Mollydog’s Lesson

Mollydog was always full of crazy antics on our outdoor trips. She liked to hike with 3-foot-long logs in her mouth and knock us off the trail when she passed by. She managed to sneak up to our food stash and wolf down that one special dessert item we were saving for the last day of a trip. Molly loved to sleep between Doug and me with her four legs fully extended so that we were mushed up against the outside walls of our tiny backpacking tent. She relished going for swims, rolling in the mud and then curling up in my sleeping bag.

Muddy Molly on a backpacking trip in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

This summer, there is an inescapable void. I no longer look over my shoulder when I am hiking to keep from getting whacked, guarding my food at dinnertime is now unnecessary, there is too much space in the tent and my sleeping bag is unusually clean.

Last year on this day, our beloved Mollydog passed away.

Molly joined our small family unit when she was 7 weeks old and took to the trails immediately. For the next 13 1/2  years, we were a party of 3 and were pretty much inseparable. Molly came along on just about every skiing, hiking, backpacking, climbing and canoeing trip we went on. She would often jump in the car as we were packing up, fearing that we might leave her behind. She need not have worried– adventures were always ten times more fun with her along. There were only rare instances when Molly didn’t join us– usually when we were doing long multi-pitch climbs or traveling to an area where dogs weren’t allowed like national parks.

A young Molly heading to the river for a swim.
Backpacking in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

When Molly was 11 years old, we noticed she was limping while on a backpacking trip. Three weeks later, we received the crushing news that she had grade III histiocytic synovial cell sarcoma, a rare cancer, in her front leg. We were immediately faced with a difficult decision: have her leg amputated or risk the fast spread of cancer. Even with the amputation, the vet gave her a life expectancy of less than a year… maybe even as little as 7 weeks. However, there were rare cases where the cancer did not return. We decided to have the surgery done, along with a few rounds of chemotherapy, in the hope that she might be one of the dogs that beat the odds. Still, we struggled with the decision. What if she was miserable after the surgery? Would she still be able to do the things she loved on three legs?

Ready to join us for a skiing and snowshoeing adventure.

Our fears were quickly put to rest. The day after surgery Molly galloped down the hall with her news three-legged body to greet us. At three months post-surgery and around her 12th birthday, she bounded through the snow with us on a short hiking trip. By the following summer, she joined us on a 10-day canoeing trip in the vast Boundary Waters, swimming each evening and making it through all the portages with no problems. When old age finally made it too difficult for Molly to hike,  we bought a dog trailer for our bikes so that she could still travel with us on some adventures. As far as we could tell, her cancer never returned.

Molly taking a break between portages in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Letting Doug do all the work on a bike ride.

Last August, two years after her amputation, when Molly was 13 1/2 years old, we noticed a change. She no longer jumped in the car when we were packing up. When we did go camping, she wanted to spend the entire time in the tent– or she would whine at the car door begging to go home. Then, in a matter of weeks, her zest for life completely disappeared. One day she fell over and didn’t even try to get back up. She looked into my eyes, saying, “I am done.” Doug and I knew it was time to say goodbye to our friend.

Two days before putting Molly to sleep, my ulcerative colitis returned with a vengance after being in a perfect remission for four months. I knew it was from the stress of the situation, and immediately contacted my GI team and they put me on a round of Prednisone. However, this time, the usual drugs didn’t work. My health spiraled downward and within a couple of months, I underwent ostomy surgery.

For a while, I blamed myself for that final bad flare. I had loved Molly so much, but maybe I had let myself grieve too hard. After she died, I exercised, joined dog-loss-support forums and journaled about my sadness, but certainly there was something else I should have done to reduce my stress and prevent my disease from flaring up. Over and over again, I told myself it was all my fault that I had gotten so sick again.

Then those feelings changed to anger. A normal body would have been able to handle sad feelings without destroying its colon. I wanted to scream and cry and yell; I was so mad that ulcerative colitis had caused my body to fail me and had left me trying to deal with two traumatic things at once.

But I wouldn’t let myself stay in that bad place very long. Mollydog wouldn’t have wanted me to be angry and sad. She would have wanted me to gallop through the wilderness with my new colon-less body just as she had on her three legs. It was time to accept the situation and move ahead.

Sitting with Molly on a Montana mountaintop.

So, my dear Molly, I am back in the mountains just as you would have wanted. I can feel you with me there in spirit… bounding along with your tail wagging and ears flopping… beaming with your canine smile… reminding me of what it means to overcome obstacles and persevere.

7 thoughts on “Mollydog’s Lesson

  1. Heidi,

    This was a really wonderful tribute to Molly. She was a wonderful dog, and I can imagine the void you and Doug must be feeling. I love the positive outlook you express at the end of the post. I’m so happy that you are doing so well!

    1. She was a character. Everyday I remember something funny that she did. The other day I was thinking of the times when we borrowed your canoe and took her on some test runs in Chatfield State Park before the Boundary Waters trip. She made this silly chimp-style noise the entire time we paddled because she wanted to get out of the boat and swim so badly. I still can’t believe we got her trained and that she was the perfect canoe passenger by the time the big trip came. Crazy girl.

    1. Thank you Paul. I still recall my happy memories with Molly dog most everyday. She was such an amazing canine friend! I have gone on so many more adventures since writing this piece and I know Molly is wagging her tail and smiling down on me:)

  2. Oh Heidi! That was beautiful! I know that eventually I’ll be heading down the same path with my lab Kele and hope to walk through it as gracefully as you have.
    All the best,
    Sarah F

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