Tommy was the best dog in the world. When he was a baby, he slept on my chest as I dozed on the couch after long days at the welding shop. At Jane and Tom’s Welding, he did the books. People would hire me just to come visit and give him treats. The shop floor bore all these wonderful pie-shaped clean spots – evidence of a good dog sitting and wagging obediently. Despite the slag, metal shards and bad air quality in the shop, Tom lived a fabulously happy 15-and-a-half years.

Some say I kept him around too long, but he wagged his tail until the very end. He even greeted the vet who euthanized him, with his customary smile and wag. He was indeed a champion. In fact he was even called that during his short stint as shop dog when I worked at BRM.

His absence was crushing. I work alone at my home office. My office mates are the blue parakeet, Krishna, and the chickadees and titmouse on the other side of the glass. Even though Krishna says “Goddammit” occasionally (Gosh, I wonder where he learned that?), things got pretty quiet.

Three months after Tommy retired, my neighbor told me about an unusual stray and asked if it was time for a new dog. She’d met the dog and loved him, he was just too big for her condo. Intrigued, I got in the car and drove to Waterbury to meet him. It is interesting to note that this dog was found on the same road, less than a mile away from the breeder where I bought Tommy.

We were immediately drawn to one another. After about an hour of visiting and playing in the snow, it was time for me to go. The dog stood at the door of my car and looked at me. There wasn’t much I could do. I adopted him while my husband and son where both out of town. Surprise, you guys.

I called him Shems, for Shemsi Tabriz, the wandering mystic, who was Rumi’s teacher in the 13th Century. All the poems Rumi wrote about ‘the Friend’ were about Shemsi.

My Shems is smart, loving, funny, compassionate, thoughtful, cuddly and 105 pounds. He smiles. He canoes. He doesn’t eat the parakeet.  “He’s a frigging genius,” according to his self-appointed godfather, Andy. My friends argue about who gets to babysit him if I ever have to leave town without him.

I did not think it possible, but in five short months, Shems has captured my heart entirely. He teaches me something new every single day. My heart expands beyond reason. He teaches me how to howl and how to dance. He teaches me loyalty and devotion. He reintroduces me to joy and silliness. He is indeed the very best dog in the world (thanks for setting the bar so high, Tom).

Four days ago, I took him to the vet for what I thought was a sprained ankle. The X-rays revealed osteosarcoma, bone cancer. The prognosis is a only few months – and this is with or without amputation and chemo. While I am no poet, I will share what I learn about cancer, dog health and the heart. I’m sure that Shems’ teachings can benefit others along this particular journey.

Seek knowledge which unravels mysteries
Before your life comes to close
Give up that non-existence which looks like existence,
Seek that Existence which looks like non-existence!

From Divani Shams, “Life and Work of Muhammad Jalal-ud Din Rumi” by Afzal Iqbal