Saturday, May 21, 2011


In the midst of a loss that literally reaches inside of you and touches you at your core, a loss that causes a physical pain and throws the body into a grieving process that feels out of control and bottomless, it is easy to become reflective and slightly philosophical.  We actually reflected on Harley's presence in our lives before he ever got sick and before the thought of losing him occupied our every thought. 

Why was he here, why did he chose us? 
Truly I have always felt that he was an angel on a mission. 
Could he have been the incarnate of a past loved one?
My mother, my grandfather, Lou's grandfather? 

There were times you could look into his eyes and appear to be looking right into his soul, a bottomless mirror of clear brown beauty.  Who was behind those eyes, who was this new presence in our lives.  I believe strongly in the purpose of every life on earth, no matter how brief the stay.  I feel deprived of not getting the better years of Harley's life, but I also believe he found me when he needed me, when he would need the most care, when he was aging and becoming less self reliant.  He saw something in me that made him feel safe, loved, and cared for.  It is safe to say he changed lives, that so many who knew him were better for it and I think that is why I am drawn to write about him and grieve for him this way.  He was a purebred Labrador, but I didn't buy him, Lou didn't buy him, there are no registration papers that exist for him in anyone's name that we knew.  We didn't get to pick him out when he was a pup still nursing on his mama, we don't know his lineage or where he came from.  Still,  he was of no less value to us, he was a King among dogs in our eyes.  The paternal canine figure in a house that never fathered a litter, but opened the door in our lives for all the Labradors that would and will follow in the footsteps he laid down for them.  Harley brought us to his breed and made us the ethical breeders were are, because of all the avoidable genetic issues he suffered through, because his breeder didn't do the same.  We learned so much about nutrition especially, and what as responsible owners we should be feeding our dogs and how interconnected diet is to the health of a dog.  We couldn't change Harley's life, we could only take care of him the best we knew how and make strides in our breeding practice to prevent the occurrence of such health conditions in the puppies we produce. 

I had a conversation with my Dad the day after Harley passed and he related the loss of Harley to how he felt when my Mother died.  I told him that Lou gently reminded me I had six other babies that needed me.  Then my Dad proceeded to tell me that if it weren't for my sister and I he wouldn't have had a reason to go on after she died.  He also told me that he believed I found my calling, that these dogs are exactly where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing.  He told me sometimes it takes a while to figure out why you were put on this earth, but that he was sure I am exactly where I am supposed to be and no matter how hard the work is at times, he has never seen me happier than when he sees me with my dogs.  We both cried, it was an emotional Father-Daughter moment. 

Many people have stated how lucky Harley was to find us and as much as that makes me smile, I know we were the lucky ones.  Everyone should be be so moved by a life as we have been by Harley's, he was truly a gift.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Goodbye My Friend, Until We Meet Again

Alright, it has only been a couple of hours since I held him in my arms, but it seems like just a few minutes ago that he took his last breaths, then a gentle sigh, and then I closed his eyes.  I will have those moments with me always, but now I am home and he isn’t here, yet I hear him.  How long will I continue to hear him?  His whine or whimper from the other room, the familiar noises of him letting me know it is time to eat; I hope I always hear it.  At times it went right through me, at times he tried my patience, but he had a way, a very unique way of adoring me.  I used to tease him that I never wanted boys, not boy dogs and not boy babies, but he changed my mind when he showed up on our door step that day, he knew I could not deny him and he knew I would try my best to return as much love as he gave to me.  

 The last night with him was the worst, loud panting and whimpering, he was ready to go, he was tired and couldn’t fight much longer.  As he laid there on his side I trickled water in his mouth, this seemed to soothe him, he was dry and his mouth was parched and pasty.   I knew his last car ride would be with me in the morning, he loved to go for car rides.   I dreaded it, but I wanted him to be free, I needed him to be free, from the disease and the pain.  I could always make him feel better, my touch was something that comforted him no matter what the situation was, but on that last night, the slightest comfort I tried to give him made him wince and oh it broke my heart.  Every surgery, mishap, injury, or infection he had he was the best patient; he let me do whatever I had to do.  He knew I was helping him, he knew I would make him feel better, but I was helpless this time, I hope he understood that.  We were only supposed to get weeks with him, after the diagnosis the end of January.  We got nearly four months; I think that makes us lucky, I hope he thought so, too.   

