29 March 2011

Dealing with devastation: When a family pet is diagnosed with cancer

His big brown eyes looked at me from across the room and my heart melted. I smiled brightly and casually sauntered over to him already knowing I was a goner and hoping without reason that he felt the same but I knew the risks in first meetings. Someone always likes the other more, feels more attraction and more chemistry than the other and I was pretty sure already that that person was me. I’ve always been realistic and research based and certainly never contemplated the silly notion of love at first sight but here I was deep and thick in the throes of it and wanting more. When I finally stood next to him, I couldn’t help myself from reaching out to touch his head, his neck and then planting a kiss on his big, broad forehead. He was one huge hunk of muscled, sleek, masculinity and I had to make him mine. That same day, he was sitting in the back seat of my car and heading back to Bedford to live with me for the next five years and has continued to be one of the best examples of unconditional love I’ve ever known. That’s why when my doctor told me last week that he had the beginnings of bone cancer, my melted heart broke and I’m not sure I’ll ever piece it together again. I can’t imagine my life without Bravo White Snake, the largest greyhound on the planet and love of my life, but I’m trying and realizing it just may be one of the hardest life lessons I’ve never wanted to learn.

He started limping a few weeks ago and I originally thought it was a pulled muscle injured in one of his crazy lightning streak runs across the yard after a squirrel or bird. I’d found plenty of carcasses over the years thanks to his athletic prowess. I looked up his racing history online when I first got him by typing in the serial number tattooed in his ears. He’d run for four years which is the limit for greyhounds before being mandatory “retired” to a rescue organization. He’d won quite a few races, too, which told me he’d been a valued business commodity to someone somewhere. I doubt that person ever knew Bravo’s sweet natured “hugs” where he leans into whomever’s standing next to him, the way he lifts his nose to the moon at night and bites the air when he smells something good or the sideways glances that mean “let’s play!” The list goes on and now that I’m faced with his impending mortality, they run through my mind like an endless reel of misty, slightly worn home movies. Bravo lying on his dog bed in my bedroom watching me get dressed each morning for work. Bravo jumping on his hind legs and clawing the air incensed at a squirrel chattering in the oak tree. Bravo licks that always smell slightly fishy and are accompanied by a big freezing cold, wet nose.

As usual, the journalist in me researched alternative medical therapies, discussed the options with my vet and then ultimately decided on a whole foods dog diet that now includes a big bowl of local, organic grass fed beef, tofu, sardines, olive and pumpkin seed oil, brown rice, almond butter, a green “smoothie” of kale, broccoli and carrots and enough supplements to make me move the toaster oven over a foot to fit them all on the counter. I’m on an anti-cancer diet. Why shouldn’t my dog be on one, too? The alternative of amputation and chemotherapy is appalling to me and though my vet offered them as part of the whole package of “treatment,” I know she feels the same. Buying a few months more of life with me but trading his leg and immune system in the process seems like the ultimate selfish act I just can’t do. Instead, I will feed him the best food I can possibly find, hug his big long body as often as he’ll let me, look into his eyes and kiss his nose and hope that I can find the strength to enjoy every moment that I have left with him. It has occurred to me these days that every living being, human and animal alike, is also in the process of dying. It’s unavoidable. The only choice we can make is to love one another to distraction and stay in the present moment. The future will get here soon enough. When I’m not crying, I’m smiling and grateful that I ever had the chance to know such a magnificent creature. Love at first sight does exist. Thank you, Bravo, for teaching me the matters of my heart.

Kathryn Lorusso
Kathryn is a former journalist and English teacher who now counsels and mediates teenage drama on a daily basis in the Dallas, Ft. Worth metroplex. Time away from school is spent cooking up new macrobiotic/vegan specialties, writing various blogs and newsletters and taking as many bikram yoga classes as possible.

Photo credit: Kathryn Lorusso