20: Mica’s Miracles

20: Mica’s Miracles

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Mica’s Miracles

For every mountain there is a miracle.

~Robert H. Schuller

“Thirty-seven . . . thirty-eight . . . thirty-nine . . . Yay, Mica! Woohoo!” Mica’s excited barks rang out in the frozen stillness. Atop Blackhead Mountain in January, I stamped my feet and clapped my hands to stay warm and also to celebrate Mica’s amazing accomplishment. Making it to the summit of Blackhead is no mean feat, as the trail ranges from steep to wickedly steep to holy-cow-you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me steep. At the summit, she planted her feet and pointed her nose skyward and barked thirty-nine times — once for every mountain she’d climbed since our beginning more than a year earlier.

Mica, a Belgian Malinois, came into my life in May 2012. I already had a pack of rescued dogs of my own, but when I heard that a senior dog had been dumped at a shelter, I turned to Iske, who was reading the computer screen over my shoulder. “Look, Iss,” I said, “a dog your age, abandoned at the shelter. We’ll foster her and help her find a family of her own.” Iske’s tail thumped against my chair as my heart raced and my eyes filled. Iske’s approval meant a lot. After all, I may have adopted her, but she rescued me. Through a brutal breakup and single parenthood, illness and eviction, financial troubles and relationship meltdowns, Iske had been my rock. Rescue, I learned from Iske, is a two-way street.

Now it was time to give back, and Mica was clearly in need. She had spent the past eleven years bored, frustrated, lonely, angry, and frightened, alone on the end of a chain. Her potential went utterly unappreciated, the neglect all the more piercing due to her incredible athletic ability and intelligence. After eleven years, her family moved from their home and disposed of Mica as if she were just so much trash. From that first glance at her photo, there was no talking sense to me. I would make sure she was safe and comfortable, no matter what. A few e-mails and a transport miracle later, Mica arrived at my home.

Mica had a tough time adjusting to her new home. She refused to be petted, walking away from all affection. She didn’t know any commands, pulled dreadfully when on the leash, and sought distance and solitude at home. She was not aggressive at all—just stiff and aloof, sad and uncomfortable. She missed her family and all that was familiar, as awful as it was. We loved her from the distance she maintained and hoped her heart would heal enough to let us in.

After being with us for a few weeks, I decided to take her into the Catskill Forest for a short hike. She had learned her name and came when I called her, so I weighed the risk against the potential joy hiking might bring her. After a half a mile or so on the trail I took off the leash. She pranced away and sniffed the ground. Then she raced, paws flying, leaping over fallen logs, wagging and barking, along the next three miles of trail. At the lookout, she posed upon a rock and surveyed the layers of hills dropping away towards New Jersey and beyond. And everything changed.

Mica’s miracle unfolded over many more hikes. She tasted freedom and she loved it. Hiking became a way of connecting with me, as she came to trust that I would give her the freedom she valued above all else. She’d been with us just over six months and had settled in nicely when a run-in with a porcupine resulted in a vet visit. The vet and I examined every centimeter of her body with a fine-toothed comb, seeking any stray quills. And that was when we found it: a small ugly bump on her belly.

The bump grew quickly and surgery was scheduled. When I took Mica in for her post-op checkup, the vet sat me down and spoke in that horribly quiet tone reserved for the worst of news. Grade 3 mast cell sarcoma, very aggressive subtype, no clear margins, and in his brutally honest opinion—“six months at the most.” We discussed all the options and he shook his head slowly, petting Mica’s soft ears. “Just take her home and make her happy,” he said. “Anything else will ruin what little time she has left. Just make her happy.”

In the face of such heartbreaking news, I did what any reasonable person would do. I adopted her. No more foster status, I felt that for whatever time she had left she deserved to die with my last name, a full member of this family.

And then I took Mica hiking. We committed to completing the Catskill 35 — the thirty-five highest mountains in the Catskill region. If Mica could live long enough to hike them all—and then repeat four of them again in the winter—she could earn a certificate and patch for doing so. Hiking the 35 gave me a goal that structured our hikes. It gave me something to focus on besides her cancer. It gave me hope. And it gave her profound joy to be loose and running free up and down the mountains of the mighty and ancient Catskills.

We took it mountain by mountain, hike by hike. I kept a tally sheet next to the computer, filling in the dates as I uploaded photos. Doing anything thirty-five times takes time, and I fussed and worried over Mica as we hiked the list. Her pack mates came along to lend a paw. At first I thought we’d never make it to the winter hikes. Predicted to survive six months at most, we hiked often, logging miles and mountains in good order. And miraculously, Mica did not sicken. She did not show any signs of illness or discomfort at all. In fact she looked vibrantly well. It would have been amazing for any senior dog to hike and climb at this level of intensity, but Mica bravely trotted up those mountains at age twelve with terminal cancer, thirty-nine times. I got choked up at least once on every hike, burying my face in her neck and tearfully telling her what an amazing girl she was.

We hiked with the forest ranger and we hiked with my human friends, but mostly we hiked alone, just Mica and her canine sisters and me, up and down mountain after mountain. We gained hope. We got more and more excited as the number of remaining climbs shrank. And then the day was upon us: more than one year after her surgery, we were making that final climb. From a hopeless and pitiful creature on the end of a chain to barking her thirty-nine barks upon the summit of Blackhead Mountain, Mica’s spirit has shown me just what a miracle really is.

It’s been six months since Mica finished. Her certificate hangs above my desk, testimony to her courage and strength. We still hike regularly, working on a new list now. At her last vet visit, we got more bad news: the shadow we saw on the X-ray is lung cancer. Not a problem. Mica and I know what to do. “The mountains are calling and we must go.”

~Halia Grace

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