Pinche's Journey

Chapter 1 ~ Nov. 2003

Chapter 2 ~ Dec. 2003


Chapter 3 ~ Jan. 2004

Chapter 4 ~ Feb. 2004

Chapter 5 ~ Mar. 2004

Chapter 6 ~ April 2004

Chapter 7 ~ May 2004

Chapter 8 ~ June 2004

Chapter 9 ~ Mar. 2005

Chapter 2 ~ December 2003


December 1, 2003


Dr. Ayl calls.

The news isn't good.

What started out as a simple MRI to check the depth and breadth of the tumor -- if you can call that simple -- has just gotten very complicated.

The Doctor tells me that the cat-scan shows "abnormalities" -- many of them.

He speaks, I write: Pinche's left adrenal gland is enlarged; his prostate is too and shows some cysts; there is an unknown mass on his right kidney; some cells have died in his left kidney; abdominal cavity looks strange and his lymph nodes may be affected.

What did he just say?

Pinche needs an ultrasound and an "aspiration" of his kidney. ASAP.

OK, I'm crying now.

I'm frustrated because I don't really understand all of this. I don't want him to suffer. I just want him to live out his doggy retirement years in peace.

Pinche is lying on the tile by the front door. It's nap time again.

I'm crying. He's stretching.

Does he have any idea? Does he even know he's sick? How can he be so sick?

Besides the camel-like hump on his back, he seems just fine. Milk bones are still his passion, he's eating well and there's not a tree in town that he can pass without marking...I don't understand.

With all the talk about "abnormalities", I didn't even ask Dr. Ayl about the tumor.

Later the same day...

I do some of my best crying and thinking in the shower.

Between conditioning and crying, the idea of "documenting" Pinche's journey is born. What better way to understand the process than to follow one dog thru it -- and what better dog to be on television than my son -- a ham just like me.

I practice how I'll pitch this story to my boss. Not a good idea, the practicing part, not the pitching. Being the sensitive-type that I am (i.e. drama queen) I keep crying as I think of what I need to tell my boss that will convince him that this could be a good story.

I also do some of my best thinking while driving. On the way to work, the idea of "a dog blog" was born.

I'm on a roll.

I somehow manage to get thru my "sales pitch" without tearing up and boss says 'Go for it! Start shooting the doctor visits and let's see where the story goes'.

It's all I can think and talk about.

I call Dr. Ayl and pitch the idea to him -- he seems to really like it. He tells me there are so many stories to be told; that it's important that pet owners know what's out there.

The rest of the day goes by in a blur -- calling the radiologist, scheduling the camera, actually doing some work so I can continue to earn my living, etc...

I feel sad but good -- maybe Pinche and I can turn this negative into a positive.

We can at least try.


December 3, 2003


Pinche is's car ride time. Off we go to Animal Specialty Group in Glendale for his ultrasound.

Patti Ballaz, a television photographer from FOX is waiting for us and after explaining what I'm trying to do and the story that I want to tell, the taping of "A Dog's Journey" officially begins.

Pinche loves the camera! He's a natural. Move over, Lassie -- Pinche is in the house!

I meet with the radiologist who doesn't seem overly thrilled with the concept of reality tv meets doggie drama.

I explain to him that if he feels uncomfortable, that if we tape or don't tape, that's really not important. What is important is that Pinche get his ultrasound and aspiration. He kindly agrees to let us shoot some footage for which I am very thankful and appreciative.

As usual, Pinche is his talkative self. Grousing away and managing to rouse every dog there. Why are all the other doggies so well-behaved? So quiet?

Pinche sits pretty nicely but the talking....geez, this guy has a vocabulary that won't quit.

(Note to self: buy that new Japanese dog translator so I can finally understand this guy!)

I can laugh now at the cute parts, but to tell the truth it was pretty stressful.

While Pinche was with the doctor (during the parts we couldn't shoot), Patti shared her pet stories with me and I realized once again that everyone has a story to tell.

I listen as she speaks so lovingly of her pets, sharing some great stories with me. You can tell Patti loves dogs and cats!

I think about how sad it is that some people will never experience what is to be unconditionally loved by an animal. That deep deep bond that forms between a pet and their owners.

The doctor ended up doing only the ultrasound -- he didn't feel right about doing the aspiration today.

So off we go for another car ride -- tv tape in hand. Volume one of how many? How many more chapters in the book of Pinche? Only the doggie Gods know for sure.....

Grand total for the day: $350


December 5, 2003


"Taking him to the doctor is so expensive.

Have you thought about just putting him down?

Putting him to sleep?"

Oh, that question.

