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So long to a tail-wagging boy: Saying goodbye to a beloved dog named Dillon

As anyone who's ever loved and lost a pet knows, dealing with the grief that comes with the death of a furry friend is heart-wrenching. Our colleague Diane Pucin is a sports writer by trade and a pet lover at heart, and today she shares the story of her recently departed and dearly loved dog Dillon:

DillonBegging Dillon was our dog. He was a 9-year-old Glen of Imaal terrier. The Glen of Imaal is in County Wicklow, Ireland, and he was named Dillon because it was the maiden name of my husband’s mother.

Everybody knows their dog is special. We knew that about Dillon but so did everyone who met him. Really. People I didn’t know would pass by on the street and say, "Hi, Dillon."

And so this is a hard story to tell.

Dillon fought his big Glen heart out this summer. On June 25, Dillon had a great day, playing at the
park, eating heartily, just being Dillon, went to bed and woke up June 26 hunched over, barely able to walk and shaking in pain. 

After a series of X-rays that didn't reveal anything, the doctor at the vet emergency hospital said maybe we'd be lucky and whatever was causing his pain would disappear but that he wanted to keep Dillon overnight to administer pain medication and, oh, by the way, could he do an ultrasound?

We said yes and half an hour later we were given the news that the ultrasound showed a two-pound tumor in Dillon's spleen.

Dillon-with-pink-frisbie It's called splenic hemangiosarcoma. The pain Dillon was feeling was because the tumor had started to leak blood into his abdomen. The immediate treatment was surgery to take out the spleen and the tumor before the spleen ruptured.

After determining that there was no obvious spread of the cancer, Dillon had the surgery. He spent only one night in the hospital because he did so well. He came home with 39 staples in his belly and did his Glen sit that very night (Glens tend to sit on their big, square butts, straight up like a prairie dog and look you in the eye. They get what they want a lot that way).

But the prognosis was grim -- one to seven months and within a year, the mortality rate is 93 percent.  The surgeon wasn't pushing chemotherapy or even recommending it. But we are 15 minutes away from the largest veterinary cancer center in the country, Veterinary Cancer Group with offices in Tustin and Culver City, so we took Dillon in because they are in the midst of trying a new protocol -- a combination of chemo drugs aimed at splenic hemangiosarcoma.

Our oncologist, Dr. Julie Bulman-Fleming, said that because Dillon's spleen hadn't ruptured that her goal was to get him a year. Since he had just turned nine, a year seemed the least we could expect!

Dillon2 The treatment consisted of four injections of one type of chemo -- an injection every two weeks. This was the strong stuff and even though we were told it almost never happens, Dillon lost nearly every hair on his body, so much hair they took pictures to use in their studies.

He finished the course of IV chemo and the next part of the treatment was taking a pill form of chemo every day. This would last, we were told, "as long as his body could tolerate it or until the cancer came back." So that's what we were doing. Greenie pill pockets were our friend because, along with the chemo pill, Dillon took an anti-inflammatory and lasix every day too. His hair started to grow back -- red!  He was going to be, we laughed, our red-headed stepchild.

A week ago Monday, Dillon started shivering in pain. We went in to the cancer center. An ultrasound was done and showed an inflamed pancreas but nothing else. We began treating him for pancreatitis and by Wednesday Dillon was running around like a puppy. One of our park buddies said he looked like he was on puppy uppers.

On Friday he seemed a bit lethargic. By Sunday he was doing the shivering thing again.

We went back in to the cancer center Monday morning. The oncologist was convinced it was still the pancreatitis but did another ultrasound. The results were devastating.

Dillon-close-up-with-toy Within a week a liver that had seemed clean, was full of bleeding tumors. Our options were limited. He was given a muscular injection of pain medication.

The hope was the tumors might clot naturally and stop bleeding and, if we could get him feeling better, possibly start another chemo course of a different kind of IV chemo. But not until the bleeding stopped. And it was possible that if it didn't stop we might only have a couple of days.

Monday night he got visits from a lot of his Cedar Grove park buddies -- dogs and humans.

The other Glen in our family, Reagan, who normally spends every moment she's with him trying to get him to play, just kept sniffing the area around his liver and then walking away. Monday night, still filled with pain medication, Dillon slept. What broke my heart was that three times during all the visiting Dillon tried to do his Glen sit and couldn’t manage more than a little whimper.

Tuesday morning he didn't want to get out of bed. At all. We coaxed, we promised him a trip to the park. Every other day of his life when we said "park" he said yes -- by wiggling his ears and wagging his tail. (He was my tail-waggin' boy, as I told him about a dozen times a day).

