Part 1 (of I don't know how many) of the last week of Roo's life

Today, once again, I find myself reverting to the habit of watching the weather radar the way I always did when there were thunderstorms to worry about when Roo was alive. Today, though, I watch the thing to see when the rain will stop, because the rain is casting the inside of this camper in a sickly gray that I’ve never experienced before. Until now, the light Roo radiated kept away.

I was going to write that I’m sitting in the dark camper in the rain parked in the driveway, losing my mind, but that’s just a lazy figure of speech. What is happening is quite the opposite of losing my mind. It’s a sharpening of it now that I am able to look back on the week leading up to Roo’s death and the days following it. 

I thought a short piece would suffice to tell the story of the last ten days, but it won’t. I don’t know how long this will stretch on. It will until it’s over.

I write this to honor her and the grace she brought to her life and mine. I write this to honor the strength and spirit and goodness and courage and love that defined Roo. I write it to honor all of you who loved this great dog. And I write this in the hopes of learning whether I failed her as badly as I fear I did. I don’t know if I did or not. This is the only way I have of finding out whether her end was as irretrievably unforgivable as Orville’s was. Whether the actions that I – a broken waste – took were to help her when she needed my help the most or for other reasons I need to understand.

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After I posted about Roo’s dip in the Atlantic, which she took on Monday, September 2nd, Roo began to feel too weary to do much more. One of the worst things about watching a dog you love get sick is not knowing exactly how they feel. Her swollen arm was bothering her, I knew that, but it didn’t make her limp or sniff at it. I could tell because it began to make lying down uncomfortable. But there was more than the arm. More lumps were appearing. Swollen lymph nodes don’t themselves hurt, but they can press on things. On organs and airways. Roo was in the end stage of cancer. She must have been feeling bad in many ways. I kept looking up how lymphoma patients feel, but that was useless. There was so much going on – chemo, the disease itself. Roo just looked more and more weary. And other dreadful signs popped up. She would eat a cookie, but leave the crumbs behind. She stopped eating jerky altogether. Her throat, where a lymph node was hardening, was making swallowing uncomfortable.

I bought her goat yogurt and goat milk. I cooked her meats and chopped it up into tiny pieces. She ate these things for a while but became progressively more selective. I softened the Dogswell duck jerky she always loved in water and cut it into tiny pieces. She refused them. A sharp corner must have been gone down wrong. Even when I trimmed the corners off the softened pieces she wouldn’t trust them. I bought her a selection of other treats and jerkies, dried liver that I moistened, cold cuts. She would eat some of the cold cuts. She would eat ground beef. She ate a little spaghetti with parmesan cheese. Before she stopped eating entirely at the end, she was down to sliced turkey and licking butter from a spoon.

On the day after that dip in the Atlantic I was obliged to take the trailer to the dump to empty the tanks. This idiotic little camper has such small holding tanks that it’s impossible to go more than a week before they are filled. I had been fearing the day Roo would be too unwell to come with me on these trips to the dump. Virginia and Jim were working, so there was no one to leave Roo with. She would have to come with me.

Over the last four years Roo has been present at hundred of hitchings and unhitchings of the camper, and yet it still concerns her. She doesn’t – didn’t; I keep writing about her in the present tense – like being in the car for the operation because of the small clinking sounds of chains being clipped on to the hitch and a bump when the trailer was lowered onto or raised from the ball hitch on the car. Here in Maine, she had a spot in the bushes in front of the Raker house where she liked to wait and hide. On that Tuesday she didn’t want to leave the camper. She was always a late sleeper, though, and I thought it could have just been because she was still too tired, on top of feeling sick. I waited as long as I could, but eventually she had to come with me and she came out of the camper when she realized I was positioning the car.

She wasn’t feeling too bad. She always liked the ritual of a big round of Good Morning, Chigi greetings when she woke up and came outside, standing there and letting me stand over her and pat her shoulders and belly while she held her tail high and wagged it slowly and that was how she stood that Tuesday before peeing for the first time in 20 hours and then retreating to lie down in her position in the bushes. After the trailer was hitched it took some convincing to get her to come with me. She didn’t want to. She wanted to stay where she was, but I could neither leave her alone nor not empty the tanks. I didn’t press her or hurry her. I waited until the last minute before the dump would close, for two hours or so, until finally she came out of the bushes and accepted my help lifting her in, her slow wagging indicating her embarrassment over needing the help. She lay down on the floor in the back seat. I apologized to her the whole way for having to do what I had always called “the works” we had to do.

