Tommy and Thor on their golf cart.
Most people have a lot of friends, all of which are an important part of our lives. Friends come in many forms including different races, religions, nationalities, gender, and so on. And sometimes they’re even a different species. There is a lot to be said for the old saying about a dog being a man’s (or woman’s) best friend.
My husband, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2009, was never what I considered an animal lover. It wasn’t that he didn’t like animals, rather he just didn’t care about them one way or the other. His parents never allowed animals in their home when he was a child, unlike the home I grew up in where we always had dogs, birds, hamsters, turtles and fish. Our pets were an important part of our lives and were greatly loved and cared for. So it made me both mad and sad when Tommy and I married and he then proclaimed that he would “never live in a dog house.” It was really the only thing we ever argued over, and because our marriage was otherwise happy and strong, I gave up my idea of having a dog deciding it really wasn’t worth the fight.
Then in March 2007 my 20 year old son, who had been living in an apartment, decided he wanted to come back home and go back to school (yes, reality had set in for him). All was fine until he informed us that he had just that week acquired a sickly, three-legged, red Doberman pinscher. He wanted to bring “Thor” home with him. After a lot of “discussing” this with Tommy, he finally agreed that Jeremy could bring the dog home, but he would have to build him a lot out back because the dog was not living in our house. So, Jeremy came home with all of his belongings and a skinny, sick dog. He built him a dog lot and bought him a dog house his first day home. We immediately took the dog to the vet and they treated him for a severe case of hookworms and he got all of his shots and a full check-up.
Thor was one of the friendliest and sweetest dogs I’d ever met and I immediately fell in love with him. He then began to work his magic on Tommy also, something I had previously thought was an impossible task. Yes, I began to see Thor breaking down that tough exterior of Tommy’s and working his way right into his heart. Then one afternoon, within one week of Thor’s arrival, Tommy brought him inside the house making sure to tell us it was only for a few hours because the weather was so bad outside. His new outdoor dog house was quickly replaced by two indoor dog beds. Thor never slept outside again.
After Tommy’s diagnosis of cancer, it became more important than ever for him to get some exercise every day. He began taking Thor on daily walks that they both seemed to really enjoy. On the occasional days when he felt too tired to walk very far, he would ride his golf cart around the property and eventually taught Thor how to sit on the cart and ride with him (this has become one of Thor’s favorite things). The bond between the two of them was growing. They were becoming best buds. When I would go to work in the evenings, Tommy would always have his buddy with him for company. I watched the transformation of my husband from the tough guy “he’s just a dumb dog” attitude to a much gentler person that would often cater to Thor’s desires. WOW, I was in awe. Thor was able to do what I was not.
Then about six weeks ago, I noticed two lumps on Thor, one on each of his back legs, that were quickly increasing in size. I showed them to my daughter-in-law, who is a vet tech, and she immediately loaded me and Thor into her vehicle and took him in for a biopsy. We received the bad news that they were cancerous tumors. Because he was already missing a front leg, amputation was not an option. He was scheduled for surgery and the lumps were removed two weeks ago (his stitches were removed this morning). He has healed well, but one of the lumps was in a bad spot and they were unable to get clean margins on it, so it will surely return. The vet hopes that the removal of the tumors will give Thor a couple more good years.
I now wonder if this is the reason Thor was brought into our lives. Thor was able to win Tommy over, become his best buddy, keep him exercising, and now they are both fighting for their lives against the same disease. Could this really be a coincidence? I don’t think so.
Tommy's pancreatic cancer has now spread to his lungs and his doctor has told him she cannot cure it, only try to slow it down. Just a few nights ago Tommy was laying on the couch watching TV and Thor was in his bed. He began to talk to me about how great our last 17 years together have been and how he wished we could have 17 more together. Thor immediately got up off his bed, walked over and laid down on the hard wood floor in front of Tommy as if he was coming to comfort him. Tommy reached down and began petting him and saying, “ You’re such a good boy, and you’re not just a dog, you’re part of our family. You’re just like every other family member.” I watched in awe, knowing that this was a moment between the two of them and I was just a spectator. They were two best friends facing the same challenges and uncertain futures and I was not a part of that. Even though Thor doesn’t understand his illness as we do, he seems to be very connected to Tommy’s emotions and they have brought much happiness to each other’s lives.
I sat on my front porch the next morning and watched Tommy and Thor walk away from our yard and down the road, a man and his dog, his best friend. I was happy that they had become best friends, but I was also suddenly struck with a harsh reality. I knew that on this morning they would come walking back to me shortly, but sometime in the not so distant future, they will both almost certainly leave me forever. I felt a little wave of panic knowing that I cannot hold onto them forever. Only God knows how long I have left with them, so I will try to make sure we all enjoy whatever time we have left together.
I believe our pets are a gift from God and they bring so much happiness into our lives. What Thor has done for Tommy, and all of our family, is living proof of that. Love your pets and care for them.