I was working on a column at the Hub of Hope inside Suburban Station this week when Carol Thomas, Project HOME's director of homeless services, walked over.
"How's your dog?" she asked.
I stumbled over my words, because I can't seem to talk about my sick pup without tearing up, but also because I've been overwhelmed by people's kindness after I wrote about Major.
Earlier this month, doctors found a mass on his kidney that was likely cancer. Only surgery would tell us for sure. We were tortured by the decision. With surgery, we could maybe extend his life. But there was no guarantee he'd make it through, or that his other kidney would kick in.
You left messages on my voicemail, you reached out in emails and on social media with support and advice – mostly to follow my heart while we debated our choices. "Whatever decision you make will be the right one because you love him," wrote Edie from Skippack.
You sent prayers and healing energy and recommendations for veterinarians and homeopathic remedies and diets, and hospice options, if need be.
A few of you said that even if my opinions routinely made you toss the paper across the room, as fellow dog lovers, you related to my love for my boys, two lovable golden retriever rescues who got me through a tough move to this city.
You told me about Montana and Jasper and Teddy and Teddy Bear and Thelma and Louise and Emma and Morgan and Honey Bear and George Bailey (a beloved cocker spaniel named after the character in It's a Wonderful Life) and so many more of your beloved pets, loved and lost.
You told me about the joy they've given you, and about the lengths so many of us go to try to repay their unconditional love.
You said you cried reading my column.
I cried reading your stories, too. But I also smiled at the sweet photos you sent and realized that as hard as it is to lose a beloved pet, I can't imagine life without them.
I'm sure there is some deeper meaning here, about how despite our differences, at our core, we're a lot more alike than we sometimes care to admit.
We love. We grieve. We get by with kindness, often from the most unexpected people, in the most unexpected places. When I apologized to someone for crying over my dog when he was dealing with his mother's illness, he graciously waved away my embarrassment by saying, "Family is family."
Many of you have asked me to keep you updated on Major. I wish I could respond individually and in person, but I'm an ugly crier, so I'll spare you and share the details here.
On Valentine's Day, the surgeon, who's as skilled in the operating room as she is at answering repetitive, endless questions I keep hoping for different answers to, removed one of his kidneys and the mass.
Now we know for sure, it's renal carcinoma.
He was in the hospital for about a week. We've been sleeping in the living room with him as he recovers for another week, a surreal camping trip with little sleep.
But two weeks after his operation, I see glimpses of my old boy returning. I walked out of the room one day and when I came back he had managed to get himself onto his favorite spot on the couch. His remaining kidney seems to be doing the job, fingers crossed. He's eating better. On Monday night, I took him and his brother, Max, on their first walk together since surgery. Not sure who was more excited, Max or I.
There are still decisions to make, the most pressing one about chemo. The inevitable, heartbreaking reality hasn't changed. We bought time, not a cure.
But for now, and I hope awhile longer, Major's journey continues.
And I can't thank you enough for helping us through.