In my eighth year of blogging about Honey, I’m beginning to face her mortality. Unfortunately, it’s easy to live in the future instead of the present.
I need to remember that the signs to help me navigate her life will appear when I need them. But not before.
Signs And Life Lessons From The Coast Guard
Do you ever wonder how we find our way on the water? After all, there are no signs telling us “This way to the St. Mary’s River.” Or dotted lines down the center of the waterway showing us our travel lane.
We rely on the Aids to Navigations (AToNs) placed in the water by the United States Coast Guard.
AToNs might be sexy like romantic lighthouses on a rocky cliff. But more often they are buoys, cans (floating green cylinders), nuns (floating red cylinders with points on top), and day markers (poles in the water with red triangles or green squares on top). By following our chart and watching the nav aids, we can (usually) keep from getting lost.
In 2½ years traveling the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AICW) and Chesapeake Bay, I’ve noticed something interesting about the AToNs: when they’re strung out over a great distance, you often can’t see the aid coming up next until you’ve passed the one closest to you.
In other words, if you want to look ahead to see where the next aid is, you often can’t find it. Sometimes it’s too distant to see with the naked eye. Other times it’s hidden around a bend.
But once you pass the aid closest to you, the next one ahead mysteriously appears. You just can’t see it until you absolutely need it.
I’m starting to realize that life is very much like traveling the waterways. At least when it comes to looking for signs.
Worrying About The Boat Dog
Honey has struggled with some minor health issues this year. We’re seeing signs she’s aging.
She developed a urinary tract infection while we were traveling through northern North Carolina. It was severe enough that Honey did something she hasn’t done since she was ten weeks old—woke us up at 3:00 a.m. crying to go outside. Because conditions were rough and we were at anchor, we invited her to relieve herself on the deck of the boat. And despite being reluctant when we had encouraged this before, she did.
(Quick note to longtime readers asking if this means we’re headed to the Caribbean because Honey has finally learned to pee on deck: Honey still says no way. This was strictly an emergency measure.)
We sought treatment from two different vets before clearing up the infection. But when getting a urine culture, we had a scare when the doctor using ultrasound to get a sterile urine sample thought the thickening around the bladder entrance looked potentially cancerous. You see, the vet had lost her own golden retriever to bladder cancer and she was particularly sensitive to this threat. And she worried that continuing with the test could disturb cancer cells and send them throughout Honey’s body.
We eventually decided that the thickening could be due to the fact that Honey’s bladder was very nearly empty. That gave the organ an appearance that was unusual compared to most dogs.
You see, typically dogs arrive at the vet by car. Even if they urinate before leaving, they probably have some residual urine shaping the bladder.
But we anchored Meander in the Ashley River in Charleston. We had to walk more than two miles to take Honey to the vet. By the time we arrived for the test, you can bet that Honey had emptied her bladder every few steps the entire way there.
No wonder her bladder looked weird.
It appears I made the right choice by staying focused on the urinary tract infection and not seeking out other tests to rule out cancer. But I’m sure you can understand how worried I was. And how often I asked myself if I had made the right decision.
Asking Doctor Google About My Boat Dog
If we were back in our house in Ithaca, I’d just take Honey to her regular vet for a check-up. But as floating nomads, we’re on our own.
And googling dog symptoms is devastating. For example, what does Dr Google say are likely causes of loose stools in a dog?
- a virus
- food sensitivity
What does it mean if she is limping?
- debris in her pad
How about the reasons your dog is scratching her ear?
- ear infection
- CANCER (okay, not really; but it seems like that)
You get the picture, right?
As you can imagine, after our last round of vet visits, I was watching Honey every moment for signs that she was beginning to decline. It was horrible.
Eventually I realized how living in the future when Honey would (as we all do) inevitably decline, was hurting my ability to enjoy being with her in the present.
It was time to learn a life lesson from my boat life.
When You Need A Sign It Will Appear
When we’re traveling, we can waste a lot of energy trying to find marks way off in the distance.
It’s not that we aren’t vigilant. We follow our charts. We use binoculars to look at the way ahead. We pay attention to the shoreline and take clues from the water.
But in the end, we can’t expect to see the next sign on our path until we actually need to see it.
I think it’s like watching out for the health of our beloved animals; looking for signs they’re aging.
Yes, we need to be vigilant by giving them healthy food, exercise, and mental stimulation. We need to watch them carefully for signs of injury or illness. And take them for routine professional care.
But constantly living with the fear that Honey will eventually get cancer or tear a ligament is no way to live. And besides, if she has health issues in the future, that’s when I’ll need to address them. Not before.
When I need to think about how to best care for her, it will be after I’ve passed the most recent marker. And not before.
In the meantime, I’m better off just loving and enjoying her the best I can.