My wife finished her first set of chemotherapy in 2002. They were aggressive drugs, and Genie fought hard. In the spring, cancer’s grip was finally broken. We thought we could rest easy.
Then something odd occurred, something cold.
Cancer took Wylie, our first sweet dog, the summer of 2002. Cancer took Ruby, our tall red dog, the following year. And when Jackson — a bigger, stronger dog — died a few years later, he too was riddled with cancer. Our first three. Gone.
They had all stayed by Genie’s side — as close as close can be — as she battled cancer in 2001 and into 2002. As jumbled and full of distractions as that period of time was, their eyes never lost sight of Genie.
Is it possible, as Genie and I believe, that they took on Genie’s cancer so that she might live?
I know — too dramatic, too outlandish. No way could that be. Besides, cancer isn’t contagious. Good point, I guess.
There are few things any of us know with certainty.
I know a few things. Dogs are funny. They aren’t selfish. They are loyal. They ask no questions. They never doubt. They stand by our side as the world spins, as the world darkens, as the winds howl.
Sometimes you wonder why. Is it merely because we house them, pet them, feed them? Or is it something more? Could it be something more?
We speak of devotion when we speak of people. There are devoted people, and people in blissful love. What a beautiful thing, devotion. And how sweet deep love, which leads to devotion. It’s what we all want out of life — to be loved. To have someone there when darkness falls, and to warm us when it turns cold, as the world does from time to time.
The thing about people is that sometimes they hesitate. They may come around, they may love, they may be devoted, but, sometimes, maybe for only a fraction of a second, they’ll hesitate when times turn tough. They’ll blink.
Dogs don’t hesitate. They stand by our side, no matter the odds, the reason, the depth of cold. If we step into the blackest of nights, they step with us, and sometimes — most of the time — they take the first step.
And no matter their size — from the smallest to the largest — they’ll do what needs to be done to safeguard their human companion — their friend — even if it means giving their life. They don’t weigh the odds, or ask any questions. Dogs are selfless.
Maybe Genie and I are luckier than some, but we’ve known a number of devoted dogs.
We’ve seen three fall to cancer. Yes, I don’t know for certain that they took on Genie’s cancer so that she might live. But from the depths of my heart, that’s what I believe. They loved Genie that much, that’s what I know. And here’s one more thing: If they bought her but a mere minute more of life and time, they’d be happy.
I’ve seen and touched and felt such tremendous love.
Devotion. A truer sounding word I can’t name.
Illustration by Robin Spowart