So my mother would tell the story of how Doc came to be our family. It was summer 2003 and she was driving home from the store. She passed a side yard where some “dirty rotten mean little shits” were knocking a tiny brown puppy off a picnic table. Being all 4’10” of her fearless self, she parked, marched up and snatch the puppy away and took it to the front door of the house. She banged on the door without a pause until an alleged grown-up answered and told them what was happening. Some words were exchanged and kids were punished, or not – but either way my mother walked away with that pup snuggled against her and took him home.
She had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had lost her ancient poodle, Bo earlier that year. She had tried to foster dogs, but had a bad experience. She had been laid off to part time from work. And yet, she took that puppy home and named him Doc.
And he immediately began to heal her.
The vet, Old Doctor Case, listed him as a wire-hair dachshund. But he was obviously and definitively a Cairn terrier. He was jaunty and feisty and a ball of energy. He loved to roam and root under the fence and make adventures for himself. He shredded stuffed toys in record time. And he clearly had no tolerance for any sort of interloping vermin. He killed mice, rabbits, and moles half his size. He even bit a frog in half once and had to be rushed to the vet from the nasty reaction.
During this part of his young life, he was my mother’s dog. He kept his faithful vigils on days after chemo. He would lay as close as possible to her, nudging his head between her hand and the blankets. He encouraged her to throw the ball, to engage and watch him play. He learned to remove her socks from her feet when she came home tired. She said, “He knows when I have bare feet, I’m staying home.”
I would come by twice a week to help out and drop off groceries. She would have me cut up two hot dogs and feed them to her “boy”. Doc was just as loving with me. He loved people. As long as you were not a varmint on his territory, he was your best friend.
One night I came by and my mother was bent over under a desk lamp sewing.
“What are you working on?”
“I’m sewing the head back on Doc’s girlfriend.”
It was a large stuffed Stitch doll. My son has gotten it as a present it terrified him. He would not have it in his room. It was decided that Doc might liked something that he couldn’t tear up right away. And we were right, Doc LOVED it. He loved it in the way male dogs show their adolescent affection to legs and objects and other dogs. Stitch was his bitch. He loved it so much and so hard that the head fell off.
And my mother, being tenderhearted and wanting Doc to be happy, washed it and sewed the head back on. And Doc got his girlfriend back.
My mother survived a mastectomy and chemo. She lived five years cancer-free. She was battling Type 2 diabetes and neuropathy the entire time. She went on disability and then early retirement. And some days were good and some days were pain-racked and angry and exhausted,
Doc was there, still encouraging her to throw the ball, still snuggling with her when she could not.
By 2009, I had moved back to town. I bought a house within five minutes of my mom because the cancer had come back. It had metastasized everywhere- breast, brain, liver, lung. We did not have enough time. And by 2010, she scheduled another round of chemo. It was to start on a Friday, but she gave up her battle on Thursday morning.
The events of that week are still a black swirl of decisions and worry and doing the needful without question. Wednesday night, I took my son to say goodbye. She was lucid and I let them talk as long as they wanted. Before I left, my mom took my hand.
She couldn’t finish it. She didn’t have to. He was my dog now.
I picked him up from her house on the way home from the hospital. My own little dog, Izabella, a chihuahua/rat terrier mix, didn’t mind “Uncle Doc” at all. She made room, Either she sensed the loss or his need to belong.
Later that night, after my son was asleep, I gave him a warm bath and cried and talked to him.
I made him a scrambled egg and wrapped him up in a warm towel from the dryer.
He slept on my bed, facing the hallway. He dozed but was still watchful. Keeping his vigil for mom even that night.