Sometimes life STINKS

by Renee on March 9, 2014

Jack Russell Terrier with malignant anine oral melanoma

You may or may not have noticed that this blog has been quiet for more than a month.

That’s because in early February we received some devastating news that has required time to digest. I haven’t wanted to write about it; it was too new and raw. I think I was hoping everything would magically go back to normal. But that doesn’t seem to be happening, and I can’t put this off any longer. Therefore it’s time to hit publish on this post, which was difficult to write and has been gathering dust in my draft folder for over a week.

My sweet Archie has been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of malignant cancer (canine oral melanoma), which has already invaded his lymph nodes and probably his lungs.

His prognosis is grim. Our hearts are breaking.

“Hey, what’s that bump?”

It all started last month, when Scout and I took Archie and Sophie to the park to play. Archie was doing his favorite thing in the world, sprinting after the rubber ball that has traveled around the world with us, when I noticed blood pouring from the side of his mouth. It was coming from a small bump growing between his two back molars. The bump was tiny, not more than several millimeters in diameter, and totally hidden unless Archie happened to be panting. It looked like nothing, just one of those weird and no-big-deal bumps dogs sometimes get, you know?

Except is was a big deal.

The Biopsy

I scheduled a biopsy and (optimistically) a teeth-cleaning for Archie at the vet around the corner from our apartment. When I dropped off Archie, the vet mentioned she’d also biopsy his lymph nodes, but I assumed this was just a precaution. Honestly, I didn’t think the bump was anything problematic and was more concerned about the anesthesia.

I couldn’t wait to pick up Archie and check out his pearly white teeth.

A few days later, when I popped back in for the test results, the vet told me the bump was actually a malignant melanoma. I can’t recall much of what he said, but phrases like “maligno,” “muy agresivo,” and “nódulos linfáticos” stuck in my brain like fishhooks.

A month has passed since that moment, three weeks of it spent waiting for in-depth pathology report from a laboratory DFE (Mexico City). Unfortunately the damn report confirmed everything the vet had already told me. No mistakes had been made, no test-results mixed up. Archie’s cancer is malignant and has already spread to his lymph nodes.

Life expectancy: 3 to 6 months.

While we all waited for the report, the vet did an x-ray, which showed specs on the lungs.

When I reviewed the x-ray film with the vets, one if them suggested the spots could be coincidental, merely some kind of calcifications. However the other two doctors shook their heads grimly.

Treatment Options for Canine Oral-Melanoma

Once this particular cancer has spread, treatment options are limited. There is no cure. At best, the spread of the tumor can be stalled for a while.

An immunotherapy vaccine has given some dogs at death’s door extra years of life. It’s expensive, and not available in Mexico. But nevertheless, I hoped it might save Archie.

I spent the first week after Archie’s diagnosis writing and sending lengthy, tear-stained emails to various executives at  Merial, the company that makes vaccine. Maybe they could sponsor Archie and send some of the vaccine to Mexico. Hey, you never know what kind of blogging sponsorship is possible.

But eventually I received a two-sentence message back from Merial, confirming that they would not be showing up on a white horse. Apparently Merial won’t license or ship the vaccine to Mexico, period.

We briefly considered taking Archie to the US for immunotherapy. But the cost of treatment there is exorbitant. What do I mean by exorbitant? I mean $1,500 dollars per shot for a sequence of four shots, plus lifetime boosters every six months. And that’s not the end of it. In addition to the vaccination cost, there’d be canine oncologists, other vet expenses, tests, housing in the US, and more.

But then didn’t feel right for our family. Or for Archie, who’d hate all the fuss. We abandoned the idea when canine oncologists (from both the US and Mexico) who’ve read Archie’s path report agreed that with such an aggressive cancer, one that’s already spread so far, even immunotherapy wouldn’t be very effective.

A well-connected medical friend offered to set up a compassionate-use drug trial just for Archie. (Thanks, Kim.) Their drug, designed for humans, has helped some dogs. But it turns out that drug probably isn’t the best match for Archie’s tumor. Though my family and I decided against it, the magnitude of the effort exerted on Archie’s behalf warmed our hearts and provided a ray of light during an otherwise dark time.

