Sunday, September 27, 2009

Borrowing a beautiful story about a dog with Cancer

I am stealing a post from someone else - a blog by a Sydney journalist that I randomly came across on Friday. She writes about losing her beloved dog to Cancer - the funny thing is she writes about a beach called Rose Bay, which is the exact same place where Jack's Lymphoma was confirmed by his Vet on the phone as Jack swam in the shallows. I haven't been able to go back there out of supersitition.
I loved this story and it is how I feel about Jack - he is my "wingman" and we do so many things together....

Without my wingman
Words alone are not enough to honour a dog. They should be accompanied by treats, tummy rubs, favourite games. But there comes a time when those are no longer possible. For my dog Zach, that day arrived six weeks ago.
The first day without my dog, it rained. It was the sort of rain Zach had no time for; a drizzle too light to create the torrents and splashes he loved to chase, but persistent enough to dampen his coat and chill his paws. He disliked the discomfort of bad weather. You'd never suppose he'd once been a yard dog with only a kennel to separate him from the elements.
When he first came home with me, he went straight to a shag pile rug, reclined on it with an aristocrat's prerogative, sighed contentedly and never glanced at the outdoor kennel again. He became a mutt made good, compensating with charisma for what he lacked in pedigree and exploiting his attributes with the charm of a penniless gigolo. Blessed with an ageless, Disney puppy's face, outsized paws and tufts on the ends of his floppy ears, he was an improbable anthology of dog stories - beagle, cattle dog, glimpses of spaniel and possibly even Dachshund or Doberman - which somehow worked. He walked with a rolling swagger and a smile, his tail beating time. His accidental beauty and his comic flamboyance enchanted even those indifferent to dogs. Thanks to Zach, I grew accustomed to smiles from strangers.
That first silent day alone, I watched it rain while I wept for my lost friend. Had he been there, he would have tackled my sadness in his usual way by fetching me his most cherished treasure: a chewed up, malodorous toy flea. He would dump it on my lap or shove it under my chin then step back and search my face for a smile, his ears standing out sideways like wings. 'Bat ears,' we called that trick. Sometimes he'd lift just one. Half bat. He knew it made people giggle and might earn him a sausage. "Look at his ears!" they'd say. After his death, they wrote eulogies about his ears. He'd have preferred sausages.
Zach regarded gloom as wasted time. Whenever self pity - a condition incomprehensible to dogs - laid me low, he'd persist with his efforts to lift my spirits, trying to coax me outside, imploring me to play. If the flea didn't work, he'd pull every other toy out of his box one by one, and pile them at my feet. Denied a result still, he'd disappear into the garden, dig up some foul old bone from his flowerbed pantry and bring it inside, knowing that the stink would at least provoke a reaction.
Missing him, holding his old toy flea, I've tried to summon my dog's resistance to sorrow. But the world holds less magic without him.
Five years ago, Zach came to me from a kind family whose circumstances no longer allowed them to keep him. No-one else had wanted him because he was already eight. Too old. Someone should have tried telling him that. Then, and almost right until the end, Zach possessed the exuberance of a pup. So robust and supercharged was he that I was convinced he'd go on until 16, 17 - maybe 20. Despite legs too short for his body, he could bounce four feet in the air to catch droplets of water, bubbles from a blower or a spray of sand. Zach-in-the-box, I used to call my spring-loaded boy.
We understood each other. I knew that beneath his bravado and gregariousness there dwelt a sensitive soul, vulnerable to rejection. He was frightened of more than he cared to admit. He knew the same about me and we had a pact never to let anyone know. Together we were braver.
He was wary of the sea but fascinated by it, so I gradually encouraged him into the shallow water at Rose Bay beach. Scared of being out of his depth, he would only wade out if I went on ahead. Each time, we ventured a little further. He began to experiment cautiously with 'swimming', walking on his back legs and paddling with the front. Each time he did this he'd wade back to shore and run a grinning lap of honour. Then one day he finally swam properly, in a circle around me. His pride was delirious and so was mine. We danced on the sand. Tell people you've shed a happy tear over a mutt swimming in a foot of water and they'll most likely consider you a bit soft in the head. I'm happy to admit I am, because I did.
The last five years are a trove of those memories; big adventures built from small things. Zach transformed the everyday - grocery shopping, visiting the hairdresser - into the extraordinary. I rarely went anywhere without him. He was my wingman, my partner in crime and my best friend.
Sometimes, he was my escort at parties. He attended the opening of a Burberry store, clad in his own Burberry dog coat, and worked the room for canapes and compliments. After his death, Brooke, the event's publicist wrote: "He will forever hold a place in our hearts - a rogue in a designer dog coat, the pooch who upstaged the celebs... and perhaps our best-behaved guest ever."
He wasn't Lassie. An incorrigible shoplifter and scavenger, he once climbed all the way inside a bin in search of a festering feast. He upturned a tray of pastries in my local shop and stole from picnics in the park. If he couldn't see the point of a command, he'd ignore it. But he committed his misdemeanours with such glee and comic timing that no-one ever managed to be angry with him for long.
Zach was a demanding dog in the best possible sense. He demanded that you see his point of view. So many of his actions seemed aimed at convincing those around him of the pure joy of being a dog. He'd turn to look at me after doing something he especially enjoyed - rolling in a bad smell, weeing in an inaccessible spot - with an expression that said: "You should try this. You'd love it."
When he was prescribed chemotherapy for his cancer, I was adamant we'd stop if it even slightly diminished his zest for life. But he tackled his treatments with signature gusto, suffered no side effects and for a while, he beat back the disease. He simply refused to be ill until suddenly, in late October, his body grew too tired to contain his huge spirit any longer.
On my last evening with him, I carried him to the little beach at the bottom of my road, where he used to play in the sand. He sat on my lap and together we watched the waves. Next day, in my garden, he lay in my arms as the vet helped him depart in peace.
I still expect to see him at my feet or to hear him bark for me as he did whenever I was out of sight. Some people call their dogs; my dog used to call me. The silence is the hardest part.
But Zach's gifts remain. Thanks to my dog, I can be mesmerised by ocean spray dancing on the air. I can follow the meandering path of a falling leaf. I watch butterflies, beetles, bluebottles. I listen for distant noises and wonder what they are. I turn my face to the sun. I smile when a breeze strokes my hair. Zach taught me to seek and enjoy the small and humble. He showed me how to view the world through eyes that see only the good in things.
And so, even though I haven't yet felt able, I will return to our favourite park. I will sit on the pontoon where he and I used to sit, trail my hand in the water and watch the droplets the way we used to. I will visit his trees. I will stop to examine interesting objects on the ground. I will reach out and catch raindrops. I will greet my friends exuberantly. Most of all, I will strive to love the way Zach loved me: openly, loyally, abundantly; without ambivalence, grudge or suspicion.
In these ways I will celebrate Zach and while I do, he walks beside me still.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jack has trouble with Sentinel

