Lying in bed, I’m jarred by what can only be an anvil dropping heavily upon my chest. Wakefulness reveals a more canine, cranium-like object. Staring deep into cataract-smudged eyes, I ponder the question that has occupied my mind for nearly two weeks: What would Hogan want?
My Dog Has Cancer
More accurately, he has a tumor—or, I guess, what appears to be a tumor on his chest X-ray. It was discovered, incidentally, on a liver ultrasound that was being done for abnormal liver function test results. That study revealed nothing wrong with his liver, but led to a follow-up radiograph showing a 4.9-cm, right-lower-lobe lung mass. Also uncovered in this process was a tangle of complex emotions, turmoil, and uncertainty surrounding my first personal foray into end-of-life decision-making.
Hogan, my now-presumed-cancer-ridden, 10-year-old Weimaraner, came into my life permanently when he was all of 8 weeks old. I first met him during a visit to the breeder when his litter was only three days old. Over the successive weeks, I visited him often, anxious for the day I’d be able to take my new companion home.
I picked up Hogan on Fourth of July weekend during my chief year of residency—sort of a gift for completing my grueling training. He was the first dog I raised, trained, and cared for by myself. And while we had our share of eaten walls, destroyed comforters, and chewed bits of Jeep Cherokee, this was no “Marley & Me” relationship. We were more like roommates, best friends. We hiked, camped, and went everywhere together—either an idyllic boy-and-his-dog relationship or a sad, pitifully lonely, soul-in-need-of-a-girlfriend existence, depending on your point of view, I suppose.
In the end, the two viewpoints melded as Hogan eventually brought my wife and I together, a story that shall not be printed in these pages.
Through the years, Hogan bore witness to many personal and family milestones. My chief residency, my first grand rounds (his constant audience during my preparation brought him unparalleled expertise in canine zoonoses), my first house, our marriage, a horribly flailing attempt to recapture the magic of my first dog through a second Weim named Grady (definitely “Marley & Me” mixed with a healthy dose of “Dumb & Dumber”), and the birth of our first child.
It was during this time that Hogan began a long journey toward today. He became a little long in the tooth, droopy in the belly, and slow on the trail. His limitless energy and boundless passion for chasing tennis balls gave way to such leisurely pursuits as park pooping and command disobedience. His fluid, sinew-laced limbs became arthritic shells of their former selves, betraying the youthful grace that still echoed inside of him. I distinctly recall the first time Grady beat him to a tennis ball, a moment that clearly represented a passing of the baton—a crestfallen 6-year-old canine eclipsed by the 2-year-old whippersnapper. The youngster sprinted back, bursting with a mouthful of tennis ball and pride. The elder took a decidedly more tortuous and tortured route back—a carriage of nonchalance that failed in its attempt to convey the message that “chasing tennis balls is stupid.”
On the advice of our veterinarian, we stopped throwing Frisbees at Hogan at age 8, out of concern that an awkward jump might result in a paralytic shift in his progressively stenosing spine. While Hogan is otherwise healthy, his hips and forepaws are riddled with osteoarthritis, his eyes carry the cottony haze of cataracts, and his abdomen and skin are home to lumpy lipomas. So, on the advent of his 10th birthday, we are asked to decide how many resources, how much physical distress, how much intervention we afford to an older, sleep-most-of-the-day arthritic dog.