« Whatcha readin'? | Main | Summer Fun Tips from The Mancini Family »

June 04, 2011

The Last Cookie Dance

The Last Cookie Dance

By Brunonia Barry

  Byzy in his wheelchair

A few weeks ago, we hosted a sweet sixteen party for our Golden Retriever, Byzantium. The cake was made of hamburger and Charlie Bears (tiny dog biscuits), and the guests included his first girlfriend, a Portuguese Water Dog named Roberta, who looks incredibly youthful for her thirteen years, though we suspect she may have had a bit of work done.

Byzy, of course, has never had any plastic surgery whatsoever and doesn’t look a day over ten. The last time we took him in for a checkup, our regular vet was on vacation, and we saw someone new. At the end of the examination, the new vet declared Byzy “quite a specimen.”

In addition to being a specimen, our dog is a local celebrity. Byzy was the inspiration for the dog of the same name in The Lace Reader, a canine who hails from a line of feral Golden Retriever cave-dwelling warriors that protect the inhabitants of Yellow Dog Island. The idea of Golden Retrievers as warriors seems to greatly amuse most of my readers who always ask about the real Byzy. When I tell them he’s sixteen, they look amazed. Their next question is usually “What do you feed him?” 

“Far too much,” I answer. But hey, our puppy loves food. And he is sixteen, for God’s sake, and still here, so keep your judgments to yourselves. I don’t say that last part aloud, of course. I love my readers too much to be so rude.

Byzy has had only one severe health problem in his long life. One morning a few years back, he was acting lethargic and dazed. Since we were scheduled to leave for Italy on a book tour three days later, we took him to the vet to have him checked, something we might not have done so quickly if we hadn’t been leaving town. It was a good thing we did. He had a tumor in his spleen that required immediate surgery. While we sat in the waiting room stunned and worried, Byzy had his spleen removed. Two days later, he was dancing for cookies. 

Byzy’s cookie dance is a carefully choreographed little number that begins with a bouncy hop as both of his front feet leave the ground. That step is followed by rapid head shaking, some additional hopping, and a bit of subtle growling. The end of his routine is punctuated by one sharp, quick bark followed by thirty seconds of quiet but intense staring. If, after thirty seconds, a cookie has not been proffered, the dance routine is repeated until the desired results are achieved.  

Though we know we spoil him, we can’t help it. We love the cookie dance. It is hilarious. And so, two weeks ago, when it suddenly stopped, we were concerned. He didn’t get up with us that morning. When we were in the kitchen making breakfast, he didn’t join us.

Worried, we went to the front hallway where he always sleeps. He stood up to greet us and promptly fell down. We helped him up. He fell again. We weren’t too concerned at first because Byzy has a bit of hip dysplasia which is common to aging Golden Retrievers, and he sometimes has difficulty getting up in the morning. When things didn’t improve as the day went on, we scheduled an appointment with the vet. Byzy’s back legs didn’t seem to be working. We lifted him with a towel-sling and carried him to the car. By the time we arrived at the vet’s office, both Byzy and I were shaking.

The vet stood him up, then curled Byzy’s back paws under, one at a time, watching to see how long it took for him to straighten them. He passed the test easily with his left hind foot, giving the vet a haughty WTF look, but when his right paw was curled under, Byzy just stood there. He didn’t seem to know that there was anything wrong until he lost his balance and began to collapse. The vet eased him down to the floor.

The diagnosis was neurological. Byzy’s brain was no longer sending signals to his right hind leg. He wasn’t in pain, he was simply surprised every time he fell.

“What can we do?” We asked.

“There isn’t much you can do. He’s comfortable, he’s happy, . . . and he’s a fighter,” the vet told us. “Enjoy your time with him.”

Determined to do just that, we took him home.

The next day, we discovered Handicapped Pets in Nashua, New Hampshire. What a great company! We bought Byzy a “wheelchair” that supports his back legs while at the same time keeping them moving.

The brochure said that it was possible for the chair to have a restorative power and that it could help improve the functioning of injured legs. My husband read that part aloud and looked at me hopefully. “Maybe it’s just an injury,” he said. “Maybe he will spontaneously heal.”

“Maybe he will,” I said, but my voice lacked conviction.

