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FCEM – a disease that often has a good ending, unless you’re a squirrel

Skye had been completely normal when her family left for work and school that morning. But, when her big brother arrived home early in the afternoon, he found her sprawled out at the front door, her eyes two big saucers. She toppled over with each flailing attempt to stand. It was like her legs had abandoned her. Panic set in.
When she arrived at our hospital around 4 pm, she no longer had the use of her limbs. Her heart was pounding – she was a very scared dog. Skye was given sedative medication to help her relax and to allow us to perform some tests. X-rays showed that she had some narrowed intervertebral disc spaces and considerable arthritis along her spine. She would need to be referred to a neurologist for a definitive diagnosis, but we suspected fibrocartilaginous embolic myelopathy (FCEM) was the culprit.

FCEM is an acute infarction of the spinal cord caused by a vascular embolus of fibrocartilage. The condition can be thought of like a spinal stroke. There is usually a history of sudden collapse with or without vigorous exercise. The symptoms may worsen within the first few hours but often do not progress beyond the time a patient is examined by a veterinarian. A single limb, or all four limbs may be affected with varying degrees of weakness or paralysis. Many patients will regain near normal function of their limb(s) within 2 to 6 weeks.

With the love of her family, lots of nursing care, and her own unwavering determination, Skye is now walking short distances with assistance. Hopefully before long, she’ll be chasing squirrels out of her backyard again!

How To Thank A Tick

I’ve been thinking a lot about ticks and Lyme disease this spring. Tick numbers in Durham Region are on the rise. Every day, I talk with dog owners about the realities of Lyme disease. Dogs are more resistant (than humans) to developing Lyme disease and knowing the risks, symptoms and strategies for avoidance can help manage our fears about exposure to ticks. This week one of my clients asked, “What are ticks good for? I mean, why do they even exist?”
“I’ve often wondered the same thing about wasps.” I answered. That conversation got me wondering if there is a way to thank ticks for their existence. I decided it would be easiest to start by thanking my dog.

Thank you Gryphon for reminding me that it’s important to check you over every night. I need to feel for any bumps that could be a tick that’s hitched a ride on your handsome furry face! Without you, I may have seen one news story about Lyme disease, felt a pang of anxiety, told myself to wear long pants while camping this summer and then … within a week, forgotten all about the threat of ticks. As usual Gryphon – you’re da bomb dawg!

Ok, that was easy. Now, on to thanking ticks. This is tougher but here we go.

Dear Deer Tick,
I heard Mom talking about how you like to hang out in long grass. She said you like rabbits too. We have a lot in common! I like to sniff stuff, how about you? I like pretty much everyone I meet. Sometimes I eat bugs though, even the ones that sting, so I’m sorry if I ever eat you or someone in your family. Anyway, I need to thank you. I’ve been getting checked over every night for ticks. It’s like a full body massage – I feel myself getting sleepy just thinking about it! Well, time for me to get back to work. I’m on backyard bunny patrol today – I just bark real loud and scare them off so they don’t eat Mom’s flowers. She doesn’t like that.
Everyone’s furry friend,
Gryphon D’Or

A Whoosh in my Box of Chocolates

This morning as I worked away in Rusty’s mouth, cleaning his teeth and wrestling with his tongue that is honestly about two sizes too big, I thought to myself – Dental cleanings really are like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

Here’s what was in my dental box of chocolates today.
1. Thick tartar crammed between crooked teeth
2. Gums that bled with the most gentle probing
3. Gingival hyperplasia – this is when gums overgrow as a response to infection and inflammation
4. Furcation exposure – this is a tunnel that forms due to bone loss between the roots of a multi-rooted tooth
5. Gum recession
6. Loose teeth
7. Bad breath
8. Plaque

But before I even opened this little furry fellow’s mouth, I had my first surprise. I discovered a very quiet heart murmur immediately after induction of anesthesia. Rusty has had his heart auscultated many times at Brock Street Animal Hospital and no one has ever heard a murmur. In fact, I listened to his heart before sedating him this morning and heard nothing but a nice regular distinct lub dub, lub dub. It’s possible that the murmur is related to anesthetic medications or it may indicate early disease of the heart valves. Many older, small breed dogs have degeneration of one or more of the heart valves. This results in some backward flow of blood with each beat of the heart. The backward flow causes turbulence within the chambers of the heart and creates the fuzzy, whoosh whoosh sound of a murmur.

