The Face At The Top Of The Stairs: Our Dog Has Cancer

March 21, 2014

Ralph Hanging Out


My first winter in Chicago, I was homesick and a struggling (I can admit that now) grad student.  My Dad and the guy I was smitten for argued that I didn’t need a dog.  I was busy, broke and surely a new city would provide for some sort of social life.  It didn’t, and while I was broke as a joke, I would rather spend $12 on a bag of kibble than on an overpriced martini downtown.  To me, the math was simple: A dog wasn’t frugal, but it was something my heart needed.  Specifically, a pug.

I put in an application to be a foster parent with the Northern Illinois Pug Rescue and waited.  A few rescues fell through, either they were placed with another family or owners changed their minds.  I waited.

Then, on a snowy day in February, Ralph entered my life. I remember seeing him in the snow as the NIPRA folks brought him to me to foster from the shelter.  Turns out, his previous family didn’t want him anymore, they had a baby.  Literally, that was all that was on his papers- no medical history, no vaccinations, just “Owners had baby.” NIPRA and I were going to get him on track from scratch.  They said he was 5, the vet estimated he was 8.  Giving up a sick, 8 year old dog is sometimes a losing venture for a pug in a shelter.

Getting a pug is not a frugal venture.  The breed is notorious for health problems and Ralph had everything you could imagine-  a skin infection, ear infections, dry eyes and a rotten tooth.  When I got him vaccinated for rabies, he literally collapsed in my arms. Since we had no medical records, we didn’t know he was allergic to the vaccine, luckily we revived him.


Ralph In Springtime

Winter gave way to spring, and I decided I couldn’t give him up.  I wanted my home to be his forever home.

Since then, I graduated with my master’s degree.  I left Chicago.  I came back for love.  We got Ralph a brother.  Moving across the country twice, Ralph handled it like a champ.  Having a brother, he’s still undecided on that one.

He’s always been an inquisitive, clingy little dog. He always wanted to be right where I was, whether it was an orange grove in California or trailing me around the house.  I will never forget the times I’d go outside to get the mail, and since the stairs were hard for him, he’d wait there, barking if I took too long.

Now Ralph has been diagnosed with cancer.  He has two large, and rapidly growing tumors on his lungs (perhaps elsewhere as well since it has metastasized, he’s developed a sizable secondary tumor before we even knew what was wrong)  and it seems his time is short.  I’ve had him for three years now, and it’s been an expensive few years, but my time with him has been priceless.

We’re working with the vet to keep Ralph as comfortable as possible for as long as we can.  The two cancerous tumors (that we know of) are both aggressive, large and growing on his already troublesome lungs.  It’s going to be a hard few weeks, but I try to comfort myself in knowing that he was given a second-chance home, a forever home with me after someone left him at a shelter.  Who knows how different this story could have been otherwise.


Ralph Sleeping


When I adopted Ralph, I will always remember what my former-beau said about me adopting an older dog, “I worry about how you’ll be when he dies.”

In my time with Ralph, I’ve learned two things:  First, when it comes to romance- a guy that’s not right for you will act like a bandaid for your pain, hiding you from your hurt, covering it up so neither will face the shame of an exposed wound.   A guy that’s truly right for you insists on seeing your wounds, insisting on sharing the source of your pain, exposing it to light and air, helping it heal.

People aren’t always “right” or “wrong” (or bad people for that matter) they’re just wrong for you.   I spent a lot of time trying to make that man right for me, or maybe making myself right for him and I failed miserably at it for years. I can now see that how we viewed this little pug was a barometer for larger issues we had together, I’m thankful for that lesson looking back.  Years later, I found the right guy, and we can’t hide the pain or cover it up.  My fiancé doesn’t worry about “how I’ll be,” instead, he grieves with me.  We are wounded together and we heal, together.



Secondly, heartbreak is worth it when you know you’re going to lose something you loved.  You can’t feel loss without first having love.  Love and loss are two sides of the same coin.  It’s worth it.  You cannot grieve without first experiencing joy, death without having life, loss without love.

I needed Ralph in my life as much as he needed me.  When school was tough, he reminded me “it’s time for a walk,” to get some fresh air when class and starting a social media consulting business left me feeling chained to the desk.  When he got sick, I learned to manage my money better to help cover his medical costs.

