We last left Sweetie on the operating table with clear lungs and a tumor removal moving forward. The surgery took much longer than anticipated because of the number and size of the blood vessels feeding the mammary mass. One blood vessel was the size of the doctor’s finger. Sweetie also took longer to come out of anesthetic than hoped, but by eight that night a slice of the tissue was on its way to be analyzed for malignancy and she was snuggled on her bed sleeping it off.
Immediately, the change in Sweetie’s profile was evident, as was her freer movement, and ability to lie flat, frog-style. She looked like a dog again, not a dairy cow. The skin no longer pulled tight, dragged down over her spine and ribs by over two pounds of tumor. The incision ran from her ribs to tail and she had been mellow enough in the days leading up to surgery that keeping her quiet and restful for two weeks seemed like no problem. Or so we thought.
One of the most poignant lessons we’ve learned from fostering old dogs is the idea they present their truth. Dogs have likes and dislikes, needs and wants, traumas and baggage (though their innate capacity to forgive and hope for better overrides a lot of abuse or neglect). But we humans watch, and we have learned to take what we’re told and hold it until they tell us something else. Sweetie did not need to pee at dawn. She didn’t really like tennis balls or chew toys (remember the filed teeth). She wasn’t big on kisses or eye contact. Her tongue hanging out, sticking to the blankets while she slept wasn’t a big deal. Smooshed face is all the rage somewhere isn’t it? She didn’t like drinking from water dishes (of any material), but found whatever bucket we had in the yard to drink deeply from. Maybe, mornings were bad? Maybe, potty-ing infrequently was a learned survival technique. Maybe, she’d never seen a water dish?Definitely, she needed time to tell us more. So we adapted.
Sweetie has a robust desire to please, but she came with no training (not surprising). No understanding of leashes. No recall. No wait. She hated walking on leash—she pulled like a sled dog and if she thought the leash was restraining her she’d flip around, grab it, and flop like a fish on a hook. As if she could wrestle herself free if she tried hard enough. She did however come with “down,” or at least the behavior if not the word. She utilizes “down” any time she’s unsure of what she’s being asked. Throwing herself into supplication, lowering her head between her paws, even sitting up to throw herself down again.
Revelations can take time. But not always.
When Sweetie woke up the second day after surgery she was feeling like a new dog. A puppy exploded out of her. She wasn’t an old dog in her head. She was sassy. Vibrant. Determined. We began building her resume.
Geologist: We walked the yard with a long lead dragging, giving Sweetie as much freedom and autonomy as possible—being leashed without her feeling leashed. She wasn’t attached to us yet, didn’t know this was her home, and had a crazy strong scent drive for the bunnies, deer, even coyote. The first time she dove into bushes with a frenzied uninhibitedness we looked at each other. A mouse? A bird? A stray tennis ball? Nope. A rock. Placed years ago to help mark lily bulbs in winter, this rock was the best thing Sweetie had ever seen. Ever. She dug with tenacity until pausing, she started racing away from us. With a rock clutched in her gums, hanging out the sides of her muddy jowls, as if she’d crammed in a whole hamburger, bun and all, she headed for the house. Her tail was happy, but her eyes said she was keeping this rock. And it was going inside to her bed. Could she swallow it? Choke? A rock?
We practiced “trade” and by practice I mean I wrestled the rock out of her mouth while saying “trade” and shoved a cookie between her jaws with praise. She’s a bit like goldilocks picking her rocks though—they aren’t small, need to be fairly smooth and round, and be somewhat hidden among brush and dirt. If the stones meet these criteria they are not safe from her adoration. And that rest for two weeks? Uh-huh. That might be harder than we anticipated.
Pig Wrangler/Mommy: We had a few small toys but nothing that seemed to garner Sweetie’s interest—they all were too big, too furry, too chew-centric—too other dogs’. With her love of rock texture in mind I brought home a small latex pig that squeaked. That piglet became a puppy. A puppy that needed licking, and moving, and cuddling. Sweetie took the piglet to bed with her at night and brought it out to the living room with her in the morning. Piglet would visit our laps and hands. The squeak was both a joyous noise and a worrying one for Sweetie—is pig hurt? No, playing.Okay, let’s play! Squeaks and smooth sides were the answer to her toy needs.
