The Short Life of a Pet is not Measured in Time, but in Love
The patterns of one's life often are captured and defined by the all-too-short life of a very special animal.
I know this all too well now. I've been spending a lot of time remembering, analyzing and, yes, crying, after losing my 10-year-old dog Lance last week, a victim of the cancer that had finally come roaring back after more than 18 months of dormancy.
Two years ago this month, a veterinarian I didn't know, then a young associate at the hospital we patronized, told me Lance wouldn't make it through the summer, if he even made it through the next few hours. He told me this over the anesthetized form of my dog, who'd gone in for a biopsy and come out with a reconstructed bladder after the young veterinarian acted on a hunch that what he wanted to do might work.
It did. Lance recovered and thrived for that summer and the next one, as the vet, now out on his own, ended each of Lance's frequent examinations with a shake of his head and an expression of amazement. It was a precious
time, too good to last, and just before Christmas, a smidgen of blood in the bottom of a test tube gave us the news we'd all feared: The cancer was back.
In the months that followed the tumors grew, and I anxiously watched for signs of discomfort. When the first ones came, last week, that same veterinarian, now counted among my friends, put Lance out of pain's way.
We'd always had dogs in our family, but Lance was the first one that was mine and mine alone. I was almost 21 years old when I got him. After less than a year of living on my own, I had decided I couldn't live without a dog. I was in college then, with a low-paying job and an unknown future, but I knew I didn't want to take another step down that road without a dog at my side.
I'm just one of those people, I suppose, who doesn't feel right without a dog.
I made the calls, located a litter, and soon brought my gold-and-white fluffball home to a third-floor apartment in a building that didn't allow pets, and to a roommate who hadn't been consulted and was not amused.
The breeder had called the puppy Toots, but I christened him Lance, and also saddled him with an official registered name that is too silly and pompous to repeat.
The name Lance never fit him that well, either. He was a delicate, intelligent and fussy animal who acted grown up as a puppy, and maintained a regal and aloof demeanor for the duration of his life. Alone with me, and withme
alone, he was occasionally silly, but it was with the understanding that his unseemly behavior was our little secret. He was obsessively clean, taking care to walk around puddles and spending hours grooming his tiny white paws into perfect shape. He was quite beautiful, and he knew it.
We didn't last long in that first apartment, and Lance went with me through a more than a few moves and a long line of roommates, relationships, wild parties and strange situations. Lance was with me as I changed from a crazy college kid into a serious professional, from the foolishly frivolous person who'd buy a dog on a whim to a woman in the early stages of (sigh) middle age who plans her next dog acquisition two years in advance.
In all that time, he never changed. He was always well-mannered and affectionate, and he made it clear that next to those neat little paws, I was the thing he liked most in this world. Everything else he mostly just tolerated -- like the dogs that were to follow.
I suppose I should be ashamed to admit that the other dogs, though dearly loved and painstakingly well-care-for, have never reached the plane of existence Lance was on. In deference to my allergist, only one dog slept in my bedroom, and that dog was Lance. If only one dog got to go on errands, it was Lance. When my parents made it clear that one extra dog was the most they wanted when I visited, that one dog was Lance.
Lance was my one dog when there was only one dog. He never got very used to sharing, and I didn't really make him try. It'll never be that way again for any other dog, or for me.
Of all the things I adored about Lance, all the things that made me smile, it was the way he behaved when I was upset that means the most to me now. Lance never liked to see me cry, and with Lance around, I never cried for long.
He'd put one of those perfect little paws on my knee, and shove his nose under my hand. If I ignored him, he'd grab that hand with his teeth, bearing down slightly and revving up a full-throated growl. He looked mighty tough, but his tail was wagging, and his eyes were laughing up at me, and soon I'd be smiling at the picture he made.
The first night he was gone was one of the worst of my life, but it was that memory of Lance that got me through it. Through my tears I could hear him growling, could feel the teeth on the back of my hand.
I smiled, as I always did, and realized then that he is with me still, and always will be.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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