Saying Goodbye: Rayner-Shine

Rayner-Shine, my all-weather friend, Houston-van Berkel the First, “Rain” for short
By Dr. Doreen Houston, DVM, OVC 1980

I still remember the phone call one day in December 1999 when I was away from home on business.  A veterinary colleague called me with a plea to adopt a rescued four-month-old Border Collie cross puppythat needed to be rehomed immediately. We had lost our beloved dog Barnio, another rescue, at 16 years of age a year earlier and had Whisper, another mixed breed rescue, at home.  Whisper had really aged with the loss of her friend so without question, the answer was yes and a bundle of joy entered our lives.  

Rayner was a wonderful puppy, full of mischief but easily trained by our older girl Whisper, whose life was revived with the antics of a puppy.

On March 17, 2011, we were given devastating news. I gave Rayner a kiss on her nose as I always had, and there it was: a small lump behind the lower canine tooth on the right side of her jaw.  My heart sank as I knew cancer was the probable diagnosis.  I am a veterinarianbut not with my own pets; I am a “pet mom”. 

The next day, Rayner’s veterinarian took a biopsy and the news confirmed the worst. Rayner had malignant melanoma.  As my veterinarian and friend hugged me, I tried to hold back my tears.  Useless. My dog had a cancer that I had been taught had a very poor prognosis.  

My husband Kees and I immediately went to the Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer at OVC where Dr. Paul Woods sat with us and discussed all the options for Rayner.  After discussing our options, it was clear to me that surgery was the best option to give our girl the best chance possible. The procedure removed part of her jaw and associated lymph nodes.

By the time our grandson Bennett was born in September of that same year, Rayner was five months post-operative.  With our help, she had learned how to eat again – it was messy, but she did it. The day Bennett came home from the hospital we were all there to greethim.  And that was the beginning of a wonderful friendship – a boy and his dog.  For the next three years, Rayner traveled with us to Toronto where we stayed and cared for Bennett two days per week.  Rayner and Bennett were best friends and it warmed my heart.  

When Rayner was in her fifteenth year, she really slowed down.  She developed a lump on her spleen and I was terrified it would rupture when I wasn’t home. We made a very difficult decision: it was time to say goodbye.  We set the date in advance so it would be after her birthday and immediately after we did one last Smiling Blue Skies Walk for Canine Cancer together – her third and final one (I would do two more in her honour).  I had a hard time talking to anyone at that walk knowing what we were facing, but it was important we completed it. 

We knew the place where Rayner’s euthanasia would occur – with Dr. Paul Woods, her oncologist, at OVC.  

Like all of our dogs before her, we made her a special last meal at home. We went for a walk in our favorite forest before we drove to OVC.  She ambled along slowly but enjoyed one last woof at a squirrel.  I lifted her care-fully onto her blanket and into the car. We made the last trip with her to OVC with tears streaming down my face.  Dr. Woods and his team were compassionate and supportive as we laid with her on the floor.  Kees and I were with her until the last breath: holding her, loving her, cherishing her, missing her immediately.  The tears are flowing again now as I write this. Memories flood my mind and my heart overflows with the joy that was Rayner.  

We requested an autopsy and cremation. As a veterinarian, it was important to me to find the final answers and give her oncology team closure on whether the cancer had returned. It had not. We brought Rayner’s ashes home to be with our other dogs that have gone on before. 

We still have the plaster imprint of her paw, her collar, the letters, cards and memorial donations made to OVC Pet Trust in her memory.  I made a photo album of her life and every once in a while, look at it and smile. Years later, tears can still come easily.  I sometimes find myself telling Obi, our two-year-old Golden Retriever, that he would have loved Rayner.  He likes to hang out in the same corner of the yard where Rayner did.  That makes me smile.  

Read more in the spring / summer issue of Best Friends Magazine