Mind Over Miller: Rosie

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Jan 01, 2003



My wife, Debby, and I have owned many dogs during our 46 years of marriage, and they've all been Australian shepherds. We've often had two, and sometimes three, at any given time.

The name of the breed, incidentally, is a misnomer. It should be the California stock dog. The breed originated in California as descendants of Basque herding dogs that arrived in California during the Gold Rush. They came with their Basque herders and shiploads of sheep from Australia— hence, the name Australian shepherd. Australians are often miffed at the name, because it is inaccurate, and they are justifiably proud of their own stock dogs, such as the kelpie and the Queensland heeler.

All our dogs have been good dogs. Someone once said that a person is entitled to one great dog in a lifetime. Well, we've had three. Two are long gone, but the third is Rosie.

Rosie is beloved. She doesn't have the work ethic of our preceding great dogs, but she is still very special, extremely intelligent, and supremely kind. She also has the most powerful smile I have ever known in a dog.

Now, a lot of dogs smile. We've had several. It's supposed to be an expression of submission. But Rosie doesn't smile in submission. She smiles to communicate. She has three smiles. One is her Elvis smile, restricted to one side of her upper lip. It means "Hi!"

Then there is her questioning smile, involving a display of just the incisors. People who don't know dogs often duck out of the way, mistaking it for a snarl.

Finally, there is the full-mouth smile that exposes the entire arcade, including all her molars—you know, like Julia Roberts. This smile, the most extreme I've seen in a dog, means "I love you, I've missed you, I haven't seen you since bedtime last night, and life is wonderful and filled with joy."

We have raised litters of pups in the past, and I know we should have bred Rosie just to spread her genes around. There are lots of good dogs around, but great dogs are scarce.

However, we got Rosie after I retired from practice and found myself in an unplanned full-time lecture career. We haven't been home long enough at a stretch to raise and train a litter like we used to. So last year when she was 9, I finally spayed Rosie. I'll regret that decision for the rest of my life.

Half a year after neutering her, we found that Rosie had a highly invasive anal sac adenocarcinoma, with metastases. My wife and I wept. We have never lost a dog prematurely. They have all been 14 years of age or older. Rosie was not yet 10.

A friend and colleague, Dr. Jim Felts, insisted on surgically excising the primary tumor, and another long-time friend, Dr. Alice Villalobos, prescribed a course of immunostimulants and nutraceuticals for Rosie. An oncologist suggested that Rosie receive a long-term course of piroxicam, an NSAID that has been found to have some anticancer properties.

Half a year later, Rosie has never looked or felt better. There has been no palpable recurrence at the original tumor site. One of my former practice associates, Dr. Sean McCormack, recently performed an abdominal ultrasonographic examination on Rosie, and the metastases were static.

I now can identify with the many clients in years past who were grateful to me for extending the life of a treasured pet. Every day we have with this dear creature is cherished, yet we know that someday, soon, we will lose her. Lately, the words of an old country song about a man remembering his childhood friend, Old Shep, have been going through my mind. The last stanza goes something like this:

Old Shep has gone where the good doggies go, And no more with Old Shep will I roam. But if dogs go to heaven, there's one thing I know, Old Shep has a wonderful home.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his Web site at http://www.robertmmiller.com/.