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Guelph Mercury Editorial

Canine in the coal mine - time to stop and think
Wednesday March 5, 2003

Last week, for the first time in over 10 years, I walked around my block alone. My dog Stew died on November 8, in our backyard, in my arms. I hadn't been able to make the familiar journey since that day.

Her death came with little preamble. One day, she stopped eating. Seventeen days later she was dead.

On the 14th day, Stew had major surgery. During the exploratory operation, the vet took several tissue samples from her internal organs. Then she was stapled back together and put into a recovery crate.

The terror in Stew's eyes as she came out of her anesthesia was horrifying to see. I crawled into her crate and stayed with her until the cleaning person asked me to leave later that evening.

On the 16th day, Stew's biopsy results were returned. The diagnosis: intestinal malignant lymphoma with hepatic metastasis, absolutely unequivocal. Simple translation: Cancer. No remedy, no chance. I would have to put my dear dog to sleep.

My friend Tannis helped me bring my pet home for a final night. Many of Stew's people friends came by for a final farewell. She weakly yet graciously greeted everyone warmly, kissing some, wagging at others.

The next morning, while a brisk fall breeze blew leaves in a frenzied dance, Stew's life on Liverpool Street ended.

Cancer. My non-smoking, non-drinking, non-stressed dog got cancer. How could that be possible? How did the cancer enter Stew's life?

My dog's simple life was relatively easy to examine.

Stew always drank a fresh bowl of tap water every day. She enjoyed a daily raw carrot purchased from our Farmer's Market or a local grocery store. Her dog kibble was 100 per cent natural and appropriate to her stage of life. She had annual veterinary checkups and regular vaccinations.

And she walked daily. Our routes consisted of downtown, our neighbourhood, inner city trails and the neighbouring countryside.

This was Stew's world, in a nutshell.

As you've noticed, there is a small cosmetic pesticide war being waged in Guelph right now.

I wasn't on the citizen's pesticide review committee, nor am I a toxicologist. However, I do know this. For 10 years as I walked my dog throughout my neighbourhood, I would try to avoid the lawns with the " Just Sprayed" pesticide company signs.

Call it intuition or a simple gut feeling, but the sprayed lawns seemed unsafe for my canine friend. Dogs lick and sniff and Stew was no exception. I cannot believe that something that kills plants is not harmful to other life.

Car exhaust was another bane of Stew's existence. Fumes from running autos were perfectly aligned to hit her squarely in the face. If I didn't notice, she would pull me off the sidewalk in order to avoid the toxic blast of an idling car. She refused to get into the back of my Volvo wagon if it was running. Her animal instinct told her to avoid the fumes, even if it meant being disobedient.

Stew's life closely reflected my own life and perhaps yours and your family's. Her death concerns me. Yet it also inspires me to think more positively about increasing the number of bicycle lanes, improving the public transit system and restricting cosmetic pesticide use across the board. I want to live in Guelph and be in the healthiest environment I can.

Is it possible that Stew played the role of the canary in the coal mine for us all?

Sue Richards is a social entrepreneur, artist and cultural animator. She is also a member of the Mercury's Community Editorial Board. Check out her Guelph Photo Blog.

Contact Sue Richards at [email protected]

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