The Story of Hercules... (written 10/25/14)

Couldn't sleep much last night. Couldn't sleep this morning. I guess I probably won't get much sleep at all this weekend. Knowing that Monday is coming... the appointment is coming...

Yes, this is going to be another lengthy post about Hercules.
Truth is, I could write pages and pages and pages about Hercules. In fact, I have. He has his own lengthy page on my old Dane website (a google site called Fitz Lane Danes). I kept an account of his battle with all of his medical issues.. IMHA (Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia), Wobblers, growth plate abnormalities, and his elbow and hip dysplasia. I started that blog back in April of 2010, when Herc was just 8 months old, and first diagnosed with IMHA. My last entry was three years later. I haven’t updated it in over a year. I guess it just became easier to update on facebook.

Many of you already know his story… How I lost his mother during a c-section. How we hand raised him and his 10 siblings as our own babies… Bottle feeding around the clock, cleaning them, keeping them warm, making them pee and poop (since puppies can’t on their own when they are first born), teaching them how to eat “puppy mush”, showing them the wonders of the outdoors, teaching them their manners… Little Hercules had a herniated umbilical cord at birth. Which simply meant, it wouldn’t stop bleeding. We had to hold a cornstarch and iodine compress on his little belly for 24 hours after he was born. And that was the beginning of the bond that made us keep him as our pick of the litter. I was the mother to that litter, to Hercules, quite literally.

And first came the IMHA, when Herc was about 7 months old… He fell mysteriously ill. Had some weird swelling, lethargy, wouldn’t eat, slight temperature... The ONLY reason our vet was able to properly diagnose IMHA, was because one of his littermates had just died from the disease, and was also treated at our vet. Unfortunately, IMHA is very difficult to diagnose, sometimes it’s only recognized in it’s last stages, when the dog has already lost the majority of it’s red blood cells. IMHA has a very poor outcome and high mortality rate. We were quite lucky. Our only hope was to transport him to the hospital in Scarborough. My mother gave me one of her credit cards, and said- “save him”. Thank god for her then. So, I spent a few days in southern Maine with Herc. We had caught it in time so that he fortunately didn't need blood transfusions. He was heavily medicated for several days, and we were able to finally take him home, with a long list of medications. Sidenote… while I was in southern Maine, I shopped a bit while waiting for Herc one day. I bought a sign that said “Miracles Happen”. It’s still hanging on my wall.
Herc stayed on prednizone to suppress his immune system for the following few years. We had red blood cell checks every couple of weeks for a while, then once a month, then every couple months, etc, etc.. Until we were finally able to see a normal range of red blood cells.

During this time, Herc began to develop some growth plate abnormalities in his front legs. Basically, the growth plates in the “wrists” won't close, allowing the inner long bone of the leg to continue to grow and grow. The condition causes the feet to turn grossly outward. There were surgeries available for this, but they are not always successful. And with Herc’s compromised immune system, he was not a candidate for surgery. So we simply had to hope for the best.

And then, as we weaned him off the prednizone, he started displaying signs of Wobblers. Wobblers Syndrome is a neurological disorder that is caused by malformation of the cervical vertebrae, resulting in a wobbly gate and weakness (and eventually paralysis) in the limbs. It’s most commonly seen in horses, Great Danes, and Doberman Pinschers.
Wobblers is typically diagnosed with MRI, but Herc’s xrays (read by multiple doctors, and the OFA- Orthopedic Foundation for Animals), and his symptoms, were enough to make a firm diagnosis. His xrays also showed moderate hip and elbow dysplasia.
And of course, there were surgeries available for all of those as well. Wobblers surgeries are very risky, and there are most definitely no guarantees. And then there were the growth plates, the elbow dysplasia, and the hip dysplasia. Hercules would basically need to be completely re-engineered. Even if we had tens of thousands of dollars, putting him through multiple surgeries would have been nothing short of inhumane.

And so, we continued with the prednisone, which is the most successful anti-inflammatory when treating Wobblers and dysplasia. We moderated his exercise over the years, tried some herbal treatments, supplements, acupuncture, whatever we could think of. All to make him comfortable and extend his years with us.

And then, in February of 2012, Herc decided we just hadn't had enough yet… He ingested one of his stuffed toys. 30 staples and a few thousand dollars later, Herc was well again.
Almost exactly one year later, he managed to get his mouth on yet another toy (I thought I had rid the house of them!). A day in the hospital, a barium series (barium swallows, followed by a progression of multiple x-rays), a few different medications, and several hundred dollars later, Herc was able to expel that one on his own.
Damn god… (shaking my head)...

For the last couple years, we have watched a slow and steady decline in his mobility. Fewer trips to Petco, fewer soccer games, less exercise… More prednizone…
Last winter I watched him struggle terribly trying to get around in the snow and ice. I knew in my heart it was the last winter I was going to have with him. And then, over this summer, we watched as he rapidly degenerated. He started falling regularly. Staggered grossly while walking. Refusing to get up off his bed unless there was food involved, or unless we made him. I’m actually not sure how we’ll get him into one of our vehicles. He’s too unstable to use his ramp. I suppose we will have to team lift him...

And then we unexpectedly lost Herc’s father, Anselmo. How devastating that was. I always said that even though Anselmo was a senior citizen as far as Danes go, he was going to long outlive his son. He became mysteriously and suddenly ill, and xrays showed a large tumor sitting on top of his heart, pinching off his esophagus. How painfully ironic, how horrible, that while I was preparing (or trying to prepare) to lose my Hercules, that I would also lose my Anselmo.

Herc is now almost completely immobile. He lays on his bed all hours of the day, like I mentioned, unless it’s time to eat, or unless we make him go outside. Even then, most of the time we have to hoist him up. He doesn’t always stay upright, either. His front legs, or hind legs, give out on him, resulting in a split. Sometimes they simply crumple under him and he falls/lays back down. Watching him walk is painful. It takes him several minutes to get from one short point to another, his legs shake from toe to top, his feet slide apart (even on a gripped surface), he appears hunched over and bowed in the middle… And yet, he still exhibits no signs of pain. He never grumbles or cries. Yet, he must be pained. How horrible that I just can’t tell.

And that’s another thing… People always say things like- You will know when it’s time... You’ll look into his eyes and he’ll tell you… When his quality of life is suffering, it’s time… Bla, bla bla… But I DON’T know. He’s NEVER told me. And who’s to say his quality of life is all that bad? He still wags his tail, still lets us know he loves us, still eats and voids, still seems, well, somewhat happy… Should I wait until the day comes when he just can’t get up, or can’t stay up?
I just don’t know if it truly is “the right thing”, the “kind” thing, the “selfless” thing...
What if it’s not?? What if he’s not ready to go yet??
I don't know if I’ll ever be able to live with this decision.

And people also say- they understand. But they don’t. To raise a pup from birth as your own baby… He’s not just a dog. Everyone says that about their dogs... I brought him into this world. I hand raised him from day one, when he had no other mommy. He is my child.
And we have lived through SO much together… His multiple health issues over the years.. my horrible break-ups, job loss, poverty, losing my home… On top of being my son, he has been my one and only true companion and best friend, through some of the very worst times of my life.

I’ve said it before.. I don’t know how to deal with this. I just don’t. My coping skills have left the building. My heart hurts.

...Hercules was euthanized on October 27th. My daughter and son and I, the ones who birthed him and raised him, were with him in his final moments. We held him and told him we loved him as he took his last breaths.
And I am forever changed. I live every day with a giant, painful void. And I have yet to fin any peace in my decision to end his life.
I miss my best friend. Life is cruel.