Brian Brings family much needed joy in 2020
The Life of Brian
After he was surrendered at age twelve to the Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center, Brian was in terrible shape—the notes from his initial medical exam were grim: “Hair loss all over body including tail, red, scabby, irritated itchy skin, yeasty ears, both have old hematomas, live fleas, overgrown nails, embedded dew claw on front right paw. Paw is extremely red and swollen. ”Not yet discovered, a high-grade mast cell tumor that had to be surgically removed from his paw, and multiple masses found throughout his body. Despite it all, the shelter didn’t give up on Brian. They found him a wonderful foster home, initiated vital medical treatment, and started searching for a family who would be willing to adopt a “hospice dog.”
We hadn’t really been looking to adopt another dog. We’d been heartbroken nine months earlier when our senior lab mix, DD, had been diagnosed with cancer and died a week later, shortly after we’d moved from California to Virginia. Our senior shepherd mix, Shammy, had significant
age-related health issues and needed a lot of care. We were in the midst of a pandemic, and life was uncertain. But there they were, a collage of three pictures of Brian, looking up at me from the shelter’s Facebook page and melting my heart. We had the time and resources—why couldn’t we help this poor dog at the end of his life? Enlisting the support of our daughter who was home from college for remote learning, my husband agreed, if Shammy would accept him since he doesn’t typically like other dogs.
Shammy said yes, and so did we! Not quite sure what we were getting into or how long we’d have Brian with us, we brought him home. His skin issues were so extreme that he literally stunk—it took weeks for his skin and ears to heal so he wasn’t scratching constantly. His paw where the tumor had been removed was severely infected, and he endured wearing countless dollar-store baby socks and bandages as it healed. He needed the paw soaked in a special solution for five minutes a day as well as frequent baths with medicated shampoo. We bonded in the shower, him lathered up and holding his injured paw still as he tolerated my singing special renditions of “My Brian Lies Over the Ocean” and “Oh My Darlin’ Brian-Time” as the minutes ticked by.
Despite his health issues, Brian was a happy little guy who settled into our home life quickly, to the point he’s often become the boss of the household. Brian made it clear early on that the plain kibble Shammy ate wouldn’t do. We’d put a little wet food in to try to entice him—and he’d suck it off, spitting the kibble piece by piece onto the floor. He “dances” when it’s dinner-time, which has somehow morphed into a 3:30 p.m. early bird special, due to his demands. And it takes a leap for him to clear it, but the dog door designed for our old 75-pound lab works just fine for an independent-minded dog like Brian.
Walks are always an adventure. With a ferocious bark and a growl sounding like they’re coming from a creature quadruple his size, Brian is ready to take on any and all strange dogs he encounters, including those who dare to play in the park across the street (which happens something like 100 times a day.) He’s always up for having his bumpy belly rubbed, and if he’s not dozing, he’s likely chomping on his ever-growing collection of Himalayan yak milk chews.
Brian doesn’t really look like the same dog we adopted eight months ago. His fur has grown back and is a thick, silky white (except when he gets busy in his favorite backyard digging hole.) Even his formerly long naked rat tail has grown fur! It doesn’t appear his cancer has progressed, although I try not to kid myself that Brian will be here years from now. But I also don’t think he can truly be classified as a “hospice dog” anymore. He’s like any other senior dog, enjoying this late stage of his life and adding endless joy to our family with his special spunky/sweet/silly personality. I don’t know how much longer Brian will be with us, but I’m grateful to the Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center for giving him a second chance, and I’m so grateful for every day we have him in our lives.
Cindy Willett Sherwood