This is Em-Dash. He’s the red fawn greyhound who I brought home to his “forever home” with me when he was 2-1/2 years old. My canine companion of nine years is sweet, reserved, gentle and funny. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. Dash is my heart dog.

In February Dash was diagnosed with kidney disease, a progressive illness that prevents the body from using the protein in food to maintain muscle. Since the diagnosis, he’s gone from 73 pounds to well under 60 and his muscles are wasting away. His formerly muscular haunches are shockingly concave and bony now, his spine prominent and his ribs deeply corrugated.

Em-Dash, February 18, 2011

Treatment with medication and prescription food hasn’t worked all that well, because the food recommended for kidney disease is hard for my dog’s sensitive digestive system to handle. Acupuncture treatments for digestion, organ function and pain relief seem to help, but it’s clear that the disease is progressing toward its inexorable end. The vet says all treatments are delaying tactics at this point.

So my dear Dash is disappearing a bit more each day. Today when my neighbors caught a glimpse of how skeletal his poor body has become, I saw the tears in their eyes. That made me cry, too.

Em-Dash, June 12, 2011

The cost of loving is the risk of a broken heart

Yes, it’s a pensive and sad time at our house. A wise old Quaker friend remarked, “I am so sorry to hear about Dash’s situation, I have enjoyed being kept up to date re his beloved companionship to you. We do get to continue learning the cost of loving someone, the eternal risk of a broken heart at some point.” It’s true, there’s a broken heart in my future. The breaking has already begun. But I wouldn’t have missed the heart-opening of loving—and being loved by—this creature for anything.

Dash’s spirits are good and it’s not quite his time yet. A friend’s gift of homemade dog cookies came in the mail today, and I had to laugh when Dash enthusiastically ate the first one, then pranced back to me to get another! I cherish our snuggle time, our short walks, and giving him his daily ritual, post-morning-walk “loves” backrub. I smile when I hear Dash pounce off the couch and jingle his collar tags, his wake-up call to me to climb down from my sleeping loft and take him outside. Sometimes I just lie down beside him and put my ear to his ribs to listen for the reassurance of his big heartbeat and deep breaths.

This afternoon I brought his bed out to the deck and set it close to my chair so we could bask side-by-side in the late-day sun, companionably, like the old friends we are.

Old friends