2011 was one of the most, if not the most, difficult year of my life. I saw my world turned upside down in a matter of months. Just looking back on that time is painful. But there was one bright moment, one piece of sunshine that God sent me to help me through the storm. That piece of sunshine was our dog, Molly.
Molly appeared in our front yard in May of 2011. She was so thin, filthy, and scared. She was such a big dog that she frightened us at first, but my daughter (the eternal animal lover) quickly brought her some water to drink. She also got some leftover meatballs, which the poor dog devoured. I had a can of Vienna sausages, and gave her those, too. She was clearly starving, and from the looks of her she'd probably been roaming the streets for some days. We brought her inside our yard to keep her off the streets and out of danger. I had to pick up my son E from school, and I promised my daughter I'd buy her some dog food as well. I clearly remember bawling in my car as I remembered Tobey, our soft coated wheaten terrier that had died three years earlier. I didn't want another dog. I didn't want to go through the pain of losing another dog. But I also knew my daughter would be begging to keep her. What's a mother to do?
My son also fell in love with the dog. She was so scared, so timid, and she appeared to be very sweet, but I warned them that the dog probably belonged to someone and it was our duty to find her owners and get her back home. Which wouldn't be easy; she had no collar and no visible signs of ownership.
Within a couple of days we took her to a vet to see if she had a chip that would help us get her home. She didn't. What we did find out from the vet was that she was about a year old, maybe a year and a half at most. She'd also recently given birth. I was amazed at how gentle she was, how she let the vet do all kinds of tests and didn't complain, growl, or bite. The vet asked what I was going to do with the dog. I told her I would continue to seek the dog's owners; if we couldn't find any, we would have to decide if we would keep her or take her to the humane society. The vet immediately objected: she was sure the dog would be euthanized if we took her to the pound. She told us, "If you don't want to keep her, bring her to me. I want her. She's an excellent dog, well behaved and gentle. I will take her if you won't." It surprised me that she would speak with such passion over a dog she'd just met.
Convincing my children that we should keep the dog would be easy; convincing their dad would be another story. He hated the dog. Couldn't stand having her around. There was no reason for this other than the expense of having to buy dog food and dog stuff. But when my son E got on his knees and begged his father to please let him keep the dog, his father couldn't say no. So the dog stayed, on the condition that if we found her owners we would give her back. We would take care of her as long as she needed us to, but she wasn't truly ours yet.
We asked around, we looked for signs at the stores or on street lights, but no one ever came looking for her. My daughter recalled that, about a week earlier, she'd seen some folks selling American bulldog puppies not far from our house. The dog we'd found was an American bulldog mix, and she'd recently had pups. My daughter believed that this poor creature had been used to breed and then abandoned. We couldn't understand why: she was the sweetest, gentlest, most loving and affectionate dog we'd ever seen. She was well behaved, completely housebroken, obedient, quiet...I often said she couldn't be a real dog. She had to be an animatronic. No dog could be that good. But she was, and she climbed into our hearts. We named her Molly because to me, she looked like a Molly. She responded to the name immediately, so we suspect that her name was something similar to Molly. She quickly became a member of the family.
Within a couple of months I found out my husband had been cheating on me, and that the whole reason he wanted me and the kids to move to Central Florida was so that he could bring his mistress to live in my house. The months that followed were nothing less than a nightmare. My two older kids moved to Central Florida for school. My husband moved out that November. I was left alone with my almost 12 year old son, and whenever he was in school I was alone in my house, with my thoughts, my pain, my prayers, and my dog. Molly saw more of my tears than anyone else. She kept me company day in and day out; while I cleaned the house, she'd follow me around. I would say to her, "I should have named you Shadow because that's what you do all day, is shadow me!" She would look at me and smile. Yes, my dog would smile. When I sat down, she'd rest her head on my lap. When I'd pet her, she'd put her paw up on my leg and pet me back. I soon figured out that when God brought her to my front yard, it wasn't so that I could take care of her; it was so she could take care of me. My daughter repeatedly asked if Molly could come to Central Florida to live with her, but I said no each time. She was my puppy, and we needed each other.
My kids came back home in 2012. By then it was established: Molly was ours. We loved her, doted on her, and in turn she loved us unconditionally. Everyone who met her fell in love with her. You couldn't help but love her. She was just that sweet. We did notice a strange little pimple-like growth on her belly at the time, and we had the vet at the humane society look at it. She said it was probably nothing to worry about, unless it started growing. "Just keep an eye on it," she said.
About a year later we noticed the little pimple had grown, and we took her to another vet (none of us wanted to go back to the vet that treated Tobey; he was never able to tell us what killed our poor dog). This vet glanced under her belly and told us it looked like blood cancer and that he would need to test her to see if she could take anesthesia, then operate and have the pimple removed and tested, and it would cost $60 to test her for anesthesia and another $600-$700 to operate, plus have the thing tested...it was so upsetting, I could not put it into words. He never really examined her, he barely looked at her and didn't put a finger on her. I went home raging mad because I didn't know what to do. Within a couple of days, the pimple popped and went almost completely away. Hah! I thought. Dumb vet didn't know what he was talking about. The little pimple would come back, but it would pop and go away, so we didn't worry too much about it.
