September 6th, 2017


Boston, and Various Less Important Things

My dog, Boston, is dying.

Boston and my cat, Stardust, had their annual vet appointment three weeks ago, on Saturday, August 12. Stardust continues to weigh more than ever each year; she's now 14 and a half pounds but seems healthy aside from being rather rounder than the vet would prefer. Boston weighed 52 pounds, which was exactly the same as she had weighed every year for the past five years. However, Boston needed to be scheduled for getting her teeth cleaned, and because she's getting old and has had urinary incontinence for the past year, the vet wanted to do blood tests and a urine culture on her first to make sure she didn't have any health conditions that might make it dangerous to anesthetize her for dental work. Well, the blood test results came back showing elevated liver enzymes. The vet said sometimes dogs just have temporarily elevated liver enzymes because they ate some bad food or something, but it could also be a sign of something more serious, like Cushing's syndrome (although if that were the issue, Boston would likely be overweight, which she wasn't) or liver tumors (although if that were the issue, Boston would likely be losing weight, which she wasn't). Although Boston had no other symptoms, Boston's age (which is uncertain, but she is at least eleven and a half) made the vet more inclined to suspect serious health problems, so she wanted to do an ultrasound on Boston to check for liver tumors.

Well, this past Saturday, September 2, I brought Boston in for her ultrasound. When I checked her in, the receptionist asked me to weigh her again, on the same scale I had weighed her on exactly three weeks earlier. I was shocked to find that Boston weighed only 46 pounds this time. When we got in to see the vet, the vet asked me whether Boston had been eating less than usual or more than usual. I said, well, in the past she has usually left a bit of food uneaten in her dish every day - that is why her weight has been perfectly stable for years, because she always eats just exactly the amount she needs to eat and leaves any excess in her dish - but lately she has been eating all the food in her dish. The vet wrote that down, and we waited in line for an ultrasound (there were two other dogs who needed to go ahead of us because they were getting ultrasounds as part of preparation for surgery). I didn't get to go with Boston for the ultrasound, but when the veterinary assistants brought her back out to me, they said she was extremely eager to return to me. Then Boston and I were called back in to talk to the vet again.

The vet said that Boston has a liver tumor that is "larger than a softball but smaller than a volleyball." There is only one tumor, not multiple tumors, so it may not be cancer, but it is still going to kill her, because it is reducing her liver function and pressing up against her gall bladder. The vet said it might or might not be possible to surgically remove the tumor, but even if the tumor were surgically removed, it would be likely to grow back. Also, the vet said that one of her own dogs had a similar liver tumor, definitely benign in her case, at about the same age as Boston, and the vet had her dog's tumor surgically removed, but the dog died a year later anyway - not from the tumor, but from other old-age health problems. Surgery for Boston, if it is even possible at all, would be expensive and unpleasant for Boston and would also run some risk of killing Boston, because it is dangerous to anesthetize her when her liver isn't working right and therefore might not process the anesthetic adequately.

I said, very slowly, "My . . first . . . inclination . . . is . . . not . . . to . . . intervene . . . because . . . she is an old dog . . . and it might not prolong her life all that much . . ."

The vet seemed to find that an entirely reasonable decision. She let me know that if I want to consult with a surgeon to discuss whether or not it's even possible to remove a tumor that is so large and so closely pressed up against so many vital organs, she can certainly make an appointment for me to discuss it, but even if it is possible to remove it, it could easily end up just causing Boston suffering and not prolonging her life significantly. So I am pretty sure I am going to just to let Boston live out her remaining life without attempting any surgical interventions.

The vet said Boston is still feeling pretty good right now and doesn't realize she's sick, although I assume she probably realizes she's been hungry lately. The vet advised me to just let her eat as much food as she wants from now on, because the tumor will cause her to need a lot of food. Also, Boston does not have to get her teeth cleaned after all, because anesthetizing her would be unsafe, and because she isn't going to live long enough for her teeth to start bothering her. The vet thinks she won't live more than a year and could die as soon as within a couple of months. I'm just supposed to keep an eye on her and see if she still seems to be enjoying life, and when she no longer seems able to enjoy life anymore, then I should bring her in to be euthanized.