Whether restorative or not, the wheelchair has worked wonders. It took a few days of adjustment, both for Byzy and for us (you try lifting a 90 lb. dog and holding him up while struggling to adjust a web of snaps and clips). Once we got the routine down (it required cookies) and installed a ramp, Byzy began bombing around our back yard, tearing through flower beds, shredding tulips and peonies and anything else in his path. We were delighted.

We have now established a new ritual: Byzy rolls through the house, down the ramp, and into the back yard. When we come back inside, we disconnect him from the wheelchair. He stands for a few minutes, then collapses. He sleeps for most of the day, which is nothing new. Byzy’s favorite activity has always been sleeping, unless there was something more interesting to do like walking, swimming, or eating. Eating beats sleeping every time.  

It was eating that inspired what I am now referring to as the Memorial Day Miracle. Byzy was sleeping in the front hall. We were grilling steaks. All of a sudden, Byzy, sans wheelchair, came jogging though the doorway and onto the porch as if nothing had ever been wrong with him. He demanded our steaks. He had attitude. He did his cookie dance.

A minute later, he collapsed. We cut up some steak and hand fed it to him. I cried with joy to have shared that inspirational “last dance.” It’s imprinted on my heart.

We knew it couldn’t last, and it didn’t. But it was great!

We understand that this neurological damage will progress in the same way that these things invariably do. But for now, we are taking our vet’s advice. We are enjoying our sweet sixteen year old for a while longer. Our fighter. Our specimen. Who dances for cookies…and steaks.

Do you have a beloved pet who inspires you?





TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Last Cookie Dance:


Oh, the list is endless! Pets become such a big part of our lives, I have sometimes wondered who genuinely belongs to whom.

Genuine unconditional love, loyalty, affection, and sometimes protection; that's stronger than a lot of marriages I've seen.

Cats and dogs are amazing creatures. Anyone who says cats are not affectionate has never raised one properly, and the smallest chihuahua will turn into a fierce warrior when his humans are threatened.

The older I get, the more I love my animals....:)

My dog Marcie used to rest her head on my foot whenever I sat down. She had to be touching.

I've heard that when a person has a limb removed, they still feel sensations in the arm or leg, even though it is gone. Phantom pain sensation, it is called.

I sometimes feel Marcie's head resting on my foot. Waaah.

So well put, William. Genuine unconditional love can change the world.

Thirty years ago we had a doberman who ruptured a disk and was paralyzed from her neck down. The vet offered surgery, which cost far more than my parents could afford. He also said we could just wait it out and there was a 50/50 chance Brandy would heal. We waited. We bought Depends and learned how to diaper a dog (fortunately, one without a long tail). We carried her everywhere as she had no interest in moving herself. At Christmas we took her to the family gathering at my grandparents' house. There she met Trouble, my cousins' new puppy. Trouble wanted to play, and Brandy thought that might be a good idea. By the time we left she was scooting herself around on her belly. We had a lot of snow that winter and she learned to walk again by "swimming" in the deep snow. She eventually recovered almost completely, with just a crooked front paw and a little wobble in her step.

Today I am a cat person. Our cats are brother and sister, Rugen and Buttercup, both polydactyl. Ru has four extra toes, Buttercup six - can you guess how they got their names? Before these two we had Amalthea, the most beautiful cat in the world, who lived to be 21, and Dempsey, named after the actor well before he became McDreamy, back when he was just Loverboy. Dempsey became diabetic when he was eight and we gave him twice daily shots. He minded that far less than his strict diet. He maintained a relatively healthy life for six years after his diagnosis.

I've always had at least one pet, dog or cat. I can't imagine it any other way.

Brunonia, that was beautiful! Your delightful dog sounds like quite a character.

Our 14-year old lab mix just came down with vestibular disease. We'd never heard of it before and thought she'd had a stroke. Every time she stood up, she would fall over, and she was very disoriented. Fortunately, it only lasts a few days to a week, although it can reoccur. Carrying a 65-pound dog around was quite a treat, especially since she hated it and would stick her legs out to grab onto doorways.

We used to have greyhounds, and they are fantastic dogs. Now we have three retrievers of different varieties who all needed homes and ended up with us. Every single day, they make us laugh. All is right with the world when a dog greets you at the door.

