WELCOME TO POTTER'S HOPE
On October 18, 2010, our 4 1/2 year old dog, Potter, was diagnosed with canine lymphoma. For those of you who are unfamiliar, canine lymphoma is a form of aggressive cancer which attacks a dog's lymphatic system. If left untreated it can be fatal within 6 weeks of diagnosis. There are treatments to prolong the dog's life briefly, but very little hope for a complete cure. We've created this site to help families dealing with this and similar issues. Hopefully we can be a resource, as well as a comfort in an awful time. This is our story, and Potter's Hope.
POTTER INTRODUCES HIMSELF
We adopted Potter from Miami-Dade Animal Services in November of 2005. I remember it like it was yesterday. My wife and I entered the shelter and were immediately greeted by the sound of pitiful barking, and the smell of animal waste. The shelter workers were wonderful, but understaffed and underfunded. Most of the animals that end up there must be euthanized. We were greeted at the front desk and told them we were interested in adoption. Someone showed us the way to the back kennel area and asked that we not touch or put our fingers through the fencing, as the temperaments of the dogs varied. I believe we were left alone to wander through the endless maze of homeless animals, jotting down adoption possibilities on a small piece of paper. Some cages had notes on letting us know they had already been claimed. The first dog we came across was scrawny. He was tan with a white nose, paws, and belly. His ears would have made Dumbo blush. His cage was soiled, and he was wimpering. My wife, being the stubborn person that she is, bent down and immediately passed her fingers through the cage holes. The dog approached the gate, hesitated briefly, then began to lick her fingers. She was in love.
He had no note on his cage, but we were informed that two other people had already reserved the dog for adoption. Did we want to be put third on the list, for the outside chance that two other people relinquished their claim? Sure, why not? We continued to walk through the kennels, saw a few other prospects, but decided to go home for the day without a dog.
THE PHONE CALL
Early the following week my wife is at work when she receives a phone call. Neither person before us on the list showed up for the dog, but his allotted time before euthanization was running out. Were we still interested, and could she be there before 6 p.m.? Yes, and YES! My wife left work early to make the long rush hour drive to the shelter. She got there minutes before it closed. She filled out the paperwork and we were proud dog owners. Only one problem, we lived in an apartment with a strict no animal policy. Why you ask were we in the market for a dog? See the above comment about my wife's stubbornness. The dog sat on my wife's lap the entire drive home. He was covered in fleas and ticks from being homeless. She didn't care. I had been home from school for a few minutes before they arrived. We had to sneak him in the side door because the apartment manager's office was right down the hall. We got him in and barricaded him in our 8' x 3' kitchen. I could see fleas jumping around on his fur. Great, what now?
POTTER GETS HIS NAME
They told us he was about 6 months old, putting his birthday in mid-May. We decided on May 15, 2005, just to keep it simple. We couldn't give him a bath because he had just been neutered at the shelter. We bought flea spray and drenched him in it. We picked ticks from between his toes, and pulled scabs off of his ears. He started looking like a dog with a home, but he still needed a name. Earlier in our relationship, my wife had gotten me hooked on a certain series of books featuring a boy wizard. Potter got his name. We couldn't exactly walk him in and out of the front entrance to our apartment, and although we lived on the first floor, we didn't have a porch. It took Potter about a week to learn that in order to go out he had to step up on the foot stool next to our bedroom window, then jump out into an area of grass that was well below street level. We kept him on a retractable leash. When he wanted back in, he waited for us to put the stool on the outside of the window, then jumped back in. Soon this routine was old hat. This went on for a couple of months. We would sneak him out the window for walks and for weekend beach trips. He wasn't much of a barker so we weren't concerned. He stayed in the bathroom while we were gone and except for a broken glass candle (that he thought was delicious), and a few torn up beds, we were all getting along fine. Potter shared his first Christmas with us, we wrapped his presents and he tore each one open like he knew what to do (see his photos). We had become a family.
Here's a tip for all of you. If you have a dog in an apartment that doesn't allow pets, make sure the land lady is out before you come home with a 35 pound bag of dog food. It was around 6:30 p.m., and I had just gotten back from Publix with a large bag of dog found. I open the electronic door, and standing in the hallway is Shirley, our landlord. I immediately let the door close without walking in. Did she see the food? I didn't think so. I tucked the bag around the corner and walked in with the rest of the groceries, making sure to greet Shirley as pleasantly as possible. I can feel her eyes in the back of my head as I pass. I get to our door, let myself in, and lock it quickly. This happens to be the same day Potter decided to destroy a large feather pillow in our bathroom. Feathers cover the entire room like its been snowing. My wife is in there cleaning it up, the vacuum is on and loud. No sooner had I closed the door when I hear three loud knocks. Had she found the food outside? I open it and there is Shirley. She asks to borrow some ice. Kind of odd considering there is an ice maker down the hall. My wife doesn't know she's at the door. I say, over the noise of the vacuum and as calm as possible; "Rebecca! SHIRLEY is here for some ice. OK?" I think she understands. I grab handfuls of ice from our freezer, put it in Shirley's hands, and politely close the door on her. We made it?
