Saturday, December 5, 2009


Today, I found out that our family dog, Lady, has lymph node cancer.

She's 15 years old.

I took her to the vet this morning by myself, which felt odd for some reason. Perhaps because she's our family dog, and any decisions made on her behalf, I think, should be communal; tribal council style, if you will. At any rate, I felt ill-equipped and unprepared to handle any decision-making the vet threw my way. Thankfully, there really is no decision that needs to be made - at least not yet. Dr. Choo gave me a rough estimate on her life - about 6 months. He discouraged chemo treatments because of her age. He said we could expect her to have trouble breathing, eating, and going to the bathroom in the time to come. This was said to me in such a way to where he could have been telling me that I needed to brush my teeth every day, twice a day, and that cavities are unfortunate, but to be expected. On one hand, I appreciated his factual manner - it prevented me from bursting into tears in his office. On the other, I felt offended on my family member's behalf. Why? I have no good reason. Except that this family member deserves a lot of care and compassion. I think Dr. Choo felt uncomfortable. He called in one of the vet techs to be there when he told me, in case I did fall apart. The vet tech was probably more capable to deal with human reactions than the animal doctor. The only thing that I was able to focus on, in lieu of the emotions sitting like elephants on my chest, was a chart on his wall, detailing the different breeds of dogs by continent. I learned that one of my favorite breeds of dog, the Bernese Mountain Dog, is Swiss. I didn't know that.

Dogs get so little credit for what they do. The constant, unconditional love and care they give us, unfailingly, all the time. Dogs never disappoint. They never flake out. They accept us and love us for exactly who we are, and when the world seems to be falling apart, when stress and pain and worry and fear start to consume us - there's the world's best friend, sitting there, wagging her tail, putting her head on your knee, licking your hand. Lady isn't the world's best dog. She's done a lot of bad things in her life, and is hopelessly addicted to food of any variety. One Christmas, my sister gave me a box of Ghiradelli dark chocolate. We went to the movies (as we do every Christmas), and Lady ate the entire box, including packaging. Chocolate is poison for almost all dogs ... except Lady. My aunt freaked out, and insisted that we take her to the animal emergency room, who fed her charcoal, as a way to pump her stomach. I think that did more harm than the chocolate would have. To look at her, you wouldn't think she was the sneaky bottomless pit she is. At 85 lbs, she's the epitome of a black lab. She crosses her front paws when she sits down (hence her name), she sleeps about 18 hours out of every day. She has a fear of water from falling into the pool when she was a puppy. She loves going into the car. She looks ferocious and menacing, but will (and has) let burglars in, and welcome them with a panting smile, and a hopeful eye (humans = Gods of Food). She lets our alpha cat, Timon, lick her and cuddle with her, even though she doesn't like him very much. But for all of her faults, all of her many transgressions, I conjecture that there is no dog alive with half as much sweetness and patience as she.

I think it's really easy for us, as human beings, to slip into surrender when we hear something like, "Cancer" or "six months to live." At least I know it was easy for me. I had a good cry in the car on the way home. Until I heard a voice say, "She's not dead yet." I caught myself thinking about the future without Lady ... without her sleeping on her pillow, or laying in the doorway of my room. It's easy to take for granted that which has always been there, and even easier to assume that it always will be. But so long as her quality of life is okay, so long as she's comfortable and happy, she has every right to expect from me a joyful, loving friend. And as I think about everything she's given me in her 15 years on this planet, I am determined to change those thoughts to ones of service for her, and will continually strive to ask, and attempt to answer: "How can I be a better human to my dog?"

This blog is brought to you by:

Unconditional Love


Erin said...

great entry. hope you're doin well! Miss ya!!!

Anonymous said...

oh alyssa! i'm so sorry to hear this... but i know that you will enjoy the time you DO have with her...


Phoenix said...

:( this makes me so incredibly sad, sweetie.