No Such Thing As Just a Dog… (8 years as Tillie’s mom)

Baby Tillie

Tillie turns eight today.  Over the last six weeks , we’ve gone through a health scare with Tillie. It began with a painful sore on her bottom that was not healing, despite two courses of antibiotics. The third trip to the vet revealed a growth just inside her bottom. Her vet suspected a tumour and refered us to a specialist in Cork.  Once the referral was made, all we could do was sit and wait.

I’m no better than Tillie at sitting and waiting. The vet had already warned us that colon cancer in dogs carries a pretty grim outcome. My internet searches confirmed this. Most dogs will die within three months of diagnosis, even with surgery and treatment. And those three months are excruciatingly risky and painful for the dog. Large dogs and dogs between the ages of seven and nine make up the majority of those that develop colon cancer. Tillie was just shy of eight. She’s a big girl at thirty-three kilograms. She ticked all the worst boxes. My sweet girl.

My Furry Buddah

Now I am generally a glass-half-empty type of person. Hope terrifies me because, historically, dashed hopes have knocked me hard. Let’s just say, I have issues. Looking at Tillie and thinking to myself ‘This could be our last week together, our last month, three months’ whatever the case — ‘our last time‘ felt tangible and near, inevitable, unavoidable and unbearable. I could not look at her in the present moment without simultaneously seeing her vanish. Anticipatory Grief. I know it well and fall down that rabbit hole so effortlessly, with such familiarity. It’s like my true home. I had to consciously pull my head out of my pre-grieving ass and be present with the living, breathing, loved and lovable, tail-wagging dog standing in front of me, wanting attention, love, contact, and my presence. Tillie was giving me a masterclass in living in the here and now. She deserved and deserves nothing less.

The next week as we waited for her appointment in Cork I probably watched Tillie closer that ever before — I mean really watched her. It was obvious that her bottom was uncomfortable, but her appetite was as good as ever, her eyes were bright and she was as happy, playful and energetic on our walks as ever before. Hope was nudging at me. I’d cuddle her, breathing in her doggy smell and whisper ‘stay with me’ into her fur.  But driving to her appointment apprehension had my stomach tied in knots. I couldn’t manage a conversation with my partner at all — my head was full of Tillie.

The specialist looked her over thoroughly. He commented on how well her colour, coat and skin looked. He told us her heart sounded very strong. More hope seeped in. Questions about her history, her general health through the years and her current problems were asked and answered. He told us we could collect her later that day and he’d phone us with her lab results in about a week.

At this point Tillie was on her third course of antibiotics and pain relief. She had to wear a donut collar to keep her from licking the wound, but she was coping really well. She seemed her usual happy, hungry self. My own mood began to shift as well. I wouldn’t say it out loud, but I felt very hopeful. I started allowing myself to imagine that she’d be fine and we’d have much more time together. A week later my hopes were confirmed. She doesn’t have cancer, just a nasty infection that will take a bit more time to heal.

A few weeks later and today we celebrate Tillie’s birthday. She started her sixth course of antibiotics today, but the wound is healing nicely. We’ve had atrocious weather all week, so we haven’t had much outdoor adventure time, but Spring will happen and our adventures will begin again. This is our eighth year together. This episode with her illness taught me so much about myself, about my relationship with Tillie and my history and relationship with loss and grief. It’s also taught me about gratitude, love and commitment. Tillie came into my life at a time of enormous loss. She is the baby of my grieving widowhood. She was the new light shining in a dark moment in time. She continued by my side through additional losses — my sister, my father, my two older dogs — the dogs of my marriage and that other life that now seems centuries away from where I am today. Through all of that, Tillie has had that uncanny ability to redirect my attention to the now. The drumming of her tail, the swagger in her gait, her gentle, sleeping snore restore me again and again to the present moment. She is a gift that I very likely do not deserve, but am lucky enough to have anyway. I love her and I’m so grateful that I have more time to continue loving her and making her tail wag. 

