Root for Major, whose serenity I fell in love with | Helen Ubiñas

We found out this week that one of our dogs has a tumor on his kidney. Chances are it’s cancer.

With surgery, we could maybe extend his life a little, if he’s a candidate for the procedure, and if he makes it through the surgery and if the other kidney kicks in the way it should.

Without it …

There is no easy choice here.

Not for Major, my 95 pounds of rescued goof. And not for us.

I don’t know what to do, so I’m doing what I always do when I’m lost. I’m writing.

When Major came along, I wasn’t ready for a new dog. I was still grieving the loss of our first dog together, Bootsy, a mutt we picked up from a New England barn when she was only 8 weeks old. We took her everywhere, on errands, on vacation, on our cross-country trip to California. She was my girl, who like her mother could be a little prickly depending on her mood. She was perfect.

When we lost her to cancer, I vowed that I would never, ever put myself through that again.

And then, I not only did it again, I doubled down on the inevitable pain.

Major came first in 2009, after he was rescued by a wonderful organization from the South, Memphis Area Golden Retriever Rescue.  A trucker found him on the run after he was attacked by other dogs for showing too much interest in a female dog. They called him Casanova. We renamed him Major, to honor the organization that saved him but also because it seemed to fit his personality better.

Major picked up on my hesitation in a way only a dog could. He laid low, watchful and patient, as if to say, “I get it. I’m here when you’re ready.”

In no time, I fell in love with his serenity. He has this air of nobility, which may be why of all the nicknames I gave him, Handsome Prince stuck.

Camera icon Ubinas
The author with her boys, Major (r) and Max on Nantucket in 2015.

Not long after, we got Max, the complete opposite of Major, a nutty little firecracker who had been tied to a tree for a year after his owner decided she was allergic.

Major wasn’t totally into him in the beginning, but after a while he became the big brother, taking a step back so his little brother could bask in attention, becoming the protective guardian when Max had to have emergency surgery for a lymph node that was draining into his stomach.

They became The Boys.

My Boys. The move from Connecticut to Philadelphia was hard. I left behind my family and my friends and a newsroom where I not only worked but where I grew up.  My Boys were my constant companions as I got to know my new neighborhood and my new city and tried to figure out where I fit in. It was easier to like Philly when I saw how much they enjoyed it.

I’m trying to live in the present — something I’ve never been good at.  When he isn’t feeling sick, Major, who is about 9, still likes morning cuddles, long walks down Germantown Avenue. He still likes playing with his brother, big bones filled with peanut butter, and his favorite snack, pizza.

But I keep going to places I wish I didn’t have to. What if I make the wrong decision? I don’t want to put him through surgery, but what if there is a chance it would work? What am I going to do about Max, who doesn’t do well when he’s separated from his brother? How do I explain to people who just don’t get this kind of love how completely my heart is broken, how I can’t help but cry on the train, on the street, at my desk. How much this sucks?

We’ve been through this before, so we know the painful drill. There is no good ending.

In the meantime, I’m hoping for the best and holding up his big ears every chance I get to whisper how much I love him, and how lucky we are to have him, for however long that may be.

And I tell him that whenever he has to go, which I’m still hoping isn’t for a little while longer, to make sure he finds Bootsy on the other side.

Bootsy wasn’t always a big fan of other dogs, but I know she’ll love him.