One day at a time

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Saturday and it’s off to the vet to get the staples removed. Riley – never to be left behind – hops into the vehicle and we help Catie into the back. It’s time for a vehicle that’s closer to the ground.

It doesn’t take Riley long to determine that we’re going in the wrong direction of the park. Catie’s really not that surprised. She’s been to a vet’s office so many times in the last couple of months that she’d be astonished if that wasn’t where we were headed.

At the office, we meet Floyd – the world’s biggest lab. A 118 pound monster of a dog with a head the size of a bear cub who whimpers if his dad scolds him. And we meet Daisy – a dainty, diminutive Golden Retriever, who had a stage 2 tumor removed from her leg and is there to see the doctor because she won’t stop panting.

“There were a lot of staples,” the technician says, bringing Catie out of the back room.

And it’s time for the park.

It’s a dreary, dull day. One of those Alberta winter days where the world is monochrome and it’s hard to tell the ground from the sky except for the dirty piles of snow along the road.

The weather is irrelevant to Catie. She doesn’t have pain. She’s at the park. She sniffs and snuffles and rolls in the snow, picks up Riley’s discarded tree branches. She visits with Patrick, a lab cross who likes to chase Riley. Our neighbour shows up; Catie spots her long before we do and she runs.

It’s a good day.

At the park after a long hiatus


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Onward

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I haven’t blogged for a while, I know. My husband and I were away from the 19th to the 26th and Catie and Riley were in the very capable hands and hearts of my niece, who happens to be in pre-vet training, and her boyfriend.

I’m happy to be home.

Riley and Catie are having their post-supper nap: Catie at the foot of the stairs (it’s her new favourite spot), Riley on his pillow with his ball at his nose. I’m thinking I may join them soon.

Catie’s resilience has been unfaltering, from her first post-surgery day to now. She may have lost a limb but not her appetite or spirit nor her love of rolling in the snow in the backyard or greeting visitors at the door. Navigation on three legs daily gets easier for her. She instinctively positions herself in spaces where she can easily turn.

She gets her stitches out on Saturday and we’re hoping we can take her and Riley to the park afterwards to celebrate.

She’s tired of being left behind.

The results of the pathology report were positive for osteosarcoma, we were told today, but there was no indication it had spread to her lymph nodes. Chemotherapy is recommended and an appointment with the oncologist is scheduled for next Thursday.

I try hard not to think about the future: median survival rates, metastasis, more veterinary bills, but my mind, because I’m human, does detour down that lane in my more vulnerable moments.

The easiest way to re-focus is to touch her forehead with mine.

Homecoming

And the world – at least in this little corner and I’m aware of the devastating tragedies in so many others – is as it should be.

Catie is home.

Rick phoned me at work at 1:30 this afternoon. “You will be amazed,” he said. “She came hopping out to see me . She’s happier than she’s been in a long time. Her eyes are brighter. Everyone at the clinic is amazed by her. She insisted on going up the stairs herself after they took her outside for her bathroom break.”

And it is true. Despite all my cowardice and moments of crippling anxiety, when I pulled into the driveway two golden faces watched me from the window. Oh my. Is this joy?

As always, there she stood when I opened the door. Her and Riley, she on her three legs and Riley on his four, both their tails wagging, their faces upturned and happy. 

She looks just the same, I thought in amazement, except for the absence of  one paw on the ground and the t-shirt Rick had put on her. 

And she is just the same. Riley is actually the one acting a little oddly. He’s uncharacteristically cautious around her. Catie tried to entice him to play with her when she first got home, I’m told, but Riley wanted no part of it.

She ate her supper with typical relish. We took her on the deck to pee and to poop and right now, as I write, she is at the window watching for rabbits.

In the comments section of the vet’s lengthy discharge instructions, he wrote, “Cate is a wonderful dog.”

Waiting for Catie

Wednesday night, January 13

A mild winter’s evening in Alberta. The Christmas trees that lit the windows of the neighbouring houses are gone, hauled to the curbsides for pick-up or packed away in bulging boxes in basements.

Riley sits on one of the many dog beds scattered throughout the house, looking out the livingroom window. Is he waiting for Catie to come home? I’ve been preoccupied the last few days and wonder if he feels neglected and sit on the pillow beside him.

But his gaze isn’t fixed on a distant horizon and anticipated homecoming of his sister but is very intent instead on the three fat hares on the lawn.

