Today I washed Ginger’s dog dish for the last time. She stopped eating yesterday for good. She’s reached the end of her life. Dogs don’t get a very long life. It’s a ripoff.
Last week I choked up and cried at the end of reading my wildfire story aloud to a roomful of people at Jitters. I was shocked at myself, I don’t do things like that. And besides, there’s no crying in fire. I guess emotion wriggles its way out of us at weird times.
She’s only a dog.
We go about our routines. I text my daughters, tell them how Ginger is doing. The baby comes over to visit. We laugh at her antics, she’s learned to high-five and wave bye-bye. We play pat-a-cake and act happy, even though our hearts are breaking.
I met dear friends for lunch and had fun catching up and listening to each other’s stories. We pick up where we left off last time. It was a relief to laugh so hard my stomach hurt. We always laugh like that when we’re together. I am so thankful for that. I need to tell them. They know about Ginger and they empathize, knowing it’s hard to lose a pet.
She’s only a dog.
We’re grieving already, and she hasn’t passed away yet. We can’t bring ourselves to call the vet to come give her The Shot. We hope that, even though her cancer has spread, she’ll somehow rally, get up and wag her way over to us and put her head in our lap, as always.
It feels like the end of an era. My girls and I caught Ginger in our hands when Molly delivered her, back when they were in middle school. We witnessed her birth, helped Molly clean her up and lick life into her, and fawned over her as a puppy. She helped raise my girls; and the love grew. Ginger showed us day after day how to love unconditionally. After all.
She’s only a dog.
We consider ourselves the higher life form, but I’ve often questioned if we really are. Sometimes it seems Ginger has more wisdom, knowledge and instinct than all of us put together. She can certainly hear and smell better than we can. She has a sixth sense and knows when we have a bad day, nuzzling us and licking us once when we need it. She hates being apart from us, and waits at the top of the stairs fixated on the front door until we return.
Ginger has the amazing ability to pick up three stuffed animals and parade around the house, all three stuffed in her mouth. She won’t let you take them from her, but she prances and wags her entire body, ears forward, proudly throwing everything she has into the moment. She’s a princess and acts like royalty, folding her dainty little paw under her leg as if she’s posing for a portrait, or expressing her disdain for the cold and snow.
She may have a day or two left, at the most. We can’t picture what it’ll be like around here without her, she’s been part of our family for so long. At least we got to have her for another year from the time she was first diagnosed with lymphoma. I never knew dogs got lymphoma. And certainly wasn’t aware there was chemotherapy treatment for dogs, called the Madison Protocol, developed at University of Wisconsin in Madison. It extended her life and we were grateful for it. Ginger returned to her normal self and life was good until the cancer struck again, this time with a vengeance, eating into her spleen, liver, colon and now engulfing her.
It’s hard watching her fade from us. Each of us are trying to suck it up and handle it. We don’t cry in front of each other, but each of us has wept alone with her. She still wags her tail, though she is too weak to stand. We carry her around the house to be with us, where she’s happiest.
We’ll never forget how she protected us from the black bear that climbed our backyard fence and cornered it a few months ago. It swiped her, clawing a deep gash across her leg, just above her chemo catheter site. When we took her to the animal hospital, they were incredulous, saying “Poor Ginger can’t get a break, can she?” She was weak from chemo, yet defended our turf from the ferocious black bear.
If she’s only a dog, why does it hurt so much to think about losing her? Because love isn’t only confined to humans. We love our animals. They connect with us on a primal level without saying a word. We do the talking and they do the listening. I wonder if Ginger knew she was the family therapist. My goldens are the reason why I’ve never had high blood pressure.
Ginger is a popular dog at the animal hospital because she is so calm and loving. When her chemo ended last June, the whole place celebrated with a card signed by all the veterinary technicians and doctors, doggie cookies and a big bow around her neck. Each petted Ginger and gave her a hug. Ginger held her head high as we headed for the door, as if to say, “Look at me, I kicked cancer’s ass!” That was a good day.
I’ll miss her waking us each morning, whump-whump-whumping her tail against the side of our bed, in her relentless pursuit of breakfast. A whump-whump accompanied by an occasional short whimper, overjoyed when I’d fling my hand over the mattress to pet the top of her head. And her welcoming lick, only one. Never two. Ginger wasn’t a licker, so when she did, you knew it was special.
Whenever the world handed us a crap sandwich, Ginger has always been there to turn it into peanut-butter-and-jelly. For that, we’ll be forever grateful. She’s taught us a lot about life. We are all better people for having known her, although
She’s only a dog.
Ginger died in my arms, with daughter Katy at my side petting her, Friday afternoon. I told her all dogs go to heaven and hoped I’d see her there someday. Don’t know if she understood or not, but I said it anyway. I told her we’d never forget her. And we won’t.
It was hard to see her go. We’ll miss her loving us and we’ll miss loving her. She leaves a huge hole in our hearts, even though
We are grateful and appreciative to the staff at VCA Animal Hospital in Eagle River, especially Dr. Harlow. Their vet technician staff is outstanding, and went out of their way for Ginger’s care to make her comfortable during the six months and beyond of cancer treatment, and her end of life care. Special thanks to Amy J for her compassion and consistently calling to check on Ginger.
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