Monday, November 2, 2015

Why we do what we do

BRAT receives photos and updates of many of our successful adoptions. They bring a smile to our faces and give us renewed energy to continue the work of rescue and rehabilitation. After 16 years of placing approximately 3,500 Basenjis, we also hear from those families whose dogs have crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, often after living for many years in their new forever homes, knowing the unconditional love that all deserve.

Every once in a while, we receive an email that touches us in ways we cannot express. This email received last week reminds us why we do what we do. This family gave a home to a Basenji that would otherwise never have had a life well-lived.  As a special needs dog, he likely would not have made it out of the shelter.  Their willingness to open their home and their hearts to him is a story worth sharing. The family epitomizes the unconditional love of both volunteers and adopters.  We wanted to share their story as tribute to their love and his life. The name of the dog has been changed to respect the privacy of the owners:

We haven’t been active with BRAT for a few years, but still consider ourselves part of the family. As such, we wanted to pass along to our extended family the sad news that we had to put our BRAT “Beloved” to sleep today.

Beloved came to us in 2009 as a six-year-old special needs dog pulled from a shelter in south Georgia. Missing two toes on his right front foot, a recently diagnosed seizure disorder and scars too numerous to count; Beloved was a sight to see. The general consensus was that he had, at some point in his life, been hit by a car. He had broken his left femur so severely that it needed to be wired back together (we could still see the wire on x-rays) and sporting a large scar from a gash on his left elbow that would have made the make-up artist from a Frankenstein movie proud. Beloved’s body was a mess.

When Beloved first arrived, he was still adjusting to the dosage of phenobarbital for the seizures. He never made eye contact, hung his head down and wobbled when he walked. Through trial and error, we got his seizure medication dosed properly (thereby slowing down the eating machine that the drugs turned him into) and bringing out his true self.

Beloved settled into a quiet life dominated by good meals, bounding through the park, as many walks as possible (as long as there was a car ride involved), and generally being the happiest dog we’ve ever owned. Beloved was a comedian, always underfoot, sleeping on his back (paws in the air). The only Basenji we have ever owned that would yodel for us, mostly on cue, and he possessed a very emphatic “sit." 

Beloved’s spirit seemed unstoppable. He took life on with enthusiasm and generally at full speed…the “turn and launch” maneuver was one of his favorites. Our (previously adopted BRAT) grudgingly shared “her” house with Beloved, but they did run and play the standard Basenji games often.

In 2013, Beloved was diagnosed with Progressive Retinal Atrophy, untreatable and leading to inevitable blindness. Beloved’s world was slowly dimming around him, but it largely went unnoticed by him (and by us) until he started going deaf as well. Undaunted by his handicaps, Beloved still insisted that he knew where he was going, and you trying to change direction was an attempt to alter his mission plan. A headstrong, blind and deaf Basenji with brain damage is not a combination to take lightly!

Late in 2014, routine bloodwork for a dental cleaning revealed severely elevated liver values; then we got the diagnosis…liver cancer. Devastated at how unfair life had once again been to our little pal, we pursued a surgical approach for the cancer, and in February 2015, he underwent a lobectomy, removing the cancerous parts of the liver. Recovery was a slow, tedious process complicated by the winter weather, but Beloved made a complete recovery from the surgery. However, he was not out of the woods. Beloved’s liver (what was left of it) was, to quote his surgeon “ugly." The phenobarbital had severely damaged his liver, so he was going to need supportive drugs to keep his compromised liver functioning. 

In August more blood tests (in anticipation of that dental cleaning) came back amazingly good, and Beloved was deemed to be cancer free. Until….today, three days from his scheduled dental appointment. Beloved had been suffering from diarrhea for about a week; we had changed foods and he wanted nothing to do with the old food. We assumed it was just a mild gastrointestinal upset that would clear once he adjusted to the new food and he would be fine. He wasn’t. At midnight, his stomach began to spasm and he was in obvious pain. By 2 a.m. we were en-route to the emergency vet where they found fluid in his abdomen, most likely blood. 

He was admitted for tests, and ultrasound showed that his liver was again under attack. This time it appeared to be sarcoma hemangioma of the liver, a highly aggressive, invasive form of cancer which spreads quickly, and generally leads to internal bleeding. The diagnosis is not definitive without a biopsy, but they’d seen it before. Beloved was in bad shape. Having only a partial, severely damaged liver remaining, and the likelihood of the cancer having spread already, it was decided that we wouldn’t put him through the trauma of another surgery for the possibility of an additional six months with him. 

At 1 p.m. today, slightly more than 13 hours from our initial indication that there was anything really wrong with him, Beloved was dead. It’s the toughest part of pet ownership, but one that you have to accept when you invite an animal into your life. The pain will one day subside, and we still have our female Basenji to help cushion the blow, but never hearing him yodel again is going to be hard. 

Beloved was not a perfect dog, but he was our dog and we loved him. We thanked him for being a part of our lives, then we let him slip away quietly forever.

Thank you does not seem to be an adequate expression of the deep gratitude we have to this family.  All we can offer them are our deepest condolences...and a promise to continue the work of rescue and rehabilitation of this remarkable breed. 

Stories like this remind us of why we do what we do. But we could not do it without them and cannot do it without you.  Please consider joining us in this important work: 

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