 I really thought I had begun the grieving process.  I thought the grieving began with the diagnosis in January, but nothing prepared me for today.  I knew that I would be holding him in my arms at the end, that I would be a part of his last memory.  I needed to go through that with him, I think it was the very least that I owed him and it was my privilege to face that with him.  I believe he will always be here and I take comfort in that.  Just like I take comfort in knowing he didn’t end up on our doorstep by accident, I am honored that he chose us to spend the last four years of his life with and thankful to the power that had a hand in guiding him here.    

Good-bye my sweet Harley-Jack, if you wait outside the gates for me, I promise someday we will walk through them together.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Diagnosis

We first discovered the mass on the front of Harley's left shoulder over the holiday's 2010.  We watched it closely, but knew it felt different than his other lipomas, which are kind of spongy and symmetrical.  The mass didn't seem to bother him and it appeared to be free floating, not attached to a bone or muscle, but also seemed to be growing off of a lipoma.  It's very alarming at first when you see something new, different, and foreign growing on your dogs body.  We don't know how old Harley is, but in the last year we've watched his body age the most since we have had him, the slight loss of muscle tone and eye sight being the most obvious signs of age.  We agreed to just keep an eye on the mass before rushing him off to the vet.  Knowing he is a senior dog even without knowing his age, I wasn't sure what options our vet would present us with, even though I trust them implicitly. My fear was that they would say he was too old to operate on and there was really nothing they could do, the fear was totally unfounded, but it was still the thought that haunted me and caused me to delay taking him to the vet as long as possible. The mass grew rapidly, probably multiplied in size by three by January 24th when I took him to the vet and it had also begun to ulcerate his skin (never a good sign).  I had done everything within my power at that point to doctor it and Harley has always, always, been the best patient, but we weren't seeing any improvements, so it was time for a visit to our vet to see just what our options were.

I knew by my Vet's reaction she was concerned (We have two Vet's so you will see he and she interchange, both are tending to Harley's case, so in a sense he has a whole team of support. Dr. Robert J. Lewis, V.M.D.,  Dr. Rachel M. Teribury, D.V.M. ).  The one thing that makes me so completely comfortable with the Veterinary team that we have is that they always lay the options out so that we can make an informed decision about our pets care.  The conclusion was made that because the tumor had shown up and grown so rapidly, it would continue to do so until it interfered with his mobility.  We decided to have it removed, I would leave him there, and pick him up later that day.  Tears were shed at the thought of leaving him there, putting him though another surgery, the uncertainty of what they would .find.  If it was cancer, how much more time did we get to have with him.  The tears officially started on this day.

We got the call within a few hours that the surgery was over, he was in recovery, but wasn't awake yet.  I was told I would get another call with a pick-up time, the mass went a lot deeper and was attached to more than they expected it to be, making the surgery more invasive than originally thought it would be.  They couldn't even guarantee they got it all, because everything inside that area was so swollen.  Around five o'clock I got the call and they asked if they could keep him over night just to keep an eye on him, of course we said yes.  Making sure he had the best care was very important to us and post-surgery they were better equipped than we were.

I picked Harley up around noon the next day.  I was prepared to get half of my dog back, as seemed to be typical after he's had surgeries in the past.  Usually he's groggy, barely able to stay on his feet and has to be boosted to get in the car.  At that moment I had a renewed gratefulness that they kept him overnight, it obviously gave him adequate time to recover and I was in a sense getting the same dog back that I dropped off, with the addition of a sutured incision that nearly went from his jaw to the front of his left leg arm pit.  The suture puckered a little at the top, which seemed to bother the doctor far more than it did me, it only did so, because so much had been taken out from underneath the skin.  I can deal with a cosmetic issue, that has no affect on our dog or who he is to us.  He got into the trailblazer completely unassisted, settled in and was ready to go home.  I cried a little bit as I was so happy to be bringing our boy home and because I couldn't help but wonder how many more rides he would get, he absolutely loves riding in a vehicle.

Life went on the rest of the week with little to no discussion of the elephant in the room.  I can honestly say I had almost forgotten that we were waiting for a histology report on the mass, until the call came on Friday.  "Hello," I said.  "Hi, how are you?" Rachel said. "Good," I said.  "Well, I'm sure you probably wont be when we finish..........."  Gosh that just made my heart sink...........  The mass was a mast cell tumor, there was no guarantee that it all was completely removed and based on the level and grade of the tumor, weeks was really the best they could offer as a prediction of time.

