McNeil Labradors





(Photo taken September 18th, 2004 - the birth of Salice and Como -  the last litter sired by Beamer)

Int Ch Beechcroft Shoot The Breeze, SR,WC, JH, CGC, TDI

                         March 5th, 1995 - December 23rd, 2004

I drove to McCarren International Airport (Las Vegas, NV) the evening of May 7th, 1995 to pick up the most beautiful little man I've ever seen in my life - the little man who would become my best friend, loyal and faithful to the end, a good listener, a friend who would share with me many experiences from conformation showing to a day in the duck blind.

Linda Jackson, my mentor and dearest friend (Allendale Labradors) stood with me as the skycap rounded the corner, a small cranberry colored crate atop a great, huge trolley.  As the skycap arrived, Beamer looked at us as if to say, "I've arrived safely, and I'm ready to go home."  As I drove home from the airport, he sat quietly on Linda's lap as we both said he was the most handsome puppy we'd ever seen.  Linda said he was a big man in a little man's suit because he flew all the way from NH by himself.  His first mom, Mary Wiest said goodbye to him that morning!

Beamer and I shared precious time together over the years.  I traveled and Beamer went with me whether by car or plane.  We were inseparable.  I'm sure that Beamer accumulated the equivalent of more frequent flyer miles than most people.  We had a lot of great times at shows - our debut in Oklahoma City at the fair grounds.  Oh what delicious smells were on the ground.  I wondered if I would make it through the day because Beamer had his nose pinned to the ground all the while, the judge trying her hardest to go over him and check his bite.  Over the years, we went to many shows, one of our last was the International Show in Orlando, FL where Beamer won Stud Dog Class with his daughters, Raven and Java who are now seven years of age, and in the same show, Beamer took Reserve Best In Show!!!  We enjoyed obedience, therapy work, and shared good times at Ivy Creek Guide School.  What Beamer enjoyed most of all was a training bumper and a duck blind.  Hunting was his real love, true to his last days of life!

The end of October of 2003, Beamer developed a weight-bearing lameness on his right rear side.  Cruciate ligament injury was the first consideration because Beamer held this leg off the ground when standing.  With controlled exercise, acupuncture, and anti-inflammatory meds over the next few weeks, the limp didn't get worse but it wasn't better.  I truly felt that Beamer's limp was somehow related to a problem with his spine - like a person who limps with sciatic nerve pain. 

Through my personal research, I began to realize that perhaps there was more to Beamer's limp than orthopedics.  The most common cause of non-weight-bearing lameness is orthopedic disease, however neurological causes should be a diagnostic consideration.  Lameness caused by disease of the nerve root or nerve is often confused with orthopedic disease because of the disturbances of the nerve's sensory distribution (nerve-root signature) or disruption of the motor innervation. 

The first of December I called Dr. Marcellin-Little at the Animal Rehabilitation and Wellness Hospital in Raleigh, NC.  I was able to take Beamer for evaluation the next day.  Dr. Marcellin met Beamer on a previous occasion when he treated another one of my dogs.  At first evaluation, Dr. Marcellin thought Beamer's pain might be  "Lumbosacral Disease" (LS)  because palpation and compression were painful.  Nerve-root pain and dysfunction are the common results with Lumbosacral disease, a disease of older large-breed dogs, with a predilection for male dogs.  The cause of degenerative LS is multifactorial, but it is usually caused by disk extrusion. 

The purpose of sharing our experience, Beamer's and mine, is absolutely not intended to imply that your general practicing veterinarian isn't capable of a proper diagnosis.  The facets of veterinary medicine are many.  I was encouraged by my primary veterinarian to take Beamer to Dr. Marcellin for another opinion.  I encourage you to always pursue a second opinion. 

Dr. Marcellin-Little is a board-certified veterinary surgeon in Europe and the US, and he's also a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner.  His expertise is in the diagnosis, surgical treatment and rehabilitation of orthopedic conditions in companion animals.  He is actively involved in education and clinical research linked to animal rehabilitation. 