It was a great stroke of good luck that her annual vet visit happened to fall when it did and happened to lead to the blood tests that it did, because if the timing had been any different, Boston could have lost an even more devastating amount of weight before I even realized anything was wrong. The fact that she lost 11.5% of her body weight in only three weeks gives me the sense that this tumor could kill her incredibly fast.

I have a lot of feelings about this. I'm extremely upset, but also pretty sure that I'm not nearly as devastated as I would be if it were Stardust who was dying. I never set out to be a dog owner, and I've never felt I'm really cut out for solo dog ownership. I've just been muddling through it because Boston was very tolerant of my failings and I figured that despite my failings, Boston is probably better off with me than she would be with a whole bunch of bickering other dogs in my creepy ex's household. I will never be a dog person, and I'm not at all sure I will ever own a dog again, but to the extent that any dog can ever be right for me, I think Boston has been the right dog for me. But it just isn't the same as with Stardust, whom I intentionally set out to adopt, and fawned over and photographed obsessively from her earliest kittenhood and have generally felt pretty confident that I was an ideal match for.

Boston apparently spent the earliest known years of her life being abused by dogfighters. She was brought in to one vet's office twice to be sewn back together after having been very badly torn up by other dogs. The second time she was brought in to the same vet's office in such bad condition, the vet told the owner that he had to give Boston up or else they would report him to the SPCA for dogfighting. (I'm not sure why the vet's office couldn't do both, but I guess this way the owner still agreed to pay for having Boston sewed back together again.) The story as I heard it, or the best guess at the story, although I'm not sure how such things are guessed at, is that Boston was probably not particularly being trained for dogfighting herself, but rather was being offered up to the owner's other dogs as a practice victim, badly outnumbered and outmatched and set up in advance to badly lose every fight. In any case, it was not a good life for her, and although her fur hides her scars well, I'm told that her whole body is heavily crisscrossed by scars under her fur. My ex, Susan, saw her after the second surgery and said she had a ton of stitches everywhere. Also, for as long as I've known Boston, one of Boston's ears has had very limited range of motion because of injuries - her right ear is frequently perked up, but her left ear can't perk up and only swivels from back to front.

Anyway, a vet tech at the vet's office that confiscated Boston from the dogfighting owner brought Boston home to recover from surgery. Then the vet tech asked Susan to watch Boston for a few days, because the vet tech lived next door to Susan and was in the process of moving to a new address. And then the vet tech apparently just skipped town and never came back to pick Boston up. Less than two months later, Susan started dating me, and Susan said she wasn't really bonding with Boston. So Boston bonded with me instead. And then when Susan finished wasting six years of my life and getting me into major financial entanglements like buying a house together while assuring me that she regarded us as being already "as good as married" despite the lack of legal recognition and yet then sneaking around behind my back with another woman . . . then she said, oh, Boston wouldn't get along well with this other woman's dogs, so I would have to keep Boston. And then a few months later it apparently struck her that maybe dumping Boston on me wasn't very considerate (a remarkable breakthrough since it doesn't seem to have ever struck her that sneaking around behind my back with another woman wasn't very considerate, or that moving in practically next door to me with that other woman a few months later wasn't very considerate - but perhaps she is more able to comprehend the importance of considering Boston's rights and needs than the importance of considering mine), so she offered to take Boston. But there was no reason to believe Boston's chances of getting along with the other woman's dogs had suddenly improved any, and Boston seemed happy enough to stay where she was, so I kept Boston.

The thing is, Boston hasn't ever been really intentionally adopted as a pet by anyone in her life. Boston was adopted by a dog-fighter to be a practice victim rather than a pet. She was confiscated by a vet's office and a vet tech took her home for a while but then dumped her on Susan. Susan kept her for longer but then dumped her on me. And I've kept her the longest of anyone in her life. And yet I never set out to be a sole owner of a dog, and I do not consider myself particularly good at being the sole owner of a dog, and I do not consider myself a dog person.

