The Dog Stays in the Picture

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Commentator Elissa Ely tells the story of her dog, a show dog rescued after her retirement from the ring. At first a bit reserved, she's now a member of the family.


Elissa Ely's family of three added a fourth not long ago, a new pet. And it brought with it lessons about love.

ELISSA ELY: A dog came our way. She'd been a show dog, a piece of beautiful ceramics, but she was past her prime, no longer circuit quality and too old to breed. She'd been owned many times, which could have left anyone full of doubt and suspicions. Instead, it left her a perfect lady. Nothing stirred her well-bred waters. There was nothing personal in her.

The tail wagged calmly and democratically for anyone. She had been carefully but not intimately treated and she coped with serene detachment. We took her home. Because she was older, spaying was not minor. When we picked her up afterwards she staggered but followed us docilely. She didn't really know who we were. She went where she was told. That first night we slept on the floor next to her. She was upended with pain but accepted our care with dignity. She'd always been well cared for.

Slowly, she regained strength. By then we had grown to admire her uncomplaining nature. We loved this porcelain dog. We leaned down to gaze in her eyes and held hands with her paws. We made her name into a song. We praised her for a thousand silly things. Over the next few months, she began to see that this was not a professional relationship. The democratic tail started to thump harder when we were around. The eyes lit up. The perfectly formed head found its way under armpits at inconvenient moments. She was filling up and catching on fire.

One night when we came home she made a sound, a deep primitive noise. It was a groan of joy. That was over a year ago. A few months ago a lump on her flank was biopsied. We always assumed it was a fat pad. It was a tumor. Days later she was in surgery for the second time.

Afterwards the technician warned us that she looked like a mess and that she'd be confused from the anesthesia. Before he disappeared behind a closed door, he added that she had been a perfect lady. She staggered out, her flank was zipped with stitches and rubber drains. She shook her head. She lifted her nose and sniffed twice. Then with all the passion and fire you could ask for, she barreled unevenly across the room straight to us. Cancer doesn't make choices based on merit but we believe that she is too full of love now for death to have an early grip. Why is this unrealistic? Love has brought her to life and love will keep her alive.

NORRIS: Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist in Boston.

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