November 3rd, 2015. In the past two weeks the cancer has taken a much more aggressive note. His cervical lymph nodes are so large he has trouble swallowing. His lungs and liver are involved and his serum calcium level is dangerously high. Our fantastic vet says he has another week or so, with his quality of life declining day by day.
I cannot ask such a wonderful companion to endure that for my sake, as much as it pains me. Sometimes the most loving gift of all is finding the courage to let go.
I promise each pup that shares my world a life filled with love and adventure. With Tetley and Tadcaster I was able to meet only half of that promise; they passed far too soon. But I take some comfort in the fact that with Barley I was able to fulfill that promise, to give him a life of the sort other dogs could never even dream of. In over 55,000 miles of shared adventure covering 36 states and six Canadian provinces, he has played in the surf of two oceans, swam in all five Great Lakes, hunted along the shores of most of the major American rivers and scores of lesser ones, peed two miles up in the Rockies, chewed on the fibrous bark of a redwood, attended several BMW motorcycle rallies and made hundreds of friends along the way.
He has been, in every respect, a remarkable dog.
We spent all day together, he and I. We went for a short sidecar ride, his last, and I marveled at how it seemed to brighten his spirits. We said goodbye to old friends, brought smiles to the faces of Sterling College students we passed, and visited shops known to keep treats behind the counter.
He hunted mice and managed to kill one more. But mostly we sat together enjoying the warmth of the sunlight on our faces, the warmth of our bodies as we leaned into each other. He shared with me in his usual vocal way how much he enjoyed our years together. He made sure I understood that should I not regift the love he has given me over the years he will be royally pissed at me. He reminded me to be patient with Tulliver, that it took us years to become a sidecar team and that Tulliver is just learning the ropes of Adventure Doghood.
At the hospital we lay down together on the dog bed. He draped one paw over my arm, possessively, the way he always did. He panted. He licked the tears from my cheek. He shifted uncomfortably from the pressure of his distended abdomen. But still he wagged, still he pressed his muzzle to my throat and made happy sounds.
My Soul Dog, my Adventure Dog, left this world with his wag and his dignity intact.
The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, managed by the Morris Animal Foundation, is a robust and well-designed study that is following three thousand golden retrievers from birth to the end of life, generating tremendous amounts of data to help researchers understand, and hopefully overcome, the cancers that have taken so many cherished dogs far too soon. Clicking the GRLS link below will take you to the study’s home page. Read it. Follow the links. If Barley’s story touched you, or if you have ever loved a dog, please donate to support research into canine cancer!