I took that photo of Darla last Thursday, the day after she had her 5th surgery (!) to remove a mast cell tumor. The previous Friday morning I was petting her, scratching her up one side and down the other, when my hand brushed against a small lump in her left armpit. She had gone quite a while since her last mast cell eruption, so we were already kind of on edge and expecting one at any moment.
When I felt it, I parted the hair for a closer inspection, and I knew it didn’t look good. I was able to get Darla in to see our local vet, Dr. Nancy Lefavour, that afternoon. She aspirated the growth, looked at the cells under a microscope, and came back to tell me she had indeed found mast cells. On Monday morning I was at Peak Veterinary Referral Center in Burlington to see our veterinary oncologist, Dr. Kendra Knapik, and our veterinary surgeon, Dr. Kurt Schulz, for consultation. On Wednesday afternoon, Kurt took Darla into surgery.
Darla came through the operation in good shape and I brought her back home that evening. She is already pretty much back to her normal self, the scar and sutures notwithstanding. (Please note the heart symbol the surgery vet techs artfully painted on Darla with the orange antiseptic!) Given her newly developed kidney disease, putting Darla through another surgery was not without risks, but it was one we had to take. There’s no one we would trust more for something like this than the team at Peak.
We’re waiting on the detailed pathology report on the excised growth and margins, which we should have in the next day or two.
Dr. Knapik told me that believe it or not, she has had patients with more mast cell tumors than Darla (this was actually growth No. 6 — we took two off in one earlier surgery), but Darla still holds the record for most surgeries on one dog for Dr. Schulz (which included knee surgery a couple of years ago). We’d rather not have any records in this department, though!
In the comments on the last blog post, Heidi noted I’d said we had only 15 disabled dogs and asked if we were thinking about “winding down.” In a word, no — we expect to be doing this for a long time to come. But we are slowing down a bit, trying to carve out more personal time to relax a little more than we typically have. So we are more comfortable these days with fewer rather than more dogs. That means we’re probably not going to go back above 15 dogs in the foreseeable future. For similar reasons, we’ve cut back on the farming side of things, having sold off all the livestock in recent years except for two of our dairy goats who were too old for breeding. They get to stay on as pet goats to generate manure for the gardens — and keep Aaron, our remaining Maremma livestock guardian dog, company. The other Maremmas got wonderful homes with the people who bought our goats. (Gina, the matriarch of the Maremma clan, died of old age here last year.) We still raise our own chickens, do lots of gardening (70 raised beds!), continue to hay, and do our own firewood. That kind of seems like enough these days!
Finally, Lynn asked in her comment who’s been there the longest — and the answer is Lena, our blind Quarter Horse mare who was the very first animal to arrive back in the fall of 2000, when we started.