Part 7 (of I don't know how many) of Roo's last week, Our long talk

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Roo and I lay nose to nose on the floor. Her paw was on my shoulder and her brown eyes were calm now. She kept them fixed on mine. She was filled with love and I could see it and I knew that she could see that I was, too.

“My little country monkey,” I said, pulling the flap of her ear through my hand the way she liked. “My little bear. I know you are sick now and you don’t feel good. But you are my daughter bear and you are the best girl who ever lived and there is no one your old daddy loves more than Chigi Bear Beker. You are my girl and I am your daddy. You will always be my daughter bear and I will always be your daddy. And where goes the Rooki goes…”

A small smile appeared in her eyes and I felt her move her arm to prompt my answer.

“… the daddy. That’s right. And where goes the daddy goes…”

Again the glimmer of a smile in those deep eyes.

“… Goes the Rooki. That’s right.”

I was determined not to let Roo see how upset I was and somehow, I still don’t know how, I found a way. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done and I knew I was going to have to keep doing it without fail for what little was left of her life. It was the most important thing I could do for her now and if I couldn’t do it I would have failed in a way worse than all the other way I failed her and it just could not be. Roo’s nose was close to mine and I could feel her breath. She kept her eyes on me, almost never blinking. I don’t think it was because of the Xanax. I think that only made it possible for her to be as present now as she wanted to be.

“Before you became my little bear, no one knows what you were named or even if you had a name. All we know is that someone was mean to you and the only thing they taught you was that the world is a terrible place where even a little puppy can get in trouble for things they didn’t do. And then, the next thing you knew you went to jail. The jail was scary. It was hot and it was filled with dogs and they were all sad and frightened and they all barked and screamed. And what did they do with this little Rooki bear but put her in a cage, with nowhere to hide, not even a corner to put the nose, and the noise never stopped and it was so hard for the little puppy. You didn’t know what to do. You didn’t even know how to hope, so you didn’t know that someone would ever help you, because no one ever did before, even though every little puppy needs help. 

“And as if the jail wasn’t bad enough, everything was also hurting the little Roo. You had big holes in your legs, here, and here –” I touched Roo on her forearms and her ankles where the sores had been where she had licked through her skin and down to the muscle “– and no one helped you with that. Those little paws of yours hurt because they were filled with sharp rocks and even that no one helped you with. And even though everybody could see how upset you were, no one took you to a quiet place. Do you know what they thought in the jail, Rooki? They thought you were so frightened that you could never get better. They thought it might be better for you to kill you down. They didn’t even know you were just a little puppy because you were so skinny and looked so sad and your teeth were so black that they thought you were already an old girl.

“Then, one day, someone came to take you out of the cage. Oh, you were a brave little puppy and I bet you put up a big fight. But they forced you out and the next thing you knew you were someplace even scarier, at a doctor, and that doctor cut you on the stomach, here.”

I put my hand on Roo’s belly. The cancer inside her had swollen under her soft skin and the short fur that only grew back to a fuzz after chemotherapy and her belly felt tight. I rubbed her for a few seconds and moved my hand back up to keep stroking her ear.

“And that hurt my little bear’s stomach. But then, when you came out of the doctor there was your daddy. No one knew that daddy was your daddy. You didn’t know it and even your daddy didn’t know it yet, but you came out of the doctor and someone gave your daddy the string and that was the first time Chigi Bear and her daddy ever walked together. We went outside because you really wanted to get out of there and you had to go outside and the first thing you did was make one of the biggest pee pees of your life, which is really saying something considering how long you can hold it, Chig. You did not want to go in the car and your daddy had to pick you up and put you in, and the next thing you knew, you went home with your daddy. That was what happened on the day you found your daddy and your daddy found you.

“My poor little bear, you were in bad shape. It’s hard to imagine it now, because you would go on to become a little bit of a fat bear, but you were the skinniest little girl. And even with all the beautiful fur of the Rooki, no one brushed you and your hair was tangled up and those little paws of yours had rocks stuck in them and no one checked those for you even though anyone could see that it hurt you to walk. And those black teeth of your, Chig. They were black because no one ever cared enough about you to give you anything to chew, even though you were just a little puppy and everyone but the biggest idiot in the world knows that a puppy needs lots of things to chew, but they didn’t care. Maybe you looked for things to chew where you were trapped, but there was nothing, and you probably got in trouble for trying. Even that little tongue of yours was skinny and weak. You should have seen how it flopped around, Chig. The only exercise it got was the you licked the foot, which no one told you not to do the way your daddy always would once you got a daddy, and you licked and licked until you had a bog hole and then you licked another leg until you got another hole. Those holes were terrible, Chig, but the worst thing was that you were all alone, and that’s no way for a puppy to be. You were all alone for a long time. And on top of everything, all the fleas of the world were biting you. The world is filled with poor little bears, Chig, but you were one of the poorest. It broke your daddy’s heart to see what a poor little bear you were. It still breaks my heart to remember you that way.

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“Do you know that when Rooki came home with her daddy she did not want even want to come inside? Yes, Chig. You had no reason to suspect that daddy was any kind of a daddy. You didn’t even know that there was such a thing in the world as a daddy, so how could you know he wasn’t going to be mean to you. You didn’t want to come inside because the old daddy had his hand on the door when he opened it. Well, that wasn’t good. You thought daddy was going to slam the door shut on you the way doors were always slammed on you. And every time a door slammed, you were locked up alone again. In the bathroom. Or in the cage. But your daddy saw how that hand worried you and took it away and didn’t make you do anything you didn’t want to do and when you saw that you thought about it and then you decided to take a chance. Oh, it took a brave bear to do that. And, come to think of it, that was the first time I would ever be proud of you. Of course I have been proud of you the whole time since then, which is why your daddy tells you that every day, but that was the first of all the brave things this good little puppy would do, Chig. In the house you ran straight to the bathroom and you went behind the toilet and curled your tail up underneath you and you pressed your eyes shut to keep from having to see any more things. After all, you were seeing too many things for the first time and it was too much and you were tired and sick and after such a long time alone being alone was the only way you knew.

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“Seeing you hide like that broke your daddy’s heart because when he was little he also used to hide from mean things, and so he understood why a little bear would do that. Daddy didn’t hide behind the toilet. He hid under his daddy’s desk. And do you know that you also hid under your daddy’s desk when you weren’t hiding behind the toilet? And so, the old daddy understood something about this little bear, and even though I would never know for sure what the mean people did to you, there was nothing a little puppy can do to deserve whatever it was. And, by the way, if we ever find out who hurt you, we will go and kill them down. We will kill them s-l-o-w-l-y and tear them up into little pieces and mix them with old rats and flush them down the same toilet where you used to hide when you were a lonely little puppy. This I promise, Chig.

“At first, Rooki Bear, your daddy didn’t know if you would ever be okay. Everything worried you. It wasn’t your fault. Everything you saw you were seeing for the first time. Even lights, even leaves on trees. Even a stick. Everything you heard you were hearing for the first time. Everything that moved was moving in a way the little Rooki never saw before. You were locked up all alone, so you never had a chance to see anything or learn anything. There you were, the littlest girl of the world where no one ever helped her or protected her. No one played with you. You had nothing to do and no reason to expect anything good from people. They were mean and all they ever did was push you around and yell at you.

“But right away your daddy found out that you weren’t the little scaredy-dog some people thought you were. Yes, Chigi. Daddy saw that what you really were was the bravest little puppy in the world. Even though you were just a little puppy, you were already the bravest dog in the world, with the biggest heart any dog ever had. And dogs, as you know better than anyone, have the biggest hearts in the world. This heart, here, Chig,” I put my hand on the fine fur on the hard curve of her rib cage. “Here is the big, strong heart. And do you know how the daddy knew you were so brave, Chig?”

Roo’s brown eyes were shining and looked so deep and she kept them steadily on mine as I spoke and any time I paused for longer than it took to take a breath, she let me know that she wanted me to go on with a twitch of her paw on my shoulder. I choose to believe that she understood it all, maybe in the way of a dog, but she understood. She understood the love and she understood the connection and this time with her was as important to her as it was to me and I know that as surely as I still breathe and she doesn’t and it was the only thing that equipped me to believe that I had not prolonged Roo’s life for too long.

“Daddy found out that of all the brave bears in the world you were the bravest because soon you came out of hiding and came to me. Even though, for all the life of little Roo, all you knew about people was that they were mean and they threw you in bathrooms and cages and yelled at you and hit you and threw things at you and didn’t give you anything to eat or chew or take you out when you needed to go – still, you came out. Maybe you don;’t think that’s brave, but I do. I could see how hard it was. I could see what a big chance you were taking, and how it took more bravery than your daddy ever saw before, and your daddy, who has been many bad places and in a few cages of his own, thought he had seen some pretty brave things. Never anyone as brave as you. You are such a good girl, Chig. The best bear who ever lived. And every day of our life together you have been a good girl. I didn’t even know there could be such a good girl in the world. And you will always be. Of course that’s not to say that sometimes you didn’t listen to your daddy when you were checking mouses over the years, but even then you were a good girl and it made the old daddy happy that you were checking mouses. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll talk about the mouses later.”

