The weekend bestowed its gift of great weather. Although I’d applied lots of sunblock to Misty’s large, bald, operative area, Dr. Ursula suggested also putting a long tee shirt on her – and I had just the very one: a shirt with a Golden Retriever emblazoned across it, which I knotted over where her traitorous leg used to be.
You thought the first sunny weekend was for garden clean-up? No. It’s for ball throwing... and throwing... and throwing...Misty was like a bee buzzing around me -- barking, urging me to play catch with her, and generally interfering with my ability to dig out the still-small dandelions.
Monday evening Misty came indoors and laid down. She did not stand up to eat her dinner. She did not get up to go outside for that pre-bedtime "emptying" ritual. Nor was she inclined to let me help her upstairs to sleep -- which meant it was the first time she did not sleep beside or on my bed. Her absence in the night was a thing felt. I was dreaming about horses (associated in aboriginal medicine as teachers) with horrific leg injuries...
The next morning I found Misty in the same place where I'd kissed her goodnight. "Time to go out, Girlie". I tapped my leg to give the signal that she should go outside. She wagged her tail but did not stand up. I inserted my hands underneath her to help her stand... and then I heard it: a growl. Misty only ever growled at her toys. This was new. And an unwelcomed sign that something was wrong. I fed her and again, she ate but did not stand up. Repeatedly, I’d tried to coax, assist, cajole her into standing. More wan tail wagging. More soft growls.
Change is not a welcomed visitor. My mind was tumbling. Searching for an explanation. I had begun injecting Misty with a solution prescribed by our veterinary naturopath: Iscador. Mistletoe by its other name. Iscador is a widely used injectable anticancer agent used with people and animals in Europe (not yet certified for use with people in Canada). A side effect of Iscador can be muscle weakness. The possibility was terrifying.
Or had the cancer returned to strike her other rear leg? Another terrifying possibility.
On our hurried way to the Toronto Veterinary Emergency Hospital where Misty had had her surgery and chemo treatments, my mind wandered to a terrifying place: should a dog who can’t stand be put down?
This is all part of the cancer story for animals and humans. For me, this was lived experience with my Mother who died of ovarian cancer in 1997 and with so many patients and families I’ve encountered. The emergencies, the terrors, the tears. We, as bystanders to someone else’s cancer experience , long to take some action – to do anything – anything – in our position of helplessness, to relieve suffering, bring comfort. As a cancer progresses, however, it consumes our hope, reinforces our lack of power, and bends our iron resolve to horrifying questions of “what if?” Should a dog who can’t stand be put down?
I’m thrilled to report that Misty and I appear to be far from Those Questions right now. She was examined by an emergency vet, a surgeon and her chemotherapist. The culprit was strain on her remaining rear knee. Seems so obvious in the rear view mirror of Life. All that ball chasing, retrieving and jump-ups had placed a great deal of strain on the knee (or whatever it’s called in dogs) of Misty’s surviving rear leg. She was returned to her postop pain killers and taken off ball chasing for a few days. She improved almost immediately.
Life has returned to its New Normal. Misty was groomed by her longtime, gentle and compassionate groomer, Janet Kirby. Janet, ever the creative problem solver, placed padding in Misty’s crate and had to do some ministrations with Misty standing or even lying down on the floor. The result: Misty once again looks spectacular (if even bald in the operative area!)
So: what to do with a dog whose remaining leg is stressed by having to “go it alone”? I’m getting an idea...