Bark for Peace!
musings & ramblings, mostly about dogs, from a three being, three species family

Bark for Peace!

Our Elsa is with us no more

March 29th, 2011 . by lisa knaggs


It is with deep sorrow, and through pouring tears, that I write to tell you all that Elsa died peacefully yesterday afternoon about 3:30pm.  She was outdoors under the bright blue Colorado sun, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells she loved so much.  Elsa was in my arms with Dr. Green at her side.

Dr. Green and I began communicating about her condition and the rough night prior, just after 7:30pm yesterday morning.  The pain medication (also doubled in dosage) was not enough to relieve her and she was moaning.  When I arrived at the Vet clinic, Elsa’s Dr. Justin and a vet tech rushed out to greet her- drawing blood straightaway.  The oxygen chamber was ready and her Dr. Justin carried her so lovingly into what we hoped would make her breathing comfortable and effective. Justin, Sam and I were all there, as well as Joann- a vet tech who had also cared tenderly for Elsa.  We were cheering her on, hoping against hope, but the oxygen didn’t make much difference, and we agonized with her as she labored to breathe. Dejectedly, Dr. Green told us her lungs and abdomen were probably so full of fluid (water and or infection) that the oxygen could not displace that.  Still, with great hope, he gave her some IV lasix, the diuretic she’d been taking in pill form, to try and relieve her body from the swelling.

We waited in anticipation for good news from her blood work, but the news was anything but good.  Despite the high dosages of two antibiotics and all the good nutrition, love, prayers, energy and hope we had all surrounded her with in the last week, as well as the obvious improvement of her external wounds, Elsa’s infection was significantly worse.  The logical reason for that would be the spread of infection from her mammary glands, or maybe cancer- but whatever it was it was taking over her body faster than we could do anything to slow it down or stop it.  We could no longer be hopeful for her physical recovery in the face of her worsening condition.  It pains me to admit, something we all know is true- sometimes, despite all the loving care we can give, bodies are simply too broken to be repaired. Sadly, Elsa’s body had suffered too much damage for too long to be repaired.

After an hour or so, Elsa began refusing oxygen.  I kept replacing the hood on her snout but she removed her snout repeatedly, over-riding my insistence on knowing what was best for her.  Eventually she righted herself and tottered out to urinate.  As Dr. Green said, she was simply too much of a lady to lay in her own waste anymore, and she demonstrated her dignity to the end.  Unfortunately, the fluid that kept coming out of her body was not reducing the swelling grossly disfiguring her legs.  Her body’s systems were shutting down.  The sparkle had left her eyes and I saw in her back and forth gazes, a pleading for relief.

As many of you know from being in similar circumstances, there is no easy way to navigate end of life decisions. I have come to believe that discernment is the hard work of life.  And none of us gets a free ride.  I hope you, as Elsa’s larger care team, know how agonizing it was for us to make the choice of euthanasia.  But our beautiful girl was suffering and we had come together to support her to relieve her from suffering.  We had to recognize the obvious.  As much as we felt frustrated and powerless to change the medical and scientific facts, they were staring us in the face, literally, in the pained eyes, furrowed brow, and rattled breathing of our precious shepherd with the heart of a lioness.  We were not able to end her pain, so we freed her to have pain no more.

Because he is a kind man, Dr. Green wanted to tell the family who brought Elsa to the clinic (and had been calling to check on her condition daily) that he had decided the treatments were not working and it was best to put her to rest. Although he was not legally obligated to inform them, Dr. Green cared about the human family as well, even as he continued to express outrage at the grave injustice it seemed to us was inflicted upon this dear dog. None of us will ever know the full and true story, but he had listened to questions of concern and tears on this dog’s behalf, and hoping there was indeed sincere regret and remorse, and also love, he allowed this woman to come in and say goodbye to “our Elsa.”  Surely this was also an act of compassion, and a model for non-retaliatory behavior.  The law is there to enforce codes and punish- a Vet has the difficult and sometimes impossible role of interpreting, translating, and care-taking across species.  I cannot say enough good things about the communication skills, integrity, and ethics of this young Veterinarian.

