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It’s tough meeting the eyes of the fellow pet owners holding their beloved dogs and cats close in the waiting room of the Veterinary Specialty Hospital. Few are there for a happy reason. At least in a human hospital there are babies being born.

It does help to know you’re not alone in facing the tough questions, the fears about the happiness and health of your pet, and whether you’re doing right by him. The details may be different and the people and pets diverse, but the experience is the same.

The body language of the woman with the black lab mix said it all. She was pressed into a corner of a bench, arms around her gray muzzled dog. The dog was undergoing its second round of chemotherapy. She told me in accented English she was scared, but she didn’t have to. The quiver in her voice already told me that.

I quietly watched the adult daughter and octogenarian (or more?) mom with a cane, with a golden retriever between them who was shaking ever so slightly. The daughter looked off into space, distracted. The older woman was gently stroking the dog’s neck, her hand also shaking. Their shared infirmities allowed them to understand each other when others could not.

There was a burly man who looked like Mr. Clean come to life, shaved head and all. Sitting right up on the seat next to him were a Belgian Malinois and a tan cattle dog mix. He told me the Malinois was a retired narcotics dog, and the mutt was rescued from the streets of Los Angeles. Those dogs looked perfectly OK, so I gently asked why he was there. All three were there to say goodbye to a third dog who had just died, a Doberman. The man’s dogs were sitting close to him, comforting him with their presence as all three felt the loss of their canine friend. “They take a piece of your heart,” he said tearfully.

Yes, they do. And you never get it back.

Jasper is a striking looking dog. (Thanks for saying so, Billy Bob). People stop me constantly to comment on how handsome he is, and by any objective measure it’s true. Now with his head shaved and marked with green Sharpie to help properly guide the radiation beams, there’s a new reason for people to stop me. I find myself reluctant to answer their questions because I don’t want to expose them to the sadness or fear of the situation. I’m humbled and grateful for their kindness. I’m also grateful for the understanding of my family, friends and colleague, who have forgiven me my distraction and my absences.

I can’t say enough for the wonderful staff at VSH. They tell me Jasper is one of their favorite patients. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s just a little bit true. He has a way of looking deeply into a person’s eyes with his full attention. He is a great listener. He is a Good Dog.

Good dogs bring good things and good people into your life. Even when they are ailing.

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