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

October 9, 2009 |  6:17 pm

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

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