Daniel Mahoney

There’s Dad’s alarm. Time to eat the donuts. First things first, every doggy knows that a good stretch does the body good. Shoulders down first, that’s the way, big yawn, and then hips. Lean into it, a little longer, tail all the way up, that’s nice. Great, shake out the cobwebs, scratch behind the collar, and I’m off!

Dad’s first big cough of the day is always a good one, I think he saves it up all night so he can get a big juicy hack going when he first sits up. He always walks to the bathroom in his bare feet, the guy could wake the dead with every step. I don’t know how the ceiling doesn’t fall in when he thud-THUMPs around up there, the big dumb ape. There’s Mom’s feet, shuffling on the rug next to her side of the bed. Tap-tap-tap, patting around for her slippers. Those things are good. The last ones were delicious, and totally worth that rolled up magazine across the snout. Emily never lets him give it to me good, anyway. Good girl. Those slippers though. I’m going to try that round thing on the door again today, I know there’s a trick to it, I’ve seen them do it a thousand times. They will be mine. Mmm.

Here she comes! Hey, mom! Good morning! You’re smelling lovely today, are those new slippers? No? Not feeling chatty, huh? Ok, yep, I know the routine, time to drain the main vein.

Crisp today! Feels good. Hmm, last night was here, yesterday morning over here, I think, yep, survey says? Hostas! Mom’s hostas are getting a little extra hydration this morning. She’s not still looking out here, right? No face in the window, must be prepping the—wait. What the fluff is that?

Did something happen out here last night? Smells like the cat from next door walked the fence last night like usual but didn’t pop down here into the yard at all, and the trash pandas know to not mess with my spot. No, this is different. I know every scent and sound on this entire block, but I. Do. Not. Like. This. Feeling. Was it something I ate? Can’t be. Everything just feels wrong. Wait a lick, I’ve felt this before—

“Come on in, Buddy!”

Oh my dog, Mom! Do you not see these hackles? I am completely hackling right now! I’m not even turning around to look at you. Thirty thousand years of co-evolution so I can protect your half deaf, stumpy-nosed hairless monkey family, give me like ten seconds here. This isn’t right. Something isn’t right here. I haven’t felt this weird since the morning before Dad was in that car crash on the way home from work!


Deeper that time, she’s serious. Fine! Not like there’s some mysterious threat to life and limb hovering around our den or anything. Let’s do everything you want to do. Oh, are you making pancakes? Yum! Over extracted the coffee, though. Love the smell, but never touch the stuff. Well, they don’t exactly let me near it. Not since I got in the trash as a pup and tasted that paper they soak it in. Dog- awful bitter. Looks like Mom’s going to be occupied with the pancakes for a bit, I’d better just check on everything else before they all head out for the day. Never know what could happen.

Smells like Dad’s out of the shower, but still in the bathroom. Better get a good sniff though, make sure nothing’s up with Dad again. They really should’ve designed this house better, I can’t get my whole snout under the door without crouching down and turning my head almost completely upside down. With this narrow hallway and Emily’s door still closed I’ll have to, there we go. Dad’s got the gray tie with the mustard stain on it from last week. Must’ve been cheating on me with one of those “hot” dogs they talk about. Okay, big sniff under the door. I’m not picking up that icky feeling like I did the morning before Dad got hurt, though, so where is it coming from?

Nothing new in the laundry room, either. Office hasn’t been touched in a few days, but wait, what’s under the desk, is that my, yes! Ratty old tennis ball, how I have missed thee! You’re coming to bed with me when they leave, old friend. Oh, hey, Mom. Mind if I trot along here with you for a sec? Listen, I’m sorry about the whole stumpy-nose thing. I mean, it’s true, you guys have such weird naked faces, but I mean that in the most loving way possible. Are we cool?

“Who’s a good boy? Why don’t you go ahead and wake up Emily?”

Who’s got dew claws and knows who’s a good boy? This dog! We’re cool then. Sure thing, I’ll get Emily up. Morning, Em—oh, fluff no. No, no, no. In here?! Where is that coming from? Quick recon: shoes and books under the bed, Mom’s not going to be happy when she looks for date night perfume and finds it buried with the dress-up stuff in the back of the closet here, and backpack? Hmm, backpack. My thumper is kicking harder. What’s in this thing? Just pencil case, books, gym clothes. But something about school today feels off.