When I saw the petite woman’s red and swollen face, eyes dripping with tears, I cried with her, for her, and for Elsa. Elsa, leaned toward her and gave her a loving gaze with soft eyes.  Elsa showered no anger or fear of the woman. The woman gently caressed her head as she continued to weep and told me that this dog had been her son’s grandfather’s dog and that the grandfather died 10 years ago.  “She’s been with us 16 years.”  My mind cannot fathom a scenario where neglect and abuse are not part of naming what happened.  Yet I know I see only through a glass darkly (to paraphrase biblical imagery of not-knowing/understanding) and must continue to live with only this partial understanding.

I suppose the truth is almost always a mix of the versions of stories going around.  I don’t know or can’t comprehend what happened to this precious dog, or why.  But I am sure that when I hold onto anger, it eats up at me from the inside and I become a repository for rotting flesh.  Have you seen the film, “The Upside of Anger?” If not, I highly recommend it. I continue to struggle through life as an activist; how do I stand strong against gross injustice but still come from a place of compassion?  I have a lot of practicing to do…

I thought that if Elsa could extend understanding and forgiveness for her mistreatment, or at the very least, neglect, then certainly that is what I must do as well.  If I had to describe that dog’s emotion (and that’s always a tricky thing to do), I would say she was happy to see the woman and happy to receive her gentle touch.   I think dogs teach us so much about forgiveness and hope.  Rather then being unconditional in relationship, I think they believe in us, again, and again, and live in hope that the best will come forth and that today is going to be a great day!  (sometimes when all current evidence is to the contrary)  Dogs pretty much suck at holding grudges, and people pretty much rock at it, and there’s no question in my mind which set of behaviors yields a more wholehearted and worthwhile life.

It did my soul good to be present for that reunion.  It was painful, but healing.  At 48 years old I must admit, there’s not much I know about life anymore.  My middle-aged questions have replaced the bravado of certainty I sported in my youth. Still I hold onto and take deep comfort in this simple fact: neglect and abuse did not have the last word.  Even though she was only with us a week~ Elsa was surrounded by love and LOVE had the last word.

Samantha, Dr. Green, and l will say goodbye to this sweet soul at a burial here on the ranch where she enjoyed her last days, Friday at dusk.  If  you would like to write anything to be read at her service, please do so as a comment on the blog below (rather than on Facebook)- that way those memories of Elsa will remain for others to read as time goes by.  Thank you for sharing this brief journey with us.

Monday Mornings can be Tough

March 28th, 2011 . by lisa knaggs

We had a short and restless night.  Elsa awakened me at 5 am but putting her head upon my arm.  At first I thought I was imagining it, but my hands had been on her paws and around her head since we were able to (or I was able to, at least) doze off around 2am., after several rounds of weeping.  She had to pee, probably a good sign that the diuretic is working, and bless her, she wanted to stand up and let go, not vacate in her own waste as she was forced to when she did not have assistance to stand or move.

After Elsa peed, she tottered a bit, drank some (only a quick sip of broth, mostly water) and then I determined we should try to go back to bed.  That was a tough call as she wanted to stand.  But standing increases the edema in her legs which increases pain and decreases mobility.  Plus, I knew that if I didn’t get some sleep I’d be too much of a wreck to take care of her.

So I gently laid her down on the recline/incline- as close to the position of standing as I could manage with pillows and towels.  She struggled, clearly uncomfortable, with labored breathing and a furrowed brow, often interpreted by me in similar circumstances as a sign of pain.  I cried. I held her sweet head and tried to breathe us to sleep.

Alternately passing in and out of odd dreams, I heard Elsa make some under-her-breath groans as she moved her body into a less awkward position.  I take comfort that that was coming closer to me.  I can only hope it gave her comfort as well.

I have thought about that physical closeness thing a lot.  She is not “my dog.”  I haven’t known her for a long time, bonded, and been through years of life experiences with her.  We don’t know each others quirks and foibles, so this relationship is one of extraordinary trust and I do not want to betray her trust.  That is perhaps one of the most difficult things- discernment with and on behalf of one you barely “know.”  That is why I continue to request your wholehearted support for her care team.  May our minds and hearts be attuned to her body and being, not our own agendas, fears, or even hopes.  May we respect and honor Elsa, for I believe that is love and we all deserve to be loved.

We are on our way to see her Dr. Justin shortly for an eval, blood work, maybe IV diuretic.  Thank you for joining us on this journey…

Sunday with Elsa

March 28th, 2011 . by lisa knaggs

Our sweet girl is holding on and sometimes holding on is the best you can do, isn’t it?

