By Lisa Batten Kunkleman
I’m about to share what some would consider a First World Problem, yet in our household like many others, pets are family. Sadie, a walking, fur skeleton of a dog, wandered up to us at my mother’s lake house the summer of 2012. We assume she was lost or even abandoned in the nearby, alligator-infested swamp, likely due to poor hunting skills. Sadie’s appetite is insatiable, which is understandable, having gone through starvation. The day we met, she asked for a turkey sandwich and my son-in-law gave her one. The rest of the story is one of love at first sight. She’s been making people smile ever since and is a special part of our family.
It’s amazing how quickly life can change, and for us, simple blood work and ultrasound testing led us down a rocky path. Our goofy coonhound, Sadie, who brings smiles to the grumpiest face, received a horrible diagnosis. Our vet discovered a huge tumor on her kidney and it was attached to the Vena Cava, a vital blood vessel. Surgery to remove Sadie’s kidney and an adjacent nasty mass would be extremely risky as the chance of hemorrhaging was almost certain.
We had to make the decision to take a happy chowhound that looked skinny but completely healthy and put her through a horrible surgery, which might not work and could require the vet to euthanize her while on the table. The veterinary oncologist and the surgeon were very kind but frank about the slim chance of success. Yet doing nothing would mean the tumor would rupture and cause a horrible death for Sadie and a ghastly experience for all of us.
I try to find some purpose or lesson in tough situations and I didn’t have to search far for this one. This experience has made me freshly aware of how many people must make horrendous decisions for themselves and their loved ones, putting them at risk of death or worse in an attempt at saving their lives or making their lives better.
I realize there’s a difference between saving a person and saving a pet. However, we made the decision to do the best we could to save Sadie and hopefully at the same time, provide additional experience and knowledge to the arsenal of expertise of the surgeon and other medical personnel participating in the surgery. We saw it as our small way of helping move toward understanding and curing this dreadful disease, along the lines of donating a body to science.
The two days before surgery were some of Sadie’s best ever. Friends and family came to wish her luck and hopefully not say a final goodbye. She was treated like a queen and ate all the scrambled eggs and treats she wanted. She even ate ice cream before checking in to spend the night on IV fluids and a blood thickener preparing for surgery the next morning.
Sadie bounded into the car and strutted into the hospital with head high and tail whipping like a whirligig. I wondered if it would have been easier to leave her if she looked sick. I don’t know the answer but I think it would.
Prayers and good thoughts flowed freely for our beloved hound known as Single Stare Sadie, because she can stare and never blink once she’s laid eyes on someone. I could make a photo album of pictures of Sadie staring at someone’s food, and she can lay on guilt even better than most mothers.
The morning of surgery was a long one. I thought no news might mean good news but was afraid to get my hopes up. After a three hour procedure and an hour of recovery, the surgeon called and said, “Your girl did great. This was probably the worst kidney tumor I’ve ever seen. It had spread and encased not just the kidney but the vena cava vessel and very carefully separating it meant she hemorrhaged heavily but she made it. She’s one tough girl.”
Shock and awe. That’s what I felt and I could never thank her enough. The surgeon told me she’d do everything she could and she did. It was our miracle.
Fast-forward to the next day and me taking Sadie some turkey since she wouldn’t eat canned dog food for them. I couldn’t imagine her refusing food even if she were comatose and was relieved to watch her scarf down the turkey, and beg for more, tail and whole body wagging. I knew she would be okay. She spent two nights in recovery and observation and came home with a massive cone and a bag of drugs.
So far, so good. I’m thrilled to share her survival story and the miracle surgical procedure that kept her around to entertain us. She’s happy to be home and the other pets treat her like a delicate flower that needs tending. Maybe that’s because her huge cone makes her look like a tulip. One dog, Mandy sleeps on Sadie’s bed to watch over her. Funny how animals have such a sense about things.