Sunday, August 28, 2011

Human Centering: Veterinary Style with Our Sick Dog, Buckeye

Our ten year-old dog Buckeye was bleeding from a tumor above the right shoulder, below the neck.  It was a continuous flow from his repeated scratching at it with his right rear foot which was red with his blood.  The antibiotic spray from our vet was no match for his self-damaging scratching.  He looked tired.  Our washing and bandaging didn't stop the blood flow.  We washed him and wrapped his wound with gauze and a towel and headed for the 24 hour Dayton Care Center (for pets) listed on our vet's front window.

Buckeye is a big, gentle long haired half Collie who is very effective keeping deer away and fighting off raccoons that try to get in our bird feeders and Rebecca's plants.  He was in half Husky (his other half) heaven last winter when temperatures hit zero and he seemed to thrive on it. He loved the air conditioning, on the other hand, the last two months when it was sweltering outside.  He's been lying around a lot the last three months.  Old age seemed to be one factor, but the mass showed up with bleeding a couple days after he had an altercation with a raccoon.  Initially, we wondered if it was an abscess from the fight, but the vet noted that it wasn't related to the raccoon, but it was a tumor.

The front desk woman at the Dayton Care Center, Ann, asked about and clarified with us the problems our dog was having then gently took our dog's leash, addressed him by name, saying, "Come on, Buckeye" and walked him back to get his vital signs checked.  He walked slowly with her through the doors to the clinical area.  We had to fill out forms, then wait for the vet to clarify how she would proceed.  We watched the waiting room TV, on the food channel, featuring chef competition.  The vet, "Amy" B., came out to interact about Buckeye, offering us an opportunity to meet in a quiet room or right where we were in the main waiting area, where no other owners remained except my wife and I.  We said, it's ok right here if it's ok with you.  She was comfortable reviewing his situation, seeking guidance from us about how far to go.

She noted on examination that his gums were very pale, indicating a possible anemia, acute or chronic or both,  and he was wheezing in the right lung only which could relate to the anemia or the tumor or both or neither.  We sensed that she leaned toward doing an x-ray to clarify the lung situation and blood test to define the extent of the anemia could guide other decisions about what to do with our ten year old dog who had been slowing down for several months.  I appreciated the interpersonal skills of the vet who used vague, open-ended language in the early part of our engagement while she was allowing us to determine the extent of the work-up based on our sense of our dog's overall health and meaning to us.  She said, OK, we'll get those tests and then review the situation again with you.

Three courses of chef competition later on the show "Chopped", she came into the waiting area and asked us to come with her to review the x-rays.  I knew that they would be abnormal by the way she spoke, probably showing more cancer, meaning his life was near the end.  She said the anemia is severe and there are worrisome, malignant appearing lesions all over the lungs (but they could be signs of other problems like a fungal infection), pointing to circular areas of white where black would have been more normal.   She allowed us to comment on the findings and start thinking aloud what we thought that meant for Buckeye.  So his life is coming to an end, we mumbled.  After mentioning a few other aspects of his failing health with her, she told us that, if we wish, they could euthanize him right there.  We gasped for a second, then thought of our sweet, kind-hearted collie-husky dog.

"What if we had him home a couple days", my wife pondered aloud.  "I'm not sure he'll last very long and he'll still most likely be bleeding unless he has a large bandage and T shirt covering it and a covering on his right rear foot to avoid his intense scratching at the tumor", clarified the vet as she effectively shared her perspective.  "I don't want to be too blunt, but I want you to know the extent of his disease and how fast it's evolving.  I had a dog that was similar and no one told me, which was disappointing because I waited too long," she self disclosed to us (almost in those exact words).  We could tell that she loves dogs.  Her caring was helpful.

Twice during the engagement around the x-ray image on a wall-mounted computerized image viewer, she asked open ended questions seeking to clarify how we perceived our relationship with our dog and what we thought of the life of our dog.  She was very kind and respectful, not pushy in any way, letting us make the big decisions.  We realized that our dog would soon enter a mode of suffering by bleeding and wanting to scratch it and getting more and more exhausted until he couldn't stand and we would feel sad for his misery.  We suddenly understood that we should have him euthanized right there and so stated.  The vet said we could go to be with him just after we signed the papers for the procedure and burial at a local pet cemetery (if that was our desire).

Ann was sadder than before as she introduced the forms and the bill which we signed and paid before going in with Buckeye.  We both started to cry when we saw him lying on a blanket with two towels around his neck, already soaked in blood at the site of the tumor.  He was tired and still kind.  We petted him and touched him and talked to him.  He quietly enjoyed our touch and our words of love and farewell.  He seemed to be relieved as he put his head down and rested for his trip to dog heaven.

I was comforted by the style and demeanor of the front desk assistant and Dr. Amy B., the veterinarian.  They allowed us to progress through some difficult decisions by allowing the time and openness to reflect on who we are and what we believe about our dog. I am thankful to them for their caring and skill.  I also appreciate whoever contributed to their training.  It isn't easy to engage strangers about personal relationships with their pets.  Thanks to them for being so human centered while caring so much for pets and their owners.


  1. We're so sorry you had to lose Buckeye at such a young 'old' age. We felt very fortunate to have McGaver 15 years, and Ridge 12. Hopefully Nugget will be more like McGaver. We hope you'll find another sweet, gentle, kind-hearted dog to accept the love you still have for Buckeye, and to fill the hole in your lives.
    Love, Mary Jo and Mainor

  2. Thank you Dr. Jonas for the kind words. It amazes me that this is what you were thinking after having to say goodbye to a dear pet,friend and family member no doubt, I admire that in you. As you say, although a stranger, I could see how much you and your wife dearly loved Buckeye and wanted to do what was best for him. I am thankful for being able to help and guide you and Buckeye through a difficult time.
    In loving memory of Buckeye..... I know he will be dearly missed.

    Dr. Amy B.

  3. I'm so sorry for the loss of your beloved dog, Buckeye.