He has never been a dog to rush at the open door, hoping for a break at freedom. He waits with the leash on, sits as the other two whine and wiggle as if they had never been on a walk before. In this, as in all things, a very good dog.
But something has shifted this week. Now, he stands at the door, determined to come along on each trip to school. He rides shotgun as I drop the children off each morning, pick them up each afternoon.
He spends more time at my side, too, tucking in beside me on the bed or couch. I type on the laptop with one hand, pet him with the other. And I try, as I scratch his ruff, not to feel the hostile alien lumps just below the surface.
But there’s no avoiding them, or the reality. Acute lymphoma, not curable. Maybe a month or two if the steroids stave off the angry, intruding cells.
I took him in Tuesday, because he was coughing, and his throat felt swollen.
“He must have something stuck in there,” I said. “I don’t know what it could be, he’s not a chewer.”
The vet was quiet. Feeling his throat, then his other lymph nodes, her tender eyes belying her hopeful words.
They took samples from the swollen places, flew them to a lab. Maybe, she said, it was a reaction to a tick’s bite on one of his hikes through the woods, maybe some fungal allergy. But probably, she said, aggressive and fast-moving cancer. She was so very sorry, and hoped she was wrong.
She wasn’t wrong, of course. She is as intuitive and skilled as she is compassionate, and honest enough to tell me if he was hers, she would do exactly as we are doing. Skip the hard drugs that won’t change the final outcome. Keep him comfortable. We’ll know when it’s time, she says.
What I fear I don’t know is what I’ll do without him. In a year the big screen has celebrated the incorrigible hound, he is the anti-Marley. In all things, a very good dog.
We bought him from a sheep farm, his corgi parents named Elvis and Priscilla. In a litter of fat adorable short-legged puppies, he stood out, the markings on the back of his neck looking like a #1. Our daughter wanted one of his roly-poly siblings she dubed “Chubby,” but it was my call, my dog. I named him Quince, Spanish for 15 because he was a fifteenth anniversary present.
We went to the farm once to pick him out, a second time to pick him up, and my husband made two additional trips in the dead of night because our daughter kept leaving her beloved blanket in the barn. I suspect she hoped Chubby would find his way into our car.
At obedience school, the assistant called him lowrider and speed bump. He stole the show with his perfect proud walk and the way he tore across the room when I called.
We somehow ended up with another corgi, one found wandering the freeway that we were just going to rescue “for awhile” until we found his home. They had fights that looked like midget wrestling, raced around the room until our border collie grew weary and tripped them, and became the darlings of the dog park.
Then, a little over a year ago, we welcomed another addition to our family, an 8-year-old boy who had spent his first years anchorless, tossed in a sea of drug-addiction and abuse and bounced from children’s shelter to foster home to relative to foster home again. The first night, as we tucked in a child that was afraid to hug or trust, Quince climbed up and settled in at the at the foot of the bed. The puppy from a sheep farm was ready to stand sentinel. He has been there every night since, only sneaking back to our room once our son is fast asleep. In all things, a very good dog.
Five years is hardly long enough for a dog like this. He was supposed to grow old, see that once-scared boy off to college someday. I know there are greater tragedies than this in the world, I have faced many of them. But that perspective is no pain-killer for the ache in my heart.
I’m grateful for a few more days, as long as they are. Days to feed him cheeseburgers from Sonic, to let his make his rounds on the path at the dog park, to find him standing at the door and waiting to head to the car.
Days to tell him a few more times that in all things, he has been a very good dog.