Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Part One: Tessie's Story

I started writing this with the intention of it being a relatively short post. The original intention of it was to focus on how to make homemade food for your dog, and why I feel that it's one of the best possible options. However, I soon realized that I needed to include some back story to explain how I came to this decision, and I began writing about the only two dog's I've ever owned.

What was meant to be a short paragraph or two about our family dog Tessie, turned into an essay-long story. When I did a mental overview of the things I felt needed to be talked about with my other dog Annya, I realized that this topic couldn't be contained to just one post. So, for your reading pleasure, here is Part One of my first ever mini series of posts! Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

Part One: Tessie's Story

My family owned Tessie, a female Boston Terrier, since she was about a year old. I found her on the street one day, and although we posted countless signs and checked with all the shelters in our area, no one ever claimed the sweet girl. We eventually grew attatched, and thus she became my family's first dog. I was around 10 at the time, and I spent the next 13 years taking care of her in an almost singular position.

In 2013, I realized that Tessie had developed an allergy to one of the grains in her dog food. I did some research and found that she had many of the typical signs of a wheat allergy- licking her paws, excess gas, etc. Since she was already eating senior citizen dog food, and I knew she didn't have the strongest of stomachs, I decided to switch her to completely grain free food- no wheat, corn, or soy for her from that point on. And since she wasn't afraid of snacking on Annya's food throughout the day, both dogs made the switch. It worked wonders on both of them, as it turned out. While Annya didn't have any allergies that I could tell, she definitely benefited from the removal of the grains, and she had never been healthier. As for Tessie, all of the symptoms of allergies disappeared quickly, and she was back to her normal self within a week.

In 2014, I noticed that Tessie had a rather noticeable bump on her forehead, above her left eye. I checked it out, and although she didn't like me putting pressure on it, it seemed fine. I wasn't too concerned, since it wasn't unusual for her to occasionally bump into something, as her eyesight wasn't the best anymore. I left it alone, thinking it would heal itself in time, and didn't think much more of it. Two weeks later, the bump was completely gone. A week after that, it was back. This time however, it was over her right eye, and it was larger than before. I talked with my dad, and he assured me that she had likely bumped into something again. I tried to put it out of my mind, but I continued to watch the bump's progress. When it started forming scabs without there being any visible open wounds, I began to worry. I examined the bump as closely as I could, and still found nothing that would cause the seeping fluids that were crusting around the bump each day. Research became my best friend, and I discovered that the bump was actually a tumor.

I guess this would be the appropriate time to explain why I wasn't consulting a vet. You see, I believe a part of me knew what the bump was from the beginning. It was the same part of me that continually reminded me throughout the entirety of 2014 that Tessie was an old dog. The same part that reminded me that regardless of what this thing was, she wouldn't live forever. It was the part of me that said that this thing-this tumor-would only be the beginning of the list of things that would soon start to go wrong with our loving pup. I knew that my family would never be able to afford the vet bills to have her examined and have the tumor removed, and I knew also that it was unlikely that she would even survive the whole process anyways. I know it probably sounds harsh, and I had many days where I was absolutely convinced that I was a horrible dog owner for not doing everything I could for her.

But I made a decision, and even now, I stand by it. My dad and I talked about the options, and we both agreed that there would be no point in putting Tessie through the stress of a surgery that in the end, wouldn't prolong her life by more than a few months, at most. We sat down with my siblings, broke the news to them, and we all cried over the now blatant fact that Tessie wasn't invincible after all. We all agreed to do everything we could to make her the happiest and most loved dog that we could, while she was still around. The thought of keeping her on her diet (She had gained quite a few pounds from sneaking Annya's food) went out the window, and she received plenty of delicious table scraps from anyone she sat next to. We went on walks, we played, we took her to the dog park, the lake she loved, the ocean, anywhere and everywhere we could think of. She was the happiest dog in the world, despite the tumor.

