Our granddog is sick. Almost a year ago, Eloise was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and underwent radiation therapy. The tumor shrank and her seizures could be controlled with medication. My daughter Sharon and her husband Anthony hoped their beloved French Bulldog, now seven years old, might make it to eight or nine.
This fall Eloise developed a pain in her neck and was initially diagnosed with a ruptured disc. Further investigation, however, revealed another tumor, this one on her spine. More tests, more scans confirmed that no other tumors had cropped up in her body, so Eloise was cleared for another round of radiation, more meds and steroids. But the message was clear: other tumors will eventually appear and then it will be too much.
Pam and I watch Sharon and Anthony as they care for their cherished pet, day after thirty days of radiation—for which a dog must be sedated, carrying her home after treatment, doing it all over again tomorrow, trying to show up for work, cancelling vacations, struggling with exhaustion and grief. We are sad, but they ache.
The cycle of a dog’s life is so much shorter. Unless we are in, say, our eighties, to receive a dog into our lives is to agree to go with this creature through the giggles of puppyhood to adolescence and adulthood, old age, decline and death. Unlike children, where the unspoken expectation is that they will see us to the grave, pets are our sacred charge from beginning to end.
This is what we cannot exactly explain to children begging for a puppy. It is also the reason even huge dog lovers might one day say, I can’t bring another puppy into my life. I just can’t go through that cycle again.
But while we have these precious lives in our care, we have an extraordinary opportunity. Because a long life for a Frenchie may be a dozen years, we can walk with someone we love from the beginning of life to its end. We can, if you will, practice the life cycle. We can learn, grow, fail and triumph, let it teach us how to love and care for humans, those whose lives we know only partially and may not see to the end. All because we had this chance, once and again, to love one mysterious soul and be faithful unto death.