At first, I did not realize there was a problem. "Have you seen this sore on his foot?" the groomer asked during a routine nail clipping. She proceeded to show me a nickel-sized red spot on the big pad of his right hind leg. Had he scraped his foot? Festus is hard on his feet, more so than other dogs. When he was a puppy, his right front leg was amputated. As a 3-legged dog, his gait has resulted in thick pads on the bottoms of his feet, pads that take a pounding as he walks.
I made an appointment at the vet's office. The veterinarian also assumed that he had skinned his foot. An antibiotic was prescribed to avoid infection. I was instructed to wrap the foot, to keep it clean. I followed instructions for a few weeks and it seemed somewhat better. This was most likely wishful thinking because, after a little while longer, it was undeniable that the sore was getting bigger. Now it was the size of a quarter and taking up the whole pad. It hurt him, too. Festus was not allowing me to bandage it anymore without complaining.
Back to the vet's. This time, after a full examination, the doctor seemed suspicious that it might be something more than a sore. She recommended doing a biopsy to see if, perhaps, it was an ulcerated growth. My gut (and, again, wishful thinking) told me it was merely a sore and I felt reluctant to approve the costly biopsy. But, the wound was not getting any better. We had to do something.
A week later, the call came. I was fully prepared to hear that the results of the biopsy were negative and that I had just wasted $500 on a meaningless test. "It is malignant," I was told. The doctor then proceeded to explain some options. I interrupted: "Wait ... what? What did you say about the results?" I was so unprepared that I did not hear it correctly.
Festus has a form of cancer that is very rare. Not much is known about it or how to treat it. For other dogs, amputation is an option, but, for Festus, this is not feasible. The doctor gave three other suggestions: (1) consult an oncologist, (2) leave it untreated and make him as comfortable as possible, and (3) consider euthanizing him if his quality of life is suffering.
Festus is a special dog, genuinely unique. He is more than a pet. Festus is a certified therapy dog who has visited hospitals on a weekly basis for years. Until this problem with his foot surfaced, he visited a physical rehabilitation hospital where he provides hope to other amputees, and a children's hospital where he is a regular celebrity. Festus' indomitable spirit is an inspiration for hundreds – or possibly thousands – of people. I often hear, "If he can do it, I can do it" or "I will work harder on my exercises now that I have met him."
How could we give up on a dog whose very message is to never give up?
A visit to the oncologist confirmed that the cancer was indeed unusual. We did some more tests and felt fairly certain that the cancer had not spread. She conferred with a surgeon and together they came up with one more option: the center pad of his foot could be removed (hopefully, along with the cancer), and another pad from his foot could be moved to replace it. Again, three scenarios were given to me: (1) he would immediately feel better and we may have solved the problem, (2) we would have to deal with weeks or months of bandage replacement if it took a while to heal, or (3) it could be a failure. There is no way to know with certainty what will happen.
The surgery is expensive. I want to do everything I can. I hate that finances could play into my decision-making. But this is a dilemma for many of us with pets – what do you do when you cannot afford a treatment, but that treatment may potentially save the life of your beloved animal?
I spoke with friends and colleagues about the situation. Many said, "Do whatever it takes. He is your baby." But I also heard, "It's just a dog. Don't feel guilty if you decide not to do anything." This is meant to be comforting, but all it did was further my resolve to go ahead with the surgery. I cannot afford it, but I will figure out how to pay for it later. Maybe hold a benefit? We will cross that bridge when the credit card bill comes in.
Festus was a stray puppy who endured horrible conditions. At three months old, he got trapped under some debris in an industrial park and chewed off his own paw to free himself. He lost a toe on his other front leg, lost a big chunk of his ear and endured a gash across his nose. He contracted pneumonia and an upper respiratory infection. He was found and brought to an animal shelter. After amputation, he eventually healed and was put up for adoption.
I knew that Festus would be the perfect therapy dog. His calm nature is soothing. Having three legs has never slowed him. He wears a collar with the words "Be Happy Be Happy Be Happy" printed on it. His name means "joyous" in Latin. Festus is a symbol of endurance.
The surgery is scheduled for this week.