My wife and I went out for dinner shortly after. We had been sitting for about 10 minutes when my cell phone rings. It's Shirley. She found the food and she has been hearing barks and crying coming from our apartment. The gig is up! We surrender and tell her Potter was a family member's dog that we volunteered to care for. On a side note, we had used this story before, when we told my wife's mother that Potter was a friend's dog we were watching for a few weeks. Knowing my affinity for the Harry Potter series, Rebecca's mom was very skeptical that our friend's dog just happened to be named Potter. Obviously we weren't hiding our hairy little friend very well.
PLACES CHANGE, BUT FACES STAY THE SAME
After the "Shirley" incident we moved to another apartment in Miami where Potter was welcome. I had finished law school and was working right across the street. My lunches were spent out on our porch with Potter laying in the sun, hoping I didn't have to go back to work (and sometimes I wouldn't!). Every now and then I would walk him around the apartment complex on my lunch break, which made both of our days. I began studying for the Bar Exam while working in the mornings. I would come home in the afternoon, take my bar study books onto the porch, and study into the evening. Potter would sit across from me on another patio chair, mostly sleeping but occasionally looking up to make sure I was still studying. He also enjoyed his favorite pasttime of barking at any other dog walking by. People spend thousands on bar review courses to study with others. My study partner was Potter. He deserves just as much credit as I do. He kept me grounded, focused. And I knew he would be there to keep me company every day without exception. He never whined or complained. Just stoically sat with me while I poured over review materials. We passed with flying colors.
WHAT'S MY NAME?
My wife and I had a funny habit of calling Potter by anything but his real name, and our friends shortly followed suit. Poops, Poopers, Pots, Pothead (thanks Abs!), and a variety of non-G-rated monocles when he was making us angry. Regardless of what we called him, he always knew if we were talking to him, or worse yelling at him. He knew when we brought the ironing board out in the morning that we were leaving for work, and he would pout. He knew if we were leaving him for dinner or a night out, and he would pout. He knew when we were going on vacation without him, and taking him to boarding. When we would pick him up a week later he would often spend the whole car ride home staring at the backseat so he didn't have to look at us. He was quite dramatic. My wife and I grew as people, and Potter grew with us. He learned our habits in ways that I never knew were possible. His internal clock was so accurate with his morning feedings that there was never need for an alarm. He was up at 6:00 a.m. everyday, and he was getting fed regardless of how we felt about it. People who have never had a dog may not understand that they crave routine. Nothing makes them happier than knowing what to expect. Uncertainty makes them uneasy. So it was with Potter. A picture of consistency. If something was out of the ordinary, he would let us know. I could worry less about leaving my wife alone at the apartment even in a place like Miami, because I knew she had a 50 pound protector that would die before he let anything happen to her. Every picture adorning our apartment had Potter in it. Whenever he lays down he has to be on a pillow or a pillow substitute (our legs, chests, faces, etc.), because, well, what's he going to do, lay on the floor like a common dog? He sleeps in our bed, or should I say we sleep in his. He was always there.
THE MOVE TO MICKEY'S HOUSE
Miami had run its course and I was offered a job in Orlando. Less of a city, and more of a suburb, Orlando offered the prospect of wide open parks and a real yard. To this point Potter had only known grass in limited quantities, he was much more familiar with sand. After buying a home with a yard we soon found out Potter wasn't too wild about grass, even less so wet grass. He always tried to put as little weight down as possible with each step, like he may not get his foot back from the big green grass monster. This is one of his many quirks that lead us to believe he would benefit greatly from a nice long sit down with a psychologist. Even if he never said a word. He enjoyed long walks around our new neighborhood, and misbehaving whenever he saw other dogs (this was usually followed by nasty looks from the other owners, but we got used to it.)
POTTER GETS A SISTER
I get a picture message from my wife while I'm at work. She's holding what appears to be a shrivelled mole rat to her chest. She tells me its a pit bull puppy and the owner is basically giving them away. "What do you think?" Uh-oh. Potter meets his new sister shortly after. He is unsure. We comfort him and tell him he will always be in charge. He doesn't look reassured. We name her Ginny, because that's who the boy wizard ends up with. Potter and Ginny together forever, how's that for a storybook ending? They fight like brother and sister do, a little too much at times. Screaming at the top of my lungs normally put it on hold for 30 seconds.
But they love each other. How do I know? A few weeks after we brought Ginny home she learned that she could sneak under our front fence. We face a very busy street. I am outside with her and watch in slow motion as she crawls under the fence and runs toward the street at rush hour. I am at the gate within seconds, yanking it open and prepared to brave traffic to save her. As I am running across the front yard I am overtaken by a sprinting Potter. He catches up with Ginny just before she makes it into the road. He turns his back on the street and towards her, growling and barking in her face like I've never heard before. She pauses, then turns and runs up on to the neighbor's porch. Potter follows. I finally reach them to see a cowering Ginny in the corner of the porch, cornered by a barking Potter who is daring her to move. She does not. Potter waits for me to take her and then goes back into our yard. Potter loves her.
