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My beloved Tshuvah, Aug 10 201011

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Hi everyone.  This is my first blog.  I’m writing to honor my beloved Tshuvah, to share her story, and to help myself cope with this very trying situation.  Let’s start with the story of Tshuvah.

Tshuvah is a mixed breed “Taos dog”.  We call her that because, well, we live in Taos, NM and found her here on the road (not uncommon, New Mexico is an awful place for companion animals).  She looks like many many other mixed breed dogs that live here; lots of red heeler (Australian Cattle Dog), a dash of pit, and several ounces of anyone’s guess.  She is beautiful, about 40 lb, very strong, compact, fleet of foot, and has these dramatic Egyptian eyes, kohl black eyeliner and all.  She also has these amazing bat-ears and communicates in an intricate array of grunts, squeaks, monkey sounds and nose-pokes.  She is personality plus and EVERYONE loves her.  She’s irresistable.

I found Tshuvah about 9 years ago, we guess she’s about 10 years old now.  I was driving the back country roads to work one morning and found her trotting along the side of the road.  She was literally skin and bones, and was unable to use her right back leg.  It was quite atrophied and the joint was out, so we guess it was an older injury.  I always have food and water for dogs in my car so I stopped to feed her, and assumed that like most other homeless dogs in Taos, she would run away from me.  Well, she’s the only one in 9 years of feeding homeless dogs who came willingly up to me, tail wagging.  So of course I took her in the car and to the vet.  Her hip joint was out and couldn’t be popped back in, so a femoral head ostectomy was performed to create a false joint.  She’s done great and had no problems with her back leg since.

At that time we already had two 100 lb yellow labrador boys, Tzav and Yesha.  My husband was very grouchy about having a third dog so I found a new home for Tshuvah in Colorado Springs.  However, I was so broken hearted about having done so that I contacted the new guardian a week later and asked if I could have Tshuvah back!  She said yes (I think she was grateful and got a cat shortly thereafter!) and so Tshuvah came back to us on Yom Kippur, which is how she got her name.  “Tshuvah” is the theme of Yom Kippur, meaning a spiritual return to one’s truest, best self.

Tshuvah loved her big brother labs.  She has always been a bit flirty with big boy dogs (and human men, too, for that matter).  She also had a true love, a romance with a chow mix named Puppy Chow…it was love at first sight for them both and we used to joke with Puppy Chow’s guardian that they were husband and wife.  I’ve never seen two dogs act out an honest to goodness romantic love like that.

Tshuvah has always been an amazing athlete.  She left her labrador brothers in the dust.  We live adjacent to several hundred acres of undeveloped mesa and also near the southern tip of the rockies (the Sangre De Cristo mountains) and Tshuvah has rarely been on a leash; free to run with us and her brothers, chasing mice and jackrabbits and good smells.  She is a fierce digger and often returns to us with a big smile and a dusty brown nose from poking into the dry dusty mesa earth.  She’s not much for swimming but has taken the plunge into the Rio Grande just to show her water boy brothers that she’s capable of anything.  When I saw her catch a full grown jackrabbit on the fly, I knew she truly was capable of anything.

Two years ago we lost our older lab, Tzav, who had a myriad of health issues.  This was hard for Tshuvah because she and Tzav were real partners in crime.  We called them Mutt and Jeff :)).  Last year was harder, though, for all of us when we very suddenly lost Yesha, at age 9, to soft tissue sarcoma.  Yesha was a heart and soul dog, and all of us in the family relied on his calm, steady love.  Tshuvah has been a bit lost since Yesha died, as have we all.  She was always the funny little sister of the family, and now she’s the only child (unless you count our human daughter, who came along 5 years ago, LOL!)

Tshuvah started limping in late April of this year, 2010.  This isn’t particularly unusual for a dog who runs at top speed all over the rough terrain of Northern New Mexico and who also was 9 years old.  But after not finding any cactus in her paw, no foxtails, and time for a sprain to heal did nothing, we got x-rays (clean), had chiropractic and neuro-muscular therapy, and various anti-inflammatory and NSAID meds.  Of course nothing worked, her limp got worse, and we took her to the emergency specialist in Santa Fe.  Another x-ray, one month later, showed clear evidence of a bone tumor in her left front leg and a provisional diagnosis of osteosarcoma was made.  We were encouraged to amputate and start chemo, and were given the usual prognosis of 6 months without chemo, 1 year with.

We were devastated, needless to say.  But here’s a typical Tshuvah story.  That day at the veterinary specialist, Tshuvah was in terrible pain from the bone tumor and wasn’t eating or moving around much.  But in the waiting room, she insisted on limping up to every single person to say an individual hello…tail wagging, making her funny grunts and nose-pokes.  We all watched this little sick dog dragging herself around to seven strangers to get and give some love and knew she wasn’t ready to die.  So we ok’d the amputation.

She did pretty well, came home 3 days later.  She did need some kidney flushes and hand-feeding post-op but we handled that.  Harder to handle was the terrible news two weeks later that she has hemangiosarcoma, not osteosarcoma…as if osteo isn’t bad enough!  Hemangio is a cancer of the blood vessels, has a life expectancy of 1-2 months post-diagnosis, is horrendously aggressive and highly metastatic.  It only rarely presents with a primary bone tumor and does not respond well to chemo.  That was a bitter day, a very bitter day.

We decided not to pursue chemo since the odds of it working were so small and Tshuvah is very frightened of vets and sensitive to meds and interventions.  We didn’t want her last weeks or months to be stressful for her, filled with vet visits, blood draws, forcing medications on her since she won’t take anything in food like her labrador brothers always did.

