The Brindle Dog’s tumour is hungry. Cancer sometimes works that way. She eats and eats but doesn’t gain weight. She eats about a third more than the Fluffy Dog who outweighs her by a good twenty pounds.
Until recently, I fed the dogs raw food. I hope to do so again soon, but there’s been a glitch in my system, so for now, they get grain-free Canadian kibble with extra toppings of delicious (ugh) organs like liver and kidney and spleen. After consulting with several vets (my regular vet, my friend who is a vet, and the complementary / alternative / holistic medicine vet), I’ve made some changes to the Brindle Dog’s diet. For the most part, she approves of these changes: her kibble is “top-dressed” with things like kale, figs, spinach, beets, blueberries (frozen ones are fab on hot days!), organ meat as usual, avocado, tofu, celery, squash, yoghurt, cheese, and turmeric. I have to go pick up some unbleached tripe and some sardines sometimes soon as well. She gets a glucosamine / chondroitin / MSM pill twice a day (this Kirkland brand formula at Costco is dog-safe, if you’re interested). And she gets a fish oil capsule high in DHA and EPA, twice a day.
Some things aren’t such a hit. I’m supposed to give her mushrooms, especially fancier types (as opposed to the plain white ones). But the Brindle Dog will eat all around the mushrooms, lick them clean, and leave them behind. I’ve tried chopping them fine, which works a bit better, but there will still be little mushroom chunks in or around her bowl after meals, carefully licked clean and “returned to sender.” So the cremini mushrooms in my fridge are now for me, I guess!
The Fluffy Dog gets some of the treats as well. When I cut open an avocado, I scoop half of it into my own mouth, and then split the rest 70/30 for the dogs. Same with the berries and other goodies. My mom is taking her grandmotherly duties very seriously and shows up at my door regularly with food for “her girl” (who used to be ME but is now the Brindle Dog). Mom mostly contributes figs, avocados, pears, and frozen berries, as well as most of the glucosamine.
The Brindle Dog loves my mom. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before that my mom, brother, and I co-own a triplex. I live on the main floor with all the animals, my mom lives in the upstairs suite, and we rent out the basement suite. So we share a yard, and when the Brindle Dog hears her Oma outside, she gets wiggly and happy and whiny, and her ears flap back and forth. My mom will walk by my screen door and smile down at the Brindle Dog and say “Hello, my girl!” At first, I thought she was talking to me, so I would yell “Hi, Mom!” from inside the house, but I’ve stopped because she’d always look so surprised and say “Oh, hi, dear! I didn’t see you there!”
You know the saying “If Mom says no, ask Grandma”? That’s totally the Brindle Dog’s strategy. My mom was never really a pet person, but she and my old dog have come to enjoy each other’s company. My mom has special gardening gloves she keeps tucked on the side deck to handle the slobbery dog toys and sticks, and she has spare dog poop bags stashed just inside her door. It makes me smile.
On Mother’s Day, I made a lasagna for dinner. As I was cooking and cleaning up my kitchen for company, I was thinking about all the needs the Brindle Dog has now. Although the tumour is growing slowly, it is still growing, and as it moves further into the muscle of her left thigh, that leg gets weaker. She can’t go up more than three or four stairs without support for her hind end. She is sometimes in pain, but I don’t know if it’s from the tumour or if it’s from the occasional falling down, or from all her other muscles stiffening and twisting and compensating for that weak hindquarter. She takes antacids to prevent the formation of stomach ulcers (a common effect of this type of tumour), and she gets the occasional painkiller. I massage her at least once a day (she’s a big fan of this!), and I try to do her acupressure points several times a day (which she mostly likes). And then there’s still the regular short walks and cuddling. And meanwhile, the Fluffy Dog is entering middle age and has trouble with his hip, and I feel guilty for not giving him the exercises and stretches he needs every day.
It made me think about my mom. How often she must have done the same thing. How often she must have worried about me, and gone out of her way to meet my needs, and set her own interests and desires aside to care for me. How she must also sometimes have felt alone and scared and lost and confused. How she must have been faced with impossible decisions. How she must have made mistakes and then felt that crushing guilt or sense of failure. How she must sometimes have longed for a good night’s sleep and some help. How she must have tried so hard to do the right thing and been constrained by lack of time, lack of resources, lack of energy, lack of support, or lack of knowledge.
The Brindle Dog sleeps more deeply now, and she dreams more often. As I was doing the dishes and setting the table on Mother’s Day, she was sprawled out on her side on the kitchen floor, dreaming, puffing out her lips in those squeaky dream barks, and dream-running with all four twitchy paws. I watched her dream and was overcome and almost breathless with love. She is so beautiful and perfect. I know every single familiar part of her body, from the cage of her ribs under the layer of muscle, to the perfect curve of her skull under my hand, to the sweet naked hollows where her legs join her body, to the hard tumour embedded in her thigh, to the little lipomas and warts and skin tags, to each lovely stripe of her brindle, and each mood and movement of ears and tail and lips, to her expressive almond-shaped eyes, to her sweet greying toes, to the black “chow spot” on her tongue, to the ripple of her back when I massage her and scritch at the base of her tail, to the little patch on the left side of her neck where her fur grows awkwardly over a surgery scar. Every part of her is beloved, and sometimes I feel like all my cells are shining with this helpless love.
It made me think of parents and their kids. I know parenthood was not really what my mom expected, what with the crappy marriage and the post-partum depression and such. I suspect that—no matter what she says to the contrary—she might have made a different choice if she could live her life over. There have been times where we haven’t really liked each other very much. I am not as attached as I probably would have been if I’d grown up in a different kind of family. We have let each other down; and while I don’t know how she feels about it, I certainly carry some of those hurts deeply. But I do know my mom loves me. And yesterday, watching the Brindle Dog dream and feeling such a wave of love for her, I realised my mom has probably felt that way too… about ME.
It is really quite amazing to think that anyone might ever have loved me as deeply and purely as I love my old dog. It is hard to believe, actually. But no matter how much I try to resist it, I do want to believe that my mother has felt that way about me. I want to believe I was that lovable, as lovable as my old brindle girl, as perfect in someone’s eyes, as essential to someone’s heart.