It was a beautiful fall day in Portland with a light frost on the ground, clear skies, and the leaves just beginning to change. I was at work and anticipating a busy day ahead.
Then it happened, an encounter that will be burned into my brain until eternity.
This is when I walked into the exam room and met Raleigh for the first time. He was an 11 year old lab shepherd mix weighing about 50 pounds with clear brown eyes, a mouth that seemed to be perpetually smiling, erect ears and an energetic tail.
His owners: a young, hip, outdoorsy couple had brought Raleigh in to be examined due to some recent weight loss and a lack of appetite.
I examined Raleigh thoroughly and presented the couple with a few treatment options, one of which entails sending blood and urine to the lab for analysis. One of the symptoms Raleigh presented with was jaundice or a yellowish discoloration of the whites of the eyes as well as a yellowish tint to the skin.
I explained to his family that this usually means that something is wrong with his liver. This may be a transient infection either viral or bacterial, toxin exposure, or something more sinister such as the dreaded “C” word meaning cancer.
We took Raleigh to the back of the clinic and he happily cooperated as we drew his blood and collected urine to send to the lab. I then explained to his family that I would call them first thing in the morning when his test results came in.
I came into the clinic the next day and quickly went to the in box to check Raleigh’s lab results. As I studied the lab results before me, my heart sank as I realized the prognosis was not going to be favorable.
Raleigh had elevated liver function tests, anemia, clotting deficiencies as well as an abnormal urinalysis related to his failing liver. Raleigh’s family rushed to the clinic, and as I ushered them into the exam room I explained the various options.
We can start with a course of treatment to attack what may be going on or we can perform further tests, such as an ultrasound guided fine needle biopsy at a cost of $850 to narrow down the underlying cause.
I did explain that in my 22 years in practice my opinion was that the most likely cause of Raleigh’s abnormal test results was hepatic (liver) cancer most likely hepatic carcinoma.
As I uttered these words I could see Raleigh’s family slowly bow their heads in unison, and they both started sobbing uncontrollably as the reality sunk in. They simply could not afford the expensive diagnostic test and even so, the treatment for liver cancer was out of their reach financially.
We then discussed the next steps, a veterinarian’s worst nightmare. We discussed Raleigh’s future and what may happen if left untreated. The young couple could not bear the thought of Raleigh wasting away, unhappy, tail drooping, his spirit empty, anxiously awaiting the inevitable.
I will never feel comfortable or at ease discussing the euthanasia procedure or putting a family’s beloved pet/ family member to “sleep”. It was something that had to be done. and so we discussed the details and the couple decided to return the following day to say their final goodbyes to Raleigh.
I went home that night and as I lay awake thinking of Raleigh and his family, I felt truly blessed to be able to be a part of something so special. Raleigh was an integral part of this couple’s life. He went everywhere with them swimming rivers and lakes throughout Oregon, hiking the cascades and snow shoeing in the Mt. Hood wilderness.
Every year they celebrated Raleigh’s birthday with a specially made dog friendly turkey based cake. Raleigh’s birthdays were an event to behold with photos, plenty of wrestling with his dog friends, tug of war, chew toys and hats and a loud happy birthday song bellowed out by all his human friends.
I went into work the next day and my staff told me that Raleigh and his family were waiting for me in exam room #1. I took a deep breath and entered the room. I greeted Raleigh with his tail wagging, brown eyes sparkling and gave him a warm hug. I then turned to his family and noticed out of the corner of my eye that a guitar and candle were neatly placed on the end of the exam table.
I never really know what to say, so I simply said that Raleigh led an exceptional life, was well loved and will be sorely missed and I then proceeded to leave the exam room so the couple could spend a few minutes with Raleigh and say their final goodbyes.
As I was waiting outside the exam room I could hear a melodic guitar playing a song with two people singing. I recognized a few words and surmised that it was a song written for Raleigh as a final goodbye.
I then entered the room and Raleigh was smiling, as always, his tail wagging, his family was crying and singing at the same time with a large scented candle burning in the middle of the room.
I left the room to gather myself and noticed that my staff had gathered outside the exam room to listen to Raleigh’s song. At this point we were all crying as we listened to a family’s final farewell to their beloved companion.
I then realized just how special the human animal bond really is. Truly amazing, a day I will forever cherish and never forget.
Rest in Peace Raleigh, you will never be forgotten.
A thankful veterinarian…
Dr. Greg Castle is a veterinarian at North Portland’s Hayden Meadows Pet Clinic, which he has owned since 1991.
Check out the original article from the Oregonian here: http://www.oregonlive.com/pets/index.ssf/2012/01/a_veterinarians_story_raleigh.html