Loco Parentis: The End of My Leash

“You’ll know when it’s time,” friends assured me when our dog was diagnosed with cancer. If only it were that easy

NOT LONG AFTER my dad died a few years back, our vet announced that my dog had colon cancer. “If you don’t mind my asking,” our next-door neighbor said when I told him this, “how do they find that out?” The answer — with a gloved finger and a biopsy, the same way they do with you — freaked him out a little. Homer, a 120-pound -collie/shepherd mix we’d named (in a fit of whimsy) for the opposite of “Rover,” needed a $3,000 operation, and my husband Doug and I didn’t have $3,000. We did, however, have some gold coins my in-laws had given us. Doug had sold one once to pay to have a tooth crowned; Homer’s medical needs seemed an opportune time to sell another. So Doug called his dad, laid out the situation, and asked which coin he’d recommend we sell.

There was a pause. Then my father-in-law said, angrily, “What the hell, Doug. Where I come from, we shoot dogs when they get sick.” He then demanded that we return all the coins we’d gotten from him over the years.

Luckily, right about then, my dad’s estate paid out enough that I could afford Homer’s operation. The surgeon, a very nice woman whose waiting room resembled the lobby at the Four Seasons, reported sadly afterward that she hadn’t been able to remove the whole tumor. There was the option of a second operation, but she would have to split Homer’s pelvis open to perform it, which meant it really wasn’t an option, both because I couldn’t bear to think about how much Homer would suffer, and because it would have cost another $5,000. Instead, Homer came home to die. For the next month, I cried every time I took him for a walk, thinking it might be our last. When it became clear he had no intention of passing away anytime soon, I quit crying and started throwing him sticks. But I knew I’d have a decision to make on his behalf, eventually.