In Puerto Rico, where I was born, if a woman co-habited with a man for 7
years she became his common law wife. And so it was with me and Sabrina.
She was my guardian angel with a great tush. She was always protective,
slept with me and allowed me to kiss and pet her. And when I got
'lucky', she rolled over for me.
During the days we spent together, she was sometimes opinionated even
while playful, but she never let me out of her sight. She allowed me no
privacy on the pot or in the shower and, if I moved from room to room,
she got up and followed me, waiting patiently for my next move. If I
asked her to "stay" she did, but only for a limited time and then she
would find me, barking her demand: "where do you think you are going
without me? Somebody has to take care of you." I got used to it
after 7 years.
* * * *
On April 5th, 2006, after a short trip out of town, I came home to
find that Sabrina, still in her winter coat, had developed a lump in her
chest just behind her right leg. It fit in the palm of my hand. Carol
had mentioned wasps and the lump felt warm so was it a reaction to a bad
bite? Well, it was worth the thought so I decided to wait a day to see
what happened. There was no change by the next day so I opted for the
vet where the area was shaved revealing a mass the size of a small
melon, mostly blood, it was surmised. After some drainage and rummaging
around, cancer became the most likely suspect. She was bandaged and
wrapped to avoid any unsightly leakage.
The mass grew larger and Sabrina's right front and rear leg swelled.
The next ten or twelve days were a serious, sad,
sleepless blur -- traveling from vet to vet, hours on the road, in
waiting and examining rooms -- waking at all hours of the night to the
sound of whimpering, sleeping on the floor, stroking Sabrina's muzzle
until she calmed down and fell back to sleep.
Poor girl looked, and probably felt, like a pin cushion, all four legs
shaved for easy needle insertion. Her chest and belly shaved for
ultrasound and biopsy sampling. But, for the most part, she
remained herself -- protective, of normal appetite, with normal water
intake and regular bathroom habits. Except for the lump, she was normal
I kept saying to myself. Was it cancer for sure? And if so, what kind?
Operable or inoperable?
The next morning, she was at a Veterinarian Cancer Clinic with four
Board Certified Oncologists -- each with their own area of expertise
including surgery. The radiologist read her x-rays but didn't see any
metastasis. Ultra sound and CTs were performed and nothing seemed
abnormal in her ribs, heart, stomach, intestine, bladder or spleen. All
Whenever she emerged from a veterinarian office, I held my arms out to
her (my signal to come -- remember Sabrina was mostly deaf) this little
wiggle butt, trotted to me with her habitual sniff, sniff.....hmmmm....
sniff, sniff -- head up for a kiss. Same as always.
From the ultrasound we could see that the mass was
totally encased and filled mostly with blood and necrotic material but
we hoped for a granular tumor and therefore an operable tumor. However,
there was little doubt that it was some kind of cancer. But the lab
reports came back inconclusive.
On the 12th Sabrina seemed a bit weaker to me and had some trouble
breathing so I asked to test her for anemia. It turned out her levels
were low, just at the edge of the danger zone, so she was transfused
with two units of blood.
On the 14th, the oncologist sedated her, and with an
ultrasound view to guide him, re-sampled a portion of the mass that was
tucked waaaaaaay up, deep into her arm (leg) pit, and was a little
darker in coloration. From there we hoped to retrieve a bit of cancerous
tissue for an accurate pathology report which would then guide our
We expected the report on Mon or Tue, the 17th or 18th. Further testing
on Fri late and Sat indicated Sabrina was holding her own blood wise.
But it was not to be. On Sunday, the 16th, I noticed she was
acting a bit peculiarly...almost as though she wanted to be alone. She
lacked some energy but otherwise was ok. We went outside and she looked
about, in retrospect it seemed to have been a bit wistfully but, of
course, that was probably my imagination working overtime.
As she barked at the neighbor's puppy, I noticed a blot
on the bottom of her bandage and it was damp to the touch... more than
before... so I called the Emergency Vet Hospital and with a short
description of the problem, took her there.
I wanted the bandages removed to see what was going on and to re-bind
her so we could return to the cancer hospital the next day. As the
bandage was cut away an ugly mass of clotted blood and other necrotic
matter fell out of a 3 inch hole in her chest.
There was no way this ugly mess was going to be pushed back in so,
gingerly, the vet started to pull away the necrotic material, hoping it
wasn't connected to a ruptured blood vessel while, along with two vet
techs, I stood with Sabrina, stroking her muzzle and whispering into her
right ear (she had about 10% hearing in that ear). She lay there
Her skin in the wound area had rotted and the hole widened to about 4"
and she started to bleed out; the blood flow was heavy and frightening.
