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MoosePupSeveral weeks ago, I had a very scary day. Moose couldn't walk. He's an English Mastiff; they're known to live about ten to twelve years, and Moose is already nine. It seems like yesterday that he was a bouncy little puppy. I was with him all day when he went lame and I couldn't see that anything had happened to him, but he wouldn't even touch his right rear leg to the ground. I took him to the vet immediately and they gave me some bad news.


I went to a Christmas party last December with a friend and ending up meeting a lot of new people. One woman, Wanda, asked me about my books. She was very interested in reading one of my books, but she had one crucial question first:

"No animals get hurt in your books, right?" she asked.

I looked towards the floor and bit my lip. Moose1

"Well... Actually..." I said. I had to tell her—of course animals get hurt in my books. In fact, terrible things happen to animals in all my books. Nothing worse than what happens to the humans, but Wanda didn't care about that. She just wanted to make sure that she wouldn't have to read about a dog getting killed. I want you to feel an emotional reaction when you read one of my novels. Would you enjoy reading them if you didn't? Perhaps it's a cheap approach, but I know that you're going to feel a much deeper reaction if a beloved pet comes to harm. 

Wanda is a woman of conviction. "I won't read it then," she said.


Back to the vet—the doctor looked Moose over, listened to the symptoms, and then took some X-rays. She had a couple of theories and they all spelled trouble. She suspected that he had a big tumor under (or part of) his quadriceps. Surgery was the only option, and it wasn't surgery that they (at that office) were prepared to undertake. I had to take Moose to a specialist in Portland. I made the appointment. The earliest I could get was four days out. I settled in for some serious angst.

Moose2A wonderful thing happened over the weekend before Moose's appointment. He got better. The leg became less and less painful, and by the time I took him to his appointment, you could hardly tell which leg had been affected. The specialist looked him over and pronounced him to be in fine condition. You might imagine how relieved I was. Surgery at Moose's age is a dangerous option. Surgery where they might have to remove a big section of hind leg (on a dog who weighs more than 170 lbs) is pretty much a death-sentence. 

At his age I should be ready for the day when the news isn't so good. It's coming soon. Even though I know I should be ready, I was paralyzed with fear. I wrote earlier about scary moments and how I'd like to capture some of that fear in my books. Something about holding that scary moments in your hands and being able to turn away from the danger turns the fear into a thrill. Maybe that's why a pet is always in harm's way somewhere in each of my books. I know that if I can put the danger onto the page it will be emotional, but manageable. 

Every time I've had to euthanize a dog, I first sit down with them and tell them the story of their life. I start with the first day I brought him home. I tell him everything I can remember about the place where he was born and his siblings. I describe how lucky I felt to have him in my life and how I tried to give him the best possible life that I could. I recount the times that I let him down and I apologize again and again for all my shortcomings. I miss them so much. It's so hard to say that final goodbye and feel the life ebbing from their limbs as they exhale their last breath. You think, "Oh no, what have I done," but you know you had to. 

I'm so glad that it's not time for that conversation with Moose quite yet.