Boston has suffered through an awful lot of rotten luck in her life. I do think, however, that if she would talk, she would say that I have given her a pretty good life. And I would say in return that she has been a pretty good dog, the best dog for me personally that I am ever likely to find. I just have never been so confident that I was the best person she could have found. But I was the best person she actually did find, and I guess that has been enough in Boston's eyes.

While writing this I managed to work myself into an hour-long shrieking-and-sobbing-at-the-top-of-my-lungs fit, to the point that even Stardust eventually got concerned (Stardust is not at all the kind of cat to whom concern for others comes easily) and started meowing questioningly at me and eventually even came over and jumped on the bed and rubbed against me a little, although it must be said that since she stayed only just barely within arm's reach and then left entirely after less than ten minutes, she does not get particularly high marks for her rather half-hearted attempt at comforting me. Then I thought that surely Boston herself could probably hear me from outside and was probably concerned for me herself, so I went to the back door and turned on the light to look out. But Boston is lying stretched out on the lawn, not more than fifteen feet from where I was shrieking but seemingly oblivious. She didn't even move when I turned on the light. Well, I've had the sense that her hearing hasn't been particularly good for the past year or so, so she might simply be able to sleep through any noise these days. And I gave her a big, fancy meal of canned dog food a couple of hours ago, so maybe she needs to sleep that off.

I guess that is enough to write about Boston and her impending death for now. There were other things I wanted to write about. It's just that that one kind of superseded the others. Hmm.

My lodger moved back in yesterday, after a month away at her boyfriend's house while recovering from knee surgery. When I told Barry she was moving back in, he said, sounding slightly surprised, "So the arrangement is working for you, then?" And I said basically yes, it's working well enough. She's very polite, and when she's working the night shift as she'll be doing for the foreseeable future now, I hardly even see her, so having her here doesn't really have much effect on me other than me needing to leave some space for her in the refrigerator and freezer, give up a room in the house to her, and be quiet during the daytime - though I would pretty much always be quiet during the daytime anyway, since why would I have any reason to be loud when there's no one here to talk to? (Well, it's good she wasn't home during my crying fit, though.) She is not much company, but she is polite and causes no problems and pays rent, so I have nothing to complain about.

I spent Labor Day weekend at Barry's house. I brought the Labyrinth board game that he gave me for my birthday, and we played it for the first time. It is a cooperative game for 1 to 4 players; since we were playing the 2-player version, we each played two characters. I played Sarah and Ludo, while Barry played Hoggle and Sir Didymus. Our goal was to rescue Sarah's little brother, Toby, from Jareth, the Goblin King. Mostly it involved an awful lot of dice-rolling, trying to defeat various obstacles that the Goblin King placed in our path by rolling higher numbers with our own dice than with the Goblin King's dice. I thought this made for rather dull game play, but I do have to acknowledge that it was very faithful to the movie. I did at one point draw a card that required Barry to quiz me on the call-and-response lyrics to the David Bowie song "Magic Dance":

Barry: You remind me of the babe.
Me: What babe?
Barry: The babe with the power.
Me: What power?
Barry: The power of voodoo.
Me: Who do?
Barry: You do.
Me: Do what?
Barry: Remind me of the babe.
I passed, and eventually we defeated the Goblin King together - well, all of us except Hoggle, one of Barry's characters who fell into the Bog of Eternal Stench partway through the game and smelled bad forever after and therefore couldn't stay with the rest of the group. So Hoggle lagged behind, but it didn't matter, because the rest of us defeated the Goblin King and rescued Toby. Barry asked what I wanted my little brother back for anyway. I said, well, Barry is a little brother too. Perhaps I just had to defeat the Goblin King to get Barry.

