Around 2005, my mother went into a deep depression. She couldn’t remember how to fry an egg. She couldn’t remember how to get to her doctor’s. More than once, she couldn’t remember to open her garage door before backing her car out of the garage.

She was only 69. She spent her days and nights in bed, occasionally wandering downstairs for a frozen dinner or out to pick up her meds at the pharmacy. For the most part, she sequestered herself away to a corner bedroom at the end of a cul-de-sac on Mercer Island, hiding the embarrassment of her fading mind.

“Mom, come on, let’s go to lunch,” I would implore.

“I can’t,” she would tell me, “I don’t feel well.”

“Why not? You never feel well,” I’d beg. “Come on. What’s the matter?”

“D-D, I just don’t feel well,” she’d tear up.

This went on for a while, maybe even a year. We tried Prosac. She wouldn’t go to a counselor. I’d get her to my house for dinner on Sundays, but even seeing family didn’t pull her out of her funk. It seemed hopeless. Finally (duh!), I thought to ask her what would help her get out of bed.

“A puppy,” she said.

“Absolutely not,” my dad emphatically responded. “I will not have a filthy beast in this house.”
After many soft conversations on the subject, Fred finally acquiesced, approving the adoption of a puppy.

Kathy wanted a standard poodle. She had a black standard poodle, Veronica, in her 20s, and it was Kathy’s favorite dog ever. Knowing I would probably inherit this dog some day, I felt poodles were too high-strung for me. But poodle mixes – Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, Schnoodles, German Shephoodles, Weimarnoodles, Whippletoodles, Pugoodles, Xoloitzcootles – a decent doodle mutt? I could live with that. But because doodles were so popular at the time, breeders had long waiting lists of eager adoptees willing to pay insultingly-high prices for the little furry bundles of long-eyelashed love. For months I fruitlessly scoured the papers and searched online for a doodle for Kathy to no affordable avail.

But you know, Gaia listens.

One chilly day in 2006, the woman who ran a doodle puppy mill in Athol, Idaho, (that’s right, “Asshole” with a lisp) chased her final ball to the sky, dumping more than 150 curly-headed bounders onto the rescue market.

And so, Arthur, the seven-pound, eight-week-old, ginger-afroed, giardia-infected, mild-mannered, ball-obsessed, labra-doodlie-oodlie-oodlio came to be my mother’s youngest, and probably most beloved, child.

When I passed the puppy from my arms to hers, she cried tears of joy, pinching her own arm over and over, asking, “Is this a joke? If this is a joke, it’s really mean D-D and I’ll never forgive you. You have to tell me the truth. Is this a joke? Is he really mine?”

“It’s no joke Mom, he’s yours.”

“But … your father!” she frowned, fearing that my dad would banish the small blur of energy the minute he laid eyes on him.

“Dad said it’s OK. The puppy is really really yours,” I promised. “So, what are you going to name him?”

“Arthur,” she replied, without a moment’s hesitation. “He looks just like my Uncle Arthur – frizzy red hair, beady eyes and a big nose.”

From that day on, Kathy rose early every morning from her well-worn king-sized cocoon as soon as her new bestie Arthur (whom she nicknamed “Curly”), cried. She cleaned his accidents as if they were loaves of gold. She tromped around Mercer Island, bragging to her neighbors, her dental hygienists, her Albertson’s cashiers, her longtime hair stylist, her Sav-On pharmacists, her Roberto’s waitresses, her Starbucks baristas – really to anybody who would follow her out to the parking lot to revel in her pride and joy.

No longer a shut-in, Kathy spent the next six years indulging her bounteous love for Mr. Arthur Doodle. But time worked its evil magic on Kathy and eventually, she could no longer walk Arthur (and if she did, she couldn’t find her way home). She fell victim to her advancing Alzheimer’s and moved into a super-great home for dementia with 24-hour medical care last year. Her first few months were a loop tape of “Where’s Fred?” and “Where’s Arthur?” We told her the truth about Fred – that he was dead – but when she asked about Arthur, we just repeated over and over that he was on a walk and he would be back soon – for which she was relieved because she knew he had to potty.
She rarely asks about him anymore, though I do take him to visit her from time to time.

