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Dear Zato,

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I’m having a really bad morning.  Can you please come back? I went to sleep crying, what little bit I slept, and I woke up crying.  The house is so empty…even with the other dogs.  Your absence is deafening.  I have spent the last year and a half taking care of you.  Now I have all these supplements and pills and homeopathic vials of remedies and I just stare at them and can’t throw them away.  I start to make your baked chicken and veggies and then stop.  I leave the house and leave the tv on because I always left it on for you, even though I never saw you watch it.  When I’m out, I don’t want to come home, so I can pretend a little longer that you’re there.  I drive around with your collar, even though you seldom wore it.

If we could just sit together and I could put my arm around your strong shoulders for a few minutes, I might be able to get through this rainy day.  You should see me doing all these things to try and survive.  One of this week’s projects is filling the many potholes on our gravel lane.  You should see me, crying and lugging these heavy bags of gravel around.  I didn’t even realize until today the symbolism of what I was doing.  I cried even more, realizing that Lowe’s doesn’t sell enough bags of stuff to fill the huge hole that I have in me right now.

I miss our cuddles in the morning.  I’d stop, and then you’d nudge me to keep touching you.  First with both legs, and then with the one after you got sick.  And that tail never stopped wagging.


I wouldn’t have you back here sick, but healthy and whole.  We could have the best day, hiking in the woods if the rain stopped, or just curled up watching a movie.  We could do all things we used to do.  I’d even let you chase the deer and pee on the bushes.  Anything.

I love you.


Zato sends us a sign

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The day Zato flew free, I asked him to please send me a sign so I would know he was ok.  We live on a mountain, which is often covered in fog during bad weather.  Sometimes we get a little bit of morning fog, but not much.

It was raining the day he left, and when I got up Tuesday morning I was so sad and upset.  I walked out on the porch and saw the rays of sunlight coming through like never before.  I think my boy decided to send me a bit of light from the Bridge to try and ease my pain.  This picture does not do justice to what I saw, but I have never seen anything like it during the years we’ve lived here.

Thank you, baby.


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Oh trouble set me free
I have seen your face
And it’s too much too much for me

Oh trouble can’t you see
You’re eating my heart away
And there’s nothing much left of me”

-Cat Stevens

Zato’s breathing had been getting worse as the days passed, and we saw no difference with the Cytoxan.  I had ordered more herbal remedies in the desperate hope that we could pull off another miracle, but nothing seemed to be making a difference.  I took him to the vet with Tink (bandage change), and after giving him a good exam, the vet said that although his lungs sounded not great, they weren’t too bad, and he didn’t appear to be in distress. He said Zato’s lungs sounded much better than patients that come in with other problems; congestive heart failure, for example.   So we got a prescription for Tussionex cough syrup and some more cough pills.  We discussed if it was time maybe we would do it on a Friday (this was on Tuesday).  Although our vet was off that day, he said he’d be available if we needed him, even on the weekend.  God bless him.  He also said that it was probably better to let him go a bit sooner rather than later, because with this type of thing, “things can get pretty ugly at the end.”  So we went home, and on went the rest of the week.

Zato would do ok during the day, with some coughing fits, but the Tuss helped.  At night he was restless and would be ok until about 3 a.m., and then that horrible sound would start again.  Other than the cough, he was acting a bit tired but still eating, still wagging his tail, and still having the occasional bicycle kick display on his back, as well as the ritual of licking the Pig’s head.  But he stopped lying behind my legs when I was on the couch.  And when I would go to him and pet him, he would like it for a little while and then he would go lie down somewhere else.

By the time Sunday night rolled around, we could hear sounds when he breathed, something between a whistling and a wheezing.  And he was breathing faster and it was more shallow.  He did manage to attempt to chase some deer, though! Monday morning, we got up early, looked at him, sat and cried, and made the decision.  Unless of course there was something else we could try (nothing like one last smattering of denial).  I brushed his hair and got enough to put in a little bag.  When the vet opened up at 8, I called.  But his vet was off that day.  Lucky for us, there was another one there that he knows and we think the world of her, so after I had choked out enough words for them to figure out what I was saying, they said to bring him on over.  I took this while it was still pretty dark but you can see him:

We drove to the vet in the rain. Richard carried him in and they had a room ready for us.  I went to the restroom to try and compose myself so I wouldn’t be hysterical.  Zato needed calm, not my screaming and crying.  When I got to the room, Richard was filling out the paperwork.  Tears streaming down his face, he asked me what was the date.  I said the 19th. Then he said, choking back tears, “I mean, what month is it…”  I know everyone reading this understands that level of grief and shock.  We still couldn’t believe this was about to happen.  The vet came in.  Zato, who usually walked around to greet everyone, was just lying on the floor.  He was done.  We could see it.  The tail wagging, the enthusiasm from that morning and the past few days, we knew he was doing it for us.  Suddenly he had a look on his face of relief, as if he was thinking, “I can rest now.”  He wasn’t afraid.  She listened to his lungs.  They sounded bad, she said.  And that he wasn’t getting enough air.  And things were going to get really bad for him from this point on.  After everything, there was no way we were going to let that happen.