We also played Code Names: Duet for the first time. And also for the second, third, fourth, fifth . . . perhaps ten times? It didn't take long to play, and we kept losing, so we kept playing again in hopes that we would eventually win. It is a cooperative game, so the only options were that we could both lose or we could both win. We eventually gave up without ever winning. The game is played with a bunch of cards that have words on them, and each player has to give one-word clues to try to get the other player to spot the randomly assigned winning words. We both had trouble coming up with good one-word clues or guessing each other's one-word clues, but in the final couple of games I was particularly bad at it. Barry gave me "accelerator" as a clue to try to get me to guess two cards reading "floor" and "coast," but I wasn't thinking of those meanings of "floor" or "coast," so instead I guessed "memory" (a memory accelerator is a computer thing, you can Google it) and "break" (because it is pronounced the same way as "brake" and I thought Barry might be intentionally playing with homonyms). And then, in the final game, I gave "annoying" as a clue because I wanted Barry to guess four cards reading "salad," "troll," "quack," and "hit," but I overlooked the fact that two other cards reading "sand" and "volume" could also be readily classified as "annoying" and both would cause us to lose the game immediately. Barry's first guess was "sand," so we lost.

I planted some more plants at Barry's house - another purple tree collard to go with the existing two, a couple of new strawberry plants, a new type of native sunflower, a small native checkermallow, and a native scarlet beardtongue. And I harvested the ripe chili peppers from the 'Super' chili pepper plant I planted there. Barry was afraid to eat the chili peppers because they're supposed to be so hot, so I suggest dehydrating them and powdering them to use as seasoning. Barry dehydrated them in his toaster oven and then powdered them with a mortar and pestle, and I transferred the resulting powder into a spice jar. It didn't end up being a very large amount of powder, but I suppose it doesn't need to be. I also noticed that one of Barry's tomato plants has small green fruits on it, and there is a honeydew melon plant in bloom, and a couple of pumpkin plants in bloom.

Barry said he was annoyed with a sunflower plant that was blocking the passage around the corner of his house. I had already chopped down one of its stems in July to clear the passage, but a new stem had fallen into the way since then. I told him he could feel free to chop the plant down himself. He went and got a sword from his garage and started to swordfight it. "This probably isn't the most effective tool," he noted, which was a huge understatement, "but it's a fun tool!" Boston and I watched the show with amusement. After the fight was over, I got out a proper pruning tool and used it to neaten up the remains.

Barry did quite a praiseworthy job of producing new and interesting dinners while I was in a weekend-long "I have no idea what kind of food I might want to eat right now" funk. On one of the days, I brought him some herbs from the garden - basil, oregano, thyme, and sage - and he made them into a scrambled-egg sandwich (well, he omitted the sage because he said it didn't fit).

We finished watching Battlestar Galactica on Saturday and started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Sunday. We've both seen Star Trek: The Next Generation before, but it and Star Trek: Deep Space Nineare the only two Star Trek TV series that we haven't yet watched together, with each other. We also talked about new shows to watch. I'm a bit frustrated by the long wait for new episodes of several shows we've been watching - Transparent, Humans, and Sense8 - although with Sense8, we already know that all the new material we'll ever get is one finale to somehow wrap up all the loose plot threads from the canceled show. Barry is interested in starting to watch The Tick, and I am interested in watching at least one episode of Steven Universe.

Also I watched while Barry started playing Uncharted: The Lost Legacy on his Playstation. He had been saving it to play it while I was there to watch, as I also watched him play Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Although I wouldn't call its script great literature, it is pretty good as video game storytelling goes. First of all, the storyline is centered around two women, and the art depicts them as normal humans rather than exaggerated sex objects, and they have individual personalities with character development. This video game totally passes the Bechdel test! On the other hand, the wildly unrealistic game mechanics still have these women perpetually narrowly escaping death by grabbing onto cliffs and ledges, supporting their entire body weight with one hand while also bleeding from numerous bullet wounds. It's not at all believable, but it's the same way the male characters are portrayed, so hey, at least it's not sexist.

Oh, and I introduced Barry to Craigslistlieder and Facsimile for Flute and Lawyer, two musical compositions of which performances are available on YouTube. I learned about both of them via dcjaywalk's LiveJournal.

Also I got to wear two brand-new dresses for the first time. One is red and white, and the other - the one I like best - is pink and yellow plaid. Barry called the pink and yellow plaid one my "Starburst dress" and said that looking at me in it made him think of a pack of Starburst candy. I think this is a fine effect for me to have. (It's this dress, but with sleeves.)

