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My Vet Told Me to Return My Rescue Dog Because She Had Cancer

Lily was diagnosed shortly after I adopted her. It was clear to me that I was meant to care for her during her final months. My vet did not agree.

Kat Merrill  |  Feb 25th 2016


If I hadn’t been in shock the morning my third German Shepherd died, I might have seen the signs that I had the wrong veterinarian.

But Sarah’s death that morning was so sudden, so distressing, I didn’t really focus when the receptionist replied, “No, we don’t do that. We won’t come and pick it up.”

Someone calling my girl an “it” would’ve been a red flag any other day. But that day, I was sobbing and inconsolable after my 6-year-old, never-been-sick pup howled and died as I petted her.

Beautiful Sarah

My beautiful Sarah. (Photo by Kat Merrill)

I had never had a dog die at home, so there I was with an 85-pound Shepherd I couldn’t lift. Having recently moved, I didn’t know where to take her or whom to turn to for help. I thought it would be my fairly new vet. I was wrong.

That was only the beginning. Three weeks later, as I looked through the dogs on the Shepherd rescue website, a mother-and-daughter pair caught my eye. I had always wanted more than one Shepherd, and it looked like this was my chance. My father, the wisest man I know, thought it was a good idea.

“If something happens to one of them, at least you will have one left,” he said.

He would turn out to be right, but much sooner than either of us could have imagined.

I drove an hour and a half to meet Lily and Lola at their foster home. Typical Shepherds, they seemed interested in me but somewhat standoffish, so I was unsure whether they wanted to come home with me. Anyway, their foster mom wanted to have Lily checked by a vet again before they went anywhere. Lily had been limping for a week or so, and the recommended rest and prescribed pain medication hadn’t solved the problem.

Lily, top, and Lola enjoying the outside. (Photo by Kat Merrill)

Lily, top, and Lola enjoying the outside. (Photo by Kat Merrill)

Tests were run, but results were slow in coming, so I took the girls home a week later. As I pulled into my carport, I told them, “This is it, girls. You never have to worry again. You will never be unloved or want for anything. You are finally home.”

The next day, I took them to my vet for their first checkup. Lily was still limping, and the vet said it would likely not be something simple. She mentioned bone cancer and said, “Trust me, if that’s what this is, you do not want to do this. It won’t be pretty. You need to take them back.”

I was stunned by her attitude. My pup was limping, but she was fine in all other aspects. I shrugged off what the vet said and went home.

A week later, I took the girls back to the vet. They had worms, and Lily was still limping. The tests from the foster’s vet finally came in and said, “Probable bone cancer.” My vet advised me to have a bone biopsy done to confirm the “probable” diagnosis.

Lily seemed fine, other than the limp. (Photo by Kat Merrill)

Lily seemed fine, other than the limp. (Photo by Kat Merrill)

A few days later, I went back for more pain medication. There in the lobby, in front of other people and their dogs, I ran into my vet.

“I don’t know what you think you’re doing,” she said angrily. “I told you, you need to take those dogs back.”

This time, I didn’t let it go.

“This beautiful being is not a sweater with a hole in it that you can take back to Target and ask for a refund,” I said, raising my voice to the same level as hers.

“I’m telling you, you just lost a Shepherd. This is not going to go well,” she replied, even louder and more sternly than before. “You do not want to do this. You just need to take them back to the rescue.”

I lowered my voice.

“I can’t believe you would say that. I promised these dogs that they were home,” I said, starting to cry. “I already love them. They are my girls. Taking them back is not an option. Obviously, you are not the person to help us.”

I never saw that vet again.

My girls and me. (Photo courtesy of Kat Merrill)

My girls and me. (Photo courtesy of Kat Merrill)

My new vet was a sunny, bright young woman with a heart of gold. She said she understood what the other vet was trying to say, and she told me it was not going to be easy. But after the test results came back, she said, “It is osteosarcoma. Lily has two to four months, no matter what you do. I am so very sorry. How can I help?”

That last part was what I wanted to hear. I could’ve never taken my dogs back to the rescue, not even on the first day I had them. That isn’t who I am. I had found them, and they had found me. It was clear I was meant to care for Lily through her last months.

Even though it was a bittersweet summer, I had four months and one week with that gorgeous little Shepherd. I bought Lily and Lola many toys and doggy ice cream, which they ate almost every day. They ran and played, and we spent hours outside in the sun. I stopped going out with friends and spent my evenings on the couch with Lola lying across my feet and Lily in my lap, petting her and telling her how much she was loved.

Lily and Lola, curling up with me on the couch. (Photo by Kat Merrill)

Lily and Lola, curling up with me on the couch. (Photo by Kat Merrill)

At night, Lily would curl around me in bed and we would sleep fitfully. Toward the end, she had to have pain medication every four hours, and that made us both lose sleep. But even if I had to make the choice right now, knowing how it would end, I would do it all again.

Every day with Lily was a joy and a pleasure. I consider it an honor and a privilege to keep my promise to my animals. I further promised Lily when she left me that I would take good care of her little girl Lola. And that’s exactly what I am doing today.

Let’s hear from you, readers. Have you been in a similar situation? How did you react? What would you do?

Read more about interacting with your vet:

About the author: Kat Merrill is a writer who considers it a blessing and a privilege to have been owned by five German Shepherds so far. She also had two cats, a beautiful pair of rats, and many fancy goldfish over the years. Although Kat started out as a cat person, she now considers herself a dog person who is dedicated to rescue animals. A former newspaper reporter and editor, she is now writing a series of children’s books and has recently started a blog at katsuniverse.com. You can also find her on Twitter @katsuniverse and on Facebook.