Tonight, we wait. Wait while my poor boy suffers as his body fails him, betrays him, belly so distended and distorted he can barely lay down, liquid pooling even into his feet, bloody saliva sticking where he lays his head. I only hope he can get a little sleep. That we can. For tomorrow is a day of choices. This angry aggressive mass, which may very well have been around for a long time, has chosen the past week to wreak havoc on Deimos. This may be the last night we spend with our goofy sweet boy. If it turns out to be a Hemangiosarcoma, there’s really nothing we can do. And we won’t let him go on to suffer like this. I don’t dare to hope that it might be benign – at this point, it seems unlikely.
Regret. Always regret. I should have taken him on more walks, to the dog park more often, taught him more. He easily learned to touch my hand on command years ago – I think it was clicker training – in spite of very infrequent reinforcement, he’s always remembered. And Ruby never picked it up, although I tried to teach them both around the same time.
Che Mar Mr Beman became Deimos as soon as we brought him home from the track at 3.5 years old in 2004. Freshly branded a loser and kicked out from racing, Deimos was taken in by the rescue group and promptly neutered. He was lucky – outside of the rescue groups he would have been euthanized, or worse. Deimos was still living at the track when we drove up to Gresham to look at a few available dogs. We fell for him immediately. Big, handsome, confident, and friendly (he’s a leaner); It was easy to choose him over the small skittish black hound that had been staying with the foster mom. So we signed some papers, paid some money we’d scraped up from somewhere, and stuck him in the back of the car, where he insisted on standing up almost the entire way home over the pass. It occurred to us that maybe he hadn’t ridden in cars very often.
This wasn’t the only thing he hadn’t experienced yet. He soon found that slippery floors make a cartoon dog laughing-stock of him, that sliding glass doors may look clear, but are definitely solid, and stairs are a bizarre necessity. He learned that human beds are soft, but not as safe as the cage he was used to – and nobody in this new place seemed to understand his personal space bubble. He learned how to play through stuffie toys, and how to bark to let us know he wants in, or just to bug us if we’ve been sitting in front of the computer too long. He learned to let us know when he needs to go out, to goof around in a backyard with dogs and humans, and to use his unstructured time for lengthy naps. He learned that dogs come in other shapes and sizes than greyhounds – Pug? And he learned that old cranky cats are not to be messed with. Deimos quickly picked up what he needed to navigate in this new world, and he clearly relished every minute of it.
Deimos has had relatively minor health issues since a few years after he came to live with us – tiring out about 5 minutes into a walk, graying quickly around the muzzle, problems with thyroid function. We never have identified what causes him to wear out so quickly (thyroid medication doesn’t seem to help), and have no idea now if this tumor has been causing problems for a long time or if it’s a separate issue. And yet, those first few years he was the glory of the dog park, doing laps at lightning speed. It was a beautiful sight.
It would be difficult to live the first several years of your life spending 95% of your time in a cage and not have some problems adjusting to a normal household. A big personal space bubble, undiagnosed thyroid issues, a heat wave, and small kids who are still learning to interact with dogs = trouble. Deimos snapped at and nipped a young family member more than four years ago. She didn’t require medical attention, but it scared her and us tremendously, and in addition to discovering and treating the thyroid issue, we had to completely retrain the household in how to interact with each other so that nothing like it would ever happen again – and it hasn’t. But Deimos has had that black mark over his head ever since. He’s a dog full of forgiveness – that had to be forgiven himself. And yet, in all other ways he’s been a sweet, happy-go-lucky, and remarkably loyal and intuitive companion. He has a knack for knowing instantly that something is not right – for instance, alerting us to night terrors in a family member just before they show evidence of them, or barking a low insistent bark to alert us to danger.
What we should remember is this: Deimos had what probably was a fairly crappy first 3.5 years of his life – cramped, dull, repetitive, sometimes cruel. Sure, the racing may have been exciting, but track dogs are commodities – not pets, and treated as such. Crated much of their lives, shipped around from track to track, state to state. At least we’ve had the opportunity to give him 6 years of good life, if not a perfect life. I’ll never forget when he first learned to play, learned to squeak a stuffie! Learned to crouch and chase and goof around with his humans and his dogs. Learned to “Woof!” on command, just for fun. Learned to tolerate the persistent affection of a certain black and white cat.
So here we are, with an imperfect yet much-loved friend. Waiting. Loving. Remembering.