The Fight To Save Shakira (Part 1)

In August of 2021, I noticed a small bump on Shakira’s front right leg. It felt hard and was about the size of my pinky in diameter. She didn’t show any signs of discomfort or injury but finding that abnormality bothered me. Little did I know that small bump was going to become Shakira’s worst nightmare.

WARNING: The following blog post contains some strong images! 

BRONX, NY – In August of 2021, I noticed a small bump on Shakira’s front right leg. It felt hard and was about the size of my pinky in diameter. She didn’t show any signs of discomfort or injury but finding that abnormality bothered me. My instincts were telling me something was wrong.  Did a bug bite her? Was it swollen due to a minor sprain? I continued to monitor it, hoping it would go away on its own. Little did I know that small bump was going to become Shakira’s worst nightmare.

Origin Story

Shakira came into our lives in 2011. My Madrina’s dog gave birth to four puppies and Shakira had been the only one that had not gone to a forever home. Madrina had to take a trip to Florida due to an emergency and asked my mom and I if we could watch the puppy for two weeks. The puppy ended up being a foster fail for us. Mami and Alondra got attached. I wasn’t interested in adopting a puppy because the year before my dog, Scrappy, had died suddenly of a heart attack. I agreed to it because I remembered Scrappy’s death  affected Alondra too. The puppy could bring her the comfort she needed.

When Madrina returned, we told her the puppy was going to stay with us. Out of curiosity, I asked Madrina why the pup had not been offered a home before. She said there were actually two families who were interested: one had found her too hyper to handle and the other changed their mind at the last minute. It seemed the puppy was meant to be ours. I told Alondra she can name the puppy, so her and Papi came up with Shakira. They found it funny how her hips would wiggle whenever she was offered a treat. That’s how our dog ended up being named after a Latin pop star.

Saying Shakira made our lives interesting for the next ten years is an understatement. She got into so much mischief! I found some of my clothes and sneakers torn. Alondra’s Barbie dolls went through amputations when Shakira got her paws on them. Alondra had kicked her out of her room so many times due to messing with her dolls that Shakira made herself a permanent resident in my room. There was a spot under my bed she loved to sleep in. I called it her apartment.

Papi was the one who was least excited about adopting Shakira, but she became his best friend very quickly. Shakira cannot say she isn’t loved because my whole family spoils her, especially during the holidays when she receives toys; her favorites are the squeaky ones. She has gone on road trips with us and after I moved into my apartment with my husband, Mami and I decided to share custody. Shakira would spend some days with me and others with Mami and Alondra.

A Bump In The Road

Here is the thing: Shakira is a Bichon-Frise and Maltese mix. Those breeds are known to be energetic, and Shakira definitely has lots of steam to burn off. The big problem is that she is clumsy! She sprained her legs on several occasions while jumping from the sofas or beds. I lost count of the number of times she drank water to quickly and choked because water went up her nose. There was one time as a puppy she literally ran head first into the corner of the couch and we had to rush her to the vet the next morning because she had internal bleeding (Shakira still has no traction til this day).

With her history of incidents, you can understand why I didn’t rush her to the vet ASAP. I assumed she had landed wrong when jumping off the couch and her ankle was swollen. Sadly, the issue did not go away and by the end of September it had grown a little more. Shakira had a rough tenth birthday on October 9th, 2021. The vet examined the bump and told me she would need surgery to remove it. During the surgery, a biopsy would be done to determine if it was malignant. This was not a fatty tumor or regular injury; this was the possibility of cancer.

At home my parents and I gave Shakira a slice of cake and some treats to celebrate her birthday. I got her a large squeaky toy too (least I can do after she had to endure a thermometer up her ass). The bill for the surgery was going to be the biggest obstacle. Mami suggested we get a second opinion. It was difficult for her to accept this possibility for Shakira considering she had just beaten cancer for the second time earlier in the year. Alondra was away at Duke, but we kept her updated on everything.

December 2021: The bump had swelled up to the size of a walnut. Shakira has shown signs of discomfort (excess panting, anxiety, shaking, aggressive behavior). We went to a new vet for a second opinion and he gave Shakira a more thorough examination than the last one. Unfortunately, he confirmed the worst: Shakira had cancer. An amputation was her only chance of survival. I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach.

Shakira would need to lose her leg??!

At her age it was a risk. She would be affected emotionally too. The bill was obviously going to increase. We saved up enough for the x-rays and lab tests, but the surgery itself was still the problem. I set up a GoFundMe, asking family and friends to donate so Shakira could have her surgery. That was my holiday wish. I cannot say this enough: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Because of your support we were able to pay for her surgery and her medication. I am also thankful to that vet because he treated Shakira and my family with so much patience, compassion, and candor. He is now Shakira’s permanent veterinarian.

Shakira's lump when it first appeared.
Shakira's lump when it first appeared.
Significant growth by November
Significant growth by November
The bump grew quickly.
The bump grew quickly. At this point we knew it was cancer.
Dark bruise began to appear by December.
Dark bruise began to appear by December.

Out of Time

A week later, we rushed Shakira to the animal clinic. The mass had darkened and began to bleed. Shakira had tried to bite me for the first time ever while I was trying to get her leash on and she wasn’t eating. The vet cleaned and bandaged the wound the best he could and made a call to the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan. Shakira needed the surgery now! Papi, Mami, and I drove her to AMC. I was comforting her as best as I could. She cuddled her pink bunny (her favorite toy).

The mass was bleeding and Shakira was in so much pain.
The mass was bleeding and Shakira was in so much pain.
Comforting her the best I could.
Comforting her the best I could.

Due to COVID, only one person was allowed to go into the building with Shakira. Mami went ahead with her, and I stayed outside with Papi. She kept us updated over the phone. Shakira went through more examinations. After several hours, Mami came out with only the pink bunny and Shakira’s harness. Now Shakira was in God’s hands. The surgeon told Mami the amputation didn’t guarantee the cancer wouldn’t return. It was at stage 2. Amputation was still her best chance and with heavy hearts we drove back home.

Leaving Shakira in that hospital was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I knew she must have felt alone and she was not used to being in a cage. Gil helped me deal with my anxiety at home. 24 hours later, the surgeon calls Mami. The amputation was a success and we could bring Shakira home in two days!

To Be Continued…


Photos: Rosa Elena Burgos

Last Updated: April 6, 2022

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