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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

My Canine Confidante

By Philip D.

February 16, 2013


As she sleeps, I hear her snoring softly. To me, there is no sound more comforting; and is, quite possibly, the thing I will miss most. My dog, Wilma, has cancer and it's spreading inside her. With the wisdom of my trusted vet, I've decided not to pursue surgery or other procedures to prolong her life. She is resting comfortably now with the help of painkillers and steroids. I know in my heart that her ball fetching days are over. I am mentally preparing for life without her and making arrangements to have her euthanized in our home and to be buried in the country.

Writing about my poz-iversary and rereading my earlier posts, I remembered the trusted support this little ball of fur provided me those first long days and eternal, winter nights. Before I could say "I have HIV" to another human being, I said it to her. That one soul who loved me without a single condition, regardless of the shame I was feeling. It might sound silly (unless you've experienced "dog therapy") but saying those words out loud, even to something with a limited mental lexicon, helped me cope with the mind-blowing concept of being HIV positive; potentially, for the rest of my life.

I'll go as far as to say that most humans are essentially incapable of the true, unconditional love that a pet provides. She didn't care who gave it to me. She didn't care what my T-cell count was. She only knew I was hurting and that I needed love.

We received her cancer diagnosis three months ago. Since that time, I have enjoyed her more fully than I ever thought possible. Warm afternoon trips to "chase" squirrels, all the fine flavors of the "people food" I never let her have, and as much time as she desires, on my lap, with her head against my chest. I have told her all the things I felt I needed to. Although eleven is rather young for a small dog to die, the end has been short and relatively painless.

Philip D. and Wilma

This entire process has made me look at my own mortality. Unless I make it to 100, no matter how you slice it, I'm on the downhill side towards "the end." Yet, I have done virtually nothing to prepare for it. No will. No living trust. No plans or money put side for where I'll end up. None.

Not a very nice thing to do to my next of kin.

So, I've set a goal. Bite the bullet and have that stuff put into place by this year's end. It's not like I don't have reason to think I might exit this show a bit early with my nasty, viral hitchhiker lurking in the shadows. I love my family too much and my post-life desires are a bit unconventional to risk leaving this unpleasant duty unfinished.

As she sleeps, I wonder, will there be someone there, at the end, to do this for me?

Five days after I wrote this, the time came for us to say goodbye to Wilma. She went downhill fast but I do believe there was minimal suffering. My good little girl, until she drew her final breath. Her last morning, she was surrounded by love, happy music and the scent of bacon in the air. The past eleven years were a gift to me from the Universe and the past three months an extra bonus. As you might expect, John and I are devastated but trying to remember the multitude of smiles that she generated during her short life. I have no plans to replace her as I sincerely doubt that I ever could. -- PD

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See Also
10 Things You Can Do to Enhance Your Emotional Well-Being

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Rick (North Carolina) Tue., Apr. 23, 2013 at 10:06 pm UTC
I am so sorry to hear about your dog. I know how important a pet can be. I got my first dog for my 6th birthday. He used to wait for me to come home from school every day. My dog died a week after I went away to college.

I know have a cat who knows how to tell when I am not feeling well. I understand that it is hard to think of ever getting another pet, but just remember that there are a lot of loving pets in animal shelters who are looking for someone to love.
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Comment by: rigo (Guadalajara, Mexico) Thu., Mar. 28, 2013 at 11:26 am UTC
Thanks for your supporting and enlightening blog. I have finnaly come to the conclusión that my life relies completely on my dog, its somewhat terrible to think that some people cant really live without a dog-pet, but thats the truth in my case and some others. Just as i need air, water and food to stay alive, my dogs keep me up for living. The relationship between dogs and humans can only be described as miraculous, and the depth of understanding, feeling, faithfulness, reliance, companionship, life and joy sharing, etc. it is not posible between humans, because we humans are so complicated, we want so much of everything. Although religions hardly touch the subject,(and even if they do it has some negative overtones) dogs are a definate blessing from God or the Universal forces around us. If someday someone builds a cathedral for the dog, i would certainly go there to bow humbly and make offerings to the dog species and the dog spirit and that holy force and energy that creates the dog realm.
In remembrance of all our beloved dogs i leave this heartfelt and respectful comment.
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Comment by: Philip D. (San Francisco, CA) Mon., Mar. 25, 2013 at 1:54 pm UTC
I would like to sincerely thank those who responded to this entry about Wilma. I'm obviously not alone, when it comes to grieving the loss of such pure, unconditional love. Hearing your stories, helped a lot, especially during those first few weeks.

