Hounderson, this morning.
I was a wee college student in New York City when we brought her home on the subway in the first week of February 2002. She was an 8 week old puppy who’d been abandoned along with the rest of her litter in the Bronx. She wasn’t anything like what I thought we’d be adopting that day but a few finger nibbles and a good snouting later I was sold, and she was mine. Ours, really. My room mates and closest friends shared in her adoption with me, and the three of us became some sort of weird teenage family crammed into a basement apartment on 13th Street with a very.noisy.hound dog slowly realizing that we’d just made a very long term commitment to this squawking little puppy who didn’t seem to have any interest in nighttime sleep.
Which is why when I found out Sophie had a really aggressive form of terminal blood vessel cancer a few months back, I didn’t want to tell anyone until I’d had a chance to reach out to the people who parented my first baby with me back in those early days in lower manhattan. And then once I’d done that, and had my cries, I just kind of didn’t want to go there and rehash it all on the internet. Our vet reminded me about twenty times that animals don’t feel the anxiety associated with a cancer diagnosis unless we do, so I know that as long as we can love on her and keep her in good spirits, she’ll never be any the wiser. Plus then there’s the issue of Dee. I can’t with that.
Delilah saw this and said “oh my goodness she’s cuter than Stinkerbell!”
I remember saying that first night to Sara through an exhausted haze – “this thing is still going to be around when we have children…” and lo and behold, there she was. Right there at the door to greet us when we brought Delilah home. Sometimes I look at that dog and think it’s a miracle we’ve made it this far…Sophie has raised us as much as we raised her — I still cringe when I think of the days we’d plop our leftovers on the floor for her to enjoy for dinner.
The first time she saw a pool.
Sophie’s cancer, which started in her spleen (there were no signs until she collapsed one evening, her tumor having exploded) is called hemangiosarcoma and reportedly really sucks and doesn’t respond to chemotherapy. Three months ago, following her splenectomy for that ruptured tumor, her vet gave her two months to live. But in my total unwillingness to accept my hound’s fate, I found a clinical trial from the University of Pennsylvania that had treated dogs with Sophie’s very specific kind of splenic hemangiosarcoma with an extract from the yuhnzi mushroom. They found that the ancient mushroom prolonged the afflicted pup’s lives (and quality of life) for up to five times the previous average. Significantly longer than any other known treatment. A mushroom in her food twice a day seemed a lot less traumatic for her than regular trips to the vet for chemo that likely wouldn’t work, so we decided to give it a try.
On our way to the dog park, c. 2004
Ironically, back in those clueless college-student days – as my friend Eric recently reminded me – the one thing Steel-Stomach-Sophie would leave behind after her weekly plate of chinese take-out, were the mushrooms. The dog who would eat anything wouldn’t eat fungus. She just wasn’t about that life. Now she’s eating a very pricey mushroom compound in her grain-free diet (feed the dog not the cancer!) that most people will think I am crazy for buying her but I don’t care. This dog and I…we’ve been together a long time.
Sophie’s first trip to L.A., 2002
Sophie’s a badass. She’s had hip dysplasia since she was six but you wouldn’t know it. And she healed beautifully from her splenectomy, she’s grown all her hair back and she’s even gained weight. Our vet laughed and said he doesn’t have any other cancer patients gaining weight and still going on hikes every day, but she is. Because she’s awesome.
Oh, and then did I mention on Friday I brought her in for a checkup and although she’s still tumor free on the inside, she’s got skin cancer on her butt? Poor girl can’t catch a break. Although our vets really don’t want to operate, and Scott agrees (basically, the skin cancer isn’t going to kill her faster than the hemangiosarcoma) they gave me a referral to a veterinary oncologist. I’m thinking of making the call. I guess with TWO kinds of cancer maybe we’re no longer in regular vet territory.
Rachel, Me, my sister Marissa, and Sophie McHounderson c. 2002
My hound is smart as a whip and vocal — she’ll flip her water bowl over if it’s empty so I can hear the clang and fill it. I know what her various barks mean, whether it’s that I’ve left food on the counter and she wants it, the back door is closed, or that Otis is blocking her pathway and not moving. She’s found ways to communicate that I’ve never seen in any other dog, and I think that’s part of why this is so unfathomable to me. I can’t describe it but I swear I’m not crazy. She just gets me you guys. Also, she seems totally fine.
Sophie and Dee last week.
She’s had a long, awesome life. She’s been loved by so many people, and lived on both coasts. But I just want more time. I need more time with her. So work your magic, magic mushrooms. Because I’ve become quite accustomed to being a three-dog household.
Oh, and one last thing — if you haven’t already, purchase health insurance for your pets. Then if some stupid cancer(s) gets all up in your best houndie you can do whatever they need to be happy and comfortable for as long as possible. I bought Sophie an insurance policy the day we brought her home from the 101st Street Pound, and she’s been covered ever since. It’s giving me a sense of peace to know we have options, and I’m so grateful I don’t have to decide between my hound and…y’know…eating.
[Before you laugh at the idea of pet insurance -- Sophie's premium for the year as a senior dog with a top tier plan is around $700 -- it's gone up each year as she's aged. The splenectomy that saved her life in November cost over $3000.00, which was covered save for her $100 deductible. WORTH. IT.]
Feed Me Seymour