Nellie Bly 2000-2006
Right around Halloween, I noticed a lump on Nellie's snout, about a third of the way from her right eye to her nose. I expected it to be soft, like a bug bite or some kind of bruising, but it was hard, just skin over bone, so I got her to the vet as soon as possible. Vets have an ethical need to let you know all your options, but it came down to this:
I said to her, "If you can tell me that, five years from now, she'll be running across a meadow and someone will say 'Cool dog! How'd she get that scar on her face?' then I don't care what it costs."
But she couldn't tell me that. It was an aggressive tumor that was in her nasal cavity, her gums and the roof of her mouth. There were things I could do, but they would be very invasive, very expensive and not at all effective.
Nellie's breeder had the right prescription: Lots of steak, ice cream, pepperoni and love, for as long as she was okay.
So for the past eight weeks, I have spoiled the girl with extra treats and extra affection. And there's nobody I'd rather spoil like that, because she was absolutely appreciative -- she always enjoyed snuggling in under the quilt and watching a football game, or going along for a car ride, even if it was just to the corner store for milk.
This is a picture of Nellie with my granddaughter, Abigail, who is in kindergarten now but was a year and a half old when I was out in the back yard at my mother's, taking pictures, and this happened. It certainly wasn't posed -- I would never have suggested that she sit on the dog. But I knew, as I watched it unfold, that Nell would be cool with it, and she was, as you see. She was patient, gentle and sweet.
I'd say, "patient, gentle and sweet as always" but she was a dog, and very much a dog. When we were out in the fields, she was perfectly prepared to take down a woodchuck or rabbit, though she could never quite catch the latter. With Nell, you never forgot that her forebears hunted lions, and yet there was never a moment when you didn't feel you could utterly trust her with a small child. She was a beautiful, sweet girl.
This past weekend, we went up to Plattsburgh for an early Christmas with the kids. There were four little girls in the house, ranging from 10 years to 9 weeks old, and four dogs. Nellie was cheerful and pleased to be there, accepting love and affection from the kids and being very patient with the youngest of the pups. On our way out of town, we stopped to see my friend Donna, who has a nine-month-old ridgeback, and the three dogs had a good long walk in the brush that included a lot of running and chasing and playing. Nell had a great time and was in good humor throughout.
I always figured that the tumor would eventually interfere with her breathing, and on some mornings, she did snork and strain a bit. But once she was up and about, it eased and she was fine. I expected, however, that the time would come when I'd have to decide that it was becoming too difficult for her to breathe, and that would involve a hard decision. I had the vet on standby and had pre-paid so that, when the moment came, I could get in and out without a lot of dialogue and delay.
But there was no decision. This morning, Nell was in evident pain. Apparently, the thing had grown to a point where it began to press on a nerve, or to force some bones apart to the extent of causing her real agony. She came along obediently enough for our walk, but lagged behind, head down, tail between her legs. I cut things short, brought her home and made the phone call, then took her to the vet's and held her until it was over.
Nellie was only six -- she'd have been seven in February. She was the sweetest, most affectionate dog I've ever known, without ever being silly or servile or obnoxious. She was very much a dog. A great, great dog.