My sweet girl is still with me, but three months after her diagnosis, I cannot ignore the heartbreaking facts: she's now doing the three-legged hop, and our formerly brisk mile-long walks have been reduced to ten-minute jaunts to the corner and back. Her tail is still wagging, she still gets excited when she sees her leash, and she still has a healthy appetite, all of which almost lets me fool myself into thinking maybe it's not that bad...
...until I see that limp. That's when I remember the vet at U.C. Davis telling me that a bone tumor is very painful followed with her dire warning about the excruciating pain of a leg fracture that is imminent at this stage. I also remember my promise to Olivia-- the same promise I made to Elvis and Lucy:
I won't let you suffer. I will never let you suffer. I have to let Olivia go before the pain becomes unbearable, even at the cost of my own personal grief.
And so, I'm preparing my girl for this journey she's about to take without me. It may sound crazy, but it's been distressing to think that when Olivia crosses the Rainbow Bridge, she won't know anyone on the other side. That's why, on the floor, next to her pillow, I've placed a portrait of my mom so Olivia might recognize her face. It comforts me to think of placing Olivia in my mother's loving arms and knowing she'll take good care of her newest "grandpuppy."
At night, when I'm lying next to Olivia on her pillow, stroking her velvety ears and rubbing her neck, I tell her about this wonderful place she's going to visit. A place where she'll be reunited with Elvis and can once again run without pain. I tell my girl how much I love her, and how sorry I am that she's hurting, but I promise she's going to feel better soon. I try not to cry because I can tell it distresses her and I want her to feel nothing but peace and love. So much love.
And she snuggles deeper against me and sighs a contented sigh and I hold her tight and wonder how can I bring myself to take this final step, how can I say goodbye to this dog I love so much? I never want to let her go. But I have to.
Last night I invited my friend, Lynn, over to watch an episode of the Twilight Zone. Not just any episode, mind you, but my all-time favorite. I love it so much, in fact, I wrote an essay about it several years ago that ran in my former "Dog's Life" column in the San Francisco Chronicle column. It also ran later in The Bark magazine. Today, I'm repeating a portion of this essay because it still resonates so strongly. I originally wrote it about my first greyhound, my "lifetime dog," Elvis, but realize now that the emotions I expressed back then capture how I feel about the dogs I've had since Elvis; my mother's dog, Lucy (who I adopted after Mom passed away) and my current girls, Olivia and Hazel. If you love your pets with even a fraction of the intensity that I do, you'll know exactly what I mean. A LIFETIME DOG* Today, when I look at my beloved dog, who will soon turn 8, I can't help but note his now gray muzzle and eyebrows. Like his human, Elvis is showing signs of age. And I realize, with an ache, that our time together will be much too brief. That's why I'm so fond of a particular Twilight Zone episode. Titled "The Hunt," it features a recently deceased man and his dog. As they ramble down a country road in the hereafter, they come upon a gate. "Welcome to heaven!" the gatekeeper declares. Except for the dog, that is. "What kind of heaven won't allow dogs?" the old man asks. "If he can't come in, then I'll stay out with him. He's been my faithful companion all these years and I can't desert him now." So the old man continues down the road with his dog. Soon, they come upon another gate. "Welcome to heaven!" the gatekeeper greets both man and dog. When the old man asks about the previous gatekeeper who said that dogs weren't allowed, he learns it was the devil. "He gets all the people who are willing to give up a lifetime companion for a comfortable place to stay," the old man is told. "They soon find out their mistake, but then it's too late." And the old man and his dog pass through the gates, toward the light. Toward heaven. When I cradle my dog's face in my hands and look into his liquid eyes, so full of unconditional love and loyalty, there's no doubt. Elvis is my faithful companion. My lifetime dog. And this is heaven. *Read the complete version in The Bark
My sweet girl is still with me, limping on occasion, but she seems to be comfortable thanks to pain medication. I won't lie; the past two months have been extremely stressful trying to come to terms with the fact that I'm going to lose my lovely "little tiger." I keep second-guessing myself, wondering if deciding not to amputate is the best decision. Is it? But then I remember what the vet at UC Davis told me when I took Olivia there three weeks ago for a second opinion. She said that Olivia's bone cancer is most likely the very aggressive osteosarcoma, and even with amputation only 50 percent of dogs survive up to 12 months. I can't pursue such an invasive procedure with such poor odds. I can't carve my girl up just so I can have her a few extra months. I just can't do that to her. And so, I'm focusing on pain management and quality of life. So far we're good. Her tail is still wagging, her appetite voracious, and she still gets over-the-top excited when she sees me grab her leash. Our walks may be slower and shorter, but I'll keep taking her "bye-bye" as long as she wants to go. Olivia is doing as well as I could possibly hope for, given the circumstances. Honestly, when she was diagnosed on Halloween, I didn't think she'd still be with me for the next holiday, let alone walking and playing with Hazel. That in itself is the best Christmas gift I could ask for this season. And a Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones, be they two-legged or four.