Radiation won’t help, and though we actually bought pricey chemo medicine and planned to begin treatments here in Mexico, we’ve since rethought that path.

After consulting with a few other vets, Mark, Scout and I realized that the chemo is unlikely to be Archie’s silver bullet. At best it could give him a few extra months, but what kind of months would those be?

No, instead, we have decided to help Archie enjoy his life to the fullest. No more medical procedures, no aggressive treatments. Just love, fun, and palliative care. Archie hates going to the doctor more than any other dog on the planet. My free-spirited, traveling pup can’t spend his last months of life on steel exam tables with his tail between his legs, being poked by needles or force-fed toxic medications. That’s just wrong. He’s already spent too much time at the vet’s office this past month.

After all, Archie doesn’t know he is dying. All he knows is that there’s a rat with his name on it somewhere in the kitchen pipes. His death should be our problem, not his.

Jack Russell Terrier with malignant anine oral melanoma

Omaha Beach, France

Exactly how rotten is this?

Archie just turned five. He should be keeping me company for another 15 years or so, but I’ll be lucky to have him for another six months. That stinks.

Just so you know, Archie and I have been best friends since he was 8 weeks old. He is my soulmate dog. He’s slept under the covers next to me nearly every night of his life. When he was a puppy, I used to get up three times a night, bundle him into the elevator, and take him out to the backyard of our Vancouver high-rise. Bleary eyed, I protected the little fellow from owls as he wobbled around the yard, looking for a perfect spot to pee.

Jack Russell Terrier Vancouver BC

Vancouver, Canada

With 20 countries under his belt, Archie is quite the traveler too.

He has swum in the Pacific, the Aegean, the Adriatic, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Sea of Marmara. He has frolicked in Lake Como, chased cats in Istanbul, strolled the cobblestoned lanes of Germany, marked cypress trees in Italy, and bathed in hot springs on an ancient Greek battlefield. He’s streaked across the D-Day beaches of Normandy, cruised the canals of Amsterdam, hiked the Swiss Alps, played fetch in the pine forests of Croatia, and taught the apes of Gibraltar that a Jack Russell Terrier never backs down.

He is a terrific travel buddy—always game for any adventure, as long as he’s with his family—and exploring the world won’t be the same without him.

Oren Turkey traveling dog

Ören, Turkey

A request

I considered turning off comments on this post. Your good wishes are appreciated, but I’ll ask everyone to resist making treatment suggestions or recommendations. Our research is done, our decisions have been made.

Life isn’t about dying, it’s about living, and that’s what Archie is going to do. As soon as we can arrange it, we’re moving Archie and ourselves to the beach. There he can play in the surf, chase gulls, terrorize crabs, snooze in the sunshine, and live large, as  befits a Jack Russell Terrier. We want to enjoy the time we have left together.

By the way, just because we are choosing a path of acceptance, doesn’t mean we aren’t still hoping for a miracle. Please keep us in your thoughts.

Chapala, Mexico

Chapala, Mexico

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Click here to read more about oral canine melanoma.

We have added a PayPal button to the top right of this page for those who have asked how to contribute to Sophie’s rescue expenses or Archie’s vet bills. Thank you so much for your support. We’re hoping to get Archie to the beach ASAP, and every little bit helps.

Thermopylae hot springs

Thermopylae, Greece

{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michelle Sevigny March 9, 2014 at 10:09 am

Oh no. Tears are flowing here. I’ve been so thinking of you all this past month and I’m so saddened to hear this news. The initial time post-diagnosis is a whirlwind of life lessons all having to be compressed into a very short time. I’m sad. And yet, I think, “how so freaking lovely that you guys spent all those years travelling with Archie!!” It really brings it all to the core, enjoying the moment. My Monty was given a 3 month prognosis too and surprised everyone with enjoying the next 3 YEARS. We just never know, moment by moment is all we can do. Your whole family and your travels is the best example of that life lesson. My heart space includes Archie now too… hugs to him!!

