I am sad to say that Hannibal lost his battle with cancer yesterday.
Ten and half years ago a friend, who was a vet, called me to ask if I would foster a puppy. She warned me I might want to keep him because he was of the "giant" size dogs that I have such a soft spot for. My husband and I agreed to foster him. I remember the day we picked him up. She walked out of her house carrying him...all I saw was legs and ears, because that is all he was. At 9 weeks old he appeared to be walking on stilts and his ears were so large it looked as if he could take flight. We instantly fell in love and Hannibal (or "Fran" as he was affectionately known by the people who loved him) was by far the smartest "dumb" decision I have ever made.
He was a terrible puppy...into everything. He was so bad he had to be tethered to our coffee table at times to keep him from getting into trouble. That worked until he was strong enough to pull the coffee table around the house. He was then was tethered to the couch, that didn't last long because he was soon able to drag the couch from room to room. He quickly became very tall and he used that to his advantage. He brought us our dirty dishes out of the sink, and would proceed to "help" us clean them. He also had an affinity for standing on things he wasn't supposed to...I came downstairs one day when he was about a year old to find him standing, quite happily, on our coffee table. He also liked to stand on a very small table (meant to hold a plant) that was outside, he would just stand on it with all four feet grouped together, giving us a look that said "What?".
He was the happiest dog you ever met, not a care in the world. Everyone was his friend and every dog and cat his playmate. As large as he was, he was welcome everywhere, all my family and friends have had Fran visit at some point. As he grew older a very dignified, caring dog emerged. He was the most appropriate dog I have ever met, he knew his place in every situation. I could put him in with a pack of strange dogs and he would be friends with all of them by the end. He loved children and all animals. He was especially good with the elderly. My beloved great Aunt Alice, who always welcomed me and any animal I had into her home, used a walker in her last few years and was quite fragile. Hannibal would go to her and when he got just out of her reach he would stop and lean in towards her with his long neck, careful not to bump her, so she could pet him on the head. He also limited his tail wagging around her. Hannibal had a phenomenal tail, half the length of his body, he won a contest for the longest tail at a bark in the park event. He was notorious for being exactly the right height for striking the groin area on men. He has brought most of the male members of my family to their knees at some point or another. But with my Aunt Alice, he controlled it...as best he could.
Hannibal was not sick a day in his life, so when I saw his lymph nodes were enlarged July 7, 2007, one month after we moved to Georgia, my heart stopped. I have worked as a veterinary technician for many years and I knew deep down what he had. As I drove him 10 hours to the clinic I had worked at in Virginia I kept trying to reassure myself...he was not sick yet, I had caught it early, the mantra I had heard repeated in clinics for years...of all the cancers for a dog to get, you want lymphoma. And that is exactly what he had. Stage 4a B-cell lymphoma to be precise. So began our 19 month journey. Fran faced this as he did everything, happily optimistic and oblivious to the seriousness of the situation. But who could blame him...he felt fine. A dog with lymphoma in remission is virtually identical to a completely healthy dog. Fran happily went to the oncologist every week, excited to ride in the car and see his new friends. Chemo for dogs is thankfully nothing like it is for humans, he got his shot and came home and continued to do everything he always did. He was never nauseous, never depressed and tackled every meal with zeal. I was warned with every dose of chemo that his white blood cell count could drop...never happened, he defied everyone by staying relatively healthy.
In August 2008 he came out of remission, a slight swelling of his sub mandibular lymph nodes. We started chemo again, only this time it didn't work. The lymphoma was fighting back, he was resistant. Still Hannibal was not sick. We began rescue drugs to try and get him into remission if we were lucky, and at the least stable disease. We tried them all, the last this past Tuesday. It seemed to be working. Fran had a wonderful week, even Sunday he was great. Then at 11:00 pm Sunday evening, everything changed for him and us. After excitedly eating his dinner approximately 4 hours earlier, he refused his pills. Not normal considering they are wrapped in lunch meat. I immediately began checking vitals, only to find he had a temp of 105.4 and his attitude had changed...my happy, optimistic boy seemed depressed. I called my husband home from work and together we drove him to University of Georgia Veterinary Hospital where his oncologist was. He was started on fluids and antibiotics, fearing he finally had a drop in his white cell count. But not my Fran, his blood work was normal as always. That left only one reason for his illness...lymphoma.
My husband and I had agreed early on that we would not allow Hannibal to be sick, he had not been sick a day in 10.5 years, we would not allow it now. So on the morning of November 10, 2008, 19 months and 3 days from his diagnosis, we held our Fran while he was humanly euthanized, less than 9 hours after he first felt sick. Prior to this we sat with him and gave him hugs and told him how good he was. We gave him a hug from my parents, Joe and Linda, who couldn't be there. And we told him how many people were going to miss him. Fran left with the same dignity he had in life, brave, stoic and trusting to the end.
I will miss him forever, he touched so many people . My certified therapy dog who always knew how to act in every situation. My traveling companion who logged nearly as many miles I did over years, going with me everywhere. My protector and constant companion. Losing him is unbearable but never having known him would have been much worse.
Goodbye, my Fran Fran. We will always love you.
Donna and Walter