After Dr. Marcellin's evaluation, Beamer was referred for further evaluation to Neurology at NC State.  The neurology examination is a system by which the clinician can evaluate the functional integrity of the nervous system by patient observation, palpation, postural reactions, spinal reflexes, etc.  For the next two days, Beamer had electrodiagnostic testing which revealed changes consistent with a problem with the sciatic nerve.  Radiography, myelography, and CT evaluation of the lumbosacral disc area also revealed a herniated disk, mostly left sided.  All along, Beamer had been right sided with the limp in his hind leg.  Still, after testing, nothing was definitive however the neurologist indicated that he was suspicious of Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumors (MPNST).

The only option remaining at this point was Magnetic Resonance Imaging, typically referred to as MR (sometimes MRI).  MR units have varying magnetic field strengths.  The unit of measurement used for magnet is the Tesla.  The transverse nature of MR allows visualization of nerve roots, spinal nerves, and proximal portions of the peripheral nerve.  Because of the suspicious nature of Beamer's diagnosis, it was necessary to locate MR with Tesla magnet strength sufficient to obtain images of diagnostic quality of the spine.  University of Georgia (UGA), Athens was the closest veterinary university hospital with MR.  Beamer was referred for a wellness evaluation on December 10th and MR on December 11th, 2003.

The handsome dog who had been my "little man" just yesterday would be fine - I held on with vibrant hope and kept faith for the best outcome. 

The drive to UGA on December 10th was uneventful.  Our family at Ivy Creek Guide Dogs came to our rescue, offering a place to stay since the school is located halfway between home and UGA.  Karen, loaded up the van with guide dogs in training, and Beamer and I got aboard for the trip to UGA.  The day was long, the next day, December 11th was longer.  The drive to UGA was depressing and dismal in the pouring rain.  The news came at the end of the day after MR, the diagnosis was deafening - MPNST.  Beamer and I would experience some very challenging times together and I would ultimately be faced with very sad and difficult decisions. 

"Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumors are slow-growing tumors that extend by local invasion along any of the peripheral nerves and their branches.  They rarely invade surrounding tissue, and metastasis is also rare.  Although any peripheral nerve can be affected, more than 80% of the reported cases involve the brachial plexus or its nerve roots.  Other sites affected include the pelvic plexus, thoracolumbar nerves, and cranial nerves.  MPNSTs affect mature dogs with no sex or breed predilection. 

The tumors that affect the brachial or pelvic plexus result in slow but progressive unilateral lameness and muscle atrophy of the thoracic or pelvic limb, respectively.  Non-weight bearing lameness is minimally responsive to anti-inflammatory medications." (Veterinary Clinics of North America, Small Animal Practice "Lameness", Renberg and Roush DVM, MS, Guest Editors, Jan 2001)

The drive back to Ivy Creek on December 11th was very quiet.  It's difficult to talk when you're choking with emotional pain.  Karen offered that "you can't cry if you hold your breath".  She really was trying to comfort me - I was so sad that afternoon.  Barbara and Harry (Ivy Creek) had called by that time to offer their help, to take Beamer somewhere else if needed.  By that time I felt numb and incapable of thought past the next minutes.  We settled in for the evening back at Ivy Creek and the reality of the afternoon finally settled on my strong, supportive friend.  As Karen sat on the floor with Beamer, she looked up at me and said, "I couldn't hold my breath any longer." 

I truly believe we have a strong spiritual connection to those whom we love, whether it be person or animal companion.  During my sleep that night, Beamer and I were walking in the woods down a beautiful path.  Leaves were on the ground and there was a chill in the air.  It must have been Fall or Winter, I'm not sure.  As we walked, Beamer walked in front of me about 20 feet further up the path.  I called to him to come back and as I called him, he turned and looked at me with kind, dark, sad eyes as if to say, "It's time for me to go, please don't worry about me - I'll be fine, I'll be waiting for you".  I held that dream close to heart and never for one minute discarded what it might mean.