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2 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Thank you so much, Michelle. I think of Monty often, and that extra time you had with him is sustaining me now. Hugs back to you.

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3 Tiffany Fite March 9, 2014 at 10:23 am

Oh Renee, I am sorry to read this. My thoughts are with you all.

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4 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:52 pm

Thank you, Tiffany. Appreciated…

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5 Karin March 9, 2014 at 10:51 am

As much as I’ve loved your posts about traveling and raising Scout, photos and tales of Archie are what have brought me the most joy. My Parsons Russell terrier is my soul dog who loves the beach and tennis balls but mostly his pack of three humans. May your days beachside be most beautiful and special. You’ve offered him quite a time on this planet. May his special nature sustain you in the days, months, and years ahead even as your heart breaks open.

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6 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:52 pm

Thank you, Karin. You know, before we took off in 2011 I’d been planning to do a dog-travel blog and name it after Archie. I wish I had, because he is always my favorite thing to write about.

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7 Jackie Trueblood March 9, 2014 at 10:58 am

I sit here with tears because my heart is breaking for you and your family. You all are in our thoughts and prayers, and I know my fourth graders will be praying for you as well.

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8 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Thank you, Jackie. We appreciate that very much. Please tell the kids thanks and let them know I’ll be doing an update on Sophie shortly.

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9 Clélie March 9, 2014 at 10:59 am

Such sad news. Enjoy all the time you have with him. Living out his life on a beach with his people. My best love to you all.

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10 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Thanks, Clelie. We appreciate your donation to help with Sophie’s and Archie’s care. Indeed, we will treasure every day we have left.

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11 Connie March 9, 2014 at 11:02 am

I’m so, so sorry to hear your devastating news. I know exactly what you’re going through and my heart is breaking for you. Be positive, strong and just continue to make his life loved and lovely to the end. Big hugs for you all.

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12 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Thanks so much, Connie. Your good wishes mean a lot.

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13 Syd March 9, 2014 at 11:13 am

I think all of us can ask for at the end of our life, is that our time on earth is filled with love, happiness, and a sense of being cared for. Icing on the cake is knowing that we gave more pleasure than we received and that we had a hell of a good time doing that. Pretty sure that Archie has already accomplished that.

These dogs, give us so much love but can also break our heart. Best wishes for your family during this difficult time.

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14 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Thank you, Syd. Yes, despite all the sadness that lies ahead, Archie has enriched our lives more than I can express.

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15 Heidi Wagoner March 9, 2014 at 11:35 am

Oh Renee and family, I am sobbing. This hit home deeply for me, more than you know. We lost our dog a few years ago, at the young age of 6, with a similar story. We too tried to look for that miracle and in the end came to the same choice as you. We are thinking of you and hoping you all enjoy life together at the beach to the fullest.
Heidi Wagoner recently posted..What Happens When You Stop Living In The Moment?My Profile

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16 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Oh Heidi, I’m sorry to hear you’ve been through this too. Thanks for your kind message. You know, I was planning to bring Archie back to Spain so we could hike the Camino de Santiago together. But at least he’s had the chance to eat tapas in Seville and pee on the Sagrada Família…

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17 Alex March 9, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Dear Friend,
My thoughts and prayers go out to you. Adjusting to Archie’s passing will be shared by all of us who love you and your family. What a sweet little guy. Catch my hug.

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18 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:37 pm

Thank you so much, Alex. We could end up in your neck of the woods, so you might just get to meet my man Archie.

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19 Tonja DeGolier March 9, 2014 at 12:11 pm

I’m so, so sorry Renee.

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20 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Thanks, Tonja.

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21 Chris Slater March 9, 2014 at 12:34 pm

So sorry to read such shitty news about Archie. He sounds like an amazing dog, a real part of your family. He is lucky to have such a great family.

Hugs and thoughts,
Chris

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22 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:36 pm

He’s the best, Chris. :-) Thanks for reaching out.

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23 Travel with Kevin and Ruth March 9, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Tough time for any dog lover to be going through, and we’ve been there so we know exactly how you feel. But you’re making the right decision. And you’re right, it stinks.
Travel with Kevin and Ruth recently posted..Back in the Big Apple!My Profile

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24 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:35 pm

Thanks guys. I’m sorry to hear you’ve gone through it too.

