Lessons I’ve Learned From My Dog

Sally – Queen of Stoney Hill Farm

The last few months have been full of changes and challenges. One thing after another so that I’ve hardly had a chance to catch my breath. Some good, some not so good or seemingly so. Fortunately the business is thriving and has not been affected adversely. Our Herbarie Team – Wanda, Bobby, Jean, Alden and I – work very hard to keep everything running smoothly for our customers. In fact, I believe our Team is working more efficiently and happily than ever before!

I truly believe challenges are opportunities for learning and growth. But the choice is up to us whether or not to go down that path or climb that mountain or navigate those white water rapids. So these past few months when I’ve been climbing my own personal Mt. Everest I know that I have become much stronger and have learned so much! I know there will be ups and downs, but I plan to continue to ride those waves.

I’ve learned so much from many wonderful sources.   I’ll be happy to share these sources if anyone is interested.  But one of my best teachers is my dog Sally. First of all – DOG is GOD spelled backwards – and that is significant. I love and honor all of God’s creatures, but dogs are special – a gift of love to humans.

Over the years, I’ve written about Sally, my Great Pyrenees. Sally was supposed to be the guardian for our goats, but she never spent even one night outside. The first night we put her to bed in the kennel and went to bed ourselves. In the middle of the night, I got up to check on her – looked outside – and she was gone from the kennel! I opened the front door to search for her and she was sitting right there. She didn’t like staying outside by herself and wanted to be with us. So from that night, Sally has been a house/office guardian dog. Sally takes her job very seriously and is fiercely protective of her family. People who are threatening should be afraid of the Big White Dog. But to friends, Sally is super sweet and gentle and adores being petted. Our many cats love her and she loves them. The cats love to snuggle in her big fluffy tail and wind back and forth around her legs – claiming her as their own. Strong enough to be gentle – this was Lesson One.

Sally and I have become the best of friends. We’ve been through a lot together. I sometimes think she can read my mind. She certainly knows my habits and has adapted her schedule to mine. She watches my every move and knows when it’s time for eating or bed. We enjoy each other’s company whether it’s going for long walks or just relaxing in the garden or watching for rabbits in the fields. Through the difficult times, Sally is always there to let me know I am loved and ok just being me. Her big smile and wagging tail bring me great joy. I’ve never boarded Sally and if she can’t go, then I don’t go either. Sally is part of my family. Dog people will understand what I am talking about. If you are not a dog person, then I highly recommend getting to know a dog. Love and Be Loved – this is Lesson Two.

In June 2010 Sally was diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma on her left elbow. We were devastated of course with the news, but with treatment the prognosis was good. The tumor was localized, but due to the lack of extra tissue, the surgeon could not get the clean margins that we wanted. So, we decided to follow the tumor removal with radiation treatment since the survival rate was excellent for this protocol. But radiation treatment meant 5 days a week for one month. An entire month – 20 treatments!  We took her up each morning and brought her home each evening. Each day Sally was anesthetized for the radiation treatments. She had to keep the IV catheter in her leg for the duration – rotating legs every few days or so. In spite of all this, Sally was up and ready to go every morning – excited to get in the car and excited to be going somewhere. When she came home she was happy to be here – weak and groggy from anesthesia, but nonetheless happy to be home. Every day, same thing, same attitude – same sweet spirit. Sally didn’t bemoan the fact that she had cancer nor did she dread going for treatment or whine about the IV stuck in her legs. Sally never worried about yesterday or what might be coming tomorrow. She smiled and wagged her tail instead. Find Joy in The Moment – this was Lesson Three.

I wrote about this experience in my June 2010 blog and also have pictures of Sally and the veterinary staff. I must mention that Sally’s radiation treatment was in Greenville, SC at Upstate Veterinary Specialty Clinic. The expertise and kindness and compassion that we found at Upstate is exceptional – truly extraordinary. Great thanks and blessings to Upstate for all you do!!

Sally is the Queen of Stoney Hill Farm, but shares her domain with the seven indoor cats, two outside cats, two bunnies, three goats, many wild creatures and me.