Molly misses you, . . . whoever you are..

molly

On a walk through town with Aluta and Tillie, I saw a young man chasing a dog and calling after her ‘Molly!  Molly!’  But Molly was off like a flash and I watched as I saw the distance between man and dog grow longer and longer.

Fast forward twenty minutes or so, and my girl dogs and I are only a short distance from home, when who should we see dodging out of traffic, but the very same Molly.  Thinking surely her owner must still be searching for her, I took Tillie’s lead off and put it on Molly and brought her back to my place.  I phoned the local animal protection people to see if anyone had called looking for her. Nothing yet.  I left my details and Molly’s description with them and did the same with the local dog warden.  Meanwhile we wait.

I am anxious about Molly.  Molly is anxious as well.  This is not her home and she just stares at the back gait, refusing nibbles and water.  What happens if no one comes forward to claim her?  I cannot keep another dog.  Apart from living in a rented property, where two dogs is a generous concession on the part of my landlord, I am struggling like mad just to feed myself and dogs I have.  I cannot afford another pet.  So what happens?  Do I just open the back gate and leave it to Molly to find her way back to her people?  If I did that I’d worry endlessly that she’d come to harm in the traffic.  Do I surrender her to the local animal shelter?  They’re surely over-full of stray and abandoned pets as it is and won’t likely have room.  The dog warden is out of the question.  I am fully aware that if I were to do that and she was not claimed within the week, she’d be put down.

Meanwhile, Molly still stares at the gate in the back garden.

My here and now resolve is as follows.  Molly will remain my house/garden guest for today.  I will take her out walking with Tillie this evening in the direction where I first encountered her.  Perhaps she’ll be spotted, or will lead us in the direction of her home.  Someone is bound to turn up for her.  She’s a sweet, well looked after dog, and she’s missing her people.

Update:  Molly (who is actually, ‘Dolly’)  has been claimed!  We are ALL relieved.

molly2

 

The dark haired poet

writer
She’s been writing all morning.  She has a story niggling at the back of her curly head . . . Something about knee caps and shards of broken glass . . . a re-imagining of another (true, sad, painful, personal) story she heard once before.  A story told, in hushed confidence, by someone she dearly loved and sorely misses.  And though her heavy paw has hovered above the keyboard since she rose this morning, she cannot compose that first sentence.

She experiments with different styles; stream of consciousness, prose, iambic pentameter, free-verse … she tries a haiku.  Delete, delete, delete them all.  She grunts and closes her eyes for a minute.  She runs downstairs for her kitty-cat egg timer.  She sets it for five minutes and free-writes.  Here is what she comes up with:

I’madogwhocan’tsit still.  There’s a cat onmywindowsill.  Mommytookasleeping pill. Here is the page that I must fill.   Look! I found the space bar! I should be out chasing a car.  Broken glass Broken glass.  The ginger cat fell on his ass.  Broken glass.  Knee caps. Stop gaps.  Thin skin.  Embedded shards.  Permanent scars.  Symbols.  The dance of veils as  shards emerge through the years each representing a time and place locked away in her head.  It’s out. It’s examined.  It’s remembered, re-membered, removed and moved to that other place.  each time another shard, another moment.  a betrayal an argument a loss a replacement and she grows and grows and grows.  Like a puppy.  a Brown puppy. I was a brown puppy.  I’m getting off track. what about the glass?  the knee cap?  How did it happen. can women fly?  time does not.  How many minutes left.  Done.

She yawns and shakes out her curls.  The dark haired poet looks over what she’s written.  Perhaps a short nap, a ride in the car, a romp in the park, a poop on the grass will bring the story closer.  With her fat paw-pad, she presses ‘save’, then shuts down the computer.  She completes three circles at the foot of the bed and lies down.  Shiny shards of broken glass dancing inside her curly, dreaming head.