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A tale of two dogs.

It seems like this spring has been particularly nerve-wracking for my friends and their dogs. First came Tucker, a goofy and beloved Dobe, diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. He wouldn’t eat. We pulled for him, we yearned for Tucker to eat. I came home each day and checked his owner’s blog, just to see if today was the day Tucker gave in and chowed down on something, anything, no matter how unhealthy. Any calories at all. And always it was the same: nothing. Maybe a bite or two, but not nearly enough to keep going. Still, a group of us were worrying and fretting and wishing so hard for Tucker and his owner that things would turn around, we kept hoping, kept wishing, as if our hope and wishes alone could pull him through.

Which of course they couldn’t. Tucker didn’t make it through. I cried when I read it, hurting for his owner but not for Tucker, not anymore. He’d gone where good dogs go, it’s just that people are never, ever ready for the gaping hole dogs and cats rip in our hearts when they go on without us.

I never met Tucker, but I cried when he was gone.

Then came Spike, a dog I had met. A small red irritated looking spot on his gum turned out to be a tumor that had invaded his nose. I panicked with his owner, my friend Liz. Thousands of miles away in body, in spirit I was pacing the floors in her flat, waiting to hear the results of one test after another, waiting to hear whether the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, was it operable? What could be done? Would he get to stay, or would he too go on?

In the end, he got to come home from the hospital, minus his nose. The day he got operated on I wanted so badly to e-mail Liz and ask for news, but I knew I couldn’t while I was at work because if the news was bad, I didn’t want to find it out there. I was giddy with relief when I got home and asked her for news and oh, glorious day, the surgery worked, he would be home on Monday. And on Monday I cried with relief and to see his poor, foreshortened face.

Spike isn’t my dog, but I cried when he came home.

And I think the reason that we get so attached to these animals that don’t belong to us is that we know that if these dogs, these well-beloved, well-cared-for, adored and coddled dogs, if they can get so sick so suddenly, if they can die, then our dogs can too. We root for them to pull through because if they can, then maybe when the day comes for our dogs, our dogs will pull through, too. Our friends’ dogs become talismans, touchstones, we pour our hope for health and longevity into them because to see a dog suffer, get sick, and finally let go is to know that some day we may find ourselves in this position and no one wants to do that.

So we hope and yearn for Tucker to eat, and we cry when he takes his leave, imagining that one day we, too, will be down on the floor with our dogs, begging them to take just one bite, to swallow just one little bit of food, to hang on, to stay with us. To be young and strong and charging around the yard again, to not make us deal with a missing bowl at dinner time, a missing head under our hands, a missing weight on our feet at bedtime, a hairy shadow that isn’t there. If beloved Tucker could leave his person, then our dogs can leave us, too, and will someday.

We cheer when Spike comes home, and cry with relief, because in our hearts we know that someday we’ll be waiting for the lab results, waiting to hear if anything can be done, anything at all, just so that we can bring our dogs home with us, whole in spirit if not in body, just so that we can keep them for a few years longer. We root for his recovery with all our hearts, and cheer each breakthrough, however tiny, however marginal, we cling to the fact that he came home to his person and the missing bowl, the empty collar, have been pushed back and away, no longer an imminent now but once again put off into the misty future.

Rest easy, Tucker. You are a good dog, wherever you have gone.

Good luck, Spike, and all my wishes for a speedy recovery.