I had hoped to report that Elsa seemed to be getting stronger, almost by the hour!  (too many movies, maybe?)  But the truth is, she was near death when she arrived at the Vet clinic a week ago tomorrow morning and she’s still not out of the woods.  Yesterday she enjoyed an outdoor sponge bath, well “enjoyed” is probably employing some poetic license!  But she seemed to relish being outside as she attended to the sights, smells, and sounds of the ranch along the Rio Grande as well as anyone with limited mobility could.

"Elsa slurps up some H2O as she basks in the Spring sunshine on Saturday"

Being off her feet certainly improved the swelling in her legs yesterday, but seems to make breathing more difficult and thus Elsa would rather stand than lie down.  Dr. Green suspects this is from the fluid in her lungs and abdominal cavity which make breathing laborious.  Her wounds are continuing to improve, but clearly painful as she turns to look when her leg is moved a fraction of what we were moving it a couple of days ago.  Her heart rate is rapid, but not alarmingly so.  And her lungs sound pretty good, all things considered.

The hard news to report today is that Elsa is not eating.  She’s drinking just fine, even drank a little homemade marrow broth tonight.  She’s demonstrated mild interest in food, but Dr. Green suspects the combination of pain, labored breathing, and upset tummy from the high dose antibiotics combined to cause her to decide that food just doesn’t sound very good right now.  Because she is alert and interested in her environment, in control of her bladder and bowels, and still coming to us and putting her head into our hands for touch (and I believe comfort), we are not discouraged overall, but taking note.

Tonight Elsa is propped up with pillows and an old quilt- kind of like a princess in recline with her “prince to be” (squeaky frog toy) nearby to remind her of the good things we hope for her future.  I’m going to sleep next to her on the floor again tonight- hoping this reminds her of the solidarity of so many loving hearts supporting her internationally. Please join us in our hope that her pain meds ease her discomfort, the diuretic relieves her swelling, and that her appetite returns.  She must know that we are all rooting for her!

"Elsa prepares for sweet dreams of frogs turning to princes in her future!"

I keep whispering to her as I touch her softly, “It’s ok, Elsa, it’s alright, you’re safe and we’re here to take care of you. If you want to get through this, we’ll do everything we can to help you.  You’ve got an international care team of people supporting you in more ways than you can imagine!  But if it’s too much to bear and you’re ready to let go, that’s ok too.  We love you Elsa, we’re here for you.”

"Elsa gets come passive touch massage and gentle sternum circles"

Thank you all for the comfort your care, concern, and love on behalf of Elsa brings.  We’ll try and have an online donation option set-up tomorrow for those who would like to support her care financially.  If there are any funds above what’s needed for Elsa, Dr. Green and I pledge to use them to assist the next vulnerable being that graces our path.  In the poorest area of Colorado, there is always more need than there are resources…

Elsa arrives at “The Spa at the Ranch!”

March 26th, 2011 . by lisa knaggs

The three resident quadrupeds are fast asleep.  I am enjoying the pop and crackle of a cottonwood and pine fire, which has finally heated the house to almost 70º, and is warming a blanket for Elsa. The quiet of the middle of the night is fitting as I wind down by sipping a soothing cup of lemon ginger tea. Dr. Justin Green and Samantha left around midnight- they had been here since before dark- having tenderly transferred our new guest from Monte Vista to the ranch, and then cleverly building a PVC and painter’s canvas screen to create a “private room” for “our” Elsa.

"Elsa arrives at The Spa at the Ranch"

She arrived standing in the back of the Jeep Cherokee, which appeared encouraging, until I opened the door and saw a significant increase in the swelling of her lower limbs.  I was quite taken aback, but Dr. Green said she’d been standing for hours; apparently she didn’t want to sit or lie down, so her legs filled with fluids.  Elsa seemed interested in her surroundings, walking around to check things out- tilting her head and  gesticulating her ears. She is emaciated, but with undeniable sweetness and lightness in her eyes that I can’t help but believe is hope.

"Elsa: skin, bones, swelling and HEART!"

Elsa entered her custom spa setting to the tune of “Through a Dog’s Ear” , Vol. 2 (thanks Lisa Specter!).  ”The Spa at the Ranch” serves free-range bison tripe (thank you Kevin Off!) and Elsa scarfed-up her first meal.  We also indulged her in a can of duck meat (thank you Curtis from Farmington!) in which we hid her antibiotics and pain meds.

