Her little dachshund may be sick, but he's still full of spirit, quirks, and love.

By Karen Sandstrom
July 29, 2020
Karen Sandstrom deals with losing her pet: illustration of woman and her dachshund
Credit: Sanny van Loon/SHOP AROUND

Years ago, we had a sweet basset hound named Ramona. One day I found a lump on her back and freaked out, assuming the worst. A trip to the vet revealed it to be nothing more than a common blob of fat. Ugly, but not deadly.

So I wasn't worried when Roscoe, our rescue dachshund, developed a bump on his right thigh. This time, though, the vet visit led to a CAT scan and a grim cancer diagnosis. Surgery might buy some time but would be unable to save him.

Feel free to insert a string of profanity. I know I did.

Yet here we are, five months later. Roscoe remains mostly as he was—a neurotic little alien, full of quirks (he's scared of hands) and love (he's very attached to me) and appetites (for walks, car rides, acorn squash). He is still Roscoe. I am the one living in a different world. It's familiar territory for anyone who has loved a being with an incurable illness. One day we're all occupying a shared fantasy of endless sunny tomorrows, and the next day we've been booted into a dimming landscape.

I think of this world as the In Between. It's darker, but there's still sunlight left.

One morning soon after we got Roscoe's diagnosis, my heart felt especially sick. My wise and kind friend Kate Matthews had just survived a year of far too many hard losses. I texted her, "How do I avoid wasting all our time together pre-grieving?"

Kate responded that when her yorkie, Fletcher, was fading, she would sit with him and say to him and herself, "But I have you now."

I joke darkly with pet-loving friends that every time you adopt an animal, you tell yourself, "This creature is going to live to age 18 and die peacefully in its sleep." That hasn't happened to me yet. In my experience, dogs in particular tend to leave us long before we're ready and under circumstances that sorely test our faith in the benevolence of the universe.

When a beloved takes sick, the door to the place of endless sunshine slams shut. When that happens, though, "I have you now" is exactly the right way to frame the time left together.

One morning, Roscoe wakens me as usual at 5 with his familiar impatient face licks, and I have him now. The next day, he is listless, flat-eared, and uninterested in breakfast, but I have him now. He leaps for his meal or sneaks through my legs out the door to the garage to demand a ride, and I have him now. And I watch the terrible tumor grow from a tangerine to an apple, but I give him a pain pill and I have him now.

Eventually, of course, "I have you now" will run out. My hope is that the joy we manage to steal in the face of mortality will serve us well.

Today I have Roscoe. And today he gets anything he wants.

Karen Sandstrom is a writer and illustrator in Cleveland.