On Tuesday of last week I heard the news that no pet owner ever wants to hear – my handsome, vibrant, joyful dog has stage 4 Lymphoma. I stood in stunned silence as the vet calmly explained his options – which were to send him home with steroids to keep him “comfortable” or to embark on a 20 week programme of chemotherapy in an attempt to send the cancer in to remission.
I was assured this was the “gold standard” treatment for this type of canine cancer. No unrealistic promises were made, in fact the prognosis from this specialist vet had been vastly different to the reassurances I had received from my own vet who had told me that if chemotherapy were successful and the cancer went in to remission, then a normal lifespan could be expected.
I was stunned then to hear the news that “one way or the other, this cancer is going to shorten his life”. I had to make a fairly quick decision about a treatment protocol. The vet said because of how advanced the cancer was, we had no time to lose if chemotherapy was the route we were going to take. I had no trouble in making the decision to say yes.
I explained that Vinnie had come in to my family's life eight years ago at a time of great sadness and had brought nothing but joy to not only myself and my daughter but to everyone he had met since. I realised he deserved whatever I could do to make this cancer go away. But I said yes with a condition – if the cure was more harmful than the condition then I would make the kindest decision for my boy.
I collected him later on that afternoon after his first round of chemo and I honestly have no recollection of the majority of the drive home – because for the duration of the journey all I could think of were all the powerful lessons that Vinnie has taught me every day during his life with us.
1. Exercise Patience
The first of these lessons is Patience. I am possibly the most impatient person I know. I recall numerous times selecting a “Messages for the day” card or “Angel” card from any of a number of packs that I have – and my constant irritation at regularly picking the card “Patience”. I clearly was not getting the message! Vinnie has no such issues with patience.
One of his greatest loves is to bring you a stick, a stone, a rope toy or a ball so that you can throw it for him. The back door is often left open all day to allow both my dogs to come and go as they please – Vinnie will lie outside the back door with his chosen toy – simply waiting for someone to pass by and realise he is there waiting for you to play with him. Often we have no idea how long he has been lying there, poised and ready to chase whatever toy he has chosen for you to throw for him. And after retrieving it, he will lie there for ages again, waiting for you to pass the back door and throw his toy again.
2. Love Unconditionally
Vinnie, as with most dogs, loves unconditionally! He really does not care if you are out of sorts or feeling grumpy – he will offer his unique brand of a hug (where he leans up against you and gently sways his tail) – regardless of what form you are in.
When you return from a trip – whether it is long or short (even putting the bins at the end of the drive!) you receive exactly the same loving welcome. He is just so happy to see you coming back through the door – with no judgement as to how long he may have had to wait to see you again.
3. Live Joyfully
The third lesson he offers is to seize joy wherever and whenever possible. Vinnie loves water and has swum in almost every lake and beach in Ireland – he knows the route off by heart to his favourite haunts and will get excited as we draw closer to our destination. I have hundreds of photos and videos of him running through the water to catch a stone or a ball. All sorts of trickery generally has to be used to get him out of the water as, once in, he has little inclination to leave.
On the day we returned from the vets after his first round of chemo I was not sure what to expect – but I certainly was not expecting him to get so excited when we passed Loughrea Lake on the way home. This is his all-time favourite spot! When he started crying and bouncing around the back of the car as we drove on past the lake I was trying to explain to him “you've just had chemo – you can't go for a dip today”.
But Vinnie had other ideas! Eventually I could not refuse him – I turned the car round about a mile up the road and went back to the lake. When I opened up the car he leapt out and straight in to the water – waiting for me to throw stones for him to catch. We only stayed a short while – and he managed to make a new four legged friend who joined him in the water. His owner was stunned – saying that they came to the lake every day and her dog would never get in the water. Vinnie's enthusiasm was clearly infectious!
His constant joy is clear for all to see as his tail wags incessantly! Even after one of his surgeries my vet told me he was wagging his tail as he was given his pre-med and the first thing he did when he came round after the op was wag his tail!
4. Raise Your vibration, not your voice
Vinnie has always been something of an empath. He is very extremely aware of and responsive to the emotions of those around him and highly sensitive to the vibe in the room. He came to us via an animal rescue centre and, although we can never be certain about exactly what happened to him in his previous home, what we do know is that it has left deep impressions on his psyche which no amount of love and reassurance over the last eight years has been able to dissolve.
When I first met him he had deep ligature marks around his neck – we can only assume that he was tied up for long periods of time. And perhaps it's best we don't know the precise details of the trauma he suffered.
As a result of how he was treated though he is pathologically afraid of any sort of wire – we have to be very careful not to leave wires trailing across a room and he will not come in to the room if I am using the hairdryer or straighteners for fear he will get entangled in the wire. He has to be out of the room when the Christmas tree is being put up or taken down as even the sight of the long train of Christmas lights coming out of the box will send him fleeing across the room.
He also hates raised voices – even on the TV. One of the few times I shout is when I am watching a game of rugby. Of course Vinnie cannot differentiate between someone shouting in genuine anger and the passionate yelling at the TV for a game of sport.
His reaction when he hears you shouting is priceless though! He will come up to you and very gently place his paw on your lap or your hand and stare at you until you return his gaze. I believe it is his way of saying “It's OK ... I'm here – there's no need to be upset”! It usually gets the desired effect – as soon as I realise my raised voice has upset him I apologise for shouting and gently stroke his head to reassure him. All is good then until the next try is scored!!!
So these are my gorgeous boy's four powerful lessons – Exercise patience; Love unconditionally; Live joyfully and Raise your vibration – not your voice. If I can remember to practice even one of these on a daily basis I guess I will be doing right by Vinnie!