Best of all, beyond providing snuggly company, he was also a great vetting tool for potential boyfriends.  If a man didn’t like pugs or especially if they didn’t gracefully let me leave a date at 9pm to go check on him and walk him and insisted I go to their place or whatever self-serving rubbish they were pursuing for the evening, then they weren’t the man I was looking for.  (Yes, I also conveniently used Ralph as an excuse to duck out of bad blind dates or sidestep men that were attempting to move too fast..thanks pug!)

I can frequently recall the times where I would look down at the little squished face with a greying muzzle, snoring on a pillow, and wonder, didn’t he rescue me too?

You know, I was told it was a risk to take on an 8 year old, problematic, wheezy, rescue pug and it’s going to hurt like hell to miss him, but it was worth it.

Who rescued who?

Sometimes, you think you’re rescuing a dog, and it turns out, they’ve rescued you.  He has been worth every penny, and yes, every freezing cold potty break in the middle of the night.  No regrets.

Our Dog Has Cancer, our rescue pug has cancer but it was worth the journey

I will though, miss that little face waiting for me at the top of the stairs.



24 comments so far.

24 responses to “The Face At The Top Of The Stairs: Our Dog Has Cancer”

  1. And now my heart is breaking for you 🙁

    I’m so sorry to hear this is happening. I lost Salems brother a few years ago and know how stressful these next few weeks will be. You are one of the best pet parents I know and Ralph could not have possibly found himself a better home!

  2. Nicole says:

    Sending you thoughts and prayers–I went through this with my first dog Murphy. A rescue who I got when I lived in Chicago. He was amazing and was with me through many life changes in my 20s and early 30s. And we just lost our beloved 12 yr old Lab about a year ago to cancer.
    Everyday with a our furry friends is a gift.

  3. Kristin says:

    My boyfriend and I adopted a 15 year old cat in July. She very quickly became a part of the family…or should I say she made us a family. Last weekend she quickly fell ill, and it turned out she had three tumors. Luckily we were able to have her for the weekend. A blood transfusion made her seem back to normal. We cherished the weekend. We took over 1000 pictures/videos. We stayed up all night, laying with her on the floor. She was my world. Losing her on Monday was the hardest thing I have been through. You’re quote “You cannot grieve without first experiencing joy, death without having life, loss without love.” is very true. Thank you for post. It was so well-written and is helping me during my struggle to find a new normal.

  4. Beks says:

    What a wonderful history you and Ralph share. This was a really beautiful post. It’s going to be hard, but you will always feel the love you have for him.

    I lost my puppy (who I’d had since she was born) about four years ago, when she was almost thirteen, to bloat. It was really sudden. My only regret is that she died when I was living in another town, and she was living with my parents. I got to say goodbye to her over the phone, but it certainly wasn’t the same.

  5. Awwww Shann. I’m so sorry to hear about Ralph! Enjoy the time you have with him and get lots of puppy snuggles. Loss is one of the hardest things to experience but focusing on all the LOVE definitely makes it worth it. Praying for little Ralph and for you!! xo

  6. Gretchen says:

    This was so beautiful. My heart feels your heart’s pain and love; I lost my first resuce to cancer a little over a year ago and now I have a 10+ year old rescue that I’m already dreading to lose. But we can’t think of that, we can only think of the love and joy they bring us every day. Positive thoughts/prayers for y’all! <3

  7. Tara says:

    I am so sorry about Ralph! It really stinks to have a beloved pet pass away. My childhood dog we had for 14 years died while I was out of town and my mom didn’t call me, she called my now-husband to make sure I wasn’t by myself when I found out. The second one was a cat we only had for two years when she began showing symptoms of a terminal illness and, after watching her suffer for a week with no treatment options available, we had to put her to sleep. Both were extremely painful and I cried so much, for many days/weeks after. It is so sad, but I am glad you have a great fiance to help you get through it!

