If you ever wondered about the fair market value of a dog’s loyalty, it is somewhere short of three hot dogs.
I discovered that exchange rate earlier this evening. I’m camping with Wally this weekend. We just had to get out of town, because in the woods, we find peace and tranquility and serenity. We also find yahoos cruising with their four wheelers, but in the woods, I can at least imagine them being eaten by mountain lions.
We also needed to get out and breathe because Wally recently received a cancer diagnosis.
“It’s a rare form of lymphoma,” the oncologist in Albuquerque said. “We see a case like Wally’s maybe once every five years.”
I think I was pretty well with it when we got this news. I was all, like, let’s take care of this, what can we do, I’m on it. Wally’s only five years old, and he’s telling me he ain’t done yet. So – lymphoma. Alright. What’s the outlook, Doc?
Turns out that the four out of five doctors who recommend Trident won’t give you any predictions on your dog’s cancer. It’s almost like medical science hasn’t reached clairvoyance yet. But science is really, really good at telling you the past. And it says that the median survival time after completing chemotherapy for lymphoma is… one year.
One. Year. But that’s the median. That means half of dogs live longer, right?
“Yes. It also means the other half live less than a year.”
Okay. I’m still on it. We still got this. Someone’s got to hold it together, and because Wally is blessed with a dog’s in-the-moment existence and lack of medical vocabulary, that someone is me.
We left the oncologist’s office and got back in the truck. I started the engine, but some pressure was clogging my breath, and there was only one way to clear it. I throttled that steering wheel and let rip a hearty FFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU
And I felt better. Like I’d blown away the fog. Windexed the windshield. Everything out of my control wiped away like butterfly guts. If all we have left together is a single summer, let’s go for it. And if we get another, we can go for it again.
I have a whole mental list of things I’ve long wanted to do with Wally. Someday things. And now, we have to do them now. All of them. This summer. Except for cross-country skiing, probably.
So I wrote the list of all the things I’ve ever wanted us to do together:
- Go to the Great Sand Dunes
Seriously? That was it? Everything I ever wanted to do with my dog was one whole thing?
Well, okay. Not exactly. There’s also the things we’ve done before that I want to do again. Things like hiking, and camping, and ordering double cheeseburgers so he can have a patty too, and playing fetch with whatever tree trunks he drags out of the river, and leaving my dinner on the coffee table and thinking it won’t get licked.
What I really want is to be with Wally. Just like we always are, only… more. A boy and his dog, inseparable in adventure.
Inseparable, that is, until there’s hot dogs at the camp next door.
These folks next door are the nicest people. Two grandparents and their four grandchildren. And they don’t even have ATVs. They asked if we wanted a hot dog, and I said I’m sure Wally would like one. I mean, he has cancer – can’t he enjoy a treat?
I tell the kids he’s got to earn his bites, though. So he sits, and the kid gives him an entire frozen hot dog.
Can he have one more, the kid wants to know. I say he can have one more PIECE of a hot dog. One more BITE. The grandma distracts me with offers of watermelon and bagels and coffee and shish kabobs while the kids give Wally another entire frozen hot dog. Then he needs a bit of a cooked hot dog. And another bit.
I can’t stop them! They’re so nice! And they are eating hot dogs, so they can’t possibly be Mormon! But on the off chance we were about to get evangelized, I say we need to start our fire before dark. I trek back to our camp. The kids all follow me. And Wally… stays.
He’s not just staring at the picnic table from whence the hot dogs came, either. He’s socializing! Getting petted! Posing in the middle of THEIR camp!
After the kids “help” by throwing splinters on the fire, the grandparents and I trade hostages. Wally keeps trying to weasel back to his new family. And when he stays with me, he’s moping about the site with his long hound-dog eyes, laying pointedly in the dirt and the ashes while I write. The kids holler goodnight from their tent: “Bye, Willie!”
I don’t know how to end this column, because it’s about a dog, and you know how dog stories end. But this dog is still very much alive, and we’ve got a whole doggie bucket list to improvise as we go along. Which is why, when he snuck next door a few minutes ago and yoinked the last hot dog off the picnic table, I pretended I didn’t even notice.
This Fool’s Gold originally appeared in The Durango Telegraph and Four Corners Free Press.