Argos loved all things outdoors, including ice fishing. Credit: Courtesy of Christi Holmes

He had stopped dreaming. It wasn’t the first indicator that something was wrong, that was his loss of appetite. But after he was diagnosed with lymphoma, his paws didn’t twitch and he no longer whimpered soft barks in his sleep.

I met Argos when he was 4 weeks old, at the breeder’s home in Litchfield. I had pick of the litter, so the other five soon-to-be brittany owners waited for me to choose, to topple the first domino. I chose Argos mostly based on looks — he had more brown than the other nearly all white puppies.

All I ever wanted to be was a dog owner. My dad is allergic so we never had a dog growing up. I took becoming a dog mom seriously. I read “The Art of Raising a Puppy,” took a dog breed selector quiz that asked preferences regarding size, activity level, trainability and such, and was matched 100 percent with a brittany. I got Argos while I was in between jobs and could be home with him his first year of his life.

Bangor Daily News Outdoors contributor Christi Holmes shows off her dog Argos, at 8 weeks old. Credit: Courtesy of Carlene Holmes

He was very active and easy to train. He quickly learned the basics and more advanced tricks like holding objects in his mouth including raw eggs (which he never broke) and bacon (which he never ate until I told him to). I encouraged him to point birds. I was a new hunter myself, so we learned to hunt together.  

Argos went everywhere with me and I pursued hobbies that we could do together. He laid quietly, tied to a kettlebell at Crossfit class. We ice fished, went standup paddleboarding, and backpacked the 100 Mile Wilderness. We tried many canine activities: agility, therapy, obedience and trick competitions, and even a dog show.

He humored me and won ribbons but he was only passionate about hunting. So he and I focused on the fields and streams and spent as much time as we could hunting grouse, pheasants and ducks. After every retrieve, he sprawled out on his belly with his back legs bent like a frog, as if to say, “We did it!”  

When Argos turned 8 earlier this year, I started savoring the little moments with him. Dogs die when they’re 8 and older and I didn’t want to take him for granted. I smelled his fur and paws. I stroked his smooth, floppy ears. I took photos of us snuggling on the couch and we sat quietly outside in the sun. It’s like I knew.

Bangor Daily News Outdoors contributor Christi Holmes kisses her dog Argos, who died recent at age 8 1/2. Credit: Courtesy of Christine Bourgault

In April, Argos started seeing an internal medicine vet because he had incontinence. Full blood work and an ultrasound showed no issues. At our next appointment in June, I mentioned to the vet that Argos wasn’t eating his dog food but ate human food. I thought maybe he had a cavity and it pained him to chew his kibble.

I waited in my car while Argos was inside. I watched a thin, elderly yellow lab walk stiffly across the parking lot. I tried not to judge the owner, likely in denial of his dog’s poor quality of life. I’d seen my own family members have skewed perceptions on the condition of their pets, when it was obvious to the rest of us. I vowed not to let Argos suffer.

The vet called me inside and, compassionately, told me the news. Cancer. No cure. Focus on quality of life over quantity of life.

“Chemotherapy would help the tumor on his liver,” he continued, “but Argos would likely not live a year.” He explained that the side effects for chemo in dogs were minimal, since the goal is not to cure cancer, but to give more quality time.

Argos’ tumor responded to chemotherapy immediately, and he was in full remission after just two treatments. But after that second treatment he lost all energy and refused to eat. My fiance, Travis, and I decided to forgo chemotherapy. It wasn’t worth risking the side effects.  

After a week and several trips to the vet, the chemo side effects wore off and Argos improved. I focused on all his favorite things. We went to an upland training facility and hunted chukars. He caught frogs in the lake at our house and carried them gently to the lawn where he nosed them and barked as they hopped back to the water. We went for off-leash walks, boat rides and he played at doggy daycare.  

His appetite never fully recovered, and he lost enough weight that he stopped triggering the seatbelt warning in the car. Every day was a worrisome game — what will Argos eat today? I checked the home monitor constantly while I was work. Without chemo, our toolbox was limited. I ordered tinctures from a holistic vet. I researched alternatives, like THC, and tried giving him turkey tail mushrooms and colostrum.

On his last days, I took him clam digging and he pointed gulls and fought with green crabs. His appetite increased and he ate more food than he’d eaten his entire life.

When I took him in to see the vet, I reported Argos was active and happy, but having diarrhea. An ultrasound two weeks prior showed he was still tumor-free, so we hoped it was an unrelated intestinal issue. But the ultrasound that day showed the tumor was back, along with lymph node enlargement. There was nothing more to do. I remembered my promise and made the final appointment for the following day.

Travis and I snuggled Argos in bed that sunny, Friday morning. We took him for an off-leash walk and he ran around, ears flapping, chasing chipping sparrows. He stood stoically at the bow of our boat while we did a lap around the lake. He pointed the chipmunk that lives in our wood pile. We went out for ice cream and he ate it enthusiastically.

Bangor Daily News Outdoors contributor Christi Holmes Credit: Courtesy of Christi Holmes

Outside the vet’s office, he stared intently at a squirrel.

Inside the vet’s office he died peacefully, a mouthful of treats, hearing me whisper his favorite word — birds.  

I held him in my lap while Travis drove home. I stroked his ears. Travis dug a hole in the backyard, and we lowered him gently and buried him with his favorite toy, a stuffed springer spaniel.  

My friends were surprised to hear the news. “So soon? He didn’t seem that bad.” They questioned. But I didn’t want to wait until he started failing.

Food scraps go into the trash can now. The bathroom is actually a private place. The squirrels in the yard are safe.

There are far worse tragedies and heartbreak in life than having two months’ notice to say goodbye to your dog. Yet, Argos was my life. I don’t have kids, so being a dog mom was a large part of my identity.

I lost him that day in August, but I’ll lose him again, every time I go hiking, hunting, foraging or fishing.

I dreamed of owning a dog my entire life, and now that is gone. But I kept my promise to him.

A few days after we buried Argos, I planted some flowers on his grave. As I watered them, a frog hopped across the flowers toward the lake.  

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Christi Holmes, Outdoors contributor

Christi Holmes is a Registered Maine Guide and Appalachian Trail thru hiker. Christi is the founder of Maine Women Hunters and works as a design engineer. She lives in Gray. Follow her @christiholmes on...