Dylan hugged me yesterday. That might not seem like a big deal — greyhounds are notoriously affectionate (ever hear of “the Greyhound Lean”) with people they like. But that was the one way Dylan was not your typical greyhound. Bad teeth: Check. Gassy: Check. Lazy: Check. Incredibly sweet: Check. Insanely fast: Check. Overly dramatic: Check. Affectionate to his people: Not so much. He loved people. He liked us. Ahem.
So when he wrapped his lean neck around mine, I knew there was meaning behind it. I had hoped he was being overly dramatic, but I feared he was not.
We adopted Dylan nearly 5 years ago, after taking a “break” from greyhounds due to their nasty habit of developing osteosarcoma. Truly, this remains the one thing wrong with these majestic dogs: Bone cancer is the #1 cause of death for retired racers, and we had already dealt with it twice in a row. Ellie, our canine cancer rock star, died in 2010 and Dingo, who didn’t quite make it a year past diagnosis, died in 2012.
If you’ve ever met a greyhound, you know how gentle and sweet and irresistible they truly are. Which is why we couldn’t stay away for long. Dylan was a winner—literally; he was taken off the track due to age, not a failed racing career—so we knew we wouldn’t have as much time with him as we did with, say, Katie or Ellie. But he wasn’t old, just too old to race.
And…he was a typical greyhound. Of course. We knew there was something wrong in 2019; he had a reoccurring limp and seemed uncomfortable and “off” for much of the year. X-rays and bloodwork showed nothing alarming other than low thyroid levels (typical greyhound!) because, well, osteosarcoma doesn’t show its ugly face until it’s ready. In this case, early September of that year. We amputated his leg on September 11, started chemotherapy three weeks later, and crossed our fingers.
He hit the 6-month mark with flying colors. One year. One and a half years. One year and three quarters…and the tide started to turn. Summer never was his season (despite his Florida upbringing, he struggled in heat and humidity), so we tried to not overreact. This past weekend was rough, though. Really rough. We increased his pain meds, but he just got worse. Another round of x-rays this morning showed us why: arthritis up and down his spine, causing debilitating pain. Truthfully, it could have also been cancer — 80% of time osteo returns, it comes for your lungs, meaning 20% of the time it lands elsewhere — but it probably wasn’t. Then again, it doesn’t really matter, does it? He was in so much pain he could hardly stand, and he would barely eat. He couldn’t walk and winced when you carried him.
I started the Chase Away 5K in 2011 to honor Ellie, who lived 4 years post-amputation—3 years longer than the median survival rate—and ended up dying of old age. In 2012, the Chase Away fell 2 days after we lost Dingo. I do not recommend holding a canine cancer fundraiser right after you lose a dog to canine cancer. Fortunately, we had plenty of rockstar volunteers to hold it together when I fell apart.
Then came 2021. In case you’re wondering, losing 2 dogs in a handful of months, to cancer, in the midst of a pandemic is about as much “fun” as you’d expect. It’s another experience I do not recommend.
So, yeah, this year’s Chase Away 5K, on September 26, will be hard. At least this time I have time to plan ways to honor Heidi and Dylan. (Be prepared for quite a bit of orange—Heidi’s color—and light blue—Dylan’s.) But that’s little comfort. That said, I do hope you’ll join us.
Because canine cancer research benefits people cancer research.
Because cancer research isn’t nearly as advanced as it should be by this point. (Case and point: osteosarcoma’s survival rate has remained unchanged for over a decade.)
Because your race bib is also your free entry to Wag It Forward.
Because walkers are welcome, and dogs aren’t required to participate.
Sign up early (I think by August 19) to get an event tee and add your dog’s name on the back. Chase, Ellie, Dingo, Heidi, and Dylan will kick off the list—but we also include dogs we hope DON’T get cancer, which is why you’ll also see Sierra and Vesper on there.
And hug your pets extra tight tonight. Listen to them. Love them. And appreciate every moment you have with them.
Thanks for the hug, Silly Dilly Do. It meant the world to me.
[This post originally ran on June 21, 2021]