Saying goodbye to Lulu; South Whidbey family considers dog part of the pack

Lulu the dog sits at the family table with owners Gretta

Lulu would do anything for her girls.

Though she isn’t biologically related, or even of the same species, the 2-year-old boxer, with her soft white and penny-colored hair and big brown eyes, is an integral part of the Jones family. She’s one of the kids along with 5-year-old Gretta and 9-year old Grace, her loving pals and playmates, said owner and mom Mandy Jones.

On Wednesday afternoon, Gretta tosses Lulu her favorite yellow tennis ball as Jones looked on endearingly.

These few moments spent playing in the front yard is one of the last times the girls will be together, and they are savoring every second.

Lulu was recently diagnosed with what veterinarians say is either myeloid leukemia or myelofibrosis. The two illnesses are very similar in nature, and both are terminal.

The Jones’ beloved youngest four-legged companion is expected to have about another week to live.

At 2 years old, she hasn’t even begun to experience life yet, Mandy Jones said. There are so many things they had planned for her.

In order to relish every remaining moment with Lulu, and in order to ensure her short life has been well-lived, the family has made a bucket list.

“Some of our favorite memories we’ve made have been with the bucket list these last couple of weeks,” said Mandy Jones.

The list, she said, has also helped family members to cope with the pending loss.

“I know she’s not human, but it’s almost like losing your child,” Mandy Jones said.

She realized something was wrong about two months ago, when Lulu suddenly collapsed while playing outside. Mandy Jones picked her up and brought her inside, hoping it was a one-time occurrence. But when it happened once more, she rushed Lulu to the veterinarian.

After a blood test, the vet discovered that Lulu’s red blood cell count, 35-40 percent in a healthy dog, was at 25 percent.

“We ran every test you could possibly think of with her blood work, and everything was coming back negative,” Mandy Jones said. Even an ultrasound was to no avail.

The vet referred her to another doctor in Lynwood. More examinations, including a bone marrow test, ultrasound and heart monitor, rendered largely inconclusive results. The vet determined it was an autoimmune disease, and administered medications.

Lulu didn’t respond to the medication; her red blood cell count continued to drop, prompting the vet to send her blood work to Colorado State University.

The results were complex, but likely signaled an untreatable and extremely rare form of leukemia. To be sure, the blood was sent to Minnesota State University, where vets there became concerned Lulu was developing myelofibrosis, scarring on her bone tissue due to a severe autoimmune attack.

As veterinarians from Whidbey to Minneapolis continued to search for answers, Lulu’s red blood cell count continued to fall.

On April 9, Mandy Jones received the prognosis.

The only way Jones could know for sure whether Lulu had the suspected terminal illness was if she underwent another bone marrow test, which she could not survive due to her severe anemia.

The veterinarians told the Jones family that Lulu could survive without pain for another two to four weeks. After that point, she would become unable to walk or eat.

On Wednesday, April 22, Mandy Jones said Lulu’s last blood test had revealed her red blood cell count to be at 18 percent.

Once it drops to 10, she’ll be euthanized to avoid suffering.

“We don’t want her to be in any pain,” said Mandy Jones.

“I still have her on all of her medications, holding on to that last tiny bit of hope that they’re wrong,” Mandy Jones said. “But I know in my heart that they’re not. But I have to try.”

Lulu, she said, is fighting too.

“It’s not genetic, just a really bad luck of the draw,” she said.

None of the other puppies in the litter, or Lulu’s parents, have the same condition.

“It’s devastating for all of us,” she said. “It’s almost an overwhelming heartbreak.”

The Jones’ previous boxer also died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 8.

“She was our baby before we had kids,” Mandy Jones said of their previous pooch.

It took a while before the Joneses were ready for another dog, but eventually they made the trip to a breeder in Eatonville where Lulu, the runt, introduced herself.

“She just sat in my lap and… we decided she was the one,” said Jones. “She was so cute, just this little, tiny thing. She was just seven weeks old… but super full of spunk.”

In her final days, Lulu is getting to do things she’s never been allowed to do before. She gets whipped cream and “tons of snuggles” every day; she’s played baseball with the kids; she enjoyed a steak dinner seated at the table with the family; she got to play with bubbles.

Lulu’s dad, Trevor Jones, is enrolled in the firefighting academy, and since she won’t be able to see him become a firefighter, Lulu had the chance to sit in a fire truck.

She’s visited both of her parents’ current workplaces, became a show dog at the girls’ show-and-tell, has gone for several walks and played at the beach unleashed. She jumped on the trampoline with her kids, which Gretta said was one of her favorite moments, along with the seaside strolls.

“She loves to be everywhere her kids are,” said Mandy Jones. “She loves her kids.”

Hanging in the family’s kitchen is a paw-print painting made by Lulu alongside handprint duplicates from Gretta and Grace.

After Mandy Jones put out a request on Facebook, Gretta’s preschool teacher donated the use of her convertible so Lulu could take a spin with the top down.

“She loved it,” Mandy Jones said.

She’s been to church, and will be starring in a photo shoot on Saturday.

By Lulu being featured in the newspaper, the girls hope to check one more item off of Lulu’s bucket list: making her famous.