This one is a heartbreaker. Sorry to do this to you on a Monday.
In early January a local rescue group in Louisiana had asked if we could take this dog they had named Fletcher. They had pulled him from their municipal shelter the day before he was going to be euthanized, just before Christmas. No other group would step up to help him.
The dog walked with a pronounced limp on his right front leg, seemed to be in pain, and had a terrible hair coat — as you can see from that flyer above that the shelter had put out.
They took him to their vet, who diagnosed the skin problem as a flea allergy — which promptly cleared up with a couple of medicated baths. The vet diagnosed the limp as from?a ruptured disc in Fletcher’s neck, and he saw other disc problems in X-rays of his spine. Fletcher looked and walked like a very elderly dog, but the vet thought he was only about 5 years old. Fletcher had endured a very rough life.
The vet’told the rescue group that the dog needed extensive medical work. They didn’t have the funds for it, and that’s when they contacted us.
In the meantime, their vet had prescribed pain meds and an anti-inflammatory to help make Fletcher more comfortable.
We agreed to take him, and got in touch with our pet transport company, TLC Pet Transport. TLC was able to get him on the schedule for a pick-up on January 26th. The rescue group had one of their foster home volunteers take Fletcher and care for him until our transport could get there.
On Friday, January 22nd, the rescue group leader and the foster took Fletcher back to their vet for another exam for his interstate health certificate for transport.
The TLC Pet Transport driver, Liz, got there as scheduled on the 26th to get Fletcher. A couple of hours into the trip, about 8 p.m. our time, Liz called me and asked, “Were you expecting this dog to be ambulatory?” I said, “What?!?” I told her we’d seen a video of him walking, he’d just had his health cert done, and no one had told us he wasn’t able to walk.
Liz said that when the foster handed Fletcher over to her, she mentioned that he had lost the use of his hind limbs in the past couple of days and had become?”grumpy.”
Liz told me that he seemed very painful and would snap at her when she tried to handle him. She said he would eat and drink out of her hand and would be fine, but when she tried to take him out of the crate for a potty break, he’d get snappy. She’d have to hold him up so he could pee. If she set him down on the grass on his feet, he’d crumple.
I immediately emailed the head of the rescue group, told her what I’d just learned, and asked her what was going on. She said this was news to her, and that when she’d seen Fletcher on Friday for his vet exam, he was walking around the exam room. I told her that if we’d known he had suddenly lost the use of his back legs, we would have told them to take him right back to the vet … and not send him?on a days-long transport to New Hampshire. She said she agreed, and I could tell she was upset by what had happened. As far as we can tell, the foster didn’t tell anyone else, and was apparently just hoping that whatever was wrong with Fletcher could be fixed when he got to us.
Early the next morning, I had an email from Liz on the road, saying “Please call me when you get up.”
She told me Fletcher had had a bad night and wasn’t sure what she should do. I had already emailed our veterinary surgeon, Dr. Kurt Schulz, about Fletcher earlier as a heads-up, so I called him with Liz’s update and to tell him I thought we should have Liz take him to a specialty hospital en route for immediate care. Given Fletcher’s condition, I knew he needed advanced veterinary care, with a board-certified surgeon and neurologist if possible.
He agreed, and within minutes online I found just what we needed: A 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital and specialty center in Richmond, Virginia called Dogwood Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center. It was right on Liz’s route, and as is it turned out, also where Liz lives! Dogwood not only has on their team every kind of specialist in veterinary medicine, but also an onsite MRI. I called Dogwood, explained our situation, spoke to one of their emergency room doctors, and emailed her all the info we had on Fletcher. I filled out forms online and paid for the estimated costs of his initial care. These folks were incredibly kind, helpful and supportive. It’s an amazing place.
Liz got Fletcher to the emergency room there that evening, and they put him on additional pain medications and an IV drip. After a thorough exam, the emergency?doctor called to tell?me Fletcher definitely needed to see a neurologist. The next morning, they transferred him to neurology. About 9:30 that morning, the neurologist called to say he had examined Fletcher and was perplexed by what he’d seen. He couldn’t attribute the limping front leg to a ruptured disc in the neck, and that didn’t explain the loss of his back legs. Something else was going on. He wanted to do some more imaging to get a better idea. I agreed, and had already told the neurology team that we would do anything they thought Fletcher required.
Two hours later, the neurologist called back. His tone was very somber. I could tell something was very wrong.
