When I woke up last Sunday, there was so much blood in our living room that it looked like a crime scene. My Jack Russell Terrier stood on her furbrother’s bed, the white fur of her back legs stained red. She looked up at me, and I could see that she had been trying to clean herself up; the blood around her mouth made her look like she’d just killed something. It was day 7 of a health issue that had reached a point of crisis. This was no week at the Waldorf.
I’d kept Lammy Lamb in the closet for two years. Not an actual closet — that would be cruel. It’s metaphorical. She was “in the closet” about a health issue that I’d been keeping close to the vest.
Lammy Lamb had a tumor.
Her vets had assured me early on that it was benign. It began as a fleshy lump that appeared one day under her tail. Because of her age (15), the vets recommended that we leave it alone and just keep an eye on it.
So we did.
We kept our eye on it while it grew to the size of an egg. Then the vets studied it and its positioning again, and worried that even if she could withstand anesthesia, removing the tumor would leave her fecally incontinent. At 15 she was not a good candidate for surgery, and unless the tumor began to cause her problems, the recommendation was still to leave it alone.
So we watched it some more.
It wasn’t ugly, as tumors go; it was soft and mostly smooth, but it didn’t belong on her. She showed it no concern at all. She didn’t mind it being handled or washed, and she didn’t bother with it or act like it was even there.
More time passed. Lammy Lamb turned 16 and the tumor grew to the size of a small avocado. It wasn’t hurting her or making her ill, but I was ashamed that she was carrying it around. How many tumor laden pound dogs had I seen in my Facebook feed whose photos had drawn the ire of animal rescuers with cries of neglect? I knew that if anyone saw the monstrosity they would have pointed fingers without ever bothering to ask if the situation had been assessed. They would just condemn. It dangled ridiculously under her tail, and swung side to side when she ran. Dark purple veins snaked through it feeding it; like some sort of parasitic creature. I needed to call it something, and so it became Lana Tumor.
Lana began to have a life of her own.
Lammy Lamb went about her daily business, but Lana Tumor trapped all her poop between the underside of the growth and the Jack’s curly butt. I was bathing her bottom three times a day.
As Lana grew heavier, Lammy Lamb began to do a lot of pacing and squatting, as though the pull of it made her feel like she needed to poop. But any time I mentioned possible surgery, I was met with opposition from both my partner and Lammy’s vets.
“She is sixteen, too old. Too risky.” My partner chastised me for worrying what others might say or think. Nobody came out and said so, but I think everyone was thinking that she was already so old she wouldn’t be likely to live long enough for removal to become necessary. After all, the normal life span for a JRT is about 13 years…and their deaths are often the result of the crazy, fearless things they do… because that’s how they roll. Lammy Lamb was already three years beyond the normal lifespan.
I put her in diapers, cute ones with Clifford the Big Red Dog on them, and bought two pairs of nylon dog pants to secure them: Lammy Pants. The idea was to relieve the pressure by lifting the tumor and supporting it, but it also had the added advantage of making it less visible to any terminally critical finger pointers. We were in the closet.
Lammy Lamb adapted well to the pants, but I was still cleaning her up 3 times a day. In my imagination, I designed net-style tumor slings to lift it and stop its crazy swinging, but I didn’t attempt to make one. I just watched Lana, and washed Lana, and dusted Lana with powder so there would be no chafing, and I didn’t talk about Lana, because the tumor, like a Hollywood starlet, had become extremely high maintenance and embarrassing in public. Lana Tumor was eclipsing Lammy Lamb. It was the bad and the beautiful.
Then the other dogs started to give her a hard time. The puperazzi sniffed it, they barked angrily at her, they bullied her. She learned to give the biggest of them a wide berth and keep a low profile.
Then, one day, with no warning, Lammy Lamb blew one of Lana’s veins. Maybe she was straining to poop. Maybe she jabbed it on something…but all of a sudden it was bleeding with all the ferocity of a head wound. And while I tried to staunch the flow of blood while holding her still with one hand and putting pressure on the vein with the other, all of that blood tipped the balance and made my choices crystal clear: we were going to have to risk the surgery, or we were going to have to put down a sweet, intelligent little dog still full of love and life.
What an awful dilemma. What would you do?
I scheduled an appointment with her vet and dealt with four more bleeding crises before we got in to consult with her and reach a consensus. I call them “crises”, because even though Lammy Lamb wasn’t in mortal danger, it is scary when your dog is bleeding so profusely. Blood = life, and watching it pour out of one of your precious dogs is scary as hell. Lana had become an unrelenting sadistic bitch, and Lammy Lamb was deflated and depressed. The vet agreed; the situation was only going to get worse, and neither Lammy Lamb nor I could go on like this.
To everyone’s surprise, the surgery went amazingly well. When her vet told me “She’s doing better than you think. She’s doing better than *I* thought!” I was reminded of how tough Jack Russells are, and how they can never be underestimated.
Lana Tumor has been sent packing, and Lammy Lamb’s tiny butt is back to its adorable self. I hadn’t realized how badly I’d been missing her cute bottom.
To all of Lammy Lamb’s fans who lent their moral or financial support to her surgery, we thank you. She is doing great. She is free again.