A man with an aging, ailing dog learns that his pooch has a special purpose in his life.
- Posted on Mar 19, 2013
I opened the door to the kennel at the veterinary hospital and knelt beside it, my eyes locking with the cloudy ones of my 20-year-old platinum miniature poodle, Gus. Reaching in, I gently stroked his curly fur, watching his emaciated body quiver with each labored breath.
I’m here for you, I thought. Just as you were always there for me. You won’t be in pain much longer. The veterinarian stood by, holding the needle, waiting for the word.
That’s when I asked God the impossible. Lord, I can’t say goodbye. Not yet. Please, spare him, I prayed. Just a little while longer. I need him.
It was already a miracle that Gus had lived as long as he had. He’d been a spry pup when my wife, Connie, and I brought him home, but age had gradually sapped his strength. First it was arthritis, then failing eyesight and hearing loss.
Then one evening he threw up his dinner, and seemed disoriented. By the time I got him to the veterinary hospital, he couldn’t walk.
For six days and nights, he was kept alive with intravenous drips and catheters. Finally the vet told me he had done all he could do. It was time to let Gus go.
I gazed at Gus and flashed back on a carousel of memories, as if I were watching a home movie.
Gus leaping from the floor into my arms. Standing on his hind legs and licking the pumpkin pies on the kitchen table one Thanksgiving. Tunneling under our backyard fence to visit his canine girlfriend next door. Not yet! I thought again. Just a little while longer.
Gus began to tremble, as if he were gathering the strength to stand. He set his front legs on the floor and pushed until he was on his feet. He staggered to my side and lifted his head to look at me.
Breaking into tears, I cradled Gus in my arms. The vet pulled back. “Perhaps we can wait one more day,” he said. “I haven’t seen him this responsive since you brought him in.” I spent the night coming to peace with letting Gus go. But the next day, the vet called with some startling news.
“Gus is walking,” he said, sounding amazed. I went to see for myself. Gus’s food and water bowls were across the cage, and though he was still weak and unsteady, he made his way to them and took small bites and sips.
“I can’t explain such swift improvement in a twenty-year-old dog,” the vet said. “It’s simply unheard of.” He paused. “But if he keeps eating and walking, I see no reason to keep him here.”
Gus came home. I filled his food dish, and he scarfed everything down. He must be eating for both of us, I thought. Maybe it was the stress of the last week, but I’d barely been able to eat a thing. I shrugged and collapsed on the couch in the living room, weak with what I assumed was relief.
For several months, Gus and I were buddies again. In fact, I could barely match his energy. The old Gus was back! No one could believe it. Connie even had to chastise him for stealing food from the dinner table. Life was good.
Then one day, I couldn’t hold dinner down. I felt disoriented.
“I must have picked up a nasty bug,” I told Connie.
Gus climbed into my lap and curled up as I called my doctor to make an appointment.
The doctor ran a bunch of tests. What happened next was the word every person dreads hearing.
“Cancer,” the doctor said gravely, after all the test results came back. “In both the kidney and the colon.” It had probably been growing for several years.
As determined as I was to fight it, the disease fought back. I had two surgeries to remove as much of the tumors as possible, and then began a round of chemotherapy.
When I came home from sessions, cuddling with Gus was all that seemed to help the nausea and fatigue. And the ever-deepening depression.
Then the news got worse. My doctor didn’t mince words. “Your colon cancer has spread to your lymph nodes,” he said. I knew what was coming next. “Statistically, your life expectancy is two years at most.”
I went home in a state of profound shock, feeling like a walking corpse. What hope did I have? I might as well stop the excruciating chemo treatments now and just give in. Why put up a fight against the inevitable?
Connie and I hugged each other and cried. Something warm rubbed against my ankle. Gus. He stared at me with those cloudy brown, loving eyes. I’m not letting you go, they seemed to say. He nudged me with his nose—his way of saying Take me for a walk.
I clipped on his leash and together we set out. The fresh air, the activity, lifted me a bit from my funk. As long as I was alive I still had moments like this.
Gus stopped to snuggle against me. He’s here for me, just as I prayed for. As impossible as it was. Maybe God knew what I hadn’t—that I didn’t just want to hold onto my friend, I would need him for the challenge ahead. God was telling me not to give up.
It was clear what I had to do. I asked God the impossible, again. Lord, give me the strength to fight this cancer, I prayed. A little while longer.
That little while longer has been 21 years. And as with Gus, the doctors were confounded by my recovery. Gus passed away in his sleep at the age of 24—the longest-living dog our vet had ever seen—but not before helping me every step of the way in my fight against illness, and not before I was declared cancer-free.
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