The question I'm sure so many pet owners who have been thru this have heard.

I quickly do a mental review of possible answers...

A) Would you put your child to sleep if they were sick?

B) No, but I would put you "down" just to shut you up.

C) No, I haven't.

I chose "C".

After all, it wasn't a mean-spirited question. It wasn't meant to hurt me or to make less of Pinche.

It was simply coming from someone who didn't understand. It's back to that "unconditional love thing" I was talking about earlier.

And that's ok -- not everyone has to understand.

I understand. Pinche understands. And if you're reading this, then you probably do too.

I will follow my doctor's advice.

I will follow Pinche's lead.

I will spend whatever is necessary to either cure him or to make the rest of his life -- however long that may be -- comfortable.

The minute he is in pain or the quality of his life diminishes then it will be time to say goodbye.

Not a minute sooner. Not a minute later.


December 8, 2003 


Dr. Ayl calls and we schedule the kidney aspiration for this Wednesday.

He tells me that the results of the aspiration will determine what course we take in his treatment.

The doctor also tells me that there may not be a course to take.

Not having an option is not a good option.


December 10, 2003


It's true!

It really is true. There are people who wave at dogs in the car. Or was that guy on the 405 waving at me?

No, it was Pinche the guy was waving at....I just happened to catch him out of the corner of my eye. Pinche wasn't waving back so I did.

Today we met up with photographer Shari Odell -- another dog lover -- at the vets. She was great with Pinche and being the female-loving-television-ham that he is, he ate up all the attention she gave him.

Dr. Ann Reed, a specialist in veterinary radiology would do the aspiration -- which in layman's terms consists of a big needle injected into Pinche's kidney to draw out a cell sample. The cells will be tested in a lab to determine what the mass is on his kidney.

Shari went in with Pinche and taped some of the initial consultation. The center didn't feel comfortable with the camera being in there when Pinche was given anesthesia so we stopped taping before the actual procedure.

Dr. Reed was great with the camera and I thank her for allowing us in.

Mr. Pinche was there for a few hours. Dr. Reed said he did well with the anesthesia and we should know by tomorrow or Friday what the results are.

Puppy prayers are welcome.

I took Bubba-dog, Pinche's best friend, to pick him up.

Amazing that even though there are two perfectly good sides to my car -- the left side and the right side -- with two working windows, the boys always feel it's necessary to sit on top of each other so they can both look out the same window, at the same time. Why?

Grand total for today: $469.93


December 12, 2003


Quote of the day:

"The reason a dog has so many friends is that
he wags his tail instead of his tongue."


December 13, 2003


Title of book spotted at Barnes and Noble:

"Cat Spelled Backwards Doesn't Spell God"

by Jeff Selis


December 15, 2003


He's scared. I can see the fear in his eyes.

As the doctors comment on what a well-behaved dog he is, they have no idea that he's just scared silly -- scared into not moving and being a "good dog".

Last night, I watched some of the video we shot of Pinche's first two visits to the vet. I hadn't gone in with him so this is the first time I saw what actually went on.

It was hard to watch.

I forwarded thru most of it -- I'm just not ready to watch all of it and take notes.

It's strange to see a dog getting an ultrasound. How many times have we seen images of a doctor looking at an ultrasound monitor as the camera pans over to a very pregnant woman awaiting the news "Is it a boy or a girl?"

This time the camera pans over to a big furry belly -- no puppies here, just a tumor or two.

How sad.

He's scared. I can see the fear in his eyes.

I am too.


December 16, 2003


"Congratulations! We've increased your credit limit!"
Notice received from one of my credit card companies today

Oh, goody.

Word's out I have an expensive vet and a sick dog.

All kidding aside, the credit limit increase will probably come in handy since this is not a cheap journey that we're on.

As you've noticed, I am including the amount spent on each doctor's visit. While this isn't about money, it is an important consideration.

Not everyone can afford this -- I'm not even sure I can. But as long as my buddies over at Discover, Mastercard and Visa keep on approving the charges, everything will be okay.

Everything will be okay. Everything will be okay. Everything will be okay.

I need to remember that.


December 17, 2003


Lessons in Love 101:  

December 18, 2003


 "You need to name the tumor. No, really, you do."
Advice from the frontlines

Everyone has a story to tell and advice to share.

Here, an excerpt from an online instant message session with my friend Cyndey-Sue -- who always has something to say. ;-)

Posted with her permission, of course. Cyndey's online name is BabooZadi, mine is ElyElla.

BabooZadi: Have you named his tumor yet?

BabooZadi: You have to.

