Thursday, August 10, 2000

Buying time for Murray

        My good friend Murray is sick. Really sick. I'll spare you the awful details, except to say we knew something was wrong with him two months ago. We insisted he see his regular doctor, although I was sure it was something simple. I thought he might have eaten a sock.

        This was not impossible. We have proof (again, you don't want to know the details) that at various times he has eaten three shoes, part of a couch, a chocolate layer cake, two library books, a window sill and the leg of my favorite wing chair. He also occasionally drinks from the toilet bowl.

        OK, so Murray is a dog. But it is still terrible.

        He has cancer.

Not covered by HMO
        Murray, a 3-year-old collie, has not been like a member of our family. He does not have his own seat at the dinner table. He is not mentioned in our will. I do not kiss him on the mouth. He is not covered by our HMO.

        But he has been the best dog you can imagine.

        Dr. Verne Fairhurst, who has known Murray for nearly as long as we have, gave us the bad news. Lymphosarcoma. “It's a mess in there,” he said, showing us the X-rays. And it was.

        Now what? “Well, you can do nothing,” the vet told us. In which case Murray would have about a month. A miserable month. We also could, as we used to say, “put him out of his misery.”

        Or, he said, we could consider chemotherapy. This might give him another year. “That's a lot in a dog's life,” he said. “That's like seven of ours.”

        As I mentioned before, Murray is not covered by our HMO. His treatments are expensive. They cost more than a big screen TV, but not as much as a family trip to Disney World. It is considerably more than my husband and I usually spend on each other for Christmas.

        And how would Murray feel about this? He is not trying to hang on in order to go to his daughter's wedding. And we can't exactly explain all this to him.

Reigning cats and dogs
        “We don't go for a cure,” Dr. Fairhurst said. An all-out assault on cancer is too toxic. The plan is to buy a little time for Murray. Good time.

        “When I was a boy,” Dr. Fairhurst says, “we didn't do a lot. The old school was "why fix it if you can replace it?' Not a lot was made available to the public. Our profession didn't think you were interested.”

        Almost 60 percent of American households own some kind of pet, according to the American Pet Products Association. The American Veterinary Association reports this country is home to 59.1 million cats and 52.9 million dogs.

        Not only are there more pets, but the bond between ourselves and our animals has deepened, according to Dr. Fairhurst. “As a human community, we're going through a transition.”

        Harvard offers a course in animal rights law. Dogs are used to comfort people dying at hospice. Horses are helping autistic children connect with their world. Monkeys assist people with paralysis. A whole lot of transition is going on.

        Murray does not know any of this. But he knows he feels pretty good and is allowed to lounge on the couch. He asks no questions. His cancer is in remission, and he is nearly his old self. That is, the best dog you can imagine.

        So, this year for Christmas, my husband and I are giving each other another year of Murray. It is seven times better than anything else we could buy.

        E-mail Laura at or call (513) 768-8393.


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