And it goes both ways. She thinks he is the coolest big brother that any girl could ever have. He taught her to sit when she was 5 months old, because, well, that's how you get food from your parents. She barks when he barks, even if she has no clue what he is barking at. And anytime Potter needs to move his sleeping spot, well Ginny has to move so she can lay on top of him. He was annoyed with this habit at first, but eventually resigned himself to the fact that he had become his little sister's pillow, and he was ok with that. We take long walks together, with Potter and Ginny speeding up and slowing down so that they can be side by side. Everything is right just the way it is.
THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING
I woke up Wednesday, October 13, 2010. I look at the clock. It's 6:30 a.m. Potter isn't up and is not laying next to me. Weird. I rouse him by saying his favorite word "eat." He is slow to get off the bed. He doesn't beat his sister and I down the stairs. I wait for him at his dish and watch as he slowly chews his food, like a child playing with something they don't really want to eat. I go upstairs to get ready and he eventually follows me back up to assume his usual spot on the bed to watch me prepare for my day. I walk downstairs to leave. He doesn't follow me. I call his name. He doesn't come. I disregard it and yell goodbye to an empty stairwell.
I came home for lunch but wasn't greeted at the door by Potter as is his usual routine. I can hear him dismount the bed upstairs and make his way slowly down. He must have laid there all morning. As he approaches me I notice he is moving with difficulty. I begin to pet him and notice the glands under his neck are very swollen. So are the ones under his arms. I immediately decide he needs to go to the vet. We jump in the car and are seen by the vet shortly after. She knows Potter, and is very kind. She is unnerved by the size of his glands, and also notices that his scapuler lymph nodes are the size of golfballs. We decide that he should have cytologies pulled from several different lymphs on his body, and she sends us home with an antibiotic.
I spent the next week worried that Potter had a severe lymphatic infection, although he never registered a fever. Cancer really does not pop into my head, after all 4 year old dogs don't get cancer, right? The week passed and it was time for Potter's cytology results. His lymphs had receded to almost normal size, so I was less than concerned. My wife took him for his appointment around 2. I got a phone call at 2:30. Please come quick, Potter has cancer. My mind goes numb.
Potter is diagnosed with canine lymphoma. A rather common cancer, it occurs frequently in a small number of breeds, but can affect any breed. The vet wanted to take a lymph sample from Potter for verification. We agree and she removed a large lymph section from his hind leg. She told us about our options of chemotherapy and radiation. She recommends a local oncologist and we schedule an appointment immediately. We go home discouraged but determined to do anything so that Potter can live out his full life. Then we begin our research.
It's devastating. Canine lymphoma reads less like a disease and more like a death sentence. Average life expectancy after diagnosis and without treatment is 6 weeks? With costly chemotherapy and radiation it improves to a year? Am I really reading these statistics. I try not to accept the initial research and continue reading more articles. My wife does as well. We unavoidably come to the same conclusion. Regardless of how much we do or spend, Potter will not see his sixth birthday. I start to unravel. I sit and cry over Potter and apologize for not being able to do more to help him. After all, wasn't it my job to protect him after he had protected us for the past 4 years? I tell him over and over he can't die. I will figure it out. We are going to beat this. Who am I trying to convince?
A light at the end of the tunnel. We find research showing that combination chemotherapy and radiation is experiencing success. Median remission times exceed a year and can continue past two. The treatments are costly, but we have no choice. One week after Potter is diagnosed he begins his first chemotherapy treatment, he is scheduled for radiation four weeks later. Potter's chemotherapy includes a "cocktail" of chemotherapy drugs which are changed weekly, and a six week cycle of Prednisone (a very powerful steriod also used for people.) His first day home after chemo was all about laying around, he was still on pain medication from his recent biopsy surgery and couldn't put pressure on his hind leg. We built him a makeshift bed in the middle of our family room so that he would be comfortable, and he laid there for hours. My wife and I continue our research and make a find. North Carolina State University has been experimenting with bone marrow transplants in dogs. Instead of trying to find donor matches, they have actually developed a technique to harvest marrow cells from the patient itself, after stimulating the growth of the cells with drug therapy. The treatment has a high success rate, with 85% of patients living four years, and better than a 50% CURE rate. Unfotunately, the procedure is extremely expensive.
So here we are. Weighing our options. Potter is a week into chemotherapy and his lymphs have receded well. His personality is normal but he is always fatigued. It's hard to balance having fun with him against knowing he doesn't have the same amount of energy. It's harder still to know there is little to be done against the ultimate outcome of canine lymphoma. The best we can hope for is to educate ourselves and others about treatment options for this terrible disease, while balancing our pets' quality of life and quantity of life. We remain highly committed to both.
Contact us: Donations to:
PottersHope515@gmail.com Non-Profit "Save-an-Angel.org"
Potter's link: http://www.save-an-angel.org/BMT_Pack/potter.html
Tip: How to replace this calendar with your own.