Dillon-close-up-2 We carried him off the bed. He hates being carried. When he would dawdle during walks or when he didn’t want to leave the park Dan would say, "Do you want me to carry you?"  Dillon would pick up the pace.  So Dan put him on the floor and Dillon gingerly made his way down stairs. Our friend Ami had made her famous chicken porridge when Dillon got pancreatitis and Dillon had eaten that like crazy Monday and when I said "Do you want chicken porridge," lately he went straight to the refrigerator.

So when he got downstairs I said, "Do you want chicken porridge?" Instead of following me to the kitchen, Dillon turned left and went to the living room where he kind of staggered under our coffee table and collapsed against a leg. He looked so puzzled because he couldn't get up.

We tried to carry him but, did I mention, he hated being carried? So we walked slowly to the car. We drove first to his park and Dan did carry him to the grass where we sat for awhile. But Dillon didn't even raise his head to sniff. Then we drove to the cancer center. A brief discussion was held about whether to give him appetite enhancers and more pain medication but, really, why?

He had told us it was time.

We sat on a couch (he had hated sitting on the couch with us too, but when we put him down on the one in the 'special' room, he curled up.

Dillon-with-Hershey-toy When his favorite nurse came in to say goodbye he mustered a tail wag. We held him and kissed him and talked to him for an hour, told him what a good boy he was, how he was our bestest, happiest, tail waggin' boy and then the doctor came in and gave him his injection and he went peacefully away.

But never away from our hearts. Our home is filled with Dillon pictures and toys and bowls and blankets and it doesn't feel quite like home right now.

We bought this house in Tustin in March of 2000 and Dillon arrived from Finland (that’s another story and maybe a little longer than a blog post) in August of 2000.

We'd always been so proud of how well he had made that trip from Finland, three months old and by the time he arrived at LAX the bars on his crate were bowed out from the pressure our big-headed boy had applied. We vowed he'd never make a trip alone again.

Until this one. We can't go with him over that darned Rainbow Bridge. But he'll always be with us. What a boy he was. What a blessing.

Just a bit ago we got the call that Dillon’s ashes are ready. After I finish this Dan and I will go and bring Dillon home. 

-- Diane Pucin

Photos: Donna Rehder Powell

 
Comments () | Archives (30)

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Diane and Dan, What a wonderful way to hold Dillions memory than to tell his incredible story. Dillion will live in my heart and thoughts as the Glen with the biggest heart. He lit up a room, and I'll never forget when he took off across the field at the first strongdog test with the quarry. He wanted it all to himself! What a wonderful ambassador for our breed. Be good to yourselves, you did everything possible to get Dillion the help he needed and he knew that! Hugsssssss
Noreen, Seamus, Clancy, Conall and Scarlett and Sairose who is at the rainbow bridge with him

Dillon was a great friend to many. Tonight (10.09.09) was the first night returning to Cedar Grove Park since the passing of our beloved friend. We felt Dillon's spirit in every blade of grass. We hope he is watching us from above.

I've tears in my eyes right now for you and Dillon. I grieve for you, Dan and Reagan. I know how devastating it is to lose a part of your family. Best wishes for you all. As you said, Dillon has crossed over the Rainbow Bridge and he running with his friends. God bless you all!!

I'm sorry. It's easy to see from his pictures that he's a wonderful dog.

God's blessings on you and Dillon. When it was time for my Jake to leave us, I held him in my arms so that when he passed, he did so through my heart.

He was a little gentleman in a fur suit and we'll always remember him for the ray of sunshine that he was. The raccoon that Dillon gave to Goliath is still his favorite toy & I'm sure it's because it came from such a special place.

Much love and hugs to you all during this difficult time. He was a lucky little boy to have such wonderful parents!

Sorry for your loss; he sounds like he was a good and faithful friend. Can tell that it must have come as a shock to you how they creep deep into your heart and how bereft you feel when they are gone. But a day will come when you will laugh at another dog's cavorting and will feel no sadness or guilt that you do. Hope that day comes soon.

I'm sorry for your loss. My fur baby died a year and three months ago and I'm still not over having to put her to sleep. Knowing he was loved and was able to give love is sometimes the only comfort we can take away from the experience.

