What would you do for the love of a dog? How do you define that love, and how do you fulfill. the promise of it as the years go on and decisions must be made?
The answer, or I should say, my answer, has changed a lot through my years as a dog person. I started out as conventional as they come. A licensed vet tech who fed big name kibble to my dogs and used all the chemical flea treatments and got all the recommended vaccines. Over the years I have discovered the health benefits of feeding a species appropriate, raw diet to my dogs. I use non-chemical flea control whenever possible, and the only vaccines that my dogs get are the ones required by law.
I have made a 180 degree turn in my dog-care philosophy, but the foundation of my love has, and always will remain, strong and fierce. I will see my dogs happy, well fed, and fulfilled until they are ready to move on to the Rainbow Bridge. But the choices I make for them- and the ones I am unable to make, have shifted as my knowledge has grown.
Are they the right choices? Who can say? But they are the ones that feel good and calm in my center, and in the center of my relationship with each dog that graces my life, and so I must hold true to them.
In my care currently is the most amazing bull mastiff. Mr. Muscles came to us as a tiny pup with a swollen belly and a skin condition, and tiny black pig eyes that pierced my heart the moment they first blinked up at me.
Muscles is a wonderful family pet, although I keep him away from crowds and strangers because he is fearful. He is not the ideal picture of a bull mastiff. His head is not wide like it should be- people used to ask if he was a boxer mix. And he is not huge like my husband expected- he only tops out at ninety-four pounds at his ideal weight. He has been my love, and my problem child, for eight and a half years now. I could not do without him.
There was a time when I thought he might do better in a more experienced home. I admit I am more comfortable working with smaller, timid breeds that must be raised up to be brave. Bull mastiffs are a strong breed, and Muscles at times has a forceful will that felt almost too much for me to handle. But that was just one part of his complex spirit, and luckily I have a wonderful husband who made me step back and take in the whole dog- the loving, gentle family dog and comical playmate in addition to the fearful defender of space and family. Because of my husband, and my love of this animal, I made the choice to learn how to accommodate his emotional training needs.
Muscles teaches me to move out of my comfort zone and learn how to negotiate. Training him is a dance and a conversation. He leads me to search my soul and discover what feels right and true in ways I never expected.
I discovered a growth in Muscles’ neck in December 2015. It was the size of a peach pit. In a perfect world, I would have had him at the vet’s immediately to have it removed and biopsied. In my world, a slow period in my business, clothing and feeding our two children, and my husband’s search for a job prevented that from happening. We told each other we’d keep an eye on it, and since it didn’t seem to be bothering him in any way, I pushed it to the back of my mind. Also, since I feed all of our dogs a raw diet, I knew that I was supporting his immune system as best I could. I shoved my worry down, knowing I couldn’t do more at the time, and it began to fester and grow inside me like the growth in Muscles’ neck.
We finally saw the vet in late spring. The growth was now the size of a baseball. She decided it might be a thyroid tumor. The good news, she said, was that since Muscles was still alive, it probably was benign. Thyroid tumors are nasty, apparently, and quickly terminal. She recommended it be biopsied and then removed. It would be several months before we could afford this procedure. Over the summer I watched and worried. Muscles felt my anxiety, I think. His coat became dull and he lost weight. I needed to know what was going on inside him!
However, when the surgeon tried to biopsy it, the growth, which was deep, deep in Muscle’s throat, began to bleed so much that the procedure quickly became a race to close up the vessels and incision before my beautiful dog bled to death. It is due to that surgeon’s swift and steady hands that Muscle’s story didn’t end there.
The next few days were touch and go as we all waited for his incision to heal- apparently there was a chance the wound could open up on the inside, and if it did- well, I don’t even want to think about it.
Luckily he healed just fine. But they didn’t get the biopsy, and they informed us there was no way they could remove the growth without killing him. The only good news they could give us was that, according to the pre-surgical x-rays taken, the growth was completely encapsulated and had at this point not spread to any of his vital organs.
They never came out and said the growth was cancer, but if it was, it wasn’t spreading. The doctor said that Muscles had a good chance at a normal life as long as the growth didn’t get bigger and start interfering with his eating or breathing, and as long as it didn’t spread to his vital organs.
And that was it. All that conventional medicine could do, apparently. Take your smallish, pig-eyed bullmastiff home and good luck.
I spent long hours with Muscles over the next few days, cancelling my grooming appointments in favor of lying next to him and watching his stitches heal. We meditated together and I gave him Reiki treatments- a gentle form energy healing that you can perform with your hands. I slowly came to the realization that this was our new reality. Muscles with an inoperable tumor in his throat that I can only hope won’t grow too big and make him unable to breathe or eat properly.
I also realized that even if I could, I wouldn’t opt for chemotherapy or radiation. I don’t think it would be fair to put him through such sickness in a gamble to prolong his life. (I want to be clear here, that I am in no way judging the choices other people make for their dogs. There are many cases of chemical treatments giving dogs back their quality of lives for a long time! We all do what is right for our fur-kids…)
And as I came to this realization, I felt that thick ball of fear and guilt inside me release and float away like a cloud. I would not dwell on what might happen. Instead, I would focus on making Muscles’ life as happy as I can.
An amazing thing has happened since I gave up my stress and worry. Muscles healed from his surgery and quickly gained back his weight and glossy coat. He looks better now than he has in years, if you don’t count the giant lump on his throat. And I believe this is because I am focused on his happiness instead of waiting for something bad to happen. Also because I am spending what money I can on his diet- raw meaty bones, organs, and a few specific cancer fighting veggies and mushrooms in order to support his immune system and starve the possible cancer cells.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that whatever comes, I will make my decisions based on my dog’s happiness and quality of life. When he tells me he’s ready to stop fighting, I will let him go, but until then I choose to help him live his life, and enjoy his company, and get frustrated when he doesn’t listen, and roll my eyes when his gas clears the room. All those things that encompass the love of a dog.