The other patient in the house

ever sweet, ever loving, ever ours

Through the saga of Jeff’s surprise surgery and the recovery process, something else has also been bringing us together. And that is our dog, Maris. On March 24th, just one day before Jeff’s aorta ruptured, we found out that our little furry family member has an aggressive form of cutaneous lymphoma. All of our attention was on the dog for about 24 hours until Jeff’s surprise visit to the ER on the 25th.

Maris was born on May 14, 2011 at Double Gap Farm in North Carolina. Jeff and I had been newly married and was interested in getting a dog. We really liked the Swiss German canines, especially the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. But these dogs get to be as much as 150 pounds. I am not little, but I am 5’4″ and at a healthy weight. I told Jeff, “I will not be last in pecking order!”

One day, we were just browsing through the American Kennel Club website, and we saw a smaller version of the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. After some research, we found out that there were four Swiss Mountain breeds: Greater Swiss, Bernese, Appenzeller, and… ah, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog. We found a breeder in North Carolina, visited the farm to “meet the parents,” and then on July 19, 2011, we traveled to the farm to pick up the 9 week old puppy named “Pink Camo” that would become Maris.

I am sure that I will reminisce about our amazing 11 years together when the time arrives for us to let her go. For now, we are focused on cherishing our time together and on trying to make her as comfortable as possible. Maris still has some energy – still likes to go on walks with us, even though the distance is much shorter than it used to be. She tires easily. She has sores on her body that make every day activities uncomfortable, I am sure. But she doesn’t complain – she just works around it. We place a cone on her at night so she doesn’t scratch her wounds while she is sleeping, and she wears a blue inflated donut around her neck during the day for the same reason. But she just accepts that she will now be wearing these things for the rest of her life and is just happy to be next to us wherever we go.

She is such a good dog.

Jeff’s medical ordeal put Maris’s health challenges into perspective, so I am at a relatively calm place. Everyone who knows me well knows how much I love my dog. And she has had a great life because of it! People used to say to me, “when I die, I want to come back as Anna’s dog!” Maris was a great friend to me when I felt the most lonely, and the combination of Jeff and Maris was the perfect healing salve because Maris was the prism that expanded Jeff’s ray of sunshine into a beautiful spectrum. Living with them, my world grew a much richer palette of colors.

But some time this year, I will have to let her go. And I think my experience volunteering with hospice patients may help me here. During these last weeks/months of her life, it will really be about her, not my grief. We will have the most fun possible, share the most love possible, and eat as well as possible. She does not know that she is dying yet. We will cherish the time we have left together, and when the time comes, Jeff and I will be grateful that we were given the opportunity to be stewards of such a magnificent animal. It was another gift that God gave us to teach us lessons in love, giving, and healing. All creatures belong to God – and how wonderful that we got to take care of one of them!

Maris is about to teach me the proper downward facing dog

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