"Sam holds up Elsa's swollen leg so Dr. Green can begin cleaning her wounds"

After building the screen (thank you Justin & Sam!), we gently rinsed her wounds.  I had never seen, nor touched, indurated wounds- flesh that is abnormally firm from infection or inflammation (think about how tough a healing scar feels, times 10)  Although I could not recognize that her wounds were significantly improved, the tone of Dr. Green’s voice convinced me that he was impressed and encouraged, even before he said so in so many words.  Elsa was patient as we surely increased her pain temporarily in effort to speed her healing.  We then re-packed the wounds under her arms and legs with small, soft towels (thank you, Pauline!) and gentle, very gentle, massage resumed. (along with the whispering of sweet nothings~ “Elsa, you’re amazing, you’re so strong and so beautiful! Do you know you have an international care team? What a good girl! What a good girl!”)

"Elsa, resting with a heating pad on her legs to reduce the swelling"

Now it’s way past bedtime, Elsa and I are the only ones awake.  My sleeping bag is on the floor next to her.  Once I tuck myself in, I shall remind her how much she is loved and how strong and vibrant we all want her to be.  It will be a long, hard road for her, but she is not alone and that will make all the difference.  Thank you for caring. Sweet Dreams…

Elsa, a brave-hearted dog, saved from severe abuse needs our support

March 24th, 2011 . by lisa knaggs

The call came in before 9am., not the earliest call of the day but still early for me.  It was our Vet, Dr. Justin Green, and he pulled no punches, “I’m calling to pull at your heartstrings.”  (that’s an easy pull, I thought, and Justin knows that.) “I have a dog here who’s a cruelty case.”  ”Tell me what’s going on,” I said with a deep sigh.  I was not prepared for what I was about to hear, especially pre-coffee.

Alert: some of the details of this story may be upsetting as the dog’s condition upon arrival was horrific. (other details have been intentionally left out for the same reason)

Dr. Green proceeded to tell me about a German Shepherd who was carried in to see him Monday morning- “…they told me she was paralyzed and it just happened, that she’d been fine just the other day; they also said she’s 16 but she looks younger than that to me.”   When the 30-something couple laid “Ginger” down on the table before him, she was emaciated.  Her temperature was 104.4º (101º- 102.5º would be “normal”); she was so dehydrated her skin could not be picked up, it was stuck to the fascia like plastic wrap.  The poor thing was so weak she could not even raise her head.  Not knowing what caused the dog’s condition, Dr. Green said there were some things they could try, he didn’t know if they could help her, but that euthanasia was certainly something to be considered to end the dog’s suffering.  The woman cried and asked him to help, so the good doctor said he would try.  Then they left.

Upon further examination, Dr. Green found that under and between both her front and hind limbs was packed with feces and urine.  As he began un-packing her waste from her gaunt carcass-like frame, he gagged from the smell of waste, rotting flesh, and infection.  Then, the maggots began their exodus.  They had been eating her decomposing flesh.

"oozing wounds, now free of maggots, reveal mammary gland infection and possibly tumors"

After she was cleaned as best she could be at the time, Dr. Green ran blood work, checking the health and function of her vital organs.  Amazingly, the only abnormalities were off the chart WBC count (indicating significant infection) and “anemia of chronic disease” indicating she’d been under extreme duress for at least 120 days- that means for all of Winter.  Next task: X-rays.  A little arthritis at the lumbosacral joint (typical for most older dogs), her stomach empty of food but her colon packed with waste she didn’t have the strength to expunge, but no sign of tumors or organ deformation.  In other words, there was simply no other explanation for her condition than this, she had been starved.

Dr. Green had called the police in.  They took one look at this pitiful pup barely clinging to life and said it was the worst case of animal cruelty they’d ever seen.  That’s a strong statement from the town that sends more dogs in worse shape to our regional shelter than any of the others.

"Elsa, bulging ribs reveal her emaciated frame after 3 days of IV fluids & 11 cans of dog food"

The good news was, “she’s eating like a horse!”  11 cans of food in three days and counting.  This dog wants to live, I thought, she’s not ready to give up.

All of this I heard over the phone, before coffee.  ”What do you need?” I managed to croak out through tears. “I need someone to foster her, give her a place to heal and help me find her a forever home,” he replied.  ”I can do that, no problem,” I answered, before I asked if the people knew she’d been declared an animal cruelty case, figuring if I got shot along with the dog no one was gonna be of much help to anyone!   “She’s going to need surgery to remove what I think are mammary tumors, but we’ve gotta get her healthy first.” I agreed to meet her at the clinic late afternoon.  I made only one request.  ”I think we should re-name her.  She shouldn’t have to listen to the same name her abusers used.  I want her to have a name that gives her hope of a life to live into!” Dr. Green is a good natured sort of guy and typically happy to humor me, naturally he agreed.

