I go for a two-mile walk pretty much every morning right after I eat some breakfast. Over the past few days, I've been hearing the same question over and over again: "Where's your dog?" They're asking me this because usually I'm accompanied by a 100 lb. Shepherd/Rottweiler named Argos. He's also been known to make friends with lots of people whom I pass while on my walks. So, what happened to him?
The poor guy is hanging out in his dog run with the "cone of shame" around his head. He's going to be out of action for roughly a month because he's going to get a toe removed.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that he was limping, and when I took a look at his foot, it looked simply like he tore off a nail. After a few days though, it started to look work, so Kirsti and I decided to take him to the vet. Turns out it's not just a torn nail, and preliminary tests show that it's cancerous. After doing a bit of research, I've learned that this is not all that uncommon in dogs - especially Rottweilers.
Waiting for the test results has been a trying experience, made worse that the vet didn't get back to us with all of our options as soon as she said she would. So, Kirsti and I have done a lot of talking about what we're going to do with him. After finally hearing from the vet, we've decided to have his toe amputated. This isn't an uncommon procedure, and his chances of making a full recovery are pretty good. As I said to Kirsti, I've seen dogs get along with only three legs. I'm sure Argos can handle a missing toe.
We could have him go in and have them do a biopsy first, as there's a chance that it's not cancer. Still, as far as I'm concerned, I want him in the hospital as little as possible, so I opted for the toe amputation. They're also going to do a chest x-ray on him to see if it has spread.
That's where it gets tricky. I'm a big "quality of life" guy when it comes to animals. Basically Argos' day consists of guarding the house, eating, and then going on a walk. (During the summer and on weekends, he goes on a walk in the morning.) Since we have to keep him as an outdoor dog, I wouldn't want to prolong his life if he was unable to do those things anymore. In other words, I'm not going to have him suffer through chemo or anything like that. After all, he's a big dog and he's seven years old. Sure, he probably has 2-3 years left in him, but I don't want them to be filled with suffering. So, if it has spread, we're going to do what we can to make him comfortable, but as soon as it gets debilitating at all, I'm going to have him put to sleep. (I'm feeling confident that it won't even come to that, as he seems pretty damned happy and healthy with the exception of his bum foot.)
Of course, I'm able to write about all this in a cool, calculated manner, but when the time comes to have him put down, I will no doubt be a sobbing wreck. Still, I know that I can keep my emotions in check when it comes to matters like this. It's like with our last dog that we had put down, Molly. Her back legs were starting to give out on her, and one day I saw her completely collapse. She was able to get back up after a couple of minutes, but I told Kirsti that I didn't want to come home from work some day to find her lying helplessly on the ground and suffering. The vet who put her down seemed to understand where I was coming from, as she said, "You want her to go on a good day."
That may sound strange, but if you think about animals, they live entirely in the moment. Not only that, but putting them to sleep is such a peaceful process (especially for big dogs) that I would consider myself lucky to die with such dignity.
All of this is premature though, as I feel confident, but I'm prepared to do what I need to do. I'd rather not go into how much this is all going to cost, as you can no doubt imagine that it's a lot. The logical side of me says that he's worth it because he's a great burglar deterrent, as he barks at anybody who comes near the house (and his size doesn't hurt, I'm sure). I have read and heard more than once that the best way to scare off potential thieves is to have a dog like him around, so I'm definitely buying some peace of mind.
That's not really the reason though. The reason he's worth it is because he's my best friend. He can be a bit challenging at times, but I know that he always has my back. Back when my leg was in a brace, he was very good about not walking too fast when I took him out. One time, when my sciatica started acting up (most painfully) he was sure to only take a few steps and then constantly look back to see if I was doing okay.
That's the reason why I'm willing to get his toe removed, and that's also the reason why I wouldn't put him through any painful surgeries that would only buy him a few months at best.