Del was 70 when he adopted a Cocker Spaniel puppy who he named Madge. Del was a man with not much money but a whole lot of love; he and Madge became inseparable.
When Madge was 9 years old, she carried around a five-pound mammary tumor and Del had toes amputated due to diabetes. Still, the pair walked the five flights of stairs to his apartment every day, until he became so sick he no longer could.
Admitted to a nursing home, Del’s church pitched in, with members volunteering to rotate responsibility for Madge. Everyone who fostered Madge agreed on one thing. She was the sweetest dog they had ever met.
It was on a sunny day in April when Jane, a church member, took Madge downtown for a walk. As she sat on a park bench, Madge got up and greeted a man sitting close by. That man was Mike Schaffer, a Mosby Foundation board member, who was in New York visiting his daughter at Sloan Kettering hospital battling cancer.
It wasn’t the first time cancer had impacted his life. Mike’s wife, Ellen, died a few years ago of ovarian cancer. Now he was in New York to support, as much as he could, his daughter, as she battled the disease as well.
Mike scratched Madge’s head and ears. “She was so sweet I immediately wanted to take her home with me,” he said later. Then he noticed the mammary mass and his heart broke. Jane explained that the dog’s owner didn’t have much money and was in a nursing home.
Mike thought how odd it was that Madge was sitting there, staring up into his eyes, offering her own kind of consolation, even though she carried a five-pound mass that was most certainly malignant.
It was in that pivotal moment that Madge’s life would change forever. Mike encouraged Jane to contact The Mosby Foundation for help. Jane passed along the information to Marie, who was up next in the Madge foster rotation.
Marie was immediately taken with the dog. Any canine who could win over an avowed dog hater like her cat, Winston, had her respect. But when Marie saw Winston actually sleeping with Madge, she knew that Madge was a truly special dog.
Madge and Winston became best buds, walking side by side on walks, and just generally hanging out together. Madge, despite her tumor, would jump on chairs, wag her tail enthusiastically, and when she would run, Marie called her ears “angel wings,” because they flew in the wind.
When Madge visited Del in the nursing home, she would hop up on his bed while he was eating his supper, waiting patiently for his attention, and showering him with doggy kisses. Del loved it. Madge then made it a point to visit the other patients nearby, often jumping up on their beds, volunteering her kisses and waiting for eager arms to embrace her.
True to her nature, Madge took her sweetness with her everywhere.
Marie was moved by the love and the spark that Madge brought to the lives of others. It seemed she accepted the tumor as part of her life, but Marie did not. She did not want Madge to continue to carry a mass that most certainly was cancerous. If she could extend Madge’s life, Marie was determined to do so. Madge deserved that chance.
Marie made an appointment with her vet, Dr. Greene, to discuss removing the tumor. X-rays revealed there were more than one. To remove them all and to spay Madge would cost approximately $3,000. But he warned her that because the tumors had been there so long, most likely some of them were malignant.
Worse, there was a chance the cancer could come back. Even so, Marie began the work of finding financial help. She submitted her application to The Mosby Foundation, then contacted the local Humane Society for surgical help. She had to get the cost of removing the tumor down. To her delight, the Humane Society offered a substantially lower cost to spay and remove the mammary tumors.
In the meantime, The Mosby Foundation reviewed Madge’s application. We felt Madge was deserving of a new lease on life, and we wanted to assist in giving her that. We decided to arrange a special fund drive for Madge. Thanks to you, our benevolent donors, we raised the funds needed for the Humane Society to do the surgery.
We were thrilled, as was Marie!
As the vet expected, he found one tumor that was malignant. Again, Madge did not let the surgery phase her. “Most dogs I’ve fostered take a few days to recover from surgery,” Marie said. “But Madge was so overjoyed to be rid of those tumors that she never stopped.”
Marie couldn’t believe it. Madge took full advantage of her new life, running, playing, and jumping every chance she could get. For six months, Madge knew life like she had never had before. For the first time in years, Madge experienced the joy of being a dog unencumbered by the weight of a five-pound mass.
But as quickly as her new life began, it ended. It was almost like someone had flipped a switch. Madge became lethargic. Blood work showed no abnormalities but Dr. Greene urged Marie to watch her closely. That was on a Wednesday.
Madge began bumping into walls. Instead of jumping up on chairs, as she loved to do, now she looked confused, unsure of what to do.
Then other times, Madge would wag her tail and race down the hall. “It was very confusing,” Marie told us. When Madge began hiding in closets and suddenly falling over, Marie knew that it was time to call the vet.
On the following Tuesday, Marie called Dr. Greene, who was shocked to hear from her. In just one week, the cancer had advanced at a phenomenal rate.
A chest x-ray revealed it now resided in Madge’s lungs. Although she wasn’t having any breathing problems, Dr. Greene explained it this way: “The cancer tells us where it’s really wreaking havoc by the way an animal behaves.”
Marie knew immediately the cancer had metastasized to Madge’s brain. A few days later, she did begin to have breathing problems. That’s when Marie made the humane decision to let Madge go.
When she told Del, at first, he couldn’t take it in. But when Del asked about her a few days later, he understood and broke down.
As for Marie, she feels Madge’s loss deeply. When she lost her own dog, she became very depressed until she made a sudden realization. She wasn’t honoring the memory of her dog.
It was the same for Madge. Marie knows The Mosby Foundation gave Madge six incredible months of living; it was a life that both she, Del, and Madge savored. Everywhere Marie looked, there were loving reminders of the sweet, special dog that only asked to give love.
“If it hadn’t been for The Mosby Foundation, I wouldn’t have these wonderful memories of Madge,” she told us.
(PULL QUOTE: “IT JUST GOES TO SHOW THAT EACH OF US HOLDS A LIGHT TO THE WORLD.”
It just goes to show that each of us holds a light to the world. And when a pet we love beyond the measure of words dies, it’s easy to lose that light. But as Marie wisely said, “Over the years, I’ve learned to honor the pain and the memory, instead of going to a dark place.”
Most assuredly, Madge is carrying her light over the Rainbow Bridge. And no matter the pain of loss, we all must continue to carry our light in this world because there are so many beautiful souls that need that light.
Madge understood that.
If you’ve ever had a dog die of cancer or know someone who has, please consider making a memorial contribution to The Mosby Foundation’s Armani/Schaffer Memorial Cancer Fund. Cancer is the #1 cause of premature death in dogs in the United States.