On the way back from emptying the tanks Roo decided to come from the back to take her traditional shotgun seat beside me. She was unsteady on her feet as she tried to climb over the armrest to the front. I wrapped my right arm around her torso to steady her while I brought the rig to a stop. Someone in a pickup was upset at my pulling over and tuned his motor and honked at me while I helped Roo move. She had some difficulty finding a comfortable position with the lump in her arm pressing pressuring her. I stretched her arm out to relieve the pressure and she felt better and rested her head on my forearm the way she began to only some months before when I taught her how to in Oklahoma, and when I thought I had created a problem for myself because once she learned of this position she always wanted to do that and though I loved having her head resting on my arm, it was difficult sometimes when maneuvering the camper was an issue. 

This time, though she hated to be in the car when the trailer was unhitched, I talked her through it so she wouldn’t need to go to the trouble of getting in and out of the car more than necessary. I opened the tail gate so she would hear me tell her there wouldn’t be a noise and handled the chains as if they were eggs. The part of the process that frightened her was the lowering of the height of the car by means of a push-button control that allowed the car to drop clear of the hitch receiver on the trailer. The separation of the hitch makes a bump and drops the car a few inches and that always scared Roo. That was what she hid from and the thing she had, in hundreds of camps, distanced herself from. But I set things up so that I would be with her when the drop took place, and she only had a moment’s mild worry and it was done.

The reason I wanted her to stay in the car was because of how much she had enjoyed her brief walk and dip in the ocean the day before. I thought I’d try again and take her to a pond where we could drive right up to the bank. Even if she didn’t want to get out, at least she could lie there in the car with the doors open and spend some time looking at the water and the birds and the sky and the passing squirrels. It had to be better than being stuck in the camper. The lone parking spot there also happens to be right at the spot where she buried what would turn out to be her last, and one of her most impressive kills, a good-sized groundhog a few weeks before. She liked checking on that kill. She was waiting for it to rot sufficiently to be ready to eat.

I backed the car into the spot and opened the doors.

“Who wants to go swimming?” I asked her. At first she didn’t. For ten or fifteen minutes she was content to just sit there and look around or rest her head on my arm. Eventually, though, she decided she might after all to come out. She stood up and gave me one of the licks on the ear she liked to give me that indicated her anticipation of our pack going to the park. She came to the door and with a slow wag of embarrassment – I’m sure that’s what it was, because for her whole life she had considered being helped into or out of the car well beneath the acceptable limits of dignity, and Roo was one of the world’s most dignified dogs – welcomed my lifting her to the ground. I am weak and so variously injured that I was not able to do this smoothly, and she grunted a little when her paws contacted the ground.

The water was right there, no more than 20 feet away, and she trotted in and smiled at the coolness of the water and dunked her head a few times. The old vigor with which she normally shoved her head from side to side was gone but still she dunked and dunked again and came up with her tail held high.

Frog pond was farther down the trail. Not far, only a few hundred feet, a walk of not even two minutes, and when Roo came out of the water she indicated that she wanted to go there.

“Are you sure, Chigi Bear Beker?” I asked her. “We’re a couple of tired old bears. Maybe it’s too far.”

But she stood facing in the direction she wanted to go, the way she has stood at every fork in every trail to let me know which way she preferred, looking back at me until we agreed on a heading, and we walked to the frog pond.

Roo surprised me by walking swiftly and even charging a squirrel who crossed her path and laughing at him when he made it to a tree. To anyone who didn’t know how ill Roo was, she would have appeared normal. When we got to the frog pond Roo looked to me for permission to go in. This was because starting with the surgery on Roo’s paw, when she couldn’t go in the water in Oklahoma while the wound healed and I had to stop her all the time, she had begun to defer to me on the question of going swimming. It was only one of the many ways she acknowledged not so much any question of who was boss, because that was never a position I wanted to hold over her, but that there was something to be said for the ways I looked out for her. 