During our long walks a few months ago, I noticed that Sally seemed to be limping. Thinking it was likely arthritis since she was approaching 8 years, I took her to the vet for xrays. The xrays didn’t show arthritis or any problems whatsoever. But the limping persisted and finally, about a month or so ago, I took Sally to a specialist who found a mass on her right shoulder. The CT scan revealed cancer once again. Again, this news was devasting to me. Surely my Sally couldn’t have cancer again! It just didn’t seem fair! I need Sally now more than ever! The mass was huge and aggressive and had to be removed or she would not live beyond a month or two. Removal of the mass meant amputation of her entire right shoulder and arm. Sally would be an amputee. Would this be the best thing for Sally? Could she have good quality of life as a three legged dog? Would she ever be able to walk again? What should I do? Lesson Four – This was a very hard lesson for me. Life is often not fair as we define it.  Things often happen in ways that we would not have chosen. This is the difficult stuff of life.  We can’t see beyond the challenges while they are happening. We ask ourselves why?  But it’s best to trust that good will ultimately come from our challenges.  We do our best and make the best of life, no matter what happens. After we give it our best, we surrender the rest.

I spoke with a number of experts and did my own research and prayed. Based on all of that, I scheduled surgery at Upstate with Dr. Allen on June 27. So the week before, Sally and I went on our long walk to the top of the hill. We have been walking the same route for years – usually about three miles or so. Sally is well known around our community as the Big White Dog. People look forward to seeing us and wave to us as folks do in the South. Honestly, Sally has always enjoyed sniffing about as much as walking and I used to tell Sally that it was a Walk, not a Sniff and would insist that we hurry on our way. Hurry, hurry, hurry! But that day I let her sniff and linger just as long as she wanted. We cherished each moment of that walk because it would likely be the last long walk for the two of us together. Lesson Five – Don’t hurry! Be sure to take time to sniff – smell the roses!  The time is now!

On Wednesday, June 27 Sally had surgery and stayed in the clinic for two nights – her first two nights ever away from home or me. If I could have stayed in the clinic I would have, but human parents are not allowed. Dr. Allen and staff called me several times each day to let me know that Sally was doing well. May those doctors be blessed for their compassion and kindness! On Friday, we went to pick her up and we were so happy to see one another! As soon as I saw her, we hugged for a long time right there on the floor of the clinic. Best of all, Sally was able to walk/hop outside to the car! It was slow walk/hopping, but she made it just fine. Now it’s been two and a half weeks since surgery and Sally is walk/hopping just about everywhere she wants to!  She reminds me of a ballerina as she tip toes around in a circle before lying down on her bed.  She is smiling and happy and wagging her tail. She is enjoying the special diet that I prepare for her. She can now hop/walk with me each morning to feed the goats and rabbits and cats – a circle around the property. I’ve adapted to Sally’s habits and needs now.  As Wanda says, it’s our “new normal”.  We have a new normal almost daily.  We take it slow now, but that’s the best part – taking time to look at those wild rabbits and birds and trees and blue sky. Taking time to be grateful that we are alive. Taking time to enjoy life and these gifts of nature.

The biopsy results came back last week. The oncologist tells me that Sally has Hemangiosarcoma which is typically a very aggressive cancer that attacks cells of the blood vessels. The CT scan did not reveal any spread of the cancer, but there is always the likelihood of microscopic cancer cells. Next week we will start chemotherapy. Sally will have 6-8 treatments over an 18 week period. The odds are in her favor for tolerating the chemo treatments. They say with chemo treatments we can extend her life for 10 months to one year or two or perhaps more. If she doesn’t tolerate the treatments, we will stop treatment. It’s important that Sally have quality of life. In addition to the chemo treatments we make sure we do yoga every morning and have massage therapy too. Sally also enjoys her herbal teas that I make for her. Sometimes we just sit together listening to the birds and watching the wild rabbits and squirrels. We are making the most of every moment of every day.

Ok, so I’ll stop counting the lessons – there are too many. I’ll just keep trying to learn 😉

In 2010 when Sally completed her treatment successfully I wanted her to become a certified Therapy Dog. I knew that with her powerful sweet spirit she could help heal troubled souls. But the Greenville group didn’t want us nor did the Columbia group. My human feelings were hurt and at the time I felt rejected. Just last week, the thought came to me that SALLY IS A THERAPY DOG! She was born that way and no certificate could make it more authentic. Our little community has been affected by Sally and her experiences and the way she has handled them. Sally smiles and waits at the driveway for pats as the local walking group goes by. Children notice how soft her fur feels and how sweetly she responds to petting. As a good dog should, Sally has demonstrated stellar qualities that all of us can learn from. I know she will continue to teach me.  Her job on this earth is not finished yet. 

Love and All Good Wishes from Angie and Sally!