All the people that love Rusty (and there are lots!), now know to watch for coughing, exercise intolerance and an increase in his sleeping respiratory rate; these are symptoms that could indicate congestive heart disease.
So, today I had a little extra ‘whoosh’ in my box of chocolates but despite the challenges, Rusty went home with a nice clean mouth and as much zest for life as when he arrived this morning!

Mental Health Week.

Mental Health week.

Being its Mental Health week, I thought I would do a blog on the benefits of owning a pet and how it can help your mental health.

I know for sure that my pets make me happy, they make me laugh, smile and comfort me when I am feeling down.

Pets never judge, they never look at you and think you look bad without your makeup, or your still in your jammies at 2 pm on a Sunday.

They love you with their whole being, they love you regardless of what you look like, what you drive.

I love my walks with my dogs, and feel so much better after I get home, they are happy and relaxed which makes me feel happy too.

When I get home, they are so happy to see me, in fact I can go to the washroom and come out and they are just as happy to see me….Daisy thinks I have a trap door in the washroom that I will disappear out of if she doesn’t come into the washroom with

Having pets for some, gives them a purpose to get up in the morning, a purpose to get out and take a walk.  Pets rely on us to take care of them, in return they give us so much more.

I know that without my pets, my heart would be so empty, my house too quiet.

Go give your pet a hug , I know I will when I get home!

Insolent Eyeballs

A bit like having a piece of sand in your eye, scratches or ulcers on the cornea hurt. In dogs and cats, corneal ulcers will generally heal with 7 to 10 days of treatment with antibiotic and tear replacement drops. There are however cases where the wound persists despite prolonged treatment; we call these, indolent ulcers. The term indolent means lazy or slow to heal. In these cases, new cells at the edges of the ulcer are unable to adhere to the ulcerated surface. Much like a wet bandaid, they just don’t stick so healing cannot occur.

Last week I saw Kobe, a handsome spirited Collie mix. Kobe had a corneal ulcer that refused to heal with drops alone, and I found myself thinking that a better term for this condition would be, insolent ulcer. Maybe it was because I’d been dealing with a bit of an unruly teenager for a few days, but really when you think about it, the term ‘insolent’ is actually very appropriate. I mean these corneas have no respect for the body’s attempt to heal itself!

So, how do we get these bad tempered corneas back to optimal health?

We perform a procedure called a striate keratotomy. Loose flaps of healing tissue at the edges of the ulcer are gently removed with a dry cotton swab. Then a small gauge needle is used to scratch a grid pattern over the surface of the ulcer. This stimulates healing and creates openings through the unhealthy corneal tissue which allows new cells to stick and ultimately fill in the defect. Striate keratotomies are effective in 60-70% of cases. If this procedure is not successful, referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist is required for a superficial keratectomy. In this procedure, a thin layer of cornea is completely removed (including the ulcerated area) leaving behind only healthy tissue. No matter the treatment used, patients always have to wear an Elizabethan collar (aka e collar or lampshade) which prevents them from rubbing the eye and causing further damage.

Managing insolent eyeballs requires patience and persistence, and in Kobe’s case, he seems to be well on his way to feeling better!

Family vacation.

Family vacation

I just recently returned from Jamaica, a once in a lifetime vacation with my husband, sons and their significant others.

I was told by many that had visited Jamaica, that the drive from the airport to the resort would be hair raising and that animals are hit and killed daily.  So with my anticipated excitement for the vacation, I was also dreading the drive as I didn’t want to witness anything horrible.  I actually had a headache and my heart was pounding when we landed.

The moment we landed the lushness and beauty of the greenery was stunning. Beautiful flowers on trees, exotic, just how I imagined, we were newbies to the Caribbean. All of our eyes were wide open with awe at the beauty.

