THE IMPORTANCE OF KNOWING YOUR DOG AND WHEN TO SAY GOODBYE: LEVI’S STORY
Updated: Feb 28, 2022
Levi and his sister, Lola were only five weeks old when they were found abandoned at a dusty rest stop between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, California. A chicken… yes, a chicken, led my fellow vegetarian Brit to the surprise find of two big wormy bellies, four sets of pale pink paws and some big floppy ears, hiding behind a dog house, an empty water dish and a pile of moldy food scraps. Their human fear and concern led them to grab the pups and drive them back to L.A to search for someone who could give them a safe and loving home. I had just finished my degree, was looking for a project and decided to take the little ones on as fosters, but low and behold twelve and a half years later, they were/are still by my side.
6 weeks old
12 years old
Levi had these beautiful pale blue eyes when he was tiny and so often, he would just sit and stare at us with this dreamy look on his face. He did however also like to dig holes in the yard when he was 4 months old and I’m pretty sure we had to throw out an oriental rug due to the number of times it had been used as a potty spot. I definitely lost my fair share of flip flops to Lola’s chewing (why always the left one??) and taking care of sibling puppies certainly was a full-time job! But SO much love came from these two. They were incredibly smart, special individuals.
It’s amazing though how two dogs brought up in exactly the same way can be so different – like humans too I suppose. We referred to Lola as a ‘delicate flower’ and Levi as a ‘bull in a china shop’! Lola is soft, would lack confidence in some areas but showed a great deal of independence at home and has a huge drive for play with toys and with other dogs - a perfect social butterfly in all areas.
Levi had this amazing desire to engage with people, was the absolute best cuddler, very free-spirited and extremely eager to learn. He provided endless entertainment with his antics. He did however develop a significant dislike of other adult dogs. His behavior on walks became particularly challenging and worrisome from about the age of two and with the exception of his sister Lola, the senior teacup poodle that kept him in check at home, my neighbor’s spaniel mix puppy who adored climbing all over him and my sister’s terrier mix (with some work and never without supervision), he had an extremely small canine social circle. With the right management and training, it didn’t stop me from being able to take him to a few group classes though, from enjoying a good hike every weekend and taking him to work with me most days. While not being able to allow him to closely or directly interact with other dogs was a shame, he taught me so much, was a great sport in my development as a training professional and it never stopped us from having the MOST fun together.
In fact, surprisingly I was also able to bring home four different foster pups in my early years as a shelter behavior specialist and Levi proved to be a wonderful role model.
One animal Levi never had any challenges with was cats. There were already two big confident boys in the household when he and Lola arrived and even later at around 5 years old when we brought a tiny and unexpected kitten into the household Levi was unbelievably gentle and tolerant. We had the funniest experience with a cat on a walk once, an individual we nicknamed ‘gangster alley cat’ who launched himself at Levi’s face leaving him with several scratches. Levi was not willing to go up against that, but his sister was more than ready to defend him!
Levi was one of the few dogs that actually liked wearing clothes and you could just feel the pride emanating off of him along with that big pittie smile when he was told what a good boy he was. One of Levi’s favorite activities was to roll in any patch of thick, lush grass on walks, especially if it was wet… it was pretty much a guaranteed stopping point!
We took an agility class once with a trainer friend of mine when he was about 6 years old and my gosh, did he take to it. How lucky I was to have a dog that had so much trust in me. I think he could have actually gone quite far with sports.
Lick fiend and crotch pusher… I used to joke that you couldn’t even bend down to tie your shoes around Levi as he would inevitably ambush you with a giant sloppy kiss to the face.
The one thing Levi never learned to do was to swim, unlike his sister, Lola who would do anything and go anywhere for the tennis ball. He did however have the kind of optimism and confidence that helped you believe both he and you could do anything!
Lola and Levi have seen me through one very bad relationship break, three moves, the loss of a job and a major surgery. They became a piece of my heart and of my soul.
This is a scary, scary word and one you never want to hear as a dog parent. It is an aggressive, fast-acting cancer with very poor survival and it unbelievably takes the lives of thousands and thousands of dogs every year. Both Levi and Lola, developed lots of lumps and bumps on their bodies as they aged and I always dreaded one of those becoming something detrimental, but this one crept up on us much more silently and stealthily than that.
Levi had developed mild arthritis in the last few years. He had been through two TPLO surgeries for torn ligaments in his back legs when he was about five and we began to notice some progressive discomfort about a month or so before his cancer diagnosis. He became less active, increasingly stiff getting up and down and less interested in training and working for his food. Now this latter observation was big for me, because anyone who knew Levi knew how much he LOVED his food and how he just adored toys like the Treat Tumble and Snuffle Mat, or search games with boxes or paper cups and trick training with Mom. It was a worry to me when his motivation for these things began to wane. He also began to come to the side of the bed in the middle of the night to ask to go out to the bathroom and was drinking a lot more water than usual.
