I lost my best friend and constant companion, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois named Finn, to visceral hemangiosarcoma on Sept. 8, 2020. He had literally had a full annual check-up and vaccinations the month before which revealed only a happy, healthy, and somewhat goofy Malinois who still wasn’t sure where his big feet ended and the rest of the world began. One month later, he died in my arms after his primary vet found a “basketball-sized” mass in his abdomen. Forty minutes later, the veterinary specialists we were sent to discovered a hemoabdomen on his exam with them. I had taken him to his doctor that Tuesday because he had started vomiting the day before. From no symptoms or health concerns August 6 at his check-up to this one month later. That is how fast this happened.
Emergency surgery showed internal bleeding from several sites which they could not stop and that the mass had compromised his liver, spleen, abdominal lining, intestines, and right kidney. I am still in shock and devastated with grief and guilt that I missed some sign that, had I seen it, he would have been saved. Finn’s vet and the specialists insist this isn’t so but it doesn’t help the pain. I held him in my arms as he was euthanized before he woke up from the surgery. I didn’t think such pain was possible.
Finn had kind of a rough start in life and anyone who knows Malinois’ can understand how challenging it can be to make up for “lost time” with this breed. We had our challenges early and often. He was terrified of everything, having not been socialized until he came to me. Plastic grocery bags, headlights, the television, the shower – all were cause for complete freakouts. Getting him the car? He fought so hard you would have thought the vehicle was on fire and full of hornets. It took my brother and me, together, to get him in the vehicle and tie him down. Several times I considered taking him back to the breeder because I was sure I was way out of my depth with him. Fortunately, I stuck it out and we began to understand each other and he understood he could trust me. He went from hiding in his crate to following me everywhere (which could be annoying), sleeping beside me and being my best friend and confidante. We banished his fears, one at a time, and I relished watching his confidence grow. We hiked nearly every weekend and, as soon as the backpack came out he would dash around in excited circles at the door. He loved the woods. On our way home from our ramble, we would stop at a roadside food stand for hotdogs and fries. He was a great dining companion. (Unfortunately, fries could sometimes give him gas and, when he passed it he would spin around and look at his hind end as if to say, “What was THAT??” Then he would look questioningly at me and I would just inform him, “Yep, you did that. Now cut it out.” Oh, Finn, you goof.)
We went to the beach and I was sure, given his other phobias, he would lose his mind seeing the ocean but it didn’t even phase him. He pranced along in the wave wash, occasionally chasing the waves and trying to bite them. We spent the day on the beach as he tried to puzzle out what “surf fishing” was all about and we sat on the deck and listened to the waves in the evenings.
When I retired earlier this year, we became the definition of “inseparable”. With the exception of trips where he would have to stay in the car (it was beastly hot so no accompanying me to the grocery store, etc), he went everywhere with me. When he couldn’t go he would stamp his paws on the floor and bark at me as I prepared to leave. He was very popular at the dog park where he liked to frolic with Opal, Joffrey and Charles (having only feline siblings at home, being with his kind was a treat). Everywhere we went, people would comment on how beautiful he was. Soon after he passed, the mailman stopped with some packages and asked where his “boy” was. I cried and told him and he was also shocked. He told me he always told substitute carriers on my route to look for Finn because he was such a handsome boy.
So, now, I try to navigate the empty days and the empty house. The cats have stopped looking for him and have moved on to “grief duty”, sleeping next to me where he did and following me around. I am blessed to have them. As I said, I had never heard of this horrible disease and, I suppose as the parent of a happy, healthy young dog, there would have been no reason for me to have known about it. But it will now haunt me forever at the speed with which it can steal a life. We woke up together that Tuesday and by nightfall I was weeping over his empty collar.
I love you, Finn. You were the best of me and I will miss you forever.
Finn – June 11, 2017 – September 8, 2020. Forever in my soul.
– Joi C Estep