So that was this past weekend. In addition to this past weekend, I still need to write about the past two visits before then. Barry was away for two weekends, visiting his brother in Austin and then selling his lasersmith wares at Gen Con in Indianapolis. He returned home on August 18 and promptly came over to my house the next day. I spent pretty much all of August working on creating and lasagna mulching new flower beds in my front yard for several hours each night after dark when it got cool enough for me to be able to work, and I did not make an exception that night - I told Barry I would be digging for several hours during his visit, and he could join me or not, as he liked. He did join me for a little over an hour, and did some very fast digging, much faster than mine, but then he exhausted himself and had to go inside and lie down.

On the following weekend, he stayed at his house without me on Saturday to have a board-game party for the most exciting of the new games he bought at Gen Con, Twilight Imperium 4. I had been considering participating in the game, but I had too much work to do, so I stayed at my own house. Barry came to my house after the game and stayed through Monday evening. Once again, after the sun went down each night, I spent several hours digging and placing cardboard for my new flower beds. This time around, though, I found ways to make better use of Barry's talents by asking him to spend that time doing other outdoor tasks that I didn't know how to do myself. He fixed a whole bunch of my sprinkler heads that had stopped rising or swiveling or spraying properly, and he fixed my back gate latch in which the screws had been perpetually re-loosening themselves for years. He repositioned the latch to stop putting unsustainable pressure on the screws. The result looks a little odd, but it works much better than before.

At one point while Barry was here, Stardust curled up next to me on my living-room couch and was very cute, until I made the mistake of trying to pet her. This turned out to be not at all acceptable to her, and she immediately ran away. I asked Barry whether he ever has this problem with his cats. He said no, he only has the problem that when Jazz is curled up adorably next to him and he tries to pet her, she becomes determined to climb onto his lap when he doesn't want her there. He then questioned whether Stardust is really my cat. She is definitely my cat, but she only tends to show it in negative ways. For example, although she has taken to Barry infinitely better than she ever took to Susan (because she is a cat of fine judgment, clearly), one of the times when Barry picked her up during this visit, Stardust was not in the mood and made her displeasure known. Barry hastily put her down and remarked regretfully that that interaction had not gone well. I said that when I have an interaction with her that doesn't go well, I have to watch out for my ankles afterward, because usually the moment I put her down while she's in an angry mood, she will turn and chase me around the room, tackling my ankles and biting at them. She's not sure enough of Barry yet to tackle his ankles. She only bites at his fingers when she's sitting above his head, looking down at him from atop a tall bookcase. This is how I know she's my cat: because I am the one she's most comfortable attacking. Well, at least she doesn't pee on my stuff or intentionally wake me up early like Jazz does to Barry. She has some redeeming qualities.

Stardust is getting old. Boston is probably about the same age as Stardust but has apparently about finished getting old. Jazz is actually the oldest of any of them, by quite a bit, but I guess she's likely to outlive Boston. What is a tumor "larger than a softball but smaller than a volleyball" doing in Boston's liver? Doesn't it know that it's not wanted or needed there? What is the deal with liver tumors in general? Liver tumors killed David Bowie. Now one of them is going to kill Boston, too? I want to get a voodoo doll shaped like a tumor and stick pins in it to cause harm to tumors. I don't know what else to do.

Here is Boston in Barry's yard on Sunday, next to the remains of the sunflower that Barry defeated in a swordfight. With, as always, one ear unable to perk up. Boston is eleven and a half, or possibly somewhat older; I don't know how long she lived with the dogfighting owner, only that she was an adult when she was rescued from there. Usually vets estimate adult animals' ages by their teeth. Boston's teeth were already terrible when she was rescued, but it seems unlikely she could have survived for all that long there, so her teeth (and the rest of her) may have been prematurely aged by the extreme stress. Anyway, she is at least eleven and a half, and probably not all that much older. She is a good doggie.

Boston in Barry's yard, September 2017
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