My dog Raven was one of a litter of 9 puppies who were found abandoned in a local park in the spring of 1999. The puppies were only about 3 days old, their ears still folded shut; their eyes had never opened. Through my volunteer work as Chairperson of Foster Homes, with the London Humane Society, and due to the hour and urgent need for a home, I ended up taking in the puppies myself.
Every 3 hours I would heat up the puppy formula, set up the heat lamp over the clean bed, and start an assembly line of puppy feeding; basket of hungry crying puppies on one side, sink and counter in the middle, lamp and clean happy puppies on the other side. In between feedings, which took up to 1.5 hrs, I would tend to my other pets and rescues, sleep, be interviewed on the news, and update the Humane Society. Sadly, we lost 5 of the puppies in the first week; they were just too little to be away from their mother.
After 2 weeks I placed the 2 male pups with another foster home, and kept the 2 girls who I named Raven and Dakota. I loved holding their little paws, and rubbing the soft pads on their feet, feet that had yet to be walked on. I was so lucky to be able to see their first steps, their new awareness of their surroundings, seeing them play and bark and growl for the first time.
As a puppy Raven's favourite thing was to lie on her back in my lap, and gaze into my eyes until she fell asleep. Dakota on the other hand would crawl away to the other end of the couch and sleep with her back to me. It was fascinating to watch their differences since they had had the exact same environment and experiences!
Raven's sister Dakota was the first to bark, and growl and initiate play. She was afraid of people and other dogs and would hide behind me when people approached. Raven however, was always outgoing, always wanting to meet all the people and dog's that came along our sidewalk.
During this time I had my own ferrets and birds and rodents and fosters, so I certainly wasn't looking for another pet, least of all a dog. But I really couldn't part with the puppies, so I adopted Raven and my parents adopted Dakota.
Raven is certainly not a perfect dog. She's still friendly and outgoing and is a wonderful role model for puppies, once she warms up to them. However, Raven really likes to lick… and lick… and lick, and she's left bruises with her whipping tail. It can take four people to get her nails cut, and she sometimes pees in the house; however the more time I spend with other dogs, and see all their quirks and behaviour issues, the more I love Raven!
Raven is quite obviously part Labrador - many people assume she is a pure bred – but the rest of her breed is a mystery. She has strong retriever traits, like webbed toes, a passion for tennis balls, and an instinct for finding the nearest water body, even if it is muddy and swampy!
Raven has hip dyslpasia, which was easy to spot from the first time she walked, but as one of the vets told me when she was young, she did adapt to it without surgery. She sometimes has trouble sitting, and gets sore after a lot of play, and doesn't like other dogs jumping on her back, but other than that she's done really well. *
Raven enjoys sleeping in my bed with her feet digging into me, and treats of course. She mainly sleeps on the couch, and gets upset when there is company over and she can't get in her spot. She'll sit and look very sad or get up on a chair and just stare at the people on her couch and then eventually she'll worm her way up in between everyone, then sprawl across the laps whoever is over visiting.
Raven turned 10 in May 2009. She still loves to fetch and walk and swim, and get the ball and ride in the car; she's just a little slower and stiffer when she does them. She's getting grey around her muzzle and has little grey hairs in between the now rough pads of her feet. Raven can't fit on my lap anymore, but she still loves to gaze into my eyes as she drifts off to sleep, and I love looking back.
Raven and Dakota, May 1999
Raven and Dakota, March 2009
* When I arrived home from work on Tuesday May 26 2009 Raven was unable to support herself on her hind legs. She was in distress and pain. I now know I am able to lift and carry a 75 lb dog, as I had to carry her to the car and rush to the emergency vet. We're not sure what caused Raven's lameness; however she is at home recuperating and on medication. She loves her hydrotherapy sessions in my parent's pool three times a week; where she can fetch her ball while building up her muscles
* July 19, 2009. I'm happy to report that Raven is doing much better. We've been for several longer walks, and while she sometimes gets tired, she no longer seems to be in pain. She's still enjoying a good work out in the pool several times a week, and we've added some new exercises to help build up her muscles.
* September 2009 - Raven continues to recover. Our walks are much shorter and involve a lot of rest breaks, but she's a champion swimmer and we enjoyed swimming together at Ipperwash Beach this summer. She was so excited to be there, and that does my heart good.
Raven continued to improve over the next few months. She got dog booties for her tired old feet, and two lovely winter coats. She had a few bouts of diarrhea and periods where she seemed low, but overall was enjoying the winter and the holiday season.
In January Raven crashed. She was weak, didn't want to move and had pale gums. We went again to the vet and did some tests. It was thought at first it might be an immune disorder. She perked up after a few days, but we still had no diagnoses. My cousin the vet felt Raven had suffered a major bleed and we set up an appointment for an ultrasound.
The ultrasound showed growths on her spleen and possibly her liver and without further invasive testing she was diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma. Even with surgery and chemo most dogs only gain a few weeks to months before a bleeding tumor takes them.
I decided to just let Raven live her life, for as long as she could. She seemed fine and of course I hoped that they were wrong
Around March 19th I noticed Raven had not finished her breakfast, and did not want a treat. I called my backup team - Raven's 'grandparents' and her 'auntie', my neighbour from next door. Who were all on the scene to provide care for Raven while I worked.
Over the next week Raven became weaker and weaker. There were no signs of a bleed - no pale gums, so I wasn't sure what was happening other than she didn't want to eat, and that's just not Raven. So she was allowed to eat whatever she wanted, though every offering was eventually turned down. She had no energy and didn't want to move much, but her eyes, those beautiful eyes, were still so bright and fixed on me I still had hope.
The diarrhea began again, I gave her water off my fingers. I set up a bed in the living room to spend my nights where I could be near if she needed me. My weekend is in the middle of the week and I had vacation booked already, so I had the time to spend to realize this was the end; to make the phone call to the vet; to confirm a time and date. I gave her as much love and pats and assurances as those days let me.
The final day she still perked her ears and leapt up when I asked her if she wanted to go for a ride in the car, but I had to lift her out when we got to the vet's office. I tried my best to hold my grief in check, and to be calm and strong to support her. She was given a sedative which made her vomit, then she finally lay down. I put a pillow from my bed under her head, and lay down on the floor with my head on the pillow too, face to face.
I was unable to speak, so the vet made the soft crooning sounds that we humans make to comfort others, and say goodbye; and my beautiful dog left me.