Day 42: Return to the killing fields


So far, so good. 

The turnaround for Roo continues. I’ve only been taking her to the nearby park where the tadmouse pond is, which seems to be all right with her. Either she can’t see tadmouses any more, which is what it looks like, or she’s lost all interest in them. Instead, she has discovered frogs and spends hours stalking them. Roo prowls in the shallow water at the bank for hours and splashes around for hours. She’s feeling good and enjoying herself and I don’t rush her or have the heart to hurry her up. There’s nowhere to sit there and by the time she’s done I’m baked and sore from standing around. It always reminds me of when Orville was dying of lymphoma and the last time I took him swimming at his favorite mud hole in Colorado and when we got back to the car he sat down and looked back at the park for about five minutes. He knew he would never be seeing it again. He was right. He was dead two days later. Going to the park and hunting mouses and frogs is what Roo lives to do. I don’t want to cheat her out of a minute of doing it. 

When they’re on the bank, these little green frogs are so somnolent that they don’t notice Roo unless she practically steps on them, and as she only pounces on them if she sees them move first, they have nothing to fear. They’re already skittering into the water by the time she sees them. 

The frogs may have nothing to fear, but I wish I could say the same for a certain groundhog last week. Roo has been targeting it for years, spending hours working its network of holes in the woods without success. Sometimes the groundhog isn’t there and Roo knows it, but she never forgets and always at least checks. The groundhog’s luck finally ran out. It was a matter of poor timing. The groundhog wasn’t expecting a car to roll up, or for it to disgorge such a rapid enemy. Roo must have heard the groundhog the instant the door opened, because she jumped straight out and bolted into the woods and came out five seconds later with it dead in her mouth. At least it was fast. Roo must have struck like a viper. 

This groundhog was not as big as the one who nearly killed Roo in Indiana when she made the mistake of clamping her jaws on the wrong end, giving the groundhog the chance to swing around and plant its teeth in Roo’s neck, but while this might have been a lesser fight, this one was the most important capture of her life. It erased any doubts she might have been having about how she was doing. The first thing she did was to bring the ground hog over to make sure I saw it. I don’t like seeing any animal killed, but Roo is  a born predator and as far as she’s concerned the groundhog is a coming feast. If you give Roo a raw bone she will not eat it. She will bury it and check on it from time to time until it’s sufficiently rotted before eating it, which is why Roo buries her kills instead of eating them on the spot. It’s also why I zap bones in the microwave before giving them to her.

For this groundhog she spent 45 minutes digging 25 holes, but none of them were good enough. They weren’t deep enough or in the right kind of dirt or under soggy leaves that she decided wouldn’t do the job. A groundhog like that needs to be firmly in the ground if you want it to turn out right. Once she got it good and buried she went back to the pond for another swim and she was lit up with satisfaction and pride as she dunked her head underwater and snorted and kept looking at me to make sure I appreciated the moment as much as she did. Did you see that? Did you see that groundmouse? I caught that.

Since then, she’s gone back every day to unearth it, check on how it’s cooking and make sure to show it to me a few times. She pretends that she just happens to be walking nonchalantly near me, but she goes out of her way to bring it to the path where I am to let me see it. I tell her what a great mouse hunter she is. I tell her what a great groundmouse hunter she is, and she holds her head low and walks at a dead slow pace for a moment in  humble acceptance of the praise before digging another round of experimental holes until she get it right again. When Roo’s lymphoma first appeared and she seemed to be sinking so rapidly, and as we barreled the 1320 miles northbound and I saw in the rear view mirror tilted down to keep an eye on her how uncomfortable she was as she tried to find a  position that didn’t hurt in the back seat of the car as we drove north and I was sure she was dying, I kept wishing on her behalf that she hadn’t caught her last mouse. Here she is, six weeks later, and she’s killed one of the kings or queens of all mouses. I’m sorry for the groundmouse, but glad for Roo. I suppose it’s more indicative of my own moral failings, placing Roo’s spirit above that groundhog’s life, and, believe me, I am sorry about that.

