I have a clear memory of Zuki sitting with me in the garden last summer. Someone pulled to the side of the road. Instantly, Zuki charged off to investigate. I simply looked up and said ‘Zu.’ She stopped dead and raced back. She did so with confidence and joy, clearly as happy to return to me as she would have been to meet the strangers.
This dog had been untrained when I rescued her. The transformation from the Calamity Canine to Canine Good Citizen took time, work, consistency, patience. By age two, Zuki became my Akita equivalent of Rin Tin Tin.
Zu’s diagnosis of osteosarcoma was devastating. Incomprehensible in a dog so young. Confusing and ironic when her elderly pack-mate Nikka, was diagnosed by a fluke with a rare metastatic cancer, Gastro-Intestinal Stromal Tumors, last summer and has yet to show any symptoms.
Zu was two months shy of three years old when she began limping with no apparent cause. The last thing I’d have thought was cancer. Even when the biopsy came back with a ‘probable diagnosis’ of osteoscarcoma, I remained unable to believe it was cancer..
I thought about amputation. Removing her leg might give me another four months with my girl. I had to consider this frightening fact: Amputation is not curative, it just gives you a bit more time with your beloved friend. Amputation with chemotherapy might provide a year. Or two if I were really lucky. Under these thoughts was the knowledge that osteosarc micro-metastasizes swiftly.
Many, hearing Zu’s plight, told me what to do. “You have to put her to sleep.” “You have to give her every chance!” “Don’t let your dog suffer.” “I’d do amputation without chemo.” Every time I spoke with someone — vet or layperson — I saw the validity of their argument. My thoughts were like a ping pong ball. And I still couldn’t believe it.
Time flew by, yet every moment that my girl was in pain took forever. Zuki got worse. She moved less. When she did she whimpered. That changed to crying. I finally transported her to the local vet school for a consult with an orthopedist. Zu had to be wheeled into the waiting room on a gurney. I was still in denial.
It was only three weeks from the time she started limping until she went to the vet school. An eternity that flashed by.
When additional imaging showed lysis of the far end of Zuki’s humerus, the vet took radiographs of her chest. In one, a small black spot was visible in lung tissue.
If the cancer moved to her brain, she’d start to have seizures, stumble, fall, hobble in circles, lose her vision, or a dozen other symptoms.
I already knew what would happen if the cancer spread to another bone.
I hit The Wall of No. I’d not put her through the major operation for amputation. Who knew if or how she would recover from that? No, then, to the possibility of chemo after amputation.
The bottom line: I would not, could not, put my perfect girl through one more minute of pain.
Anything other than euthanasia would not be for Zuki, it would be for me. The God of Rescued Akitas knows I wanted to keep her with me with all my heart — despite the cost, despite her trauma, no matter what.
In the end, that night, I did whatever I could for Zu.
I let her go.