Thursday, December 11, 2014

L is for Love

This is Daelle. He passed away a month ago on 15 November 2014 on a Saturday. He was only five years old. 

I have been trying to commemorate him in the best possible way on this blog. But the more I try to write the perfect recount of his life, the harder it is for the words to come. Daelle's passing - the suddenness of it and the pain he went through in the flurry of those three weeks, makes recollection so difficult. 

Daelle means so much to us because we raised him. He was born in the shelter in 2009 - an accidental conception between our first rescued mongrel Debbie and a new husky in our pre Gentle Paws days. 

Space constraints meant we had no choice but to house the two together temporarily. We could not touch Debbie and in turn could not sterilize her. Meanwhile, the husky Dakula was barely past his puppyhood. The rest of the dogs in the kennel had all been fixed. We took the risk and paid the price for it when Debbie became pregnant. In our developing years as a shelter, we learnt our lessons the hard way. 

Daelle's conception might have been a mistake. But the life that he went on to lead was never that. 

There were originally eight puppies in the litter. Each one of them had a similar looking sibling or more. Daelle had a twin with the same beige and white coat. Except instead of the "L" marking which gave Daelle his name, this little one had a star shaped marking in the same region along the slope of her neck. She didn't get to begin her life proper though. She was trampled upon by her mother soon after birth.

That left Daelle looking the most distinctive of the litter. As his coat grew and changed in subtle ways, that big "L" never went away. 

Perhaps because he was so special, Daelle left the shelter pretty early. However, his first two attempts at adoption failed. 

The first time he came back, he was about five months old. 

The second time he returned, he was almost full grown. 

Both times, the families weren't ready for the commitment of a canine addition - a fact that only dawned upon them some months after the adoption.

So Daelle returned to the shelter, a big boy of almost eight months old. Before he left, we hadn't yet set up Gentle Paws. When he came back, we were up and running. The adjustment back to shelter life could have been more difficult for Daelle. But it wasn't - because he not only found stability but also a best friend and playmate in his brother Dillon who was the last remaining sibling with us at the shelter. The rest of the litter had, at that time, all been adopted although one more brother returned to us subsequently. 

For Daelle and Dillon, it was as if they were never apart those eight months. They quickly rekindled the special bond they had with each other. When we brought one out, the other would whimper and howl. In the kennel with many other dogs, they always sought each other out to play. 

Because they were good with people, we often brought them along with us on site for our events. Most memorable was the time we brought them for the flea market held along the walkway leading to the Tampines train station. As we were busy yelling "iPhone covers 3 for $1!", the two boys lay by our booth patiently growing sleepier by the hour. 

Of the brothers, Dillon was the more popular one amongst the volunteers. He was the more docile, laid back and gentle brother. In contrast, though equally friendly, Daelle was more confident and the clearer leader between the two. 

With their unique good looks and their easygoing temperaments, we knew it was a matter of time before adoptors came knocking. We harboured a hope that the two of them could be adopted together. As one year rolled into the next, the boys only grew closer. Separation anxiety seemed a possibility in the event one found a home and not the other. 

So we considered ourselves very lucky when Tek and Frae decided to bring not one, but both of the boys back home somewhere in July 2011. The road to adoption was not all smooth. But this family worked hard to integrate the dogs into their coop. We finally signed the adoption papers in October 2011 feeling as if a dream had come true. 

As one year rolled into the next, we got used to the boys' absence at the shelter. They came back to board with us a few times when their family went away. The contact was maintained and our connection with both of them remained very special. 

Our nightmare started in October this year when the boys' family contacted us. Daelle, they said, was suffering from a skin condition that would not heal. We were concerned but not overly so. A skin condition caused discomfort but was certainly not life threatening.

Or so we thought.

We paid a visit to Daelle, Dillon and family on 28 October after work. It was a Tuesday evening. The boys were pleased to see us, especially since we came bearing treats and good cheer. We were delighted to see them but we were also shocked by the condition of Daelle's snout. 

Most of his snout was furless and swollen. The skin there was pink, sticky and looked raw and tender. There was a fresh wound at the side of his face as well. When he got excited or when he settled down to chomp on the treat we gave him, he snorted and gurgled loudly, as if the swell affected his breathing. We were alarmed but at that time, still comforted by the fact that Daelle was responsive to food and people. His spirit remained upbeat and that in turn, made us feel optimistic. 

