Despite a diet of organic, holistic dog food. Despite a pesticide-free yard. Despite daily exercise and plenty of TLC, our six-year-old dog Polar was diagnosed in October with osteosarcoma, an aggressive and indiscriminate type of bone cancer that leaves little time for weighing options.
And so, today, he’s losing his left front leg. Full amputation, which seemed incredibly barbaric upon first mention but now seems like a sane, valid choice. Add a few rounds of chemotherapy and we, if all the stars align, can enjoy an average of one more year with our big guy.
A year, we lately remind ourselves, is a long time for a dog.
Indeed, we’re reminded of a lot these days.
Like just how wise our animals are. And our children. Take Charlotte, for example, my third-born.
The night before Polar’s surgery, despite instructions from the vet (and many who’ve gone through this process with their pets) to “act normal,” we instead descended into hand-wringing and self-pity. We wailed, we hugged Polar, we wept copious tears. And then, as if stumbling upon some curious scene, seven-year-old Charlotte announced that she, for one, was happy Polar was “getting his leg cut off.” (She’s not one to lean on euphemisms. This child, after all, refuses to refer to what’s on her plate as pork or beef; it’s “pig” or “cow” please.)
Happy? we repeated, incredulous. How can you be “happy”?
“It means,” she explained slowly, as if she were talking to imbeciles, “that he’ll live longer.”
Oh. Yeah. That was, after all, why we’d agreed to go ahead with it. The prognosis, while not great, was good. Far better than simply letting the cancer sprint toward his lungs. And in the week we’d had to decide, we’d learned of dozens of three-legged dogs — watched videos of them catching Frisbees, running … living. Not one looked embarrassed. Or ashamed. Or the least bit apologetic for not looking like a regular dog, a four-legged version. In fact, they all looked … happy. Jubilant, in fact. Whether for a day or a year, they didn’t seem to care. They were alive right now. And that, after all, is what matters.
It’s a point Charlotte will be making clear to me any time I descend yet again into guilt or despair.
Dogs and kids. They teach me more every day.