ElyElla: Hadn't thought of it. "IT" seems to be appropriate so far

BabooZadi: No joke... that is what I did when I found out I had a tumor. I hung the picture of it on the frig and named it "Timmy the Tumor".

BabooZadi: It 'personalized' it for me and made me not so afraid of 'it'.

ElyElla: that's funny you said Timmy -- when I first found Pinche I had a dream that his name was Timmy, the flamenco-dancing dog -- no, I am not kidding

BabooZadi: Sounds strange, but it worked. Everytime I would touch where it was, my mind would think "Timmyyy" and I would rub it.. like a baby kind of.

BabooZadi: It made me want to 'care for it' rather than be angry of it.

ElyElla: where was it?

BabooZadi: my vocal cords

ElyElla: ouch

BabooZadi: Gigi... you really have to personalize it. It may sound like psycho babble, but there really became a change in how I felt about it when I realized that it was something real and growing inside of me... whether good or bad.

BabooZadi: So, rather than cry when I felt it, I rubbed it. I didn't do this consciously.. it just kind of happened.

 Timmy the Tumor?

All psycho-babble aside, as Cyndey calls it, I do believe in visualization, positive thinking, etc and I understand her theory...but Timmy?

I think "it" will just be "it" for now.


December 19, 2003



Can't you see I was napping here?"

"You scared me!
I thought you were......."

"You thought I was what?"
"Never mind -- go back to sleep."

"Humans are strange dogs."

December 19 in the afternoon


"He's a cancer factory."
Dr. Ayl commenting on the latest test results


It's not good. It's not good.

The results of the kidney aspiration are in and they show a tumor with abnormal cells.

In medical terms: Renal Carcinoma.

In my terms: very very bad news.

"Is he in pain?"

"He'll let you know if he is."

A surgeon has to be consulted -- this would be major surgery involving the removal of his kidney and biopsies of both his prostate and lymph nodes.

Keep in mind, we're still not dealing with the reason I brought him to the vet in the first place: the tumor growing on his back.

"What about that tumor, Doctor?
Can it be removed at the same time his kidney is?"

"Maybe, but only if the surgeon feels he can get it all."

Dr. Ayl says the ultimate decision on what to do is mine and I need to factor in the emotional and financial concerns.

I can't even think money right now although I know we're talking thousands and not hundreds here.

"Doctor, if operating isn't an option, how long would he have?

"If the tumor is spreading slowly, he could have another six months.
If it's spreading quickly, two months.
We just don't know."

Sixty days.

1440 hours -- that's not a lot of time. In dog years or in human years, it's just not a lot of time.

Prayers and positive thinking aside, I know this is the beginning of the end.

Pinche is at least 12 years old. The doctor just said he's a cancer factory. He has at least two tumors the doctors can see and possibly two others.

There is no bright side to this.

Yes, I will do anything and everything to save him but I can't kid myself here.

This is the beginning of the end. 


December 24, 2003


I just wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Even though times are tough, Pinche, Bubba-dog and I are feeling very blessed this holiday to know that there are so many special people and pets out you and yours!

Your thoughts and prayers have been and are very much appreciated. In my heart, I knew Pinche and I weren't alone on this journey and your emails have more than confirmed that.

Happy Holidays!


December 29, 2003


Ever get the sense that someone is trying to tell you something without actually saying it?

Dr. Ayl called today.

We talked about scheduling Pinche's next consultation which will be both with Dr. Ayl, the oncologist and a surgeon.

Again, we went over the tumor on his kidney and the samples that will have to be taken from Pinche's prostate and lymph nodes -- and the original problem, which is why we were there in the first place: the growing tumor on his back.

And the always dreaded part of the conversation -- the part where the doctor gently reminds me that maybe the only option for my boy is doing nothing at all.

No option is not a good option -- I think I've said that before.

Not having a choice is horrible. It takes away all hope.

No choice means no chance.

I somehow feel the countdown is on but I can't see the clock thru my tears.

Pinche isn't ready...and either am I.


December 30, 2003


Lessons in Love Part One: Forgiving and Forgetting

 "Can you please come home?"

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I just need you to come home."

"You're crying. What's wrong? What happened?"

"He bit me."


"He bit me."

"Who bit you?"

"Gigi, WHO BIT YOU??"


"Where did he bite you?"

"In the face."

There was blood everywhere.

It had been rolling down my hands and arms. Dripping slowly onto my white couch and pink carpet.

But I didn't see it. I didn't feel it.

I couldn't because the pain was just too intense.

My dog had just bitten me.

In the face.

But it wasn't my face that was was my heart.

My dog had just bitten me.