It's not a pinched nerve. That's what we thought, remember? But when Olivia's limp worsened after two months of anti-inflammatories and pain killers, Dr. Arnott finally referred me to a specialist. This guy took one look at her limp and said immediately that she wasn't limping from nerve pain. He suspected either a torn or injured ligament in her right rear leg. He studied Dr. Arnott's x-rays from September and then took new ones to confirm his suspicion. When he returned to the waiting room though, his face held a stunned expression. "It looks like a tumor," he said. "I'm so sorry." What? But it could be a shadow, right? Or benign? Or a fungal infection, which can mimic the symptoms of a tumor? Or a mistake, or anything, anything.... But when the surgeon performed a biopsy four days later,the report confirmed my worst fear: fibrosarcoma and possibly the even deadlier and aggressive osteosarcoma. Bone cancer. The surgeon couldn't get a wide enough margin for a definite reading because Olivia's leg is already so fragile, the bone was crumbling around the entry point of the needle. Amputation is only a palliative measure, not a cure. If it were a cure, I wouldn't think twice, but removing the affected limb will buy Olivia a mere 4-9 additional months before the cancer returns. And it will return because it's in her marrow. It's only a matter of time. I can't put her through such an invasive procedure for such a short fix. I can't do that to my sweet girl. This Wednesday marks our third anniversary when, on November 19, 2011, I saw my three-year old "little tiger" for the first time at Golden State Greyhound Adoption. When I took Olivia home that night, I was walking on air, thrilled at the many years we had ahead of us to look forward to. Now, we have just weeks. I am sick with grief. Absolutely sick.
“I am Hazel, hunter of Squirrels, defender of humankind.
Cats don’t interest me, nor do birds, rodents, other
dogs or even people for that matter, although an extended hand offering a
cookie might momentarily divert my razor-sharp attention. Especially if it’s a peanut
butter cookie. I love peanut butter. Oh, and particularly those homemade bone-shaped ones that my human makes. Right out of the oven, they are quite good.
Wouldn't mind one right now, actually. Maybe if I whine loud enough….
But I digress. My focus must remain solely for that tyrant of the tree, The Squirrel. How I abhor these bothersome pests, which are naught
but rodents with fluffier tails.
And how they taunt me, my enemy The Squirrel.
They park themselves in my path, fearless and brazen, teasing me with their
“come hither” stares as we momentarily lock eyes before they playfully scamper away
beyond reach, not the least bit rattled over their near brush with death. I
hear them chattering in the trees and this infuriates me. No doubt the impetuous
little rascals are mocking my failed attempts to conquer and destroy.
That’s not to say I don’t give it my best.
Given the 93 heats I ran as a race dog, one would think a retired ex-racer greyhound could catch one of these
scalawags, but they’re quick. And cunning, too. They know how to grab my
attention with the flirty flip of the tail or a leap between trees, all the while
evading capture despite my most enthusiastic endeavors. Even my mighty barking,
which echoes throughout the valley, doesn't faze these treetop minions.
My human is also annoyed by the unwelcome presence
of The Squirrel, I can tell. Whenever we’re going for a walk and I suddenly
lurch across her path to lunge at the furry little imps and she trips over me
and hits the ground with a heavy thud, she raises her voice and sounds upset. I
don’t blame her. My enemy The Squirrel upsets me, too. The world will be a
better place only with their total eradication, of which I take complete responsibility.
There may be collateral damage in its wake, but those are the times in which we
Because I am Hazel, hunter of Squirrels, defender
Ah, here we are in the glorious waning days of Indian Summer--toasty hot and the perfect time to give the dogs a bath before cold weather arrives and I have to resort to costly indoor facilities. Plus, I had just uber-cleaned my home, complete with moving furniture, beating rugs, and crawling on my hands and knees to use a toothbrush on the baseboards. Yes, I go clean-crazy every now and then, and clean dogs would be the final touch
And so, I started with Hazel. Brought her into the like-a-sauna-courtyard outside my garage, soaped her up, washed her down, and finished her off with a nice towel rubdown.
Now it was Olivia's turn. I swapped dogs, placing Hazel back in the house and bringing Olivia outside.
But this arrangement was apparently not acceptable to Hazel. She whined like she was being skinned alive. "You're having so much fun out there without me," she howled. "Nobody loves me, I've been abandoned!" Then, her mournful cry morphed into a demanding bark. Bark bark bark barkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkBARKBARKBARK!
And then, blessed silence. But only for 30 seconds before the barking resumed.
I rushed soaping up Olivia, cognizant of the fact that I've never met a neighbor who appreciates a barking dog. I wasn't outside more than eight minutes before my girl was freshly bathed and smelled like her "sister," of lavender and oatmeal. We returned back to the house where Hazel greeted us as if we were long-lost loved ones she hadn't seen since the last full moon. What a drama queen.
Not to mention a vengeful one. Because there, on the oriental area rug that was just professionally cleaned last month, was the ominous dark sign of urine. Which, by the way, was discovered only after I stepped in it and noticed my tracks across the freshly polished hardwood floors.
I looked for Hazel and found her quietly slinking on her belly toward her pillow, ears flat, furtively peeking at me out of the corner of her eye. This wasn't a "couldn't hold it" accident, mind you. My naughty girl had delivered a message as obvious as the horse's head on the bed from The Godfather, the man who was also known for the saying, "revenge is a dish best served cold." As opposed to the Dogfather's world where revenge, it would seem, is a dish best served wet.