The only reason I stopped talking for a moment was to gather myself, but when I did Roo licked my nose and eyes. In her eyes I could see everything.

“After that, there was no stopping the Rooki. You are a very smart girl and you wanted to learn everything, and the more you learned, the braver you became. You let your daddy cut all the rocks out of your feet, which took a long time and is something that nobody likes, especially if they were worried about everything and still sick from the doctor who cut you the stomach. The doctor tied the stomach up with wires, and you held as still as a lizard to let your daddy clip those out. You learned to go for walks. You loved that, Chig, and that’s why we always take so many walks. But in the beginning, Rooki and daddy had to walk very slow. For one thing you had the string* tied to your neck and you weren’t sure about that and then there were so many noises in the street and naturally you had to stop to make sure they weren’t going to hurt you. Even that showed what a brave puppy you were because you learned to listen to your daddy when he told you that something was not a noise. Every day your daddy still says, ‘That’s not a noise, Chig,’ and still you trust your daddy when he says that, which, my little girl, is the biggest honor of my life. Oh, you had to learn everything. You had to learn how to go in the car and how to go to the park and how to play with other dogs. You went everywhere with your daddy. How proud your daddy was to have such a good, beautiful bear with him. You went to the airport and saw the airplanes. Do you remember the airplane, Chig? What a big noise it made? I know you remember that, because still even today when there comes a noise from the airplane all daddy has to tell you is that that’s just the airplane and you stop worrying. You learned to go to the store with your daddy and you were always such a good girl. Maybe you still worried about things, but every day all you did was get braver and braver.

“And, Chigi Bear, all those things your daddy showed you, but the truth is that you showed him even more. Your daddy was in bad shape, too, when you came along, and it was you who made everything better. You were the one who gave daddy something to be happy about. You showed your daddy how to be gentle and how to think more about someone else for once instead of only himself. Yes, your daddy teached you many things, but you teached him more. Everything good that came to daddy came wrapped up in this little bear. That good will never end. Roo is such a good girl that that will always be. Your daddy loves you because you are the best dog ever. There has never been a day when you weren’t. Thank you for being such a good girl, Roo. What a good job you do of being such a good bear.”

In the seven years Roo and I had been together, she had never kept her eyes on me for as long as she had been now. It was past two in the morning. Roo must have needed to sleep. But any time her eyes began to close and I stopped talking she opened them and moved her arm on my shoulder. She seemed to be, as her life was ending, living for this.

And so we kept talking into the night.

[Continued.]

Part 6 (of I don't know how many) of Roo's last week

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In the camper on Tuesday night Roo became too uncomfortable to rest. I wished I knew if it was pain or discomfort from the lumps in her or sickness from the end stage of her cancer. She became increasingly agitated and I didn’t know what to do to help. With her eyes half closed she panted and made an effort to keep her head off the floor. Maybe she knew, in the way dogs seem to, that she was dying. My worst fear was that she could sense that I was ordering her death the next day, though I relied on the hope, as does everyone does who has to have a dog’s life ended, that her trust in me ran too deep for that thought to occur to her.

I didn’t want to give her morphine because of how bad that had seemed to make her feel the last time I gave it to her. In spite of my decision not to give her any more pills I had given her anti-nausea meds earlier, but they weren’t helping. She was so sick of being given pills that I hated to give her another one, but it seemed that the possibility of calming her outweighed that and I gave her a milligram of the Xanax that had been prescribed to her for there Fourth of July, apologizing to her for the last pill as I slid it quickly down her throat. Then I kneeled on the floor with her with my arm across her forelegs so she could rest her chin on it. When after some time the pill began to relax her she lowered her head and I felt the soft fur of her throat on my skin. Kneeling like that, my face was positioned at the base of her skull, between her ears. I thought how the fur there seemed too healthy, too rich and soft and golden to be the fur of someone who was dying.

As she began to rest, it was a struggle to make good on the obligation I had begun to feel was my most important: I could not let on to Roo how sad I was. Maybe it was unreasonable to hope that the fact that she was about to die might not occur to her if I didn’t let on that I knew. It was the same thing, a version of, the way I had taught her to trust me when I told her that some loud sound wasn’t a noise, something she had learned to take my word for. It might not sound like much, but this was a key accomplishment that kept her from doing things like cramming herself into a culvert at the sound of a tree stump being dropped into a truck. It was a trust I never abused by telling her that a gunshot or thunder or fireworks wasn’t a noise so that she would always know my word was good when I did tell her not to be frightened by something, something that had happened many times each day. It was one of the great successes of raising Roo. Now, there was nothing more important to me than helping her believe that I believed, as I told her, that tomorrow she would be better. I didn’t want her to know that now that was because tomorrow her pain would be ended forever.

Over the years, I had given Roo a long list of nicknames. When we drove in the car and she lay sleeping beside me in the passenger seat, anytime she woke up she would bat at me with her paw to make me pay attention to her. Because Roo grew up in confinement and without the necessary environment to learn language in a place where whatever human voices she heard must have come from whoever had been cruel enough to abuse her, she always had more difficulty than most dogs learning words. It was different with her dozens of nicknames. She knew, presumably from the hints she detected with her fine dog senses in my tone of voice, that theses names were hers and referred to her alone, that every one of them was a variation on the idea that they simply meant her, my girl, and nothing else. She knew they were a demonstration of the connection I had to her and that she felt in equal measure to me. Maybe in her mind she also thought of herself by those grand and heroic-sounding and dignified names. These names constituted a secret language of dozens of words that amplified the idea, the very essence of, Roo, and to Roo these were her love song.

Her names were all strange and made-up fabrications. They were like the garbled syllables one might hear from solitary small children separated from remote and noble tribes and lost as they were driven from their forest or mountain homes and into oblivion. Their words as they might have sounded to the strangers they had been reduced to begging for food, when the children, now ragged, were asked their names and misunderstood when they said them. I won’t repeat those names. For one thing, I never quite figured out how to spell most of them, containing as they did sounds I was never able to work out in our alphabet, but also because repeating them might break the spell they still carry for me. I have nothing but words any more. Those few I’ll hoard.

But, when Roo and I drove all those hundreds of thousands of miles together and she slept curled in the passenger seat, and when she batted me with her paw to get me to talk to her, what she liked most was for me to string those names together in a sort of chant-like recitation. Had any other human heard this it would have sounded like someone practicing to cheat an audience of rubes out of their wages by speaking in tongues, but on Roo this had a hypnotic effect. She loved hearing this stream of words. If I stopped before she had gone completely back to sleep she would immediately object, insistently batting me on the arm and giving me her most serious and imploring look.

Now, on the floor, on this last of Roo’s nights on Earth, I began to whisper this litany of herself into the soft fur at her ears. It had the old effect. She grunted with approval and shifted herself into a slightly more comfortable position and relaxed her neck to let more of the weight of her head rest on my arm, just as she used to rest her chin on it as we drove and drove and, until only days before, drove together and never would again.

Lately, lying on her side had been too uncomfortable for Roo, but now she relaxed enough to want to roll onto her side. I helped her by lowering her left shoulder and her head to the floor and straightening her legs. Now I was able to lie down on the floor beside her. We were facing each other. My nose was near hers and she fixed her eyes on mine. Her panting had stopped. She wanted to bat me with her arm in the old way, to let me know that she hoped I wasn’t planning on getting up, but her arm was too weak now, so I lifted it gently and put her paw on my shoulder where she wanted it to be. She looked at me.

“What a beautiful little girl you are, Rooki,” I said. “Of course I know you’re not a little girl. You know I only call you that because that’s just the way daddies think of their little bears. I know that you are the biggest and bravest dog of the whole world. And in the world there is no one better than a dog, which makes you the biggest and bravest of everyone there is in the world, on top of being the most ferocious mouse hunter ever. You are my brave daughter bear and you will always be my big brave, beautiful daughter bear. And I will always be your daddy. So excuse me if I call you my little girl.”

She stretched her arm and pressed her paw on my shoulder. The swelling in that arm had made it so sore lately and it seemed uncomfortable, but she did not want me to move it to the floor.

“Rooki Bear Beker, do you know who the daddy loves her up and down more than anybody else in the world?” I said. It was a question I asked her every night. My hand was on her shoulder and I felt it move and her paw flex at my neck.

“That’s right. The Rooki. That’s who the daddy loves her up and down. And, do you know whose daddy loves her up and down more than anybody in the world?”

Again she moved her weakened arm to prompt my answer.

The Rooki’s daddy. That’s right, my little bear.” I said. I pulled the flap of her ear through my hand a few times.

With all the strength she had, Roo moved her head to give me several licks on the face, the way she had only recently in these last stages of her illness begun to do after a lifetime of limiting herself to a lick on my ear out of some uncertainty that a full licking might not be a proper thing to do, a relic of her troubled puppyhood.

