Updated: Jan 24, 2021
Well. That wasn’t supposed to happen.
I get that there are no guarantees in life, but we did our research to avoid this fate.
It all started in 2006, when Ellie was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (the primary killer of retired racing greyhounds). She defied the odds and lived 4 more years, eventually—and impressively—dying of old age. We like to think that Dingo was cheated, but his death from osteo, less than a year after his diagnosis in 2012, is more typical.
We love greyhounds. Who doesn’t?! They’re sweet and soft and—aside from the cancer—pretty much perfect. But we craved a Sighthound who would live a long, happy, healthy life. So we rescued first a Whippet (Vishna) and then a Saluki (Heidi). Both breeds have a significantly lower risk of the dreaded “C” word.
Vi died in 2017 (heart disease, which is also tremendously not fun, FYI), so most of you have only heard stories. Heidi, however, helped us open Houndstooth. You’ve seen the pictures of her bed-stacking prowess—and I know for a fact that her “recommendations” helped some of you choose the right bed or “blanket style” coat for your own pets. Perhaps you sat with her on the Houndstooth couch. Maybe—maybe—she got up to greet you...but probably not. (We called her “anti-social Heidi” for a reason, you know!) She rarely ventured off her favorite spot at the shop, startling folks who didn’t realize there was a “real dog” at the back. Unlike Dylan and Sierra, our unofficial “greeters,” Heidi was the “couch protector.” However, instead of plastic sheeting that rustles when you sat down, you’d experience the “Heidi Stare.” (At home, she’d rush to my hip and bark, “Dylan is in my bed! Make him move!” Thankfully, she was more polite at the shop. Or passive aggressive. You decide.)
Heidi was the model employee—sometimes quite literally if she matched the size or shape of your dog at home! But it exhausted her. She really just wanted to snuggle in somewhere and sleep without interruption. Which is why I brought her to Houndstooth only a handful of times.
Was. Damn, that’s hard to type. And even harder to read as I prep this blog post.
Heidi loved to run and was the perfect 5K partner. She loved to go for nice, long walks. And she and I shared an inherent need to be as cozy as possible at home. For Little Miss Heidi, one pillow bed was never enough; she’d stack as many as she needed for maximum fluff and comfort. (This is why dog beds far outweigh the number of dogs in our household.) That said, each evening, she’d ditch her Most Amazing Bed Stack Ever for the family room couch. Its fleece-backed Molly Mutt blanket and two decorative pillows were the ultimate luxury for our Saluki Princess. After dinner, she’d wait impatiently for us to head downstairs—leaving her carefully crafted pile of pillows for Dylan — then stare at the couch until I arranged everything “just so.” She had very strong opinions on this matter, and had me well trained. But it was worth it. Once everyone was settled in their rightful space, she became the best Snuggl-uki on the planet. I often stayed up later than I intended simply because I didn’t want to unwrap myself from her warmth.
She was sweet. She was silly. And, like most hounds I know, she was stubborn. She was difficult to impress and easy to offend. She did not like wearing anything beyond her collar and harness, which is why she only had a few outfits—all of which were functional, lightweight, and easy-on/easy-off. She did not like peanut butter, oddly. Nor did she like crowds or hardwood floors (and she never forgave us for remodeling our bedroom). And she did not like the neighbors’ cattle. When they’d move around out back, she’d warn us with her incessant cries, “Cows! Cows! Cows!” (Vesper would run to the front window, assuming she spotted the Offensive Orange Cat who often lurked in our driveway. These two understood each other quite well, but somehow never got their signals right on that one…)
Heidi was—granted, I’m biased here, but I know others who’d agree—95% perfect. She was the right balance of “timid” and “charming” that made everyone who met her love her. And she was my rock. While every other dog in my life had medical files that could fill bookshelves, Heidi only went to the vet for regularly scheduled physical exams. In nearly 10 years, she had only one medical emergency. One.
So I wasn’t surprised when, that fateful Saturday morning, George assumed he had heard Dylan shriek and crumble at my feet. But no, it was Heidi and she wouldn’t even let me touch her. She nearly bit me when I tried, which is something she’d never done to either of us, not even a “warning” snap, before that day. Clearly, something was very, very wrong. We called the vet, grabbed her coat and basket muzzle, and raced her in.
A thorough physical exam found nothing beyond possible muscle pain. They did a little laser therapy on her, prescribed a short course of steroids, and sent us home. It eased her discomfort, but she still wasn’t eating. So we scheduled x-rays for Wednesday. Our vet was worried about a slipped disc. I, being me, was worried about a tumor on her spine. We were both very, very wrong.
All hell broke loose Wednesday morning. Though she seemed fine—fine!—just days earlier, she was now anemic and bleeding internally. An abdominal ultrasound showed her liver littered with irregular nodules. “Hermangiosarcoma” the specialist at BEVS—where we found ourselves a few hours later—declared was the likely culprit. We couldn’t confirm due to the risks of further testing, given Heidi’s frail state. But it matched the profile.
Cancer. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Hermangiosarcoma is a nasty little beast. Hard to detect, it’s even harder to beat. According to the research I found, even if caught and treated in time, you’re lucky to get 5 months.
We got 5 hours.
Sweet Heidi, as our vet called her (and just about everyone else. “First of all,” the BEVS vet tech said on the phone shortly after they brought her inside, “I am totally in love with your dog.”) deserved so much better. We had every reason to believe she had years—years—of life left. Theoretically, Heidi was the oldest hound in our pack. But she didn’t look it. Her four legs were strong, and her beautiful red face was just as bright—with that defined white blaze—as when we first met her. No gray, no wrinkles, no lost muscle tone. Only her cloudy eyes made it clear she was older than Sierra. And then there’s that spotless health history. Dylan has osteosarcoma (typical greyhound…), two heart conditions, and a bad habit of injuring himself in new and inventive ways. Vesper looks like an old man with his graying muzzle and arthritis so severe his wrist is nearly sideways, not to mention terrible allergies and (most likely) PTSD. We didn’t anticipate saying goodbye to anyone anytime soon, but figured that—eventually—one of the boys would go first. (At 4 years old, Sierra has the odd injury to contend with, but is otherwise fine.) And I prayed that we’d make it through the pandemic with our pack intact. Times are tough enough, you know?
Clearly, someone had other plans for the Houndstooth hounds, and I’d really like a word or two with them. Because this wasn’t supposed to happen.