A Love Story On My Dog’s Birthday
By Ted Canova
Unlike Ikea furniture, life doesn’t come with simple step-by-step instructions. We learn things for ourselves, often the hard way. I remember that feeling when my son Brendan was born and they just let us walk out of the hospital with him. No parenting tests to take, no contracts to sign, no promises to keep. It was expected we’d learn on the job. Same thing when we rescued our puppy Sally in 2003. Training and nurturing was up to us. But while a newborn is rather predictable (sleep, pee, poop, eat, repeat), a puppy walks from day one so their adventures take foot immediately.
Before getting to Sally’s most mysterious antic, you need to understand a little about this loveable black lab. One day we returned home to find a huge hole in the back of our couch. We were clueless how it happened until we saw one of her balls trapped underneath. While we were out, she was frustrated she couldn’t reach the ball so she scratched her way through the upholstery to try to get it. A costly lesson learned.
Another thing you need to know about Sally is that she’s, how do I say this politely, “food motivated.” You can’t turn your back when you’re cooking, even for a second. She’s always on the lookout for our weakness, an opening, a moment a stick of butter is left unattended. As a puppy, she mastered the art of counter surfing. Hind legs on the floor, front paws on the counter top, and her graceful shuffle from one end of the counter to the other. We learned the drill and became formidable opponents. Our dog sitter learned the hard way when Sally snatched her rotisserie chicken and made off with it to the basement like a wolf at feeding time.
All this mischief did nothing to prepare us for the mystery that has only one, hard-to-swallow explanation. You’ve seen those cutlery sets that hold knives in a wooden block. We had a set of six with white plastic handles. One night after arriving home, we found small bits of the silver knife blades and white handles alone on the floor. Just a few pieces of each. When we looked up on the counter, the only thing left was the wooden block, all six knives were gone. It is still impossible to think Sally pulled down each knife, chewed them so fine, and then swallowed each little piece. But the knives were nowhere to be found and, believe me, we searched hard.
Years later I still ask, “Can a dog survive after swallowing steak knives?” I just did a Google search and there are 24 million results to this question. Granted some of these are stories of dogs swallowing socks, glass and razor blades. But Sally’s death-defying feat, or feast, has no other explanation.
Sally has been called fearless, majestic, and intrepid and if you ever met her, you knew why. Her bravery was in full view after being diagnosed with melanoma in September 2016. It was then that I brought her to the vet for an eye issue. They put her under for X-rays and found a growth on the back of her tongue. If it hadn’t been for the eye, they would have never found the melanoma and she would have been gone within months, perhaps weeks. In the course of the next 12 months of costly medical care, my loyalty to Sally equalled her lifetime of loyalty to me.
Melanoma is the only cancer that has a vaccine for dogs. So we started a regimen of shots and returned to life as we knew it while monitoring its effectiveness every few weeks. Eight months later, it seemed like we were in the clear. Then in May of 2017 on Mother’s Day weekend, I noticed she was eating something strange so I put my finger in her mouth and that’s when my stomach sank. I felt another growth on her tongue, her cancer was back. She was put under once again and the small growth was removed. But this time, within weeks, it was spreading and another symptom appeared; she was developing growths on her pink belly.
When first diagnosed, doctors said Sally had about four months to live. In keeping with her spirit, she survived a full year and in that year, it was mostly good, healthy times. In her final agonzing 24 hours, I knew she was holding on for me. Her good days had turned into just good hours and on September 3, 2017, it was time.
During those final days, there was one thing I had come to realize. There comes a time when your dog goes from her pack to yours. For me it was years earlier at the dog park one morning when a woman tossed a ball and 6 dogs gave chase. Sally didn’t budge. If there was a word cloud over her head, it would have read, “I’m not running for the ball, Dad. I’ll fetch it and you’ll just throw it again. Why bother?!”
Today would have been Sally’s 15th birthday, an occasion marked each year with a candle and cupcakes. I’ll continue that tradition with Sally here in spirit. We learn a lot from our dogs. Loyalty, companionship, unconditional love. But there’s one thing I’d still like to know: whatever happened to those steak knives?