Richard picked him up and put him on the table and they gave him the sedative.  As she did it, she said something about how he had always been such a good boy.  Everyone always liked our boy Zato.  She and the tech left so we could be alone with him while the drug kicked in.  We hugged him.  We cried.  We thanked him.  We told him how much we loved him, over and over.  When he started getting sleepy, I leaned over and softly sang all of his songs to him.  I told him that he was going to sleep and when he woke up, he would have his leg back and it wouldn’t hurt anymore.  That he would have wings.  To find Amy, and Ali, and Thatcher, and Stymie, and Josie, and all the other doggie loves of my life.  But please, if you can, wait for me.

The vet came in and we held him as the final shot was delivered.  He coughed for a second and then was silent. It was fast and peaceful.  He was gone.  And so was my heart.

Zatoichi Bugaboo Treen




Rough start to therapy but he’s ok.

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Our Hound girl Tink was scheduled for mast cell tumor removal surgery in Richmond and the surgeon’s office is right beside the oncology folks, so Zato got an appointment for right after we dropped off Tink.   As awful as this whole thing has been, we have met the nicest, most helpful and caring people, including the kind folks at The Oncology Service.

After a frank discussion of the reality of the situation and an examination of the options as well as Zato, we decided to pursue metronomic therapy consisting of Piroxicam and Cytoxan.  We stopped Zato’s daily Rimadyl, which he was already taking since he’s a little old man :).  We were going to start the Cytoxan Saturday morning and Piroxicam Saturday night, but the little guy was getting stiff, so we decided to start with the Piroxicam on Friday night.  About two hours after taking the pill, we noticed that he was a bit wobbly, but we wrote that off to being stiff.  But by morning he couldn’t walk, and by mid-morning, he couldn’t stand.  Everything else was normal, but as you can imagine we were completely distressed!  So we called Zato’s vet at home, and I can never say enough kind things about him, and after talking to him we decided no more Piroxicam and we would hold off on the Cytoxan and see if we could get him back to a zero point.

Saturday was so awful all day, and we were so afraid we’d have to call Dr. Murdock to come over and let him go, but we held on to the hope that it was just a reaction that would pass.  By Saturday night, just about the time he would be due for another pill, he stood up and by Sunday morning he was walking again.  Phew!

Zato and Tink are pals, and after Tink came home from the hospital two days after her surgery, Zato immediately comforted her as she began her recovery at home.

Tink was still pretty fried from all the heavy duty pain medication (she had a lot of incisions), so later on when Zato knocked the pillows off the sofa as usual, she didn’t move and probably didn’t even notice!

So we are on day 3 of Cytoxan and he seems to be handling it pretty well.  Overall I feel he is ok.  I can’t deny that his breathing is faster than it used to be, but he’s not panting and is still hungry and playful, so that’s good.  We are giving him pills to help with his cough and there seems to be some improvement there.  Now we watch and wait.  Bloodwork in 2 weeks and an evaluation at 4 to see if there is any effect.  In the meantime, I TRY TRY TRY SO HARD to be in the moment.  The weekend’s reprieve reminded me yet again how lucky we are, but also makes me feel like Dale in Flash Gordon, when she was desperately trying to turn the hourglass over to get more time.  Crazy I know, but that’s what popped into my mind. But tonight we have more time, and someone wants to know where his treat is!

Is that a cute face or is that a cute face?!?!

Lung mets and a broken heart…

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Zato has had such a good run…amputation almost 7 months ago, diagnosis October 29, 2016, osteo symptoms in May of 2016…and he’s still here.  I read so many stories of other dogs who didn’t have anywhere near close to this much time, and my heart broke for all of them.  My life became a series of, “If I could just have”s…one more Christmas…one more birthday…one more summer…then again, one more Christmas.  We’ve had two Christmases since his diagnosis, a miracle in itself.  Here he is last month.  I hadn’t put any presents under the tree yet because I said all I wanted was right there:

I haven’t posted anything for a few months because we’ve just been living and enjoying every day!  Our morning extra long cuddles have been so special:

He was doing great.  More than great.  And I kept saying I knew I only had today and I could accept it when our time ran out because we’d been so lucky, blah blah blah….and when he started coughing after Christmas, I decided it was just a cold or something.  When x-rays looked pretty clear, that was good enough for me.  When the coughing got worse, we went back yesterday.  And when those x-rays told a different story, all my stoic BS went right out the window.

I don’t have to explain to any of you how I feel.  I know you know.  I’m trapped in a place between excruciating pain and fear and being somehow numb at the same time.  I don’t see how I can do this, but I know when the time comes I will do it for him.  I know that all these months have been a precious gift, and while I appreciate them more than I can ever say, I want more.

So my sweet boy has two rapidly-growing nodules right now.  Our vet and Zato’s oncologist are going to come up with a plan to try and give us some more good time…maybe some Palladia and Prednisone (low dose).  We’re just trying to enjoy the weekend.  As always, Zato is so much more evolved than me…he tried to chase the deer tonight, even if he coughed a little afterwards.  He licked Caddie’s head, as he’s done since she was a 2 pound puppy 8 years ago.  And he wagged his tail and looked at me as if to say, “Don’t cry.  I’m here.  Everything is going to be ok.”

My sweet boy.

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