We had five more months with her. In that short span of time, her eyesight and sense of smell became almost non-existent. Her hearing was abysmal. She started to sleep more and more, eventually sleeping for more time than she spent awake. The tumor grew larger, spreading over her forehead and down into her nasal passage, eventually blocking most of the airway available in her nose. She panted because it was the only was she could breathe, and we started carrying her up and down the stairs. Not only because her old joints would protest, but also because we were afraid that she wouldn't be able to breathe through the exercise. And despite the added treats she was given, all of her additional fat quickly withered away, leaving her with a scarily frail frame. The last month and a half were the worst for me. I watched her fade away, not knowing what I could do for her, wondering when it would be the right time to say goodbye. I felt selfish for thinking about how hard it was for me to take care of her, and how upset it made me, to watch her suffer. I thought maybe I should have been stronger for her, for my family. But she was living with me, and I didn't have any help from the other people who had watched her grow over the years.

In the end, there was a drastic turning point in her health that finally convinced me that it was time. The tumor had been growing larger on the outside of her forehead, slowly spreading downwards to her nose. What I didn't realize at the time was that it had been growing inside as well. I noticed one day that she was falling asleep while she was standing up. Her eyes would drift closed, her head would drop down slowly, she began breathing a bit heavier. I thought it was an old-dog thing, being too tired to stop and lay down. When it continued happening for several days in a row, I realized that it was due to the tumor. Never before had Tessie had any issues with moving to her bed before falling asleep, and it was just too large a coincidence for the cause to be anything other than the tumor.

I contacted the rest of my family, letting them know that it was time for Tessie to be put to rest. We made the arrangements, everyone gathering together, taking the day off work or coming into town where necessary. We took Tessie to the shelter and watched as she succumbed to a deeper and more restful sleep than she'd had in months.

Now, I'm not telling you this story to put a damper on your day. I'm not looking for a pity party, or condolences, or anything else of the sort. I'm telling you this story because I don't want anyone else to suffer through the same thing that my family endured. 

Disclaimer: I am no scientist. The things I'm going to tell you are not scientific fact, or proven by anything other than my own experiences. However, I believe down to my bones that these things are true. For most of Tessie's life, she had been fed any average, run-of-the-mill dog food that she was willing to eat. Several different brands, flavors and manufacturers. Quality ranging from bargain basement to somewhat-higher quality brands that were available at Big Box Stores. I believe that her ingestion of poor quality ingredients from questionable food sources contributed to the development of her tumor. Its true that we switched her to grain-free food before she developed the tumor, but I think by that time, it was a change that was too little, too late. The damage had already been done, and although it took care of the allergy, it wasn't enough to reverse the damage that had been done by the many years of byproducts, and artificial ingredients.

I wish I could provide proof that the link between food quality and Tessie's tumor was more than just a hunch. If I could do that, this article would have a very different tone to it. However, in my research I've found some very compelling evidence that shows that there is at least some type of link between pet food ingredients and cancer, and that several of the brands I've fed both my dogs have been cause for concern. Just like with humans, the quality of the food being eaten has a huge impact on overall health and wellness. Just like with humans, choosing organic food is the best we can hope for for ourselves and our pets. And just like with humans, any studies or evidence that is found to support these ideas is likely to be quickly shut away before anyone can get their hands on it, or start forming any ludicrous ideas about demanding better quality food. The world we live in...

In any case, I know that for Tessie, this knowledge came too late. But for Annya, and for the other dogs and cats that we all know and love, there is still time. All I ask is that you give careful consideration to what you're feeding your pets, and do your own research before choosing what to feed the furry members of your family. "You are what you eat" has never been more important than it is now. To get you started on your own research if you have concerns about the link between dog food and cancer, check out these articles:


Thank you for reading Tessie's Story. I hope that you've gained some insight into the importance of choosing quality food for your pets, and I hope it'll help you find the right options for your furry friends. Stay tuned for Part Two of this series: Annya's Story.

Disclaimer: I am no scientist, veterinarian, or pet health expert. I am simply a lover of dogs and animals in general, and I am one of the unlucky group that has had to watch a beloved pet wither away too soon. If you have any concerns about your pet's health or wellbeing, please consult a veterinarian and do some research about the healthiest options for your pet. When in doubt, err on the side of caution, for your pet's sake.

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