  8. Kirsty says:

    Such a beautiful post. I sympathize with you, just having gone through the same thing with my cat two months ago. It’s true–all that sadness just comes from all that love. I wouldn’t even think of trading my time with her to get rid of the sadness I still feel. Stay strong <3

  9. Georgina says:

    Rescue dogs give so much love, and absolutely rescue you too. After my Grandfather died, my Gran really struggled being in an empty house, and especially missed company in the garden (they spent hours working on it, together), so we found her a dog. Meg was a Border Terrier who’d belonged to an old lady who’d died, and the family couldn’t keep her. We rescued her and she very soon become a wonderful presence in my Gran’s home. She was sociable and hilarious, and was brilliant company for my Gran. They spent lots of time pottering around the garden together, which was exactly what we’d hoped. When Meg died, she left a hole behind; that funny little rescue dog was a massive part of our family, and we miss her. But missing her is so worth the years of happiness she gave my Gran in her last years after she was widowed.

  10. Ashley says:

    Oh I am so sorry! I was holding off tears through most of this, but lost it at the picture at the end. He is so adorable and I am so glad he was able to have someone to love him as much as you do. <3

  11. Aerevyn says:

    My little puggle, Kleinerhund, sends his affection. To be loved by a dog is a great thing indeed, and pugs are so adorable and hard to resist. The picture of Ralph at the top of the stairs with his head cocked just made me weep.

    I am going through a divorce after a very short marriage. Your words on the wrong fit and trying to make someone work were so on target.

  12. Rebecca Jo says:

    we just found out Our dog has bone cancer & we’re doing what we can do make her life comfortable while we have time left. Its so hard to loose them… but yes, the love they give is why its so hard. Its irreplaceable & something I’d choose all over again.. even with the pain.

  13. Our animals truly do save us.
    Sending lots of happy thoughts to you and Ralph.

  14. Our dog died last Tuesday, and it’s very hard for us since he was with us for 14 years. I can’t help but cry looking at him when he died, sorry for your lost.

  15. Nicola says:

    Aw what a lovely post! Sounds like you have given Ralph a lovely home x

  16. Ali says:

    I’m so sorry! I feel like my dog also rescued me. That’s heartbreaking.

  17. Sophie says:

    Wow, this was such a great read. I’m studying to be a vet and the thing I struggle with most is how I’m going to comfort future clients when things like this happen. Your explanation was so honest and accurate, I’ll definitely keep this in the memory bank to draw from. Thanks so much, and I’m so sorry about Ralph. He’s so lucky to have had a lovely home in the end, life is good 🙂

  18. Nicole Glass says:

    My heart just breaks for you and for Ralph. You have been such a loving home for him and truly gave him his forever home. I’ll keep your little family in my thoughts and prayers.
    My sweet Parker was given up by not one, but two families, due to pregnancy. Now that I’m pregnant I can see the anxiety in his eyes, but I cannot even imagine seeing his little face in a pound! We are at least his fourth home and we will be his forever home!

  19. Michelle says:

    🙁 this makes me so sad to read and I definitely got tears in my eyes. I’m so sorry you have to go through this but you sound like a wonderful dog momma!

  20. I am so sorry to hear about your little guy. Losing a pet is so heartbreaking, cherish each moment with him, as I know you will.

  21. I’m sorry to hear about Ralph. I can feel a bit of your pain as a fellow dog mama. My 8.5 year old pug is definitely getting older. I love him – he’s my first baby. He’s helped me through more than I can say. I’m glad your pups can and have helped you move through life’s challenges with a little more ease and clarity.

    My heart is breaking for you.

  22. Miss Thrifty says:

    Oh, Shannyn! Such a lovely post – and an adorable wee pug. I hope the coming weeks and months aren’t too difficult.

  23. Lindsey R. says:


    Sometimes our hearts need the snuggle of a pug (or pet) to feel that all is right in the world. I am so grateful that you rescued Ralph and he rescued you. He is one special pug.

    My heart aches for you and I am so sorry this is happening.

    Love you.

  24. Kathy says:

    Shannyn, I’m hugging my two rescue pups extra love tonight after reading your post. I remember when you got Ralph and when you decided you had to keep him. It’s a big decision and one that you obviously have not regretted one minute. Those of us who love our pets like you do have earned the right to grieve but you have had the enjoyment from your “forever” friend. Love you to you all.


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