“Of course you can go in,” I said. In fact, I was desperate for her to go in the water, for any opportunity for her to enjoy herself, for her to seize every one of the little grains of happiness left to her. She went in and stood in the shallows with the water cooling her shaved belly. She had some bald patches on her behind and her tail that being wet made stand out. These outward signs of her body’s deterioration, of the difficulties of her disease and the treatment for it and of the way she stood up to it all with such bravery and grace, these marks of the brutality the chemo drugs and the way they chewed her body up and the questions of whether making her go through them had been the right thing to do, always hit me hard.

The sun was shining on the short stretch of the bank of the pond there and a few frogs were squatting there taking advantage of the warmth. I pointed a frog out to Roo, the way I always have since she entered this recent frog hunting phase, the last hunting stage of her life, and she took a good run at the frog. Then she spotted another fat one and took a big leap at him and into the water. with a lush splash. She waded along the bank to a spot where she had to exit the pond because of a downed tree and came out. She looked happy, but she also looked tired.

I got down in the dirt to talk to her and hold her head. “What do you think, Sweet Bear?” I said. “Maybe we should go back to the car.”

She looked down the path in the direction of the rest of the pond and the other frog hunting grounds and thought about it. I know – damn it, knew – Roo, and I know that one of the things she was thinking about was her duty to me, to taking me to the park, to taking me frog hunting to holding up her half of this pack of two. She thought about her duty to the old man and the pleasure of being a dog who had always and without fail lived up to all the duty a dog knows is hers. But she was tired.

I placed the onus on myself. “The old daddy is a very tired old bear, Chig,” I said. “Let’s go back to the car.”

She smiled at me and lowered her head in my hands and agreed. I kissed her on the top of her wet head and stood.

We walked slowly from the last of seven years of swims.

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By the time we got back to the camper Roo was too tired to get out of the car. She looked worried that I would make her get out. There had been plenty of times, after all, before she got sick, of course, when I would hurry her out because she would need to be hosed off, dried and brushed. But I would never rush Roo again. Even if the forces of the universe that had stricken Roo with cancer were to discover that they had made an accounting error or had misaddressed her disease to her and taken it back and let her live, I would never again rush Roo, and certainly not now. The car was parked right outside the camper so I could keep an eye on her and lift her down when she decided to come home, if the camper can be called that, and she slept in the car for a couple of hours.

She was mostly air-dried by the time she came out, and I made quick work of the damp spots with a blow drier so that she wouldn’t be uncomfortable all night and she came inside and ate some fresh meat I cooked her and went to sleep while I watched her. Her snoring was beginning to change. It had to be that lump forming in her throat. I tried not to let her see how this affected me.

When it got dark, Roo got up and came over to where I was sitting in the dinette. She smiled and placed her head on my knees so I would scratch her ears. I did this for a long time, until Roo had an idea.

I don’t know what the relationship between Roo’s disease and her decision not to get up on the bed any more was, but since she got cancer she had stopped wanting to go up on the bed. As it was when she was well, she only liked to go up there to sleep in the evenings. Now she went it the bed and sat at the foot and put her chin on the bed.

I took this as an almost incredibly hopeful sign. It meant she was feeling better, that she was in a good mood. It meant progress for once, a deviation from the lethal course she had been on.

I helped her up onto the bed and she had a good wiggle and lay down the way she always had. 

Other than at bedtime I almost never lie down on the bed in this camper. I don’t nap. I don’t rest there. I’ve always felt, stupidly, that lying down is tantamount to some small act of surrender, and I’ve been too close to destruction for too long to chance it. But now I lay down on the bed beside Roo and she lay with her back pressed against my legs until later in the night. Until later in the night when things would start to go wrong.

Roo Beker, 11/11/11 — 9/11/2019

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Roo died in my arms, under some shrubs, lying in cool mulch on a warm day in Maine at 2:17 PM on September 11th, 2019.

I’m in the camper, realizing that the smaller the space, the more emptiness it can hold.

Good-bye, Chig. It kills me that you are gone. I hope you heard the last words I said to you, the same thing I told you every night before bed:

Where goes the Rooki goes the daddy. And where goes the daddy goes the Rooki.

She loved hearing that.

I’ll write more when I can see the keyboard again.

