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The Diagnosis

We have another dog, a disaster of a Great Dane named Spaghetti. Spaghetti had a bad few weeks of being a clumsy hot mess. We were dogsitting a friend’s Westie and he stepped on her foot and made her sore for days. He was running up the stairs and knocked my husband Kevin down the stairs. It wasn’t surprising when I got home from teaching one evening and Kevin told me that Spaghetti ran into Atticus, and Atticus had a sore leg.

Spaghetti has too much face.

The next day I kept an eye on Atticus, and he seemed fine until I let him outside during lunch. My heart sunk when he came in three-legged lame, holding his left hind paw up. I called our regular the vet the next day, and they could only fit him for a drop-off appointment two days later. I gave Atticus some carprofen we had on hand, and in two days he was weightbearing, but still slightly off. I debated cancelling the appointment, because he was so improved. Ultimately, I took him in because I had a nagging worry he had done something bad like torn his CCL.

I dropped Atticus off at 8am, and they would work him in for an exam and probably x-rays in between appointments. Atticus is pretty crabby when it comes to vet exams, so I thought it was likely he would need to be sedated for x-rays, and he’d be there a while. It was a little disconcerting when 4pm rolled around and no phone call.

Atticus and Spaghetti terrorize Maggie, our Westie friend, by blocking her way up the stairs. This is the last photo I took of Atticus before he came up lame.

I called the vet, and they put me on hold for the doctor. He picked up, and got right to it.

“I’m sorry I haven’t called. I have some bad news.” My heart dropped. He tore his CCL, I thought. How much is surgery to repair? There goes $5000. Maybe he can get rehab instead…. The vet kept going. “When we did x-rays, we found an osteosarcoma tumor.”

I couldn’t breathe. I had dropped him off because he sprained his leg. It just couldn’t be osteosarcoma. A good friend lost a dog to osteosarcoma. She took her dog in for what she thought was a sprain, found osteosarcoma. The dog was put to sleep that day. Would I even get to bring Atticus home?

My husband got home a few minutes after I got off the phone. I had to tell him the worst news  imaginable, and see his heart break. We both had the reaction. “Any dog but Crunch.”

We pulled ourselves together and went to pick up Atticus. Our vet showed us the X-rays, and told us the poor prognosis. He cautioned us about the risk of pathological fracture, and how at this point the cancer had probably already spread to his lungs, even though couldn’t see it on x-ray. He told us that this was awful for us, but Atticus didn’t know his terrible diagnosis, and wasn’t sad about it. He also gave us information and encouraged us to speak to an oncologist.

My sweet, broken Crunch hobbled out to see me- exactly the same as when I dropped him off, but know I had the terrible knowledge about the insidious thing hiding in his leg. I hugged him, and he buried his head in my chest, like he always does. I knew at least, for this weekend, we’d be together.

Meet the Cast

Atticus is a 10 year old Catahoula mix that my husband and I adopted from a county animal shelter three years ago. I’m Megan. I’m a 35 year-old policy analyst by day, fitness instructor by night. My husband Kevin and I have Atticus, a Great Dane named Spaghetti, and three cats that follow me everywhere like a pack of hungry raccoons. I’ve had many animals, and loved many dogs, but none so much as Atticus.

Atticus at my wedding

It’s hard to explain what’s different about Atticus. A rescue that had sat in the shelter for months, he’d clearly known grief and loss before he came to us. Somehow, that has made him more attached to us, more grateful. Kevin adopted Atticus on my insistence after I found Atticus’ picture on a shelter’s website a few months after we started dating. We weren’t technically living together at the time, but after he got Atticus I only spent one night away at my place, then I wound up staying for good. Atticus is the first dog we both had after losing our previous dogs, and really the beginning of our relationship and family.

This is the picture that made me fall in love with Atticus

Atticus was rescued off the streets of Gresham, OR. He’s a brilliant dog; I can see how he made it as a street dog. At the same time, he always likes to have a pillow to rest his head on, so it breaks my heart to think of him sleeping on a cold, hard street. He doesn’t need us, but he wants to be near us.

Atticus’ nickname is Crunchy Bear, or Crunch. It’s a long story but comes from a text my husband sent me about how our neighbors were staring at Atticus while he “crunched out a two-legged front-pawed bush growler.”

Atticus crossed the United States with me twice. We drove from Oregon to Virginia, and back again, for an ill-fated move. Atticus loved living at the edge of nature in the South, but my crunchy PNW heart couldn’t stand it there. In Virginia we lived in a townhouse with a backyard that led directly to miles of trails. We spent the shutdowns of 2020 exploring the woods. Atticus is probably a better hiker than me.

Atticus isn’t a swimmer, but he loves playing in the creek behind out house.

I wasn’t originally planning on starting a blog about Atticus’ tripawd journey. Writing this out hurts quite a bit. It’s all fresh, and painful, and I know the ultimate ending of our story will be sad. But I think that there’s a place for stories like ours. I read a lot of stories of dogs that bounced back immediately after surgery, and had easy recoveries. Our surgeon told us that recovery, especially for rear-leg amputees was not hard, and some dogs can recover as quickly as within a week. Before surgery I didn’t see (or more likely, I chose to ignore) the stories of dogs that had tougher recoveries. I wasn’t prepared for the recovery we had.

Our recovery experience was not easy, nor was it quick. For about three weeks I thought I had made a terrible decision. I thought I had caused my dog terrible pain and suffering that he would not recover from before the cancer claimed his life. Not to mention we spent a large chunk of our savings on it. Two months out from surgery, my outlook is completely changed. Atticus is back to himself. He is pain-free, and we are getting good quality time with him. So I’m piecing together our story with the rough stuff, in hopes it helps someone else going through this.

Atticus Fights Cancer and Becomes a Tripawd is brought to you by Tripawds.