Saying Goodbye To Ralph: We Lost Our Dog To Cancer

May 5, 2014

Ralph the pug


This post is going to be a giant bummer, but it is my hope in writing that I can share my experiences to help anyone who is considering rescuing an animal (especially an older one) or to help anyone who is coping with a pet who has been diagnosed with cancer.

We discovered that Ralph had cancer just a few weeks ago.  The last few months, we thought he had pneumonia, several rounds of antibiotics and steam sessions to ease his breathing left no respite from his struggled breaths.  Eventually, between an xray in October to one in January at our primary vet, a large mass was discovered that was so big it virtually went from invisible to so pronounced it was disrupting the path of his trachea, a tumor so large and rapidly growing it was a like a large speed bump under his windpipe on the xrays.

We headed to the veterinary cancer center for a biopsy.  There we discovered that indeed, the masses were cancerous.  He had two large tumors and even diagnosing what the masses in his chest really were, cost over $1200.  Surgery and chemo would cost an estimated $7,000 but of course, we’d have to come back first to the veterinary cancer center to do an ultra sound to see if it had spread, (for another $900-$1000).  After my gut told me that if the tumor had spread one and was this aggressive, doubling in size in only a few weeks- then it had probably spread again.  Discussing it with our primary vet and reading other stories about lung cancer, we made the choice to opt for pallative care.  This fight would be painful and the survival rate was slim, little did I know how quickly it would progress.

I had a gut feeling that the first two tumors weren’t the end of it. I am not a doctor, but I started to realize that when you’re a pet parent struggling with a diagnosis, taking proper care of a terminally ill pet, you have to trust two things- the guidance of a doctor and your gut.  Gut wisdom and a doctor’s wisdom are vastly different but they usually go hand in hand. Our vets were very cautious about making sure we made the best decision for our pet, and not influencing our decision.

Sometimes I was frustrated, I didn’t want the hard decision of deciding when it was “time” for Ralph.  I feared I would make the wrong decision or that I would be cutting his time too short. I feared that the procedure would be traumatic.  Thank goodness it was none of those things.

A few Google searches of hearing other people’s stories (to watch for symptoms of suffering or the pet’s transition), and the advice of our vet, we still struggled with knowing when it was time to make that horrible final appointment.

Chris and I struggled with the decision. Apparently, we were both waiting for a blaring red flag that it was time to let Ralph go- but we saw that there aren’t a lot of big red warning signs, but small ones, to indicate that Ralph was suffering.

Ralph stopped eating full meals, so he couldn’t take his pain pills.  He would wake up and start panting, groaning (more than usual, he was an older dog who was very vocal) and couldn’t seem to get comfortable.  The last day, I would go to pet him and he would move away or once, he snapped at my hand.  Ralph didn’t have a mean bone in his body, he was in pain, even a comforting touch would hurt him since he couldn’t get the necessary dosage of pain relief that I could hide in what little food he would eat.

I took Ralph in to the vet last week because I was worried he was suffering and wanted to make sure the pain pills were enough.  At that time we discovered three more small tumors in his chest.  We upped his pain relief dosage, but he was losing his appetite and two days later, it was apparent he wasn’t getting the relief he needed. He was slowing down to the point of needing to be carried out to the tree to relieve himself, and he seemed dazed and distant.  He wasn’t responding to things that use to bring him joy, his behavior began to change as he was coping with how awful he felt.

As stated, Chris and I both thought there would be one trigger that let us know it was time.  I felt like I made the decision alone, though the doctor agreed with my choice.  What it took for me to make the difficult to decision was the culmination of little signs it was time (there was never that perfect answer to be sure it was time) and a discussion with a doctor to be sure I understood the medical signs coupled with his behavioral signs that it was time.

I asked the doctor if there was anything we could do to keep him more comfortable, and when it became evident that I could not ease his suffering with medicine, I made the very difficult decision to let him go peacefully.


Ralph the Pug Chicago, IL


I really wanted him to go naturally.  Sometimes though, different illnesses don’t allow for a peaceful, natural passing.  The tumors on his lungs were making it difficult for him to breathe, he was struggling to move and struggling to get oxygen. I can only imagine how uncomfortable it would be to struggle to get air even while resting.   The tumors were sizable enough that it was pressing on his other organs, and causing him pain to be picked up.  It became evident that the blessing of falling asleep naturally, and passing peacefully would not be a reality.

He had been brave for so long, it was my turn to be brave. I hated the decision, but when it came time to do, it made sense.