Day 101: A last taste of the Atlantic Ocean

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The swelling in Roo’s arm continued to worsen and her oncologist added prednisone to the rescue protocol she’s on. Prednisone is hard on Roo and I hated giving it to her. I was torn. Is the cure worse than the disease? Especially as it’s not a cure at all? And, in the same way this nightmare began with the Memorial Day weekend bookending the start of summer — the most damnable time possible for Roo to get sick, the hardest time for her to recover — when there was no immediate medical care available for Roo and we drove to Maine — the Labor Day weekend also delayed the delivery of the other chemo drug in her treatment.

The swelling of the lymph glands is horrible. They are hard and getting bigger. The oncologist said that the goal of this round of chemo was palliative. The drugs are well tolerated and shouldn’t make Roo ill. The hope is that they bring the glands down, but it seems too late for that. The more realistic hope is that they might buy Roo a little more time before she suffers too much to go on.

On Tuesday, though, while still waiting for the goddamned delivery from the supplier, I began to accept that Roo would not get better. I have seen this before. Orville died from this, and I have still not been able ever to discuss with anyone what happened then and won’t now. But I have seen this before. I won’t let what happened to Orville happen to Roo.

Roo is so tough that it’s hard to tell if she’s in pain. Maybe the pain is low grade and she just doesn’t show it. But while she still breathes, she still needs to take care of basic functions. 

She was willing to come outside but she wasn’t interested in walking. She moved towards the car, probably just wanting to lie down in there, but when I loaded her in I drove her – driving so slowly and gingerly that in anyplace less polite than this the cars passing us on the country roads would all have been honking – to several of the places she liked to take walks. We went to the town. She wouldn’t get out. We went to one park and then another. She wouldn’t get out. Finally we drove south to a point at the end of a spit of land jutting into the Atlantic Ocean. My intention was just to find somewhere to park and let Roo take in the view and breath in the air.

When we got there, Roo perked up. She wasn’t sure about getting out of the car and I took a picture of us. I tried to smile in the picture. I was surprised to see how grim I look in it. IT’s a reminder of how I’m failing Roo at every turn now.

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“What do you think, Chig?” I asked her. “Do you want to go swimming?” 

She decided that she did. It’s too high a jump for Roo to get out of the car on her own now. I’ve devised a way to lift her out that I don’t think presses on the lumps in her chest and arm and neck. Still, she grunted a little.

I hated putting her on a leash, because now more than ever I want her to feel the last of her freedom, but also because I left her harness in the first hospital when we arrived in Maine and the collar can’t be comfortable with swollen lymph glands in her throat. I’ve made the collar way too big for her, and I’m sure never to pull the leash, so it’s all right. Even as loose as it is, the collar looks lost in the folds of fur on her swollen throat.

There was a boat ramp and Roo went in the water. The salt water was clear and cool and Roo was so happy to get in. Her back legs tremble a little now and most of the hair on her tail is missing from the recurrence of dermatitis brought on by the cessation of her allergy meds necessitated by chemo and her belly, shaved three months ago for ultrasound is only fuzzy. I still see my puppy, but in truth the hard time she has been through shows. As she dunked herself I thought that this could be the last swim in her life. It seemed fitting that it would be in the Atlantic after swimming her way from the Pacific, where she was born, in the diametric opposite corner of the country, to the Sea of Cortez, two or three of the Great Lakes, the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Arkansas, the Ohio, the Red, the Salmon, the Columbia, the San Pedro, in countless Bear Creeks and Deer Creeks and Devil’s Creeks and in more and always more of the great rivers and bodies of water of this country and streams and ponds and brooks and puddles and ditches in every one of the Lower Forty-Eight than any other dog who has ever lived, or so I like to tell her because I would like to believe in that accomplishment of hers and I do. Watching her little dip in the ocean pretty much broke me down and I turned away so she wouldn’t see and I don’t think she did though that may just be the kind of lie we tell ourselves when we need to.

After her swim, she wanted to walk around a little, but after we walked on a gangplank to a lobster dock, from which Roo enjoyed looking at the water for a while, and a few more feet on the road, I said, “Maybe we shouldn’t go too far, Chig. Don’t you think it might be better to go back to the car?” 

She thought about it for a second but knew it was better. But first she flung onto the grass in front of someone’s house and rolled over on her back and gave herself a good wiggle while I patted her belly and called her by some of the names I have for her and told her how I felt about her.