Then, at the beginning of this year, the pimple became a growth. It got larger and redder, and even when it bled it wouldn't go away. So off we went to yet another vet. How I wish the first vet that had seen her was still around! Unfortunately she'd moved out of the area. We took her to a vet not far from our home that we'd heard good things about. The vet was out of town so his assistant saw Molly. Just from the look on her face I knew it wasn't good. She said the growth had to be removed, and soon. She also said that, from her experience, it didn't look good. We scheduled the surgery for the following week when the vet would be back. It was the soonest we could get her in.
In the meantime, the growth not only got bigger, it began to decompose. It smelled like death; that's the only way I can describe it. It would bleed from open sores. It was awful. She felt awful; we could see in her face that she was extremely uncomfortable, though she never cried.
Three days later, she had the surgery. By then the pimple had become a mass larger than a golf ball. We held our breath waiting for the results, but deep down inside we knew. A week after her surgery the vet confirmed our worst fears: the growth was a grade 2 mass cell tumor, and it was malignant. Our sweet, loving Molly had cancer. And not just any cancer. This form of cancer was aggressive.
My kids and I had discussed this possibility. We knew the vet would suggest cancer treatments, but we've known multiple people who've gone down that road with their pets only to regret it. Their dogs have suffered through chemo and died of cancer anyway. We didn't want that for our Molly. We knew if she had cancer she would die because of it, and we wanted her to die with dignity. So I informed the vet that we would forgo the treatment, and enjoy her while we had her. When her time came we'd do what was best for her, and not let her suffer. The vet respected our wishes. He told us Molly could live anywhere from 3 months to a year.
Looking at her after her surgery, we thought the worst was over. She came back to life again; she was bouncy, energetic, and happy again. She was acting like a puppy! We were convinced that she would live a long time now that the ugly tumor that had taken three years to grow was gone, and if that's how long it took the tumors to grow, we might even have more years with her! But it wasn't to be.
Within a couple of months she had another growth on her belly. And another. A month later there was one on her leg, and another on her face. It was like her body was exploding with tumors. Most were small, though, and we continued to hope they'd be like the first one. Then we noticed that she was having trouble breathing at times. My daughter was petting her, when she noticed that Molly's chest was swollen, and there was a rash. It was getting bad. Really bad.
September 11 we went to Disney World for Night of Joy, just as we had last year. Part of me was dying to go. I'd booked a room at the Pop Century months earlier, and we'd never stayed at that resort. We were excited to go back to Disney, but I hated leaving Molly. She didn't look well at all. My oldest son R was staying in town, but he would be working all day Saturday and wouldn't be able to watch her or let her out. Thankfully, my daughter's best friend came to the rescue, and dog sat Molly for a little while on Saturday. We got home Sunday evening, tired and worn and happy to see our sweet dog. It wasn't until the next day that my daughter came to tell me that she had found more tumors, and that the one on her chest was getting really, really big. Molly was having trouble getting around. Her leg, the one under the tumor on her chest, was extremely swollen as well. She couldn't even sit for very long because she couldn't put much weight on her leg. There was an intense sadness in her eyes. She was constantly running a fever. I told my daughter I didn't know what else to do, and she said, "Mom, it's time." I felt my heart break in two, but I knew she was right. I told her I'd call the vet the next day.
When I explained to the receptionist what was going on, she said, "I remember Molly! I'm so sorry!" It was not unexpected. Molly impacted everyone she met in the most positive way. I asked if we could wait until Friday; I needed time to get used to the idea. Oh, how I suffered those days! I kept seeing how unhappy she was, how miserable she felt, and I desperately wanted her to be her old self again. But I knew. It wasn't going to get better. And I didn't want her to get worse.
Friday came, and I dreaded each passing minute of the day. I went to my Ladies bible study group, but I only told one lady about it. She got all teary-eyed and told me she loved me. She must have seen the hurt and pain in my eyes. Finally, I packed Molly and my son E into the car, and we met my daughter A at the vet's office. They asked if we wanted to stay during the procedure, and we said yes. I couldn't bring myself to leave her alone when she'd never left my side.
It was quick, and it was painless. The vet told us that, more than likely, the cancer had spread to her organs. We were doing the right thing by not letting her suffer any longer. I knew he was right. As we watched her take her last breaths, we knew we'd saved her from prolonged pain. It didn't make it any easier. With every short breath she took, my heart broke into more and more pieces. How do you say goodbye to a pet that has been with you through the worst storms of your life?
I cried when our Tobey died. It was sad, because he did suffer, and we never found out what was wrong with him. It was rough. But nowhere near as much as I have suffered now, losing Molly. Tobey was my daughter's dog; he was her dad's dog. I loved Tobey, but Tobey was independent. He was never affectionate, and he was always getting into mischief. Molly, on the other hand, was loving. She was a people lover. We would say she was like Ariel; she wanted to be "where the people are." She was my dog. MY dog. She loved me more than anyone else in the house. My daughter would get mad because she'd be petting Molly and Molly would be watching me. She loved everyone, but she loved me most, and now she's gone, and I can't stop missing her. There's an emptiness in our house. Our family feels incomplete.
In case you're wondering, we won't be getting another dog. My son's allergist made it clear: E is allergic to dogs, and Molly was contributing to his eczema and allergy symptoms. There was no way I was getting rid of Molly; I knew she didn't have long to live, and I couldn't bring myself to give her to anyone else. But I will not bring another dog into the house. It's not fair to my son. Besides, I know I will never, ever, find another dog like Molly. She was truly the best dog in the world. Even as the tears become less and less, I will remember her and miss her for the rest of my life.