"Oh, God...why? Why?"

I must have asked myself that same question for at least half an hour as I sat on my couch holding my hands to my face.

I was bleeding; the bone inside my right nostril was exposed and my face was torn open in several places.

But all I could do was repeat the question over and over again.

Why did the dog that I found on the street
-- soaking wet and homeless --
why did he just bite me?
And why did You allow it?"

It all happened so fast.

It was late one June evening -- I was home alone with Pinche and Bubba.

I had found Pinche only six months earlier -- on a rainy night two days before Christmas -- and after countless newspaper ads and "found" posters went unanswered, I decided to keep him.

What else could I do? The pound was already overflowing with pets that had expiration dates posted on their cages. I felt like I had no choice on this one.

Plus, Bubba liked him.

Pinche peed on anything and everything. On anyone and everyone.

My then husband was going ballistic -- my white sofas were a not-so-lovely shade of yellow and no training in the world seemed to be working on this guy.

That night for the umpteenth time (umpteenth is a word, isn't it?) Pinche peed on the sofa.

The difference was this time I saw him do it -- he was caught in the act.

I quickly held up a paper towel - one square - to the sofa, absorbed some of the still warm urine and took it outside for him to smell while I said the words "no, no, no."

The paper towel in front of his snout, he let out a quiet growl.

It was the warning I didn't understand.

"No, no, no."

The growl went up a level. And so did my "no's".

It happened in a split second but in my viewfinder it was all in slow motion.

The distorted growl.

The mouth opening up.

The teeth coming at me.

Pinche had jumped up and bitten me in the face.

All I could do was cry.

And ask why.

Thirty minutes later I saw the blood.

That was really the first lesson learned: I'm not as vain as I thought I was.

Even though I work on television and like it or not, my face is an important part of my job, I hadn't immediately looked in a mirror to see the damage nor did I call anyone for help right away.

Maybe I was in shock because I really had no idea why I was bleeding.

What I saw in the mirror scared me to death.

The person looking back at me had a badly swollen face -- oozing gashes all over, blood all over her teeth and in her mouth. She had a bad nose bleed and her nose was twisted at a really odd angle.

She looked like she had just been attacked by an animal. A 92 pound dog.

I didn't recognize myself.

That's when I called for help.

"Sir, your wife won't stop crying.
We're concerned that she may be in a lot
of pain but she won't tell where it hurts."

"She is in a lot of pain."

"Can you tell us what's hurting her?"

"Yes. Her heart."

Betrayal can hurt so much more than any physical pain.

I spent the next six hours in the emergency room. A surgeon had to be called in to sew up the inside of my nostril and stitch up all the other gashes.

My eyes were swollen shut from so much crying and my face was swollen up like a balloon from the bites.

But somehow...somehow I managed to keep my husband from killing the dog that night.

The next morning, the Animal Services Inspector solved the problem: Pinche was under house arrest for the next seven days. Quarantined to our home until doctors could safely say that none of us was going to break out in rabies.

During the next few days, my face turned black and blue from the impact of the bites. An ugly reminder of the damage done.

It didn't help that I couldn't stop crying. And that "why" question kept haunting could something like this have happened to me? Me, savior of all street dogs? Rescuer of the four-footed lost ones? Why me?

And what was I going to do with Pinche now?

I couldn't very well give him away without explaining his "little" problem, could I?

If I told the pound that he had bitten me, it would be all over for him.

And if I gave him away without saying anything and he were to bite someone else, I would never forgive myself.

That left only one choice: to put him down.

"I'm going to keep him."

"You're what?"

"I'm going to keep Pinche."

To detail all the conversations I had with all the different experts I consulted during those seven days of bed rest and quarantine, would make for endless writing and reading, so I'll sum it up.

The experts agreed that if Pinche was normally a happy and healthy dog that didn't otherwise threaten me, then most likely he had been abused as a puppy and lashed out at me in fear.

If on the other hand, he was an angry dog that snapped continuously and threatened everyone around him, then I should do the world and myself a favor and put down what they referred to as a "bad" dog.

In my mind the choice was clear.

In my then husband's it was another story.

Keeping him was important to me in many ways. My greatest fear was that I would forever be scarred by the experience and would turn away from my love of dogs because of the attack.

I couldn't let that happen.

For months, it was a challenge just to be near him. I was scared. Scared of making the wrong move, saying the wrong thing.

But it was a question of mind over matter -- of forgiving and forgetting.

Twelve years later and with Pinche laying at my feet, I can say I learned the lesson....and I learned it well.

continue to:
Chapter 3 ~ Jan. 2004

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