Related topics

When the family dog has cancer: Multitasking Moms and Dads

December 10, 2017 GMT

When the family dog has cancer: Multitasking Moms and Dads

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Our dog has cancer.

Zooey is 10 years old, a 90-pound golden retriever-yellow Labrador mix – we think – who adores fetching sticks at the beach and nuzzling his snout in your lap.

He mooches for food from the kids, burrows into leaves and never wants to wander too far from our side. He’s my running buddy and my husband’s best friend. And he’s been our kids’ companion since birth.

“He’s so cute,” they say in little baby voices, giving him a pat or a pet.

We’ve told them that Zooey has to have surgery to remove a lump, that he’ll have to wear a cone of shame for a few days when it’s done. They seem nonplussed. Because unlike my husband and me, they don’t realize that dogs don’t live as long as the people who love them.

Zooey was 3 months old when we found him on a rescue web site, this little blond puff ball with floppy ears. We named him long before that, though, when we were dating and read J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey,” We disliked the book but thought the title characters made perfect dog names. So we had our hypothetical puppy in our heads long before we brought him home from a rescue in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Zooey proceeded to chew up our house – our new couch legs, our electric cords, our friends’ shoes. I couldn’t believe that something so cute could cause so much trouble.

(Obviously this was before the kids.)

When he was about 9 months old, on the way to the dog park, he sensed he was getting close, and excited, jumped out the back window of our Honda Civic. He severed the nerves in his tail. And after an emergency surgery to try to save the nerves, he had to have another surgery to amputate it.

Which is why our giant dog has a bobbed little nubbin, like a cocker spaniel. This has probably saved him from knocking dozens of items off the coffee table.

When we brought our babies, now 7 and 4, home from the hospital, he gave them a good long sniff, then accepted them as the new normal, lying beside their playmats. As the kids grew, they used him as a pillow and occasionally rode him like a horse. He never liked that much, but he never so much as growled.

The kitchen was Zooey’s best spot, waiting for scraps from the table or whatever fell from the high chair. He keeps the kitchen floor pretty clean, aside from all that dog hair.

Now that he’s a senior citizen, Zooey is much calmer. He never runs away, preferring to lounge in the sunny grass while I do yard work or the kids play soccer. We don’t dance with hiim in the kitchen anymore. I no longer need the gentle leader to walk him.

But every morning, in the cold dark, we walk. I can’t imagine life without that routine, or his gentle snuffles in the corner of the living room at night.

I hope I don’t have to, for a few years at least.

For many families, the death of a family pet is kids’ first experience with dying.

Unfortunately, not in ours, where their cousin was stillborn and they’ve gone to the funerals of great grandparents.

When Zooey does eventually die, we’ll explain that he reached the end of a good, happy life. That of course we miss him and that it’s OK to cry and draw pictures of him and have a ceremony, if they want.

He will always be our first family dog, the buddy with the unconditional snuggles and contented purr.

Want more mom news? Follow me on Facebook or on Twitter @lauraejjohnston.