“That’s right. Your daddy loves this little fat bear more than anyone.” I rubbed on the soft fur of her chest and held my hand there to feel her heartbeat.

“Little Bear, I want to tell you a story. The story of Rooki Bear Beker, Junior, the dog. It’s the story you daddy will always always carry with him, even after everything else is gone and lost. I want to tell you the story that will always be there. And will always be the best thing your daddy has.”

Roo’s eyes were steady on mine. They did not look like the eyes of a dying dog. Even in the dim light of the camper they were bright and full. And even though it was late and Roo was exhausted and ill, she breathed easily and her eyes, a snout’s length from mine, stayed unblinkingly fixed on mine.

“The story of Rooki Bear Beker. The story so far, anyway. Would you like that?”

Roo had never before kept her eyes on me as steadily as she did now.

“Okay, Little Bear. Here we go,” I said, and I began.

Part 5 (of I don't know how many) of Roo's last week

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When in her last days Roo’s appetite began to leave her the only two things she would eat were turkey and rotisserie chicken. The refrigerator in the camper was already filled with other meats I had bought. I tried cooking them, mixing them with rice, seasoning them with chicken broth. She didn’t want them. The small camper refrigerator was stuffed with them. Eventually she refused the rotisserie chicken and would only eat the turkey. It made its way past the lumps in her throat more easily.

For the last few days Roo had not wanted to get in the car, so I drove fast on the trips I made to the market and the pet stores to see if I could find something she wanted. I had lost the habit of fast driving because anything but the most gentle driving made Roo uncomfortable. I dashed in and out of the stores on my spindly legs, turning away from the reflection of my distorted body in the glass market doors on the way in, repulsed by it hurrying like a caricature of a cripple. Over the past week I had been buying a wide selection of various jerkies and treats, but the only one she would eat was one particular soft jerky when I tore it up into small pieces. Eight or ten bags of jerky and treats piled up until I had to store them in the car. Instead of going to the usual and much cheaper, but more distant discount market, I only went to the closer, pricier grocery store where they had natural turkey breast. I noticed a package of smoked salmon there and bought that. Roo had had it a few times over the years and loved it. Maybe she would eat that. When I saw it my face reddened with anger at myself for not having thought about it sooner. The same went for the goat milk and yogurt I had bought at the organic health food store a few days before. How had I not remembered sooner?

When I got back to the camper from these trips Roo would be lying in the same spot where I’d left her, waiting for me to say, “Oh, Little Bear! There’s my little girl! What were you doing? Were you waiting all by yourself?” It was the same thing I’d always said to her when I came back to her when she was waiting for me in the car in a parking lot or now, on the camper floor. 

She had always liked this little joke, as if to say, “Why, yes, as a matter of fact I have been waiting all by myself, and whose fault do you think that was?” The exchange always made her wag. Lately, when she wagged her skinny tail – it had two long bald patches where so much of the long golden hair had fallen from it – it wasn’t the old hard thumping on the floor. It was a weaker and thinner wag.

Holding her I said, “Of course you’re not a little girl. I just call you that. You know your daddy thinks you’re the biggest and most ferocious do in the world. I just like calling you that,” and then, “Wait till you see what I got you. Something very delicious.” I tore the various bags open and broke the treats into small pieces, but she didn’t want them.

“Please eat something, Chigi Bear Beker. Please just eat one bite.” Even though getting a treat – usually a slice of the turkey I bought only for her when I came out of one of the hundreds of markets we had been to – was one of her bigger pleasures, now she passed it up.

“Come on, Chig, not even one little bite?” but she only put her head back down on the floor. 

On Monday Roo went outside for a few little patrols in the back yard. She was walking slowly, but still sniffing around. Once or twice she went into the woods between the houses. Sometimes she perked up when I pointed out a chipmunk or squirrel. We had had a few cool days, but it was warming up again, and though that maddest more uncomfortable for her, she spent lots of time lying in the driveway near the camper. I put a camp chair beside her and sat with her. When Virginia came out of the house to say hi to Roo, Roo was delighted to see her. 

One of the things I dreaded the most was the day when I wouldn’t be able to take Roo with me when I had to go to the dump to empty the camper’s tanks. Because the tanks on the camper are exceptionally small, this must be done once a week. Here, usually on Tuesdays. But Virginia was home and could stay with Roo and she was perky enough to go inside with a smile, though I don’t think she would have had she known that I would go without her. Even though this was only Monday and the tanks could have lasted another day, I didn’t know that Roo could. It had to be done and Roo stayed behind while I went alone. It was a taste of what things would be like from now on. In the car without Roo was one thing but being in the car while pulling the camper was another. I’ve only spent fours hours of one night alone in the camper without Roo, when I was in a hospital in Utah and Roo stayed at the house of a good samaritan. It has gone nowhere that Roo and I did not take it together. Every time in the past four years when I emptied the tanks, Roo either sat in the grass nearby and looked around at the surrounding woods or campground, or in the car, and I would go back to the window to have a running conversation with her about how the job was progressing. This had the feeling of the appearance of a wraith, a ghost who appears before someone dies. Notice of the end of   everything we had been doing together. This concrete example of her coming absence made it hard not to weep while I was draining the tanks, especially since I had been fighting tears the whole time I was around Roo, trying never to let on that I knew she was dying. Not wanting to lie to her I had recently stopped telling her that she was going to get better and that there was nothing to worry about. I had resorted instead to telling her that she would feel better tomorrow. Even in the case of my knowing what she didn’t, that she would be made to die soon, I sought out any mechanism to protect myself and her from the inevitable darkness of lies.

I rushed the tank job and was back at the house in an hour. Roo was lying by the front door where Virginia sat with her. 

Roo’s happiness when I got back was different than it usually was. She wasn’t just happy, though she was, and wagging, though she was, and smiling with her still bright eyes, though she was. She was also relieved in a way that felt different and more important to her. She huffed with relief as she greeted me and licked me on the face. She was relieved because as she became weaker and more ill she felt more vulnerable and didn’t want to be without me and seeing the camper drive off for the first time ever without her in her usual shotgun seat in the car must have been deeply disturbing to her. It wasn’t that she didn’t love Virginia, because she did. It was just that her protector, the repository of all her trust, trust that had been so difficult for her to learn and all of which I had been there to help her develop, drove away in the camper, an unthinkable worrying event. Surely she knew I would come back, as I always had from everything else, but it must have raised a question because, well, because you never know, especially if you’re as prone to worry as Roo was, and even if – if not more so – because Roo had especially loved me because, as far as she was concerned, I had never let her down. Of course, as far as I was concerned, I had let her down in many of the biggest ways, but part of the essential goodness of a dog is that they don’t see things like being consigned to a tiny camper and dragged all around the country as a stupid mistake. Things like that they are prepared to accept as a reality, and they don’t question reality in the way we silly humans are prone to. 

For much of the rest of the day, Roo lay in the driveway. I brushed her gently for a long time and she loved it. An enormous amount of her fur fell from her.

While I brushed her it occurred to me that I would stop bothering her with the last of her medications. She had had enough. The low-dose chemo wasn’t working. Why take the chance that it was adding to her sickness. The prednisone was supposed to bring some relief. I couldn’t tell one way or the other that it was. There was mirtazapine, a serotonergic drug that gave dogs an appetite, in one of the two dozen pill bottles on the counter in the camper, but why make her hungry if the reason she didn’t want to eat was because swallowing was painful? Always so cooperative about taking pills that I had learned to put in her throat quickly and without any fuss, she had been grunting lately. 

It was enough.

*                    *                    *

When it got dark Roo decided to come back in the camper and we spent the rest of the night either sitting together on the floor, or, when she tried to sleep, with me kneeling beside her with my arm on the floor so that she could rest her chin on my forearm to keep the swollen lymph glands in her throat from making her uncomfortable. Some days before I had tried lying her on her side, but that made something else uncomfortable, probably the pressure of some unseen mass growing in her, and she had to struggle to get back onto her belly, so I spent most of the night holding her and propping her head up so she could rest. By the middle of the night, though, I had to get some sleep. Not because I was sleepy – I felt like a deep and poisoning had taken me over – but because I thought I would be in even worse shape, less up to the tasks still to come and less there for her. I had begun to think constantly about making her death more difficult by intruding on it with my emotion. I was already seedy, dirty and sticky and stubbly. Roo was managing some sleep when I took a sleeping pill at three or four and went to bed. The pill lacked the influence to overpower my sadness. It was a quiet night. I lay there listening to Roo’s snoring. It was louder than normal because of the lumps in her throat. I lay there listening and trying not to imagine what it was going to be like when that snoring was gone but couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to make the bed creak by moving it, so instead of getting the tissues I needed I pulled a pillow over my face.

Sometime before dawn I went to sleep and just after that Roo woke me with a single urgent bark to be let outside. She only did that in emergencies. Just as Orville had done before her, she hated to wake me up because she and he understood how badly I slept and both of them protected what little sleep I did get. Orville did it to his dying day, waiting beside my bed for me to wake up in his greatest moment of need. Roo had over the years only barked to be let out when she was suddenly sick, the way she had been when she had her bout of severe gastrointestinal trouble in Oklahoma. Also, she knew that just the sound of her moving had always been enough to wake me, so she almost never needed to bark to get my attention. The exhaustion must have caught up with me. My body had been forcing some sleep on me. I sprang out of bed and opened the door and pulled my pants on to follow her to the yard.

