Photo by Lindsay Coulter
How do you start a blog about your dying dog? Grim topic I know, but I wanted to open up and share about our experience and how we are staying optimistic. As many of you know, my 10 year old dog Carmen has been diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive blood cancer and I wanted to shed light on how we are choosing to live with it.
Did you know that 50% of dogs over the age of 10 are diagnosed with cancer? Depressing statistic when you think about it, but the reality is our dogs don’t live as long as we wish and hope for. We know this when we sign up for dog ownership, but when the time comes for us to say goodbye to our companions it is the worst day of our entire lives. So, you can only imagine the fear and sadness that struck me when we were told Carmen has cancer and we may only have a little bit of time left with her.
Of course I cried. I cried a lot. I held her and comforted her. Actually, she was the one who comforted me. And then, after a few very depressing days, I made a decision. I decided that for Carmen’s sake I would make the most of every day we had left together. We chose to be happy, even if it was just for a short time with her. To embrace each and every moment. To laugh at the silly things, show gratitude and to cuddle…a lot! Sure I still cry. I’m not trying to live in denial and forget that death is coming. I’m just trying to choose happiness over sadness. To, at the very least, practice gratitude for the time I do have with my best friend and create happy memories and not sad ones. Carmen doesn’t act sad, so why should I. Every day she wakes up happy for the day and ready for whatever it may bring. Just another lesson I’ve learned from this special girl. Resilience is strength and optimism rolled in one. Carmen is a trooper, so for her I’ll stay strong.
The good news is, through surgery, most of the tumour they found in her abdomen has been removed. There is no sign of cancer in her lungs or spleen. She has lots of energy and is playful and acting like her happy, healthy self. She is surrounded by love and support from so many of our friends, family, clients, and community.
So to stay true to my promise to Carmen, here are the things I’ve decided to do for her. Consider it a Carmen Bucket List if you will.
Take time off – This was a hard one for me but something I felt was necessary. It means slowing down and saying no. It means being selfish, when ordinarily I put my clients’ needs before my own. I schedule a day (or two) off a week to spend quality time with Carmen. This means not training and not being preoccupied with work or other things. We spend time (often just the two of us) living in the moment, doing our favourite things.
Revisit all our favourite spots – Whether it’s a trail we haven’t been to in a while, a pet store or a park bench we make a point to spend time where we’ve made memories.
Explore new places – One of Carmen’s favourite things to do is explore, so I try to honour that at least once a week. Let her run and play and take in new smells. This is when her inner puppy comes out and it fills my heart with joy to bare witness!
Document the little things – It’s the little things that are so adorable and that I’ll miss most. The squeaks she makes when I come home. The way she jumps up at the car window when we pull into somewhere she knows. Her high fives. The puppy dog eyes she makes before she gets a treat. Her floppy ears as she walks. So when something cute happens I snap a pic or video it so I’ll never forget it.
Spoil her rotten – More so than usual. These days, Carmen gets a treat every day and gets to sleep on the bed! A major privilege which she definitely deserves for being the goodest girl. As a dog trainer, I’m a big advocate of dogs sleeping in their own beds, but for the time I have left with her, we are spending it snuggled close together.
Make time for her friends – Carmen is and always has been a social butterfly! She loves to spend time with her furry friends as well as those of the human variety. I take her to daycare when she’s feeling energetic so she can play with some of her besties and greet the clients she’s come to know and love. She gets to visit with my family and friends who love on her with belly rubs and butt scratches (her all time favourite).
Appreciate the silence – So simple yet so important. Sometimes I just rest my hand on her side and sync my breath with hers. Carmen has always had a calming affect on me, so this brings me great peace. It helps me to feel connected to her on a deeper level. In these still moments together we meditate and live in the moment.
Get married – This last one was one of the first things Jeff and I decided to do when we realized Carmen’s prognosis was short. Family is important and having her there at our union was always a must. We planned a wedding in 10 days and celebrated our love with a meaningful party and some of our closest friends and family. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to share time together being happy not depressed. Our wedding day was not just for us but for Carmen. So she’d know we’d always be together. She has brought us closer in the end.
Photos by Lindsay Coulter on our wedding day
As someone who has limited time with the dog that changed her entire life, I highly recommend you spend some quality time with your pooch. Take in the small moments, rejoice in the silly things, play, snuggle and kiss your dog. Tell them you love them. Every moment is precious so cherish it if you are lucky enough to love a dog. The love of a dog is the best gift in life.
Thank you for allowing me to share openly during this difficult time and for all the support so many of you have provided to us over the last few months. It has meant the world to me and my family. Carmen and I appreciate it!