Charlie Sauce

Every pet is special in his/her own ways.  Charlie is special to me because he’s old (I love the seniors), he walks with me on our path (while the other dogs run around like pinballs), and he’s the best Flatcoat I’ve ever had.  An extremely gentle and tolerant dog, Charlie has helped me raise a lot of puppies.  He sired 3 litters for me with 2 different bitches.  He is my last show champion.  You see his picture on the right hand side of the blog and every time I leave a comment (that’s him getting a biscuit in my avatar).

Sadly, Flatcoated Retrievers have a very small gene pool which is rife with cancer.  All my Flatcoats have died of malignant histiocytosis – sub-listed in some veterinary books as “The Flatcoat Cancer”.  It’s tragic in that it rapidly cuts short a life which, if not for the cancer, would continue to thrive for years to come.  My Flatcoats have all been in otherwise good health at the time I’ve had to put them to sleep and I can’t help feeling robbed in a sense.  I feel like, if it wasn’t for this Flatcoat Cancer, there is no reason all my dogs shouldn’t live comfortably into their teens.  But they never do.  And neither will Charlie.

Charlie is 10 years old and this week, was diagnosed with probable malignant histiocytosis.  The lab can’t make a definitive diagnosis without getting the large mass which has infiltrated his lymph node but we won’t be putting Charlie through surgery.  We’ve got him on high doses of steroids to relieve his pain and, although it’s only been a few days, it’s been working well.  I can’t stand to see a dog suffer and on Tuesday, I came home from work to find Charlie in terrible pain.  My vet saw us right away and we got a game plan going.  When the lab results came back yesterday, I was sort of prepared and sort of not.  My vet and I discussed options and she supports me in my choice to keep him as comfortable as possible for as long as possible without pursuing any invasive treatments which would be unlikely to buy him much more time, if any.

For me and my pets, it’s about quality of life.  Charlie can’t walk with me on the path anymore (my favorite thing) nor can he chase the ball (his favorite thing).  But he can still carry the tennis ball around in his mouth, play with puppy toys that are too small for him and come up for a scritch (and a biscuit!) when he feels like it.  I make the same promise to him as I do to all my pets:  you will not suffer.  When we can no longer ease his pain with medicine and love, we will take him to the vet for that most difficult, final act of love.  Then we will bury his body in the yard, near those who have gone before, and he will be added to the list of dogs I hope I will meet again sometime.

I don’t know how long we have with Charlie – hopefully weeks or, if I let myself get out-of-control-hopeful – maybe months.  But the length of time isn’t as important as how we spend it.  I plan to spend it doing all the little special things I can for him.  Like avocado with his dinner last night.  And ice cube treats.  And trying to keep Mulder’s annoying puppy antics to a dull roar.  Not that Charlie would complain, mind you.  He never does.

Flatcoats and Malignant Histiocytosis

This is a photo I took today of Randi. She is a 5 year old Flatcoated Retriever. Today would have been her mama’s (Jackson) 13th birthday. Sadly, I had to put Jackson to sleep when she was 10 as she was suffering from an aggressive tumor (Malignant Histiocytosis) on the side of her head. The cancer, common in Flatcoats, had not spread to her lungs and she appeared to be in excellent physical and mental condition otherwise. I remember saying to Billy when I found the tumor, “I don’t think I can spare her”. I still don’t.

Jackson’s mama Tina was 11 when I had to put her to sleep due to an aggressive tumor (Malignant Histiocytosis) she had on her leg. It was too soon. I remember when my Vet got the lab results back and told me she had looked up MH in a veterinary reference book. “They called it the Flatcoat Cancer,” she said. Tina outlived her dam and two of her littermates (none owned by me) and for all of them, it was too soon.

I look at Randi today and see how vibrant she appears and I am reminded how much she looks like Jackson and Tina. I see no reason why she, or any Flatcoat, can’t live to be 18. Save for the Malignant Histiocytosis, my dogs never seem to have anything wrong with them when I have to put them to sleep. If we could eliminate this apparently genetically linked cancer so common in the breed, who knows how long they would live? We might live to regret it – hahaha!

Read more about Malignant Histiocytosis here.

Read about how closed registries (such as the AKC) affect genetic health in dog breeds here.