First, I am sorry for your loss. I can relate first hand to the loss of a beloved four-legged companion. However, my reaction to this article is "how dare you put this innocent soul through such torment." Unlike a human, Dillon never had an opportunity to voice an opinion in his treatment. You had the responsibility to ensure Dillon had a good quality of life after the original tumor was removed and enjoy the time he had left until that quality of life deteriorated to such a point, it was better for him to cross that 'rainbow bridge.' I hope you recognize that all the chemo and other treatments you put Dillon through were for you and not for him. I believe that if Dillon could have told you, he would have preferred to have a few good months of time with those he loved than to spend a year going through treatments that made him lose his hair and made him much more ill in other ways. Dillon will be with you forever in your memories and your heart. Hopefully, his time with you will give you better insight in how to care for your next furry companion.

Dillon touched the lives of all he met. When I would drive in and he was nearby walking, he would come up for me to throw the ball to him. What a loving friend - one who will be remembered for sure!

Ms. Pucin,
I am so sorry for your loss. Dillon sounded like a blessing from God. I know it's so hard to think of life without him but it will get easier. You did the best for him and I firmly believe that he knew it (and still does). Good luck to you and your family.

Barbara, I felt driven to reply. Until a week ago today, Dillon went to the park twice a day, every day. His weight never varied by more than a pound during the treatment. He was almost never alone for a moment from the time of his original surgery until we said goodbye Tuesday. I can guarantee you that Dillon did have a say in his treatment. He had his say with his tail and his voice -- he would practically speak in sentences when he was ready for his park trips -- and while he didn't love losing his hair Dan and I, who knew exactly how he was feeling because we knew him, made sure more than anything that he would not suffer. I wish you could have spoken to his doctors, to his friends at the park, to the neighbors who were throwing him a ball Sunday. But most of all I wish you could have seen Dillon with us. Because he absolutely did have a say in everything the three of us did.

Diane

Whenever I read something like this, it brings tears but it also brings my lost ones back across the rainbow bridge for awhile. May you find peace in having your other Glen there . . .

I have a friend, Luke Robinson, who is walking from Austin to Boston to raise awareness of canince cancer. He should be there by spring after walking for over a year. It is just sad that so many, like you, have already been made aware of how many of our four-legged friends we are losing to this killer.


Mr.and Mrs.Pucin,

I just finished the article and will take my guys out for a ball toss in honor of your beautiful boy Dillon.
I lost a great friend last year. Ike was a rescue dog that I had for 15 years.
Holly,Isabel and Coach will all catch a ball this morning for Dillon.
I hope Reagan will have a new friend very soon.

thekidintexas

Dear Diane,
Your story brought tears to my eyes. I have had many more dogs over the years than most people could even understand, and a number of them have been Glens. Each one is such a big warm hearted part of our lives it really does a great deal to makes us who we are on the inside. Once you've been touched by dogs, you'll never be the same. I currently share my home with 5 Glens and over the years each time one crosses over the Rainbow Bridge it is heart breaking time that devastates, although I know that someday when I cross that same bridge, I'll have a great many friends waiting for me with wagging tails. So remember that one day you'll find him there waiting for you with a ball in his mouth ready to play again.

Best Wishes
--Rick McKinney

Barbara,
Well, at least you had a modicum of decency to start your tirade with an obligatory, "I'm sorry for your loss." And so I will start my response with the equally obligatory, "While you are entitled to your opinion," you haven't a clue as to what Dillon, Diane or Dan experienced these last nine years, nor what veterinary science learned from treating Dillon that may help other dogs. I met Dillon on probably the second day that he lived with Diane and Dan and said goodbye to him on the second to last day of his life, and I can tell you that if I am lucky enough to revisit this planet as any life form, I want it to be as Diane and Dan's dog. In a weird way, you couldn't have said anything more hurtful to them than that Dillon didn't have a choice in being treated - because they truly did treat him as a person in a fur suit - I guess we all did when it came to that. You simply couldn't look into those intelligent eyes and not get this little frisson shock that he understood what you were saying - and this comes from a dog-lover-but-sees-them-as-pets-not-sacred-beings type of person. Dan and Diane sacrificed thousands of dollars at a time when Dan doesn't have a job, juggled their schedules so that neither of them left him alone and extended the life and joy of a little man in a fur suit that loved those two with every breath in his short-statured, but lion-hearted body. I hope you know such true love and devotion some day. And to Dillon: Vaya con Dios querido, we'll all take care of Dan and Diane for you.