Life is back to normal with lots of walks and cuddles after a fright last week. Jack used to get an annual Heartworm injection but I have been told that it is absolutely essential with Lymphoma that a dog never be vaccinated again. So last month, I gave him a Sentinel tablet which I ground up because he kept spitting it out. This month I managed to pop a whole one in his mouth and scratch his neck till he swallowed it. The next morning I woke up to find something I hadn't seen for more than 4 months - horrible diarrhea all over my home. Ugghhh ... my heart dropped and I stayed home from work I was so worried. BUT the good news is that it was just a reaction, and I guess it was a big realisation for me that I can't afford to worry at everything and to just enjoy the moment with my Jack.

My brother had to put his 12 year old Border Collie to sleep this week and his family is so sad about it. So I just want to enjoy Jack, who is enjoying his walks and playing with other dogs. He was even wanting to go walking yesterday when Sydney was bombarded by a horrible dust storm.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

4 Months On

I have been very slack in updating - but spending the last almost 4 months since Jack finished his Chemo really enjoying every moment of our time together. Jack remains in remission and will have his next check up in around 4 weeks, with his Oncologist. He has put on a lot of weight, and at one stage, I thought I would have to put him on a diet! HAPPY DAYS!!!

Jack's coat has grown back and when I look at the photo from when he finished treatment he looks like a different dog - his coat has grown back darker and one of my neighbours described his coat as "lustrous"!! I will take some new photos of him this weekend and post.

Since Jack finished Chemo, he has been on Mushroom Extract, and I have kept his diet as it was during his treatment - i.e. I cook for him. BUT he has been able to have bones again, which makes him very very happy.

He had a holiday recently with me, and it was great to see him running along the beach and behaving like a dog with the 2 labradors who came along.

His weight is back to where it was before diagnosis (maybe a bit more!) and he is a very happy and content little Schnauzer.