He?had found that Fletcher was limping on his right front leg because of advanced osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in his shoulder that had eaten away the end of the long bone (the humerus). The flesh around it was also “angry” and compromised by the cancer. The end of the humerus was, in fact, gone. That’s why he was limping. After looking at those images, the neurologist?asked their orthopedic surgeon to review them as well, and they both concurred: In an ideal world, they might operate to remove Fletcher’s leg and shoulder, but the cancer had most likely spread … and to take that leg off on a dog who is already paralyzed in his hindquarters wasn’t an option. The neurologist said he suspected that the osteosarcoma could have?migrated to Fletcher’s spine, which may have been?what had caused him to lose his hindquarters. Even if he found something else in his spine that might have caused the paralysis and could do neurosurgery to fix it (he was also a neurosurgeon), it would not address the advanced osteosarcoma at the other end.
At the conclusion?of a long, painful conversation, the neurologist and I agreed that the only reasonable option we had for Fletcher was euthanasia. It was time to let this little guy go in peace. He had been through enough.
I got off the phone, crying. I couldn’t believe Fletcher’s journey was ending like this. Alayne came in?and?hugged me. She’d overheard the conversation and knew where it was headed.
The neurology team emailed authorization forms for euthanasia, which I signed and sent back. I asked them to call and let me know once the neurologist had completed the procedure. About 15 minutes later, they called. It was over. Fletcher was gone.
We paid for a private cremation?and to have his ashes sent to us. We will be spreading them under our apple trees this spring. We never knew Fletcher, but we won’t forget him.
I know some people reading this might be upset with the foster for not saying something sooner about Fletcher’s loss of his hindquarters. Yes, we wished she had. But this lady took Fletcher into her home for three weeks, showered him with love, attention, good food, faithfully gave him his medications multiple times a day, successfully treated his skin condition (his coat became full and beautiful), and — I have no doubt about this — gave Fletcher the best three weeks of his life. The rescue group and foster had taken him to a vet twice, had a physical exam, vaccinations and X-rays done. They were following what their vet had recommended for making Fletcher comfortable until he could get to us.
They did everything they could, and so did we. With dear little Fletcher, it wasn’t enough. But at least everyone tried their best.
Anita Maloney says
I’m just glad that Flecther was loved and had people who cared for him. Thank you to everyone who tried to help him.
Thomas Crowley says
What a beautiful thing that you do. I will be following and posting some of your stories for all to share.
Kathy Hertzel says
For at least 3 weeks Fletcher knew love in an actual home, not a shelter. God bless you and all of these rescue groups. Without them these poor animals would never know real love and what it means to be wanted.
RIP Fletcher. Thanks to all who tried so hard to save him.
So sad and yet, in a way, a happy ending, too. He was saved at the last minute, at the shelter, from a sad, lonely passing to love, care, and comfort before he had to go. He passed away being loved.
What a crushing heartbreaking story. God love all of those involved, doing whatever they could. I am crying with you.
Hele. Rietz says
Sometimes all we can do is give an animal a little love in the end. That’s what I tell myself when I adopt an older cat who doesn’t live long, but lives as well as possible for a little while.
I’m so sorry.
FTLD/ Vermont Dog Rescue says
I am so sorry for this heartache. We try but sometimes we can’t save them all . Nice to know he had love for the last weeks of his life. I am so sorry
Marla Ritchie says
Rest in Peace little buddy…….you will be without pain now.
Diane Borden, Chehalis, WA says
Steve, thank you for sharing. This is the stuff of rescue work, both the good and the badly ending stories. You needed to debrief the story, no doubt, to let it come full circle. We who read your blog know that it’s not all good. Dogs pass, and you and Alayne suffer each loss. In your work, it’s not all good news.
Little Fletcher got three week of knowing the love and comfort of a real home, he knew was headed to a better place…….. and yes, he made it!
RIP Fletcher. You were loved. You will be missed.
Poor little Fletcher. I’m so glad that in his last few days, he had people who loved him.
Becky Fenske says
It is a sad outcome, but thanks to the rescue, the foster family and Rolling Dog Farm he did get to experience love and compassion. I believe his spirit is now running free. Blessings to you all and peace to Fletcher.
Barb Ribinski says
What a heart breaking story. But I’m sure the three weeks he got to spend at his foster home was so much nicer than any place he had been in a while. You can only hope that he realized the people around him were trying to help him. At least his last days were spent with people who cared about him. You can’t ask for more than that.
Tonya Allen says
That’s so sad. Probably it was already too late when he first arrived at the municipal shelter. Cancer can be fast and terrible, as you well know. As you say, at least his last weeks were a vast improvement on all his previous life. What a hard thing for you and Alayne to have to go through.
Barb Ribinski says
This was a heartbreaking story. I’m sure the last days he got to spend at this foster home were probably better than any he’s had in a while. You can only hope that he knew he was surrounded by people who cared about him. He’s not in pain any longer. Thank you all for helping him.
Karen Mann says
Run free at The Bridge. Your pain is gone now. You were loved, had a name and did not die alone. Your time was not to be, but you tried. Rest in Peace.