Dear Diane and Dan,
We know you and we in the Glen of Imaal Terrier world knew Dillon, and we know you did the best for him. He clearly lead a better life, and end of life than by any other choice you and Dillon might have made. Do not allow the self-righteous, who are always sure they know what is best for everyone else (such as the commentator here Babara), create doubts for you. God bless you both and God bless Dillon.
Eleanore and Drew

Thank you for sharing your story and Dillon's story with us all. I think you did a wonderful thing in caring for him and giving him so much love in his life. I have two dogs, both wonderful, and our youngest Molly has been fighting mast cell cancer off and on for four years now. She's had four major surgeries and lost an ear, but we have been with her as you were with Dillon, and every day when she is enjoying her walks we feel we are blessed in being able to help her get treatment. My thoughts and prayers will be with you in the days to come, and I hope that you find comfort and peace to sustain you in your loss.

We have a secret, you and I,
That no one else shall know,
For who, but I can see you lie,
Each night, in fire glow?
And who but I can reach my hand
Before we go to bed,
And feel the living warmth of you
And touch your silken head?
And only I walk woodland paths,
And see, ahead of me,
Your small form racing with the wind,
So young again, and free.
And only I can see you swim
In every brook I pass...
And, when I call, no one but I
Can see the bending grass.

— Author Unknown
This poem was brought me so much comfort and I hope that it will help you. I lost Fayeroe February 18, 2009. She was 7 and was very healthy. I am sure that She met Dillon at the gate and showed him around. She is half Airedale and half Boxer....quite the good looking girl. Dillon will certainly enjoy her company and her big heart.

Thanks for your story on Dillion,many a dog I
adopted in the last 70 yrs,the last 15 yrs.
taking in seniors,only keeping then 3 or4 yrs,
because of their age, one was a 16yr,
7pd.poodle,Nicki,blind,deaf,left at the shelter,
I was ask to take her,she lived to be 18yrs.
Just last June 27,09,my beautiful German Shepard
4yrs.old I found dead in his bed,why I donot
know,every one of my pets death,has taken something out of my life,I love them so much.I
know how you feel.There is a dog out there looking for your love who needs you very badly,
please find him and in honor of your Dillion,
give him a home,this is what I do to help my
hurting. All my pets are in a pet cemetery,all
17 since 1956.I even have my 25 yr.old bird there,all with beautiful grave stones,I put
flowers on the graves,and remember them this way.You are so lucky to of had your Dillion,
Pets are wonderful,I wish we could just give them a pill to make them live a lot longer,for they donot stay with us long enough,and it hurts
so badly when their gone.
Take care, Marie

This is a beautiful story and brought tears to my eye - please ignore Barbara's awful comments. Some people think they know more than everyone.

Dillon was obviously adored and he adored you right back. Thanks for sharing your story!

Marie, thank you for your kind words. People who do rescue work are true angels. If you don't mind my asking, where is the cemetery where you have your pets. We'd love to visit sometime and bring some flowers. Dillon we've chosen to keep at home. His ashes are in a special place so we can be near him.

Diane

Pat, after crying because the poem was so touching, I had to laugh a little. When Dillon was a puppy, we would take him to a dog park in Irvine. For some reason, boxers took a dislike to Dillon and would always try and bite him on the butt. It took a couple months of this but one night, after about four boxers annoyed him on that butt area, Dillon just wheeled on them. If he opened his mouth wide a sound we called the "devil sound" would emanate and you could see all his (very large) teeth because, after all, Glens were bred to hunt and kill badgers. These boxers turned tail! After that Dillon made the decision that if he saw a boxer it would be best to just, um, take care of the problem early. He hasn't spent much time around boxers ever since. So hopefully it's the Aeirdale portion of your faeryroe that Dillon sniffs out first!

Diane

Diane and Dan, we will always hold very fond memories and love for Dillon as he truly was part of the family. All of these wonderful notes only scratch the surface of the love that the two of you shared with Dillon and the wonderful nine years he enjoyed with us all, right up to his very last day. As for Barbara, I think she may have a possible future as an "Obama-care" panelist to determine Granny's fate - just give up on care and put them out of their misery . . .

