You may have heard about Grandma the dog before. Everyone west of the Mississippi has heard about Grandma the dog, but east of the Mississippi, only readers of this column know about her. She is the extraordinary 5-year-old black lab mix my daughter adopted from the Humane Society in the High Sierra town where she lives.
Grandma was one of 11, and she and all her sibs regularly run along the trails up and around their community, exercising themselves and their humans. Once a year, on their birthday, the town hosts a barbecue down by the lake, marked by lots of splashing and tossing and fetching.
Yes, I agree, it was notable that my daughter and kids decided to call their dog Grandma, but I took it as an honor, and it has been. That dog is touched by both grace and great good luck. She is strong, carries her own food on her back on overnight hikes, protects her humans and isn’t afraid to challenge the occasional buck she encounters on the trail.
She has had close encounters with mortality in her brief time on earth. When she was just 6 months old, she nosed her way into the ski shack on the mountain and ate a dish of rat poison. As she started to seize, my daughter grabbed an emergency medical kit, poured an emetic down Grandma’s throat and kept her alive until they could get to the emergency veterinarian. She ran 11 miles the next week, with no signs of any ill effects.
Two years ago, she ripped open her chest jumping over barbed wire in a nearby field. No one noticed until she almost bled out in the car. She healed well.
Last year, she found a porcupine in the brush and nudged it with her nose. It nudged back, shooting 14 sharp quills into her snout. She had to go under general anesthesia to have them removed.
Last week, my daughter called sobbing, barely able to speak. She said Grandma had a huge swelling in her abdomen, and the veterinarian said it was likely a tumor and probably malignant. They were on their way to an emergency veterinary surgeon an hour away. Trying to process the shock of the diagnosis, we spoke of how much treatment to do. Unconsciously, we slipped into talking about Grandma in the past tense. We cried together over the thought of this sweet girl dying before her time.
Grandma was rushed into surgery, with the family thinking that it would be better not to wake her up if there were obvious widespread cancer metastases.
What the surgeon discovered was this: Four years ago, when Grandma was spayed at the Humane Society, the doctor accidentally severed the vessel going to her right kidney. The kidney functionally died that day, and it began filling with fluid and bad stuff, and eventually swelled into the huge toxic mass that was removed last week.
The surgeon said that Grandma stood up shortly after the hours-long surgery and would not lie down all night. The doctor said it was anxiety. Maybe. Grandma does not take adversity lying down. She was home the next day, feeling poorly and heavily medicated, but alive and surrounded by her people. I keep thinking of all the miles she has run and the trails she has climbed and the snow she has plowed through, all with one functioning kidney and another oozing poison into her body.
We all believed her time had come. We thought her charmed life was over. I think of a poem I love by Shenagh Pugh, and which I have quoted before:
Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.
I feel chastised by my own certainty that Grandma was beyond saving. I take it to mean that sometimes things do not go from bad to worse, not in countries, not in families, not in the lives we choose.
Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.