Friday, August 30th.
It was warm outside, t-shirt weather, and I was hoping for a crisp, cool morning on grouse opener but the air felt thick and muggy. You could hear a pin drop in all of its calmness. I worked my way up through the deep draw that was nestled between stands of tall sage, weaving my way through the thick brush, tucking and carefully maneuvering my shotgun, always aware of where it was pointed while crawling over and under branches. Some branches catching the back of my upland hunting pack, I fought my way loose. I could hear Angus intrepidly and noisily moving below me, sticks breaking and dried arrowleaf balsamroot leaves being crushed like potato chips. I caught a glimpse of him as he ran uphill past me. Angus was birdy, his docked tail moving back and forth quickly like a hummingbird. I was hoping to hear the sudden fluttering of a grouse busting for freedom but I heard a different sound instead.
A quiet staccato cak-cak-cak noise came from overhead in the tall pine trees at the top of the draw. I stopped, picked out a tree and squinted into the sun looking for an outline of a bird overhead somewhere. Balancing from a skinny branch like a tightrope walker, I caught the glimpse of the big dusky grouse staring down at me. Bob and Peat were coming up the other side of the draw and heard the grouse calling. I motioned him over and singled out the grouse in the tree. He pointed at my forearm covered in fresh blood and asked “What happened?” I answered back “Hawthorn spike, I guess?”
My preferred style of hunting is not seeing or thinking about killing a bird too much beforehand. The killing part of bird hunting is the part that I hate the most. “I’m not going to shoot that grouse out of a tree!” I shouted to Bob. In my mind after I made eye contact with that bird, we now had a relationship. Bob said “It’s just meat, I’ll do it.” The grouse impatient from our conversation about who was going to shoot it flew from the branch. Bob shot and missed and then he continued up the draw where he found a large mule deer shed laying on the ground. Bending over to pick it up, another grouse busted from the ground nearby. He proceeded to mount his gun, spin around, and hit the bird as it flew past. It was an amazing shot. Falling from the sky and into the ticket, Angus was first to the retrieve and took the bird directly to Bob. I was proud that he beat Peat to the grouse.
The old warrior, or aged warrior, as we call him, Angus seemed perfectly normal and fine during the hunt but after we got home we noticed some tiny drops of bloody urine on the kitchen floor. We had noticed some drops of blood before, about a week prior, but didn’t know where it came from. Examining Angus, we realized it was coming from him. I called our regular vet who’s taken care of Angus for seven years. His answering machine said that he was still on medical leave, which he’d been on all summer, but that he might start taking appointments on the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend. Anxious to get Angus treated right away, we called another vet clinic in another town and they said they could see Angus that afternoon.
The veterinarian, one we’d only met for the first time that day, walked out of the back examination room and into the waiting room where Bob and I were anxiously awaiting the results of Angus’s urine test. Expressionless, he made eye contact with me and looked away. He began by saying “I have some bad news…….[pause]………the good news is that his lab work looks good……..[pause]……..the bad news is that we went ahead and did a quick ultrasound and he has a urinary tumor and most likely has one to three months to live.”
I stared down at the concrete floor and looked up as someone walked past close by, and another person with their dog was heading out the door. Without saying any words to me and just from his expression I could tell the vet was saying, “I’m sorry.”
Instead of being handed a bottle of antibiotics to fix what we thought might be just a simple urinary infection we were being handed a business card for a vet clinic in Boise that we could call the following week to make an appointment so they could discuss starting chemotherapy which might buy him another six months at the most.
The long Labor Day weekend was ahead of us, and anxious to get a second opinion right away, Bob called a good friend of ours who’s a vet in Washington state to ask him for some advice. Ethan suggested getting Angus on Piroxicam because it’s been shown to sometimes give good results to dogs with transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) and that surgery was too risky to remove the tumor.
Tuesday, Sept 3rd.
After the long weekend, doing our own research and giving it plenty of thought, we decided against pursuing chemo because Angus is 12-1/2 years old. Bob called the vet to see if he could get us some Piroxicam, but he’d never heard of using it for TCC. What!? That same Tuesday Bob called our normal vet , Dr. Gardner, who we liked and trusted, and who’d miraculously made a complete recovery from his illness and was back to business full time. Dr. Gardner called into our pharmacy the prescription for the Piroxicam. We started Angus on the drug on Sept 5th.
Chukar opener was Sept 21st, and I’ve hunted with him eleven times now since they found a tumor in his bladder. He’s been hunting hard and pointing chukar and Huns just like he’s always done, and I’ve had the pleasure of shooting over him and have him retrieve birds for me. Looking at him you wouldn’t know anything was wrong with him, but now knowing that this is his last season makes me appreciate things more than ever. Bob and I take turns following him around outside to watch him pee, but the moment he can’t urinate anymore because the tumor is blocking his urinary tract it will be time. Just like in that moment you choose to shoot and kill a wild game bird, it’s a choice we make or are forced to make, and it’s never easy ending a life.
I’ve been crying a lot lately but don’t want Angus to see me doing it. Dogs are perceptive, they key into your emotions. He doesn’t know that he’s dying. We took him for his two month check up a couple of days ago, and Dr. Gardner said that the tumor was shrinking.
Another miracle? We’ll take it for now.