A dog, love, and living in the now.
There is an unsettling north wind blowing today on our hilltop. The sky is grey, flat overcast, just a hint of a pale, turquoise-y blue on the western horizon. It is cooler than average for this time in April and the 60 kilometer gusts make the house shudder a little.
While I love the views of the forests all around us and of sunsets to the west, I don’t like wind. Even on a sunny day I can feel a little uneasy when it is gusting like this. But my mood is likely amplified today anticipating a visit to the veterinarian with our dog Angus. I fear there may not be many more visits to the vet with him, and despite the onerous expense of our vet bills lately for Angus as well as two elderly, ailing cats, for once that’s not a good thing.
Last fall we took Angus in for dental surgery to remove a broken lower canine that was down to the gum line and had a dead root. He needed it removed before it became infected, as well as a cleaning. He also had a wart-like growth on his paw that was to be taken off as it was vulnerable to tears with all his running about the woods.
While in surgery the vet called us to ask if we’d known about the strange kind of hole or opening tucked high up in his groin. No, we did not! It was not in an easily accessible spot, not at all visible unless he was splayed out, belly-up on the couch or the bed, and even then you had to poke around a bit.
We thought it could be a wound from his runs in the woods through blackberry bushes and broken sticks and such. The vets thought it could be a fistula, an abnormal passage sometimes caused by infection or inflammation, in this case perhaps an opening in the skin indicative of some interior infection that was creating an outlet to drain. There was no extra time in that surgery to check it out so we scheduled another surgery to see if it led somewhere and to deal with any infection, cut out the dead tissue around the edges, and stitch it up.
When that was done some weeks later, there was no indication of a passage anywhere nor infection. Angus recovered well at home. But barely a month later I noticed a small bump on the suture scar. We thought it might be scar tissue. But then three weeks later, after a short vacation away, we returned to find the bump was larger and ulcerated, becoming, we thought, like the original hole. Looked like we could be dealing with some kind of tumour and so requested the tissue sample that had been retained from the last surgery to be sent to a lab. And indeed it was a sarcoma.
So in January Angus went back for surgery number three in as many months, this time with the intention to cut away far enough that all cancerous tissue was removed, meaning a bigger scar than last time. In fact two cuts were made, and tissue samples sent post-op indicated that while the “margins were narrow,” there was no cancerous tissue in the margins.
So now it is April, we’d kept an eye on his scar as much as he would let us see, and visibly there was nothing new. We were hopeful it was all gone and he’d have a couple more years with us. Until a couple of weeks ago, I saw him sleeping on his back and gently touched along the scar and felt a wee bump. I had hoped again it was scar tissue.
But then this week, after a big rabbit run in the woods (there were at least two hares that I saw myself, as usual going in the opposite direction to Angus!) he seemed to be limping a bit. I felt all over his legs and hips thinking he’d pulled a muscle. But as I toweled off his fur damp from the woods I reached up and felt around in his groin while he was standing this time, and was horrified to find a large, very hard and lumpy mass, in the area of his previous surgery. I think that earlier, because I’d touched him only lightly looking for something like an ulcer on the skin’s surface like the previous one, and he’d been on his back, that the lump was not apparent. Hanging down it certainly was. And this was under the skin, not just on the surface this time. My heart sank.
So here I sit feeling as uneasy as the wind is restless, waiting to leave for the appointment in a little while when Edward’s finished work. There’s a fluttering in my chest. Maybe it’s my nerves, wondering what’s next, or just too much coffee, brewed and drunk while trying keep distracted from worry. If Angus is limping due to this lump and not from some pulled muscle, who knows what else inside might be being affected or how much pain he could be in. I just know that this mass, if it is indeed the cancer, is very fast-growing to be this big in only three months.
Despite this, he enjoyed a bit of a romp in the woods earlier today on our usual walk with Alfie. He nosed around the pond and the abandoned beaver lodge, and then chased off after a noise that sounded like a bark in the back of the woods, which I managed to call him back from moments before I saw a large deer dash away in the distance. I was feeling torn between wanting him to have as many fun, free runs as possible in what time he has left, and the fear that if he was already limping and possibly having nerve entrapment from the lump, he’d do some damage by racing off, and I didn’t want there to be even more urgent issues or pain for us all to deal with.
He is passed-out on the floor beside my desk now, as he is on many afternoons. He looks perfectly fine, just some telltale grey whiskers on his muzzle showing signs of his approximately 11 or 12 years. There was no history on him when we adopted him from the shelter 7 and a half years ago, so we don’t know his exact age, although it was estimated to be 3 or 4 at the time. Our local shelter had received him from an overcrowded rescue in the city.
I love watching him. He’s my first ever dog. I doubt I could love him any more than I would had I received him as a child or had he been a puppy. I was always an avowed “cat person.” I used to think dogs were kind of stinky and drooly. That was before I moved to the countryside and started gardening and raising chickens. But I had not met many dogs I really connected with. That is, until I took my soul coaching® training in 2008 with Denise Linn at her home in California. There I fell in love with her dog Pepper, a black and tan mixed breed who was a sweet and gentle soul.
As soon as I came home from that course I started scanning the web listings at our local shelter looking for his doppelganger, until one day I saw a dog named “Bongo” smiling at me (at ME!) from the page. He wasn’t black and tan, he was tri-colour, but about the same size as Pepper, a short haired lab-shepherd mix (so they said…they missed the undoubted beagle hound part). And so Bongo became became our Angus.
I’m sure there’s nothing extraordinary about our relationship. Sometimes it seems like less of a bond than some folks have with their dogs, as he pretty much refuses to lick me although he’ll kiss visitors and Edward. I write it off as some weird mother-dog relationship thing, kind of like an embarrassed teenage boy, “Aw MOM!”. But some days when he’s overwhelmed with excitement to see me come in the door after being gone for the day, he might inadvertently let his nose brush across my face, almost simulating a kiss. I take what I can get.
Our daily walks have kept me fitter than I would be otherwise, mentally and physically, as I tended to suffer a little from the winter blahs, and he forced me outside in all kinds of weather when I was not a “winter person.” Neither snow nor sleet could keep us from our appointed rounds. Although summer’s aggressive deer flies could. But I have enjoyed many beautiful starry skies at night year-round that I would have missed had a dog not needed to pee before bed. We always scan the skies for the few constellations we know, Orion, Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper. And sniff the air for a wandering deer.
The joy I feel watching him trot ahead of me on our walks in the woods with his plumy tail held high, waving back and forth fills me with real joy. His deep brown, soulful eyes with their black eyeliner and eyebrows and his floppy triangle ears melt my heart. I marvel at his big, smooth toes that can safely take him over acres of woods and beaver dams and blackberry brambles at high speeds without an injury. And his big black nose, likely inherited from some beagle, has impressed with it’s ability to find hibernating voles under deep snow as well as detect the opening of a cheese wrapper two rooms away while sound asleep.
And as he lies here beside me, those eyes and nose twitching and toes jerking in his sleep, I wonder if he’s happily chasing those hares in his dreams and if he’s ever finally caught one in them.
Well, it’s about time to leave for the vet consultation. I suspect with the speed of this growth we will not be doing further surgery. I just hope we have a little more time before any of his organs or functioning get compromised or painful. I love this dog.
P.S. After discussion with the vet, looks like the plan is to just love and enjoy Angus as long as we can, as long as he is functioning and can be kept pain-free. We have no idea how long that will be. And for a dog there really only is the Now. But I guess that’s really the truth for all of us isn’t it? We may think we have a future, but the only thing we can be sure of is in this moment. And in this moment too I am loving this dog.