Heeeyyy, girlie! Time to rise and shine, gonna hop up on here and how’s about a little smooch from the Budmeister?

“Eww, gross, Buddy!”

Gross? Who are you trying to fool, you love my kisses! You smell great, Emily. Listen, while I’m up here, maybe you want to stay home with me today? It’s not, well, I’m just, ok, here’s the thing: the thing is, something’s out there today. And I’m worried. Not like fake playful vacuum cleaner kind of worried, either. How about we tell Mom and Dad you have a tummy ache or something and then we can snuggle and you can watch movies on the couch and I’ll protect you all day? You can even play with my tennis ball.

“Buddy, come on! I have to get ready for school!”

Sometimes I get the impression that you people just completely ignore everything I say. Charades it is, I guess. I’m going to find mom. Mom! Can Emily stay home today? She said she wasn’t feeling good!

“Aww, somebody has a lot of energy this morning! Go play with one of your toys while I get ready for work. Em, pancakes and juice are on the table for you. Did you remember to put your gym clothes in your backpack, honey?”

Look look look, I’m doing the left spin! Left spin means I’m trying to tell you something serious, remember? Right spin is throw me the ball. Which, come to think of it, we probably should’ve chosen signs that weren’t so close together. But, hey! Wait, don’t close the door, aargh! Round door thingy, you are the devil.

“Buddy, come get your breakfast!”

Kibble or pancakes? Just pupping around with you, Dad. Hmm. Strange. Different food today, Dad? No, I just, I’m not hungry. Dad, can we talk? You know, alpha to alpha?

“Not hungry today, Bud? That’s weird. Maybe an upset tummy?”

Upset tummy? When have you ever known me to not eat? Eating is easily in my top two favorite things about being alive, Dad. I agree, it’s weird. I’m just going to level with you, right here across your shoes. See this? I’m laying down on your feet like I did last time I felt this way. Feel my nose, it’s dry as a bone. Something is going to happen today, Dad. With Emily. We have to protect her, it’s our job.

“Hi, Daddy! Is Buddy not feeling good today? Buddy, how come you didn’t eat?”

Emily, please. Stay home with me today. I don’t know why I know, but I know that you shouldn’t be at school today. It’s like my fur is trying to crawl off of me to go hide somewhere. Help me understand this: all of you can somehow tell when I have to pee almost before I know it myself, but now I’m trying to warn you and you’re thicker than bricks?

“He’s so cute when he cocks his head like that, his one ear hangs straight down. What are you gonna do when I’m at school today, Bud?”

Here comes Mom again. This isn’t working, nobody is listening. She’s going to take her to school, dog damnit.

“I imagine he’ll sleep all day if he isn’t feeling great. Em, honey, remember to brush your teeth when you’re all done. I have your lunch and backpack here by the front door.”

Ok, this is it. Time to guard the door. Nobody gets past me. Just going to walk here, back and forth, nobody in or out on my watch! Mom, you can go to work but please, please leave Emily here with me! You’ve joked about the babysitting thing before, but I am completely up to the task, I promise! I will never touch your slippers again!

“Buddy’s pacing now, dear, are you sure he’s ok? He’s acting so…odd.”

“Did he go out this morning?”

“Yes, I had to call him a couple times, he was staring at something down the driveway that hadhim all riled up, probably Mrs. Gerber’s cat coming back in or something.”

“Aww, shit, Buddy! Seriously? You know better than that, old man!”

Oh, noooo, I pissed myself. Oh, dog. I’m gonna be sick. Everything is so hot right now, aren’t you guys hot? Let me try to get smaller. I know better than that. I’m so sorry, I—I’ll clean it up myself, watch: I’ll just bunch up the rug and take it to-

“Jesus, Buddy, right before we all have to leave? Don’t scratch at it, Bud, just leave it alone!”

Okay, okay, okay, I know, to the back yard or I get a bop on the nose! But wait, Emily! NO!

“BUDDY! No barking! Bill, take him to the back yard and let him out one more time, I’ll get this cleaned up. Emily, are you ready? Grab your things, it’s time to go to school.”

Daniel Mahoney is a pediatric palliative care physician and medical humanities educator in Houston, TX. His work has appeared in JAMA, Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, and the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. He is a founding member of www.solaceinthebardo.com, a home for creative work inspired by the practice of palliative care. 

Social Media: @DanielMahoneyMD)