Grateful for the Journey

Written By Jenny Pavlovic

Chase and I are planning a party. We’re celebrating one year of the Dog Gone Reading Program at the Valley Library, where the kids read to Chase to improve their reading skills. Ginny the librarian, the kids, and their families will join us on a Saturday to celebrate, hear Chase’s story, present participation awards to the kids, and share some treats. Chase led me into this work, and he and I have felt such joy from seeing the kids improve their reading skills. We love to hear the kids read, and have enjoyed helping them learn more about dogs. Chase doesn’t have a kid at home, so he gets to spend time with kids. It’s a win-win. One benefit from this program that I didn’t anticipate is the opportunity for kids to learn about and become comfortable with dogs. Most of the kids don’t have a dog at home, or haven’t spent time with a calm dog that they can read with. One little girl was afraid of dogs and told me that Chase is the only dog she isn’t afraid of. He instinctively bows in front of her so his face is lower than hers. I think he’s sensitive to her fear and is trying to appear smaller. He’s also wagging his tail like crazy in a silly play bow, which is hard to resist. This little girl and her family are considering getting a dog, and have researched different breeds at the library. I do my best to answer their questions. I know they won’t enter into dog ownership lightly. One day the little girl told me that ‘Taking care of a dog is a big responsibility!’ She must have heard that at home. But you and I know the rewards are worth it.

We have something else to celebrate. Since Chase began his cancer journey in July and Bandit began his in September, we’ve been on a roller coaster ride. Chase had surgery in July to remove a tumor from his colon, then had 21 rounds of radiation therapy in July and August. On February 18th, a CT scan showed no evidence of disease. So we are hoping now that Chase is cancer free! One of my dreaded thoughts about possibly losing Chase to cancer was that his loss would be taken hard by everyone at the library as well as our own family. Chase is not a young dog and will be nine years old this year. Yet we hope he has many healthy years left. In February, just after the roller coaster reached its peak for Chase, it began a steep descent for Bandit, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in September. The change of pace came steep and fast, and we had to adjust quickly. Bandit had been taking a daily chemo pill since September. Regular blood and urine tests had showed that he was doing well. He went for our usual long walk and insisted on several games of jolly ball every day. But in mid-March he began showing that he was in pain. We were all sore from walking on the ice and snow, and at first I thought he would feel better once the snow melted. We gave him additional pain medications, but they didn’t seem to help much. On March 14th, we learned that Bandit’s kidneys were failing and his white blood cell count was very low. The disease he had fought so valiantly was winning. We weren’t able to alleviate his pain and I did not want to ask one more thing from this dog who had lived every day to the fullest and had given me so much already.  On March 14th I went for a walk with Chase and Cay, leaving Bandit in the house. I thought the walk would be too much for him. But the following morning, Bandit insisted on going for one last walk up on the hill. I was astonished that he could climb the hill, but true to his always intrepid spirit, he led the way. He and I spent some of our last precious moments together up on that hill where we have walked almost every day of his life. There, my Bandit, my inner fire, brought me the ball, played in the snow, rolled in the dirt, and took everything in for one last time. I think he was doing it for me. On March 15th, knowing that Bandit’s condition was not reversible, and that a morphine derivative was not alleviating his pain, we set Bandit’s spirit free from the body that was failing him.

I cannot begin to tell you how much Bandit has changed my life. But I suppose if you’ve been reading along, you may already know. A miracle brought this little red charmer to me in 2004.  He appeared as a bolt out of the blue http://www.8statekate.net/wordpress/?p=2448. He was a lead-or-get-out-of-the-way kind of guy, so I had to step up just to stay ahead of him. He jumped out of bed every morning ready to face the day. And, until his body failed him, he was always ready and eager to work—in obedience, Rally, agility, sheep herding, cattle herding, tracking, chasing the ball, you name it. I had never herded livestock, let alone cattle, before determining that I would give Bandit the chance to do what he was bred to do. He earned many ribbons when we were competing, including many second places. But the only blue ribbon he earned was for herding cattle. Moving a herd of cattle around a field with him gave me a sense of peace and accomplishment like nothing else. When 55-pound Bandit was rolled by a cow, he jumped right back up and bit her on the nose, turning her back to the herd. To me this was a great example of how to live your life. If anyone could pack 15 years of living into 10, Bandit could. He changed me to a glass-half-full kind of person. Attitude is everything. Prior to Bandit’s passing, and several times since, I have been visited by bald eagles. Whenever I feel especially sad, one or several of them appear. There seems to be an amazing, intriguing connection. I’m not quite ready to write more about Bandit just yet, but I promise I will write more next time. Our little pack is mourning, and yet we have a party to plan. Remembering Bandit, my true companion, my inner fire.

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