Frody stares down the reaper, again!
“What’s wrong with your dog?” If I were an 8-year-old boy on a beach vacation with my family and saw a dog like ours waddling down the shore, I would wonder the same thing. His family is appalled, his father rushing up to apologize and his mother looking stricken, mouth agape.
“It’s OK, really,” I say, scooping up our dog, a 13-year-old miniature dachshund with tumors the size of Nerf footballs on his back and side. “He has cancer. We just want to give him a great vacation while he can still enjoy it. See him smiling at you?”
“Can I pet him?” asks the boy, approaching with another man that must be an uncle or a family friend.
“Absolutely,” I say, turning Frody in his direction. He touches his head tentatively, as if it might be scalding hot to the touch. “It’s really OK. He likes you.”
The man asks how he’s doing and a few other questions that indicate he may be a veterinarian. When the boy runs off toward the ocean, the man bows to Frody until he is nose to nose, holding his head on both sides in the palms of his hands.
“You stay strong, buddy,” he says, and then stands erect again. “It’s awesome that you brought him. I hope you enjoy every minute.”
It is always good to be reminded that people can be this way. Perfect strangers and their spontaneous spasms of compassion and kindness.
Frody has been battling cancer for years. The first bout was several years ago, a cancerous mass removed with surgery. In less than two years, the cancer came back and there was more surgery. Two years after that — like clockwork — the cancer returned yet again, only this time surgery was no longer an option.
The options were a prohibitively expensive, painful, and not-guaranteed-to-work series of radiation treatments, or we could gracefully accept the inevitable and make his last weeks or months (if we were lucky) on the earth as pleasant and pain-free as possible.
There is no calculus quite so miserable as deciding how much money you are willing or able to spend to increase the odds, however marginally, of prolonging the life of a loved one for as long as possible. We agonized for a week before deciding not to put him through the radiation treatment.
For weeks, the tumors grew gradually, but there were no signs that Frody was much bothered by them. One of the things he loves most is biting over and over on a long chew toy that has a squeaker in it, as if he is a jazz musician playing a horn. I mean, he just shreds it, faster than Sonny Rollins. It’s music, and I am convinced that he experiences it as such.
For months, even as the tumors grew ever larger and harder to look at, he continued to proceed as if everything were perfectly normal. We were given some medication to help slow the growth of them, as well as some pain medication for when and if he needed it.
The vet keeps telling us he doesn’t have much time left, and of course we believe it. But he made it to Christmas last year. And then he made it through the spring. After the beach vacation that was supposed to be his last hurrah, he made it through the fall and then, somehow, to yet another Christmas.
This dog has been on the verge of death for nearly two years, but he just keeps forgetting to die. Then, last week, because he could not stop for death, it kindly stopped for him … or so we thought.
One night, he had a series of what appeared to be little seizures, and then sank to his side, whimpering, eyes glassy and remote, breathing shallow and getting shallower, tongue lolling. Tammy and I have been through this before with our beagle, Walter.
It seemed clear that his time had finally come, so we had our son come down while we called our daughter at college so that we could all gather around and say our goodbyes. Frody lay perfectly still as we took turns talking to him, sharing memories, fighting back tears so as not to frighten him. This went on for an hour, even longer.
I was on one side of the bed spooning him, Tammy on the other facing him. Jack was at the foot, his hand extended on top of ours. We had Kayden on Facetime. It grew very quiet.
“Is he gone?”
“Almost,” Tammy said. “He’s barely breathing now.”
In a couple of minutes, she tried to reposition to move her face closer to his. Suddenly, Frody shot up like Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction” when John Travolta gave her a shot of adrenaline. His eyes were wide and wild.
He couldn’t walk or drink water, but he was alert. There were more little spasms — micro seizures maybe? But he eventually drifted off to sleep. I guess we did, too, uneasy about what the morning might bring.
The next morning, Frody was still with us. He rose up stiffly, stretched, and then walked down the ramp to drink about a gallon of water. It was as if nothing at all had happened the night before. Later on, he resumed playing his horn.
“We should have named him Lazarus,” I said.
For a dog on his deathbed for two years, he’s an excellent musician. He’s also a dachshund, which means he’ll die when he’s good and ready, and not one moment before.
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Always great to hear about another "doggie miracle." You and your family are doing it right, Chris. Let your doggo dictate his own terms about life and when to cross over. Great story! Thanks for sharing it!
Have a 13 year old Lab named Amos. He also has clearly forgotten to die. A lesson I hope to master.