Dog wisdom: Living with vs. dying from

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This week, I found out that my almost-16-year-old dog has lymphoma. It wasn’t a surprise. I mean, he’s over 100 in people-years. The lumps in his jowls have felt lumpier of late, so this week we went in to check on these and the other elder-dog maladies.

Google gives him 2–4 weeks. My vet, a more optimistic 6–8. Drugs or chemo would be an option, if it were an option. But he’s already past his optimistic expiration date (GSPs generally live 12–14 years), and I’m not inclined to make his last weeks or months worse by these palliatives’ side effects.

And while it’s not a surprise, it is an elephant-sized weight on my heart. He’s been living with this illness inside him — for months now, if not years. Yet he wakes each day, hopeful to greet an impending adventure. He walked 12km last Sunday. He did another 10+ today. How’s Gus? My friends ask. He’s good, for a given value of good. Sure, he’s slow. And has to wear shoes on his hind feet because his toes drag when he walks. And he’s fairly deaf, or at least very selective in responding. And the eating and pooping and walking and waking and sleeping are all a little off-kilter these days. But he runs on the beach, albeit in an almost cartoonish and slow-motion half-canter. And he still wants to take the longer loop in the woods even if it takes nearly twice what it used to. And he lights up when he sees his dog friends (and their humans) on our walks around town…but, yeah, he sometimes has to lay down if the humans get to yakking. And he won’t say no to a treat, or a pat, or a kiss on the nose…

What I am going to do is make these last weeks or months about living with, not dying from, this disease. There will be more treats (per the vet: he can eat whatever he wants!), more walks, and more…what? That’s the amazing thing about dogs: they are content to be warm and fed and safe and in the company of their humans, regardless of the anthropomorphic silliness we dog owners project on our pets.

We should take lessons from dog wisdom: a long walk on a spring-like afternoon, seeing a deer on the trail you always take, a nap under a warm blanket, snacks from a friend you meet in town, a loaner from the “stick library” in the park, a pat or a hug from someone who thinks the world of you…recognizing these simple luxuries is essential if we’re to live with what we’re dying from.

The stress of overwork and too little play, the overindulgent, under-supportive lifestyles we aspire to are pushing us to overlook the small points of gratitude today while reaching for the improbabilities and the maybes of tomorrow. We’re dying from excess and greed and indulgence and envy, while not living with (or in) the present.

This dog I’ve managed to keep healthy and happy, and who has kept me placated and grounded and sane for nearly 16 years is now living with something I can’t fix or save him from. He’s living with this thing that’s eating him from the inside, and yet I don’t think he knows he’s sick.

I’m not going to tell him.

Gus has attained something of celebrity status in my small corner of the Universe. I first wrote about him here, in a piece I titled On Messing up the Bed and Other Things I’ve Learnt From My Dog.

And there has been more over the years: A Year of Dog Wisdom, written after I had Insta-Gussed for a year. Then, the beginning of the Insta-Gus project: A Month (or so) of Dog Wisdom. And also this one: Guided by pawprints, some thoughts after his 15th birthday.

There will be more to come…

Written by

Instructional Designer, writer, photographer, wanderer, reluctant but sometimes sparkly introvert, curious one, believer in magic.

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