As we boarded the bus I had decided not to look out the window and would just close my eyes.  It would be a 45 minute drive and I could do that with my eyes closed.  The drive started and we were told by the driver that we would be travelling along the coast line for a bit, then we would be going up through the mountains too.  The bus was packed with excited travelers, all looking forward to a week of sun and R and R.

I tried so hard not look, and when I did, I saw green lush landscape. Half-finished houses, small shacks and lots of goats.  The goats were either tied to a pole or loose, all away from the busy road, thank god.  I saw donkeys, some tied, some loose, all away from the road, thank god again.  There were horses too, the same thing, it’s like they knew to stay away from the road.

I did not see one dog, or any bodies, which was a huge relieve for me. I am sure it happens, but it didn’t on the days I was travelling to and from the resort.

Once at the resort, I thought I would see strays, but no, only 3 cats, I was able to befriend one of them.  There were also little geckos which I was told the cats hunt and eat.  The cats were thin and flea ridden.  I felt sorry for them and wished I had brought some Revolution, but then I realized that one dose wouldn’t really do any good.

I had to turn off the part of me that wanted to help and save them, I was on vacation and this was a once in a lifetime family vacation.  The thing that I really noticed was how the staff looked at me oddly when I was giving food, or petting the cat.  They don’t see animals as we do, as house pets.  This is not saying that there are no pets in Jamaica, as I am sure there are, but the staff I chatted with didn’t have pets.

Most of them grew their own food and killed their own chickens and goats.  Once I realized that I was on vacation and not there to save the animals of Jamaica, I was able to enjoy my vacation.  The people and country are beautiful, and I accepted that they have a different culture and view on animals.

We will be returning next year, and I hope the cat I befriended is still there.

Chocolate Chow Down

Fin did not bother to chew the chocolate. To be fair, if I thought someone was going to try to steal my chocolate, I’d probably snarf it down as quick as possible too. And while it was upsetting that the Easter goodies were gone in seconds, it was more worrisome that Fin is a dog – and a mere 25 lbs at that! He arrived at the hospital within half an hour of enjoying his ‘treat’, wagging his tail with a fierce enthusiasm. Fin seemingly unaware of his mom’s considerable concern, wiggled his bum and sniffed with excitement as I checked him over.
The chocolate he’d eaten was prepared at a bakery, then covered in clear plastic wrap. The sticker label had the name of the company but nothing more – no ingredients, no weight in grams or ounces. We had no way of knowing how much chocolate little Fin had eaten.

Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical that in high enough doses, is toxic to dogs. Baking chocolate has the greatest concentration of theobromine (making it the most likely to cause symptoms) followed by semisweet, dark, and then milk chocolate. Milder signs of toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea and hyperactivity. Severe signs of toxicity include tremors, seizures and abnormal heart rhythms which can lead to death. Anytime we suspect a dog has ingested a toxic amount of chocolate, induction of vomiting is recommended. The sooner this is done the better. Some patients also require gastric lavage, aka ‘getting your stomach pumped’. If it’s beyond 4 hours since ingestion, induction of vomiting will be of limited benefit. Patients that are showing symptoms of toxicity need supportive care (hospitalization, intravenous fluids etc.) until the chocolate has been metabolized and cleared from the body.

Within about 20 minutes of arriving at the hospital, poor Fin was busy heaving up chunks of chocolate along with bits of his breakfast. As unpleasant as it all was, it was much better than the alternative had he digested and absorbed that amount of chocolate. And, I’m happy to say that Fin bears no hard feelings – he left the hospital looking bright, wagging his entire back end.


UH OH Gotta Run!

Diarrhea, the runs, the squirts, just a few names that we hear.  We are not the only ones plagued by diarrhea, our pets get it too!

We have all been there, the frequent middle of the night wakeup call from our dog needing out.  The lovely presents when you return home, and their sad little faces feeling bad to have left you that present.

Diarrhea is characterized by frequent loose or liquid bowel movements. It can be caused by something as simple as a change in diet or a more serious illness or infection. Diarrhea may be sudden in onset and short in duration. It can also last for weeks to months or occur off and on.