It's been a couple of months now. Although I do miss her terribly, it was a classy ending, for a classy dog. I have zero regrets, other than I didn't have her in my life, a bit longer. She made me a better human, and I will try not to forget, the simple lessons she taught me.

We have planted a veritable field of white,summer-booming, fragrant, Narcissus, on top of her grave. It should be a spectacular sight, in June.

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Comment by: sunshine (los angeles ca) Sat., Mar. 9, 2013 at 2:57 pm UTC
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Comment by: Phillip B. (Pasadena) Fri., Mar. 8, 2013 at 6:10 pm UTC
Even though I knew time was growing short for my companion dog of 13yrs, the day he couldn't get up was a shock. He had been with me through start of HIV treatment, loss of parents, deep family division that followed, depression, (since resolved),heart disease, and two hip replacement surgeries. Slept in my bed every night. I was at the shelter within a week and had another 1yr old pit bull 10 days later. Yes I grieved and yes I cried the day I got his ashes back. But I have pics/memories and more unconditional love in my life for another 10-15 years. By then I'll be 75, we'll see who lasts longer!!
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Comment by: Wes & Kahlua (Jersey City NJ) Thu., Mar. 7, 2013 at 2:30 pm UTC
I have never responded to an HIV blog before even though I have been on the email listerv since I was diagnosed on my birthday in Nov 2011.

I have a chocolate lab who has been trained as a service dog and has medical documentation to go with me everywhere. When I broke up with my partner of 12 years, she was the only thing I took with me. She has been my only faithful and unconditionally loving companion.

After I was diagnosed and I sero-converted, my doctor truly felt she was the reason I kept fighting and remained alive. There were many days I couldn't walk or laid in bed crying and wanted to give up but she made me realize no one could take care of her like I could.

She is now 11 years old and starting to show her age. She has a grey muzzle and white paws. She limps when walking too far and doesn't like being outside very long in the cold. I cannot imagine life without her but know the day will come and all too soon...

I have been through therapy on my mortality and adjusting to HIV. The biggest concern every counselor has is that I get another canine companion. My heart breaks at the thought but know she would not want me to be alone either. I have come to my own personal decision not to date or pursue another relationship but it is hard knowing that without her I will be completely alone.

I feel for you and your partner and am happy to hear you are able to console each other. Please know you are also in my thoughts and prayers.
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Comment by: Brian (Michigan) Sun., Mar. 3, 2013 at 7:22 pm UTC
Have 2 dogs, lost my partner of 20 years also poz in 2012, the canines emulate the essence of who all of us should aspire too, they do spell GOD in reverse DOG, is it not a unique comparison.
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Comment by: Ron (Delafield, WI) Fri., Mar. 1, 2013 at 9:40 am UTC

You have my deepest sympathy for your loss. I lost my dog, Nikki, 10 years ago and my cat, Boots, almost four years ago. I know how much you miss her.

I have my “Bangel”, an apricot pug, who turned 11 today. He was given to me almost six years ago because his Daddy was going to prison for five years. He has seen me through the absolute worst of my life – meth addiction after my HIV diagnosis followed by cancer and other chronic illnesses that remain a challenge. Four walks a day got me up, moving and outside, without which I truly believe I would have died.

He’s all but lost his eyesight from cataracts I can’t afford to have removed. But, he’s always at my side and never ceases to show that unlimited, unconditional love of which you speak.

Like you, watching his decline, I wonder how my end will be. In the process, he’s teaching me that unconditional love. So, I will do my best to make the rest of his life the best it can be.

You are in my prayers.
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Comment by: Adrienne Seed (uk) Thu., Feb. 28, 2013 at 5:45 pm UTC
I was moved to tears by this blog about Wilma - I too am positive and my dog lady Doodle has been my saving grace- at times she even writes my blogs for me! You write beautifully I especially related to the hate HIV blog. Keep it up along with your spirits!
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Comment by: Greg S. (Fort Collins, CO) Thu., Feb. 28, 2013 at 4:43 pm UTC
Phillip - My condolences to both you and John at the passing of Wilma. Although young, I'm sure you provided her with the happiest, most enjoyable life she could ever have expected. My first child/animal was there for my HIV diagnosis 29 years ago, and like Wilma, she always knew when I was down or not feeling the point that she would get my partner and bring him into the room. She passed at the young age of 9 yrs old.