Initially of course, it feels logical to say “oh well he is twelve now… a weaker bladder and slowing down a bit is normal…” but it’s so important to look more closely than that and pay attention to what your dog is telling you. We got him on daily anti-inflammatories and pain management for the arthritis and things were going well, but the increased urination was bothering me. Our dogs tend to pee in dirt or on grass where you can’t see the color of the urine. They don’t always show obvious signs of straining or discomfort when something is wrong in this area and if your dog spends a lot of time in a back yard unsupervised for example, you may not have a chance to even notice any change in their potty habits, appetite or behavior. One day, right after Levi peed outside, I decided to dab his penis with a tissue and found blood, indicating a urinary tract infection. After a visit to the vet and the appropriate diagnostics, we got him on antibiotics – again, nothing truly out of the ordinary here… except that this was the beginning of a downward spiral.
Levi began to lose weight, become pale and his belly became distended. I want to take a moment to emphasize the belly distention and what an important observation this was. I thank God that my gut told me to get this looked at quite quickly.
I thought for sure it was his kidneys, which would make sense with the urinary infection, but x-rays showed a large, dark mass on his spleen. It was this mass, it's weight and size that I now realized was causing so much of Levi's weakness and it's pressure against the stomach and bladder that had led to his primary symptoms. Within two weeks, we got him an abdominal ultrasound, a surgical consult and into surgery for a splenectomy and the surgeon was cautiously optimistic. In the end, he only had part of his spleen removed but also a large portion of his liver. I knew that even with surgery, the chances of only having Levi in our lives for a couple more months or maybe, just maybe for the better part of a year if we were extremely lucky, but I wanted to know that I had done everything in my power to help him. When he began to bleed internally just 72 hours before his scheduled surgery date, I scrambled to get him seen more urgently and panicked at the thought of losing him as we slept that night.
Levi was admitted to the hospital the next morning and while removal of the mass was successful, the surgeon also found several small tumors of varying sizes scattered throughout his entire abdomen. We went full throttle with researching and preparing the best fresh food diets and supplements for his condition. There are more and more studies being conducted on this type of cancer with some promising results of increased wellness and prolonged survival. I knew chemotherapy was an option, but I would never put an animal through that especially with only a marginal difference in outcome.
Levi’s face and demeanor when we brought him home appeared so happy and relieved that we felt extremely optimistic. His appetite and energy bounced right back, he began to pick up his toys again and greet us with a wagging tail when we arrived home from work. He didn’t even have any trouble taking all his medication and actually seemed excited for this special treat activity each evening. I knew we had done the right thing for him.
2 days after surgery
The first week of his recovery was full of joy and relief. I couldn’t wait to get him back out on his walks and began planning all the places I was going to take him to make the most of whatever time we may have left together.
But each day from here, we saw more and more of our baby boy just slip away from us. A great, well-planned diet was futile if I couldn’t get him to eat. He began to cough, to have difficulty breathing and could barely lift his own weight. It was just awful seeing his harness and collar hang off his frail and anorexic body as I took him out each day to the bathroom. I became so desperate in the end that I started rubbing baby food along his gums in an attempt to feed him. How did everything just change SO dramatically for him??
On Wednesday, November 10th 2021 I took Levi to the emergency vet. He had lost all color and his belly had become distended again. I was informed that he was likely bleeding internally for a second time and while he could potentially be given a blood transfusion, there would only be a very small chance of a positive outcome, that he may even pass away during the process.
I took Levi home to his comfy bed and to all that is warm and familiar to him and at 6pm that evening he was put to sleep forever. I wish he had gotten to lay in the sun one more time, or felt the breeze on his face and had the chance to run and roll around in the long grass, but I couldn’t bear to see him so unhappy anymore and I think he told us that he was ready.
Levi’s last night with us
My heart is broken over losing him and the pain comes in hot waves over me throughout the day. Levi was my best friend. When I needed to talk, he listened. When I needed a hug, he let me hold him and when I needed to laugh, he was certainly there to put a smile on my face. Animals are such a blessing. Hold them close, pay attention and consider each day with them a special gift.
REST IN PEACE DEAREST LEVI. YOU WERE SO LOVED.
08/07/2009 – 11/10/21
Levi’s Veterinarians, Medical Support/Caregivers and Roles:
Dr. Kevin Chung, ‘Ever Animal Care’, In-Home Euthanasia Services, Los Angeles CA
Dr. Edward Ancu, ‘Big Tujunga Vet Hospital’, General Medical and Euthanasia Support following diagnosis and at end stage of illness, Tujunga CA
Dr. Brian McGrath, ‘McGrath Veterinary Center’, Surgical Services, Sherman Oaks CA
Dr. Kate O’Dwyer, ‘Rosemont Veterinary Hospital’, Local Vet and General Care before and after diagnosis, La Crescenta CA
Research Specific to Hemangiosarcoma:
University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, ‘Compound Derived from a Mushroom Lengthens Survival Time in Dogs’
KetoPet Sanctuary: Case Studies on Keto Diet for Dogs with Terminal Cancer
Levi’s Supplements and Supplements of Interest:
Turkey Tail Mushroom
Whole Dog Journal
*Please note that these are personal experiences being shared in regard to providing a foundation level of help to other pet parents in a similar position but do not by any means take the place of professional medical opinions and a proper relationship with a veterinarian.