Brunonia, what a lovely blog today.
I love your story and the heartfelt dedication to your Golden.
Our family just lost one Golden recently.
I am reminded about how resourceful we are to make our animals comfortable and how they respond with such spirit.
I am reminded that our human loved ones require similar care. My DH sometimes experiences feet numbness and a simple walk can be excruiating sometims. But I walk patiently and find the strenth to wait for him. It sounds pathetic but it isn's because I find peace in knowing that help each other..that is what it's all about.
All the best.

This is beautiful!

I am printing it out for my sister and her family.

They have a Golden who now runs the entire house.

None of our pets have been as wonderful as Byzy. What a great story, Brunonia. I'm so glad you still have your little guy to amuse you with his cookie routine!

My friends' beagle is inspiring in quite another way. Lucy weighs less than 24 pounds, but she has been known to open the refrigerator door and wolf down entire roasts, plus whatever else happens to be in there. Her owners ended up putting a padlock chain on the door, way high up so she would quit getting into the chilled food. We made the mistake of leaving the trunk of my friend's car open with Lucy on the loose. She ATE THROUGH the picnic basket to get to the fruit pie inside.

Another friend says Lucy has an eating disorder. Too true.

Oh, dear, aging pets---the love and the trauma. I'm still mourning our golden, Nittany, gone these many years. He's still lively in my heart and sneaking out the back door to run the neighborhood. I'm sure Byzy will do the same for your family, Brunonia!

Brunonia, what a heart-lifting blog!

I've told this story before, but that won't stop me. Years ago when I had 24-hour "morning" sickness, my husband accidentally ran over our beloved cat, Andy, in our driveway. My husband was heartsick over it. Andy had a broken pelvis, and the vet said all we could do was put him in a baby's play pen with food, water, and litter box, and let him heal.

So we did that, and I reluctantly wobbled back down the long hall to the bedroom closest to a bathroom, a bedroom not big enough for the playpen.

I got into bed and, shortly, heard a strange dragging sound. In a few moments, I looked over at the doorway, and there was Andy! With his broken pelvis he had crawled up and out of the play pen!, then dragged himself through the rec room, the kitchen, the front hall, and the long corridor to get to me.

Andy and I spent my pregnancy and his healing months in bed together.

Nancy, that is such a touching story. I have goosebumps all over.

Nancy P., I love this story.

My Dad and I had a beautiful Persian cat who tended to stick like glue to my Dad.
A car accident forced my Dad to go the hospital and it was me and Cookie,
Cookie crept up the stairwell and stayed with me the whole month. We bonded and I loved him.
However, the moment my Dad hit the door Cookie waved at me and said "See ya. It was good while it lasted".
Cats bond to the strong silent type which my father excuded and I was a little berefit for a while but glad to have Dad back into the house.

Nancy, Andy...This is such a beautiful story! What bravery and dedication! I love this cat.

Marie, it sounds like Cookie did a good job when you needed her. We had a Springer Spaniel when I was growing up who loved us but adored my dad. Come to think of it, every dog in the neighborhood adored my dad.

Dusty the cat at the House of Seven Gables helped me write The Map of True Places. Every time I showed up to work, he would appear and sit beside me. Sometimes he would sigh as if he didn't like to have to work on such a beautiful day, but he always showed up and stayed around until the job was done.

Karin, It's true, All's right with the world when a dog greets you at the door.

Marie- You're right about humans needing help the same way. In fact Byzy reminds me of when I was caring for my mom and dad. He has the same courage and determination.

Kathy... I think every Golden runs the house. At least all the Goldens I know.

Ramona, you made me cry. Byzy leans on my leg when we walk together. At some point, he just stops and leans on me. It's always the same leg. I hope I will have the same phantom experience. Thank you for sharing this.

Sandi, I love the story of your doberman swimming in the snow, and deciding to play. How wonderful that you had such dedication! Great story!

Karen, Lucy is a hoot!I love her! I'm glad Byzy doesn't know her, though. He tends to learn tricks from other dogs, and he'd love this one.

Nancy M, I love the name Nittany. Byzy tried to sneak out our back gate yesterday to run (or rather roll) the neighborhood. I asked him how far he thought he'd get. Great to see him still trying.

A sweet story,Brunonia,and I hope you will have an active cookie dancer for many more years.
I loved a gray cat named Montana, who developed jaw cancer. We took him to an oncologist, who said we should make him comfortable and he would let us know when he wanted to go. Eventually, Monty quit eating, and i took him to the vet, who told me, "This cat stayed alive well past his time because he loved you." I found hidden spots in the house, under a table or a couch, in the back of a closet, where he had quietly bled and concealed his secret pain. I cried when I cleaned up every spot.