I should have set aside any hope long before that Tuesday, but somehow I didn’t. Somehow, like a little wishing child, I never stopped hoping that something might have worked, that one of the drugs or the other would suddenly edge the cancer back enough to give Roo some more time. And then I fantasized that any tiny improvement might give the Panacur its chance to work on killing the cancer. While I wished for these things I was at once fully aware of how silly they were, the two flipsides working against each other in my mind.

But on that Tuesday I knew. I knew when I walked with Roo in the back yard. She was so tired. She sniffed a bit and squatted and then sat down. I kneeled in front of her and put my arms over her head and around her shoulders and held her and told her a few of the old things and she smiled and looked up at me and licked my face, the way she had only lately been allowing herself to do. Then she hung her head low and with my arms around her shoulders she pressed the top of her head into my chest.

I held her head up by the soft fur under her ears. “I know, Little Bear,” I said. “I know. It’s okay.”

Roo went to lie down in the cool mulch under the shrubs beneath the porch. I thought that Roo might want to be alone, in the way dying dogs often do, but I couldn’t leave her alone. I brought a chair over and sat with her. We stayed there until much later, until it began to get dark. When she decided to go back to the camper she stopped in the driveway. Maybe the idea of getting back in the goddamned camper was too much for her. Maybe she just wanted to spend more time outside, listening to the birds and squirrels. Maybe she was just too weary to make it all the way to the camper. She lay down in the driveway and waited to go inside until it was dark.

She stopped at the camper steps. The first step is a little on the high side. She wasn’t sure she could make it. Her arm might have been hurting. She might just have been too tired. I offered to help her and she gave me one last slow wag of the embarrassment she always did because it was a long-standing point of pride for her to make every climb herself with the autonomy I had made sure for her entire life she could exercise as much as possible. It was the autonomy that had healed her by reviving her sense of herself as a hunter, a predator, the autonomy that awakened in her her capacity to run free in the woods and deserts and mountains swim in the seas and rivers. That was done. It was too much of a struggle now. I slung my arms under her neck and chest, trying not to press on the lumps there and helped my girl into the camper.

I had to make the calls to find the veterinarian who would come over to euthanize Roo and to find a crematory. To keep these out of Roo’s earshot I walked to the street while Roo was in the camper. It was warm and I had turned the air conditioner on. Even with its loud noise and even at that distance, I worried unreasonably that she would hear me and I stood far away and still spoke in the low voice of some dirty conspirator, keeping from Roo the first and final secret of her life. It felt deeply wrong. It felt like I was snatching back all that autonomy, nullifying it, reclaiming it as my own. No matter that I knew better. No matter that I had seen Orville suffer and die from this same hellish cancer. No matter that I had failed him worse than anyone should ever fail anyone. But it was the way Orville died that made me not want Roo to die the same way.

The previous week I had begun contacting the mobile vets who specialized in home euthanasia but had had difficulty getting in touch with them. Business was good and either there was no answer or they didn’t return calls or those who did wanted to schedule something well in advance. Dr. Mason’s office had recommended someone and I had spoken to her the week before but now that she would be needed for the following day, she also didn’t return the phone call. I had emailed Dr. Philibert to ask if he knew of anyone else I could call. As an oncologist – by default someone with a lot of dying patients – and a partner in a big clinic I thought that surely he might be able to suggest someone. He emailed back for me to Google it.

I went back to the camper, and later that night, Roo and I had a long talk. 

Part 4 (of I don't know how many) of Roo's last week

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Roo’s oncologist had warned me that if the low-dose chemo drug she was on didn’t produce results in two or three days it wasn’t going to work. She had her first dose of it on the Wednesday a week before she would die. It did nothing to prevent the lumps in her throat and chest from hardening and every day she was becoming weaker. 

At one point it seemed to me that the swelling in her arm had gone down a little. Not the big lump at the top of her arm, the one the veterinarians had misdiagnosed, but the swelling of the lower part of her arm and her paw. Was this the prednisone? Was the  Panacur producing a miracle? Was the chemo drug kicking in? Or was I just imagining this? No, the swelling had thickened her whole arm down to her paw, and I was sure that was improving. A swollen paw is hard to miss. Now it seemed almost normal. Nothing else was improving, though, and I spent every second trying to hide from Roo how worried and sad I was. I doubt those things can be hidden, especially from a dog who has been with you for virtually every second of so many years. 

We spent most of our time in the camper, though she did want to go outside and lie in the driveway once in a while.

On one of those last nights, Roo asked to go outside. It was around midnight, when the dark normally kept Roo inside, but now, as soon as I opened the door, and without even taking the time she usually did to sniff and listen before risking a nighttime sortie, she went right down the two steps to the driveway and moved quickly – not running, but the fastest she had walked in days – toward the street. It’s a quiet neighborhood and there was no traffic and the last thing I wanted to do was to tell her not to do anything she wanted, especially because she seemed happy about something, so I didn’t tell her, the way I had ten thousand times, not to go in the street. I followed her. Her tail was up and wagging and in the dark it looked like her old tail, the way it did before the chemo and the return of her allergies had lately stripped it of much of its fur. At first I thought she might have caught the scent of one of the foxes around here. But then I recognized that she was a little disoriented. I’d like to think she had a beautiful dream so realistic that she followed whatever she dreamed outside. She was so strangely happy. Something was off, though. It was the first time I’d ever seen her like that and in spite of her happiness it felt like another part of the progression of her disease. I didn’t want to risk going too far down the street because sooner or later she would have to lie down and there would be no way to get back to the camper.

When I said, “Maybe we should go back, Chig,” she didn’t seem to hear me. It wasn’t a case of selective hearing. It was more like she was sleepwalking, wandering aimlessly. She walked into the street and turned around a few times, looking this way and that. I stayed by her side, turning in step with her until she slowed down and when I suggested it again we headed back to the camper. 

Over the years, any time she went out at night, when we got to the door of the camper I leaned down to hold her and rub the fur on her sides and pat her belly and chest to congratulate her on what a brave bear she was to go out in the dark and tell her how proud of her I was. Now she stood there with her ears back and a big smile, wagging and enjoying the praise the way she always had. It was a great moment, a throwback to all the better time. Roo’s good mood lasted. It was a little difficult for her to climb the steps into the camper and I offered to help her, but she didn’t want any help and inside she lay in the spot by the kitchen sink and beneath the cabinet where her treats were to let me know that she was ready for a treat. I gave her all the turkey and soft jerky she wanted, all broken into small pieces that would be easy to swallow. I topped it off with some cookies. She began to eat them but left the pieces on the floor. Swallowing them hurt her throat. The lumps were getting too big.

Ever since the first lymph node appeared in May, and especially after the swelling was reduced when Roo was supposedly in remission, I was always terrified by the certain knowledge that the day would come when another lump would appear when the cancer roared back. Every time I touched her I was conscious of it. That fear had been realized and gone now that there were so many, every one of them a reminder. The big one at the top of her left foreleg. Another in her chest. The lovely pink skin under her arm with impossibly delicate folds where some fluid seemed to be gathering. Then, first one, then two hard ones growing to the size of ping-pong balls in her throat. I knew there were probably more inside. When I touched Roo I made an effort not to check these lumps. I worried that dwelling on them would communicate my dread of them to Roo. At least they weren’t painful to her. To me they were constant reminders, a string of slow-motion alarms that couldn’t be shut off. But the most comfort Roo got came from my holding her, petting her, scratching her and brushing her. She especially liked being gently brushed. It also helped her to massage her head and legs. And that was how I spent what time we had left. Sitting or kneeling on the floor with her, talking about what a great dog she was, about all the places we’d gone, all the mouses she’d killed, about how brave she was and how much her daddy loved her and always would. In return, she would sometimes pick her head up and look at me and when I put my face close to hers she would lick it in the way she had only started to do in the last weeks of her life. There was a lot she wanted me to know, things that are lodged deep in the heart of every dog.

  • * *

For the last seven years, I’ve loved listening to Roo’s soft snoring. Ever since a severe head injury I received 35 years ago I’ve been unable to sleep soundly, and so all through the night I had the good sound of Roo’s snoring beside me and the feeling of the movement of her limbs, enough at the height of her dreaming to make the camper bounce on its suspension. I loved her occasional whimpering or the halfway barks coming out of the back of her throat when she dreamed and the way her snoring always deepened just a bit before she woke when her dream ended. Those sounds always made me hold my breath so I would be sure not to miss any of them. When she dreamed in the overnight I would feel her shift position a little in her bed, sigh and go back to sleep. When she slept on the floor in the hours before I went to bed, she would usually look up at me any time she woke up and ask with her eyes that I come over to say hi. When she was well, and though this was irresistible, I wouldn’t come over to her every time, knowing that she would go back to sleep in a few seconds. Recently those looks had become more imploring. She needed to be held and talked to.

