Buffy the Bat

August 30, 2011 by Jamie Totten
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Do you have or have you ever had a soul mate who walks on four legs? The one that without any spoken words knows exactly what you are thinking and/or needing and you reciprocate that unspoken communication to meet his or her needs?  The one who makes you feel a very strong compassion for anyone losing his or her own four-legged soul mate.

Buffy was my doggy soul mate. I begged my parents to let me have her for several years prior to them reluctantly agreeing (as Brad did with his kids in our first blog).  When we went to the Kanawha County Humane Society, she picked us. It’s an inexplicable intuitive feeling that many of my clients have also experienced when choosing their pets.

Buffy looked up at us with huge beagle (ish) eyes, never made a sound and we knew she was “the one”.

There was never a dull moment in our house once this little beagle mix entered our lives.  She kept us entertained with her antics and made us wonder what we did before we had a dog.

I left her a few short years after she came into our lives while I went to live in the dorms at the University of Charleston. I would occasionally receive sad e-mail greetings sent from “Buffy” (also known as my sweet mother) urging me to come home to rub her belly, take her on a walk, etc. This was truly my mother’s attempt at getting me to come home more often and it worked like a charm. Take notes empty nesters!

My first time truly away from home (since the commute from Hurricane to Charleston doesn’t count) was when I went to veterinary school in Georgia.  Buffy became my constant companion. I was lonely and homesick.    When I was stressed, she was always by my side, encouraging me by just “being there.”     Buffy was my travel buddy for the long commute from Georgia  home to West Virginia.    I developed a dependency on this sweet, loving, and omnipresent companion that may have been unfair to her.  She never complained.  We went on long walks with my good friend and her soul mate dog on trails in beautiful Georgia. She was my dinner companion most nights.

During my time in Georgia, Buffy taught me a lot about veterinary medicine.  She had horrible skin allergies.  She spent a large percentage of her day “sitting and spinning” in an attempt to relieve itch in the hind end area.  She chewed her feet, she scratched her ears and she whined when she felt really bad.  I learned the frustration of feeling horrible for your dog who is wounding herself by digging and chewing and the conflicting feeling of although I feel sorry for you, PLEASE STOP because you’re driving me crazy!  With this experience I learned that you can make a significant improvement in the quality of life of dogs with itchy skin by treating them aggressively for their allergies.  I also learned that allergies can be controlled, but rarely cured.

She taught me about separation anxiety and compulsive disorder (yes, it does exist in our canine population).  She taught me about ophthalmology when she had cataract surgery.  She taught me about the anxiety an owner faces when awaiting the biopsy report on a tumor that if not removed in it entirety, may result in amputation of her leg. Thankfully, for Buffy, the surgeon was able to get the tumor with clean margins, but that is not always the case.  I learned how and how not to treat people who love their fur babies when they are anxious and scared.

And for the first few years after graduation from vet school, my experience with Buffy’s medical issues allowed me to better empathize with and educate  my client pet owners.  Having “been there” as an owner first, then as a veterinarian even today allows me to have that extra compassion when addressing the concerns my clients bring to me about their pets.

One of the most significant lessons Buffy taught me was that an owner’s instinct is always right concerning their pet.  Although I didn’t understand it at the time, I knew intuitively that something wasn’t quite right with Buffy.  She wasn’t doing anything abnormal.  She wasn’t losing weight, she wasn’t having vomiting or diarrhea, and she had a healthy appetite. Her exam was normal.  I ran the battery of tests I typically run when “working up” (or trying to diagnose) a potentially sick geriatric dog.  I ran bloodwork, did x-rays, and even did an abdominal ultrasound–all normal.  But something still wasn’t quite right.

Several weeks later, I had her at our hospital and I was going to give her a bath.  I ran my hands over her body to examine her, not expecting to find anything significant.  Unfortunately, all was not well this time.  All of her lymph nodes were large. I took samples of the cells in her lymph nodes using a technique called fine needle aspiration so that I could look at the cell types under the microscope.  When I looked at the cells in her lymph nodes under the microscope, I knew it was likely cancer.  Lymphoma.  Buffy, my soul mate dog, was going to die of lymphoma.

Buffy lived three short months before I had to make the difficult decision to euthanize her.   She was out of remission and her quality of life was starting to diminish.   Euthanizing Buffy was the most difficult decision I have ever made, but it was the right one for her, given the circumstances.

After Buffy was gone, I dreamed of her for months.  I woke up crying.  I couldn’t visit where I buried her without laying on her grave and crying.  I couldn’t do an exam (without becoming very upset) on a beagle for months after she passed.  I never had a doubt that she was with me in spirit as my angel for years following her death.  I could feel her presence any time I was sad or in a stressful situation.

I strongly believe that when you have the kind of love, that connection that a person who has never had that kind of relationship with their pet will sadly never know, they find a way to stay with you for as long as you need them with you, even if they are not physically present.  I have had too many people independently repeat this experience to me (without prompting) months to years after they have lost a beloved pet.

Losing a soul mate dog (or any other pet) is heart-wrenching and sometimes I hear a person express regret that they allowed themselves to get so “attached.”  It is logistical that our pets have shorter lives than we do and undeniable that we often have to make decisions to end their lives.  In addition to mourning our pet’s passing, sometimes we “re-live” the deaths of other special people in our lives who have passed.  Perhaps we feel guilty about making a decision to euthanize for whatever reason or that we could’ve done more.  And that is heartbreaking.

In the end, though, I am more heartbroken at the thought of never having the lucky opportunity to have met and had Buffy in my life for the time she was here and to have experienced that unspoken, mutual understanding–a love that happens between a person and a soul mate pet.  And that is why I love being a veterinarian.  I can help people enhance their relationships with their own soul mate pets, keep them as healthy as I can, and help them through the tough decisions as they come.

So, thank you to my best buddy, my soul mate dog, my love, my Buffy.  I will see you at the Rainbow Bridge sweet soul.

And here’s the picture that explains “Buffy the Bat” for the lighter side of things.  She was so cute.

Tell us your tails

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9 Responses to “Buffy the Bat”

  1. colleenNo Gravatar says:

    Buffy is the reason you are such a great vet! What a great story. Thank you Buffy!

  2. Dear Old DadNo Gravatar says:

    Dr. Jamie

    Buffy will always have a place in our hearts forever. Unconditional love (as you always said) that she (Buffy) gave and that you gave back is priceless. The flower continues to bloom on her grave each year. What a fantastic sight to behold on a summer’s day as the bees and butterflies land on the flower and the hummingbirds zip past. President JFK may have the eternal flame; Buffy has the eternal flower……. Love you very much, Dad…..

  3. Jamie,
    That was such a great story and I hope it inspires others to post their “Buffy” stories to share with the Kanawha Valley. Keep up the great work on this blog!!!

  4. CathyNo Gravatar says:

    This was such a great story, made me think of my dog Saddie who passed away 8 years ago. I thought that I was the only one who was so attached to animals. People who have never had the joy of owning a pet do not know what they are missing. I now have 2 dogs that found me, and they are so very special to me. I would not take anything for either one of them. They give you unconditional love.

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