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25 natasha March 9, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Where do I start Renee. I am obviously shocked to hear this. If it was not for Archie – you would not have written your book – and I would not have discovered you. I am sending out lots of positive energy to you and your family and Archie included. I admire your strength to face this situation though and hope that the time spent together from here on will help give you the courage to meet the inevitable. Play on little Archie – run – chase rats and always know that you are one IMMENSELY loved dog <3
natasha recently posted..Glamping with the Bushmen at Kagga Kamma Game ReserveMy Profile

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26 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Thanks, Natasha. I too am glad we connected and very much appreciate your keeping us in your thoughts. Hugs…

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27 Mardie & Family March 9, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Thinking of you all and wrapping you in a warm dog-hair filled hug. The beach sounds like a perfect solution. In the words of Isak Dinesen, “The cure for anything is salt water – tears, sweat, or the sea.” xoxo

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28 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Thanks, Mardie. I love that quote and will have to use it.

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29 Kim Norris March 9, 2014 at 12:59 pm

You have made a thoughtful, deliberate decision to let Archie live the rest of his days as he’s lived his life till this horrible turn of events. I applaud you for thinking about Archie’s life and happiness. No one can doubt your love and devotion to this amazing dog (The Most Interesting Dog In The World). My friend has a term for the kind of special relationship you have; she would say Archie is your “heart dog.” He will always be in your heart. Hugs and licks from us.

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30 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Kim, your help and guidance has been invaluable, especially while dealing with all this in Spanish. Thanks for helping me get to where I needed to be.

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31 Cathryn Haynes March 9, 2014 at 1:37 pm

So sorry. Just let Archie be his Jack Russell self! They are little fighters!!

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32 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Thanks, Cathryn. Yes, Archie will leave this life as a Jack Russell Terrier…not as a patient.

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33 BONNIE HARRIS March 9, 2014 at 1:56 pm

So terribly sorry to hear the news about Archie. Having gone through cancer twice in two dogs and one cat. The One thing I wished I had done differently was exactly what you are doing. Let him enjoy his life with you, you have given him one of the best dog lives possible. The gift dogs give us is teaching us to live in the moment.

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34 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:05 pm

Oh, Bonnie. I can’t imagine going through this three times. Hugs to you. Thanks for sharing your regrets regarding treatment. I know my decision is correct, but still, your perspective is helpful.

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35 Cheri L. March 9, 2014 at 2:50 pm

I am so saddened to hear this. You and your family are in my prayers.

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36 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Thanks, Cheri. We appreciate it.

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37 CarolB March 9, 2014 at 3:39 pm

So sorry to heard your sad news, enjoy your time by the sea, wonderful memories. Thinking of you at this difficult time x

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38 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Thank you, Carol.

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39 Bobby Tillotson March 9, 2014 at 4:46 pm

So sorry, I recently went through the same thing with my beautiful Margo of 10 years. She spent many months with me traveling in Mexico and all over the south from Marfa to Alabama. You have done the right thing. We had Margo in a trial at Texas A&M vet school, didn’t work.

We tried chemo, it was horrible. So glad you shared
Cheers to your baby
Bobby

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40 Renee March 9, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Thank you, Bobby. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your sharing Margo’s experiences in the trial and with chemo. What we’re doing isn’t easy, but I feel it’s right. Condolences about Margo. You must miss her terribly.

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41 Andrew March 9, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Such sad news Renee, Archie has had some fantastic adventures and you’ve been so lucky to have had each other. We hope his last months are as happy for him as the rest have been.
Andrew recently posted..Laos Travel Costs for Six WeeksMy Profile

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42 Amy March 9, 2014 at 7:28 pm

So sorry to hear this Renee, it must be so hard but try and enjoy these last precious months with Archie – you’re lucky to have such a cool, fearless dog.
Amy recently posted..One Year of Travel – Nomadic Life and Searching for HomeMy Profile

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43 Renee March 9, 2014 at 9:12 pm

He’s the best! Cheers, Amy.