The herd grew. A larger pink pig grunts and oinks when pressed. Two small pig balls that shrill like helium rich toddlers. Each pig would need to be moved from bed-to-bed, room-to-room throughout the day. Sweetie most likely had puppies—she was a good mom if her mothering of the pigs is any indication.
Landscape Architect: Much like Sweetie’s secret super-power to sense rocks, apparently she can hear the offensive musings of tree branches. Elderberry branches are particularly vulgar. As our walks around the yard and lane increased, so too did her need to reshape the landscape. With unexpected strength she’d launch herself, mouth first, at a tree trunk (a forty-year-old apple tree still isn’t sure what provoked her) or low-hanging branch. She’d latch on and shake it until the branch ripped off—the whole process only took her a few seconds. Then she’d go for the next piece nearby. It took us humans way longer to process and respond.
Normally, I spend the time in the yard weeding, or moving branches between tossing balls. She wasn’t playing ball yet, but she loved being in the sun, outside, smelling the world and listening to bird chatter. However, I learned to be very, very careful about pruning or hauling branches. The second I changed the shape of a shrub or cut a flower, Sweetie made her own alterations. I’ve lost hydrangea parts, lilac pieces, seven foot tall lilies, and fruit tree branches. But mostly she saves the rearranging for the wilder bits of cedar and elderberry branches on the periphery—we have learned the twinkle in her eye, and cock of the head, that signal she is considering an adjustment to her environment.
NFL Center: Sweetie clearly has aspirations of NFL Hall of Fame status and she has the focus of a professional athlete. She doesn’t just want to play football. She has a position picked out and her eye is firmly on the ball. She’d like to be center and hike the football to the quarterback. Her first demonstration came during an impromptu session of landscaping, only a few days post-surgery, when a concrete paving stone attracted her attention. Shoving the rectangle with her front paws, back toward her tail, we assumed incorrectly she was merely combining her love of rocks and a new vision of the natural world. We were wrong.
A bowling ball-sized hunk of granite kept vigil over the corner of the fenced dog area by our house. The fenced corner wasn’t terribly sturdy, and the rock had been there for years keeping even determined dogs from pushing against the joint. No one had ever looked at that small boulder and thought, “Gee that looks like fun to shove around.” Not human. Not dog. But Sweetie hears Carrie Underwood claiming it’s game time, with sax and drums in the background, and that boulder is a ball that needs to hiked to the quarterback.
The clock is winding down. A touchdown could win it all.“ Omaha, pancake, 45…” She hunches over it, head held high, to keep an eye on the defense. Her tummy tucked to her spine she can barely create room between her ribs and the rock. She spreads her back legs, lifts her tail, sets her front paws on the rock and gives it everything she has—ten inches, a foot? Between her ankles it lurches, as Sweetie quickly turns to set the play again. And like any rehabbing athlete…she keeps doing it regardless of the doctor’s warning of rest.
It took us a few instances to realize she was no longer heading out to sleep in the sun, but instead practicing her hike technique. As silently as possible. Not only could this obsession be terrible for her recovering parts, she’d limp hours later as if she’d aggravated an old shoulder injury during a scrimmage. Once allowed to resume full activity, we finally compromised on a deflated basketball which she’d use if we insisted—clearly preferring her weight training option more.
Gymnast: Those next two weeks she gained weight, stamina, joy, and utter goofiness. Sweetie was amiable, liked being with us, loved her puppy-pigs, and made us laugh often. But it was when we went back for the two-week, blood recheck, and stitches removal that her Olympic caliber gymnastic skill showed itself.
The affable, mellow Pit Mix Girl did not want to be restrained, poked, prodded, or otherwise touched. She flipped. She bucked. She revolted. She was really happy to be there and say hi to everyone, just please don’t attempt to examine anything. At all. Finally, many hands settled her enough for the blood draw and stich snip. However, all but Sweetie emerged looking as though they’d just competed in an Olympic competition against a champion.
Sweetie wagged her tail, smiled, and greeted the waiting room with abandon. Not holding anything against anyone, she simply did not want purposeful touch—Affection? Yes please. Bathing? No problem. Hold her feet? Sure. Just don’t bring the clippers near a nail.
We got the pathology back on the tumor. The section checked was benign. There was a lot of tissue not checked, so we could only be cautiously optimistic—but that was good news. Her anemia had improved as had her cell counts. Better news was the okay for Sweetie to conquer her world without limits. Little did we know the next resume revelation would be titled, “Baywatch Babe.”