Puppy Up!

This is a guest post from one of our favorite writers, Margaret Bishop.

Recently, I visited my sister in Seattle. Stella, her fourteen year old cow dog/boxer mix has lymphoma. They did one round of chemo and it nearly killed her. Some herding breeds have a genetic anomaly that makes them completely unable to tolerate toxins, and chemo is a serious toxin. But she pulled through that, and now is surviving with acupuncture, a full complement of Chinese herbs and other supplements and occasional manual lymphatic drainage massage. When her lymph nodes really swell, she gets Prednisone for a few days. And of course she eats nothing but real food, raw.

We went to the 2 Million Dogs Puppy Up! Walk. The Two Million Dogs Foundation raises money for canine cancer research. You can read more at www.2milliondogs.org . This was a two mile walk for dogs and their human companions.  There were a few hundred people and about half as many dogs.  Mixes; large and small, shaggy and sleek, one big white dog with a red ear, a medium sized dog fully brindle and constantly smiling, then some pugs and golden retrievers, a very striking Harlequin Great Dane, several labs, and lots of small, bouncy dogs getting their leashes all tangled together. Other than the small, bouncy ones and a red bone hound that bayed every now and then, most of the dogs walked quietly along, enjoying the intermittent sunshine and plethora of interesting new scents. They greeted each other and tolerated being touched, patted, hugged and sometimes wept over as the people shared their stories, all so similar and each uniquely painfully.  At least half the dogs had shaved bellies and little shaved patches on their forelegs.

The dogs seemed oblivious to their plights. They were out for a walk in the rare Seattle sunshine, meeting new friends, wading in the lake, just another day in the park. Mortality was not on their minds.

For us, thoughts of mortality can be a spur to living more in the moment, appreciating the little things, relishing each day, essentially, living more like dogs. My sister has said that living with Stella living with cancer was initially unbearable; all that anticipated grief, imagining and reimagining her loss. Finally, she had to stop imaging all that and instead enjoy their time together as much as Stella enjoyed her walks, her meals, her snuggles and naps.

As we wandered the path through Seward park, we noticed people wearing, “In Memory” signs pinned to their backs. “In Memory of Turley, who died from osteosarcoma on July 12th, 2010.  We love you Handsome.” This over a picture of a sweet-looking golden retriever. (Is there any other kind?) Some of the walkers wore t-shirts from Partners to the Bridge, a group organized, “In support of families and their animal friends in life’s last transition.” Many of the walkers wore Two Million Dog t-shirts, “cancer touches everyone.”

Being with a group of dog people, each one there wanting to make a difference, enjoying every moment they had left with their canine companions and sharing the pain of “life’s last transition,” was both heartbreaking and hopeful.  When I visited Lourdes last summer, I asked my Catholic friend if the people who went there would feel disheartened if they didn’t get their miracle. He said that just being there, in a place of such faith and devotion was the miracle. For me, the Puppy Up! Walk, or maybe any gathering of dogs and their devoted companions, is a similar miracle.

We rode our bikes home, hugged Stella and took her for a walk around the block.  (Stella likes some but not all dogs, so she didn’t want to go to the march.) On the walk, she ran into one of her friends and they played chase.  Back at home, she galloped up the steps and raced through the house, ready for lunch, and then a snuggle and a nap.

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