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44 Tina March 9, 2014 at 7:53 pm

I wish I’d made your choice. When my dog was diagnosed with cancer I was told there was a one in three chance of the tumour being benign so we opted for painful, expensive surgery. In the end we gained only weeks and my poor dog suffered through surgery and a painful recovery. Even now, twelve years later, I’m crying at the thought of it. And I’ve never had the heart to buy another dog again.

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45 Renee March 9, 2014 at 8:54 pm

Oh, Tina. Your story breaks my heart. Hugs to you and thanks for sharing that experience with me. I understand your decision though. You were trying to buy more precious time with a loved one. I won’t pretend that I haven’t spent the last month considering other options…

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46 Manfred March 10, 2014 at 3:46 am

That’s so sad. My thoughts are with you. He looks so healthy and happy in the photos that it’s hard to believe.

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47 Renee March 11, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Thank you, Manfred. I know, I think it still hasn’t hit me yet, because he doesn’t seem sick. I can see the tumor though.

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48 Dawn March 10, 2014 at 5:54 am

My heart goes out to you and your family. How many dogs out there can say they’ve accumulated as many travel miles as Archie? He will continue to bring you smiles and laughter. Enjoy the rest of the time you have to share with him. If it wasn’t wasn’t for Archie (and your family), our decision to move abroad with our dog may not have happened. Thank you for helping us with that transition. Big hugs.

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49 Renee March 11, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Thank you so much, Dawn. Really? Archie helped inspire you to move abroad with your dog? Where are you? :-)

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50 Dawn March 14, 2014 at 6:02 am

We are currently in Budapest. Archie’s adventures made the move much easier for us to fly abroad with our dog, even though he’s flown many times across Canada. We were hesitant about which airline to go with, no layovers/one layover etc. and if it wasn’t for your blog post on Archie’s travels, the move would’ve been more nerve wracking. Thank you again.

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51 Renee March 14, 2014 at 9:09 am

Wow, I’m so glad to hear that Archie was an inspiration. :-) Thanks for sharing that and best of luck in Budapest. We never made it to Hungary but hope to get there on our next trip.

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52 Cat March 10, 2014 at 7:32 am

I am so sorry to read your news of Archie. :( I have loved and lost many dogs, and I know it is never easy. These pups become a part of the family and it is heartbreaking when you lose one. You just have to tell yourself that your precious little Archie has had the best life ever with you, your hubby and Scout and Sophie too. Love and big (((((hugs))))) to all of you.

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53 Renee March 11, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Thanks, Cat.

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54 stevie March 10, 2014 at 8:02 am

My heart is with you. I totally get it….the soulmate dog, the decision, the acceptance, and, mostly, the enormous love you share with Archie. I feel the same way about Kiki and am also staring down the final chapter of her life.

Much love to you, your beautiful family, and Archie–the wondrous, world-traveling dog.

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55 Renee March 11, 2014 at 8:53 pm

Thanks so much, Stevie. How’s Kiki doing these days?

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56 Kate I March 10, 2014 at 8:03 am

I’m so sorry to read here about Archie. I had a similar experience with my Sheltie many years ago…the lump grew in his nose. We’re never prepared to say goodbye to our soul friends.

You mentioned that you would be looking for a place on the beach to enjoy this time with Archie and I’m not sure if you have a place in mind but thought I’d mention the small town of San Pancho (San Francisco on the map) about 25 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. We’ve stayed in many of the beach communities on the coast from Barra de Navidad up to Rincon de Guayabitos on Jaltemba Bay and San Pancho is by far our favourite. It’s small, with a wonderful sense of community. The one thing that I really like about it is that unlike many Mexicans towns, there are many, many trees in the village which give it a lovely feeling. The woman who started the community centre here (Entre Amigos) just received an award from the Dalai Lama two weeks ago! The tourists will start leaving in the next couple of weeks which always makes the rental accommodation more affordable. We’re here right now but returning home on Saturday (I’m from Vancouver Island). Best wishes for finding the perfect place for this time spent with Archie.

