I found out yesterday that my dog has bladder cancer.

Those who follow this blog know that I rarely venture far from the topics of horror and romance, or the writing of these particular genres. But after the news yesterday, I’ve really been without focus, as if the world changed in one afternoon; the sun, the sky, indeed everything in my normal life seems a bit askew, slightly off pitch.

This may seem rather melodramatic for those who have never had a pet or really care nothing for animals. Such people do exist. I don’t get their way of being, because I’ve always loved animals. Benign neglect may be acceptable from those with no love of the wild and domesticated kingdoms, but I can’t imagine life without animals. To my way of thinking, animal cruelty is abhorrent and the notion that all creatures are here to bow to mankind's whims is false and destructive.

Rusty, my dog, has a story of his own. He had been abused and was a nervous, neurotic dog when he came to this house at about one-and-a-half years old. He was rescued by a woman who seems to attract neglected animals. She wandered upon him as he roamed the school parking lot where she worked in North Miami. We were looking for a dog and, by coincidence, happened upon Rusty.

Through the years, he has calmed down and matured into the best dog I’ve ever had and I’ve had quite a few. He is kind, patient, smart and a member of the family. For much of the time, we didn’t know what he was – suspecting he was a shepherd/chow mix. Later, after much research, we found out he was an Icelandic Sheep Dog, one of the oldest breeds in existence and the only dog native to Iceland. How he got to Florida, we still don’t know.

Recently, he had exhibited some behavior that was very un-Rusty and vet worthy. If you have a pet, you know that most of them don’t mind traveling except when it comes to the vet. They seem to have a sixth sense about where they are going and what they might be in for. At first, the vet thought it might be a urinary tract infection, then kidney stones and, finally, after a day of tests, the diagnosis we really weren’t prepared for came through.

Rusty is still alive – but we don’t at this point know the type of cancer, how aggressive it is or what the ultimate treatment will be. The prognosis seems to be that he could live another year, or maybe just a few months. Or there could be a miracle because he’s one tough dog. Yesterday, my dog endured x-rays, shaving, an ultrasound and a biopsy all without anesthesia. Rest assured, this human would not do as well.

The vet said something interesting as we were getting a rundown of the x-rays. He said dogs are stoic about pain. Of course, they can’t tell us with words they’re in pain, but sometimes they make sounds, exhibit symptoms or give looks that indicate something may be wrong. But many times, the vet said, they don’t. They just put up with it – work through it until they have nothing left to give. Often, at that point, it's too late.

Well, we’re a lot poorer in the pocketbook today, but we’re not going to give up, because Rusty has given us so much – so much in fact, I can’t count the instances where he has enriched our lives and the lives of those he has come in contact with. He has been a constant and faithful companion in the truest sense of the words, brightening up the days of those who have need of his love and affection.

This news has knocked the wind out of me. In no way am I comparing this to the scope of the human devastation caused by cancer; but, the emotional costs are much the same. I can’t imagine him not being here after nearly eleven years as a member of our household. I can’t imagine the empty bed, the toys left to sit in the corner, the food and water bowls no longer needed.

Sometimes it’s good that writers get a kick in the pants. We are often so absorbed in our fictional worlds and what we believe are the fascinating characters in them, that we neglect the real world. It’s all about production and sales to the detriment of the other, often truer, meanings of life that pass us by. We need to realize that a good portion of this wonderful planet and its inhabitants are in pain – human and animal – and need our help.

Several months ago, something occurred that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I was traveling westbound on a very busy six-lane roadway in suburban Ft. Lauderdale. It was a route that I have to traverse about once a week and I was approaching an intersection about 40 miles an hour. Cars were whizzing past me with no decrease in speed toward the green light. The eastbound traffic, about half-way down the next block, was picking up speed toward the same big intersection.

To my horror, a small hound-like dog, probably less than a year old, bounded into the intersection from the north, headed south. He was the only inhabitant of the crosswalk, trotting as determinedly as he could. My heart leapt into my throat. I slammed on my brakes – fortunately, there were no cars behind me – but I knew the cars on the other side of the road could not see the dog.

I couldn’t look away, yet I wanted to. I didn’t want to see this impending disaster.

By some miracle, the car in the lane nearest to him, as the dog proceeded south, came to a stop, but there were still two lanes to go through. The determined little animal wasn’t backing down. The car in the middle lane did likewise, and the car in the farthest lane south, apparently seeing the others' taillights go on, came skidding to a stop and only bumped the dog out of the way. The frightened animal looked around as if something unfortunate had just occurred and continued on its journey. By that time, I was through the intersection. There was no hope of me either rescuing or finding the dog because of the traffic and long length of the block.

I was shaking at the wheel. The dog had survived. But what struck me and has haunted me to this day was the look on its face. It was one of horror and (I swear I’m not making this up) shame for what had just happened. It was a pathetic sight – one I don’t care to see again – and left me with a feeling of just how alone animals can be in the world. It’s my wish that no human or animal have to experience this overwhelming loneliness. If only it were so.

I’m taking next week off to attend a writing conference. Have a great two weeks.
Until then,
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Published on February 25, 2012 12:56 • 187 views

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