77: Tang’s Christmas Miracle

77: Tang’s Christmas Miracle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Tang’s Christmas Miracle

Animals’ instinctive spirituality enables them to interact with their Creator and with creation in ways that can truly be called miraculous. Animals have a talent for bypassing the mind and going straight to the heart.

~Allen and Linda Anderson, Angel Animals Book of Inspiration

Sometimes I think I should have named my dog Casper instead of Tang. He’s a small grey and white mix of Shih Tzu and Poodle with the personality of Casper the Friendly Ghost. He’s not just friendly; he is sincere. Whenever we go for a walk, he stops to greet every dog, cat, squirrel and person we meet. He loves all people young and old, babies in strollers and people in wheelchairs. He loves Canada Post letter carriers — even those without cookies in their pockets.

Tang expresses his love of life in a very vocal way. He has a special greeting where he raises his head to the sky and howls happily. Translated from dog language it means, “Joy to the World!” Nine years ago while brushing Tang’s teeth I discovered blood in his mouth. My husband and I took him to the vet even though we only suspected a gum infection. The vet thought so too — at first. The antibiotics failed to reduce the swelling, and we returned to the clinic. Dr. Hall, a canine dental specialist removed the suspicious mass, and had it biopsied.

The news was devastating. Cancer. Tang was only five years old. Dr. Hall informed us that Tang’s best option was radical surgery. Tang needed one third of his lower jaw removed. “Afterward he may require radiation treatment or chemotherapy,” Dr. Hall said. “It might give him another couple of years. Without treatment, he will have only a few months.”

Dr. Hall was honest enough to admit that the surgery was beyond his skill. He made an appointment for us at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph. Tang, he said, was a little trouper. At the OVC hospital, Dr. Alexandra Squires was confident she could perform the surgery successfully. But trouper or not, we were terrified to proceed. How was Tang going to eat? What would he look like with his jaw removed? What if the cancer had spread? Was it worth putting him through all this pain and suffering just so we could have him a little while longer? Were we being selfish? We did not want Tang to suffer.

Tang’s response to all of the poking and prodding, X-rays and tests was a great big happy-bark song of joy. He was nervous, but he trusted us. He even trusted all of the different specialists who examined him. And for each of us there was always that howled song of joy.

By now it was mid-November. The city was decorated for Christmas. I knew I would soon have to go Christmas shopping and write cards, and there was also our annual Christmas party to organize. My husband was asked to be the chair of the anthropology department at his university. He wished desperately to decline. We were too sad. All we could think about was losing Tang. But my husband agreed to take the job of department chair. And I did not want to disappoint the students who looked forward to the annual Christmas fest in our home. We began to prepare for Christmas.

On the day of Tang’s surgery heavy snow was falling. We made the drive to the hospital in just over an hour. We left Tang in the arms of one of the veterinary assistants. He twisted his little head to watch us leave, his soft round eyes curious rather than frightened. I recall thinking that this might be the last time I ever saw him. We drove home in a horrific storm, a salt truck flinging salt onto our windshield to mix with the flying snow. It was black that night — in so many ways. The highway was a booby trap of ice and blinding weather. We made it home to a cold supper and then bed. We couldn’t sleep.

Tang’s surgery was successful, but he wasn’t out of the woods yet. He stayed at the hospital for three nights. The veterinary students were wonderful, and the girl assigned to Tang stayed by his side twenty-four hours a day. She called every evening to update us on his condition. When the doctors decided he could eat on his own, they let him come home. We picked him up on a snowy afternoon. His eyes looked bright. His mouth had been reconstructed and there were stitches in his jaw. His tongue protruded halfway out of his mouth. He wore a white cone around his neck and a morphine patch on his back.

My husband and I exchanged horrified glances. What had they done to our dog? What had we done? I remember saying afterward that I would never get used to seeing Tang like that.

Tang’s jawbone was sent to the pathology lab to be tested. The pathologist was away at a convention for three days, and the wait was agonizing. By the time he contacted us our nerves were raw. But the news was good. The outer edges of the bone were clean, no sign of cancer. The following week we returned to the OVC hospital to have Tang’s stitches removed. The waiting room was cheerfully decked out in Christmas lights and ornaments. A young woman sat beside me with a cage containing two ferrets. She was worried. The ferrets seemed overly large around the belly, and I asked if they were pregnant.

“No,” she said, tearfully. “They have adrenal disease.” Her grandfather had driven her to the hospital (clearly he loved his granddaughter) but he wore an impatient expression on his face that said “they’re only animals.”

Tang thought otherwise. The girl was called into the examining room with her beloved ferrets. Tang trundled over to the grandfather, and, despite the stitches under his mouth, gave his defining happy howl of joy. Even Grandpa couldn’t stay grumpy with Tang around.

“That dog never stops wagging his tail,” he said, cracking a smile.

By the week before Christmas all the stockings were hung. The Christmas tree was decorated, and red and green lights spiralled around the conifers outside. We welcomed the students into our home. As everyone sat down with a glass of holiday cheer, Tang greeted each and every one of his guests, tail wagging, his snout raised to Heaven howling his special song of joy.

Heroes come in many forms and I am thankful to the veterinarians who have devoted their lives to saving pets. But it was Tang that reminded us of what Christmas was really about. It wasn’t just about finding the perfect gift, or cooking the perfect turkey or decorating the most festive house. It was about showing kindness to others and appreciation for the ones you love. That small furry package of joy showed us what it takes to have strength, how to find hope and courage, and how to believe in miracles.

~Deborah Cannon

Hamilton, Ontario

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