Friday, December 16, 2011

Dogs Dont' Cry

While giving me a long-overdue-haircut yesterday, instead of chiding me for ruining my hair with hotel shampoos and swimming in chlorinated pools and rinsing in a salty Caribbean, my hairdresser, Zan Schmidt was crying.

Pictures of my chocolate lab/rottie mix, Bo, slid across my laptop screen as Zan (Tussle Salon, Seattle) snipped away and two-inch strands fell around me. I blew the hairs off my keyboard to click another photo, awaiting her approval. We needed Bo’s five best shots, and Zan has a great eye. When her eyes aren’t clouding with tears, that is.

Zan’s not just a dog lover, but a dog rescuer. A few years back, she’d received a Katrina dog through a “reputable” agency, but a year later the owner showed up and demanded the dog back. That broke Zan’s heart. Eventually she adopted another dog and is back in doggy heaven, happily scooping poops and paying vet bills to keep her little buddy healthy. But she knows what it’s like to lose a dog-friend.
Now her heart is cracking a little again.

“Don’t cry,” I said. “He’s not dead yet.”

“I can’t help it, he’s so sweet,” she said, running to bathroom to wipe her eyes.

As she later blew out my healthy hair, we chose the final shots and I explained my plan. I needed the photos for an exhibit at my local Roosevelt Starbucks, an opportunity I happened to be offered that morning when I told the manager, Jen Sinconis, that I’m creating ways to raise money for Bo’s surgeries. Bo had walked with me to Starbucks—he’s all about the treats Jen gives him—and was watching us through the window.

“He doesn’t know he has cancer,” I’d told Jen, who has a Boston/Staffordshire terrier mix and is adopting an Australian shepherd this weekend. “He just wants to play with his dog buddies.”

Jen knows what it’s like to fight to save lives. Her twins nearly died as infants, so she wrote a book about her journey called “A Pound of Hope” ( to help other families find hope. Hence, Jen understands I’m doing everything I can to raise money for Bo’s surgeries.

We’d saved for our vacation to the Caribbean in November, celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary at our honeymoon hotel. A much needed trip away from reality after my husband’s health scare and a summer of discussing wills and life insurance. What we hadn’t saved in cash for the vacation, we put on our credit card. Then we came home to find a tumor in Bo’s mouth.

Cancer. That word just sucks. Most of Bo’s upper left teeth, bone, and maybe even nasal passage are expected to be removed. We’ll know more when we get the biopsy next week to tell us which type of cancer. But already we’ve hit $1,000 in bills, and we haven’t even started the removal surgery! Then there’s the CT scans and X-rays next week, a consult with the oncologist, and then the big surgery. We see thousands of dollars in bills zooming toward us, but never do we want to make a decision based on lack of money. Whatever we can do to save his life, we want the money to be ready.

And so my fundraising brain is in high-drive, and I’m combing through things I can sell, such as his photos, my classes, anything.

The bone will heal, the dental vet told me. Still, I wondered after the surgery what face I’d be snuggling at night as I stared at his handsome chocolate lab profile, like he’s posing for the camera in front of Mt. Pilchuck, WA. I tell everyone Bo thinks he’s Frank Sinatra, but he’s really more like Dean Martin. Part crooner, part ham.
As I went to pay for my haircut, Zan pulled me aside and whispered in my ear, “You’re not paying me today.”

“Of course I am.”

“No, this is my contribution toward Bo’s cause. Merry Christmas.”
Now I’m the one crying. Kindness is tough to swallow right now. It softens me when I need to be hard, when I must push forward, get appointments scheduled, and be cheerful around Bo when I really feel like doubling over sobbing. I can’t let him see me down, or he’ll try to console me and absorb sad energy, which he doesn’t need.

You see, Bo is not just a pet, but my working buddy. He helps me rehab dogs for behavior problems, like Daddy helped Caesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer. Bo’s also been to a classroom with third graders, worked with kids with autism, and visits the retirement home and assisted care facility, where my mother-in-law lives.

And Bo was basically my assistance dog when I got PTSD after two years of caretaking for my mother-in-law, who has dementia. Bo was my companion in public when just being in a room of other people made me shiver. He saw me through, for better or for worse. So the least I can do is not fall apart around him.

I hugged Zan hard and headed to my art studio, my office as an author, to work on Bo's images. I’d barely made it through the door when my studio mates burst forward with hugs and chocolate. Beth ( and Martha ( are sisters who paint watercolors that sweep you into another world. When they originally invited me into their studio, they said dogs were welcome and encouraged.

Annie, their golden retriever, had been a client because of her excitable dominance and anxiety issues, so she and Bo were already familiar. They became fast buddies after we moved in, and I’m including a muddy photo of her in the exhibit book to honor her. Unfortunately, we lost Annie this past summer. On a Friday she was diagnosed with lymphoma, a very deadly cancer in dogs, and she was going downhill fast. On the following Monday she was put to sleep. Cancer really, really sucks.

Bo and I had visited Annie to say goodbye and Bo acted like nothing bad was happening. Maybe he did know she had cancer, maybe he didn’t. Dogs don’t cry. They just want to play.

To my studio mates I explain my plan to save Bo’s life, that I hope we need the money because I want him to NEED the surgeries. The alternative is worse—if the cancer is too far gone, then we may have to make the decision Beth and Martha made for Annie. But I’m praying that doesn’t happen. Already his blood tests came back clean, which is a good sign the cancer hasn’t metastasized. So I’m fighting to raise the money to give us surgery options.

And here are my friends to fight with me. Beth tells me I’m not paying rent on the studio next month. And Martha wants to donate too. They want to help spread the word. Again, I’m stunned, and those damn tears start pushing through.

And I’m smiling too. Everyone loves Bo. He’s touched so many lives, so many dogs, so many humans. I’d decided to "retire" him from working this past summer, because he absorbs anxiety from other dogs and humans and I wanted him to be free of that and live out some "retirment" years. Yet here he is, touching lives again, bringing folks together.

But it’s more than his magic happening here, I realize. It’s the magic of kindness. And it’s Bo’s turn to receive.


  1. Ok, this one made me cry as I'm a dog person as well. You need to put a PayPal donate button on here if they will let you as I would have already donated. Heck, give me a valid PayPal addy and I will.

    Here's wishing you and Bo all the luck in the world.

    Lynn Crain

  2. A friend of mine -- the woman who runs Heidi's Homemade, a pet bakery in Columbus, Ohio - got the same diagnosis on her dog, Heidi, when she was 7 years old.

    Rochelle started making all Heidi's food, using the recipes in Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. She used human-grade food, cooked in batches and froze some of it in portions. She chose to have surgery but no chemo, having seen the effects of chemo on a family member and wanting to put Heidi through that.

    Heidi went into remission, and stayed healthy for another five or six years; she died in her teens.

    I am absolutely NOT suggesting you go against your vet's advice in terms of conventional care. But I can say that I put my senior dog Waya on the Pitcairn diet, and her fatty tumors went away.. and she lived to 16.5, not bad for a Shepherd mix.

    You might post a Paypal button, as Lynn Crain suggested. We've had an expensive year with animals, especially after Waya's successor tried to eat a pincushion (he's a lab mix, need I say more?). Hope Bo rallies and beats the bastard cancer!