We then got another child (Tyberius) who has been with me for the last 11 yrs, and who (along with my family) help me cope with the passing of my partner of 20 yrs back in 2006. Now, Ty has been diagnosed with Cushing's Disease, and it will be a matter of time before I will once again need to make the decision to "let him go", and I'm not looking forward to it right now.

I will keep you, John, and yes, Wilma, in my thoughts. Big hugs to you both.
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Comment by: Brian (Toronto, Canada) Thu., Feb. 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm UTC
I am so sorry to hear of your loss. You have written what so many of us feel, and have experienced with our pets. Wilma was a true friend who only wanted to give love. I lost my best friend just before his fourth birthday, and not a day passes but I think of him several times. I hope time will help you with your sorrow, knowing that Wilma is resting peacefully, away from pain. Best wishes to you during this difficult time.
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Comment by: Mike (Minneapolis) Thu., Feb. 28, 2013 at 3:01 pm UTC
So sorry! I had to put my cat down and it was the worst day of my life.
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Comment by: Yu-chi (stockholm) Thu., Feb. 28, 2013 at 1:59 pm UTC
Hi PD,
it's very touching with what you wrote...just can't think about that day will come-the end, especially to the people and our best mates(animals) we LOVE. I used to have dogs and each one was/is made me want to hug my dog right away now..God bless your little girl and she'll be watching and keep you in health!
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Comment by: Stephen (Fontana, CA) Thu., Feb. 21, 2013 at 3:55 am UTC
I relate. Completely.

I got my Sam a year before I became Poz. She was there when I got the call from the Dr. and when I found out and melted down.. And she was there when I first started meds.

She is only 3.5 now. But I obsess over the idea of losing her because I know how much I rely on her for support and love. I dread life without her, and cant imagine how strong you must be to have lived through it with your Girlie.

I am so glad to be able to read this and know that one day when its time for my Sam to leave, that I am capable of doing what others have done in similar shoes.

Thank you
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Philip D. (San Francisco, CA) Wed., Feb. 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm UTC
Hi Stephen,

Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like you and Sam have bonded for life, like Wilma and I did. There's no feeling quite like it. Don't obsess, just hold her tight.

I wish you both long lives!

Comment by: susan (baltimore Md) Sat., Feb. 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm UTC
Im so sorry for your loss. Im going through the same thing with my boy. I have had him since he was 5 wks old and hes getting ready to turn 15.I never had children but I truly believe he is mine. He was diagnosed about 6 months ago and we went through the vaccine. So Im blessed to have him still laying next to me right now. I cant even think about life without him, It hurts so bad to even go there. But I know the day is coming.Im so happy you have your partner there to comfort you. God Bless you both, Susan
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Philip D. (San Francisco, CA) Wed., Feb. 27, 2013 at 12:40 pm UTC
Hi Susan

Enjoy him fully, and make some good memories. Those are the times I cherish most.

Wishing you both good health!

Comment by: Bri (New York) Sat., Feb. 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm UTC
What a beautiful collection of thoughts you've shared about your lovely dog :-) I'm so sorry you've had to say goodbye to her. I've always found it awfully sad that our pets' lives are generally so much shorter than ours. But the love and beauty they bring into our lives during that period really is enough to mark us forever. I think it's really nice that Wilma has moved to do so much for your family. I'm sorry for your loss, and I wish you strength and luck with what you do next :-)
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Philip D. (San Francisco, CA) Wed., Feb. 27, 2013 at 12:35 pm UTC
Thank you. I agree wholeheartedly. In their short lives, the mark they leave is indelible. She did teach me more important lessons, than I ever taught her.

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A Positive Spin

Philip D.

Philip D.

After testing HIV positive in 2007, I promised myself that I would make something "good" from all that I was handed. From the very beginning, each time I was presented with an obstacle or challenge, I also received some help. Usually in the form of a person, sometimes an opportunity; but I have grown so much, it has made it impossible for me to call the past few years "bad." Although I've never written much of anything before, I have been so incredibly fortunate, I feel like I must pay it forward somehow. Maybe by sharing my experience, it will help those starting later in the game, on the fast track to HAART, or anyone that's feeling a bit isolated or "stuck" with their diagnosis.

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