  • * *

Since our first days together in Los Angeles, Roo’s chosen place to sleep was next to my bed. She did the same thing in the houses we rented and in all the motel rooms we stayed in, even when she had to squeeze beside a motel bed only inches from a wall. She almost never wanted to sleep up on the bed unless there were thunderstorms. I think this was a relic of her confinement as a puppy and because she felt more secure hiding in a den when she slept. When we got the camper, the spaces on either side of the bed were too narrow for a dog of Roo’s size. She could fit in them, but they were only 18 inches wide and so she couldn’t lie on her side or curl up. I had the platform the bed is on rebuilt so that on one side it would fit her full size bed, and I slept on that side so that I could stay close to her. The sound of her sleeping, her gentle breathing and her light snoring, were to me the greatest luxuries. I could never get enough of them. Dogs establish rituals around bedtime. Roo’s was that she would sleep closer to me on the floor of the camper until she saw that I was getting ready for bed when I closed the laptop or got my toothbrush and only then go to hers. Once in a while Roo took a nap in that bed, but rarely. It was her overnight bed.

As soon as Roo got sick she began to avoid that bed. At first, she would still go to bed there, but then get up and go to the other side. At first, she stayed for a hour or so, then a few minutes and finally she didn’t want to go to bed there at all. The other, narrower, side of the bed had always been a hiding place for her, the place she went if there was noise she worried about – she never got used to things like mu drinking the holding tanks. She hid there if someone was talking or maneuvering another camper outside. She went there to hide from reflections. To get in there, she would enter head first but then have to turn around so that her head would be at the opening, where she could keep an eye on the rest of the camper instead of being in the corner. To turn around, she had to sit and lift her front paws off the floor and press her back against the wall while she twisted. At the end of the maneuver she dropped herself on the floor like a sack of bones. There was only room for her to lie on her belly. Sometimes in her sleep she moved to her side, but then she had to keep her legs bent and tucked in close to her. It looked awfully uncomfortable, but I never believed in trying to tell a dog where to sleep, and it was up to her. 

But now this question of the bed began to obsess me. What was making Roo avoid it? She had always been worried by the sound of the air conditioner kicking in as it cycled and I had made the mistake of having her bed built on the same side of the camper as the air conditioner before I realized how much it bothered her. Maybe it was that, because the air conditioner had to be on in the summer nights, especially now that Roo needed it to be particularly cold to help her with the panting the prednisone caused. There was no way to change the position of the bed. I tried taking her memory foam bed out to see if its softness was uncomfortable for her as the lumps grew inside her. I put the big cotton bathmats she liked to sleep on in the space. I tried two of them. I took them out and tried bare floor. I tried luring her in with treats. She still wouldn’t go in. She had had it with that bed.

Typical of the lousy Amish workmanship of this camper, the platform the bed is on is a stapled-together mess of the cheapest type of particle board. Some of the staples had come loose and begun to squeak and creak. I’m handy enough to fix just about anything, but I could not figure out how to get the staples to stop squeaking. It looked like the entire bed would have to be removed and that was more of a construction job than I thought I could do without risking making things worse. Almost every day I moved the mattress aside or pulled it onto the floor when Roo was outside – any kind of work on the camper while she was inside was frightening to her – and tried to figure out how to get the damned squeaking and creaking to stop. I could see the staples that had pulled out where the cheap wood had separated. I tried filling the gaps with shims. I tightened everything I could. I cut socks up and jammed them into the spaces. I spent hours trying to identify the specific place the squeaking was someone from and clipping out the pulled staples there. Nothing worked. I became more and more convinced that the squeaking was what was driving her out of her bed and not being able to get it to stop grew in my mind to represent another infliction of pain on her, compounding the permanent and fatal error of moving into the camper to begin with. It drove me crazy. I spent hours and hours trying to track the problem down. Nothing worked.

I found that by crawling into the bed in a certain way, like someone stepping through a minefield, I could limit the worst of the creaks. That was while Roo was still choosing that bed for the beginning of the night, but it wasn’t a sufficient solution. What sleep I get is restless and tortured, I roll around and get tangled up with my own scrawny arms wound underneath me like a spool of fishing line and getting them extricated is difficult because of injuries and inevitably this movement made the bed creak. Whether it was this noise or not, Roo’s decision, once taken, was firm. The sicker she became, the less willing she was to risk it and finally she would only sleep in the narrow space on the other side of the bed. I did not move to that side of the bed to stay closer to her. I knew Roo. From her earliest days she had always sought out space of her own. Now, becoming more uncomfortable with her illness, I thought that if what she needed was space there was no reason for me not to let her have the few feet of space there was. But knowing that she was extra uncomfortable added to my sense of failure about having consigned her to live, and now be dying, in this camper. I spent the nights lying as still as I could. Every creak and squeak felt like getting knifed with a further example of the sorts of things I had done that made Roo’s life harder.

In the final days, whatever was hurting Roo was making it difficult for her to do the turning maneuver in the narrow space. I think it was something swelling up inside her. She would go into her little space and sit in preparation for the turn and then look at me.

“I don’t know what to do, Little Bear,” I would say. I had to be careful about asking her if she wanted me to help her because she insisted on her principle of not wanting physical help unless absolutely necessary until the end and trying to help her would only make her hurry. Eventually she would make a difficult effort and with a grunt succeed in turning herself around.

Normally I turn the lights off around two and try to get to sleep myself around three. This stopped working. All I could think about was what was happening to Roo and the noise of the bed and instead all night I would check on Roo by moving to her side and watching her. She was sleeping less and often just lying there, sometimes panting, and then I would help calm her by petting and talking to her. Now her beautiful snoring was changing. It was becoming more pronounced as the lumps in her throat grew, and when I heard that, in the moments when I was sure she was asleep, I had to force myself not to risk letting her hear how upset this made me. I struggled constantly to try not let on and began to fear letting her down by failing her at what was by now the clearly approaching moment of her death. The idea that the last emotion of mine she would sense was misery scared me badly.

Sometimes she would become too cramped and move back to the floor where she could stretch out. In the last days, she seemed more comfortable lying on her belly. The same thing had happened to Orville on the day he died from lymphoma and I couldn’t help remembering that. I found that by kneeling over Roo with her shoulders under my right arm and my elbow on the floor I could support her head by letting her chin rest on my left forearm. This relieved her instantly and she would go to sleep instantly. I began to do this for hours at a time so she could sleep, resting my face in the fur at the back of her neck. When finally I had to try to get some sleep as dawn approached I hated myself for leaving her alone on the floor.

I could not tell if Roo was in pain. She seemed more tired than anything. The one time I had given her morphine – on the Wednesday before the one on which she died – she reacted so badly to it, panting and looking crazed, that I didn’t want to give her any more.

The drugs weren’t working. It was obvious by that weekend that Roo was nearing the end. Still I hoped – by this point this had become plainly stupid and I knew it – that maybe the low-dose chemo drug or the Panacur would kick in. I may even have started to become deluded when, I think on Sunday, it seemed that the swelling in her arm was going down. It did go down a little. Either I was sure of it or I convinced myself it was true.

“Look at that, Chig, the arm is getting better!” I said to her, scratching her forearm. And for one of the last times she batted at me with that paw, as if she agreed.

That tiny improvement equipped me to sound like I meant it when I said things to her while I was holding her head and she was trying to get to sleep, like, “I know you’re very sick now, Little Bear, but you’ll feel better. You’ll see. Everybody gets sick. Even your old daddy has been sick. You’ve been sick before and you always felt better. And you’re the strongest, toughest bear in the world.” I knew it wasn’t true but somehow it didn’t seem like I was lying outright. I hope I wasn’t. No dog deserves to be lied to.

I worried that she could read my mind, though. She knew me well. I didn’t really believe there was any real way to hide the truth from her. Instead I just kept skating around it.

All I could do for now was kneel beside her and keep her head elevated. At least she was able to get some sleep. In the hours I held her like that I started thinking the same awful thoughts. I began to fear that I would fail her by breaking down when the time for her to die came. And it was coming, and I knew it.

Part 3 (of I don't know how many) of Roo's last week

The last time Roo ever carried the hat.

The last time Roo ever carried the hat.

Doctors Mason and Philibert jointly misdiagnosed the end of Roo’s remission when they did the fine needle aspiration of the lump on her arm and opined that Roo had developed a second form of cancer. The lump was in fact extranodal swelling, the lymphoma, and once that lump appeared, it became ferocious. It’s awful to harbor the suspicion that had Mason and Philibert recognized it for what it was there might have been time for the rescue protocol to buy some more time. Maybe not. And maybe if Mason had recognized the lump in Roo’s back that I had pointed out weeks before it might have indicated the need to switch to other chemo drugs. Either way, now that the cancer was progressing viciously, Mason bowed out. Though she had assured me that she was as capable an oncologist as any, lacking only board certification, I credit her with admitting that Roo’s case required greater specialization than she was able to provide.

