Not only was swim therapy helping Skylar’s elbow dysplasia, she absolutely loved it. Whenever I got out her water collar and red rubber chicken (reserved for swimming only), Sky would run joyously to the door with a huge pittie smile on her face and that long, Eighth Wonder of the World tongue flapping from side to side. She would hop in the car and sit up the whole way, whining as we turned onto the “AquaDog street.”
Then, a couple weeks in, everything changed. When I brought out the water collar and rubber chicken, she would hop up on the sofa with Kickie, glued to her right side with her ears pinned back and her big green bug eyes full of trepidation as if she thought I planned to dump her on the side of a rural road in Gilroy. “I don’t understand it,” Kickie would say. “I thought she loved swimming.” The only way to get her into the car was to trick her by having Kickie walk out with us and pretend she was coming along. Skylar would cry and stare out the back window at Kickie until she was out of sight. Once we reached AquaDog, Skylar enjoyed her swim time as much ever, but she was always eager to get home and run back to Kickie’s side.
At home, she clung to Kickie constantly, following her from room to room, even waiting outside the bathroom door. She had been over her Pit Bull Pillow Panic Syndrome for quite a while, but she again refused to come to bed at night. Because of her arthritis and problems with her feet and legs, Kickie sleeps on a sofa where she feels more comfortable. It’s a good sized sofa that I bought for her several years ago, but with a 70-pound pit bull trying to sleep there, too, it was a little crowded. “Grammy needs to stretch her legs out, Skylar,” Kickie would say. Sky would fold her ears back, glancing back at Kickie with great concern, and then contort her body into the smallest little ball possible in order to squeeze into the back corner at the end of the sofa. When we moved an ottoman to block Sky from getting up on the couch, she would sleep stretched out on the floor alongside it. This went on for weeks.
One afternoon at swim therapy, I told Connie about Skylar’s strange behavior. “I know she’s eccentric, and I know she has a lot of, uh … issues,” I said. “But this is bizarre even by Skylar Grey standards.”
Connie tossed the red rubber chicken as Sky flew across the pool after it. “Maybe something is wrong with Kickie,” Connie said.
“Kickie does have a lot wrong with her,” I responded, ticking off her health issues. “But she’s had them for years.”
“Maybe it’s something inside,” Connie said. “Dogs know things we don’t; they sense things we can’t. Maybe Sky knows something you and Kickie don’t.”
On the drive back to Kickie’s, I reflected on what Connie had said, and then I thought about how service dogs are trained to detect low blood sugar in their diabetic owners, or other conditions such as seizures. When we got home, I sat on the sofa next to Kickie and Sky. “How long has it been since your last physical?” I asked.
“A year or so,” Kickie shrugged, adjusting her reading glasses to glance at the grocery sale papers. Kickie was notorious for hating to go to the doctor. “You’ll feel that way, too, when you’re 84,” she said. “I don’t like it now,” I told her. “No one likes going to the doctor. But you’re overdue for a check-up and …” Kickie handed me the phone. “All right,” she said. “Go ahead and make an appointment.” I was shocked, but I eagerly made the call.
A few days later we headed to Kaiser, where I sat in the waiting room for what seemed like an hour. I looked up expecting to see Kickie, but instead it was Dr. Lee. “Hi Susan,” she said. “Come to the exam room. I want to talk to you.” When she opened the door, Kickie was sitting in the corner, crying. “What’s wrong?” I asked frantically. “Kickie has a lump in her right breast,” Dr. Lee explained. “She’s known about it for a month or so.” I knelt next to Kickie, hugging her tightly. “I didn’t know how to tell you,” Kickie sobbed.
“I’ve set her up for an ultrasound early next week,” Dr. Lee said. “I believe it’s cancer, but we won’t know for sure until we get the results.”
That night after Kickie fell asleep, I didn’t try to force Skylar into my room. “You take care of Grammy,” I whispered, kissing her little pit bull blockhead. Sky squeezed into the back corner at the end of the sofa, let out a contented sigh, and closed her eyes.