This past week we had a health scare with one of our dogs. We discovered a growth in her mouth that really shouldn’t have been there, and that looked suspiciously like pictures we’d seen online of a cancerous tumour. We scheduled her for surgery to remove the growth and send it off for a biopsy, and are crossing our fingers that it’s just benign.
None of our dogs have died of old age. Our first flatcoated retriever, Jasper, was 4 when he died of cancer (likely hemangiosarcoma). Our shepherd/collie cross, Tsuga, was 7 when he died of lymphoma. Our third flatcoated retriever, Cosmo, died suddenly at age 7 of a ruptured tumour. The dog with the growth in her mouth, Silah, our shepherd/coyote cross (haha, she seems somewhat wild and howls a lot) is 6, our youngest dog. Our second flatcoated retriever, Cedar, is 9.5 years old and is the only one who’s still going strong (knock on wood).
It made me think about why we get dogs when their lifespans are so much shorter than ours. Every time we lose one, we lose a part of ourselves. We’ve had five dogs and three are gone – that’s a lot of pieces of yourself to lose. We are hoping that this biopsy comes back negative for cancer, as we can’t emotionally afford to lose another dog so young.
My husband asked me if I would get another dog and part of me thought no, I don’t want to go through losing one again. It’s too hard – even if they live to a ripe old age you could get 12 or 13 years, but you still have to say goodbye in the end.
But at the same time what is a home without a dog in it? We’ve had dogs for 15 years now, and only had a brief period of a month or so without at least one dog in our family. We’re used to fitting a dog into our routine, into the warp and weft of our lives. Many of our decisions incorporate the dogs, from buying a crew cab truck to buying an acreage for them to run around. The dogs are here when we go out and excited when we get back. We take them on road trips up-Island or just to the dog food store. They define our days – what time we get up in the morning (to feed them) and what time we have dinner (after feeding them).
They make us get outside and interact with them. They snuggle up close in bed when it’s time to go to sleep. And they make us laugh with their antics in the yard and in the house.
The question is – do the benefits of having a dog make up for the pain of losing them, potentially before you’re ready for them to go? Maybe it’s okay to take a break from dogs for a year or two, to do things you can’t do as easily when you have dogs (like travelling – our dogs don’t go to the kennel as we had a bad experience with one when Tsuga was young).
When the time comes, I’m not sure what I’ll decide. But it will be what’s right at that moment, at that crossroads in our lives. We’ll just have to decide if our hearts are big enough to commit to another canine relationship that will be all too brief on a human scale.