My friend Jim had warned me about oncologists. That maybe because they dealt so much with death they tended to a certain coldness. This was certainly true of Philibert. After Mason transferred Roo to him and I met him for the first time I told him that I didn’t want to discuss any of the grim stuff in front of Roo. I asked if we could talk about her treatment out of her earshot, maybe step out of the room. It would have been nothing to get a tech to wait with her in the examining room for five minutes.

“No,” he said. “Not unless you want to put her in your car.”

It was over 80 degrees in bright sunlight. I wasn’t going to bake Roo. Jim was right.

As Roo’s swelling and discomfort got worse in her last week, I emailed Philibert to ask about putting her back on the prednisone. The lumps in Roo’s throat were hardening. He said to do it. Maybe I should have known better. It might have been a mistake, a last ditch attempt to beat the swelling back, to restore Roo’s failing appetite, to make her feel a little better. It was an attempt not to let her sink underwater.

I felt like I was committing a crime when I put the little prednisone pills down Roo’s throat. She trusted me so much and she was so good at taking all those pills, but I knew these were going to make her feel bad. She was also tried of taking pills, grunting almost silently to let me know. Within hours the panting began. Now she had that on top of feeling ill and tired. Immediately it seemed like a mistake, another reminder that I might now be putting her through too much. Was I letting hope override not just my instinct but what I could clearly see? Roo was obviously declining. The cancer was through screwing around. 

Over the next day or two, though, the prednisone did seem to provide some comfort to Roo. She was weak but able to rest more. The panting would come and go. I was torn between hoping that it was just an effect of the prednisone and hoping that it wasn’t because of some pain or feelings of sickness from the cancer itself or the low dose daily chemo drug she was still on.

At dawn on Friday morning, an email appeared in my inbox suggesting that I look into a drug for Roo. I bolted up in bed and turned the tablet on and looked it up, even before I leaned over the bed to check on sleeping Roo. The over-the-counter deworming drug Panacur, which can be bought at any pet shop or feed store, had been demonstrated to have astonishing anti-cancer effects. Panacur is a 60-year-old drug manufactured by Merck. A few years ago, Merck was experimenting with the drugs in its catalogue on cancer. The Merck scientists realized that mice who had been given Panacur to prep them for a cancer study could not be given lymphoma, normally an easy thing to do. Research was done and published in the most prestigious science journal, Nature. It showed that the Panacur, whose drug name is fenbendazole, acted to destroy cancer cells in many ways without harming healthy cells. One of the Merck scientists happened to have late stage glioblastoma, an incurable brain tumor. With three months to live she decided to try the Panacur. Within weeks her tumor had disappeared.

Then a man named Joe Tippins, who had Stage IV metastasized small cell lung cancer was informed by a veterinarian acquaintance about the use of Panacur for cancer. At the time he was in an advanced cancer drug study at the M.D. Anderson cancer hospital in Houston and started taking the Panacur without telling his doctors because he knew he would be thrown out of the drug study if he was diluting the results with an addition to his protocol. In weeks Tippins’ cancer disappeared entirely and appears to have stayed away. As of this writing, he has had a dozen quarterly PET scans and still no evidence of disease. He was the only patient out of 1100 in the drug study to survive.

A woman posted a video of her shih tzu who had, she said, a lymphoma lump in her neck the size of an orange. Three weeks later the lump was gone and there was no evidence of disease. Recent facebook groups popped up and others reported successes.

The problem was that it took some time for the Panacur to work. Roo was too far gone. Still, I emailed Philibert to ask if there was any harm. He did not respond. Not knowing that I could buy the Panacur at the store myself I called Mason’s office to ask for some. Mason likewise didn’t bother to reply.

It was a sunny Friday and Roo was feeling good enough to come outside and lie in the driveway. When Virginia came out of the house to say hi – “Hello, Mrs. Rooboola Boobola!” – Roo wagged and smiled. She was in a good mood to begin with and always happy to see Virginia, who she loved. 

When I learned that I could get the Panacur at Petco, Virginia babysat Roo so that I wouldn’t have to leave her alone in the camper or drag her along for an uncomfortable ride in the car. Roo, as she always did when she waited there stayed by the front glass door of the house, watching and waiting for me. She watched me drive off and she was still there, her head and ears up, when I got back.

I had been hoping to hear back from the either one of the vets because Roo had been developing more gastrointestinal problems and I wanted to make sure the Panacur wouldn’t hurt. But neither of them could be bothered. They probably didn’t want to say that they thought the experiment was idiotic. The dose of Panacur given for cancer treatment is only one-quarter the amount given for deworming a dog Roo’s size. I sprinkled it on some of the rotisserie chicken I had been buying for Roo. She was still eating solid food and scarfed it down.

Now, the truth is that I am not an optimistic person. Maybe I was once, but it no longer comes naturally to me. It doesn’t generally seem realistic. I can’t help but see the way humans treat each other, treat the planet, treat animals. For every kind person there seem to be ten cruel ones. It looks to me like the country seems to be heading into a toilet. I can’t help but think that increasing political tension combined with advancing surveillance technologies is going to lead ineluctably to an eventual authoritarian state. And yet, as unreasonable as it was, giving Roo the Panacur gave me some hope.

In all the hours of talking to Roo while she was sick, I never lied to her and never would. I had been telling her that I knew she was sick. And that we were doing everything we could so that she would feel better.

Sometimes I would say, “Yes, Little Bear, I know you feel so sick now. But you’re going to feel better. Everybody gets sick. Your old daddy has been sick, too. Tomorrow you’re going to feel better.” Sometimes it was a good thing my face was buried in the fur at the back of her head so she couldn’t see the tears.

The protocol for the panacea is three days on and four days off. That meant that Roo would have to take it on Saturday and Sunday, too. For the rest of Friday, Roo spent some time lying in the driveway. I sat beside her in a camp chair. Occasionally we wandered briefly in the back yard. Once or twice she spotted a chipmunk and took a brief run at it.  When it got dark we went back in the camper. Any time Roo went to sleep I left her alone and watched her and listened to her snoring. It seemed worse and I worried that the lumps inner throat were impinging on her airway. Every time she woke up and looked back to see me I got down on the floor with her. Sometimes, when I shifted my position a little she got the idea that I was going to get up and tried to bat at me with her paw, but her arm was swollen and it was hard for her.

“Oh, Chigi Bear Beker, I’m not going anywhere,” I would tell her, and it would calm her down. We did this until three or so in the morning when I had to try to get some sleep.

On Saturday it occurred to me to call Dr. Stokes in Oklahoma. I’ve written about Dr. Stokes many times over the past few years. What qualifies him as one of the great veterinarians is that apart from having the science well in hand, he has an endless amount of care for the animals in his care. I left a message on his voicemail and in no time he called back.

Roo and I were in the camper and I went outside so she wouldn’t hear me when I filled him in on how Roo was doing. We hadn’t spoken since the day after Roo first came down with cancer in Tennessee. I told him she was still wagging, still smiling, still going out for a brief sniff in the yard.

“Well, that’s good. As long as she’s still having more good days than bad. That’s when you’ll know.”

We spoke for about a half an hour. He said there was nothing to lose by trying the Panacur. Even if there was no data to support its use and no protocol for its administration for cancer and just anecdotally encouraging evidence about its efficacy, he said there would be no harm. It would not make Roo feel worse. I don’t know if that’s the last time I’ll ever have occasion to speak to Dr. Stokes. I doubt that I’ll ever have occasion to talk to any more veterinarians, but talking to Stokes felt like leaving the field on a high note.

I know how foolish it was to place any hope at all in something like this. Even the staunchest proponents said that it took time to work. I knew Roo and I were out of ammo. This was a potshot at an advancing enemy who was much stronger and about to overrun the trench.

And even though it didn’t work, the little bit of hope it added over the weekend was a good thing. It made it easier for me to tell Roo to hang in there. Easier to tell her she would feel better tomorrow and that as soon as she felt better we were going to go and catch a ground hog and go swimming and frog hunting. We spent a lot of time on the floor talking about that stuff, me on my knees beside Roo and leaning down to place my head beside her on the tattered old dollar store rug.

  • * *

This is the story about Panacur for cancer. Worth reading, and the links to the peer reviewed studies are in there. Had I known about this sooner I would have been giving it to Roo. There are also facebook groups for it, but they are, frankly, awful, filled with people who can’t be bothered to read the instructions or who post all sorts of things sounding authoritative about the need to add numerous other things to the protocol. The Panacur protocol is extremely simple. It requires only the Panacur, some broad spectrum vitamin E and curcumin.

Part 2 (of I don't know how many) of Roo's last week

Roo a year ago today

Roo a year ago today

Up on the bed that evening, in her sleep, Roo began to display signs of distress. Lying on her side, she began to pant. The only time she had panted like that was when she was on prednisone for the first five weeks of her cancer treatment and so I thought this was again the prednisone. This was one of the more difficult things about this last stage of her life: I wanted to believe that something relatively small could account for the much worse bigger picture. Instead of accepting that she was about to die, I clung to what was becoming an almost silly hope that the rescue round of chemo might still kick in and nudge her back into remission. This failure to accept things as they were would spiral out of control over the coming weekend.

