Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Today, May 10th, 2011, is Phoebe's 13th Birthday.
Well, actually, it's not. As she was a shelter rescue, we don't know her actual date of birth, so we celebrate her adoption day as her birthday. 12 years ago today, I went to the CACC in East Harlem and adopted an abandoned, abused and left-for-dead Chihuahua Mix named "Fee-Bee" and she was "just under 1 yr old." We kept her name (but changed the spelling) and brought her home to her new life with me and my first dog, Blackie. It was a rough start-- she had no rules. No discipline. No house-training. And she was AGGRESSIVE! After a few weeks, I broke down. I actually contemplated surrendering her to a no-kill shelter because Blackie and I couldn't handle how awful and disruptive to our lives she was. But something clicked in me-- I couldn't do it. She picked me. I was hers. I needed to see this relationship out.
Two years later, she was turning 3 and things were just starting to get good with her. She was behaving well, integrated into our family and then, out of nowhere, Phoebe got very sick. Deathly so. An inexplicable flare up of IMHA (Immune-mediated Hemolytic Anemia) landed her in the hospital for 2 weeks. Three separate Myoglobin transfusions and a lot of ICU-care saved her life. We started Chemo and then kept her on steroids for a year to suppress any flare ups. It cost me more money than I actually had at the time, and landed me in some serious credit card debt. Lots of people told me that I was nuts for spending this much effort and money on "just a dog". And, a sick dog, at that. But it worked and, thankfully, Phoebe hasn't had a flare-up since. That "investment" has paid me dividends for nearly a third of my life now in kisses, fun, and a wonderfully firecely-loving best-friend.
When I took Phoebe home from the hospital, I was cautioned to adjust my expectations about her longer-term survival. They told me that (at that time) IMHA in small-breed dogs typically flares up again, and again and is often fatal. At that time, she was 2 years old. I was cautioned that there was a 50% chance she wouldn't live 2 years to her 5th birthday and that she had a greater than 85% chance of not surviving 4 years; essentially, past her 7th year. But, today, Phoebe is 13 years old.
The steroids Phoebe took to control her IMHA put her at risk for problems later in life. Just before she turned 9 years old, Phoebe was found to have acute-onset Cushing's Disease. This was, almost certainly, due to the prolonged steroid use. At that time, we made a choice to go with an "experimental" therapy-- Trilostane (you can read more about it in a previous blog post. At that time we were warned (once again) that average survival for a dog her age with Cushing's Disease was 2 years. Well, it's now 4 1/2 years since her diagnosis. She is now over half a year on her vegan diet and her lab values are better than they ever have been. Once more, Phoebe is beating the odds and not just surviving, but she's living with grace, joy and love.
There are so many lessons that Phoebe has taught me over the past 12 years, it's daunting and impossible for me to try an list them all. I will say this though; her life is a daily reminder to me that:
* Statistics are about groups of individuals, but are not necessarily pertinant to an individual.
* There is always hope, so never give up. You never know when a stray carrot will fall from the counter.
* Life is too short to hold on to grievances. Run, play, chase your tail (or your brothers' tails) and make the most of today.
* Just because it's freezing outside, doesn't mean you can't dance in the sunshine.
* Never miss an oppotunity to snuggle up with the people you love and take a nap.
As George Elliot has infamously said, "It's never too late to be what you might have been." In Phoebe's case, she's living out what she "might have been". She is now a happy, healthy dog who lives to a ripe old age, surrounded by love and the people (human and non-human) who she loves.