What are some causes of diarrhea?

  • Change in diet
  • Food intolerance
  • Ingestion of garbage or spoiled food
  • Ingestion of poisonous substances or toxic plant material
  • Ingestion of foreign body (for example, toy, rubber band, plastic bag, etc.)
  • Allergic reaction
  • Bacterial or viral infection
  • Internal parasites
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Certain medications
  • Colitis
  • Stress
  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis

A single bout of diarrhea is generally not a cause for concern in pets — but if it persists for more than a day, it can lead to dehydration, or it may indicate an underlying health issue and should be checked out by a veterinarian.

Short story by Jason Crabtree

My Animals and Carers

(Haiku In 5 Stanzas)


By Jason Crabtree


I – Elvis:

Lovely, small and furry

Thinking of ways to kill me

Hampered by gimp leg



II – Panda:

Silly, spaz, goof, fun

Forever pup, full of life

Farts and wonders who?



III – London:

Tummy rubs and food

Loves the poop from the horses

Can’t dogs live longer?



IV – Splash:

Crazy energy

Needs to learn from her sisters quickly

Doesn’t listen to me



V – The Vets:

Hailey, Tim, great vets

Meaghan, Kristin Va Va Voom!!

Cece and Sue rock too.


Short Story by Gary Archibald

Do You Know What the Word “Agape” Means? By Gary Archibald
It’s been a long, long time since I sat in a classroom. My recall is not very good. I’m older now, so that’s my excuse. I tell myself that what I learn today and forget tomorrow is just a part of life. Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe there are lessons learned that cannot be unlearned. Maybe, because I’m foolish and stubborn, I have chosen not to see the light. Silly. I should know better.
In this life, I’m realizing that getting old doesn’t mean that I have to be lost along the way. Sometimes, we have to pay attention in class. Listen to the teacher. Yes. I should do that more often. I don’t have to be sitting at a desk to learn something vital, something illuminating.
I still have a lot to learn.
* * *
Present day
When it’s cold outside, as winters are in Canada, I wear extra layers. I am a walking furnace. Through the fresh light blanket of snow, the cutting persistent wind, that crisp hauntingly quiet air, I find my way down half a block from my house to the community mailbox. I am not alone. Charlie’s along for the short trip. Right next to Daddy’s side, she wouldn’t miss the chance for a late evening outing to retrieve an assortment of periodicals, advertising pamphlets, and bills.
She’s elated. There’s an energy that can not quite be contained when she’s excited. Labrador retrievers are nature’s transcendent, eternal optimists, and happy souls. Charlie’s the poster child so-to-speak of the movement in our family. Her tail wags “Yes! Absolutely”, her feet do the happy dance.
Her content is clearly on display. From the moment I started to lace up boots in the foyer – which she realized was a sign that one or more of us would be in transit – Charlie was committed to the effort.
“Charlie”, I said, “I’m just going quickly to get the mail. It’s cold out there.”
Tail wagging with exuberance, suddenly became tempered. She now had that look; the one that conveyed the notion of disbelief, puzzlement, and a hint of sadness.
Daddy. Did you want to go outside alone? Without me?
OK then. You can come. My smile said what I was thinking and knew would be the eventuality. It’s hard to say “no” to Charlie. In a flash she was at the front door. If she could open it herself she would, expecting me to be right on her heels. She could hardly contain herself. I could not get dressed fast enough. Every second that delayed the venture pressed her patience. But Charlie knows the routine very well. I never say “no” to her company. That’s my little girl. She knows that she has my heart. Each and every night we go through the same sequence of events. It always winds up the same.
“Charlie sit.”
She sits. But her tail is wagging, sweeping the floor from side to side like a car’s windshield wiper. She wiggles too. That always puts a smile on my face. It’s her unique little dance, like a shimmysideways version of Chubby Checker’s iconic Twist, a dance craze that swept America and parts of the world circa 1960. She would have been a star alongside all those teenagers doing the twist on that famed TV show American Bandstand hosted by Dick Clark. You are my silly little girl. Yes you are. Yes you are baby.
