I want to thank you again for the help that CCA provided with Stella’s bills this past year. Unfortunately, we lost Stella on Dec. 10th and miss her terribly, but were very thankful to have her for the extra time that we got.
I know this is a long-winded recollection of a story of a girl and her dog, but bear with me. I don’t know how else to express what Canine Cancer Awareness means to me without starting from the top. Here goes (got the Kleenex box next to me and ready to go)…
I grew up in a household that ALWAYS had dogs, they were part of the family and were loved equally (and on some days, more) than the children. When I went away to college, it was hard to get used to opening my front door and NOT getting greeted by a happy pup violently wagging a tail that was sure to knock over everything not glued down to the end table. After graduation, I saved up and got my first apartment and started a business, but never quite got used to the empty house. Getting a dog was always in the back of my mind, but the pet deposits, vet bills and food costs kept me away from the pet adoptions for a couple of years because I didn’t want to get in over my head and not be able to properly care for my dog. Eventually, as my business grew, I decided I could almost afford an “apartment-sized” dog and went in search of a companion at local shelters.
One Saturday afternoon in March of 2005, I drove past a PetSmart adoption and decided to pull over and take a look. After peaking in crate after crate of LOUD dogs (not apartment material), I came to a shy, BEAUTIFUL St. Bernard/Great Pyranese mix named “Dutchess.” I was instantly drawn to her big, sad brown eyes, but my next thought was this dog is DEFINITELY not apartment material. She was a mere 80 lbs. at less than a year old, and had plenty of growing to do. I sat down to pet her anyways and she promptly put one paw on each of my shoulders and “hugged” me until we both tipped over onto the sidewalk, very reminiscent of a drunken take-down hug from the sorority sisters of my college days. That was it, I was in love. The adoption sponsors came over to see what was going on and I reluctantly explained that as much as I’d love to adopt her, she was too big for a single woman in an apartment. Much to my surprise they replied, “Are you kidding, this dog is a furry speed bump, and doesn’t need nearly the space of an active lab or golden, plus she’s full-grown” (which was a lie, both her parents were 150+ lbs. and despite being the runt, she’s grown to reach a fluffy 130 lbs. of love). That was all I needed to hear.
I called my mom, a forever dog lover, and the conversation went something like this:
Devon: “Would you think I was crazy if I adopted a St. Bernard mix?”
[Insert long period of dead silence on the other end of the phone].
Mom (eventually): “Mixed with WHAT?”
Devon: “Um, a Great Pyranese.”
[Long pause #2]
Mom: Ahahahahahahahahahah! Yes, I would think you were crazy.
So, knowing that my parents would be instrumental in puppy sitting when I was traveling and would need to be supportive of my doggie decision, I gave “Dutchess” another “hug” and went on my way. I thought about her all afternoon and after a few days, called Mom again and said:
Devon: “You know how you said I was crazy? How crazy?”
Mom: “Extremely. Have you fallen in love with a dog you can’t have?
Mom: “Why are you calling me?”
Devon: “I want to go visit her at her kennel and see if she’s still available, and since you’ve always said any dog I got would be staying at your house sometimes and would have to get along with your dogs, you and “Clancy” have to come with me.
Mom could hear in my voice that I was serious. Like mother, like daughter, I’d caught the dog bug and this wasn’t something that was going to go away. The next day, Mom and I hopped in dad’s SUV that she’d borrowed for the day, knowing good and well that—knowing me—we were probably not just going for a “visit” and that we needed the big car, you know, St. Pyra-nard sized.
We arrived at the kennel and the owner asked us to wait inside the fenced area and that she’d bring Dutchess out to see us. After a minute or two, we saw a fuzzy little shy head peak around the corner. Mom said “Oh, what a pretty girl.” [This is when I knew our visit was going well, mom might actually be on-board.] I called to Dutchess and she looked at me, looked a little confused, and then bolted across the yard and gave me an even bigger hug than she had the past weekend that can only be described as a tackle. I like to think that she’d been thinking about me all week, too. Mom stuck out her hand to help me up and said, “A BIG girl, but a pretty girl. I guess you just got yourself a dog.”
As we filled out the paperwork, the usually shy and calm Dutchess proceeded to run around the office, jumping from desk to desk clearing every surface of it’s contents. Mom gave me the “Are you sure about this?” look and the kennel owner, who had been fostering Dutchess for months said, “I’ve never seen her like this. She knows she’s going home.” I signed on the line and we were off! As we were driving home, I spent the hour-long drive smiling from ear to ear while mom spent it laughing because she had a St. Bernard earnestly trying to smell her hair spray all the way home.
Over the next couple of days, Dutchess in her true “furry speedbump” fashion took her series of daily naps in every room of my apartment, testing it all out to find her favorite dark corners, preferably under an AC vent. If I tried to take her for too long of a walk, she would just lay down and refuse to move until she was good and ready. This was usually about 100 yards into our “walk.” She truly was the perfect apartment dog, except for one part: she wasn’t used to narrow apartment doorways and staircases. In addition to her nap explorations, she also spent her first couple of days in her new home running into about every doorframe and stationary object in my apartment. This dog definitely didn’t deserve a name as dainty as Dutchess. Every time I heard a BOOOM from the other room, yelling out “DUUUUUTCHESSSS” just seemed silly. We needed a new name, she didn’t know or respond to Dutchess anyways. My sister and I set out to pick the perfect new name and flipped through books and magazines in front of the TV one night looking for the perfect fit. We came across an ad for a charity gala called “A Stellar Event.” We both looked at each other, and in true “Streetcar Named Desire” fashion, yelled “STEEELLLLLLAAAA.” Dutchess came running in from the other room and hit the ottoman at about 45 mph. Yep. Perfect fit.
