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Tough Times Make for Tough Women and Dogs

©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.

Molly’s been through a lot in her short life. Two months ago she had her tail amputated. Since then, she’s worn a plastic Victorian collar to keep her from chewing the remaining stub until it heals. In many ways, Molly and I are kindred spirits. We were both in search of someone who would love and value us, and we’ve both had big parts of us surgically removed. However the biggest thing we have in common is that both of us were rescued by James, and in turn, James was rescued by us.

When James first found Molly on the road near our house, she was miles from her last foster family. She’s had four foster families and all of them, for one reason or another, didn’t want her. From the moment James got out of his truck and walked toward her, I believe she knew she’d found Prince Charming. Molly fell madly in love with James, and he with her. She was emaciated and had a BB in the floppy part of her ear. I’ve never met a needier soul. Molly’s a great dog, made even better by James’ love and patience. She’s part Lab and part Great Dane, and when she stands on her hind legs, she’s almost as tall as I am and that’s a whole lot of dog. She’s young and rambunctious, and James worked hard to calm her down, teaching her to heal and to walk on a leash. They liked nothing better than going for walks together on the ranch. She was always at his side, content to bask in the afterglow of a kind word from him or a pat on the head. His death has changed her profoundly.

Almost immediately she became sullen and depressed, sleeping most of the time, her face and body toward the wall. For months she didn’t want any affection. She just wanted to be left alone. After she stopped dragging her bed in front of his chair, placing her paw on his seat and staring at me, she began chewing on the end of her tail. I was too wrapped up in my own grief to notice the damage she was doing until she began leaving blood trails everywhere she went. I cleansed her tail with hydrogen peroxide, applied Neosporin and tried to keep it wrapped. After two days of repeatedly tearing off her bandage and continuing to chew on her tail, the last four inches were without hair and had become dried and withered like beef jerky. The vet said that portion of her tail was dead, void of all blood supply. If we didn’t amputate it, the rest of her tail and the blood vessels along her spine would continue to die, ultimately causing paralysis and death. If that wasn’t bad enough, a fast-growing mushroom looking thing simultaneously erupted on her left rear foot, and the vet feared it might be cancer.

After the amputation and her foot surgery, we waited almost a week for the pathology report. Thank God, the out of control growth on Molly’s foot was not cancer. I don’t think I could have lost another family member. Since she’s been entombed in this Victorian collar for the last two months, she’s had a hard time navigating. As a result, this plastic contraption has chipped paint off door moldings, and my legs are scraped and bruised. I find myself running out of patience with her sometimes, and yet at the same time, I feel sorry for her.

Recently I found something I wrote back in February: “My heart breaks for this dog. No one wanted her, but James took her in and rescued her, and now that he’s gone, she’s grieving herself to death. Out of my three dogs, Molly is grieving James’ death almost as hard as I am. I know my grief hasn’t helped, nor has shuffling the dogs back and forth to the kennel when we didn’t have heat or water during the coldest days of winter. As I vacillate back and forth from disbelief, to the depths of despair, Molly stands guard over James’ chair. She’s so needy; she can’t bear it when I’m not in view at all times. Now she’s decided to stand guard over my chair, her paw on my lap, occasionally looking back and forth from me to James’ chair. I wish I could make things alright for her.”

Like all of us, Molly just wants someone to love her, and in return, she wants a family she can trust and love in return. I know how she feels. Except for my dogs, my church family and great friends, I no longer have a family I can trust.

Two weeks ago depression plunged me into deep despair. While driving down the freeway, my sobs made it nearly impossible for me to leave my phone number as I tried to make an appointment with a counselor. Looking back, I’m reminded of the depression I felt after learning I had breast cancer. I remember cowering in my car in PetSmart’s parking lot, crying hysterically, unable to pull myself together to go in and buy dog food, or get on the highway and drive home. It had been three months since my diagnosis, and the full impact of what it meant to have breast cancer had finally hit me. Now, the full impact of not having James, or a family, has finally hit me.

As breast cancer survivors, we battle fear, depression and disbelief, struggling with overwhelming concepts like life and death, self-image—who will love us with our scars—and the unsettling possibility of recurrence. It takes a very special person to love someone just as they are. James did that for Molly and me, and now we are doing that for one another.

Molly’s a survivor, conquering everything life has thrown at her. Until now, it never occurred to me that a dog could be a great role model, but Molly’s been one for me. She’s been shot, abandoned multiple times, is still suffering from the amputation and has grieved deeply for the most important person in her life. In true survivor style, she’s emerged on the other side, grateful to discover she’s still valued and loved and like me, is finding her new normal without James.