Roo had to return to the vet for chemo on Tuesday. Because of how badly she reacted to the previous dose, though of a different and more predictably intolerable drug, the vet decided to space out the two drugs that would normally have been administered together this time. She only received vincristine. It doesn’t seem to have affected her at all. Roo seems completely healthy and happy, better than she has in months, up until the time the tumor was growing undetected in her forepaw. The worst thing is knowing that this is temporary, trying not to anticipate the inevitable. The reason I haven’t written another update in over a week is because some mechanism in my mind was at work, making me pretend, or helping me to forget that there is anything wrong. But the truth is that every time I dry Roo or pet her, I’m dreading what I know I will eventually feel when a lymph node swells up again. None of the thinking downstream of that is any good, and the more one thinks about it, the worse it gets.

There is a major design flaw in the Golden retriever. The fine hairs behind the ears are especially hard to dry. Though Roo isn’t one of them, lots of Goldens get ear infections, and the dampness in that area can’t help. Without blow drying them or baking them in the sun, they stay wet for hours and hours. Roo loves nothing more than for me to dry them by combing them with my hand while we’re driving and she sits in the passenger seat of the car. She nudges my hand with her nose and bats me with her paw to make me do it. And when I’m doing that, I’m reaching the mandibular lymph nodes that were the first to swell, the first sign that she was sick. Every time I feel something hard on her body — a shoulder blade or some bone protruding when she’s lying down — a shot of adrenaline rises in me and I and stop breathing for a second while I verify that it’s not a swollen gland.

Though there was only a small chance that Roo would have reacted badly to this round of chemo, the possibility of her being sick two days later when there would be Fourth of July fireworks was worrisome. Side effects from chemo can take a few days to appear. Being a little sick during fireworks would not kill Roo. She was just be more tortured than usual. But I do believe that she would not survive a prolonged assault of thunderstorms when she is at her weakest. I don’t know if she would have survived last week if we had been in souther-style thunderstorms. She would never eat or drink. She would be panicked on top of being sick. Her digestion would shut down. She would have to be hospitalized.

One of the benefits of what a civilized place Brunswick is is that the fireworks around here aren’t too bad. There are only a few boneheads so committed to being assholes that they just have to blow off their personal supplies, but the municipal exhibition is only about a half hour long right after sunset and then that’s that, with none of the endless gunfire of the south. Still, the vet prescribed xanax for Roo. Trazadone has done nothing for Roo, neither has CBD oil, Thundershirts or anything. Since Roo was feeling healthy, I gave her the vet’s maximum recommended dose of two milligrams. That way, I could see the effect on her at a time when she wasn’t dealing with being more ill in preparation for the inevitable days when long storms hit and she is. It seemed like a high dose, considering that the human dose is one-eighth to one-quarter as much. It must work differently in dogs. The xanax calmed Roo down but didn’t knock her out. In fact, she seemed to be feeling pretty good. She was relaxed and only at the height of it did she turn down a piece of turkey. When the bigger explosions came, she still insisted on climbing up on the dinette seat to cram in next to me and hide and pant, but it was nowhere near as bad as it had could have been.

We’re going to remain stuck in the camper. I’m resigned to the fact that Roo will never get out of it. There just aren’t any rentals. In the local classifieds, there are no longer even any ads at all. For the few online rentals that are legit and not Craigslist scams (every single one I’ve responded to has been a scam), 90 percent of them don’t allow dogs, period. Of the rest, the cheap ones are always up a flight of stairs or two, and there will come a time when walking up stairs will be too difficult or even impossible for Roo. That’s my main regret. Roo is used to living in the camper by now, but it’s noisy as hell in here. Now that the floor is rotting, the developing hole makes my bed creak so loudly that Roo avoids hers, which is next to it. I’ve moved to the other side of the bed to try to minimize that creaking — it doesn’t take much; if I so much as move an inch to adjust a pillow there is loud creaking — but Roo then comes to the other side of the bed to stay closer to me and the space on that side is too narrow for her to turn around if her belly is troubling her. Lately she has been able to turn around there again, but she couldn’t when she was sick and when her liver and spleen were enlarged and her belly was swollen. It’s still a little swollen, but the vet says that’s just a beer belly from the prednisone. But there we are. There’s no way out. At least Chig is for the moment feeling good, and that’s all that counts. The whole goal of her treatment is to maximize the quality of her life for as long as possible. That’s what we’re doing.

With apologies to groundhogs.