Dogs live in the moment. Those of us with two legs, on the other hand, often spend time looking back or thinking ahead and end up fracturing the moment because we aren’t fully present. This inability to be in the moment doesn’t serve us well when we’re dealing with a dog that has cancer or some other life-threatening disease because we spend too much time thinking about a time in the past when the disease wasn’t there or being afraid of what’s ahead. What’s even more counterproductive is that we often define our dogs by their illnesses. Here’s an example of a conversation I often have with people:
“My dog Leon has cancer.”
“Ok, but what else does he have?”
“What else? Do you mean what other problems?”
“No. I’m asking what else he has besides cancer. Does he have a great smile? Does he have a love for being with you? Does he enjoy going for a walk? Does he have a desire to play? Does he like to ride in the car? Does he like to sit in the sun? Does he like meeting new people? Does he have a joyful spirit? Does he have a sense of who he is? What does he have going for him that makes him a great dog?”
You get my point.
Here’s what three other people have to offer on the subject:
From Old Dog Haven Executive Director Judith Piper: “I find myself frequently telling this to fosters: ‘Your dog doesn’t know he has something nasty growing unless you tell him. Until he gets very close to the end he will be happy and live his life completely normally, so make sure you go along with that and just enjoy him. When it’s time, he will tell you very clearly, but until then his life is good if he is loved and safe and fed.’ This is a lesson that those fighting cancer, and we who have survived it but continually look over our shoulders for the next one, could take to heart.”
From Old Dog Haven Final Refuge mom Donna Gonder: “Here is what I believe. I believe that Rizzo does not know she has cancer. She isn’t sickly. I do everything I can to make her life as normal as possible, other than her meds. I never EVER let her see me sad. She wouldn’t understand. She would be stressed that I am sad and worry about me. She certainly doesn’t need that. Rizzo is a happy old tottering lady with a zest you don’t see in most older dogs. I want her to feel that happiness for as long as she can.”
From longtime Final Refuge mom Priscilla McCarty (Final Refuge mom to Ruthie, pictured at top of blog):
“1. Just because your dog has been diagnosed with cancer does not mean she has been given an instant death sentence. Remember, she probably doesn’t know she is sick!
2. A cancer diagnosis does not mean your dog will be gone in a very short time. Depending on the type of cancer and the dog, she could have months or years more to live.
3. I believe dogs sense when their person treats them in a different way by acting sad around them. I think it is in the dog’s best interest to make sure that she has the BEST day EVERY day! We don’t know when we will have to tell them goodbye and they deserve great days. I believe it is important to tell your dog every single day how much you love her. Don’t wait until the last minute.
4. Make sure you are giving your dog the best food you can afford.
5. Check with your vet to see if there are additional over the counter supplements or prescription meds to make your dog’s life as comfortable as possible.
6. Encourage your dog to get outside for regular exercise, or at least enjoy taking a nap in the sunshine rather than deciding she probably doesn’t feel well enough to go outside. Fresh air is always good for the soul. (For people as well as dogs)
7. Pay close attention to your dog and her attitude. It is never easy to say goodbye, but when she no longer looks forward to eating or interacting with you, put your DOG ahead of YOUR feelings of sadness, and let her go to where she will be free of any pain or discomfort. I believe that is the BEST final gift you can give her. And, she WILL know that you make this difficult decision out of love and respect for her!
8. Rather than feeling only sadness once your dog has passed, smile and remember how lucky you were to have this dog in your life. I am sure she will leave this earth feeling the same about you.”
Dogs are intuitive. They respond to how you treat them and feel about them. Older dogs (and older people) are always dealing with some kind of age related illness or disease, but in contrast to many humans who get lots of mileage out of being sick, dogs want to be well. Don’t let whatever is going on with your dog in terms of illness define him.
Your dog knows what you’re thinking and feeling. And, he will often mirror your feelings, which isn’t always in his best interests if you’re feeling fearful, sad or depressed. Dogs absorb those feelings and their minds and bodies will be contaminated by fear, sadness and depression. You don’t want that to happen. Be in the moment with your dog and celebrate what he has going for him rather than dwelling on the illness.
Next week: Communicating With a Deaf Dog