Saturday, July 23, 2011

RIP Sasha -- April 1, 1997 - July 21, 2011

Sasha was a miracle dog.

We adopted her from a Chesapeake Bay Retriever rescue group at 5 months.

She was completely uncivilized when we got her. She came from a bad situation: Her people obviously did not understand Chessies. Sasha was remarkably intelligent, energetic, and driven. Her people didn't know how to handle her, so they kept her crated pretty much all the time. They also didn't understand about growing puppies. The breeder had told them to feed her a cup of food a day. They were still feeding her one cup of food a day at 5 months. She weighed just 24 lbs! Two weeks later, she weighed 32 lbs. Soon after, she developed panosteitis (growing pains). But we got through that.

Initial training was ... challenging. She learned commands in next to no time--she just wasn't convinced that she needed to heed them. Keep-away was one of her favorite games. Fortunately, she was very food driven, and in time she became quite civilized. She developed an enormous vocabulary, including concepts like left, right, inside, and outside. She was most certainly the smartest dog we've ever known. And that look of mischief was always in her eye.

From an early age, Sasha set her sights on the alpha spot in the pack. Sheba (our 9 year old golden) had other ideas. Poor Sheba endured 2 cruciate repairs, but managed to retain her alpha spot. We deemed it prudent to adopt another younger pup, Peter, (a chessie/golden mix -- 6 months younger than Sasha) to reduce some of Sasha's attentions on Sheba. It worked. Sasha and Peter were great playmates. Sheba and Tucker (our 11 year old golden) were relieved.

Alas, Sasha developed bone cancer in her right knee at age 2. The prognosis was not good: 4 months without chemo; 18 months with chemo. Amputation was essential either way. They took the leg off at the hip. The vet went in to check on her after surgery and found her standing up in her cage waiting to get out. Once that nasty, painful bone was gone, she was raring to go. We then put her through a course of chemo -- 4 treatments over 3 months. She tolerated them very well. She did not appreciate her restricted activity period. She wanted to PLAY!

And soon we got back to normal life. 18 months came and went, and Sasha showed no sign of a relapse. Sasha (now a tripod) wasn't quite as fast as she used to be, but she had just as much drive as ever. She had balls and sticks and bumpers to fetch. Most people didn't realize that she was a tripod unless we pointed it out. She was a very determined dog!

Alas, her never-say-die approach to life put excessive strain on her remaining knee, and she blew out her cruciate ligament at age 4. We attempted a repair using TPLO. Remarkably, she was walking again in just a couple of days. Our attempts to restrict her activity failed, though, and she developed a complication: She broke the sliver of bone in her leg before the two pieces had healed.

Have you ever tried to keep a high-energy 4 year old chessie on strict bed-rest for 12 weeks? Yikes! We concocted a barrier half-way up in her crate that forced her to remain lying down. The bone eventually healed, but Sasha had arthritis in that knee from that point forward. (Not that she would ever let on, though.)

The two goldens passed on when Sasha was 5 -- Sheba was 13 and Tucker was one month shy of 15. Finally Sasha assumed the alpha spot. Somehow, though, being queen just isn't as satisfying if there's no one to push around. But we solved that. We adopted Cally -- a petite deadgrass chessie puppy. Sasha suddenly found herself on the other side of the fence: She was the queen defending her crown from this obnoxious little upstart! Cally didn't have a chance, though. But the two of them traded a number of scars over the years.

Sasha was never one to admit that she had a disability. If we'd let her, she'd play fetch until she couldn't walk anymore. And she hated it when we forced her to rest. She couldn't sit by and let Peter and Cally have all the fun.

Arthritis eventually took its toll, though, and Sasha finally started to slow down at about age 12. Perhaps Peter's death gave her tacit permission to take it more slowly. (Poor Peter -- just 11 years old -- died of histiocytic sarcoma -- very nasty.) In any case, stairs became a real challenge for Sasha, as well as navigating any type of uneven terrain. She never stopped dock diving though. This picture was taken when she was 13.

This winter we bought her a Help 'em up Harness. Fabulous! It made it so much easier to help her get around. I'd grab the rear handle and she'd be off running. We also got her a set of wheels from Eddie's Wheels. She took to the wheels very quickly, but they were a bit heavy for her. And our hilly property limited her ability to get around.

Sasha turned 14 in April, but you'd never know it to look at her. She was only slightly gray, and her expression was always vibrant. She did lose her hearing, though. I think she loved using it as an excuse not to obey. (She conveniently forgot her hand signal commands, too.)

Two weeks ago, she lost her appetite. Given her puppy starvation phase, Sasha was always a voracious eater. I once tried an experiment to see how much she would eat in one sitting. I stopped after 12 cups of food. Sasha still wanted more. If she wouldn't eat, you knew something was wrong. So we went to the emergency room. An ultrasound revealed a large tumor in her liver. Another mass in her lungs indicated metastasis.

There wasn't much we could do about the cancer, but at least we could do something about her symptoms. We gave her medications to reduce her nausea and indigestion. And within 2 days, she sprang back to life. We went to a barbecue at a friend's house -- a beautiful spot on a pond. There were 6 retrievers and a dozen children eager to throw Frisbees. Sasha played non-stop for 3 hours. Cally even has a new scar on her nose. (Sasha got the Frisbee.) It was a wonderful evening.

All I can say is that I'm happy the end was swift. Tuesday evening, Sasha ate dinner with her usual gusto. Wednesday morning, she picked at her breakfast. By 1:00pm it was clear she was in great distress. We went back to the emergency room. They put her in ICU and tried to stabilize her -- they treated her for shock and gave her fluids and anti-nausea medication. Alas, she was no better in the morning. Her time had come. Thanks to euthanasia, we didn't prolong her agony. She drifted quietly off to sleep in my arms.

A friend of mine gave me these words of comfort:

I remember the Buddhist parable of the cup. The novice asks the master, aren't you sad when you see this beautiful cup, knowing that someday it will be broken? The master replies, no! Because the first day it was given to me I imagined it in pieces, and since then I have celebrated every day I have been allowed to spend with it.

In 1999, they told us she had 18 months to live. I guess no one told her, though. She lived 12 more years! And I have celebrated every moment of them.

No doubt she has caught up with Sheba at the Rainbow Bridge, and Sasha is doing her best to make Sheba's life miserable again.


Jeff Cutler said...

Sorry for your loss.

David said...

Sasha, baby! I'm gonna miss you.

And Annie, well written memorial, in the Thomas tradition of composition.

Bob Rhubart said...

Anne, only just now saw this post. So sorry for your loss. Having been there more than once, I know how sad this can be. Thanks for sharing Sasha's story.

Eric Newcomer said...

I'm sorry I didn't see this before. I'm really sorry to hear about Sasha. Yes, very well written!

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