Okay! Okay! I’m under duress at this point. Too slow to get my winter garb on. But as I bend down to tie my boot laces, Charlie’s there with big wet kisses to my face. Almost done baby girl. I am giggling aloud. It tickles. OK: my parka zipped up, keys in hand, I put her leash on, we’re now out the door. It’s funny I think to myself about the many times before that we have gone through that same routine over the course of the last 5 years, since Charlie was a pup. It was in the middle of summer, on a hot humid August day that we brought Charlie home. A week prior, the family decided definitively that it was time for a new addition. We had been pondering this possibility for several months with great consideration of what it would mean to “have a baby”. A puppy would fill the void of a quiet home, instill energy, and liveliness. And of course, there would be a great deal of love to go around. Whichever puppy was brought home would be the centre of attention, no doubt for a long time to come. That’s how I envisioned it. That’s how it played out.
She’s grown so quickly since that first day. As a puppy she was taken from a litter of nine. Her mother was a golden lab, her father a chocolate. Charlie is a black lab like four of her siblings. The four remaining came out like mom and dad. Two chocolate and two golden, making a large, healthy, and happy family of eleven. When light strikes her velvety fur coat, there are flecks of chocolate that can be seen on Charlie’s muzzle and in the hairs on her paws and the insides of her long sinewy legs. She has always been athletic too, putting her svelte physique to good use in games of fetch and tag.
From our first introduction, our family fell in love with her, hopelessly. It was in the things Charlie did, everything really, that endeared us to her so, and still does. When she barked for the first time, it startled me. There was an attitude behind it. I laughed aloud. She was adorably cute and diva-esque. She wanted to be heard, and seen, and loved! Her agenda was important and we should all take notice. But what she got, especially the plentiful love part, she gave right back. Even more so. She would follow me around the house. I would pick her up in my arms and kiss her like a baby. She was soft, and warm.
She loved to be close. And we loved to be close to her. At night, separation anxiety was an issue at first – so too was the potty training, but she soon got the hang of it. Charlie is very smart, and that’s not papa’s pride talking. Lab’s are a highly intelligent breed. Moreover, they are well-tempered, loyal and immensely loving and sensitive dogs. Charlie’s no exception. In fact, I think that she is remarkably aware of her surroundings, her family, the nuances that shape each and every moment of life. She’s always engaged. Her interests are genuine; if you are one of them – then you’re in for some intense engagement.
Trips with Charlie to and from the house to the mailbox never seem to run a standard course. She’s learned to walk with me while on the lead, but it has taken some time. She just wants to interact and explore everything, because in Charlie’s eyes and nose, everything is worth exploring. When she was a few months old, going for a walk was an adventure. Everything had to be sniffed, investigated. Of course the novelty of her new home, the neighbour’s lawn, fire hydrants, dandelions, bees, squirrels, the little kids riding their bikes and the like, were at times, seemingly too much for her to handle all at once. So much stimulation! Her excitement was not containable. In her exuberance, I saw passion defined. I envied her natural disposition. How could she be so animated, so happy, so energized by everything always? It couldn’t just be because she was a puppy, could it? Five years later, she’s the same. There’s a light on deep within her. There’s life. I can feel it. It’s the most tangible spirit I have come to know outside of my own. I smile, thinking of how much I admire her truth. She is who she has always been, without apology. Age, nor circumstance, nor influence could extract her vitality. Deep to her core, there is a manner of seeing and doing in this world that is all her own. She’s the most honest creature I have ever known.
I love her because she is genuine.
“Okay Charlie! Okay, easy!”
Charlie’s pulling on the leash. Dead ahead. There’s another person coming towards us on the sidewalk. There’s another dog on a leash. Charlie’s not the biggest dog in the world, but her strength pound for pound is impressive. She can easily pull me off balance, especially in the ice and snow. Slow down please baby girl.
“It’s Okay, Charlie’s friendly!”
I shout ahead as Charlie practically dog-sleds me forward to say hello to the strangers getting closer. This is one of the moments when the dog school training seemed to have not sunk in. We still have work to do on the lead.
