Shakira’s surgery was thankfully a success. We were concerned about complications due to her age, but she was a fighter! Her limb was sent to a lab for some tests to get more details about the cancer. Shakira was sent home with a stiff cone around her neck and medication. We decided she would stay at Mami’s to recover since her home is bigger than mine. It would give Shakira the space needed to practice walking again. Alondra had returned from Duke and set up a recovery space using the dog beds, pee pads, and blankets. She also ordered a nice playpen and memory foam bed to help Shakira feel as comfortable as possible.
I admit seeing Shakira without her leg was jarring. The stitches made the scar look horrible. Her fur had to be shaved in certain areas. Shakira was okay until the meds wore off, then the real work began. During the first day, she didn’t allow us to touch her due to the pain. We had to move her to change to pads and clean the scar. Hearing her scream broke me. I stayed at mom’s and kept an eye on Shakira during the night. I slept on the floor beside her.
Day 2, my cousin, Carlos, came to visit Shakira. Shakira stayed in the same spot on the floor because she was afraid to move. It was painful for her even with the medication. I don’t know what Carlos did, but he somehow got her to walk to him! She didn’t cry out and I was surprised by her burst of speed. I am forever thankful to him for that. The surgeon called to see how Shakira was doing. When I explained Shakira had walked, she was shocked.
“Already? That was not supposed to happen for at least another two days.”
Shakira proved she was gonna keep fighting. Mami had plenty of help during the first month of recovery. Gil, Carlos, my aunt, Papi, Alondra, and I took shifts on different days. She got lots of visits from friends and neighbors too. Shakira slowly learned to find her balance and gained more confidence to walk. Her main issue was sleeping. At night she would wander around for hours. The vet figured out the side effects from the meds weren’t allowing her to sleep, so he switched them. The “night walks” reduced significantly.
Over the next two months, Shakira bounced back with spunk! Once the uncomfortable cone was removed and the scar healed, she got the hang of walking on three legs. I found an online community of tripawd pet owners and it helped me learn more about helping Shakira perfect her movement. She slipped several times, but got right back up again. She went from hobbling to running like nothing.
Physically she had improved, but mentally my family and I noticed something was off. Shakira had developed severe separation anxiety. She didn’t want to be alone anywhere. Her appetite changed and fatigue came a lot easier. There were also the small episodes of aggression. The vet explained most of this behavior was normal. He warned not to have Shakira near other animals in the meantime.
It was hard for me to accept some of the physical changes. I miss seeing her jump into the tub for a bath. Walks outside were still prohibited. She could no longer hop onto the couches or bed so we adjusted to being on the floor so she didn’t feel lonely. Shakira would kick her squeaky balls around with her front paws and run after them. I remember her reaction when she first tried to do it— she looked so defeated because she needed her one front leg to balance. I tried to comfort her by throwing the ball for her to run after it, but she just laid down beside me and stared at it. A part of her independence was lost.
I had so many friends reach out to me during her recovery. If you were one of those people and are reading this, thank you so much! Your kind words and support helped me get through the worst of the process. Some of you have never met Shakira and checked in anyway. I enjoyed reading your encouraging comments and messages when I posted updates on social media. I sometimes read them out loud to her.
Now I come to the worst part of the post… Two weeks ago, Mami had informed me Shakira was not sleeping and her “night walks” were becoming consistent again (it was on and off for the most part). There were moments she would cry out in pain. A few days later a dark bruise appeared by her chest and I felt lumps in the area. The vet scheduled an immediate appoint when we called and explained the situation. Tests were done on Shakira and our worst fear was confirmed: the cancer had returned and it had spread.
That was hard for me to write to be honest. I am still dealing with my emotions about it and trust me, my mental monsters are having a good time beating me up. The vet said we had done the best we could for her, but it still feels like I failed her. This hits me so personally because I watched both my parents fight cancer and beat it (Mami beat it twice). I thought it would be the same for Shakira. I want to say this with my entire soul: FUCK CANCER!!!
The vet told us to just make her as happy and comfortable as possible. It won’t be easy since her symptoms will get worse and the cancer is really aggressive. I don’t want to think about the day where we need to help her cross the rainbow bridge; the day she won’t come home… I am still processing this while at the same time forcing a smile on my face and acting as normal as possible, because I don’t want Shakira to worry. Dogs can really sense the energy of those around them and our job right now is to bring her comfort. I know she wasn’t meant to be with us forever, I just hoped we had more time. Don’t we wish our pet could live as long as we do?
My family and I are heartbroken about Shakira. We are going to do our best to make her final days as bright as possible. There will be days (and nights) we will be frustrated and even shed tears. Shakira has made such a huge impact in our lives (I am crying now as I write this). I must remind myself that feeling all these emotions is part of being human.
For all of you who have been on this journey with me from the beginning, thank you. This is going to be the final stretch. Shakira is going to enjoy the rest of her life surrounded by love and her favorite humans.
Photos and Videos: Rosa Elena Burgos, Mami, and Papi.
Last Updated: April 7, 2022