I love those dog segments you do after episodes telling stories of dogs, and I have quite the tearjerker about our puppy named Sal. My family lives on a farm in a small upstate NY town called Apalachin and we adopted a purebred Great Pyrenees puppy to live with and guard our sheep. But when we brought him home with us in January of 2020 he was only 8 weeks old so he had to stay in the house to grow and get comfortable.
For the first 3 weeks or so he had to be near another one of our house dogs or one of us humans as he had some pretty crazy separation anxiety. We would put him in a kennel at night in the house, but every night for 3 weeks he would yelp and whine until someone woke up to let him out, and every night for three weeks straight it was always me. I would let him out of the kennel then take him outside to go to the bathroom at 2-3 am but when I would bring him back inside he made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing to do with going back inside the kennel.
So inevitably I would sit or lay down on the floor with him and he would curl up with me until he eventually fell asleep also. Someone would wake up every morning at 6 am or so and come get the puppy from me so I could go get an hour or two of sleep in bed again. Every night that was our thing, he wanted to be comforted, and as much as I wanted sleep, I wanted him to feel safe and comfortable more.
As he grew in size (mostly from eating the dog food out of our much larger dogs bowl) we started showing him around the farm and introducing him to the other animals and dogs he’d be staying with in the sheep pen. Sal was a happy and playful puppy even as he grew, and found himself sleeping in the most random of places in the house. When Sal was big enough we integrated him out to our pen with the sheep and other dogs, and he couldn’t have been happier. He would play with the little lambs and our other dogs, and if one of the older sheep ever tried to challenge Sal the other dogs would come to his rescue.
One day about 3 weeks ago I noticed Sal was limping on his leg pretty bad, I brought it to the attention of other family members wondering if anyone had a definitive clue of what happened and no one seemed to know. So I went out and did my normal routine of looking him over, made sure he didn’t cut his paw on anything, felt for any broken bones, looked for any kind of blood on his Snow White fur to signify any kind of injury to explain this sudden limping. Nothing. As a family, we came to the conclusion that he might’ve pulled a muscle chasing one of the sheep in his playful banter and we all agreed to keep a close eye on him. Just 3 days later I noticed instead of getting better he actually seemed to be getting worse and was applying even less pressure to his leg. So we took him to the vet to see if they could find something we couldn’t to explain this, and what they found was going to take the very breath out of all of us.
Upon X-ray scans, a dark spot was discovered on his elbow. Not a mass, but instead the lack of bone that should’ve been there. When we asked for further review, it was concluded that our poor 8 month old happy with life puppy had a very rare form of bone cancer and it was incredibly aggressive. They informed us that it had already begun to spread and it deteriorated the bone in his elbow so bad that it affected the nerves too so he couldn’t control the paw at all.
The docs said he probably wouldn’t make it through the following weekend. As they told us this he looked back at us and smiled his usual “everything is awesome” smile. So we brought him home, knowing that time was short but wanting him to be happy for as long as he could. We let him stay with the sheep and dogs outside at night and during the day we made sure someone was home to bring him in the house and give him the loving that he so deserved. Just two days ago, on Labor Day, I went out to the sheep pen to spend some time with him but he refused to get up even to greet me.
So I did what any dog-loving person would do, and I sat down in the dirt next to where he was laying and started petting him, only this time no smile. As I left him I couldn’t stop the tears from filling in my eyes as I knew what he was trying to tell me, and for a moment the only thought in my mind was “I’m not ready to say goodbye.” As quickly as that thought entered my mind though, he leaned his head onto my leg and fell asleep leaning against me as I pet him like he did when he was so small. And that’s when I knew, that he was telling me it was time. I stayed with him for what seemed like hours, just calmly petting him and soaking up the feeling of him laying there with me. And when I entered the house afterward I knew we would have to call the vet.
Sal had to be put down Tuesday evening to end his suffering, and then we held a funeral service, if you will, and buried him right on the property that he grew to love and call his home. This is a sad story and I know so I apologize for that, but could we bring awareness to dogs with cancer in some way? I feel like not enough is heard about it. I know that Cornell University college of veterinary sciences does a great job in treating the animals that they can, especially in my area, but it’s not commonly talked about unless you are in the situation where your dog is the one with cancer.