Since then, things have gotten rough, but that’s all I can put down today. I have to get back to Rooki. And I don’t want to write about the way this coming weekend, when again it is impossible to get the kind of veterinary care we may need that has me worried tonight.

Day 96: Good mood. Bad arm.

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The wound on Roo’s right arm from the very first chemo treatment she had three months ago is once again so close to healing that it seems (though it has seemed many times before) like if she can be made to leave it alone for only a few more days it might finally stop troubling her. Nothing but an e-collar has kept her off the wound. In her sleep, she works her tongue so far down any bandage as to damage the wound. Even the e-collar she’s managed to get off. The inside of the camper is so tiny that it’s asking a lot, especially of a sick dog with bigger problems to worry about, to wear it.

But wear it she has been. It’s miserable for her because she can’t get into the corner she wants to be in, beside the bed. There’s a bigger corner, specially built for her on the other side, but she doesn’t like that one any more. Another mystery.

Early this morning she was bumping around trying to get comfortable. I took the e-collar off and pulled a sock over the scab. That’s workable when I can keep an eye on her, and so I did for the next hours.

She lay in one spot from seven in the morning until five in the afternoon. She didn’t move at all. That made it 34 hours since the last time she pooped, and that one, the day after the chemo, wasn’t good, so I worried all day about getting her out. But she wouldn’t go. I hated to leave her alone, but she needed some meds from the pharmacy and I had to get there before they closed. I dashed over there and to the pet store for soft treats, since she is refusing anything hard, even jerky, which I suspect could be from enlarged lymph nodes in her throat. 

The worst thing about nursing a dog with a complicated illness is that they can’t tell you what’s going on, what they’re feeling, what hurts or is making them sick. When I got back, she still hadn’t moved a muscle. She was going to have to go outside sooner or later, but I didn’t know if I should let her stay asleep or try to get her moving. Ultimately I convinced myself that she as exhausted from the bad night’s sleep in the e-collar as she was from the chemo and I decided to try to lure her outside with her beloved squirrel TV. 

“Chig,” I asked her, “do you want me to show you the squirrel?”

Squirrels on an iPad are evidently more interesting these days than squirrels outside, because she jumped up and came outside before I even turned the squirrel on, nosing at the tablet and bumping up and down as we made our way to the lawn. There. she had no interest in emptying anything. She just wanted to lie down and watch the squirrel.

I couldn’t believe the good mood Roo was in. Virginia and Jim came over to say hello, and though Roo didn’t get up, she was all wags and smiles while Virginia scratched her.

My mood had been in the gutter all day. I didn’t know if Roo was just sick (just?) from the chemo or if the cancer itself was doing it. But just seeing her smile and wag like that and show so much interest in watching the squirrel fight the snake boomeranged my mood. I shouldn’t use the rollercoaster cliché, because I’ve never felt a thing other than complete boredom and surprise that anyone would find them frightening on any rollercoaster, but this is a rollercoaster. A general sense of terrible foreboding with abrupt moments of relief and joy.

She wouldn’t walk, though. She was too tired – until I took the iPad and started walking with it. Roo had no interest in going into the woods behind the lawn. She’s too fastidious and doesn’t like to pollute her immediate environment. Roo wanted to head to the street. Roo was walking perfectly. She was interested and walking quickly. There were a couple of dogs out there and Roo stood tall and with tail held high and allowed them to greet her. She seemed to feel fine. It’s about 850 feet to the trail entrance, and she was walking with determination in that direction. I worried that any distance at all would be too much, but I gave in, if that’s what it was going to take to get her to disburden herself.

As soon as we got there, Roo started to feel some pain in her arm. She sat down and held the arm up in the air. It was trembling. It shot an arrow through me. I assumed it was the enormously swollen lymph glands she has there but I checked her paw for good measure. 

Gently I rubbed the fur on her arm in the swollen area and said, “I know, Little Bear. I know the arm hurts. We’ll just sit here,” and I waited with her until she got up on her own. It hurt too much for her to make it more than 20 or 30 feet at a time before she had to sit down again and hold the arm up. The trembling was awful. Luckily, we were just feet from the road. We made it there and Roo lay down in the middle of it. I called Jim and asked him to pick us up. I only had to wave a couple of cars around us, neither of whom asked whether anything was wrong that a dog had to lie down in the middle of the road, surprising in this neighborhood, before Jim arrived.

