Cancer Survivor's Open Letter to Her Yellow Labrador


My dog helped me get through cancer and now my heart is breaking.

Ginger, you are an impetuous yellow Labrador puppy and the jealous head dog of our home. You have your own song that everyone in the family sings to you. You are over 13 years old when everything I have found online says to expect 10 to 12 years.

You were there for the middle of our children’s lives and for both of my cancers. You were there when we moved to the house on a bit of acreage. Your whole body stretched out and raced diagonally across your yard the first time, a yard that finally had no fences. We threw the ball until we were tired and bored from throwing it.

You were feisty from the day you were born, according to the breeder. At our house, you climbed up onto the dinner table and put your head in the bowl of blueberries intended for dinner. You listened and followed the rules but often added your own interpretation to them. “Yes, I will ‘come’ but I will first go and get a toy to bring to you when I come.”

Ginger, you loved unconditionally. You loved better than me if love were a contest. In the last months, I massaged your back and legs almost daily, yet now I realize I could have still paid more attention to you and taken you outside to smell the smells. I wish I had loved you better.

You are stretched out next to me on the couch tonight. You haven’t wagged in at least two days. You fall down. You haven’t eaten dog food for two weeks and now you won’t even eat the chicken and rice or the tuna. My heart is breaking. I wish I had loved you better. You loved me without reservation.

“Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.” (Psalm 36:6 NIV)

Tonight I cling to those words. All dogs go to heaven. I believe that in my heart—my heart that is breaking. Where did over 13 years go? Mitzi, the younger dog in our home is bewildered. She doesn’t know where to go or what to do. My heart is breaking. I will miss you so. You were there on the end of my bed through the breast cancer chemotherapy treatments. You kept me company when I had no energy. You would come to me in the middle of the night if you heard me crying. This pain is so intense.

It is the end of the middle part of our lives. Our children have moved out. You and Mitzi remain. You are our second Labrador, our last yellow Labrador. You will be missed every day for the rest of my life. My heart is breaking.

Tell Mickie, our first Labrador, that I still love her and always will. She was the victim of new Labrador parents. She was loved and underappreciated. Mickie was your great, great, great aunt, or something like that according to the AKC charts. You will like her.

I don’t want to make this decision with my husband, yet we know it is the right thing, the last kind thing, we can do for you. I love you so much. It is hard to breathe. You have always been there for us.

Jealous Ginger, you would always budge in when Mitzi got attention. I don’t know what Mitzi will do without you. I don’t know what I will do. The kids are gone and now it is your turn to leave us too. I don’t think you hear me or see me most of the time. If this is our last kindness to you, why is my heart breaking?

The veterinarian came to our house the next evening. Before she arrived, Ginger walked around her yard, received many hugs, and even opened a few leftover doggie Christmas presents because she loved to rip open presents. We all went outside and sat on her hill in her yard. Ginger went gently to sleep in my daughter’s arms.

I will love you always, Ginger.

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