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57 tonja degolier March 10, 2014 at 3:13 pm

I love San Pancho, too, as well as Sayulita which is very close and a bit larger. :)

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58 Julie March 10, 2014 at 10:17 am

I know I don’t comment much, but we follow your adventures. And we have pets, too. Animals live in the moment, and what amazing moments Archie has had and will have with you all. I’m certain your decision is the correct one for you all. Good thoughts embracing you all.

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59 Renee March 14, 2014 at 9:10 am

Julie, thank you so much.

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60 Bill D'Antoni March 10, 2014 at 6:36 pm

So sorry to hear the bad news about Archie! Our hearts go out to u all. Hugs to u all. Enjoy the time with him at the beach. I know he will! Your compassion is showing. Lol! Love y’all!

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61 Renee March 14, 2014 at 9:10 am

Thanks, Bill. Appreciate it…

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62 Marjie March 11, 2014 at 7:28 pm

Renee, I have been thinking of Archie and your family for days since I’ve read your blog. (I can picture him on all the travels he’s been on with you and thought his adventures would be such a cute book.) I am very sorry for everything you guys are going through, and my heart is heavy. I will be keeping you & Archie in my prayers. ~ Marjie

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63 Paz March 12, 2014 at 12:43 pm

I am so sorry about Archie. He is lucky to have found such a wonderful family and I am so happy that you both have brought such joy to each other’s life. Thank you for sharing your story.
Paz recently posted..Road Schooling – One month UpdateMy Profile

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64 Renee March 12, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Thank you, Paz. Yes, Archie has enriched our lives immeasurably, and we have given him the best life a dog could have, something we will continue to do until his last day on this earth.

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65 Christina Brock March 13, 2014 at 9:57 pm

It’s hard to say the words, because then they’re real. I had one day with Ben after his diagnoses, there was nothing I could have done to save him and that’s the toughest part to accept. That was the saddest 24hrs of my life. I know your pain and I am so sorry – xo

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66 Renee March 14, 2014 at 9:07 am

Christina, that’s it exactly. I didn’t want to write it and make it real. But after about a month it became obvious even to me.

What happened with Ben? That sounds so painful. I’m sorry.

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67 Nancy Sathre-Vogel March 17, 2014 at 11:50 am

Oh Renee, I am so sorry. Archie has been such a big part of your life for so long, he will leave a huge hole when he goes. Give him the best life you can, and then let him go.
Nancy Sathre-Vogel recently posted..Avoiding burnout: Finding your pace during long term travelMy Profile

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68 Renee March 17, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Thank you, Nancy. Truthfully I can’t even remember life before Archie.

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69 Rhonda March 18, 2014 at 4:54 pm

My heart is breaking for you! Having had to put a beloved rescue dog down not so long ago after just 3 amazing years together was one of the hardest days of my life and I still can’t say her name without bursting into tears. Although I have had several dogs over the years, Maddy was the one who changed everything for me by her complete and total certainty that we were HER family. We now have two fantastic new rescues to keep us company, but she will remain dear to my heart forever (I even had her paw print from that final vet visit tattooed on my foot and my husband had both paws tattooed on his calf). Dogs are such an integral part of our lives and I am so sorry that you are losing Archie so soon. Keep him happy and know he loves you too.
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70 Daidri | Thee Getaway Gal June 6, 2014 at 11:57 am

Hi Renee,

I just stumbled on your blog today from Google and have enjoyed reading a couple of your posts. This one especially touched my heart as I have also experienced getting the news that our dog had cancer a few years ago. Unfortunately he passed away yet I feel fortunate that we had so many years with him. Our pets, no matter how long they are with us, are a huge part of our families and it’s not easy to know they are sick. I’m so sorry all of you will go through this, it’s never easy. Archie will be in my thoughts!
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71 Renee June 6, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Welcome, Daidri, and thanks. Archie & I appreciate it!

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72 Renee June 13, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Thank you so much, Daidri. I’m sorry for your loss but appreciate your understanding. Archie is hanging in there but he’s due to go to the vet. I think he has pulmonary tumors now. :-(

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