Of course, we flip flopped on whether it was right or it was time.  It never seems okay, but it seemed right.  He was suffering, we could see that, but then we found hope when he finally started eating again (albeit a few bites of McDonald’s fries, his favorite thing).  When it comes time to make the decision for your pet, most times you will cling to any hopeful signs to ignore the signs that it is time.  Most owners I spoke to said they usually felt they waited too long, not that they made the decision too hastily.  The vet helped me make the decision, but she said that I didn’t seem ready and I could come back when I was, no hurry. I told her that it was no longer about me, it was about him, I had to make the decision for him.

The truth is, you’re never ready, you have to do what’s best for your pet.

I feared the procedure.  It bothered me to my core.  By the time we arrived, it caused me pain to see him in pain. I suffered watching his suffering. When you realize your pet has no quality of life and he’s hurting, your heart is breaking just to find them respite from their pain.  After consulting with the vet a final time, we wrapped him in a Cubs blanket and brought in his favorite toy.  He was swaddled in my lap, and he went peacefully.

The doctor said I would know when it was time, and as much as I wish someone would have taken that burden off my shoulders, I did know.

I knew it was going to hurt, and it does.

When I woke up this morning, in those little moments before one is fully awake, I rolled over expecting to feel him by my side.  He’s gone now, but I’m so grateful to have had him in the first place.

I struggled whether to write about this- but I hope this post brings comfort to anyone who is going through cancer with a pet.

Keep them comfortable for as long as you can, fight it with medicine as long as you can.  When fighting is no longer possible, and a hard decision must be made, do what is best for them. Forgive yourself for the anger, guilt, sorrow and feelings you’re struggling with.  This was my first time going through cancer with a pet- I’ve never had to put a pet down and it was really, really hard.

Truth be told, I feel grateful for sorrow.

You cannot miss what you didn’t first love.  If I could do it all over again, I would rescue Ralph or any pug, just to feel this tremendous bond.  This rescue pug changed my life and I’ll have a Ralph shaped hole in my heart, but it was worth it all to have those three years with such a special little life.


Ralph The Pug Living With Pet Cancer


Thank you to everyone who helped me support the Northern Illinois Pug Rescue and adopt Ralph three years ago.  Thank you for your support when he was diagnosed with cancer, and now, as we say goodbye, I appreciate each of you.

Pet rescue changes lives. I never would have imagined the tremendous impact his adoption would have on my life.  I remember that first day, seeing him for the first time, walking towards me in the snow, handed off from a rescue volunteer.  We were both scared, but we bonded in the fact that neither of us knew what to do, but we instantly felt a bond.  He saw me through a rough patch of grad school, two moves across country and three places of residence.

If I could do it all again, I would.  No matter how much pet cancer sucks, it was worth every tear, every smile, ever struggle and every day- each in their own way, were precious little victories.





24 comments so far.

24 responses to “Saying Goodbye To Ralph: We Lost Our Dog To Cancer”

  1. Sarah says:

    I’m so, so sorry for your loss, Shannyn. I cannot even imagine how you must be feeling. Ralph was incredibly lucky to have both you and Chris to share his life.

  2. Making the decision to put down Salems brother was probably the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make. When the doctor, whom we really connected with, said she’d do it if it was her cat I knew it was the right thing to do. Still does not make it any easier, at all. You did everything right and gave that guy SO much love in his life! I’ll tell my little Prince to look out for a new buddy to play with in the big animal park in the sky 🙂

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss and the incredibly tough decision you had to make leading up to it.

  4. Stephanie says:

    I’m so sad for your loss. Nothing compares to the pain of losing your best friend 🙁 You were a gorgeous pup Ralph, you will be missed.

  5. I’m sorry to hear of your loss. I know I would be devastated in your shoes. My dog is such a huge part of my life and I’m not looking forward to the day I’m in your position. Hugs.

  6. Mike Collins says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. We’ve lost pets before and it is very difficult.

  7. Rebecca Jo says:

    Oh… the feels… I’m so crying.
    Our dog is 3 months out from her diagnosis of bone cancer… we’re praying for every day still to keep her going… but know the decision day will come for us as well. So hard.
    Sending you my sympathy.

  8. Kristin says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. My dad always says the hardest part about being a pet owner is that the pet can’t tell you when they’re hurting. We have to use our instincts. I have said goodbye to many dogs in my lifetime and it’s just the hardest thing. But, time heals all wounds. You are wonderful for rescuing him and giving him a happy life.

