I set out recently to write an update on our pack, but, to be honest, this post has been pretty painful to write. Because, as you’ve probably gathered if you’ve been reading this blog over the last few years, Bolo is a very special dog, who holds a special place in all our hearts.
Bolo has always been our Problem Child - both in the sense of having the most problems (his habit of catching small dogs like rabbits and needing to be walked in a muzzle, for instance) and the most lovable ones (his snuggle bunny nature). His early history involved terrible neglect and a huge amount of rehabilitation. In recent years he’s been our Wee Monster’s special buddy and confidante, living proof of the axiom that second hand dogs give first class love.
In recent years, Bolo has also struggled with tumours. The first appeared nearly 4 years ago on his right wrist. We had it surgically removed but, because it came from the wrist, there wasn’t a lot of spare tissue that could be removed to give a “clean margin”. Then there was a tumour on his face, which was a little bit easier to remove due to the flexible skin of the cheek and neck. Both of these tumours came back with sad pathology results, the tumours weren’t fatty lumps or benign cells, but cancer cells. Fortunately, they weren’t super aggressive cancer cells, dividing and spreading throughout the body rapidly, but the lack of clean margins meant that we knew it was only a matter of time until more tumours appear.
This year, Bolo’s tumour on his wrist has returned. Same place, same diagnosis from the initial tests. But Bolo is now 12 (although we thought he was 11 until recently when his birthday was discovered on old microchip records) and surgery is a questionable option. Although there have been advances in veterinary medicine for geriatric dogs that make anaesthetics safer, there remains an ethical question about how much we can put him through. Bolo also has stiffness and suspected arthritis in his hips and back legs. To have radical surgery on his wrist, and then ask his other legs to support him, would be cruel. So we are left to watch and wait.
Bolo is tired, but so very stoic. He sometimes delights us with bursts of spirit and joy - demanding that the other dogs play and race and leap frog - but these are generally followed by days of lethargy, as his body struggles to cope and recoup energy.
We went back to the vet yesterday, to discuss our concerns and our difficulties in deciding on a course of action. How do you know when the pain and suffering of a dog is becoming unbearable? Some dogs don’t tolerate discomfort at all, but Bolo is definitely a stubborn boy who won’t admit to being sore if he can help it! Is it better to wait until the animal is in terrible pain that can’t be masked by drugs, or is it better to halt a decline a little early? How do you juggle the needs of single dog against the needs of the pack, a pack that in this case includes a 2.5 year old, who can’t yet understand what’s going on?
Obviously the vet can’t help us with several of these heart breaking questions. But yesterday the good news was that we have quite a few options still to explore, before we have to make a final call. We got to bring Bolo home for some more cuddles. We’re not sure how long we can hold onto him, but we hope we can cherish every moment.