“I’m not really a dog person.” he told me early on while we were dating. He may have just as easily told me he was from another planet. At the time I had not one, but two big dogs — an aging collie and a hyperactive lab mix, both well over 65 pounds. I remember raising an eyebrow as he told me this, because my collie was leaning against his knees.
A little over a year and a half later we moved in together. By then, my old collie dog had lost her long and quiet battle with cancer, and I had only the big chocolate lab/pointer mix, who was essentially a 6 year old, 80 pound puppy. When I first moved in, we had many disagreements about the dog. Was it really necessary for the dog to sleep on the bed? Yes. Could he eat his dinner outside? No. I made concessions about sleeping on the bed, though. It only seemed fair. (Well, it seemed fair to me. The dog disagreed.) And with that, the two most important males in my life lived in strained tolerance of each other. For a few months.
One morning, I got out of the shower to find him sound asleep in bed, his body coiled around my giant drooling dog. Certain that this would end badly upon his waking, I tried to coax the dog off the bed without waking him. My urging and bribery was met with a groan and satisfied tail wagging. Finally, I decided to wake him up. “Honey, do you want me to get the dog off the bed?” I asked. “Nooooo.” he answered half in his sleep, “Leave the dog.”
From that point on, the two of them have been inseparable. Over the last several years, I have often come home to find the two of them on the sofa (a violation of my rule!) curled up and watching television together. When he comes home, the dog runs to the back door, wagging and whining for attention. And now when we go places, he always notices people’s dogs, and stops to scratch the ears of the particularly large, friendly ones.
Three weeks ago, after a bad fall down our staircase, my big sweet lab was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. The xray of his femur that our gentle veterinarian placed on the light box was filled with round growths and shadows; causing the bone to look like melting swiss cheese. I asked quietly what to do next. Our vet explained the rapid process of metastasis with bone cancer in dogs. He told me that while they hadn’t found any large tumors in the dog’s chest xray, based upon how advanced it was in his leg, it was safe to assume it was in his lungs as well. The dog would have four months to live, at best. Then he told me that honestly, he would expect him to live perhaps one.
I left with two bottles of pain pills and orders to “keep the dog quiet”. No running, no jumping, and absolutely no climbing of stairs. I cried on the way home, carried the dog into the house, and called him at work to tell him the news.
The first couple of nights, we locked the dog up downstairs; his dog bed sitting empty at the foot of our own bed, and next to our daughter’s bassinet. He whimpered the whole night. By the third night, my husband picked the dog up and carried him upstairs, where he laid him on his dog bed then curled up next to him for a few minutes, talking softly to him as the dog’s tail thunked against the floor. In the morning, he carried the dog downstairs again.
He does it every night now. Gently picking up the big old beast and carrying him up the fourteen steps to our bedroom, being careful not to touch his back leg, or put too much pressure on it. The dog not only endures this nightly ritual, but he seems to radiate his gratitude. In the morning, my husband carries him back downstairs and outside. A few times, I have offered to carry the dog, but he is insistent. He will carry the dog up each night in these last weeks of his life. And each time he does, I can feel my heart breaking just a little.