The next day, December 12th was Saturday and time to head home.  Decisions had to be made.  On Sunday afternoon I was able to speak with Dr. Marcellin who by that time met with a team of radiologists and neurologists at NC State to discuss the options available for Beamer.  The MR from UGA revealed two tumors very close to Beamer's spine leaving no margin for removal.  The tumors could only be removed by means of hemipelvectomy, a very radical surgery involving removal of half the pelvis and right rear leg.  Because the surgery posed such a serious threat to Beamer, I declined the surgery and decided to let Beamer live the remainder of his life with as much quality as possible.  The last thing I wanted to think about was the process Beamer would go through and the time in ICU which might be weeks with no guarantees.

The most difficult part of making this type of decision is reminding yourself that you made the best decision based on your options at that particular time.  As difficult as it was to accept, I realized that Beamer's life would depend on the progressive nature of the tumors.  The neurologists seemed to think Beamer would have about three months without surgery and possibly a year with surgery, no guarantee that the tumors wouldn't return. 

The year of 2004 began with a higher degree of dedication to Beamer to make our remaining days together more fun, more positive than before and as active as Beamer would tolerate.  We had a lot of car rides, walks in the woods and an occasional swim in the pond.  He was happy as long as he was with me.  I cooked for Beamer every day.  His meals consisted of high protein (fresh meat), adequate fat and low carbohydrates - fresh green vegetables, anti-oxidants and a balanced enzyme supplement.  This type of diet is referred to as a neoplasia diet - tumors feed on carbohydrates and the goal was to try and keep the tumors from growing.  We had a good exercise schedule, frequent veterinary checkups, acupuncture for pain management, and underwater treadmill therapy sessions and rehabilitation evaluations by Dr. Marcellin in Raleigh.  Beamer was on a low dose of Metacam daily for pain relief and he seemed to tolerate it quite well. 

Our life progressed a day at the time and each day with Beamer was truly a blessing - another cherished day.  Beamer continued to have muscle atrophy in his leg and by June of 2004, his leg hung lifeless from his body.  During this time, Beamer also suffered minor facial paralysis on his right side which caused his lip and eye to sag slightly.  His attitude was still very lively and alert, and I never let on that he was anything other than whole and handsome.  I tried very hard not to let him know that I knew he was going through changes, progressively getting worse.  Beamer was very stoic, dealing with his disability and always eager for the opportunity to retrieve a bumper.  In his mind, he had no limitations!   Beamer also continued an occasional visit to the fence just in case there might be a girlfriend close by.  The tail always wagged with such enthusiasm, the ears were pulled back and he always wore a silly grin on his face as if to say "Elvis has arrived".  He was still most handsome!! 

Beamer and I arrived at December 11th, 2004 which marked a year since diagnosis.  This was truly a miracle, a time to reflect on the blessings of each day with Beamer and a time to celebrate his life.  I had the dream once again - Beamer and I were on the path in the woods...."It's time for me to go, I'll be waiting for you".  Ten days later, late night (December 21st), his health began to fail.  Beamer didn't seem to feel well, he wasn't alert as he had been in weeks prior.  Of course there were occasional days that weren't so good but this time, it was different - Beamer was losing bladder function. 

On December 22nd (Wednesday), Beamer seemed more lethargic but he still kept an eye on my whereabouts, following me from room to room.  I called my veterinarian and asked her to be prepared to help us during the holiday if it was time to say "goodbye". 

The rest of the day, Beamer and I spent together.  We walked in the woods and sat by the pond where he rested for a while enjoying the nice weather, looking at the pond, almost as if he remembered all the fun from years past, swimming and fetching ducks and bumpers.  I sat with him and Abbie, his lifelong buddy of almost ten years for an hour, enjoying the time together.  It really was a special day - one that I will always treasure.

Beamer had an underwater treadmill session and evaluation scheduled for the next day (Dec 23rd) in Raleigh with Dr. Marcellin.  We had just been for a visit the week before and the warmth of the underwater treadmill seemed to help him feel better.   I decided to keep the appointment with hope that instead of bladder complications, we might find that Beamer had a urinary tract infection which we decided to test for during our visit.  I was determined to continue doing all that I could do for Beamer. 