As soon as he got there, Roo got up and hopped right in the car. She made it look like her arm wasn’t even hurting. In the car, though, she was trembling a little in the back legs. Again the damnable question – is this a chemo thing or a lymphoma thing?

In the photo accompanying this post, you can see how huge Roo’s left shoulder area is. It is terribly swollen, hard on front and as soft as a water balloon at the elbow. And, because she can’t take Apoquel while she’s on chemo, her dermatitis is back with a rage, and where the puffy skin is rubbing in the soft skin of her armpit, she has a sore that itches her.

Roo wanted nothing but to watch squirrel TV in the driveway when we got back. She’s not in distress. She didn’t display any other signs of pain. But she also wouldn’t eat the ground turkey and rice I cooked her.

That’s how we end August. Not knowing whether these symptoms will persist, get better, or worsen. Not knowing whether the rescue chemo protocol will buy her some more good time. Not knowing whether the chemo will be making her feel bad in the coming days and whether it’ll be hard to tell if it’s the treatment or the disease bothering her.

Day 95: Rescue protocol

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When Roo and I went to the vet on Tuesday, we took the trailer because the tanks had to be emptied. Roo’s not in the mood to do much driving, so I’ve been going to the dump on her vet days so she doesn’t have to be loaded in the car more than necessary. When came out of the appointment with the confirmation (as though I needed any; it was obvious) that Roo had fallen out of remission, I saw that one of the trailer tires had lost air. I’d been expecting it to. The tires were worn out, the steel braid showing through the bald spots. 

We had to stop at a tire place and get them replaced. It would be a fast operation. The wheels are easy to get to and all I had to do was pull the trailer up to the garage bay. I hated to do it to Roo, because it was getting warm, but it would have been worse to blow the tire out.

While the guy was bolting the wheel on he asked me if I’d done a lot of traveling in the camper and I told him that yes, indeed, all throughout the Lower 48.

“I hope you had a dog or something with you,” he said.

“Oh, yes,” I said. She’s right there in the back seat.

“Yeah. You couldn’t do that without a dog,” he said.

I turned away from him and moved the few feet towards Roo, but had to turn away from her, too. For a minute, anyway. It was another of the hundred moments every day when I have to struggle to try not to let her see what I’m feeling. I’m trying to keep a front up. I don’t know what else to do. 

On Thursday we went to see the other oncologist. It wasn’t a hopeful visit. Roo’s cancer is not just back, it is attacking her aggressively. Her lymph nodes are swelling at a terrible pace. The bump in her arm – which they previously thought was another form of cancer – was this time confirmed to be from the lymphoma. Her forearm is swollen. It’s not hurting her. Or, at least, it’s not making her favor it or pay attention to it. And I don’t know if it’s part of the reason she’s not moving much or if that’s mostly from being rundown and ill from the lymphoma itself or the new rescue chemo protocol she began. It has to be all of them, I suppose.

On the way back from that clinic, I must have been distracted because I missed a turn which meant that we had to go about 20 miles and half an hour out of our way on a country road. I passed a sign for a public pond out there in the Maine countryside and thought about the hundreds of times Roo and I passed a sign like that I took the turn so Roo would have a good place to walk and swim and hunt. It’s how she saw the country and the reason she has swum and hunted in more places than most.

“Rooki, do you want to go to the park?” I asked her. She showed some interest and I turned the car around.

I lifted her out of the car. She welcomes the help nowadays, even though she lands with a little bit of a grunt because I’m not able to be too graceful about it.

It was warm, and though there was the pond, Roo didn’t want to go in. After we walked for about three minutes I asked her if she wanted to go back to the car and she looked relieved. I made a face-saving excuse about her old daddy being too hot and tired to keep going. I think she came along in the first place so as not to disappoint me.

Back in the car, the road became curvy, and though I drove the way I would have with a flat tire, it made her uncomfortable. It was the first time I saw that. It didn’t look like she was sick. It looked like she couldn’t find a comfortable way to lie down. She wanted to go in the back seat to try there, but she was unsteady. I pulled over so she could go back there more easily and she lay down.

