Thursday, January 17, 2008

My dog Charlie

My dog Charlie My dog Charlie will turn 10 years old on March 29; I will turn 50 in June. Charlie was my birthday present from my wife Nan when I turned 40. In a way, Charlie was meant to take the place of Rollie, our first golden retriever, whom we were forced to give up in 1992 when he was still a puppy, but that is a story for another time. Charlie was a very different puppy from the calm and lovable Rollie, and it took us some time to adjust to the differences. The fact that Charlie's father's name was Tuff, or that the breeder told us, "That one? He's so willful," should have tipped us off, but he was so adorable that we accepted the challenge.

Charlie was the kind of puppy who, when you gave him a command, would cock his head and stare at you, like "You're kidding, right?" It was obvious that he understood what was being asked of him, he just couldn't decide if he wanted to do it. Treats were usually the key. He would do anything for food. After Charlie figured out that I was boss and that the treats depended on his obedience, we developed a strong positive bond.

Rollie was never much of a retriever. I used to say about him, "He's not a golden retriever; he's just a golden." Toss a tennis ball at him and it would bounce off his nose. I was determined that Charlie would be different. He had good "eye-to-mouth" coordination, developed from catching treats out of the air, and he was a natural retriever, rolling balls back to me when he was still too small to fit them in his mouth. A tennis ball soon became a necessary component of every walk.

A couple of years ago, Charlie was retrieving tennis balls in a park with a couple of younger dogs. As they were running at full speed, one of the dogs broadsided him, blowing out the ACL and tearing the meniscus of his left back leg. He was immediately lame, unable to put weight on the leg without it collapsing. We opted for an expensive Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy surgical procedure, and it was an amazing success. We figured that Charlie was a rough-and-tumble dog and it was unfair to him to not have the full use of his legs for the rest of his life. Two years later, you wouldn't know that he had ever had the surgery if you didn't feel the steel plate that is still screwed to his tibia bone.

Now we're facing a new health issue. On New Year's Eve afternoon, while I was teaching skiing up at Powderhorn, Nan took Charlie to the groomer and also requested a tooth brushing since his breath had been bad lately. When she got him home, he started bleeding from the mouth. She rushed him to an emergency pet clinic, where they discovered that he had a tumor in his mouth along the upper gum line by his back left molars. The brushing had aggravated it and caused it to bleed. The vets stopped the bleeding and told us we should get a full work-up to see if the tumor was malignant.

That was more than two weeks ago. Since then Charlie has had periodontal x-rays, tumor and lymph node biopsies, chest x-rays, a blood test, a urine test, and a CT scan. He has been to three different veterinary hospitals. The vets can't agree on what it is, whether it's amelanotic melanoma, fibrosarcoma or maybe squamous cell carcinoma, but they all agree that it will be difficult to remove. The CT scan revealed that the tumor has invaded the zygomatic arch and is dangerously close to the orbital, threatening the vision in Charlie's left eye. The foremost veterinary surgeon in the area summed up Charlie's prognosis as "guarded." He has recommended that we go to the veterinary college in Fort Collins for an assessment and possible surgery. We have an appointment next Wednesday.

Nan and I agree that we should do whatever is possible to help Charlie get better. He is our best friend and we love him dearly. Please think good thoughts for Charlie as he faces his uncertain future. I will let you know how it all goes.

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