God Bless all of you for trying to help this poor baby.
It is a heartbreaking end for little Fletcher, but I think no one should be angry with the foster who took care of Fletcher. She did the best she could, gave him love and care for his last weeks. We should all feel angry that so many dogs have lives like this with no one to love them. Places like Rolling Dog Farm are wonderful and I am thankful they are around for the animals. It’s a hard job but they do it every day and make a difference.
Peg Crawford says
It is a beautiful story Steve. The world needs more of this tenderness.
Peg Crawford says
Noticing??.all women responding so far.
Robin & Laura says
Such a precious little soul. Thank you to all who showed him love along this journey.
Marie Dalzell says
What a heartbreaking ending. Rest easy, Fletcher.
So sad. Poor little guy must have been in pain for a long time. At least he didn’t die cold, alone, outside somewhere never having been fed or loved. I look at my little girl on the bed asleep under the blanket and say a prayer for all that aren’t. You guys sacrifice so much. Thank you for all you do.
Incredible vet teams at the ready.
Incredible Rolling Dog Farm at the ready.
My sincere sympathy to you both.
My heart and a hug to Liz. I know you got heart hurt by this Liz and I am sorry. Sometimes we are put in difficult positions not to hurt us but to help others. Thanks for helping Fletcher. He might’ve been young but the physical pain got old for him. Bless you.
Ann Cluck says
I agree the foster did a fantastic job of giving Fletcher all he could have wanted and needed in the last weeks of his life. The decision was difficult and I am so sorry for your pain.
I’m so sorry Steve and Alayne. 🙁 I share in your grief and appreciate your attempts to save this little guy as well as your candor surrounding the circumstances.
patty c says
I’m so glad that he got to know love and compassion at the end. God bless everyone involved; we all cry with you.
Jennie W says
Godspeed little boy. Run and play where there is no pain.
So sorry Steve and Alayne. Thank you for what you provide for “mans’ best friend”.
Thank you for everything you did for Fletcher. And, thanks, too, for giving his foster mom the fair credit she deserved for the care and love she gave him in his final days. It’s not always about blame. He was a very lucky dog to have received the love and medical care that he did. RIP, Fletcher.
Sheryl N. says
I had the pleasure of meeting this precious soul as we were his last stop. I cried for him knowing he would never know just how wonderful his life would have been with Steve and his team at Rolling Dog Farm. I know he runs free and painless now over the bridge and is loved still. Thank you Steve for what you did for him and all those involved in trying to save this sweet pup.
Kathleen A. Rivard says
Yep, I’m crying, but for 3 weeks this creature of God knew love and caring. He’s now at the Rainbow Bridge, all shiny and new. God Bless everyone that helped Fletcher.
Shirley and James says
I love you Rolling Dog Farm. You compassion knows no bounds. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.. Fletcher I’m glad you had people who loved you in the end. RIP sweet one pain free over the Rainbow Bridge.
Michael Hulon says
I truly believe that Fletcher knew that people were trying to help him and LOVED him. That is all anyone can hope for in a situation such as this. God Bless you for your compassion and LOVE for someone that you never met! I LOVE you guys for what you do.
Thank goodness sweet Fletcher had love in his life for 3 plus weeks he was fostered, he may not have had this before.
I believe the tears you cried after Fletcher’s passing (Steve), the empathy and emotions you felt were also seen and/or felt by Fletcher even though he was “gone”.
A heart filled thank you to Dogwood Veterinary Center for your kindness and support; I know putting an animal to sleep the hardest part of being a vet or vet tech.
RIP Fletcher – you touched many people who never had the chance to property meet you and see you thrive.
Thank you for sharing Steve, and to all who helped Fletcher along the way. This reminds me of the folks that I so admire providing santuary to elderly dogs. Such tough, but meaningful work.
I recently saw a post on the Yakima Valley Pet Rescue group’s facebook page with a sweet photo of a person holding their dog with a quote that found so beautiful that is has been sticking in my head… perhaps seems appropriate here.
“If I had my life to live over, I would have found you sooner, so I could love you for longer.”
RIP sweet Fletcher.
Rob Reed says
Every dog I’ve ever had has left a memory of their life on me to this day. Now Fletcher has found room in my memories. That you for being there and sharing that heartfelt story
I am one of the people that helped with Fletcher. I am glad these people stepped in to help and I was upset to hear he was euthanized. Thank you for being the rescue you are and helping this dog in need. There should be more places like this where all of these wonderful animals can go and find new homes and lives.
Linda P. says
How heart-breaking for all who tried their best to help Fletcher. He was a lucky guy to find people who would try their best and then, ultimately, make the decisions that needed to be made.