In Loving Memory of
8th August 2003 to July 7th 2008
Liz's beloved 4 yr old Golden Lab
Dx Lymphoma July 14th '07
A CELEBRATION OF LIFE
Zac was born on 8th August 2003 in the countryside of Liphook, Hampshire. His mother and father are both working Labradors. Zac was chosen from the litter by my son, Simon. Zac followed Simon everywhere in the breeders' garden and when I came out from the breeders' house having completed some paperwork, my husband was holding him up on his chest where he looked very comfortable. Zac was a lively and adorable puppy with needle sharp teeth. He had cream markings on his sides which were certainly what one lady on Horsell Common referred to as where his angels' wings had once been. Our house was right next to Horsell Common in Woking which is a paradise for dogs.
Training Zac was a big task. The children helped with training at home. My daughter, Gemma, was best at bathing Zac and brushing his teeth; he knew that she meant business when it was bath time and that he was not to run around the garden at one hundred miles an hour to escape the sponges. Simon taught him how to sit and retrieve a tennis ball and David Beckham would be impressed with his header skills with a tennis ball and paw work with a football. Reward training wasn't quite enough although the liver treats in my pouch ensured that he was never too far away from me on walks. I had to be quite firm with him as he was a large strong puppy and was capable of pulling an adult over. We made him bite his own lip so that he knew what it felt like to be bitten and he was walked down to the common with the lead up very high near his ears to stop him pulling us along although he still liked to be a nose ahead of the pack. He was neutered as I was getting tired of hauling him off other dogs.
Zac was intelligent and strong willed. At about 6 months, he went through a phase of playing with stones he had found in the borders. We tried to stop him doing this but on one occasion, through the kitchen window, I saw him toss a stone into the air and catch it, the stone went down his throat. Zac was hospitalised and was lucky to survive as the stone got lodged in his intestine. He did however make a fast recovery and has a long scar along his stomach. He also survived an adder bite and various trips to the Vet for cut paws caused by braking too hard with his paws and skidding on sharp stones.
Zac was fascinated by any kind of wildlife and one morning ran round and round the heath land in pursuit of three ducks that were flying and swooping down on the common but that never landed. Sometimes however he would miss a scent, I once came face to face with a young deer but Zac was busy looking for rabbits at the time and the deer ran off without Zac knowing how close he had been.
Zac loved to swim. In the summertime, we would take him to the sailing lake at Ripley where the water was nice and deep.
Zac was quite nervous for a Labrador and had some fears and phobias. We first noticed this I suppose when we carried him away from his brothers and sisters as he was shaking. He was terrified of fireworks and on one occasion was scared out of his wits by fireworks a couple of houses away from us that were flashing outside our backdoor. Fireworks and thunder made him retreat under the desk in the study and he would visibly shake and drool with fear and there was nothing we could do apart from drowning out the noise with loud music. There was one loud noise that he did enjoy however and that was my son's clarinet. We have videos of Zac howling along to the clarinet and going up the scales with Simon. This was magical and at the same time quite sad as my late father was a keen clarinet player.
As he became an adolescent, I realised that what Zac really wanted to do was to work. We started a game with a tennis racket and ball which involved him finding the ball in the heather after it had been hit high into the air. I suppose that the ball for him was the bird he had been bred to retrieve and almost without fail he returned the ball to me; before doing so he would stand up on his hind legs to show me that he had found the ball and run at full speed towards me through the heather to return it to me. He had found his vocation in life and was very happy.
By his fourth birthday, Zac was trained and a fantastic and loving dog to have around the house and out on walks. He was protective when it mattered and playful and loving.
In July 2007 and just before Zac's fourth birthday, I noticed a swelling under his tail. He also had a sore under his hind leg that looked like a gash but I was later to find out that this was a pustule as more appeared later in the illness. I thought to myself that it was a bit too soon to be thinking it was cancer although Zac had had a histiocytoma removed from his lip the year before that was benign. We went on holiday for a week and on our return the swelling was much bigger so we went back to the Vet who gave him a steroid injection. Several weeks later, I noticed that one of Zac's eyes was a bit droopy and he had a runny nose and while I was grooming him I felt two golf ball sized swellings in his neck. I took him back to the Vet who said that we must do a biopsy straight away as his lymph glands were swollen all over his body and that he might have lymphosarcoma. The prognosis was two or maybe three years depending on how well Zac tolerated the chemotherapy. Zac was sedated for the biopsy and several days later the Vet phoned me to confirm the diagnosis.
This was the start of what I had read would be a roller coaster journey with our beloved dog. Zac was started on combined chemotherapy of Vincristine injections and cyclophosphamide by tablet. He seemed okay for a couple of weeks but then started to get an upset stomach with diarrhoea. The cylophosphamide was upsetting his stomach.
My brother, John, is one of Zac's best mates. He is the only member of the family who allows Zac to jump up and put his paws on his shoulders. John receives lots of kisses in return. He plays tug of war games with Zac and their walks go on for hours; Zac sleeps like a log for the whole of the following day after his visits. Zac has almost mastered opening the front door for John when he arrives. John got me an excellent book about home care options for dogs with cancer entitled "Helping your dog fight cancer" by Laurie Kaplan. The book is about a male Siberian Husky's experience with lymphoma and how he survives the disease. I gleaned some very useful information from this book but was later to find out that every dog is different and that in Zac's case we were dealing with inflammatory bowel disease as well as the lymphoma. It seemed as though the more I tried to get the diet right, the worse the stomach problems became.
In the November, fireworks and diarrhoea were the worst combination of circumstances for us all. I started to put newspaper down at night to soak up the accidents. Drastic measures were required and Zac was put on a hypoallergenic diet for dogs with bowel disease.
After two weeks of the Royal Canin hypoallergenic dry food and boiled chicken as treats, I felt as though a miracle had occurred. The disease seemed to be in remission and it was agreed that Zac should have a break from the drugs. Zac put some weight back on and enjoyed Christmas turkey without any stomach upsets. Just after Christmas however the lymph nodes came up again and he was put back on Vincristine injections as we did not want to risk any new medication that might upset his stomach. Zac had a Vincristine injection on New Year's eve and steroids. Poor old Zac had to endure New Year's eve fireworks but on New Year's Day 2008 he was flat on his back having a good snooze on the sofa. We felt that we could tackle the disease in the New Year with cured bowel disease.
I joined a support group at http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/endlesslove/ that provided great help to me during these difficult times with Zac. This may seem to be a catalogue of difficulties but all through this time there were only one or two occasions when Zac did not want to go for his walk. Most of the time he was still able to chase his tennis ball and the odd rabbit. He had quality of life and that was the most important factor for us.
Zac was on and off chemotherapy for the forthcoming months and was a happy dog. He was well behaved for the Vet and would put his paw up for the nurse to put the catheter in his leg. In the Summer, the disease started to win the battle and the nodes came up again. We tried some cyclophosphamide again but it upset his stomach. I then started to notice some blood in his poos and that he was not feeling as well as he had been. He would curl up in a ball when resting instead of lying at full stretch. Zac was starting to suffer and was not getting better. He was up during the night and had blood in his vomit. Zac had a blood test that showed that he had developed full blown leukaemia as well as lymphoma; he was seriously ill and could collapse at any moment.
We had always considered quality of life to be important and I made the decision to have him put to sleep so that he would not suffer any more. Zac was put to sleep on 7th July 2008.
Thank you to all of you who helped and supported us during Zac's illness. A special thanks to the staff at Pet Doctors in Woking. Thank you to my friends and family for the monies raised for Cancer Research UK in the Guildford Race for Life. My daughter, Gemma, and I ran the race for Zac and for Marjorie, my mother, who has leukaemia.
Liz 6th July 2008
Zac waiting for the ball
Zac in the sunshine
Zac on an early morning walk
Zac playing football
Zac in his bed
Zac on his favourite sofa
Zac with Simon.
Zac with Mum
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