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Cutter's Last Days
Cutter hanging out on the couch, 10 days before we lost him

Cutter's Last Days
Cutter had had a brush with cancer in May when we had a lump removed from the side of his chest, behind his front leg. It came back diagnosed as an aggressive fibrosarcoma, but there were no cancerous cells in the margin of the sample, so it's likely surgical removal was a cure in that case. Our vet recommended a followup surgery, two weeks after the lump was removed, to take more of the tissue surrounding that area — if by chance any of those aggressive cells remained, we would have further assurance that the cancer was really gone.

It was a wake-up call for us. Cutter had always had harmless fatty tumors, but a great number of them. Our traditional vet was unconcerned by them, but after the cancer diagnosis we became more proactive and began seeing a holistic vet in tandem. (Originally, we saw him for pain relief, as I was uncomfortable with the toxicity of the traditional vet's post-surgery prescriptions. The holistic vet prescribed Chinese herbs and Traumeel which worked very well to handle Cutter's post-surgical pain.) When we discussed Cutter's diet with the holistic vet, he suggested that the fatty tumors might be due to higher-than-desired carbohydrate levels in the diet. With his guidance, we became educated and began feeding a raw food diet. We are converts where that is concerned: we know now that we should have been feeding raw all along. Cutter's brother-to-be will have that benefit, among so many others that he taught us.

On January 21st, I started working from home due to my own health issue. We live in Maine and I have very poor circulation — it became necessary for me to restrict my cold exposure and part of that meant avoiding the poorly-insulated older building where my office is located. Since I'm a web designer by trade, and already worked from home once or twice a week, this was an easy transition. And since Cutter was with me 24/7, wherever we were working, he was just as happy to work from home.

After a couple of weeks, Cutter started eating less, about half his normal food intake. At first, we attributed this to the restricted activity. But then he stopped eating altogether. The holistic vet was out of town for an extended leave, so we were a little at a loss as to what to do. We once thought maybe we'd gotten a bad batch of raw meat, but when we tried other types of food, he still wouldn't eat. If you were preparing the food, he would be all excited and clearly hungry, but put the food down and he would take one sniff and walk away. I took him to the regular vet and they ran a blood test which came back with a diagnosis of hypothyroidism. We thought we had our answer.

Cutter started the medication, but after a couple of days, I was still concerned. The vet was not particularly — she said with his size, it might take a week or two for the medicine to work and his appetite to return. But the fact that he would not eat anything, not even egg or cookies, told me something serious was going on. She said they could do some further testing, to help rule out other issues if I wanted to. I could bring him in for a full physical and an ultrasound "on Monday morning." I made that appointment on a Thursday. All this time, this month at home, Cutter acted his normal self — other than at mealtimes, when it was more our frustration that showed. That last week, though, after I put the food down and after he sniffed and walked away, he would bark at me. A high-pitched bark as if to say "Mumma, something's not right!" I felt so helpless. It was clear to me that he was hungry, but something was preventing him from eating.

Friday, February 27th, started like any other day that month. I worked in the morning and took my "CutterCam" pic for the day. When Marc got home from work, I think I told him Cutter wasn't feeling well. Honestly, I don't really remember much from that part of the day. I do remember that night. We all went up to bed as usual, but Cutter got up in the night. He was uncomfortable, you could tell. Marc got his mat from the living room and brought it up to the bedroom floor. Sometimes we would do that when he got too hot in his bed — he would want to lie on the bedroom floor stretched out. But this night, he wouldn't rest. He would lie down, but up on his elbows — he wouldn't lie all the way on his side. His breathing was slightly labored. We talked about whether we should call the vet. We were unsure what was wrong, or what to do. So we tried to relax and calm him, calm each other. But we were awake most of the night. We decided we would call the vet, but we'd wait till morning so she wouldn't have to get up in the middle of the night. We'd each get little cat-naps in and then Cutter would rise and pace, find a new spot to lie. He wouldn't get up on our bed (always when he felt ill, he would do this for comfort) so I got in his bed with him and tried to soothe him.