The morning of December 23rd Beamer wouldn't eat.  I had a huge lump in my throat as I feared the decision that might face me that day.  Everyone who has experienced anything like this told me "when they stop eating.....".  We were leaving for Raleigh in just two hours so I quickly cooked a plain chicken breast for Beamer which he ate.  The drive to Raleigh seemed extra long, the day was rainy and dismal and I was anxious to get there.  We arrived at the Rehab Center at 11:30 am and it was obvious that Beamer was very tired, more so than when we left home.  As we walked through the door, Dr. Marcellin greeted us and said, "he doesn't feel well - such a difference from just a week ago".

One half hour later, Beamer looked at me with kind, dark, sad eyes, the same eyes I saw a year ago in my dream the day Beamer was diagnosed at University of Georgia, Athens, the same eyes I saw in the dream a week earlier...... "It's time for me to go, please don't worry about me - I'll be fine, I'll be waiting for you". 

The hardest thing in life is letting go of someone or something you love so much but you have to love enough to give them the gift of flight, to know they will be free of pain, whole again, in a better place.   Beamer and I made it through a year, 377 more days, and while I knew our time together would end, I still wasn't prepared to lose my best friend.  At this point I must tell you that I spent quite a lot of time going to another room when I felt that I could no longer take the sadness.  It's important to keep a good attitude, to try as hard as it gets at times, to be happy.  Your best friend knows how you feel - happiness, sadness, etc.

Determined not to let Beamer see my tears our last few minutes together, I held him close and recounted the times he and Alex had escaped as youngsters, a run around the lake, a swim with the children down by the marina, "Alex, Beamer, come" as my pleas to return fell on deaf ears, calling and searching for them for hours.  I recounted the re-landscaping tactics of Alex as Beamer stood by and supervised, never touching anything, just supervising.  He always seemed to be so fond of Alex and now, was time.  Alex was waiting for him.  As I sat holding Beamer's head in my lap, his eyes closed peacefully, he didn't suffer....

Beamer would have been ten years of age March 5th, 2005.  I was very blessed to have him another year.  Beamer was a good teacher - my first titled hunting dog, such a gentleman that he had a standing annual invitation to the Pheasant hunt in Virginia.  He was stoic, proud, and a beautiful dog - the epitome of a Labrador, true to the breed.  Most of all, more importantly, he was my best friend, faithful and always a good listener. 

Many of you knew Beamer as a puppy, young adult, mature gentleman.  Some of you knew him from the beautiful face that will remain forever on my website homepage.  Beamer was responsible for many good friendships that developed through his children, grandchildren or great grandchildren.  Everyone who met him, loved him.   

Maria Church of Mia Bella Labradors said it the best......The first time I went to Margo's I was met by Beamer at the door.  That big happy face and that thumping tail, said to me, "Welcome, you are in the right place, and boy do we have a Lab puppy for you!"  And then I met Alex, who was totally unconcerned with strangers visiting the babies she so obviously loved.  As she lay in the whelping box, nursing her brood of black and yellow, she fixed me with those lovely brown eyes, seemed to smile, and in my mind, I heard her say, "Yes, you'll do."  That moment has led me on a wonderful adventure of learning new things, going to new places, but most importantly of meeting and becoming good friends with you all.  In looking back at that first Alex connection, I think she knew then, the adventures her babies would lead me on.  Thank you Alex and Beamer!" (Marc and Maria have Tess and Ella - an Alex daughter and granddaughter)

Beamer and Bella, (Alex' daughter) left a very special gift for me, his final gift, - Salice and Como who remind me that a bit of him will always be with me.  They truly are their father's children!

Where is Beamer buried?  He's deep in my heart where he'll always be close to me. 

"I live among God's creatures now, in the heavens of your mind, so
 do not grieve for me my friend, as I am with my kind."
~Author Unknown~


McNeil Labradors
Statesville, NC 28677

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Last Updated:  September 16, 2013

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Thought for the Day:

"Do not wait for life.
Do not long for it.  Be
aware, always
and at every
moment, realize
the miracle is
in the here and now......." -
Marcel Proust