Her discomfort up on the bed that evening scared me. She seemed weak and miserable. She was exhausted and trying to sleep. I got off the bed and went to the other side so I could get down in the corner and get closer to her head. She was desperate to sleep. Her eyes were half closed but her breathing was so fast and so hard that that, and whatever pain or anxiety or sickness she was feeling were making it impossible.

“Chigi Bear Beker,” I said while I was holding her, “it’s okay if you need to leave,” and I tried not to let her feel me trying not to weep with my face in the fur beside her ear. 

I was wrestling with the idea of giving Roo a trazadone to see if that would help. She seemed so wound up. For an hour or so I waited, though, because Roo was tired of taking pills. I think that over the course of the 100 days she had had about 1500 pills jammed down her throat. She was good about it, always quick to open her mouth and let me put pills in her throat and then give me a smile as soon as she licked her nose when she had swallowed them. But for the last few days, as her appetite waned, she had begun to grunt quietly. She had had enough of them. Finally I decided to try it and gave her the trazadone and after a while she did seem to feel better.

Her mood improved and she even accepted a little piece of turkey. When I saw that I was so happy I tore up several slices and put them on a small cutting board we picked up in Mexico all those years ago and she ate all of that. She seemed to be feeling better. She had rolled upright. 

Roo was never a licky dog. Once in a while she wanted to give me a lick, but even though I welcomed it, it was as if she wasn’t sure it was okay. Over the years we settled on a lick on the ear. Even that she seemed to regard as a stolen kiss, always looking a little sly and smiley after she did it. Except when we went to the park, when I would lean close to her to get my hat from the floor on her side of the car and she would always give me a lick on the ear to signal her appreciation of our going hunting together. 

Lately, though, Roo had thrown her caution to the wind and had started to lick my face often. She did it with some urgency, trying to communicate many things. I’m pretty sure they were love and thanks, because that’s what she did in fact communicate. And now, still up on the bed with me on my knees in the narrow space beside her, she did it again.

“I thought you were a goner for a minute there, Little Bear,” I said. She looked at me with her big bright eyes. 

I was hoping to keep her mood on the upswing so I said, “Hey, Chig, do you want to see the squirrel?” meaning the squirrel video.

She put her ears up and beat her tail once. I brought the tablet over and turned it on and showed her the squirrel video. She seemed less interested in it than she had been so I thought I’d try something new on her. I had downloaded a nature series on Netflix and put that on.

There were cheetahs running and elephants with their young and birds doing mating dances with fancy plumage and whales feeding on krill. Roo was glued to it and I positioned myself to lie next to her so I could narrate it for her. She always liked that, even if all I was saying was things like, “Look at that, now they’re walking in the room,” or, “They are getting the car, Chig. Probably going to the park,” or, “Look at that, Chigi – a tree.”

On the tablet, some gorillas appeared in a lush African rainforest.

“Look at that, Chig,” I said. “Those are gorillas. They look just like your daddy.”

They fascinated Roo until the picture cut to a close-up of one of the gorillas sitting in the bush and slowly eating something leafy. The filmmakers must have planted the camera in the bush somewhere. Suddenly, a fly flew right up the microphone with a loud buzzing sound. Roo grimaced and flattened her ears out and jumped up and tried to bolt off the bed. I got ahold of her to stop her before she could because it’s a high jump and she had been needing help getting in and out of the car, and I didn’t know if such a high jump would hurt her swollen arm. I lifted her to the floor. The buzzing of the fly had upset her badly and she rushed around looking for a place to hide. There was of course nowhere to hide in the camper even in less critical times. She tried her sleeping corner – the tighter of the two; she had stopped using the wider one I had built especially for her as soon as she got sick. She went in there and jammed her nose in the corner and started panting again, the sound of the air constricted at her flattened nose hissing against the wall. But she was scared the fly would come back and came out and tried the dinette seat she always resorted to in thunderstorms.

I did all I could to calm her down. I showed her the tablet was off, I squeezed in next to her the way she always wanted me to when there was thunder, but she was upset for a long time. I think the buzzing of the fly threatened her because she couldn’t snap back at the fly, maybe because it created bad sensations in her neck as the lymph nodes swelled or because she was getting too weak. The idea of a fly attacking her in the camper had punctured her feeling of security in it. The thought that there was a big fly who was going to harass her was too much for her to bear. Eventually she calmed down, but the fly ruined the last source of entertainment for her. She suspected that the fly would appear even in the squirrel videos she had gotten so much pleasure from. She would never trust the tablet again. I would try once or twice more over the coming days, but just the sight of the tablet upset her.

I began to wrestle with the final question. Lots of people say you’ll know when it’s time – but I didn’t know that I would know any such thing. I didn’t know when it was Orville’s time, defaulting instead to the worst kind of hope, the kind that makes someone else suffer. Was I waiting too long? Was Roo in pain? I couldn’t tell. She seemed only tired, but she was always the mistress of her pain and never let it show.

I didn’t know. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing keeping Roo alive. I didn’t know how to balance the fact that she was still showing many signs of happiness and many of discomfort and exhaustion. I could not imagine euthanizing Roo – killing Roo – if she still had moments of joy ahead of her. The question ran through my mind constantly.

The next day Roo was feeling a little better. The trazadone seemed to have helped her sleep a little. In my notes I write that I didn’t know if Roo would live the week out. She went for the last swim I wrote about in the last post the next day. The weekend would be here. If Roo’s suffering became worse then there would be nothing to do. None of the vets around here works on the weekend other than at the emergency rooms and I knew that nothing would be worse than forcing Roo into the car for a long, uncomfortable 45-minute drive and then into a hospital to die.

Roo held on, though. She began to have some gastrointestinal trouble, but she wagged her tail, she walked out in the lawn, and she lay for hours on end in the driveway. Once or twice she bolted after a squirrel or chipmunk.

Then, early on Friday morning, some hope appeared in my email. It was the possibility of a cure.

Part 1 (of I don't know how many) of the last week of Roo's life

Today, once again, I find myself reverting to the habit of watching the weather radar the way I always did when there were thunderstorms to worry about when Roo was alive. Today, though, I watch the thing to see when the rain will stop, because the rain is casting the inside of this camper in a sickly gray that I’ve never experienced before. Until now, the light Roo radiated kept away.

I was going to write that I’m sitting in the dark camper in the rain parked in the driveway, losing my mind, but that’s just a lazy figure of speech. What is happening is quite the opposite of losing my mind. It’s a sharpening of it now that I am able to look back on the week leading up to Roo’s death and the days following it. 

I thought a short piece would suffice to tell the story of the last ten days, but it won’t. I don’t know how long this will stretch on. It will until it’s over.

I write this to honor her and the grace she brought to her life and mine. I write this to honor the strength and spirit and goodness and courage and love that defined Roo. I write it to honor all of you who loved this great dog. And I write this in the hopes of learning whether I failed her as badly as I fear I did. I don’t know if I did or not. This is the only way I have of finding out whether her end was as irretrievably unforgivable as Orville’s was. Whether the actions that I – a broken waste – took were to help her when she needed my help the most or for other reasons I need to understand.

*                    *                    *

After I posted about Roo’s dip in the Atlantic, which she took on Monday, September 2nd, Roo began to feel too weary to do much more. One of the worst things about watching a dog you love get sick is not knowing exactly how they feel. Her swollen arm was bothering her, I knew that, but it didn’t make her limp or sniff at it. I could tell because it began to make lying down uncomfortable. But there was more than the arm. More lumps were appearing. Swollen lymph nodes don’t themselves hurt, but they can press on things. On organs and airways. Roo was in the end stage of cancer. She must have been feeling bad in many ways. I kept looking up how lymphoma patients feel, but that was useless. There was so much going on – chemo, the disease itself. Roo just looked more and more weary. And other dreadful signs popped up. She would eat a cookie, but leave the crumbs behind. She stopped eating jerky altogether. Her throat, where a lymph node was hardening, was making swallowing uncomfortable.

I bought her goat yogurt and goat milk. I cooked her meats and chopped it up into tiny pieces. She ate these things for a while but became progressively more selective. I softened the Dogswell duck jerky she always loved in water and cut it into tiny pieces. She refused them. A sharp corner must have been gone down wrong. Even when I trimmed the corners off the softened pieces she wouldn’t trust them. I bought her a selection of other treats and jerkies, dried liver that I moistened, cold cuts. She would eat some of the cold cuts. She would eat ground beef. She ate a little spaghetti with parmesan cheese. Before she stopped eating entirely at the end, she was down to sliced turkey and licking butter from a spoon.

On the day after that dip in the Atlantic I was obliged to take the trailer to the dump to empty the tanks. This idiotic little camper has such small holding tanks that it’s impossible to go more than a week before they are filled. I had been fearing the day Roo would be too unwell to come with me on these trips to the dump. Virginia and Jim were working, so there was no one to leave Roo with. She would have to come with me.