We were floored, to say the least.  Lou and I took turns calling the vet and having our questions answered.  We agreed without question that chemo and radiation was just not an avenue we wanted to take with him.  Cost had no consideration in our decision, we would mortgage our home to care for our dogs if we had to, we just couldn't justify making him "sicker" with chemicals or reducing his quality of life in the time we had left.  The diagnosis/prognosis was a death sentence, it was just a matter of when, there was and is no cure.  We faced the disease the natural way and modified his diet to fight the cancer with all of the knowledge we could find.  We also added supplements and other over the counter items that would help him stay healthy for as long as possible.

What baffled us and what we kept repeating to the vet was that Harley showed zero signs of being sick, other than the stitches and physical imperfections, no one would believe there was anything wrong with him.  To us this was a bonus and something to hold on to, as long as he stayed happy, healthy, and mobile there was a chance at bating the idea of only having "weeks" left with him.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Since the Diagnosis

I regret not keeping up with this blog the way I planned, but I am finding this issue in more than one area of my life right now and am trying very hard to address and improve. I wasn’t prepared for Harley’s decline, even though it has been expected for some time, even though we were told we would have weeks and at this moment we are a few days shy of four months since the prognosis was give to us. The knot in your stomach never goes away. Each day his eyes get more cloudy and more distant, each day is one less we have with him, one day we will never get back and one more memory created and left for us to hold onto.

We fought this disease head on. We took on a completely natural and carbohydrate free lifestyle for Harley. We did a ton of research and found out what was good for him and what wasn’t. In most cases carbohydrates (which are completely unnatural to a dogs diet) and grains will feed the cancer, which will then rob the dog of nutrition, so in the end it usually isn’t the cancer that kills the dog, but rather malnutrition. I cooked for him several times a week, 75% proteins to 25% fruit and vegetables, mostly green vegetables are best. Kale, spinach, and other dark green leafy vegetables are a nutritional powerhouse for dogs and people with everything in them from vitamin C to Omega 3’s. I would puree the vegetable mixture that usually also contained apples and garlic, olive oil. Recipes varied and Harley has eaten like a king ever since. He became so excited about his meals he started to have terrible anxiety issues, just one more thing we had to medicate him for as when it got he thought it was getting close to meal time he was literally trying to plow whatever door he was behind down.

We had stopped buying store bought treats long before Harley’s diagnosis, but the recipe needed to change, since I had to eliminate grains and carbs from them. This did pose a challenge for a while, but I found recipes that would work for all of my dogs. When you have several cooking meals for one is manageable, but treats needed to be universal across the board for all the dogs. The internet was an invaluable resource for researching both recipes and the disease we were fighting. Harley has fought like a champion from the start and I know he will continue to until his last moments.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


My posts will be randomly edited and updated as I think of things to add and share about our Harley.  My intent is to honor the life he chose to share with us and the angel among us that he continues to be.  This is also part of my grieving process as we know our time with him is limited.

Harley came to us in May of 2007.  He was at our home on a Thursday and then showed up again the following Sunday.  On our front porch with a ball in his mouth, if he could talk I believe he would have said, "I liked it here, I'm moving in."  The first thing I thought of was, I wonder where he stole the ball from!!!  From that day forward he never left.  We held on to him for a month, contacting all of the right agencies and finally determined sadly, no one was looking for him.  After the month passed and several conversations with my husband that started by him asking, "what are we going to do with him.............."  we named him Harley-Jack and he had found himself a forever home with us, if only every stray was so lucky.  We   took him to the vet and got all the necessary shots and vaccines for him, had him microchipped and bought a lifetime license for him.  We had him tested for Lyme's disease, because he had a tick attached to his cheek the first day he came and unfortunately the test came back positive.  Gratefully he has never had any symptoms of Lymes it has been in remission the whole time we've had him.

Harley is quite obviously the product of a backyard breeder, the product of a breeder that had never done a single genetic test or screening, the only sound part of this dog other than his hearing from the time we acquired him (thank God) are his hips and elbows.  He has congestive heart failure, cataracts, benign fatty tumors called lipomas, skin imperfections, poor pigment,  and now cancer, but he also has qualities that no breeder could either give or take away, he has a heart as big as Texas and he will be loyal until his last breath.  He will forever be our first boy and the reason we breed genetically sound Labrador Retrievers that have appropriate health clearance to make sure we've done our part to lessen the chances of someone else's heart breaking like ours has over and over with Harley.  There are of course no 100% guarantees, but breeding should be done first and foremost responsibly and ethically.