“No worries at all”, responds the person in a sky blue winter coat. Her voice is muffled. Her fur-lined hood covers her head, a scarf hides most of her face. Now that we are several feet from each other, I recognize the voice. Somewhere inside that blue parka that has swallowed her whole – it’s Mr. Paul Giordano’s daughter Mara. He’s my neighbour who lives directly across the street from the communal mailbox. She’s a good kid. She attends the same university that I did many years ago. She’s in law school and a good student, that I know. Her father is a reserved, modest man, but his understandable pride in his only child is heart-warming. Like Charlie, he too can’t quite contain his excitement about Mara.
I like Mr. Giordano and his family. Six years ago when we first became acquainted, he was friendly and gracious. I met him while he was walking a very young lively Rex, just a puppy at the time. An older gentleman, now retired – he is a short, stout man with a neat moustache, round face, bright hazel eyes, and a warm smile. He was very easy to talk to. And soon, we would make a habit of conversing
daily while walking our dogs, or going to check the mail. We took the time to converse about anything and everything. This was not idle chatter. This was our routine, it had substance, trust, and meaning to us. I always look forward to it. I think he does the same. He never seemed to judge me, no matter what I said. He always listened intently. When he spoke in that soft, reassuring voice – there was never any malice, nor discontent. There was peace, insight, and character in the man and what he said. He’s the same now as he was when I first met him. Now, even more so. He would on occasion tease me too. When are you and the misses going to have a baby? What’s wrong with you? I would smile and he knew the answers. He knew it all before I said a word. He always listened intently; I had his complete attention. He never interrupted. He was engaged.
He knew that children were not in the cards for me despite wanting, and trying to start a family. He knew there was pain and he saw it in my eyes. He gently held my arm: I see how you are with Charlie. I know that you have a big heart. You would have been a good father. That’s OK. Charlie’s your little girl now. And what a beautiful girl she is.
Not idle chatter. Not by a long shot.
I look at the two dogs in a playful, warm greeting tussle. The truth is: Charlie and the Giordano’s Boston terrier are in love. Rex. What a playboy. I’ve seen him around the neighbourhood. He’s a bit of a brat. Naughty. Not the best trained, not the best mannered. But he’s cute enough. But that’s still my little girl so slow down young lad. Decorum!
Charlie’s so excited to see Rex that the bouncing and prancing has the dog’s leashes intertwined. Goodness. This always happens.
“Charlie! Sit baby.” I plead to no avail.
“It’s alright, they’re friends.” Mr. Giordano’s daughter is amused by the flirtatious affair. “Rex really likes your dog!”
I can see that. Okay Rex. That’s a little too familiar I think. Down boy.
We untangle the web of leashes. I realize that I don’t often see Mr. Giordano’s daughter walking the dog at night.
“How’s your dad?”
“He’s inside resting. I think he’s just a little tired today, feeling a little under the weather.”
I pause and think to myself; it’s odd not to see him and his furry little buddy going for their after dinner-time walk around the neighbourhood. They don’t go far but they always go. I’ve grown so accustomed to seeing the pair go for their evening stroll together that not seeing them seems to upset that the natural order of things.
“Please give him my best. I hope to see him up and around soon.”
“I will, thank you. Have a good night. C’mon Rex. Say bye to Charlie.”
Off they went. Charlie and I got the mail. Just a bunch of flyers advertising for a new sushi restaurant, some coupons, and other junk mail. No bills this time. Good.
“Looks like we’ll spend some extra loot on treats at the pet store next time Char-Char.”
That’s one of my pet names for her. It just came to me one day. And it has stuck. Charlie seems to understand. She does her little wiggle-twist happy dance of approval. I close the mailbox. The wind has picked up a touch. It’s cold. Really cold. I forget just how many layers I have on for the moment. I’m OK but I look down at Charlie and I can tell that she’s walking gingerly on the soft snow crunching beneath our feet. Her feet must be freezing. I remember how frostbite can affect dogs as readily as human beings, under the same frigid conditions. Even a short stint of exposure in temperatures like this could lead to some catastrophic health problems.