We discussed with the family the possible causes of the condition. They told us this had been ongoing for two months and they had already brought him to several vets in different clinics. The prescribed medication didn't seem to be improving his condition. We left that day with the consensus that we would make an appointment for Daelle with the clinic we used and seek another opinion.

So on Saturday, 1 November, we stopped over at our usual clinic where Daelle had his condition re-examined. We were referred to a specialist whom we saw shortly after on Wednesday, 5 November. A CT scan was conducted and a biopsy was carried out. 

Meanwhile, a test done by a prior clinic that the family had sent Daelle to earlier returned to our dismay, with a positive result for MRSA. 

MRSA is a common bacteria carried on the skin, nostrils and throat of healthy people. In most cases, a person will suffer no symptoms but the bacteria can cause infection if it gets into a wound. It was recently discovered that MRSA could be passed from humans to animals and vice versa. 

We don't know how he caught it. But Daelle had MRSA. 

Because of its potential to spread to people, there was a suitable level of alarm. Daelle's family had three young kids, including a newborn. It was a harrowing time for the family who were worried sick not only for Daelle - but for his brother Dillon and their own young kids. But in the midst of all the frenzy, they dealt with it somehow.

Was MRSA then the root cause of the skin lesions on Daelle's snout, the accompanying swell and his inability to heal? There was still the biopsy results pending. However, before they were out and in the span of just a few days, Daelle's condition took a rapid turn for the worse. 

I will always recall that horrid Sunday evening on 9 November. It had been a long day and I had just returned home from the shelter. Just when I was settling down to begin my dinner, we received text messages from the family informing us that Daelle did not look good. 

"Daelle is just lying there. He is not responding but breathing. He won't even open his eyes." 

Frae was alone at home with baby. Tek worked in the media industry and held odd hours. He was at work at that time. The helper was on her off day as well.

It seemed like Frae needed help. We tried to get her to tell us more, hoping desperately it was a false alarm. But when we received photos of our boy lying on his side, a dulled expression in his eyes and his tongue lolling to the side, we knew we had to go see him. 

I lived the nearest and I drove. I was tasked to go down to assess the situation and report back to the rest. 

My report however was not quite what the rest were hoping for. Frae was right. Daelle did not look good. I called him and shook him but did not manage to rouse him. His snout looked thrice as swollen as the last time we saw him and twice as sticky. 

I hated that he was non-responsive. Less than two weeks back, when we had visited that first time, he had come prancing forward eagerly. Now it was just poor Dillon, who while still happy to see me, was curious and slightly bemused with the fuss I was giving Daelle. 

If it were left to my unprofessional view, Daelle needed medical attention and fast. We sent videos and live updates to the rest and quickly began exploring where we could send Daelle on a Sunday night like this.

Between Frae and myself, could we lift Daelle? They asked. It was best if we didn't wait for assistance from the rest of them and could begin the motions of sending Daelle to the emergency vet. 

We had to get all 27kg of Daelle up the car.

Frae had the baby. Short of intruding on the neighbours, I was on my own. They lived in a semi-detached house which meant I could drive the car into the front porch area. Thereafter, I looped a leash around Daelle and tried to lift his torso. I'm not sure if Darlle knew what I was doing but in his daze, he cooperated. 

He got up from his sleeping position shakily and I grabbed the opportunity to guide him to the car by lifting his underbelly. I helped his front legs up the passenger seat followed by his hind legs. It wasn't as hard as I thought because Daelle worked with me. The exertion must have exhausted him because he lay down catching his breath immediately. I was so proud of him. In his semi-consciousness, he was still eager to please. In that short instant, I felt as if I had caught a glimpse of that young boy we had helped raise. He was amazing. 

Without further ado, I set the GPS and was off. Along the way, I met Choo, who had rushed down to assist. We agreed to meet at the vet. So it was just Daelle and me along for the ride. Because of the worsening swell of his snout, Daelle's air passages were affected and his breathing became pretty noisy. As I drove us both to get the help that he needed, I grew worried when the interval between each breath grew longer and the sound of his breathing became fainter. 

When we finally reached, Daelle could no longer stand on his own. Choo used a towel to lift him out of the car and into the clinic. Florence and Tek met us at there.

We stood around Daelle as he lay on the examination table. We updated the vet about all the prior vets we had seen, the tests done, the various diagnoses and the medications administered. At 9:10pm that night, while we were still speaking to the vet, Daelle had his first seizure before our eyes. 

