Quality of Life for Your Dog and You

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In August 2011 my friend Tory felt a couple of small lumps on the throat of her 13-year-old mixed-breed dog, Scout. Within a couple of days of discovery, Scout was diagnosed with lymphoma.

While Scout was still relatively healthy, Tory’s veterinarian guided her to define what Scout’s quality of life should be so that there were clear guidelines in place as the disease progressed, preempting any “bargaining” that could occur if he declined past those non-negotiable limits. Scout was started on prednisone and underwent the CHOP protocol (with a few breaks between treatments for gastric upset); the lymphoma was successfully put into remission.

At the end of the year, five months after diagnosis, the lumps had reappeared and Scout was panting, lethargic, and generally uncomfortable. Those guidelines Tory had put in place earlier allowed her to be clear in her decision not to pursue any further treatment. Scout enjoyed two weeks of bucket-list adventures, including his favorite meal of a Thanksgiving dinner, before he was assisted with his passing.

Not long after, my friend shared the following observation with me:

Quality of Life for Your Dog and You

“After Scout’s diagnosis, I became way more lenient with his loud mouth. In fact, I began embracing his ‘stand in the middle of the dog park and bark’ antics. I would just watch him and laugh rather than ignore him or try to stop him. When I realized he was at the end of the line, he was allowed to eat at the kitchen table with us. He demanded food and got it served to him on a fork – while we were eating. Although he often ate whatever I was eating anyway, he had always waited until I was finished and then he’d be given some leftovers.

“The most interesting behavior change, though, took place within me. Before Scout’s illness, I wouldn’t let him do those types of things, those things that used to annoy me. After diagnosis, I viewed those behaviors from a different perspective; I found them hilarious and I embraced them.”

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Barbara Dobbins has been writing for WDJ since 2011 with a focus on veterinary and canine health topics. Her lifelong fascination with dogs has led her in many directions. As a youngster she would round up her dogs and horse for a day of adventure exploring and searching for buried treasure in the California hills. Inspired by Margaret Mead with a nod to Indiana Jones, she went on to study anthropology, archaeology, and museum studies and obtained a masters degree in art history. Then two new puppies bounced into her life, and Barbara launched into studying animal behavior and training and spent hundreds of hours volunteering in the behavior department at her local shelter. When her beloved Border Collie Daisy was diagnosed with a rare cancer, she dug deep to research all she could about the disease, and has written extensively about all sorts of canine cancer for Whole Dog Journal. Liaising between pet owners and veterinary practice, science, and research, she synthesizes these complex and data-driven subjects into accessible information. She continues to take inspiration from her two research assistants, mixed-breed Tico and Border Collie Parker.