When I arrived at the Vet clinic, fashionably 10 minutes late, he and his fiancée  Sam came out to meet me.  They were excited, we all were, but they were also careful to make sure I was ready to see her, obviously worried I might be upset by her condition.  ”Can we call her ‘Elsa?’ I blurted out with my usual lack of social etiquette.

It had come to me in something like a vision earlier in the day- known simultaneously in my mind’s eye and in the deep rumblings of my heart.  Even though I hadn’t yet met her, I somehow knew “our” Elsa had the heart of a lioness, like the one made known to the world in the story Joy Adamson told, Born Free. The original Elsa taught us that the limitations we set for lions was based only on our own lack of understanding.  The African Elsa learned to trust that her humans were safe and she shared her food and affection with them freely.  I have no doubt that “our” Elsa will learn to trust, love, and live happily in relationship as well!

We walked back to the kennel and there Elsa laid, on her side with soulful eyes that didn’t seem to reveal much expectation at first.

"Elsa at rest."

I knelt beside her and offered her duck and salmon treats alternately.  She gobbled them up, as fast as I could get them in front of her.  Then she leaned up toward my treat pouch and Dr. Green said “look she’s wagging her tail!”  We all giggled with glee which seemed to delight Elsa as well.  I brought out a squeaky frog toy which perked her up again as I squealed in my best mother-ease, “This is your frog, Princess Elsa, if you kiss him enough times he’ll turn into a prince!”

Elsa ate and we cheered.  She was not only happy to indulge her ravenous appetite, Elsa seemed demonstrably encouraged by our cheering and we were encouraged to see her efforts to engage.  I used the lightest touch possible to move her skin and energy in soothing ways.  After a few minutes, we decided to help her onto her feet (something she’d only managed for the first time earlier that afternoon for about 3 seconds). Vet and fiancée tenderly wrapped towels and a fleece blanket around her midsection to support her.  As soon as Elsa realized she had assistance, she began rocking her body to and fro in effort to get onto all fours and the next thing we knew she was standing!

"Justin and Sam help Elsa stand"

As delighted as we were, none of us expected what came next- Elsa, full of the tenaciousness of life, insisted upon walking.  And walk she did- out of the kennel room, through the hallway and the meds storage room, all the way into the lobby of Alpine Veterinary Hospital.  (there were a couple of pitstops along the way to unload the waste inside her- we cheered, of course!)  She even climbed two stairs, albeit not too gracefully.

Our Elsa has already proven that she is no ordinary miracle.  She has the heart of a lioness like her namesake, courageous yet tender.  If she continues to gain strength, I may be able to bring her home this weekend! (I kept telling her she was coming to “the spa!”)  I called a family meeting upon arriving home tonight: Clementine, SARK, Ronski have already been apprised of Elsa’s special needs and our commitment to nurture her healing.

Elsa has a long road ahead of her and probably at least $1,000. of expenses to get her healthy enough to move into a forever home.  Obviously, she’s got a crackerjack Veterinarian who’s willing to do all he can, but there will still be significant hospital costs.

We need your help- we need your thoughts, energy, and prayers for Elsa’s continued safety from those who harmed her.  We need your thoughts, energy, and prayers for her continued strength and healing.  And we need you to spread the word about what it will take to help restore Elsa to health so that she can live into a life of trust and love, with lots of play!  We are sure that if enough people know her story, somehow the resources will come together to take care of her.  And we know that everyone has an important part to play in Elsa’s healing- no one’s fervent care on her behalf is insignificant!  Remember, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Mother Teresa

"Elsa, her prince to be, and her savior, Dr. Green"

Please send your thoughts, prayers, energy, and good intentions on Elsa’s behalf.

If you’d like to contribute dollars toward her medical and foster care, you may send checks to: Elsa’s Transformation Fund, care of: Justin Green, D.V.M.,  P.O. Box 613,  Monte Vista, CO. 81144

Thank you so much for all the comfort and hope your care and concern on Elsa’s behalf brings!

Peace & Paws,

lisa, Clementine, SARK, Ronski & the Forever FORD~ always in our hearts