Meet Ginger, My Pancreatic Cancer Support Dog

When we met Ginger (in Marnie’s arms)

I was in bed, literally, most of the time for several months last spring and summer suffering chemotherapy side effects. In the fall, I was in bed post-surgery for pancreatic cancer.

And for almost all that time, laying next to me was a small rescue dog. She only rarely left my side and followed me whenever I got out of bed. She seemed to know I was sick and afraid of dying and she did what dogs do best: Comforted a human in need.

Ginger, a chihuahua-mix we found and rescued 14 months before my cancer diagnosis, laid down beside me when chemo started making me weak and sick, becoming my almost constant companion during my treatment and surgical recovery.

She was usually on my left side, stretched out against my body, touching me. She could tell something was wrong with me and would rarely leave my side. She is still rarely far from me.

We have other dogs but Ginger and I have a special relationship. Unless I am in my office, door closed, Ginny is most often within arm’s-length of me. She sleeps between my wife and myself literally every night, usually under the covers as Chi’s get chilled sometimes.

No one will ever be as happy to see you as your chihuahua

Sometimes when I come home, Ginger will start shaking excitedly. Jumping not on me but up to reach my arm. If I reach down for her, she stops jumping and lays down on the floor. If I don’t pick her up quickly enough, she rolls on her back.

Ginger sometimes protects me and her sleeping spot from our other dogs, a behavior I’d vaguely like to amend. But in my estimation, Ginger is about as good as a dog gets. Is she trained? No. Does she always get along with other dogs? Sometimes not. Does she sometimes softly whine when we are separated? I think you know the answer.

Ginger hails from East Sixth St. in Stockton, where she has part of the local “community dog” population. We guess she was 3-6-years-old at the time we rescued her. At one time followed a homeless woman around. She has no more history that we know.

She glommed onto Marnie Curnutt and her kids and started hanging around in Marnie’s front yard.

One day when we dropped by Marnie’s house Ginger was there. “One day” means shortly before 5 pm on October 4, 2016. I know precisely because of the timestamp on the photos we took of her that first day.

She had been there for most of the previous few weeks and Marnie was concerned she could wind up dead-on-road or killed by an angry pit-mix that often ran loose on her street.

I’d never wanted a chihuahua. I thought of chi’s as yappy, snappy little dogs. Also, I’d never had a small dog, so I did not realize they were just like larger dogs, only smaller, not stupider. I had, however, watched a chi-like dog grab the “web” between my thumb and forefinger at PetSmart and not let go. Felt that, too.

Ginny rolled over on her back and did her best to flirt and be charming. She was feel-her-ribs thin. Unspayed. And had a small tick on her forehead that’s visible in some of the photos I shot.

Ginger, early 2019. She is grayer now.

The flirting succeeded and Ginger came home with us that day, three years ago. She is a good bit grayer now. The best guess is she’s 9-years-old but we don’t really know.

Is Ginger a great dog?

She is no canine good citizen candidate. She occasionally runs out when the front door is opened and I am not fast enough closing it. 

She is good about being captured and often returns quickly on her own. Never gone for long and we always go after her. She knows where she lives.

Is Ginger a good dog? 

Not everyone would think so. She is getting older and might be difficult to rehome if that became necessary. She is certainly adoptable, but chihuahua experience would help. She is not trained and can be dog selective.

Do I love Ginger more that I love most humans? Certainly. Does she love and look after me? Yes. Do I try to do the same for her? Of course.

To me, “good dog” is everything from a greeting, simple praise, to a two-word all-encompassing summary of a dog whose life has ended. It’s how I can think of them without crying. Usually.

But, the most basic and important definition a “good dog” is this one:

A “Good Dog” is any canine that loves a person and is truly loved in return. It’s not about obedience or training or beauty but how the animal and person feel about and relate to one another.

I am fortunate to have such a loving and supportive dog as Ginger in my life. I hope she feels the same about me.

Ginger is a good dog.

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