“Come here, honey, I love you,” she tells him, burying her face in his shaggy neck as he impatiently looks at me fishing for a sign that we’re leaving soon.

“Mom, I’m gonna take Arthur out to potty,” I say when it’s time to leave. “We’ll be back soon.”

“I wanna come,” she often says.

“OK,” I say. As she tries to stand, her arthritic hip stops her cold and she plunks back down again. “Do you wanna just wait here and I’ll take him?”

“That’s a good idea,” she agrees.

“OK,” I say. And Arthur and I leave, assuring her that we’ll return soon. I know by the time I hit the elevator, she will have forgotten we were here or that she’s expecting us to return soon.
I load the now 66-pound boob (we call him a boob, because, well, Arthur’s kind of a beta boob) into my cringingly clichéd NW forest green Eurovan and head across the bridge to Seattle and home.

And now Arthur, who had been such an apt and patient therapy dog for my mother, is my therapy dog. He gets me outside everyday. As the chemo marinates, weakening my muscles and drying out my bones, I don’t take Arthur for walks … he takes me. The walks get shorter by the day, just as they did with my mother. But Arthur doesn’t complain and when we get home, he patiently stays by my side as I sleep on the sofa, read, write, or sip tea with the morning news. He never bothers me for anything, unless he has to go to the bathroom, and then he paws on his special drawer with the dog treats and tennis balls and leashes to communicate, “It’s time and a boy has his needs.”

The other day, I was chatting with a friend who is grappling with a bitch of a sarcoma. I don’t know if she has a dog, but she does have three young children that give her every reason times a thousand to live. As we were comparing notes, she mentioned that she flushes the toilet three times after each use.

Now, when you’re getting chemo, the various forms of the drug are so dangerously toxic that some books, pamphlets, websites and medical professionals advise chemo patients that they are somewhat of a walking, talking biohazard with inner drippings that are super-saturated in POISIN POISIN poisin. I had read that chemo patients need to give the toilet an extra flush or two after visiting it, but when I asked my oncologist if I needed to do this, he was all, “Naaaah.” So I don’t. Or, I should say, “I didn’t.”

Then the other day, I noticed dear Arthur, Arthur the survivor of the great and horrible puppy mill, Arthur – the super-hero therapy dog, Arthur the Fuji apple of my mother’s eye, was more lackadaisical than ever, which is actually saying a lot because he’s always been alarmingly lazy.

He’d skipped a few meals and drank a little less than usual, and a few times he was in such a strangely deep sleep that Arthur didn’t lift his head when I called his name. And then he started puking here and there and didn’t run to his drawer to hint hint that he wanted to stroll the neighborhood. And maybe this was just my imagination, but I would swear he started to shed like a husky in the spring.

As I was telling my new friend with the sarcoma and the three children about this, she asked, “Does Arthur drink out of the toilet?”

And then, I’m sorry to report to you, we both did something rather awful. We both started to laugh.

Maybe Arthur was getting recycled chemo by favoring the toilet bowl over his water bowl. And while it’s real cool to recycle and reuse – you know, the Earth, limited resources, save it while you got it – I’m not sure it’s real cool if a dog (or anyone) gets second-hand chemo. Now, if Arthur does have cancer, maybe he’s benefitted from early treatment. And if he doesn’t have cancer, maybe we can just couch this whole episode as “preventive medicine”? Either way, I’m gonna take comfort in anticipation of his hopefully cancer-free future, full of Taste of the Wild natural lamb kibble, table scraps from his BBQ master, restorative chuck-it sessions at the local park, and the occasional tête-à-tête with his first love, Kathy.

Oh yeah. From hereon out, I vow to flush three times … and close the lid.

(No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog. Arthur’s symptoms have all disappeared. And Monday we’ll hit the vet’s for a quick checkup – plus he needs a nail trim.)

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