Remember how my post about Cookie’s death nearly went viral last weekend? That was because Cookie’s mom finally felt ready to read it, and she shared it on Facebook, prompting many of her friends to read and share it.
In a heartbreaking coincidence, another one of her dogs, Poe, died on Friday. Poe was only eight, but he had a haemangiosarcoma on his spleen which ruptured. Haemangiosarcoma is an aggressive cancer more common in dogs than cats or humans. From what I understand, this shitty cancer (aren’t they all) starts in the lining of the blood vessels and leads to large blood-filled tumours which can rupture. That’s what happened to Poe.
Poe was a well-known and much-loved dog, and people who knew him have been sharing their memories and pictures of him on Facebook. Poe was adopted by my friend when he was about eight months old. He and his brother Jack and four of their siblings were running wild down in Ohio, and were live-trapped. The person who caught them remembers that all six of them were so scared that they were piled onto each other in a corner. It seems that the shelter there found them too feral to adopt out, and wanted to euthanise them because it was felt they would never make good pets.
Sally Hull of Hull’s Haven Border Collie Rescue here in Winnipeg ended up taking in the two shyest dogs of that lot: Poe and Jack. Poe’s mom was telling me how cute he was in his little yellow Adopt Me bandanna. “He had me at hello,” she says.
Poe’s mom was nervous at first about taking him to off-leash parks. She worried that he might spy a rabbit and revert to his survival days, running away and not coming back. But Poe adored my Fluffy Dog. When we all went to the dog park together, those two boys roamed far ahead and behind, but when the Fluffy Dog streaked back to us to get treats and praise, Poe was right beside him. They played together a lot at doggie daycare, too. After Cookie died, I made sure the Fluffy Dog was at daycare on the same day as Poe, so shy Poe could have the support of his extraverted friend.
It’s been fun to look back at all the pictures and memories of Poe. I had forgotten how wild and free he was at the dog park, because for ages now, I have only seen him at his home. When the Fluffster visited him at home, Poe mostly ignored him. He’d chew his rawhide or his marrow bone. After Cookie died, Poe took to climbing up onto the couch and cuddling with me during our visits. He was such a sweet and gentle boy, a collie (cross?) with freckly ears and a wide smile. I called him my Little Boyfriend. He’d lean into me and put up with any amount of scritching. He always seemed to get a little mat behind his left ear, and I could never resist pulling at it. If my attention diminished, Poe would gently paw at me. If I had the temerity to pet one of the other dogs while Poe was cuddling with me, he would turn his face away in disgust, or jump right off the couch.
Poe was a calm and sweet dog. Someone who didn’t know him might call him lazy. But really he was a calm and soothing canine presence. I know he had done some agility and flyball in the past, and he could race around like any other fool dog at the dog park, but at home he was peaceful. If he was really happy, he’d go grab a shoe and trot around with it, wagging. He didn’t seem to ever damage those shoes; it was just his way of expressing joy. The trick was to prevent him from taking those shoes out into the backyard to abandon them in the rain or snow.
For the last few weeks, Poe-Poe wasn’t feeling 100%. His mama took him to the vet a few times. He had vague symptoms and inconclusive bloodwork. A somewhat low platelet count. Lethargy and low appetite—although in an already calm dog who wasn’t food-driven, it didn’t seem horribly shocking. But his mama was worried. And I was, too, when my Little Boyfriend seemed even slower than usual.
On Friday afternoon, Poe’s haemangiosarcoma ruptured and he was failing fast. I was leaving work when I got the text from his mama, and I hustled my way through rush-hour traffic to be with my friend and to say goodbye to Poe.
When I arrived, it was over. I had missed Poe by just a few minutes. His mama was crying, but she was not alone; several friends had made it in time to be with her and Poe at the end. She invited me to say goodbye, “in case he can still hear you.” I knelt down and hugged his warm, soft body. His shaven abdomen was grossly distended, but his face was so calm and peaceful. I kissed his sweet nose, and breathed in the good doggy smell at the top of his head. I imagined I felt him sigh, and I hoped he could hear me tell him what a good boy he always was. But really, I knew it was too late. As I gave him one last little scritch on his head, my fingers found the tiny mat behind his left ear. That, of course, is when the tears came.
Poe was a darling boy. I hadn’t realised how attached I’d become to him in our weekly visits. When I woke up the next morning, I remembered his death as a bad dream, and then remembered it was real. I thought of my friend and how much she loved her Poe.
We are so lucky to know these beautiful and loving creatures. We are so lucky to have all of that joy and laughter and comfort and love and friendship. The grief when they die is terrible, absolutely. But in the end, it is a very small price to pay for the immense privilege of having dogs in our lives. I know I will keep paying that price over and over. And I know I’m not the only one.