“My bad Charlie. Sorry. We go home now quickly.”
Back inside I give Charlie lots of hugs. I place a warm blanket over her and begin to rub all over her body. Despite her natural black silky fur coat, she feels cool. She shivers a little. Poor girl. Daddy’s got to be smarter.
“Sorry Charlie. Let’s go sit and snuggle by the fire place.”
* * *
Late March brings more outings. I need the fresh air. Walks with Charlie are longer and more enjoyable, in part due to the milder conditions. Daytime highs are reaching the low double-digits. Everyone is out. The mail-lady seems to be in better spirits. Charlie and I see her at the box. She’s always on time: 1:00pm sharp, Monday to Friday. We say hello. She gets the usual Charlie greeting – a big kiss and a hug, tail wagging, and of course, the Charlie dance. The mail-lady loves it; she’s a definite dog person. I don’t let Charlie do this to just anyone, but with the mail-lady, Charlie seems to have genuine affection. It’s reciprocated.
There’s a couple of letters. One says that I am pre-approved for a new low-interest credit card. Junk. The other is one that I’ve been waiting for.
“Let’s go around the block one more time?”
The answer is a resounding “yes”. Charlie’s on her best behaviour, walking right beside me as she should. Now that’s how we learned to walk in dog obedience school. She’s happy that our time has been extended today, hence the good graces. Daddy’s girl knows how to play the game. Besides, I could use the exercise. And, I don’t want to open the letter, not yet anyway. This letter holds my present and my future. I am afraid of the present and horrified by the future. An extra few blocks to stretch our legs will do nicely. I need to work out the tension, relieve the stress of anticipation. We walk briskly at first. Every once and a while Charlie looks up at me with that sweet, loving face anticipating that at any moment we break into a jog. She’s in for that any time. But I walk briskly because I am not at ease. Her face shows concern. It’s not our usual pace.
What’s wrong Daddy?
I slow down, and Charlie alongside me. I’m feeling nauseous.
Time to head back to the house to deal with the contents of the envelope weighing heavily in my hand and on my stomach.
Once home it’s lunch time for Charlie. She does the usual dance in front of her bowl. There’s a little more wiggle when she’s hungry. Her tail is a wild metronome. One heaping big scoop of scientifically healthy crunchy bits fills it. In a flash it’s gone. Even mealtime is a track and field event for Charlie. She then dunks her head in her water bowl. She’s loud and thirsty. Then she sits. She waits. She looks at me with those beautiful, big brown eyes.
“No more baby-cakes”, I say. She’s disappointed. “On your bed. Daddy’s got some work to do.”
She follows orders. Pouting. What a big baby. Spoiled yes. My fault, no doubt. I will give her some carrots as her afternoon snack in an hour or two. She loves that. For now, her belly is relatively full. (Labs can always find room for more food). She lies on her bed in the great-room. I turn on the fire place for added warmth and comfort. I give her a rub. In minutes she will nestle-in and nap like a princess for the afternoon. At least one of us will find some rest.
Now, I must deal with the letter.
Procrastination has been a personal affliction for many years. I could have opened the letter at the mailbox. Instead I hesitated. This is not like tearing off a bandage quickly: intense pain of a short duration. The contents of this letter could hurt a lot more and have definitive repercussions in the shortterm and long-term. My pulse races. I can feel a cavernous space in my chest, hollow, dark, full of silent foreboding echoes.
I walk into my home office and sit at my desk. I place the letter before me. I read the bold printed type: PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL. That’s above my name. It registers. It reinforces what I already know is at stake. I look at my name once again. All that I am, so I believe, is imbedded in that name: my successes and my failures, my hopes, my fears, my dreams. This letter could make a declaration about who I am, and what I am henceforth.
I open the envelope. I take out the letter. It’s dated two weeks ago, addressed to me. The first paragraph is merely preamble. The heart of the matter – what is vital to me, lies in the second:
We regret to inform you that clinical trials of the experimental drug IDB-24 will not be available to cancer patients who live outside of The Netherlands. This is a government subsidized program designed for a very small select group of citizens. As you may be aware and can appreciate, the waiting list for participation in the study is exceptionally long. We will keep your file in our database. If there are any changes to the accessibility of the drug program which would allow for your application to be considered in the future, we will surely contact you.
And so, there it was. My life, my reality confronted.
The cavernous void in my chest widened. I felt like the world was slipping away, beyond my grasp, and I was sinking deep into dark waters. The sound of life was stifled in a faint blue sky, becoming mute; I could see the sun setting above the waters, and I beneath. The birds, and the blue sky rose up and away into the stars. My eyes blurred in the ocean-dark, deep now receding beyond the daylight.
This was my truth. Did this letter seal my fate, my last hope?
There are moments when the human condition can take very little more pressure beyond its breaking point. Was I there? In contemplation, I felt a surge of pain rush to my head. The letter’s callous message was now sinking in. I laid my head upon my crossed arms, on the desk. I pushed my chair back away from my desk, so that my weary eyes could see the hardwood floor beneath me. I tried to quiet myself
from within. My breathing slowed but was heavy. My body was trembling. This was fear in naked manifest. I was lost. I tried to close my eyes in an attempt to stem the tidal wave of thoughts so richly deep in murk. But I could not close them. Muted and heavy, the tears fell to the floor. My face was dry, but I could see the droplets of water wet the surface upon impact. One after another, each hushed drop cascaded and marked melancholy and despair at my feet. I was momentarily blinded by the glassy, fluid procession.
Charlie, I had not noticed, had awoken and wandered into the office. She was delicate in her maneuver.
As gentle as the first time I held her in my arms five years ago on that summer day, as warm and soft as her temperament has always been, I now find her at my side. Gentle kisses on my face. She’s now standing on two legs with the other two on my chest. Face to face, I see in her eyes, concern and comfort. Like a lifeline pulling me from up and out of the depths, Charlie has rescued me out of a mental Marianas Trench, at least momentarily.
“Thank you baby girl”, I whisper in her ear. Charlie’s hind quarters start to gyrate, her tail wags happily. But it is tempered and controlled. She understands the moment. And like my favourite neighbour Mr. Giordano, she gets me. She has listened and she understands.
You’re welcome Daddy. I’m always here for you.
I hug her and kiss her. I gather myself. I need to get out of this space, to find the light, and in so doing try to lighten my mind. The nausea sets in again. Fresh air will do me and Charlie some good.
I get up and walk to the front foyer; Charlie knows that we are going outside. She’s got that hop in her step but it’s quieter. This time she patiently waits at the front door while I get ready to go outdoors. I smile to myself as I zip up my parka. I look at my dog. It’s a long look in appreciation. I feel a surge of emotion flood over me. She’s always there. She’s always been there, like no other. I am sick, she knows. It doesn’t matter to her. Perhaps, I am on borrowed time. That fact has not changed a thing between us. My heart breaks though, thinking of life without her. That, I do my best to conceal. These are troubling times for the family and yet, not wavering ever is her love. Yes, Charlie’s love could never tested because there isn’t a test. It’s higher order stuff. That is what I know. Lesson learned. Lesson appreciated.
It’s a touch cooler now this afternoon. I add an extra layer. I can’t afford to get sick, catch a cold or worse. I got little booties for Charlie’s feet and a sweater. She doesn’t like them but I put them on anyway and assure her that she’ll feel warmer in the cold and snow. She does the dance. I’ve convinced her that Daddy knows best. She approves of anything that will get us out the door as soon as possible. Yes, she’s a good girl, with an agenda. I smile. “Let’s go see how our friend Mr. Giordano is doing. And your boyfriend.”
Already excited, when I mentioned Rex, there was a little extra wiggle in her dance. I smiled at my little girl as only a proud father could.
* * *
Agape (Ancient Greek: ἀγάπη, agápē) is “love: the highest form of love, especially brotherly love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God.” / unconditional love