We are now exactly 2 months post-amputation.  Tshuvah has developed some kind of subcutaneous lump behind her right shoulder blade that the vet was unable to aspirate, and also several blood blister-type bumps around her neck and ears.  We assume these are all related to the cancer.  She does not appear to be in any pain (she takes gabapentin at night for what we think was some phantom limb pain) and she does seem to be enjoying life.  We are spending the summer in Chicago visiting my family and Tshuvah has had a blast meeting tons of kids at the big beautiful parks here, learning all about squirrels and chipmunks, and going into town for vanilla ice cream.  As always, she is an amazing ambassador for canine-kind, and especially now for tripawds.

Tshuvah has made it to the end of what is considered typical life expectancy for her diagnosis.  We have no idea if she will live another hour, day, week, month, or more.  I am driving back to Taos in two weeks and don’t know if Tshuvah will be in the front seat with me as she was on the drive here, winning friends at every rest stop in Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado.  The daily not-knowing is a devastating spiritual trial for me.  I love Tshuvah with my heart and soul.  I try to live everyday with her in such a way as to have no regrets.  And I know she will be going to her big labrador brothers when she passes.  I pray to Yesha and Tzav to watch over Tshuvah now, to help her in her passage, and to be there to greet her at the Bridge when its time.  I pray for them to help me, too.  Losing three dearly dearly beloved dogs in three years is a great burden on my heart.  I’ll write more in a later post about how Tzav, Yesha and Tshuvah carried me through 10 devastating years and how great my debt is to them.  I am indebted to you for your care and love in reading about my Tshuvi-Pie.


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  1.    Leslie at August 10th, 2010 10:42 am:

    Wow, Beth. I don’t know what your 10 years were like, but the past three seem to be both blessed and devastating. So sorry for the pain you have faced.

    Forgive my ignorance, how do you pronounce her name? Is it just the way it looks, but the “T” is silent?

    I’ll keep you all in my prayers.


  2.    labradorim at August 10th, 2010 10:50 am:

    Thanks Leslie. I should have included the pronunciation of her name; its a hard transliteration from the Hebrew. Say it like “choo-vah”.

    Thank you for your prayers and thanks for visiting the blog. It helps to know folks like you are out there. Beth

  3.    admin at August 10th, 2010 11:08 am:

    Thanks for the update! We look forward to following Tshuvah’s three legged adventures.

  4.    credocanis at August 10th, 2010 11:57 am:

    How blessed you both are to have found each other. You’ve certainly come to the right place for moral support.

    Good luck. We’ll be thinking happy thoughts of you both!!

    Lincoln’s Mom

  5.    krun15 at August 10th, 2010 12:14 pm:

    Hi Beth,
    I am glad you started a blog so we can know a little more about Tshuvah, she is a very special girl.
    I know how hard this part of the journey is. All we can do is enjoy every moment. I learned from Maggie not to worry about dates or prognois, enjoy each day, and worry about the end when it gets here. It is so hard for us two leggers to live life like our dogs do- but I think that is what helped me through our last difficult months.
    And no matter what happens- she will always be in the front seat with you.

  6.    etgayle at August 10th, 2010 12:53 pm:

    beth, thanks for sharing tshuvah’s story with us. she’s such a beautiful girl (looks a little like our jane around the eyes…), a true embodiment of joy and grace. capturing the moments, every day, is our task in this awful journey through cancer…sounds like you guys are doing just that. blessings to you!!!

    charon & gayle

  7.    nbobco at August 10th, 2010 3:53 pm:

    Hi Beth,
    Ten years ago, my family and I lost 2 dogs within 2 years. The first from a birth defect in our dog’s spine that caused permanent paralysis and the second from lymphoma. I was only in my pre teens at the time, so they were the first animals I grew up with essentially all my life. It was hard to lose so much so soon and my heart goes out to you.
    My current dog Chloe just underwent amputation 12 days ago due to a spindle cell sarcoma tumor on her back left leg. Luckily it hadn’t spread to the lymphnodes in her knee (biopsy of one came back negative), so the vet is very confident that she is now cancer free. I read that one of your dogs passed from this type of cancer, rare as it is. For our dog that passed away from lymphoma she too was only given a few month life expectancy from the day of diagnosis, but managed to live another year with some chemo treatments. I understand this isn’t a viable option given the type of cancer your dog has, so all you can do is exactly what you have been doing. Lots of love, lots of time together and enjoying every moment you have.

    Chloe’s mom

  8.    Carmen (Catie's Mom) at August 10th, 2010 7:04 pm:

    Beth, thank you for sharing Tsuvah’s story here. I know the “not knowing” may weigh heavy on your heart sometimes but it must be made lighter by the joy you’ve found and the love you have for her.

    Like Charon and Gayle said, it’s all about capturing and celebrating all those moments.

    Thank you again. Lovely first blog. 🙂

  9.    Mackenzie's Mom at August 10th, 2010 10:09 pm:

    What a moving and beautiful’s obvious how much love you have for Tsuvha and your other 2 angels. I can’t imagine what you must be going through right now. As it’s been said many times, enjoy each moment you have with Tsuvha. I hope you’re able to drive back to Taos with her in your front seat. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  10.    jerry at August 10th, 2010 10:11 pm:

    Oh how wonderful to see you here! Now we know all about Tshuvah. And YES, her story will definitely help others. Thank you for being brave enough to share it.

    Tshuvah is a warrior princess and we are so amazed with her courage and strength as she copes with cancer.

    Many hugs coming your way!

  11.    Tazzie at August 12th, 2010 10:05 am:

    What a beautiful post. I understand your situation much better now. Your love for Tshushav shines through so strongly. I am sorry you are facing these struggles with the unknown tomorrow.

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