Quickly, the vet grabbed big, thick pads of gauze and jammed them into
the cavity with four fingers of his right hand and, like the little boy
with his finger in the dike, pushed down, holding back the flood.
The problem was what to do next.
There was an infinitesimally slight chance for coagulation so together,
we decided to clean out as much necrotic material as possible, to pack
the cavity with gauze, applying a lot of pressure, binding her up as
tightly as a Japanese Geisha's feet and await the outcome. Would this
stem the blood flow?
Sabrina was injected with something to "take the edge off" as we wheeled
her to a large crate located in the main examining area where she could
rest. I removed my shirt and left it for her to smell but I wasn't
allowed to remain with her.
I gave the vet instructions that, in an emergency, he should immediately
take her to the operating room and do everything possible to save her.
There was nothing left to do but wait so Carol and I decided to take a
short drive just to get some fresh air. I had a terrible foreboding but
all we could do was hope.
Strangely, we elected to do something we hadn't done in years: we
stopped at a Carvel for an ice cream. No sooner than we sat down in the
sunshine to eat our cones, my cell went off and I was informed that
Sabrina had bled and was rushed into surgery. Sort of numb and dumb and
running on emotional 'empty', we did the only "feel-good" thing we could
-- quickly finished our ice cream -- then raced back to the Emergency
I paced the waiting room while Carol sat quietly, controlling herself. A
fax came in from the cancer clinic with Sabrina's tests, blood types,
etc. And I paced some more. An hour went by and I asked for a progress
report. The receptionist left and returned to say the doctor would be
out to talk to us. She ushered us into a small, private examining room.
We knew what to expect and I prepared myself as best I could.
The vet entered the room, his gloves still on, with a forlorn expression
to explain what we already knew: he wasn't able to find the bleed
source. He had cleaned the cavity but it was further inside her body.
Cutting her open to get there might result in little and Sabrina's
quality of life at the end would probably be nil even if the leaking
vessel(s) was/were located and cauterized or clamped.
This cancer had left a hole in the side of her chest big enough to put
your fist into. With little choice I agreed to "put her to sleep".
To his credit and with great sensitivity, the vet asked if we wanted to
see her. "Of course" and I told him I wanted to be with her when she was
So, together, just barely controlling our emotions, we trooped into the
operating room and gathered around Sabrina's unconscious body with tubes
and electrodes and beeping monitors and, for a few minutes alone with
her, we cried and stroked her and kissed her and said our private good
Then a vet tech entered the room and one by one the monitors were
extinguished, the switches switched, the power turned off.
And I told the vet to go ahead with her euthanasia.
Sabrina was put to sleep Easter Sunday April 16th, 4:20pm. She died on
the operating table at the Danbury Emergency Clinic in Connecticut. She
was 9 yrs, 7 months and 19 days young. Carol and I were with her when
her heart stopped beating.
We kissed her goodbye again -- for the final time -- and left the vet's
office via a side door, tears streaming down our faces. We sat in the
car and sobbed for a while. Then we took a couple of deep breaths and
drove home to Truman.
When we unlocked the house door, Truman came to say hello and to check
Sabrina for a have-you-been-anywhere-interesting? sniff. Not seeing her
and maybe sensing sadness in the air, he appeared a bit confused and
wandered around aimlessly.
As I write this, I'm still getting used to taking a shower alone.
Sabrina's bed is still in the corner, her leash hangs where it always
did and her food bowl is where it always was. We don't have the heart to
move them. Her ashes are coming in a few days and we will put them
somewhere appropriate outside in the gardens, after I'm willing to part
If I was a religious person, which I often wish I was these days, it
might add some meaning to the fact that she died on Easter Sunday and
that maybe she was on her way to a wonderful after life but,
unfortunately, I'm not a religious person and I'll just have to live
with the finality of her death.
I adopted Sabrina at age two but in the end, I'm heart broken because I
couldn't rescue her.
Dakasha's Lady Sabrina DL657371/01
August 28, 1996 - Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006
Our deepest appreciation
Dr. Jeffrey Hubscher & Dr. Joan Kobalka for their primary care, initial evaluation
Dr. Victor Rendano & Dr. Rachel St-Vincent at the Advanced Veterinary
Center for their caring expertise
Dr.Tony Dellamonica at the Danbury Emergency Center for his valiant
efforts & sensitivity at a terrible time
to all the receptionists, vet nurses, techs & everyone else who cared
for & about Sabrina
and especially to Megan for her hugs at our lowest low.