  9. Amy Lisa says:

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss Shannyn.
    Losing a pet is never easy and I completely know how you are feeling right now, having been in the same moments you are experiencing, many times myself.
    Even reading the above brought back some memories for me too and has respectfully brought a few tears to my eyes.
    Seek comfort in knowing you shared so much love and enjoyment and that you and Chris gave him the opportunity to have a second lease of life, which no doubt Ralph was very thankful for. He will know that you loved him very much and would not have made the decision to let him go lightly. He will always be a huge part of your lives and no one can ever take that away from you.
    Sleep tight Ralph xxx

  10. I’m so sorry. Losing a pet is painful.
    Sending big hugs your way.

  11. kathleen says:

    this was lovely, sweetie. hugs.

  12. Tara says:

    I am so sorry. We went through something similar with a young cat a couple of years ago who was so special to us, but she ended up having a terminal illness and couldn’t even get into her litter box. After a week of her suffering and knowing there was nothing we could do, we ended up putting her to sleep as well. I cried for a week both before and after, and then at random times past that. It was horrible, and we still miss her! It sounds like it was the right (albeit difficult) decision. I am so sorry for your loss.

  13. Christina says:

    I cried rough your whole post…I’m sure your cried like crazy writing it. I has to do this with my Lilly 10 years ago. I know how hard it is and how painful it is to see your little baby suffer. Hugs and prayers.

  14. Jen says:

    So very sorry, Shannyn. This would have been a hard decision to make, but it sounds like you did the right thing.

  15. Sarah says:

    I am so sorry to read that! I cried, of course. I have two very young dogs and already dread the end, but it was very touching to read your experience.

  16. I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m glad that Ralph had you to love him.

  17. Kelly says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Pets are part of the family, he was very lucky to have you.

  18. Kim says:

    I don’t usually comment, but we lost our cat Yoda to cancer last Friday.
    The part of your post that resonated the most with me was how after the fact many pet owners feel that they waited too long.
    After she was gone, my boyfriend who had her for 15 years, has been so adament from the time of her diagnosis that he would do anything possible to keep her going no matter what the cost, admitted that he should have done it at least a month sooner – refecting that her last several months were filled with prying her mouth open to squirt doses of steroids, appetite pills, and large chemo pills down her throat.
    We do struggled with knowing when it was time. At 15 years old, she was not an energetic cat, and we too held on for any sign that she was doing better, even as the one mass in her chest not only grew large, but an additional two masses had grown, now in her lungs. We held on to hope – perhaps the new chemo med would work, if she ate well one day without an appetite pill, if she went downstairs to the living room and sat on the couch instead of being on the bed all day perhaps she was doing better.
    In the end she went downhill fast, and two days after having a “normal” x-ray of her chest, she went to having one where her lungs were filled with fluid and it was also showing fluid around her heart. The doctor showed us the narrow passage in the x-ray , a thin dark line that was the only way oxygen was getting through fluid and tumor. There was nothing left to do. It was sad to look at her, a tiny skeleton of the cat we once knew, mostly skin and bones. But also sad that after it all, all the drugs and tests it was over.
    We spent a last few minutes with her, and seemingly as soon as the vet began the process to put her to sleep it was over.
    I miss her, and it’s hard to believe that this time last week she was here with us.

    We have another cat, a healthy 7 year old who is a playful as a kitten, who follows me through the house, a cat I have had since he was part of a litter from my mother’s cat. As a kitten he was repeatedly ill, and I spent much time caring for him and feeding he via syringe to ensure his survival. I have no children yet (27 years old), but joke that he is my first born. I hope that he will never go through such an illness, but also feel resolute that I will draw the line in quality vs quantity more readily not only him but also for us after going through this.

    • Shannyn says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your story Kim. Seriously- knowing when it’s time is the hardest thing. To a point, you know when it’s time, and to a point you don’t. You don’t want the pet to suffer, but you also don’t want to decide for them. It would be so easy if the passing could happen on it’s own, but sometimes we have to make that awful decision, but we do it out of love, when any and all options for comfort can no longer be provided.

      My heart goes out to you, I’m sorry about your kitty and send lots of love your way. Thank you again, so, so much for commenting, we are not alone in this. 🙂

  19. Vanessa Key says:

    I feel very sorry for your lost. Stay strong please, everything will be ok. Now he’s running though rainbow and don’t feel any pain. He’s the happiest dog ever, cause he had you!

  20. Janine says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss Shannyn. Know that he is in a better place and you did everything you could to make his life amazing. Any pet would be lucky to have you as an owner. You are such a beautiful person, please stay strong – thinking of you!

  21. Alyssa says:

    I am so sorry for the loss of your pup. Hugs.

  22. so much love. so. much. love. saying goodbye to our pets doesn’t get easier as we get older. I’m so glad you had Ralph for as long as you did. I’m glad you saved him. Rescue animals really are the best. They never forget we saved them. And they save us. <3


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