The Old Dog Ain’t Got Long
On the X-ray, they looked like coins of various denominations scattered throughout his lungs. A penny here. Two dimes. A fat nickel. Tumors, the vet said. A lot of them.
I didn’t really take him in expecting a diagnosis of that nature. Cancer? Jesus. I took him in because his hip problems were worsening. He wasn’t making it up the steps as much. As a shepherd dog, he likes to be with the herd, with his peeps, and now with wobbly hips he couldn’t be with us as much. Was no longer as easy to slumber near me as I do my morning writing or come upstairs and sleep by our door at night. It frustrated him and so he’d sit at the bottom of the steps and bark at us.
“Hey. Hey! Hey. Hey. HEY. I want to come up there but I can’t and so I’m saying hey.”
I noticed that his barks were hoarse. Like they didn’t have enough air to them. Plus, at night he’d sometimes make these unproductive gagging noises. Not quite coughs. A persistent hairball.
And then, the panting. Not always, not even often, but sometimes he’d pant fast and shallow.
Vet said, let’s X-ray.
And so, lung cancer.
Fuck cancer, of course.
Fuck cancer right in its canker-sore-encircled ass.
I am tired of cancer stealing away the ones I love.
Some day, cancer, I suspect we will do battle.
The old shepherd — a Belgian shepherd, or Groenendael — is 13, now. Not a young buck by any means. Knew that one day sooner than later the time would come that something would befall him. It’s part of the deal when you get a dog. Not like getting a parrot. Parrots might as well be vampires for as long as you’ll have them. You buy a pup, though, you know that time is ticking down. Faster than you’d ever like. It’s like George Carlin says: life is just a series of dogs.
I got Yaga when I was in college. He was just a fuzzy little knucklehead back then. I had no idea the terror he would be as a puppy or how woefully unprepared I was to handle a dog of his needs. We’d always had dogs growing up, but I didn’t take care of them by myself. So, it came and went that I instilled a lot of bad habits in him not really knowing any better. He got shut of most of those habits by the time he was maybe three years old, and as I grew up I guess so did he. I wasn’t a great owner, but I got better at it. Made mistakes, but I guess none bad enough to diminish the old boy’s boundless enthusiasm and sweet, doofusy love he offers to anybody who walks in the door. Even now with hip problems and lung cancer and god-knows-what-else wrong with him (Lupus? Dogbola?) he seems without compunction or fear. Most times he wags his tail and still has that vacant, goggle-eyed look he’s so good at giving. Like, you know, this one.
I’ve recited this litany before, but I repeat it because it continues to astound:
He should be dead by now.
He’s eaten table legs, linoleum, a Playstation controller. He ate an audio tape and so I had to leash him to a stop sign while out for a walk and pull a whole reel of audio tape from his butt with makeshift paper towel gloves (my neighbors watched). He ate a big box of rat poison. He ate dark chocolate truffles and threw it up on my heating vents in winter (so when the heat came on, you first smelled hot chocolate and, seconds later, hot bile). He had a cancerous growth on his paw. He had Lyme Disease, but only showed sickness when he started taking the Lyme meds. He was attacked by a bull elk, thrown up again and again against a chain link fence by the elk’s prodigious antlers. He saved me from a fire in my double-wide trailer.
Heck, just a couple weeks ago he fell down the steps. Tried climbing up, couldn’t, and rolled back down.
Was utterly unfazed.
He constantly bangs his head into countertops and table-corners.
He’s a tough cookie, but I don’t think this is one battle he can win.
Age is a tireless opponent, especially when cancer is its weapon.
The vet doesn’t know how long he’s got. He refused to speculate because, while the tumors look bad, the dog barely shows any signs of being affected. Could be weeks. Could be months. Could even be days. The hope is that he’ll go slow and peacefully. No cancer is pleasant, but sometimes lung cancer affords its victims the luxury of dying in their sleep. But if it gets bad, we’ll have to take him somewhere. Growing up on the farm, my father always did the euthanizing himself. A lot of our dogs met their end at the end of a gun. Sounds barbaric, and maybe it was, but that’s life on a farm. It was rare to see my father cry, but talking about dogs past was one way to make that happen.
As many have said wisely, it would be a poor effort to mourn the old boy before he’s gone, and so we have taken to spoiling him with tons of treats and foods which would normally be a luxury. The vet said we were good to have him groomed, too, so he’s now all pretty, which is why everyone always calls him “her.”
“She’s so beautiful!” people say.
And I say yes, yes he is.