January 13, 2015

Guilt, sadness today. Grief, loss on the horizon.

Cooper, when we first adopted him

Three and a half months ago I took my dog, Cooper, to the vet for some tests because he was behaving strangely. At the end of that visit we discovered that he had a tumor in his bladder and an enlarged spleen. But they felt it was operable. So, three months ago my dog had surgery to remove his spleen and a large portion of his bladder. The surgery went well. He recovered quickly. And was doing well. Until about a month ago, when he started acting strangely once again. I talked to the vet, they did a urinalysis, and everything came back normal. So she gave him some extra pain meds to get him through the holidays and we decided to just go ahead with our already scheduled 3 month follow-up ultrasound in January.

Which was yesterday.

It did not go well.

The cancer is back. Another tumor in his bladder. It's pressing on his prostate and colon. One of his nearby lymph nodes is very enlarged, likely the cancer has spread there. Some levels in his kidneys are elevated...not in a good way. The cancer is an aggressive one. The prognosis is grim. So, medication to help keep him comfortable. One month, maybe two before it gets really bad.

Flash back five years and one month ago. My dog, Jack,...my first baby, who I'd gotten right out of college and was my constant companion for twelve years and who had been very sick for a very long time...had gotten really, really bad. I had to make the decision that his quality of life had gotten so poor and that he was in so much pain, that it was time to help him cross over.

Fast forward five years and one month to last Sunday when I sat on the steps to our basement cleaning dog pee from the carpet and crying because even before yesterday's vet visit, I knew things were bad. I am crying because my dog is sick and dying. And I'm crying because I still carry guilt for Jack's death. I was crushed when he left and I never felt right with the decision I made to help him go. He was my sun and moon before my kids came along. For almost ten years he was my only companion and confidante. And he was a amazing soul.

And now there's another sweet companion staring up into my eyes waiting for another scratch on the head, likely not knowing what lies ahead for both of us. But I have a pretty good idea. Because I've been there before. And if you've had a beloved pet, then you've been there before too. And I just don't know how I'm going to do it again. Make the decision. Say goodbye. Carry the guilt.

I have a lot of thoughts swimming through my head right now... I really thought I'd have a lot more than five years before I had to go through this again. I really thought I'd have more than five years with Cooper, even though he was already about five when we rescued him. I feel terrible for Cooper. I feel terrible for me. I feel terrible for the kids who will be losing their first pet. (I have very vivid, painful, sad memories of losing my first dog, Susie, when I was eleven.) I feel guilt for not always being the best caretaker for Cooper. I feel guilt for it taking so long for me to really bond with him because he joined our family at a time of babies and small children (my own fault, of course). I am already mourning the loss of our evening walks in the warmer months...who will I walk with under star-filled skies this Spring and Summer?? Who will keep me company at night when my husband is traveling for work??

But I know it's not time to go there yet. He is still here. He is still constantly by my side, usually with some part of his body touching some part of mine...his back leaning against my leg, his butt on my foot. He is still begging for food and needing to go out (a lot) and always, always waiting for attention and love.

And so, instead of mourning the loss that is to come, I have resolved to give him the life of a doggie prince in his remaining days. A life filled with pets and scratches and cuddles. A life filled with treats and food and ham bombs (I wraps meds in ham to make them treats...he now freaks out with doggie joy whenever I open the meat drawer in our fridge.). A life filled with unhurried walks with lots of time for sniffing. A life filled with as much time being close to his people-pack as possible. Because that's all he really wants.

It's so simple.

How could I ever have gotten it wrong?

Like so many things in life.

Until next time, friends, go give someone who needs it a cuddle or scratch or pet. It's so simple. Don't get it wrong.

Me and Coop at his obedience school graduation

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