Over the last four years Roo has been present at hundred of hitchings and unhitchings of the camper, and yet it still concerns her. She doesn’t – didn’t; I keep writing about her in the present tense – like being in the car for the operation because of the small clinking sounds of chains being clipped on to the hitch and a bump when the trailer was lowered onto or raised from the ball hitch on the car. Here in Maine, she had a spot in the bushes in front of the Raker house where she liked to wait and hide. On that Tuesday she didn’t want to leave the camper. She was always a late sleeper, though, and I thought it could have just been because she was still too tired, on top of feeling sick. I waited as long as I could, but eventually she had to come with me and she came out of the camper when she realized I was positioning the car.

She wasn’t feeling too bad. She always liked the ritual of a big round of Good Morning, Chigi greetings when she woke up and came outside, standing there and letting me stand over her and pat her shoulders and belly while she held her tail high and wagged it slowly and that was how she stood that Tuesday before peeing for the first time in 20 hours and then retreating to lie down in her position in the bushes. After the trailer was hitched it took some convincing to get her to come with me. She didn’t want to. She wanted to stay where she was, but I could neither leave her alone nor not empty the tanks. I didn’t press her or hurry her. I waited until the last minute before the dump would close, for two hours or so, until finally she came out of the bushes and accepted my help lifting her in, her slow wagging indicating her embarrassment over needing the help. She lay down on the floor in the back seat. I apologized to her the whole way for having to do what I had always called “the works” we had to do.

On the way back from emptying the tanks Roo decided to come from the back to take her traditional shotgun seat beside me. She was unsteady on her feet as she tried to climb over the armrest to the front. I wrapped my right arm around her torso to steady her while I brought the rig to a stop. Someone in a pickup was upset at my pulling over and tuned his motor and honked at me while I helped Roo move. She had some difficulty finding a comfortable position with the lump in her arm pressing pressuring her. I stretched her arm out to relieve the pressure and she felt better and rested her head on my forearm the way she began to only some months before when I taught her how to in Oklahoma, and when I thought I had created a problem for myself because once she learned of this position she always wanted to do that and though I loved having her head resting on my arm, it was difficult sometimes when maneuvering the camper was an issue. 

This time, though she hated to be in the car when the trailer was unhitched, I talked her through it so she wouldn’t need to go to the trouble of getting in and out of the car more than necessary. I opened the tail gate so she would hear me tell her there wouldn’t be a noise and handled the chains as if they were eggs. The part of the process that frightened her was the lowering of the height of the car by means of a push-button control that allowed the car to drop clear of the hitch receiver on the trailer. The separation of the hitch makes a bump and drops the car a few inches and that always scared Roo. That was what she hid from and the thing she had, in hundreds of camps, distanced herself from. But I set things up so that I would be with her when the drop took place, and she only had a moment’s mild worry and it was done.

The reason I wanted her to stay in the car was because of how much she had enjoyed her brief walk and dip in the ocean the day before. I thought I’d try again and take her to a pond where we could drive right up to the bank. Even if she didn’t want to get out, at least she could lie there in the car with the doors open and spend some time looking at the water and the birds and the sky and the passing squirrels. It had to be better than being stuck in the camper. The lone parking spot there also happens to be right at the spot where she buried what would turn out to be her last, and one of her most impressive kills, a good-sized groundhog a few weeks before. She liked checking on that kill. She was waiting for it to rot sufficiently to be ready to eat.

I backed the car into the spot and opened the doors.

“Who wants to go swimming?” I asked her. At first she didn’t. For ten or fifteen minutes she was content to just sit there and look around or rest her head on my arm. Eventually, though, she decided she might after all to come out. She stood up and gave me one of the licks on the ear she liked to give me that indicated her anticipation of our pack going to the park. She came to the door and with a slow wag of embarrassment – I’m sure that’s what it was, because for her whole life she had considered being helped into or out of the car well beneath the acceptable limits of dignity, and Roo was one of the world’s most dignified dogs – welcomed my lifting her to the ground. I am weak and so variously injured that I was not able to do this smoothly, and she grunted a little when her paws contacted the ground.

The water was right there, no more than 20 feet away, and she trotted in and smiled at the coolness of the water and dunked her head a few times. The old vigor with which she normally shoved her head from side to side was gone but still she dunked and dunked again and came up with her tail held high.

Frog pond was farther down the trail. Not far, only a few hundred feet, a walk of not even two minutes, and when Roo came out of the water she indicated that she wanted to go there.

“Are you sure, Chigi Bear Beker?” I asked her. “We’re a couple of tired old bears. Maybe it’s too far.”

But she stood facing in the direction she wanted to go, the way she has stood at every fork in every trail to let me know which way she preferred, looking back at me until we agreed on a heading, and we walked to the frog pond.

Roo surprised me by walking swiftly and even charging a squirrel who crossed her path and laughing at him when he made it to a tree. To anyone who didn’t know how ill Roo was, she would have appeared normal. When we got to the frog pond Roo looked to me for permission to go in. This was because starting with the surgery on Roo’s paw, when she couldn’t go in the water in Oklahoma while the wound healed and I had to stop her all the time, she had begun to defer to me on the question of going swimming. It was only one of the many ways she acknowledged not so much any question of who was boss, because that was never a position I wanted to hold over her, but that there was something to be said for the ways I looked out for her. 

“Of course you can go in,” I said. In fact, I was desperate for her to go in the water, for any opportunity for her to enjoy herself, for her to seize every one of the little grains of happiness left to her. She went in and stood in the shallows with the water cooling her shaved belly. She had some bald patches on her behind and her tail that being wet made stand out. These outward signs of her body’s deterioration, of the difficulties of her disease and the treatment for it and of the way she stood up to it all with such bravery and grace, these marks of the brutality the chemo drugs and the way they chewed her body up and the questions of whether making her go through them had been the right thing to do, always hit me hard.

The sun was shining on the short stretch of the bank of the pond there and a few frogs were squatting there taking advantage of the warmth. I pointed a frog out to Roo, the way I always have since she entered this recent frog hunting phase, the last hunting stage of her life, and she took a good run at the frog. Then she spotted another fat one and took a big leap at him and into the water. with a lush splash. She waded along the bank to a spot where she had to exit the pond because of a downed tree and came out. She looked happy, but she also looked tired.

I got down in the dirt to talk to her and hold her head. “What do you think, Sweet Bear?” I said. “Maybe we should go back to the car.”

She looked down the path in the direction of the rest of the pond and the other frog hunting grounds and thought about it. I know – damn it, knew – Roo, and I know that one of the things she was thinking about was her duty to me, to taking me to the park, to taking me frog hunting to holding up her half of this pack of two. She thought about her duty to the old man and the pleasure of being a dog who had always and without fail lived up to all the duty a dog knows is hers. But she was tired.

I placed the onus on myself. “The old daddy is a very tired old bear, Chig,” I said. “Let’s go back to the car.”

She smiled at me and lowered her head in my hands and agreed. I kissed her on the top of her wet head and stood.

We walked slowly from the last of seven years of swims.

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By the time we got back to the camper Roo was too tired to get out of the car. She looked worried that I would make her get out. There had been plenty of times, after all, before she got sick, of course, when I would hurry her out because she would need to be hosed off, dried and brushed. But I would never rush Roo again. Even if the forces of the universe that had stricken Roo with cancer were to discover that they had made an accounting error or had misaddressed her disease to her and taken it back and let her live, I would never again rush Roo, and certainly not now. The car was parked right outside the camper so I could keep an eye on her and lift her down when she decided to come home, if the camper can be called that, and she slept in the car for a couple of hours.

She was mostly air-dried by the time she came out, and I made quick work of the damp spots with a blow drier so that she wouldn’t be uncomfortable all night and she came inside and ate some fresh meat I cooked her and went to sleep while I watched her. Her snoring was beginning to change. It had to be that lump forming in her throat. I tried not to let her see how this affected me.

When it got dark, Roo got up and came over to where I was sitting in the dinette. She smiled and placed her head on my knees so I would scratch her ears. I did this for a long time, until Roo had an idea.

I don’t know what the relationship between Roo’s disease and her decision not to get up on the bed any more was, but since she got cancer she had stopped wanting to go up on the bed. As it was when she was well, she only liked to go up there to sleep in the evenings. Now she went it the bed and sat at the foot and put her chin on the bed.

I took this as an almost incredibly hopeful sign. It meant she was feeling better, that she was in a good mood. It meant progress for once, a deviation from the lethal course she had been on.

I helped her up onto the bed and she had a good wiggle and lay down the way she always had. 

Other than at bedtime I almost never lie down on the bed in this camper. I don’t nap. I don’t rest there. I’ve always felt, stupidly, that lying down is tantamount to some small act of surrender, and I’ve been too close to destruction for too long to chance it. But now I lay down on the bed beside Roo and she lay with her back pressed against my legs until later in the night. Until later in the night when things would start to go wrong.