Katie’s story

A couple of weeks before Beloved and I got married in the summer of 1999, a friend who knew that I was desperate for a dog called me up. “I hear you’re moving from an apartment to a townhouse when you guys get married,” she said. “A friend of mine has a litter of puppies who need homes. Are you interested?”

Was I ever! Katie was the product of a chance encounter between a purebred Golden Retriever who escaped from his yard one day and the German Shepherd-mix mutt who lived at the farm next door. When we set out to see the litter of puppies out near Sharbot Lake one gorgeous June afternoon, I had my heart set on a black and tan pup, but sweet Katie stole my heart from the minute we met her. She was only four weeks old, and my friend agreed to foster her until we returned from our wedding and honeymoon and moved into our new townhouse.

Katie was about 11 weeks old when she came home to us in August of 1999, and our lives haven’t been the same since. She was the oddest combination of submissive and stubborn. To this day, at 100+ pounds, she’ll drop to her belly in submission when a bite-sized dog the size of a Yorkie approaches. And yet she was so stubborn and so mischevious that she failed puppy obedience class the first time, and I clearly remember bawling on the phone to my mother that if I could not tame this wild dog whose antics had me at my wit’s end then there was simply no way I’d ever have the stamina to raise children.
362:365 Peekaboo Katie

In the darkest days of our infertility, I used to joke in an “it’s not really funny” sort of way that if we didn’t have kids soon, you’d find me at the mall pushing a pram with Katie in it, a bonnet on her lovely yellow head.

In many ways, she has been our first child. As each baby arrived, she adopted him into the family with good grace and patience, never begrudging the need to share her space in our home and our hearts. She has endured boys who lift her lips to examine her teeth and tongue, who yelp and yip and gambol like puppies while tumbling over her, and who have on more than one occasion used her like a step-stool to clamber up onto the sofa. She is part dog, part sister, part babysitter, part mama bear.


She is the world’s worst shedder. I simply cannot fathom how she has any hair left on her body at the end of the day, so much of it is left in tumbleweeds under every piece of furniture in the house despite daily and sometimes twice-daily swiffering. And she is the most prolific pooper you have ever seen, pooping out her own body weight at least thrice weekly.

She has mastered the fine art of Jedi mind tricks, and can induce any of us to feeding her simply by looking at us. I’m sure she averages four meals a day, not including the toddler high-chair buffet.

Poor Katie

And now, Katie is old. As she passed her 11th birthday this past May, I tried not to think about it. There is a chart in our vet’s office that shows the lifespan and equivalent age in human years of small, medium and large dogs. The graph for the large-sized dog actually ends just past eight years, but if you follow where the curve leaves off, when you cross 11 years it is equivalent to more than a hundred years of human time.

That’s old, no matter how you slice it. She’s aging with remarkable grace, and has virtually no significant health issues despite a family history of and breed tendency toward hip displasia. That is, until now. At an appointment last week, the vet found a lump near the joint in her back leg. They did an aspiration that came back inconclusive, but his recommendation is surgery to remove what he suspects is a “mass cell tumour.”


Given her current vitality, there’s no reason to believe she doesn’t have two or maybe even more good years. But the surgery is not free, of course. The cost for the surgery alone is in the range of $1,000. How can I possibly put a value on this dog’s life? It’s the ageless dilemma of the pet owner. Will I pay $1,000 to spend more time with her, to try to make sure that she remains healthy and vital and lovely for as long as possible? Of course I will. I simply couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. It’s a pittance compared to the value of what she’s given us over the years.

468:1000 Doggy love

But even if the surgery successfully removes all of the tumour, at best it buys us just a little bit more time. I’ve seen this day coming for 11 years and have been denying it ever since. This will be the boys’ first face-to-face encounter with mortality, and I don’t think any of us are ready, nor will we ever be.

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

14 thoughts on “Katie’s story”

  1. If the lump isn’t painful for her:
    If she were 8 or even 10, I’d say get the surgery. But at 11 the surgery might not buy you even one minute more with her.

    If the lump IS painful for her:
    Get the surgery.