We sit and watch them for a while. I don’t really see the fascination, to tell you the truth; in fact, I’m a little annoyed as I think of all the tiny rabbit pellets and peanut shells (one of the neighbours likes to feed them) I’ll have to somehow recycle when the snow is all gone.

They are very large rabbits and they are regular callers.

Riley looks at me out of the corner of his eye. He’s not sure why I’m sitting on his pillow nor why I’m suddenly so interested in the fat hares, so we chat about Catie. I do most of the talking, but he’s a very patient and respectful listener.

We talk about her-deep chested bark, the one that puts Riley’s to shame (his is on the high-pitched side, surprising for the size of him); her greeting disorder (we have not been able to  break her of jumping on visitors); her love of digging, of garden hoses and sprinklers and the plastic pool we put in the backyard on the seven hot days we get in the summer; the way she softly snores in her sleep (Riley is a very quiet sleeper); her silent and near-fatal flatulence; and her favourite sleeping position – on her back, head lolling, chest up, back legs spread.

I’m still worried about the days ahead, but I’m smiling anyways.

 Note from Riley: I have no idea what my mom is talking about. I’m not hearing any of the words I recognize: ball, food, supper, bedtime, park, truck, walk, cookie. I wonder if I can have Catie’s dinner.

Thursday, January 14

Catie will come home tomorrow. The veterinary hospital thought it best to keep her one more night, to keep her rested and quiet. She drank and ate today.

We have covered enough of the hardwood with new rugs to to make a generous path from the front door to the kitchen.

Tomorrow then.

Catie’s Big Day – Update

I realized this morning that yesterday’s update on Catie’s surgery went onto a new page instead of where I wanted it to be (I’m pathetically blogging inept) – so I’ll make this quick. Her surgery went smoothly, without complications, and went as well as they hoped it would. She’s still on IV antibiotics and pain killers and may come home this evening or tomorrow.

Catie’s Big Day

Last night. Rinsing a few dishes before heading off to bed.

Catie puts her muzzle on the piano keys and plays three bars of her little Catie tune. She likes to do that sometimes.

I hear her limping into the kitchen and turn to see her approaching me, tail wagging, Riley’s ball in her mouth (Riley is close behind her). She drops it at my feet and Riley grabs it, of course. She tries to jump up on me. It is one of her moments of inexplicable happiness and reaffirms what I already know – we are doing the right thing.

Note from Catie: Mom forgot to give me breakfast this morning which is weird because  I’m positive I heard Riley eating his. I’m sure she’ll remember later.

Eve of Catie’s Surgery

As Catie lies at my feet, I’m reminded that dogs are immune to the human time-wasting, energy-sapping, emotionally-depleting foible of worry. And guilt. And shame.

 

You see, I haven’t always felt this way about family pets. While not exactly Grinch-like, with a heart many times too small, I was, at one time, indifferent and bemused by the deep, abiding dedication of other pet-owners and the lengths they went to provide their furry family members with comforts and extraordinarily expensive medical care.

 

In my sad and smug ignorance, I simply didn’t get it. 

 

Little baby steps of transformation started with the death of my mother in 2001. Carried on with the growing up of our three children, leaving home, making lives of their own.

 

And completed on Christmas Eve, like Ebenezer Scrooge’s own metamorphosis, when I saw Catie sitting on the mat by the front door.

 

And brimmed over one year later when I chose little Riley from his eight other litter mates as he snuffled and scrambled for attention.

 

I finally, unequivocally, got it.

 

“I never thought I’d see the day you would let a dog sleep in the bed,” my husband once said.

 

Neither did I.

 

These two family members have taught me much about myself and about love. No other being has ever been so thrilled to have me come home; they don’t care if the walls need a fresh coat of paint or the curtains need to be laundered or the windows need to be cleaned. They’re indifferent to whether I’m wearing fashionable jeans or grungy sweatpants, whether I’m having a bad hair day or have morning breath or have a pimple on the end of my nose; such absolute acceptance of all my flaws. Each meal is devoured with the same uninhibited relish as the last one; every day they explore the backyard with earnest curiosity as if they’ve never explored it before. 

 

Even if I forget sometimes, Catie and Riley have taught me that each day, each moment is a gift; that we humans would be wise to treat all our loved ones with the same delight and tail-wagging enthusiasm whenever we see one another; that money is just money and what’s the point of having any if we can’t spend it on those we cherish; and that life is oh-so-precious and so worth living and fighting for.

