I may never have children, but I already consider myself a mom. Maybe some people can’t relate to this, maybe this is the kind of thing that places me in the crazy camp, but I don’t care. When it comes to Munchkin, my Golden Retriever who I have had since she was ten weeks old, I am, without hesitation her mom. And I don’t know who or what I would be without her.
I think about this every minute since last Friday. I think it about when I sit in my office and check messages. I think about it when I’m in the shower, or sitting on the bed putting on socks. I think about it when I get home from work and she greats me with her happy face and a big stuffed animal in her mouth. I think about it as I fall asleep, and I think about it the moment I wake up.
I think it wasn’t Friday that was so bad, it was Saturday. But Friday is when the thoughts began. I didn’t understand at first why our Vet was telling us about his own Golden, whom he lost to cancer. Munchkin wasn’t eating, she’d lost lots of weight, that’s it. What did his story have to do with it? I was like the slow kid in the class wishing he would speed up and tell us what kind of allergy she might have developed. Because a strange allergy to chicken or bonemeal I could get, but a strange tumor covering her spleen, I could not.
Everyone will tell you I am a crazy dog owner. I cook her food for her, I have two large bins in two separate rooms overflowing with toys for her. I plan vacations around her, like to stay in to be with her, will travel eight hours out of my way so she can spend a few days with her grandparents when I do go somewhere. I wrap her Christmas presents, take her to Halloween dog parties, sign her name to all cards we send to everyone. I threw parties for her birthday (complete with invitations), took dancing classes with her, and judged MJ entirely on how he interacted with her. I post pictures of her on facebook, and talk about her constantly, and take her everywhere I can. I love her. I love her. I love her.
At first we scheduled a surgery to remove the tumor. We scheduled it for first thing Monday morning and I held it together even though I was scared about the surgery, whether she would be in pain, and how we would be able to care for her after. But I stopped there. Surgery. Remove tumor. Munchkin all better. That was the extent of my thoughts.
When we lived in Atlanta and were both still healthy we would go on long hikes together. I would take her leash off and we would run down the trails as fast as we could, which for her was pretty fast, and for me was a minute or two and then a lot of panting. She always ran back and danced around me the way only a Golden Retriever can, waiting for me to get going again. She loved mud and smelly things, but most of all water. She would hear things and stop suddenly on the trail, putting her head toward the woods, nose slightly up, and I would bend down and whisper, “What is it, Munchkin? What’s out there?” and she would get so excited, a sense of pride and purpose filling her warm brown eyes.
One year MJ and I went to Orientation meets with Munchkin in tow, and he got to see that same look. We’d traipse all over trying to find the right flag and Munchkin would leap over fallen logs, and run full out when MJ called her name. Few things are more wonderful than watching Munchkin in the woods.
In the Emergency Veterinary Office she looked unsettled. It was late Saturday, and she must have wondered why we were there and not at home getting ready for bed. The blood results are Vet took were not good. “You need to get an ultrasound done,” he had said in that slight European accent of his, which I have not been able to identify. “You need to look at the liver because it is likely surgery is not the best option.” The ultrasound specialist happened to work at this clinic forty minutes away, and work late, so there we were.
Munchkin doesn’t like our own vet, never has, so I imagined this strange place with its smells that only she could detect was not comforting. I sat on the floor next to her and rubbed her belly as she laid on the cold floor, trading off with MJ when I needed a break. She would just lay there as one of us pet her, and if we stopped, she would lift her head and stare at us, those Golden eyes drilling into ours until a hand was safely back on her reddish fur.
In those Atlanta days we would take a big green blanket to Piedmont park on Saturday mornings and lay out together. I would bring a book or some magazines and Munchkin would play with a Kong stuffed with peanut butter. On an old CD walkman I would listen to lots of Joni Mitchell and Iron and Wine. I’d take breaks and play baseball with her. Standing a couple feet away from her, I would pretend to kick at a mound and make windup gestures while asking, “Are you ready? Are you ready?” Then I’d toss it to her, hard and straight and she would catch it perfectly each time.
Munchkin taught herself how to throw the ball back. I don’t know how, she just did it one day and never stopped. She would cock her head down and then lift it up suddenly and the ball would sail from her mouth up and into my hands. It was amazing. Once a newspaper photographer in the park came over and took picture after picture of her doing it. We’d play baseball like this everyday. Me pitching, her catching and throwing it back to the pitcher’s mound.
One summer MJ and I took her to the dog park each Sunday. We brought the same green blanket and books and would stop at Caribou for coffee or apple cider. We’d sit under a big tree with a big bowl of water, and Munchkin would wander around, never going too far from us. One of us would take a break and walk around the perimeter of the fence with her, or toss her the ball. She never wanted to run and tumble with the other dogs. She seemed happiest walking or sitting with us.
She was not happy when the ultrasound specialist took her in the back, though we were allowed to come with her. She only seemedto warm up much later when we were all back in the little room marked “3,” and MJ and I were asking the doctor questions. Only then did she nestle near the doctor, letting the doctor stroke her head and scratch her ears. And I tried to ask good questions. I tried to think about everything and make good decisions, and come up with a game plan because I am planner. But by then all I could think was, Munchkin has cancer. How did this happen?
I own lots of dog mugs, subscribe to Bark. I have an entire section in the library on dog books. I gave up rolling the hair off my clothes years ago, and each month I re-organize Munchkin’s toys so the seasonal ones are out for her to play with. I took her to a psychic once and have taken everything she said to heart only on the off chance that it wasn’t a hoax. I am her mom. She is my baby. How is this happening?
I spend the work day wanting to get home to her, and worrying about whether she is in pain, or happy, or what I can do to make things better. MJ says we don’t know yet, to wait. We see the oncologist Thursday. We’ll know what treatments are available, if any, then. But my mind does not handle waiting well. Years of infertility have made that clear. I am trying to wait, and I am trying to stay positive, but I am mostly lost in my head, stuck with all of these thoughts. Sometimes the thoughts come out in an angry burst and I think, What the fuck, world? Other times I just cry.
Munchkin is all gold fur and brown eyes and waggy tail. She is the sweetest animal you could meet. She is the kind of sweet that always brings you something when you get home, that let the kitten pounce on her without ever getting upset, that lets other dogs take her ball and then waits for them to be finished, that loves to curl up on your lap despite being over sixty pounds. She is funny and full of life, and she loves you and everything purely and without hesitation. I don’t want her to go away. I want her to be here and happy. I want her to be safe and to know that I love her. I love her. I love her.