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Jack is my beautiful, soon to be 12-year-old, German Shepherd. I found him wandering the streets when he was only six weeks old. He was such a timid little guy, very scared from being abandoned as a puppy.
I already had two dogs, both strays, but could not resist rescuing him. I was in love the minute I saw those gentle eyes...and those ears (one was sticking up as it should and the other ear, still not developed, flopped over). He was so adorable and funny looking. And even though Jack found the most loving home for life, he always remained a rather shy and completely docile dog, which is quite uncharacteristic of his breed. My vet always jokes that Jack is a "Lab trapped in a Shepherd's body!” But Jack proved just how tough he really is, this past September, when he faced the fight of his life against cancer.
Soon after Labor Day, Jack came running over to me with a slight limp in his left front leg. At first I just thought he was getting a little arthritic, after all he was 11 and a half at the time. So I gave him an anti –inflammatory medication, at my vet's suggestion, because that had always helped with any lameness issues in the past. Well, almost two weeks went by and I could see he was getting worse. Then one night I looked at Jack's leg and my heart stopped. There was a slight bulge half way up. I immediately went on the Internet, which can be both a blessing and a curse, and all his symptoms pointed to bone cancer. The next day I took Jack to the vet, and the x-rays confirmed the devastating news. Jack had a tumor.
The vet wanted to send us to a specialist so they could do a biopsy, but I refused. I had been through this hell five years before. I had lost one of my others dogs, Shiner, to cancer in the most brutal way after being forced to amputate his left front leg—(yes, the same leg as Jack's). I vowed NEVER to put another pet through that ordeal again. So, in my determination to help Jack in the most non-invasive way, I found a holistic veterinarian who had very encouraging results using only herbs to treat all forms of cancer in pets. No such luck for Jack who refused to take the required 24 pills a day. Plus, I could see the tumor progressing.
Determined to find a cure, I took Jack to yet another holistic vet, who had some success with intravenous Vitamin C. I was desperate and praying for a miracle. But while Jack was having the procedure, my worst nightmare became a reality. He fractured his cancer-ridden leg. Just writing that makes me sick to my stomach all over again. As I truly believe everything happens for a reason, this final blow forced me to do what I vowed I would never do again. Amputate my dog’s leg. I had no choice. Otherwise he would have had to be put down immediately and that was just inconceivable to me.
The decision was made more bearable when Dr. Post, Jack’s oncologist and a very special man, looked at my dog and said: "Jill, besides the leg, I can tell by looking that this is a healthy dog. He will be okay!" So, on November 2nd 2006, after extensive blood work, two chest x-rays, abdominal sonograms and a complete bone scan (to make sure the cancer had not spread), we went forward with the surgery.
Jack came through it brilliantly and, thanks to The Center for Specialized Vet Care, I made it through as well. You see, this is one of the only facilities in the country that allows you to stay overnight with your pet, right out of surgery!! It’s appropriately called the Compassionate Care Unit. Let me tell you, that facility is a lifesaver in more ways than one. Just being able to be with Jack moments after he came out of the anesthesia and having his tail wag when he saw me, made me realize I made the right decision.
Then there was the recovery and adjustment to his new body on 3 legs. Every time he fell, I almost went into cardiac arrest. Yet he really got the hang of it quickly, probably because he had only been using 3 legs for some time before due to the painful cancer. Next, Jack had to endure chemotherapy, which I had also vowed I would never put a pet through. But, as I later found out, chemo is quite different for animals than it is for humans. Pets usually do very well, with no noticeable symptom like the hair-loss or extreme gastrointestinal problems. Plus, amputation alone is usually not enough to protect a pet against this dreaded disease.
Even though you never know "if" or "when" cancer will rear its ugly head again...every time he runs to the door with his tail wagging, begs for food, leaps up the stairs, rolls in the mud, plays with my other three dogs, jumps up to kiss the horses on the lips, or cuddles up in my lap snoring away...I know I did the best thing for my precious Jack. And so does he.