Today is Annie’s birthday. She would have been 13 years old.
With those two short sentences, you probably know the direction this post is heading. Do I even need to continue? Trust me, I want to share all of the happy adventures Ben and I had last year, from National Parks to state parks and everything in between—2016 was the year of many beautiful experiences. But 2016 was also a really tough year for our family, and I hope that writing about those hard experiences will help with my healing.
Two days into the 2016 new year found us visiting a local veterinarian for our greyhound, Drifter. He had always been a picky eater, but he had been pickier than usual, barely eating anything at all in the days leading up to that Saturday vet visit. The problem, we found out, was an abscess in his throat that made eating physically painful for him. Thankfully, with the help of medication and wet dog food, he would be on the mend in no time.
Except then he developed a limp at the very end of February. Ben and I decided to monitor the situation for a few days and see if his new hobble would go away on its own, but as it persisted, we scheduled a vet appointment. One of my family’s dogs was experiencing problems with one of her back legs around the same time, and I worried that Drifter had managed a similar feat of pulling one of his muscles, which would require costly surgery to mend.
With the benefit of time and knowledge on my side now, I wish that the diagnosis I dreaded then were the one we received.
Ben came home from that vet visit and said that X-rays revealed some discolored spots on the leg. Our vet suggested these discolorations could be the result of a recent fall that resulted in scuffing the bone. Or it could be osteosarcoma—bone cancer. What? That potential diagnosis wasn’t even on my radar.
We scheduled a follow-up appointment to take a second set of X-rays; if the discoloration that appeared in the first set of X-rays grew in just two weeks, we’d know for sure that we were dealing with bone cancer. I hadn’t been present at the first vet appointment, but when I saw the second X-rays, I knew. Our sweet, goofy Drifter had bone cancer.
Our vet discussed treatment options with us, ranging from doing nothing to amputation and chemotherapy. Bone cancer in dogs has a poor prognosis regardless, offering anywhere from two months to maybe a year if you follow the amputation and chemotherapy route. And those treatment options come with pretty hefty costs, both financially and physically for the dog. Before we could make any of the difficult decisions, we needed to take Drifter to a specialized vet in the area for more detailed X-rays. If we opted to treat the disease with either amputation or chemotherapy, a bone biopsy would be required to officially determine the osteosarcoma diagnosis and all of this needed to be done through a specialist.
That specialist visit was very eye-opening. Going in, we knew we weren’t going to pursue chemotherapy; the best we could hope for was another year with our boy with that option, but knowing the side affects of chemo, what kind of quality of life would that be for him? Amputation, however, wasn’t completely out of the question.
Until the specialists’ X-rays showed that the bone cancer was actually ravaging both of Drifter’s hind legs.
Our difficult decision was made for us; with the tumors in both hind legs, amputation was no longer an option. We opted not to put Drifter through the painful bone biopsy to confirm what the three sets of X-rays already made pretty clear. The vet warned us of some signs to watch for that would indicate his pain had gotten worse and that the cancer had spread to his lungs. All we could do was celebrate the remaining time we had with him.
We dubbed May 20, 2016, “Drifter Day.” Ben took the entire day off work and spent it with his sidekick, spoiling him with burgers and extra love.
I came home around noon and the celebration continued with a trip to Dairy Queen for ice cream (for once I didn’t even mind that he hovered above me, drooling the entire time), dog cookies, snuggles and a short walk to his favorite neighborhood stop sign; he had to pee on it one more time to make sure all the other neighborhood dogs knew it was his sign.
And then with the help of our vet and her wonderful staff, we said goodbye to our dear deer-like boy.
Though Drifter eventually adopted me, Ben was his person. They lived together for a year before we were married, and they forged an irreplaceable bond during that time. I remember when Ben was researching different dog breeds and he finally settled on a greyhound as his very own first dog. We never imagined we would get so lucky with Drifter.
His laid-back personality was matched only by Ben’s own laid-back personality (there is a lot of truth in the joke that dogs and their humans take on traits of each other). He was content to do his own thing, but whenever he wanted attention, he would lean against you until you were forced to acknowledge his presence with some quality pets. Storms absolutely terrified him, as did children, but he tolerated the affections of our young nephew like a champ.
He loved to sprint in the snow and to roo (look up greyhounds rooing on YouTube and you’ll understand). He hated the reindeer antlers I bought him but humored me and wore them anyway for Christmas pictures and parties.
Drifter left a greyhound-sized hole in both of our hearts.
