I am missing our boy today.
On a quiet Saturday morning, a few weeks ago, we let Captain go in our arms, a relief from suffering which had developed suddenly and quickly escalated out of control.
Right now, though devastated and angry, I’m also trying to embrace gratitude for the time we had with this incredibly beautiful boy. I think some animals touch your heart more than others, teach you lessons never looked for, bring a bright and swift bond into your life. And gratitude is the only word I can think of.
We’ve had our little monster, Pepper, for two years now and had been looking for quite some time for the right second dog- in November we brought home Captain. And fell in love. He had been through probably ten transitions in a year: continually returned to the shelter, slated for euthanasia, adopted out, returned again. From day one, Andy and I just didn’t get it. He felt like home.
To summarize a long journey, soon after bringing him home, Captain developed what we originally thought was a strain on his right front leg. When this didn’t improve quickly, x-rays showed a possible bone infection, potentially related to an old injury sustained in the same area. Initially he responded well to antibiotics and pain meds… until he simply didn’t anymore. The final diagnosis rolled in, so unfair, so unbelievable. Our lovely, goofy, Gumby boy had osteosarcoma (bone cancer).
As an oncology nurse, I know what that course looks like. Sarcomas (soft tissue cancers) are just bitches- they are aggressive, metastasize quickly, and don’t respond well to treatment. Most courses are palliative in nature (aka, symptom management only, not curative), and in dogs it’s evidently even worse. Utilizing all resources- amputation, chemo and radiation- 90+% of them don’t make it one year.
In an email to his incredibly supportive rescue group (who all came together looking for recourse and resources and advice, I cannot thank them enough) I said:
“So, we're heartbroken. I, especially, feel like I'm in a weird place, like being outside of myself and looking in. Professionally, I understand what we are looking at and that any intervention is simply a time buyer, and not necessarily a quality time buyer at that. It *might* be, or it might not. Yet I find myself wanting to try, but I also know that is grief and denial and anger talking. To say I'm pissed at the injustice of it all is an understatement. But that's cancer for you…”
That said, Captain has been a blessing, especially, I think, for me. He lanced a wound I didn't even realize I had. Without going into excessive, boring detail, in the last months we have delved into an entire new world of dog training related to reactivity, body language and the incredible response of shaping behaviors thru positive reinforcement and counter conditioning. We learned more in the last few months regarding dog behavior than we had in years.
What is it about dogs? I don’t know. I don’t know why they are so incredible, why I’m a dog person instead of a cat person. Regardless, I feel animals are important in our lives- not substitutes for humanity, not more important, but different and vital and amazing. A book I’ve been reading recently summed it up beautifully, I think:
“I like that Luke is not a small, furry, four-legged human. I am blessed with many human friends and I don’t need dogs as substitutes. Some of what I get from my dogs is similar to what I get from my human relationships. But just as I can’t discuss world peace with Tulip, there’s something that I get from my connection to her that I can’t get from my other, human friends. I’m not even sure what it is, but it’s deep and primal and good. It has something to do with staying connected to the earth and to sharing the planet with other living things. We humans are in such a strange position- we are still animals whose behavior reflects that of our ancestors, yet we are unique- unlike any other animal on earth. Our distinctiveness separates us and makes it easy to forget where we came from. Perhaps dogs help us remember the depth of our roots, reminding us- the animals on the other end of the leash- that we may be special, but we are not alone. No wonder we call them our best friends.” (Patricia McConnell, The Other End of the Leash, 2003)
So, I am missing our boy. I’m missing his goofy run/stride/gallop, his whoo-whoos, and his 6 am face-lick alarm clock. Those long legs. His unbelievable ability to find squirrels anywhere, anytime.
It feels like a piece of home is missing.
We let Captain go at home, holding him in our arms, feeding him steak and Tillamook cheddar, kissing his head. His fur smelled minty and like something else, something akin to good, clean earth. The pain had escalated dramatically in the last ten days, and we had already made the decision not to put him thru extensive and invasive treatment that wouldn’t save his life.
I am grateful for the time. What an adorable joy of a boy. Hopefully we did right by you, even for such a short time.