What heart warming stories. Byzy is indeed, a warrior. All these stories make tear up. I have an aging cat who follows me around and talks to me. I have a neighbor who says Molly thinks she's a dog. She has a lot of spirit, and I'm afraid of the emptiness when she leaves.

Elaine, Montana made me cry, too.

Brunonia, Kendall and I read your blog this morning. He's my servy dog, a golden retriever with brilliant wheelchair skills. He taught himself how to operate the electronic controls on my power wheelchair. His cookie dance starts with a nose tap on the control knob to get my attention. If I don't respond he presses it harder so that it bumps into my desk. If I ignore that he presses it in the other direction to push me away from my desk. By then the two of us are laughing - me, uncontrollably. He keeps a steady nose on the control knob as he backs me up, turns me around, and points me in the direction of the kitchen, where his cookies and favorite cheeses are stored. Anyone who would like to see a very brief video of Kendall opening my fridge is invited to watch it here: http://reenharringtoncarter.blogspot.com/ . It's the third "photo" down.

Kendall wants me to tell you that he taught our Maine coon cat, Buffalo, to do the cookie dance. It's true. He did. But when Buffalo starts the Kendall Cookie Dance, I respond with the first nose tap. To see why: look 2 photos down for a pic of Buffalo on the same blog. Buffalo sleeps in my chair at night protecting the neighborhood from patrolling service dogs who might use the chair to raid the fridges of Tucson, or the cat dishes.

Um, that would be 5 photos down from the top to see Buffalo, two down from Kendall's fridge vid.

. . . so many moving comments today, I can hardly get through them without washing the tears from my face.

Elaine: Montana was amazing. What a beautiful, heroic, loving cat! And the vet was right, she did tell you when it was time to go. We expect that Byzy will let us know that same way.

Lil: I love talking cats. My cousin had a Siamese cat named George, who talked and sang.

Reine: I love Kendall! The refrigerator door opening is wonderful and helpful as long as he doesn't raid it the way Lucy did. I expect that Buffalo will keep that from happening, she's clearly on top of things. Beautiful animals! Thank you for sharing the photos with us. I loved your graduation photo as well which I spotted in passing. I think that our paths must have crossed once or twice back in the good old town.

Thanks Brunonia. And yes, I am sure we have crossed paths more than a few times in the old town. Our coincidences are too coincidental.

Oh yeah and . . . whip!

. . . very sweet and moving stories. I haven't had cats since the mother cat who found her way to my apartment in Minneapolis, and her kitten, delivered by Caesarian, that I fed with an eyedropper for her first few days. Then the doctor said, "You must get rid of the cats." Darned allergies!
I do enjoy the critters who live near my house, rabbits, woodchuck, fox, deer, and frogs! I was a good hostess to the Eastern Gray tree frog who moved in for the winter a few years back.

Storyteller Mary: I have allergies, too, in fact I am allergic to dogs, which makes having a Golden problematic at times. I wash my hands a lot and take antihistamines. I love tree frogs!

Reine: Down Bucket!

Hooray for Byzy! Hopefully, the old boy will be scarfing up cookies for a long time yet.

Thanks, Doc. I hope so, too.

You guys! You're all making me cry!

My dog Jinn used to open doors with her paws. All our doors had handles, not doorknobs, so she'd jump up, pull down the handle with her paws and either push or pull on the door, depending on which way it opened. No one taught her to do this. She just figured it out. For all the years we lived in that house, she'd do her routine and guests seeing it for the first time would gasp and say, "Your dog! Did I just see what I thought I saw?!?!"


I miss her.

Brunonia: Rock 'em, Header.

Ohhh so sorry, Brunonia - forgot you are a shag now. I'll just gather my rocks down by the wharf now.

What a clever Jinn!!
I love all these stories!

OK, I forgot: Up for air.

Harley: Jinn was very clever! Wow!

Harley, Jinn sounds amazing, a true problem solver. I wish I knew all of these dogs and other animals talked about her, today. The word "souls" comes to mind. We are such friends with them. I have learned so very much about life and living from mine, and when I read about others like these, it is more like reading about friends than I'd thought possible when I was younger and most of my relationships were with other humans.

The comments to this entry are closed.

The Breast Cancer Site