Day 52: Evidently it's never too late to learn how – and how not – to catch a frog

I won’t kid you. Lymphoma is hard. 

Roo is technically in remission, but the drugs are tough on her. She has always been sensitive to any medicine. She’s prone to stomach upsets and even things like amoxicillin make her act achy and groany. The side effects of chemo meds seem to hit her much sooner than they’re supposed to. And, she’s still on two antibiotics, one for probable tick exposure and another for the wound on her arm, which starts to get inflamed as soon as the antibiotics are stopped. Apart from the heavy duty chemo drug doxorubicin, the medication that seemed to make her feel the worst was prednisone, but that just ended.

Her most recent dose of chemo was lumostine five days ago, on Friday, and on Sunday the dose was starting to bother her. At first she didn’t get sick, or upset, or lose her appetite. She just lost all her energy. The next day, though, her stomach began to trouble her. She was desperate to eat grass, which I stopped, because when she does that she goes overboard and tears up pounds of it and can get sick for days. The last thing she needed was an irritated gut. On Tuesday she felt a little better, but still had no energy and didn’t want to go outside. 

Today, she felt better, though her energy was still down. The heat and humidity were bad, by Maine standards, and that didn’t inspire her to go out. I had to go to the vet to pick up a refill of one of her meds and it took some convincing to get Roo to come along. She decided to get in the car, though, and afterwards I drove her to the pond. I talked about it with her on the way and she didn’t seem too interested in going, but I kept talking it up – I know Roo, and Roo always feels better if she gets some exercise – and when we got there she changed her mind.

Just about everyone who has loved a dog has gone through some version of what is happening now with Roo. A lot of dogs don’t make it through as much of their lives as they deserve to. Cancer kills so many of them. We do what we can for them, but once you know your dog is dying, it’s hard not to question everything. She’s putting on too much weight – is giving her all those extra pieces of jerky a mistake? How hard is the chemo on her? Should I stop her from swimming to get that arm healed? It’s hot, she lives to swim – and who knows how much more of it she’ll be able to do. If the point of battling the lymphoma is so that she can enjoy whatever time she has left, what’s worse, a sore arm or not being able to swim on hot days?

All we can do is try to read them, and dogs are easier to read about some things than other. It’s easy to tell what makes them happy, but it’s hard to tell how they are feeling. I imagine the headaches she might be getting from the chemo. People on chemo report horrible ones. Surely dogs get them, too. Sometimes, when Roo isn’t feeling well and I’m on the floor with her, I whisper to her, “I bet this poor little bear has a terrible head,” and I rub her temples and the soft spots around her eyes and the muscles on top of her head and on her cheeks, and from the way she reacts, it’s clear that she must have not just a headache, but a bad one. Her arm hurts where that damnable wound is that won’t heal. And the chemo must make her entire body feel bad.

But – and this is the key – not so bad that if I could ask and she could answer, that she would say she’d rather be dead. Right now, it seems like she has to put up with two or three days of discomfort from each chemo treatment. And then, she gets better.

Nothing makes Roo feel better than the cool pond water. It’s too bad it’s not icy cold, but it’s cool enough, and the relief she feels, the joy, is one of the world’s great sights to see. She dunks her head under water and swings it from side to side. I imagine the sounds she must be hearing, of the water whooshing in her ears and the sound of the bubbles she blows. She snorts when she surfaces with her tail held high and looks at me with a satisfied smile and goes back under a few times. If your dog is fighting cancer, and the whole point of the fight is for them to get to enjoy themselves for as long as possible, and you have no idea how long that might be, as you can never know with lymphoma, moments like that are among the best ones of them all.

Roo’s outlook improved immediately and she headed over to the pond where she likes to hunt frogs. I thought she could never catch a frog. For one thing, she can’t see them up close. She can be sniffing all around right next to a frog and not see it.

But if everything about your soul, your entire being, is about being a hunter, which is what Roo is above everything else, you are on a lifelong training mission. And though I hate to see her kill anyone, I admit that I try to help.

“Roo,” I call to her when I spot a frog on the bank of the pond, “The frog!” She barrels over and pounces on what she thinks is the frog, but her splashing has alerted it well in advance and it is already skittering into the water by the time she gets close.

Finally, I spotted a fat frog relaxing at the edge of the water and lured Roo up onto the bank and put my hand on her chest to hold her back, telling her, “Wait, Chig. Slowly, s l o w l y,” until she saw the frog. That gave her a little time to collect herself and plan a more reasonable attack. It didn’t work, she didn’t control her attack sufficiently, but it gave her the opportunity to smell the guy and see what they look like when they’re lying still.

She took that intelligence straight to the proverbial bank and began to prowl the literal one differently. Soon, she spotted another frog. A magnificent one, clearly the reigning master of his small universe. He had camouflaged himself for a nice nap in a submerged shrub at the edge of the pond. I apologize for my sloppy camerawork. I didn’t start filming until I noticed the way she was staring at something. The video begins just at her strike. 

But she caught him. As you can see, I am not lying about the quality of this frog.

Roo has an extremely soft mouth. If she’s going to kill a known type of victim, she does it quickly, but a frog? The first time you catch a frog and taste that slimy skin for the first time you might want to do some further analysis. That’s where Roo’s soft mouth saved that frog. The wily bastard lulled her into a mistake. She carried the poor petrified frog out of the water. The frog played dead, a master of control, not moving so much as one of its little muscles in spite of being clamped inside the jaws of a stupendous and terrifying beast. He played his little frog hand perfectly. Either he was a frog of great experience and learning or he was benefitting from pure instinct. The instant Roo put him down, he seized the opportunity to bolt into action and escape into the water.

Roo stayed in the water for nearly two hours. I located several other frogs for her. She loves pack hunting like that, and if you’ve never tried it, I recommend it It is probably one of the team activities that brought dogs and humans together tens of thousands of years ago.

It lives on in Roo. I don’t know how much more she’ll be able to do. At least she was able to do it today.