Seizures are really scary. It is a helpless feeling seeing a living being lose control of its functions and knowing that there might be potentially irreversible long term damage. Daelle's body was slamming against the examination table and his limbs flailed, scratching whoever came into contact.

Choo, Florence and the vet reacted quickly. They held Daelle down and ensured he did not hurt himself. Thankfully, the seizure didn't last long. Before he needed to be sedated, recognition came back to Daelle's eyes and his body - and mind, became calm once more. 

The vet hooked Daelle up to some tubes which was supposed to help make him feel better. And it did. It was a work day the next day. But we lingered some more until midnight, afraid there would be another seizure and suddenly realising how close we were to losing him.

So much for a skin condition... This was something way more serious. 

Had the MRSA bacteria entered Daelle's bloodstream? One of the specialist vets was adamant that the seizures could not have been caused by MRSA. It simply wasn't a symptom of the condition. 

Could the impending biopsy results shed more light on his condition? And if so, could Daelle even hold on till the results were out? 

The next morning, Daelle had another two seizures, about an hour apart. We couldn't bring ourselves to imagine the toll that these seizures would have on his body. 

Things did not look good. But Daelle managed to hang on for the results. 

It was cancer. 

Our hearts sank. We were even more perturbed when there were different opinions as to the type of cancer. At first we were advised it was lymphoma of the skin. Later on, we were told it looked more like lymphoma of the nose. It was suggested we re-do the biopsy for a confirmatory diagnosis because the treatments for both were different. 

The oncologists also raised the more ominous possibility of it being carcinomas or sarcomas - cancer of the more malignant and invasive variety that was less responsive to chemo.

We were frustrated. Time was of the essence. We knew that each day gone without a firm diagnosis was another day wasted. To re-do the biopsy would take time. But not re-doing it may mean the diagnosis is inaccurate and that the treatment dispensed may be futile.

Meanwhile, what could be confirmed with some certainty was that the cancer - whichever it was, had spread to the nose and brain, explaining the seizures. While the rear of his brain controlling his limbs and movements remained intact, the front of the brain controlling knowledge and information was affected. On good days, Daelle could stand up and look around in his cage. But we were no longer sure if he recognized us. 

We took turns with the family to visit Daelle. But our time with him was short. 

On 15 November, when most of us were busy taking the shelter dogs out for their monthly outing to the beach, we received a message at about 1pm informing us that Daelle had just collapsed at the clinic. 

Around 15 minutes later, Daelle slipped away for good. 

These dogs were at one point or another our friend. When they pass away, we usually do a mini sort of wake to allow people who know and love them to say their goodbyes before the cremation. For Daelle, however, we didn't have this luxury. He had tested positive for MRSA which was transmissible to other people and dogs. Our goodbyes were to be done at the clinic where any spread of bacteria was contained. 

Daelle was gone now. We were upset - but the one living being who would be most affected by his permanent absence was going to be Dillon.

Ever since they were eight months old, these two have spent every day of their lives together - right up till Daelle fell sick. Even when we took Daelle for vet visits recently, we sometimes brought Dillon along for a car ride so he didn't feel too left out. 

That night when I shuffled Daelle off to the vet from his home, we had to leash Dillon because he wouldn't allow me to handle Daelle without wanting to be part of the ensemble. When he was leashed and it dawned on him that I was leaving him behind, he howled. He never saw Daelle again from that day on. I don't know if he is still mad at me. 

Worried about his wellbeing, we sent Dillon for a full checkup. On the first check up, they said his platelet count was a little low. But upon a second review some time later, he was given a clean bill of health. No MRSA, no tick fever and we dearly hope - no broken heart. The family's keeping close tabs on him. 

It is a long entry - but not quite long enough to properly describe how full a life Daelle led even though it might only have been for five years. 

We won't be remembering him by how the cancer distorted his face and slowly, his brain. Instead, he will always live on in our hearts and minds as that confident, handsome lad who brought so much delight to us not so long ago. 

I'm not sure where Daelle is or what he might be doing right now. But wherever he is and whatever he might be doing, we are pretty sure he is always going to remain - his brother's keeper. 

We know he's out there somewhere watching over Dillon. 

Hello Daelle. Goodbye. 

It was later determined that Daelle's cancer was of the carcinoma/sarcoma variety that was not responsive to chemo. 

31 October 2009 - 15 November 2014

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