Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Story of Grace

Grace came to me in October of 1999 as a 6 month old stray, picked up by the Cincinnati Police Dept. and brought to the veterinary emergency hospital where I worked. I had recently lost my Rott puppy, Raven, and the emergency practice had retired our blood donor, Kayla, also a Rottweiller, so we were all primed for a new dog. She was bad, though, and my first order was "Call the Humane Society and get her out of the building!" She was protective of toys and food, had no training, had to be muzzled for any kind of restraint, and had the pinched, suspicious look in her eyes that I attribute to a fear-aggressive dog.

By the end of the shift, I could see some potential in her, and volunteered to foster her for 6 months, until she was old enough to take her place as the replacement blood donor.

After six months of living with Holly and I, lots of
hard work, and 3 levels of obedience training, Grace blossomed and turned into a great dog. My fellow emergency vets refused to let me give her back to the practice, so she became mine, not that I minded at all.

Every time I blog, this is what I deal with -
85 lbs of Rottweiler under the desk, with no place for my feet and legs.

From those rocky beginnings, she has become a very special dog. She raised one of my cats, Manny (short for Katmandu) who was taken from his mom too young, and allowed him to "nurse" on her belly hairs until he was 8 months old and she decided he should be weaned.

This is Grace with baby Manny. I swear, she is just cleaning him up, not eating him - he survived many of these Rott tongue baths!

I trust her with kids of all ages. She is very gentle, and patient, too. Here she is teaching Susan's daughter Isabelle how to play with the Chuck-It toy.

"Throw it, kid. C'mon, throw it already!"

Along with Holly, Grace and I went through Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Obedience classes. Each of these were 8 week classes, and during the third session, we also took Beginning Agility (both dogs) so for 4 months, I had two dog classes a week and for the last 2 months, I had 4 dog classes a week. Whew! I still can't believe I survived it.

Grace loved her Agility class. During our last Obedience class, she was constantly missing the cues I was giving her because she was looking over her shoulder at the Agility ring. "I wanna go THERE, Mom. I wanna do what THOSE dogs are doing," she was obviously thinking. Obedience gave her roots, but Agility gave her confidence and let her soar.

In 2003, Grace developed a mass on her left front leg. I could tell by feeling it that it wasn't good, and I made a decision. I could be her Mom, or I could be her vet. I couldn't be both. So, I had a veterinary oncologist friend aspirate the lump, to confirm my suspicions that it was cancerous, and a veterinary surgeon friend operate on it. It was a hemangiopericytoma, a soft tissue sarcoma of the cells surrounding a blood vessel, and it was so tightly wrapped around the vital structures of her leg that it could not be completely removed.

Soft tissue sarcomas like this one are locally invasive (keep coming back at the same site) but slow to metastasize (spread to other organs or tissues.) Our choices were amputation or radiation therapy. She was only 4 years old at the time, and I couldn't bear to take her leg off without considering other options. So, Grace went to Columbus for a month, to live with my sister and to receive radiation therapy at Med-Vet. She had 19 treatments, every Monday through Friday for 3 weeks, then 4 days the last week, and she had to be under anesthesia for every session. After the third week, the skin over the radiation site began to slough off. I don't have any photos of that awful time, but I do have a picture of her radiation site after it healed:

In RT, they call this white patch a "Badge of Courage."

My veterinary radiation oncologist, Dr. Deb Prescott, told me that RT had an 85% success rate for this kind of cancer. If she went three years without recurrence at the site, she could be considered cured. Memorial Day weekend, 2006, was the big day, the day we passed the three year mark. Dr. Prescott said if she survived that long, she could live a normal life span.

To celebrate her cure, we enrolled in the Clermont County Dog Training Club's
Agility program, taking Beginning and Intermediate level classes, just for fun. [I don't have the time or personality to compete.] Grace's eyes lit up when she walked into the ring and saw the various jumps, tunnels, and other apparatus. Even though it had been 6 years since her first Agility class, she remembered it and couldn't wait to get back into action.

I love this picture of the two of us from our graduation from Intermediate Agility. The only things not moving are my foot and the tire jump. Grace is a blur, but you can make out her streamlined shape, front legs tucked up, back legs together and off the ground. Her head is turned toward me, watching my hand as I point towards the next obstacle. And, you can see her "badge of courage," proving that there is life after cancer.


Holly said...

Yay Gracie! It always makes me smile to see pictures of her now, knowing what she (and you) went through for that time. I remember your agony and worries over her then. She was the target of lots of prayers over here too.

All that and great looks too!

Susan Gets Native said...

Good, sweet Gracie.
Lorelei: "I wanna kiss Gwasee!"

nina said...

The love and companionship of a dog--totally pure.
I have 106 pounds of giant schnauzer, head resting on my lap (won't fit under desk) while I blog.
Glad Gracie is well.

Jayne said...

What a sweet, sweet story of love and triumph!

KGMom said...

OK--I'll go for the pun: Grace is amazing!
I really loved this story--I am such a sucker for animals, but esp. dogs & cats. And this one has a happy ending.
As I was reading, I hesitated--where is this story going? But I love the whole story. Including the badge of courage.
Cheers for Grace & you, Mom.

Mary said...

I'm late but I'm glad I read this, Katdoc. I'm really inspired by your dedication to her. She's a wonderful dog with a mission - to please and to have fun at the same time. There are no bad dogs. Your love of them proves it. Great story.

Lisa said...

You left out the part about "my *long-suffering* sister who had to get up at an ungodly hour in order to schlep Grace to treatment every morning before work and retrieve her every evening and only required payment in coffee." (hee hee.) And as a result has a second dog who lives 2 hours away, but never lets me forget that I belong partly to her too.