At about four-thirty in the morning, he rose up and wouldn't settle and I decided to go downstairs with him, so Marc could sleep. None of us were getting any sleep and Marc had to report to work at 7 a.m. I turned on his favorite Jack Johnson music and put some blankets down on the floor and then he and I lay down next to each other with a blanket over us. I lay there petting him and telling him it was going to be okay. Within an hour, Marc had come down and joined us. We lay on the floor with Cutter between us. Resting, petting, soothing, listening to the music. At one point, Cutter turned to Marc and gave him a tiny kiss, then turned to me and gave me one, too. In retrospect, I think he was telling us his time had come. It was the most bitter-sweet moment of my life. A few minutes later, he rose up, but he was very unsteady on his feet. In alarm, I got up with him and turned on the light. He wouldn't look me in the eye, he acted like he was coming out of anesthesia and I told Marc, "He's losing it, we have to call."

At 6 a.m. we called the emergency vet line and our vet called back a few minutes later. I described our night and how he was acting and she said we should all meet at the office immediately. I told her we had a 20-minute drive, so she said she'd take a quick shower and meet us there.

Never in a million years did I think that walk down the walkway would be our last walk with him. We thought, We'll wait till morning and call Jodie and she'll fix this. Marc got his Ruff Wear harness on him, which has a strong handle, as he had to help hold up his weight so he could walk. We got him in the back seat and I sat beside him, holding his head, stroking him, telling him, "Cutter's okay. Cutter's going to be all right. We love you." Over and over and over. Marc drove like a madman. It was a fast trip.

Jodie met us a few minutes after we got there and we took him in. In the exam room, he stood, but he was unsteady and tried to walk out the door. His gums and tongue were white and she said we'd need to do x-rays. Because he's so large and she had no staff, Marc and I had to help place him. She took two images and Cutter was amazing. For the second image, he lay flat on his back with all four legs and tail spread to expose his belly and didn't move a muscle. He KNEW we were all there to help him. Back in the exam room, looking at the x-rays, there was a large ball of fluid between the stomach and intestines, constricting the stomach area. She said one possibility was that he had a tumor that had ruptured — with any luck, it would be on the spleen and she could remove it. In any case, she would need to do an exploratory surgery to find out what was happening.

An ultrasound might help and would have been the next step before surgery, but the only vet they had who did them was out of town till Monday. We could drive an hour and a half to Portland for one, but then if the results indicated surgery, he'd be with strangers and they'd do the surgery there. Right away Marc and I said we wanted to cut out the middleman. She said she wasn't sure Cutter could take the time of all that, either.

And then, she said she had to prepare us: it might not be the spleen. It might be something more serious. We had to prepare ourselves for the possibility that Cutter might not make it. And then the world shifted under me. She left us alone to call for backup and to give us a little time alone. She left a message with one of her technicians and when he didn't pick up, she also called and talked to another of the vets in the office to say she might need her if he didn't call back. Then she came to us and asked us to help get him ready for surgery. We helped weigh him and then got him onto a small mattress on the floor of the lab. I lay alongside him on the floor as Marc helped her try for a blood sample — he was so anemic they couldn't get it. She then hooked him up to fluids and administered something to help relax him. He did start breathing more normally and seemed to relax. Then, for an hour or so, I lay alongside him and Marc sat at his opposite side and we stroked him and told him how much we loved him. We told him about all his dog friends and all the places we loved to go. We talked like he would go to those places again, like he would play with those dogs again. We had such hope. "Please come back to us. Please be okay."

Then the other vet came. Marc and I were beside him as they gave him his sedative, we were the last thing he saw. Jodie said it might be a couple hours, it really depended on what they found, so we decided to go home to wait. When we walked in the door, the phone was ringing and we just knew it wasn't good. Marc answered and I fell apart. Jodie told him his liver didn't have a normal cell showing. He'd ruptured a blood vessel, that's where all the fluid had come from. There was cancer everywhere. Both kidneys were compromised. It was inoperable. She wanted to know if we wanted her to bring him awake, so we could come in and say goodbye, but we couldn't do that to him. We didn't want him to feel any pain any more. We also didn't bother to have her send out for testing, to discover what type of cancer it was. So we don't really know that. And it doesn't matter. He's gone.

Weeks later, when I could bring myself to call Jodie, to ask my questions, she told me that that early Saturday morning, waiting for Dr. Kate to come, was one of the most touching experiences she'd ever witnessed in all her years of practice.

Our love for him is undeniable.

Thank you to all of you who have written to Marc and me. It has helped us to know we are not alone in our devotion to our dog and in the powerful grief we feel. Thank you also to those who have donated to Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue in Cutter's memory. If you haven't and you want to, you may donate here.

(good dog)
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