  2. Hey Dani,

    I can empathize. I know when Richard’s dog Midnight got sick we were discussing what we were willing to pay. As it was Midnight made the decision for us. It was still a really hard night and Richard’s brother ended up having to come home early to help us. Sorry I have no advice, but just wanted to say I understand.


  3. *tear* I couldn’t imagine putting down another animal in my life.

    My Jack Russel, Buffy, was nine when we had to put him down. He had epilepsy and it killed nearly me. We got him when we lived in The Netherlands. When the time came to put him down it was two days after I turned 13. It still hurts when I think about him. *crap…now I am crying*

    I know that you won’t ever want to say Good Bye to Katie but hopefully in a few more years down the road.

  4. I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how difficult this decision is. We lost our dear Riley at age 10 and it hit us all hard. We’d had waaaayyy before the kids came along too.

  5. Thank you, my friends. Just talking about it makes it a little easier to swallow.

    After talking it out with those who know and love Katie the best, we’ve decided that since she is showing absolutely no signs of pain or distress, we will opt against the surgery. If I knew for sure the tumour was malignant, or if she were in pain, or if I knew that the surgery had some sort of guarantee that would extend her life or offer her comfort, I would do it in a heartbeat. But, right now we’re not even sure it’s a cancerous tumour, and she seems to be in fine health.

    And she’ll be getting a little more spoiled than usual from now on. Because she’s worth it.

  6. I’m so sorry to hear about Katie’s tumour. She sounds like the very best kind of dog.

    My parents lost their beloved Golden to cancer last summer. There was no mistaking it for what it was. She was obviously in a lot of pain, and her energy level went from normal to zero in a matter of two or three weeks. It was heartbreaking.

    If Katie’s not in pain at all, it sounds like the wait-and-see approach might be best.

  7. Katie is beautiful, your photos of her tear at the heart-strings. I’m glad that you decided against the surgery. If she appears to be in good health and show no signs of pain or discomfort then perhaps it is best to leave well enough alone. Seems to me, once you open things up…they always get worse.
    Enjoy your beautiful beloved Katie, for as long as you are blessed to have her in your lives.
    Merry Christmas to you and your entire family, enjoy it in your new home and truly, may nothing but good things come your way in 2011. God knows you are due Dani.

  8. I loved reading this. I never had a dog but I know a thing or two about bereavment and can only say that it is so important to grieve openly (when the time comes) – and to let the children be a part of this. It will be their first encounter with death – and that’s ok.

    Merry Christmas

  9. I think you made the right decision. Thank you for the beautiful pictures, especially the first two.

  10. I’ve had to go through it…its hard…but just know that Katie will ‘tell’ you when she’s ready to go. For now, enjoy the moments with her, as long as she’s not in any pain, she’s just fine.

  11. Dani,
    Like you, our dog was our first baby. We brought her home when she was a mere 4 weeks old. When the time came to put her down a few weeks after her 10th birthday we were heartbroken. We didn’t have the option of surgery. She had bitten twice and we weren’t waiting for the third time. After one of our IVF’s she curled against me at night in bed and stayed there most every night. After each failure she clung to my side until the tears subsided even licking then away. It is so hard to let out fur babies go.
    I agree that as long as she isn’t in pain there isn’t any point to the surgery. When the day comes, you will know and will find strength in your friends and your boys. It’s an impossible decision………
    Hugs to you

  12. Danigirl, I’m so sorry about this.

    Our dog Kermit developed a tumor above her front left knee about eighteen months ago. She already had significant arthritis in her hips when this emerged. She was 11 years old. We went as far as the biopsy, then discovered that it was a malignant tumor and amputation or chemotherapy (costing about 4500 US dollars) were our only options. Amputation really wasn’t an option since she was losing the ability to lose her back legs due to the arthritis.

    The whole thing was pretty awful. We ended up losing her a year ago December 5th, about six months after the tumor emerged. She was in too much pain at the end — I couldn’t see clearly enough that her time had come.

    I think you are absolutely right to let pain and quality of life be the determining factors here. I am sorry the issue has arisen for you, though. It was hard on our family, too.

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