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Cancer may kill me, but my dog’s problem just broke me

The sudden probability that I might have to put down my pet dog has become the most unambiguous bad possible event in my life.

The Weiss family dogs: Bro, left, and Fifti.  Photo by Jeffrey Weiss

(RNS) — More than seven months into brain cancer, I’ve written this series of mostly upbeat columns on my attitude about my probable path to the Egress.

Those metaphorical melodies were on pitch, but my psychological strings are now tuned very tight. Any increase in stress is a lot closer to breaking one of those strings.

The sudden probability that I might have to put down my pet dog has become the most unambiguous bad possible event in my life.

What can I do?

The glioblastoma diagnosis last December gave me a median lifespan of 15 months. It’s still “so far, so good” in my small list of current real limits.

But if I have Bro put to sleep, I can think of no positive elements.

I got my own first dog when I was about 33 years old. JD was a brilliantly smart and loyal companion. More than a dozen years later, he hit his limit. Sissi was his successor, also a lovely companion. More than a dozen years later, I needed to end her suffering.

Tore me apart on those final days. But it was more sadness than tragedy.

I’ve said most of my life that most dogs are better people than most humans. Yeah, dogs are simpler in their obligations and goals than most humans. But it’s still a high bar. So a month or so after Sissi, my wife suggested that her dog, Fifti, and I would be happy with a successor.

The Weiss family dog Bro. Photo by Jeffrey Weiss

Marni and I went to the local PetSmart, where there’s an animal adoption section. A brown skinny dog pushed his whole body against the wire mesh cage, insisting that I pet him through the small holes. He’d clearly picked me.

He was about a year old. Maybe half Pharaoh Hound? The most physically flexible canine I’ve ever seen. A personality filled with barks and rambunctiousness.

He seemed to like Marni, too. He squirmed up into our bed, between us. Kissed us both and wagged with our petting.

But a few months later, in what seemed like an utterly random moment, he turned toward her when the three of us were together. His ears went down, he let out a guttural growl and jumped forward, snapping and barking loudly, but not fully biting.

I pulled Bro away and put him in our bedroom with a leash. Let him sleep there. Ninety percent of the time, he was affectionate to Marni. When I wasn’t home, it was 98 percent of the time.  But when I was with him in a room at our house and Marni approached? Same problem. (He’s never attacked any other human. Not random visitors, friends or my relatives.)

I wasn’t sure what to do. Marni had her own strategy to try to train him. It failed. The attacks got worse. The snapping caught her hands once. And then, about a week ago, a more severe attack.

It was partly my fault, easing restrictions on Bro because he’d gone awhile without one of those moments. Partly Marni’s fault for not keeping herself from risk. And absolutely his fault, for reasons I cannot begin to tell you.

Bro has been as loyal and comforting to me as any being in the universe. Never even growled at me with any seriousness, except if I try to separate him from his food that he takes forever to eat. When I feel crummy from my cancer or treatments, he seeks me out and snuggles.

But he’s not my wife. She matters more. And she is justifiably frightened.

Do I need to have Bro killed? Is it even possible to find him a new home if he’s dangerous?

An hour after the last attack, I sobbed harder and longer than I did when my father died. Dad was 92 and maintained a pretty clear head until his final day. I miss him now. But Dad’s passing was sadness, not tragedy.

Desperate, I went on Facebook with a plea for help.

Facebook is a tool like a hammer. It can be used for evil. But it surely can be used for good. I got a gold mine of responses, including some from friends who knew a lot more about this kind of issue.

A high-quality “basket muzzle?” Ordered and arrived.

A list of trainer and pet behavior experts who I can contact to ask for advice? Excellent!

A trip to the vet! Scheduled and done! Plus my first visit from a trainer! Both vet and trainer think there’s a possible solution.

Expensive? Probably, as a matter of dollars and time. But a sliver of hope? Yep.

Just as I try to maintain my mood about my own lifespan with whatever hope is logical, I want to take one last powerful shot at turning Bro. Eliminating the danger to Marni. Maybe even increasing his ability to have a good relationship with her.

No guarantee. But just as I’ve turned to doctors I know are expert and aggressive in their approach to GBM, maybe Bro’s fate can be improved with expert and aggressive trainers.

Several of my Facebook friends have told me they are now adding Bro to their prayers. Organized religions are mostly not closely tied to pets.

Some Catholics use St. Francis of Assisi’s all-critter affection. Some modern Jewish traditions are tied to Torah and Talmud moral standards toward animals.

Reincarnation beliefs can hook to it. Maybe a person comes back as a poodle or a mixed breed sometimes? I would totally not mind that path, with the proper owner.

But I think people who love their dogs need no line from the Torah or the Quran or the Gospels to know the potentially transcendent value of that relationship.

I will try. I will try. I will try.

(Jeffrey Weiss writes the RNS column “My Way to the Egress”)