What a wonderful piece, Diane. I know Dillon is very proud of you at The Rainbow Bridge. God Bless you both, Diane and Dan for giving "our boy" such a wonderful life.
Just wish I would have known Dillon much sooner. Know he and my sweet Nellie will become good friends and are waiting for us at The Bridge. Dillon has been added to my prayers along with all the other special animals that have made our lives so happy.
Love, Donna and Ollie

To those souls that vilified me for my 'opinion,' which I made because not enough emphasis was placed in the article about considering quality of life when making decisions, you should know that I too have held more than one beloved pet in my arms while they left this life. Each time I made very difficult decisions as to when to treat and when to let go. Each time I agonized over what my beloved companion would want me to do. I always sought the advice of my vet before making any final decision. I have learned the hard way, that too many times we make decisions on what we want and not on what is best for those we love. Putting the slant totally one way makes for a very touching story but does not address other issues that need to be considered when making decisions about treatment for an ill pet. The first message I got from this story was 'we loved Dillon very much and wanted to extend his happy life as long as possible.' The other, less obvious message was 'to go to whatever lengths necessary to give us more time with our dog, no matter what discomfort that treatment may cause' (when was the last time someone who had cancer told any of you that it didn't make him/her quite ill during the chemo treatments). In addition, there were probably many people with limited incomes who read this story. What decisions should they make when extending a beloved pet's life when it may mean spending thousands of dollars that they don't have. Should they be made to feel guilty that they must choose another option? This story would have been just as wonderful and touching if it had not mentioned the treatment decisions made. But since it did mention them, it should have also mentioned why those decisions were made in this case and why they are not necessarily the same ones others facing a similar situation should make. That to me is responsible journalism.

Hi Diane,. Just read your beautiful letter, and your love of the loss of your family pet Dillion. After loosing three pets of our own, and each one harder to take then the first I know your sadness. From the pictures it sure was a classy looking dog I can see your true feelings, and when one becomes a part of the family you do all you can to keep it from pain until the very end. Who better then you, and Dan were best suited to know how long, and when the treatments Dillion whould need. Time will heal keep the faith...take care, and God bless.

Diane and Dan, What a beautiful memorial to Dillon! My family and I had the pleasure of meeting Dillon on his occasional sleepovers to Bob and Lisa's house. We are their neighbors next door. You are right, he captures the heart of everyone that meets him. He was a beautiful, smart dog with so much personality! Dillon even put up with my daughter's lavish attention and her "dog whistle scream" at the very sight of him. She just could not contain her excitement to see him.

We saw him just a few weeks ago in the midst of all his treatments and he was the same old Dillon. Other than a new hairdo, he was happy, healthy, wagging his tail and playing a game of chase with Reagan.

Diane and Dan, hold your heads up high. You took such good care of Dillon. He will never be forgotten!

The Broussard Family

Barbara, let me respond respectfully to a couple of the points you made. If I had been reporting this as a full-length newspaper story I would have mentioned some of the cost issues. It was not cheap. His initial surgery was about $4,000; each course of the intravenous chemo was $600; each month of the pills would have been about $400. As well there were three ultrasounds done during his treatment at about $500 each (the tumor doesn't show up well on x-rays).

It wasn't an expense we took lightly or could absorb easily. We also, and I would advise this of anyone whose pet is having any health issue, did a lot of research and a lot of talking. Yes, I have spoken to humans who have undergone chemo. Have you ever spoken to a veterinary oncologist about canines and chemo? We watched a neighbor's Scottish Terrier undergo chemo (different kinds) while fighting lymphoma. The Scottie, Bailey, didn't lose a hair on his head and never got nauseous and was at the park two days before he passed. The first thing we were told by our oncologist is to not make the mistake of assuming animals and humans handle chemo the same way. After the surgery to remove the two-pound tumor, Dillon's weight never varied by more than a few ounces. On his last night alive he ate up a storm. Most dogs lose little or no hair. Dillon's breed, it turns out, is a bit different. No one who has a pet should ever feel guilt about what they can and can't afford. As long as you treat your pet with love and respect when you have him or her, you've done a great, great thing. I'd also hesitate, though, to make assumptions about why others who make decisions you might not make have done what they did. Of course we wanted Dillon with us for as long as possible. But only as long as he could be Dillon.

Could I ask why you assumed we made a decision only to benefit the humans in the house? I hope you'll look at the picture of the almost-hairless Dillon again, look at his face and tell me if you really believe he is suffering. Because I look and see a dog that was smiling, doing his sit up and begging for treats at the park. That's what he was doing, by the way.

Diane

What a loving, beautiful and elegant tribute you have written for Dillon. He truly was special. You're right - we all feel the same way about our dogs, but I also believe that some dogs really are extra-special. Maybe it's because they were loved so dearly during their life..clearly Dillon was. How fortunate that he found his way to you. I am sure he is eternally grateful for the life and love that you gave him and that as time passes, you will remember him with more laughter and fewer tears. It can take a very, very long time. I know. Thank you for sharing this story. All the best,
Kelly


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