 

We will love Catie with three legs just as much as we love her with four. She has loved us without prejudice or censure. A strong and often willful girl, I am confident she will do well tomorrow.  And she will be free from pain and soon be her old self again. This is a good thing.

 

To those of you who have sent their well wishes, thank you, thank you. Your stories of devotion to and the courage and resilience of your beloved pets have inspired me and give me great hope for the days and months ahead. Catie sends hugs and wet kisses to all.

 

The kindness of strangers does sometimes take my breath away. 

Tuesday

It’s 3:00 AM on Tuesday and I’m wide awake. Four hours sleep might have to be enough; the alarm is set for 6:00. Work will be a bit of a struggle today.

The house is quiet. Riley’s curled up on the dog pillow in the kitchen; Catie’s somehow managed to crawl up on the bed in the room that once belonged to one of the children. She’s been finding it impossible of late to climb up on our king size bed. I can’t count the times I’ve awakened in the morning with her body spooned against mine; her head sharing my pillow. Will she be able to do this again? I’ve missed her warmth these past few weeks when the weather’s plunged to -30C.

I’m not sure what I’m feeling. Fear over the days ahead. Worry over whether we’re doing the right thing; is this what Catie wants? Will she be okay? Will she adapt to life with three legs? How much time will she have? Does it matter? Heartbreak over the pain she suffers with such silent stoicism, the evidence of discomfort in her hesitation to move, her severely hobbled gait, her atrophied right foreleg; the little furrow between her eyes. Despite the inconceivable pain she must be experiencing, she still gets excited when visitors come; she still barks at the mailman and the hares that taunt her from beneath the spruce tree in the front yard; and she still tries to make snow angels in the snow on the back deck.

We first met the specialist on December 28, armed with equal parts anxiety and optimism and the two sets of xrays taken on November 13 and December 21 and sent by our own vet for his evaluation. He showed us the suspicious growth on her humerus, the motheaten appearance, the uneven edges of bone, and suggested it was likely bone cancer. Treatment options: amputation and chemotherapy. I could hardly make sense of what he was saying. She just turned six, I thought; we’ve fed her high quality food and taken her for all her check-ups and shots and walked her and loved her and how could this happen?

The surgeon sat on the floor. Catie crawled into his lap and licked his face with great enthusiasm and surprising affection. This dog’s not ready to die, he said. If we wanted to be sure of the diagnosis, he could do a biopsy.

Catie had her first biopsy on December 28. The results we received three days later gave no indication of cancer.

We were happy. We were relieved. The surgeon was perplexed. He consulted with other colleagues, his wife who is also a vet, his mentor in Florida.

She had a second biopsy Wednesday, January 6. This time the surgeon took numerous samples.

One of the samples clearly showed cancer cells. When my husband phoned me at work yesterday with the news, he said, “It’s all worth it if we can give her one more summer of going to the park.”

Black Monday

She came to us on Christmas eve six years ago, a living gift from our three children as the youngest prepared to leave home for nursing college. She sat on the mat by the door, a tiny fluffy creature, quiet and calm and adorned with a big red ribbon, and looked around her surroundings as if thinking, so this is my house.

Now she’s seventy-five pounds of blond fur with silky ears prone to matts, a feathered tail that oscillates with great vigour when she’s happy and tucks between her legs when she’s scared. Her eyes are the colour of dark chocolate chips. The top of her head smells like freshly turned earth and the smell of the pads of her paws make me think of popcorn. She likes dinnertime and treat time and go-to-the-park time; she likes socks and underwear and isn’t particularly fussy whether they’re clean or not – the laundry hamper is exactly the right height for rummaging.

She has a younger brother named Riley who quickly overtook her in height and speed, who charges through life with rambunctious energy and immeasurable confidence. It is his unquestioning belief – and rightly so – that people and other canines will love him at first sight, in absolute juxtaposition to Catie’s assumption that the world is just a little bit dangerous and strangers are not to be trusted. Her mistrustful timidity has made Catie’s life a lot more difficult than Riley’s.

And now, today, a second biopsy of a suspicious growth on her humerus showed definitively positive for cancer and she is booked for amputation of her right foreleg on Wednesday, January 13.