Fast-forward about 5 glorious years. I’d moved into a house with my sister. She also got the dog bug and adopted a furry monster of a puppy named Beckett that had become a great playmate for Stella, as long as he was okay with playing for 4-5 minutes MAX before it was time for a group nap. After one of their play sessions, Stella starting limping a little on one of her front paws. I took notice of it but chocked it up to another run-in with a wall and went about my day. After a week when it hadn’t gone away, we went to see Stella’s vet, who guessed it was just the first signs of arthritis and probably nothing that a little glucosamine couldn’t fix, but we decided to do x-rays just in case. On one of the films, we found a suspicious spot on her front left leg bone. The vet told us that in the worst case, it might be bone cancer and my mind went into a blur where I only heard every other word. Blah blah cancer, blah blah amputation, blah blah blah chemo. We scheduled a biopsy for the next week, ironically on Stella’s 6th birthday, and cried all the way home. I had a bad feeling, call it a mother’s intuition.
A few days after her biopsy I was sitting at lunch with my parents and sister, who had all fallen in love with Stella just as much as I had, when the vet called with the test results. In a very matter-of-fact voice he said, “Yes, it is cancer like we suspected and there are two paths we can take.” Do nothing and we’d have about 4 very hard months with her before the cancer spread through her body and we’d have to put her down. The other option was amputation followed by chemotherapy. My heart dropped and I didn’t hear anything the vet was saying for what seemed like minutes. I tuned back in right as he was explaining that treatment would give me, on average, about 12-15 more months with her. As much as I love the restaurant where we were having lunch, I fear I’ll never be able to go back due not only to the bad memories that patio now holds for me, but because when I heard that bit of news, I promptly bolted out back and threw up in their parking lot. Pardon the unpleasant mental picture, but I’d just been told I was losing my speedbump and the world came to an end. I was literally stunned. I had assumed that amputation and chemo was a fix. The end. Problem solved. Healthy, happy tripawd. 12-15 months?? I hung up with the vet, told him I’d call back when I could form words again, and I spent the next 10 minutes in a group hug with my family, all of us in tears, mom with as many running down her face as me.
I knew I had a decision to make, only there was no decision at all. I knew what I needed to do—four months was just not an option—but I also knew it was going to be terribly expensive. I’d shopped around pet insurance but put it on the back burner because money was tight and Stella was only 5 years old. Hindsight is 20/20. Over the years, the economy took a turn and while I was able to keep my business open, we weren’t making money, and were struggling to stay afloat. When mom dropped me back at my office that day, she hugged me and said, “We’ll figure it out.” I was grateful for that, but knew that inside, even as she spoke the words, she wasn’t sure how either. The family dog, Clancy, has had a variety of health issues over the years, including his own bout with cancer, 2 surgeries and a very expensive special diet. My dad is a custom homebuilder and it’s no surprise in the current building market that he hasn’t built a house in over 3 years and money was way past tight. They were having a tough time but just like they had done in the past with Clancy, “we’d figure it out.”
We scheduled Stella’s surgery for the following week, and the days leading up to it were the hardest of my life. I didn’t know what to expect from a 3-legged dog, especially a three-legged Stella, she wasn’t exactly svelte on 4 legs. Every chance I got, I’d let Stella tackle-hug me and we’d roll on the floor with tears running down my face because I wasn’t sure if it was the last hug I’d get from her. Can a dog who’s missing a front leg give a hug? The evening before her surgery, I took her for what I thought would be our last walk ever and I bawled all the way down the street and back. I’m sure my neighbors thought I was loosing it. Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong. We had a couple of tricky days after her surgery, but Stella definitely coped with it much better than I did. She was hopping herself outside to do her business after only a couple of days. After a week, she was taking the stairs 3 or 4 at a time. I was worried that my beautiful dog who always attracted crowds of people when we went out, would have a huge scar that would scare people away. It did a little at first, but I actually think she’s cuter than ever when her big ears flop as she hops around the yard. She gets even more love from strangers when we’re out and about. Apparently 3-legged dogs are really in right now.
I was able to pull together enough money to cover Stella’s xrays, mom put $400 of the $700 biopsy on her credit card and we somehow managed to scrounge around and find enough to pay for her surgery. Just when I thought we might be able to do it all, I got the estimate for her chemotherapy. Another $3,000. How on EARTH were we going to find another $3,000 in a few short weeks? Thankfully, my mom spent the week after Stella’s surgery doing research on osteosarcomas and found the website for Canine Caner Awareness. She forwarded me the application and said, “They probably get tons of applications, but it’s worth a shot. Any little bit would help.” After sending in the application, I was shocked when I got the email that Stella’s application had be accepted and that we’d be getting tremendous help in the form of $1,000 to apply to her chemo bills. It was such a weight lifted off my back knowing that I could continue to get Stella the treatment she needed and deserved after the years of happiness she’d brought to all of us. When I got home that day, I think Stella knew too. I walked in the door and as started to bend over to pet her, a fuzzy paw went up on my shoulder, wrapped around my neck and we hit the floor, where we stayed for a least 10 minutes. If you hadn’t guessed by now, I cried.
Thanks again for giving me many more tackle-hugs from my furry speedbump. Every one is priceless and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
— Devon and Stella
The Board of Directors of Canine Cancer Awareness, Inc. has allocated $1000 to help pay the costs of Stella’s treatments. Please help Stella continue her treatments. Any sponsor donations made on behalf of Stella will be used to pay unpaid invoices and the checks will be sent directly to Stella’s vet.
To help sponsor treatment, you can click on the PayPal donate button below or send a check to:
Canine Cancer Awareness, Inc.
44 Devoe Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
DONATIONS FOR STELLA: