Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Rubin turned seven years old a few days before he and I flew to Los Angeles to visit Rachel. She and I had talked briefly about him staying on with her when I returned home. I think neither of us knew how that decision would turn. She knew I would miss him; she would have to make arrangements for his day care. On the other hand she is the alpha female in his life. I've been his bud for a while now so of course he cares for me but the minute he sees Rachel it becomes obvious that she is the love of his life.

A few years ago, while Rachel was still living in Natchez, Rubin became critically ill with Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA). I was running for city council and the afternoon of the political candidates forum Rachel became aware of his illness. She noticed he had hematuria while walking him. I was busy getting ready for the forum when she raced back to the house and said she had to get him to the Vet, that he had blood in his urine, and they were off. I had my mind on the forum and wasn't alarmed; thank goodness she was!

That night he was up and down, restless and uncomfortable. Later it was clear that he wasn't getting enough oxygen. The next morning we returned with him to the Vet and he kept him, gave him a blood transfusion. We still had no diagnosis. That afternoon we visited the clinic and determined he needed to get to LSU School of Vet Medicine. We finally convinced the Vet to make the arrangements for transfer after I suggested he type and cross match him and order in blood for another transfusion. Impossible! The Vet made arrangements for transfer.

We drove to Baton Rouge that evening in heavy rain and presented Rubin to the clinic staff. They immediately diagnosed him with IMHA and told us the prognosis was extremely poor. We left him with heavy hearts and lots of tears.

For an entire month Rachel and I left Natchez every morning to see Rubin. After most of those visits we left anguished and fearful of the call we didn't want to receive. He was so sick and weak he couldn't lift his head to greet us. He wouldn't eat, not even the tasty wet food. We brought his favorite "babies", a familiar blanket. He had an IV but they kindly moved him into a room so we could be close to him. Rubin needed our love and encouragement and the will to survive.

Back home we researched the disease. We know about IMHA. Rachel joined an online support group, which provided answers and solutions, stories of success and loss. Fortunately, we were able to provide for Rubin every possible treatment available: numerous blood transfusions, Immunoglobulin, cancer drugs.

He eventually started eating and was strong enough to take short walks in the grassy area in front of the hospital. We sat with him on a blanket in the sun enjoying his wet kisses. He was eating; he was better. His blood levels were improved. We took him home and after a week he relapsed so it was back to ICU.

With a change in staff rotations, good fortune brought us a tiny young girl in a white coat who happened to be very, very good at being a doctor. Dr. Ashley Martin, formerly a resident at Tufts in Boston, was now back at LSU for her fellowship in Internal Medicine. We were committed to his survival regardless of the odds. Dr. Martin hung in there with us, cried with us, and gave us hope...within reason. Finally, after lots of ups and downs, erratic blood counts, we'd exhausted all known possibilities, except one. They removed his spleen, that organ which was manufacturing those overly-industrious white blood cells hell-bent on consuming his oxygen-carrying red blood cells. His spleen was huge, she said after surgery, and he would eventually loose his "Buddha Belly"...which he did. Rubin is one of the lucky few to survive IMHA. We've been home free for almost two years now and Rubin no longer shows any signs of illness.

I've had Rubin with me for the past six months while Rachel transitioned to a new apartment in L.A. and the consensus among her roommates was that Rubin should return to live with her. He was free to go now that his newly fenced yard in Natchez was tested, tried and true; I needed confirmation that all that construction trauma was worth the effort, among other considerations. On the day of my return the decision was made. He stayed and I flew home, alone.

Once in my car I found myself turning to the seat beside me. Empty! I had the compulsion to look before closing the car door to make sure he was safely inside the car. When I arrived home it was worse. As I unpacked I thought I heard his little feet padding toward my room. I got up the next morning feeling his absence with great sadness and a few tears. Who is this creature so engrained in our hearts?

Rubin is very unusual in the world of canines. (Nothing subjective here.) He's compassionate, kind and he's sensitive. Being keenly perceptive he knows when he's not well-received among a few two-legged types. He barks, knowingly, at some of my friends who've teasingly hasseled him. He doesn't forget those previous slights.

His eyes speak for him with a look reflective of his attitude and mood. And, yes, he actually tries to talk to us using tonal inflections, varying according to his state of mind and requests. When he was a baby I felt badly for him because I knew he actually thought he could talk to us. He often intoned his wishes seeming to expect a response in like manner. We could sense his frustration and as he grew older those prolonged exhortations diminished. He finally learned there was, indeed, a language barrier.

He's happy with Rachel. He now goes to daycare while she's at work and he's adjusting nicely to life in L.A. I, too, am adjusting to his absence...sort of. I no longer hear his barking in anticipation of my arrival as I approach the house. He's not here to let me know that cars are lining up outside for church services. I now walk to the river without stopping at every blade of grass, twig, light pole, fire hydrant. I miss him!

1 comment:

Casey Ann said...

Ruben is indeed a special canine.