By the time we got back to the Jim and Virginia’s house, Roo didn’t want to get out of the car. I tried to talk her out but she didn’t want to move, even though she was in an uncomfortable position in which she couldn’t rest her head. After five or ten minutes I offered to help her, but she gave me a short growl to let me know that she did not want to move. She has only growled at me three times. Once when she was a puppy digging a mouse hole in Arizona and I laughed at her for it and another time when it turned out she had a sore leg. And there have been times over the years, before she was sick, when she’s had to get out for one reason or another when she and I’ve had to pull her out. She never liked it, but she never growled. So this time, she meant it. She wasn’t threatening me. It was nothing like that. She was just letting me know that she had to stay right where she was for now. She immediately gave me a deeply apologetic look. She was worried about the impropriety of a growl.

I held her and said, “It’s okay, Little Bear. Don’t worry. I know you don’t feel good. I’m not going to pull you. You can stay there as long as you like.”

I closed the door and backed the car down the driveway into the shade and brought a folding camp chair over and sat beside her. She stayed there for about two hours, not wanting to move even though she couldn’t put her head down.

In the evening, Roo was highly alert. She didn’t want to go out, but she insisted on watching her squirrel movies over and over again. She had a good appetite. Other than not wanting to move, she was in a good mood.

This morning, she let me know with a gentle emergency bark at the unheard-of hour of seven that she wanted to go out. Yet, when we got out, she was in no rush to do anything. 

She was in a terrific mood. Bright-eyed and moving easily. She just wanted to lie down in the driveway. I figured she needed to let go of something, though, so after a few minutes I encouraged her to get up and she did.

She wanted to head down the road so I put her collar on and we went. It might have been the earliest we’ve ever gone out. I’m no early bird but Roo is far worse, a champion late sleeper.

We walked toward the trail, even if I had no intention of getting on it and risking Roo overdoing it. She did have to go. The chemo had upset her stomach. 

On the way back to the camper we ran into Virginia, who was walking to work at a nearby hospital. Roo loves Virginia and was happy to see her. Her mood was high.

Back at the camper, Roo, who must have been relieved, went back to sleep for several hours. 

She didn’t want to go out again for the rest of the day. All she wanted to do was sleep, and then, like a hospital patient newly addicted by imposed bed rest to her soaps, watch her squirrel videos.

I don’t know how long one might expect to see any benefit of the new, rescue chemo protocol she’s on, but I hope the answer isn’t right away, because today Roo’s lymph nodes are all the more swollen. She’s not in any distress. She’s eating and drinking without having to take the appetite stimulant. But those swelling glands are a building storm and they fill me with dread. Roo and I have spent these years together outrunning all sorts of storms. Hers and mine. This one is gaining on us.

Day 93: How to help a rundown dog get up and at 'em

Roo started feeling bad on Tuesday afternoon. Her lymph nodes are swelling. She’s out of remission and what happens next is unknown. At Dr. Mason’s suggestion, we go to see another oncologist, a colleague of hers, tomorrow.

Last night Roo started refusing any kind of hard food. She would only eat things like turkey and Dogswell Soft Strips. She didn’t want jerky, even broken up into little pieces. Today Roo felt so rundown and tired that she wouldn’t eat or drink anything at all or go outside. It had been 30 hours since the last time. Sorry, it’s not much of a video, but it gives you the idea of how we finally made a go of it. And tonight Roo feels pretty good. Waggy, even.

So, let’s end today on a high note. Tomorrow is another day.

Day 90: Ominous signs but feeling good

The pathology report for the mass in Roo’s arm came back – and told us nothing. It’s highly technical, but, according to Dr. Raker, it seems to say they have no idea what the growth is. The slides weren’t tested for lymphoma, though, so, even though the growth isn’t in a spot where lymph nodes usually are, that remains an open question. 

Roo is feeling pretty good. Her arm, which seems to be thickening, doesn’t hurt her. She was out of sorts from Thursday afternoon through Friday, but on Saturday and today she wanted to go for long walks and swims. She doesn’t favor the arm or limp.

So that’s good. The bad news is that another mass seems to be forming in her chest.

She sees the vet on Tuesday. The questions remain unresolved. It’s murder, my friends.