Sunday, November 28, 2010


My dog is dying.

My cat died early last month, and by Halloween the dog was not seeming right.  He spent weeks looking for the cat, who he seemed sure would turn up behind a door or under the sofa.  He missed the cat, for sure, and was definitely pining for her, but there was something more physical as well.  I told myself there was no way the dog could be getting sick so soon after the cat.

But he was eating poorly and acting lethargic, and I finally took him in last thursday.  An ultrasound revealed a giant tumor on his spleen, and he had surgery the next day.  He recovered while being boarded at the vet and I went up to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving.  The lab results finally came back Thanksgiving eve, an aggressive and fatal soft tissue sarcoma.  Taking out the spleen fixed the immediate problems, but there will be no recovery from a cancer that pervades his blood vessels.  I drove all the way back to Asheville on Friday to bust him out of doggie hospital. 

When a person gets a diagnosis of fatal cancer they grieve to know their end is coming.  They plan.  They make peace.  They ponder regrets.  They do the things they've been putting off-- taking trips, reuniting with family, living well, relishing every day.

Tiko doesn't know his end is coming.  He doesn't even know if there is an end.  He doesn't delude himself into thinking he knows anything about the future, or anything about the past.

 Tiko at the three bridges over the creek: interstate west, interstate east, and the venerable old bridge closed to cars but so useful for quasi-legal bike routes.  The vet shaved his belly fur off for surgery, making him look even skinnier than he is.  The sunny side: he adores belly scratches on the newly shorn skin.
But if he did know, I don't think he would do anything differently.  He lives in the now, never putting off til tomorrow anything I let him do today.  What could be better, for him, than today: where he sleeps next to me while I work, romps with other dogs, goes exploring in the woods, drinks freeflowing creek water, and eats (on doctor's orders) a pound of boiled chicken laced with salmon oil for dinner?

On the path along the creek more energetic than he had been in weeks, the temporary benefit of the splenectomy evident.  As we walked today, I knew that in his death he will teach me something tremendously important about living.  Dogs meet the future with the grace only attained by being fully present in every day.  My sadness comes from knowing my time with him is limited, but maybe I can release that.  I don't control this: I am just his steward, not really his master. 

I've been shouldering burdens lately, but as they pile up they're breaking me down.  Like I said in July (before the move, before the big DNF, before the pneumonia, before the cat, before the dog, before the innumerable work issues and life issues that go unmentioned here) the harder the journey, the less you should bring.  It's time to soften my white-knuckle grip on the present, trust myself, and try to live carefree without living careless.

Maybe my favorite me-and-the-dog photo of all time.  2005, fast-and-light backpacking a big loop in the southern Sierra Nevada.  Snapping at fierce hordes of Sierra mosquitos, he made such a ruckus outside that I finally invited him inside the mosquito-free mesh confines of my one-hoop bivy.  Knowing how good he had it, he didn't move a muscle the rest of the night. 

Up next: some lowly sketching out of some bike race plans for Next Year.  What would I do if I could do anything?


  1. After Poey, my beloved whippet, passed suddenly and unexpectedly last year during PMBAR, my 2 beloved cats went in relatively fast succession. One succumbed from a long endured illness and the other waited around until she knew I was ok and took control of her death by leaving on her own terms. They all hurt, but each taught me something more about myself and how I should live life.

    You have my fullest and deepest sympathy and hope on this journey. All the best

    An aside:
    H. has me reading "A Dog's Purpose" now. I'm not sure what I think as I'm only beginning it, but I wish I would have had it back when I was hurting over my losses.

  2. thanks so much for your kind words and sympathy Thad.

  3. Oh Tiko, I'm honored that I've had the chance to hang out with you. It's so very unfair that our best dog friends aren't able to be with us for nearly long enough. I'm still mourning for Dagget who passed away more than three years ago, he was the best.

    Hugs for you and Tiko.

  4. Emily, I'm sad to hear about your impednding loss. I lost my dog Abbey (after Edward Abbey) about 2 month ago. He had been with me through some of the biggest transitions of my life, including the recent birth of our son. He had a long slow decline which was hard to watch, but as you note about dogs, he handled it with grace. I'm glad he got to meet Oscar.

    When I took him to the vet for the last time, she said that I had given him a good life. Without even hesitating, I told her that he certainly had returned the favor. I'm sure that you feel the same way about Tiko that I felt, and still feel, about Abbey.

    I'm always impressed with the articulate way you express your thoughts, and this post is at the top. Take care of yourself and your beloved pooch. Enjoy the time you have together.

  5. I'm sorry to hear this, Emily. It's a good reminder to enjoy every minute with your dog. Hugs and kisses to Tiko from me, Jackson, and Porter.

  6. Emily sorry to read about your dog, they are treasured friends for those of us who have them as outdoors companions. I lost my German Shepherd almost a year ago, and often I find myself looking for her on my rides or hikes.

  7. I'm really sorry to hear about Tiko. He sounds like an awesome boy. Three years ago, we had to put our beloved lab/ridgeback down due to cancer and it was one of the hardest things we've ever had to do. That said, you will always have his spirit and the great memories from the many trips you've shared, and that's very special.

    Keep your head up kid,

  8. We can all learn a lesson on life by just looking and watching our beloved 4-legged companions. You are not alone on this journey. Prayers go out to Tiko and you.

    It is sad to see so many animals these days succumbing to cancer. Some say it is because they are living longer. I say it is because of our toxic environment. Not one day goes by at the office where I am not euthanizing a beloved pet.