Or how to love a dog with cancer
The black garbage bag in the freezer contained the frozen corpse of a sweet dog named Maggie. I buried her under a tree the next day. I was far too tired and numb to do it after the drudgery of the long journey back from Baghdad. So I slept first. My dreams were about war, but they were also about Maggie in a bag, dead in the freezer. My wife told me the pack had killed her. They ripped her apart in my backyard.
Twenty-seven dogs. That’s the number I came home to. Charity can also be mental illness. That number was a nail in the coffin of my marriage. Thinking in a three-bedroom house filled with 27 rescued dogs is challenging. I love canines, and I would give anything to save one and give it a better life. There are limits. Having two wild packs that cannot be in contact with the other crowded into a three-bedroom ranch was untenable. Neither humans nor canines could flourish in such an environment.
When we divorced, I began a ritual. One dog at a time, and that dog gets the very best I can offer. Unconditional love. High-quality food, the best I can afford. Treats throughout the day. Endless personal attention. Belly rubs, ear rubs, and hugs on demand. Someone once told me that dogs don’t like to be hugged. That’s not true. Bubba comes up and rubs his face against my leg to tell me he wants a hug.
When he’s gone because the cancer took him, I’ll start to look for another one to dote on and spoil. The love returned is always more than I give. I am grateful to have known Bubba Brown Hendrix the Advocate for these last five years. I know that when he is ready to go, he will do what he’s been doing since he arrived. He will communicate patiently and with personality. The guy is a fantastic communicator. Stands by his food bowl and stares at me until I get up to feed him. Wakes me up in bed by nuzzling me with his nose when he decides breakfast should be served. He’s so gentle when he takes a treat out of my hand. Every time I go near the treat stash, he hears me and comes trotting in to investigate, with great hope.
He waits patiently at the back door to go out. Now that he needs to go more often he has learned to use the dog door I recently installed. He was afraid of it till I showed him even I could use it. He’s smart, and I am happy he does not have to wake me up when he needs out anymore. When he wants a walk, he goes and stares at the front door until I grab his leash at which point he jumps up in the air and runs in circles around me because Brown’s joy in life is to get all the smell stories.
I come home from work every day to walk him around the block. He could care less what the weather is like. Seasons and storms do not matter to him. It is the stories he gets through his nose. He is also very tactile and likes to rub against certain bushes in the neighborhood. It’s cute.
His cough is growing worse. More persistent. It is chronic now, despite all five medications. He coughs and coughs, then wags his tail and advocates for what he wants and needs. It’s his and given with all the love I have in me. I hate the tennis ball sized tumor growing in his lung. I won’t hold on too tight when he asks me to help him move on. I will, and I will sob as I do. He is going to pass at home, surrounded by those who have had the privilege of sharing in his joyful existence, and watched him grow from a wild street dog into the best boy I have ever known.
When I’ve grieved, I will find the next one who will bless my life with the kind of love only a dog can give. Maggie’s circumstances changed me forever, and once I got the PTSD under control, I made a vow to always, always have an old dog I could love with the best love I could muster. I intend to keep that vow. No matter what my life brings, I will find one special companion and that companion will never know suffering again.
In honor of Hendrix, my first rescue on the West Coast, but not my last. Thank you for sharing in his story.
If you have a heart for dogs, especially senior rescues, here are some organizations I support that could use your help too:
Dogs make us all better.