In June we fostered and adopted another greyhound. Even though we loved him, he ultimately wasn’t a good fit for our family, and we had to return him to the local greyhound rescue. To this day I pray he finds his perfect family and I hope he’s doing ok.
And Annie… the birthday girl herself… where do I even begin?
We were forced to say goodbye to my sweet, sweet girl the night before Thanksgiving. Despite being four months removed from the events that transpired that night, I am still haunted by the nightmare, and the burden of details is not one I want to share with any more people than already share it. Losing her was unexpected, violent and traumatic, and that is all I will write in regards to her actual passing.
Instead, I want to write about her life. As I have shared before, we adopted Annie when she was 9 years old, a senior by dog year standards. Even at 12 though, she never acted her age, and strangers who met her often thought she was 5 or 6. In the three short years we shared with her, only the increasing lightening of her black ears betrayed her senior status.
Annie was one of the most loving dogs I have ever met. Strangers weren’t actually strangers for very long because she believed every human was a friend. She and I shared a lot of similar traits, but there was one telling difference between us: I tend to shy away from people and connect more with dogs; Annie didn’t care much for other dogs and connected with people. On walks in our neighborhood, I will go out of my way to meet dogs. Annie, on the other hand, would go out of her way to meet people, and she always got kind of miffed when passersby didn’t acknowledge her. She would turn to look at me with an expression that said, “Can you believe that? They didn’t stop to pet me and tell me how cute I am!”
Though she loved all people, I was her favorite, and that was not a status I took lightly; I knew how special it was that she adopted me as her person. Any time we let her in from the back yard, she would run through the house until she found me. Her powers of observation weren’t always the best, because I was often watching from the couch as she searched, passing me a few times in the process. The way her eyes would light up and her entire backend would wiggle once she spotted me always conveyed her affection. And I showed mine for her by constantly snuggling with her and saying, “I love you. You know that, right?”
She loved to play ball. Often she didn’t even require that we throw the ball for her; she would simply kick it with one of her paws, chase it, pounce it and repeat the process until her attention was distracted. And though she was easily distracted, her powers of focus were actually pretty impressive. She ran into the door from our back yard on occasion because she was so focused on us in the house that she couldn’t be bothered to see the door that separated us. She also had a tendency to run into walls because she liked to lead the way but would crane her neck and watch us instead of what was in front of her.
She was my shadow any time I left a room or focused on a particular task at hand. Baby gates intended to keep my family’s dogs from specific areas of the house were no match for her when she was determined to follow me; she always cleverly maneuvered these mere obstacles by jumping them or nudging them out of the way with her nose.
Perhaps a little more information than you care to know, but any time I was answering the call of nature and attempted to close the bathroom door all the way, I would hear her bounce off of it in an unsuccessful attempt to follow me; finally I gave up any notion of privacy and would leave the door cracked so she could trail me. During my showers she was also always faithfully lying on the bath mat, waiting on me.
Around the holidays, she had little patience for gift wrapping and would often sit right in the middle of all my wrapping gear, demanding attention.
And on the rare occasion that I would find myself baking in the kitchen, she was right there with me, often looking up at me with those concerned spaniel eyes, questioning how I found myself in such an unusual situation.
Early in our marriage, Ben established a “no dogs on the bed” rule at night because he simply cannot fall asleep with squirming dogs sharing his space. Annie abided by that rule until about 5 o’clock in the morning when she would put her front paws on my side of the bed, and I would pull her up next to me. As long as Ben was asleep, he had no problem with our early-morning smuggling and snuggling ritual. Five o’clock became 4 in the morning and then 3… she kept pushing the timeframe earlier and earlier. Eventually I reached a point where I would have no memory of pulling her into our bed; I would wake up and she would be snuggled up next to me.
As Ben and I would get ready for work in the mornings, Annie would often watch us as she lounged in our bed. She knew her rightful place.
Annie came into my life at a time that I really needed her, and as much as I love all dogs, the connection I had with her was special. One of the hardest parts of losing her is knowing I may never have a connection like that again.
Drifter and Annie were two good dogs, and I miss them both very much. It feels like our time with them wasn’t nearly long enough, but I am thankful for the memories and the lessons from the short time we did share with them. They made our lives better.
I believe one of the best ways to honor the memory of a beloved pet is to open your heart to another animal in need, and Ben and I have since adopted two more canines into our family in honor of Drifter and Annie, but those introductions are for another time. We aren’t replacing Drifter and Annie, but instead are adding more pawprints on our hearts.
Until we meet again at that elusive Rainbow Bridge…
“Drifter the Driftinator”