to our dogs than many people are, somehow we should have sensed his discomfort. I went online to research canine spleen cancer, and found this website about canine hemangiosarcoma, which describes Steeler's cancer perfectly.

Hemangiosarcoma is a very aggressive, high-grade soft tissue sarcoma with the most common areas affected being the spleen and heart. A highly malignant cancer which preys on blood vessels, it can spread rapidly, causing tumors almost anywhere in the body. Hemangiosarcoma is insidious, as it attempts to build it's own blood vessel network, making blood blister like formations which disrupts normal organ function. It is commonly in the advanced stage before detection, making it virtually a silent killer.

When the vet showed us pictures of Steeler's spleen that he had taken during the autopsy, it was almost completely covered in blistery lesions. The vet indicated that he wouldn't have had long to live even if the cancer had been found earlier, and the webpage regarding hemangiosarcoma indicates that dogs often die weeks (rather than months) after diagnosis, with surgery and chemo extending their lives 4-6 months at the most. We certainly wouldn't have wanted to subject him to the pain and discomfort of such treatment to extend his life such a short time, so for his sake, we're so thankful that he only had a few hours of severe discomfort before leaving this earth.

With that said, we still wish we could have had even a few more weeks with Steeler. As my friend Amanda so perfectly put it, no matter how long we have with our pets, it's never long enough. I wish I would have taken more pictures of Steeler, Celtic and Hope together, and more pictures of us as a family of five. Although we've taken lots of pictures of Hope in the year that she's been with us, there are only few pictures of the three of them together. I wish we would have taken the dogs on more trips and outings as of late, since we've been reluctant to do so since becoming a 3 dog family. Toting around over 150 pounds of hound just seemed a little overwhelming. I wish I would have taken more video clips with our digital camera, which would have done a much better job of capturing the essence of Steeler--the way he would slather you with kisses the second you walked in the door; the way he would curl his whole body around and tuck his nose into your side when he wanted to snuggle; the way he would sneak into the bathroom trash, take out the tissue, and tear it into a million pieces; the way he would stretch his back legs straight out behind him, with his "arms" straight out in front, earning the nickname "Long Dog"; the way he would pant nervously in the backseat of the car, fighting off the carsickness he so often succumbed to as a puppy; the way he would hear a noise in the distance and start howling with his eyes closed, getting lost in the moment, forgetting what he was howling about, until you quitely spoke his name; the way he would let his littler brother chase him around the yard, never running at full speed because he was always looking over his shoulder; the way he ran like the wind and bayed his little head off when there was a rabbit in the yard; the way he never gave up the search for Chad or I when we played hide and seek in the house, and would diligently look for us in every nook and cranny (including the toilet) while his brother excitedly waited for him to do all the hard work; the way he always managed to get tripped over while he awkardly tried to avoid being tripped over; the way he always wanted to roll on your wet towel or wet hair when you came out of the shower, or on the dirty clothes pile on the floor while you were sorting laundry, the way he did less than 12 hours before he died. These are the wonderful things we want to remember about our boy Steeler.

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