Sasha Was Gone and Wasn’t Coming Back
Sasha the lioness who would be 20 this year has long had a mass on her face, but it was small and innocuous. Recently it had ruptured and there were reports that she wasn’t eating as well as expected so we decided to sedate her, remove the mass and check on an oral mass that had been seen back in 2008, when Sasha had been sedated to remove a collar that was embedded in her skin. Sasha’s previous owner had used her for photo ops and would stake her down tightly to the ground, with a short chain on either side of that collar so that she could not stand up or bite her tormentors.
I had a bad feeling about this. Jamie did too, but for different reasons. Lions are just plain scary. Everyone was worried that her mate, Joseph, would just go nuts and hurt himself or trash the separating doors, if he saw us anywhere near Sasha. We gave him 5 connected cages to explore and mark, a turkey, a whole chicken and a bucket of treats. Much to our surprise, that managed to keep him fully engaged throughout the next few hours.
Jamie and Dr. Boorstein easily sedated Sasha and then Jamie went in to be sure Sasha was asleep before the vet team came inside the cage.
Yep. She’s asleep.
Dr. Liz Wynn leaped into action as soon as Jamie determined that Sasha was asleep.
Dr. Justin Boorstein set up the anesthesia machine, under the watchful eye of Arthur and Andre Tigers.
Chris Poole helped Jamie and the vets carry Sasha the lioness up onto her platform for the procedure.
Gale Ingham held the Y pole over Sasha so that if she awakened suddenly, she wouldn’t bite the vets.
Dr. Wynn shaved the area around the mass next to Sasha’s eye.
We marveled at her big fluffy paws. Sasha had been declawed and defanged by her former owner.
Chris took her temperature and Sasha was connected to a blood pressure monitor as well.
We wondered if this odd little tail of hers was due to inbreeding or some trauma she experienced before her rescue.
Dr. Wynn did the mass removal while Jamie held the anesthesia mask on Sasha and Dr. Boorstein monitored her vitals.
The gas mask was something Jamie made out of a bucket because a dog mask was just too small.
Sasha seemed to be only lightly sedated, but at her advanced age we were being extra careful. She fluctuated a bit on the monitors, but that was because she was holding her breath. A lot of cats just scare us half to death because they hold their breath for so long when sedated, but her heartbeat was strong.
Anyone who didn’t know us would think from all the smiles and joking that we aren’t being serious, but it is just how we deal with such extreme stress.
The scar line on her paw indicates that her declaw job was probably botched and required multiple procedures and re wrappings before it finally healed.
Warning: Graphic Images Below
Once the mass was removed from her face, Dr. Wynn turned her attention to Sasha’s tongue. The mass she had seen inside the jowl back in 2008 was now gone, but there was a nasty laceration on her tongue.
At first we thought is was from her mangled, defanged tooth alignment, that she might be cutting her own tongue, but there was a big hard lump in the lion’s tongue.
Dr. Wynn decided to pull out the lump with the scalpel & tweezers and send it out for testing.
At Sasha’s age we probably would never take a chance of sedating her again, so we felt like anything we could do now to help her out later was going to be worth it.
After cutting out the hard little tumor, Dr. Wynn quickly began stitching up the tongue.
We were concerned that she would wake up any minute. Jamie and Dr. Boorstein where bracing her mouth open so that she wouldn’t clamp down on Dr. Wynn if she did wake suddenly. We only had a few minutes to go and didn’t want to add any more drugs to her system.
Jamie said, “She’s holding her breath. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her breathe.” Dr. Boorstein and Marie began giving her a vigorous chest rubbing. Dr. Wynn was done and we were going to reverse her, gather our stuff and run out of the cage…and then that bad feeling I had turned to peace.
I was leaning over her, in the cat hat because I was freezing in the 50 degree weather. I saw a tiny trickle of blood run from the sutured tongue onto the wooden platform.I felt a soft, yet powerful essence blow through me. I could feel Sasha’s spirit hovering over all of us as she rose through us and over the cage. She was free and she wasn’t coming back.
What was strange was that she still apparently had a heart beat, and we carried her to the soft earth, by the side of her cage to let her wake up. I was confused. I could feel her outside of her body, but we were all treating her body as if it were waking up. I scrambled with the volunteers to move all of the equipment out of the cage while Dr. Wynn, Dr. Boorstein and Jamie tended to Sasha.
I heard Dr. Boorstein call out for the Epinephrin. I’m no vet, but that rang alarm bells in my head and woke me from the kind of dreamy stupor that was Sasha in us, over us and surrounding us.
Dr. Wynn gave two injections to restart the heart in between CPR given by Dr. Boorstein, but Sasha was gone and she wasn’t coming back.
That bad feeling that I said I had?
Leading up to the time that we were going to sedate her, I felt like I was going to have to make the awful decision to euthanize her because I felt certain that her cancer had spread and that it would be the humane thing to do. What we had found didn’t look so bad, and her vitals had been so strong that her sudden death just left us all stunned.
I could sense Dr. Wynn replaying the entire situation over and over in her head trying to figure out where it all went wrong. She leaned back against the fence and seemed to be at an utter loss. Finally she said aloud, “I just don’t know what happened.”
I tried to reassure her by words I truly felt when I said, “I don’t either, but I do know that everything happens exactly as it is supposed to.”
We wrapped Sasha in a blanket and loaded her up onto the long-bed golf cart so we could do a necropsy in the Cat Hospital. Within moments Jamie texted me that Sasha’s lungs were absolutely riddled with tumors. While I hadn’t noted any trouble in Sasha’s breathing before today it was clear that if she had not died on her own this day, we would be back, a few weeks later to sedate her again, when she would begin to show signs of labored breathing. She made her decision and saved us all the pain of watching her begin to suffer.
I spoke to Joseph. He was laying quietly, looking in the direction in which she had left this existence. He seemed to know. He seemed sad, but seemed to know why she was gone.
Update 1/14/14 The masses in her lungs were a high grade (aggressive) adenocarcinoma. Bad cancer. – Dr. Wynn
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