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When Your Dog Is Dying

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It started with a mild but persistent cough. At first I didn't worry, even though she was nearing 14 years old, Lucy had always been a tough little dog despite her delicate features and quickly bounced back from all the ailments she had faced. But when the cough didn't fade by Christmas we took her to the veterinarian and got the bad news that she had a sizable tumor on her lungs. The bad news got worse when we were told that the size and placement of the tumor, as well as her advanced age, meant that surgery was not a good option. The vet didn't give us any timelines but he seemed doubtful she would make it through the winter. I was devastated to know that there was really nothing to be done but to try to make her as comfortable as possible until the inevitable came. I wanted more, more options, and above all else, more time.

The beach out on Fire Island, where my life partner's family has a summer home, is Lucy's most favorite place in the world. She truly is a beach dog. She spent many a summer happily running herself ragged on that beach and I wanted nothing more than for her to get to play in the surf once more. But summer seemed so very far away back then. I am not a religious person but I found myself praying quite often during those cold winter months. We put Lucy on a regimen of Prednisone, a steroid, to boost her appetite (as she had really begun to lose weight) and Hycodan to ease her discomfort from coughing. And I set myself on a daily regimen of hope. Hope against all odds.

There were some dark days, days when Lucy didn't want to eat or when she began to have trouble using her back legs (a strange but apparently common symptom of lung cancer in dogs). But my tuff little baby girl kept plugging on along. I don't know if we just lucked out or if God heard my prayers and took pity on me and my little dog, but what seemed like the longest winter ever finally came to an end, and Spring came at last. Stepping out onto the beach with Lucy and her "little brother" Desi in tow last April was an incredibly emotional moment for me and my partner Robert. We redoubled our resolve to take every day with Lucy as a gift and we managed to both take time off from work at the end of May and stayed out on the island with Lucy through July. Seeing her play with Desi in the sand and darting in and out of the waves like she was a puppy again brought such a joy to my heart, though it was tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that this would be her last summer.

As Lucy's health has now begun to seriously decline I know the hardest part is yet to come but we will face it together and I am so thankful that we were able to surround Lucy with love and family and be in her favorite place for her final months. Her journey to death has given me such an appreciation of life and how special it is. I know that I will be devastated when she is gone but I take solace in the knowledge that she has never known a day without love and that her loved ones were with her always. In the end, that's all any of us can really hope for.

(Photo: Wayne with Lucy on her last trip to the beach on Fire Island)

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