There is no worse time to lose a dog than just before Christmas, but that was the fate facing my friend Tiger's mama Vicki when Tiger was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of December. The doctors said he would be at the Bridge before the holiday.
I have been blessed to know Tiger most of his life. He came to his family in the fall of 2011 as a foster dog, but his sweet disposition and snuggling ability made him a foster failure. He joined Sierra and Nase (the blob) as Mama Vicki’s babies. When Sierra went to the Bridge, Tiger helped his mom walk the road of grief.
Mama Vicki has not traveled the road since, but when she received Tiger’s diagnosis, she knew she had to pull on her hiking boots. She had a sad journey ahead.
For Tiger, the end began with a limp. He came in from going potty with a hunched back, wearing a pained expression, and favoring a leg. His condition presented itself like a pulled muscle, but when he didn’t respond to treatments, dread began to creep into his mom’s mind. This was something much worse.
Tiger underwent numerous tests, but there was nothing conclusive. When he was on pain medication, he was still the same active boy who chased squirrels and zoomed around the yard, but he was restless and breathing rapidly. Others may not have noticed, but a mother does.
After a week, the diagnosis was confirmed. Tiger had cancer and was given, at most, four weeks with his mom. Tiger would never reach Christmas. Mama Vicki brought him home to provide him with all her love for his remaining days.
Tiger is a determined dog. He knew his body was failing him, but he did not want to ruin his Mom’s Christmas. He pledged to make it through the holiday, no matter how many deals he had to prepare for extra heartbeats or the pain he would endure. It would only be for a couple of weeks. He could make it for his mom.
Faced with this reality, Tiger did the only thing he could do. He rallied. He chased squirrels with unabashed vigor; he ate as if he would never eat again; he ran, jumped, and snuggled with his mom enough to qualify for a year’s worth of snuggling.
Sierra gathered her angel friends, and we used our immortal powers to give Tiger more energy. This was a violation of our angel oath, but it was Christmas, and that was the best time to break the rules.
Tiger had been given so many heartbeats, so much energy, and possessed such an overflowing reservoir of determination, that he made it four days past Christmas. Then his breathing became labored, and his mom knew she had to provide him relief. It broke her heart to help him go to the Bridge, but Mama Vicki was grateful for the extra days and that she got to celebrate Christmas with Tiger. She knew it was a holiday miracle.
When Tiger arrived at the Bridge, he took a big breath. It felt so good to have his lungs filled with air again. He ran up the steps and then went flying past the waiting angels. Sierra joined him. It had been years since they had run that way.
They have not forgotten their mom. They are working with Nase to make sure she finds her way through the road of grief quickly, and that they shelter her from the rogue waves of sorrow.
I am looking at Tiger right now, and he is smiling happily, remembering being a foster and ending up in the best possible family, which allowed him to be a Christmas miracle.