Owner sees pet with cancer as blessing, makes him bucket list
By Jill Kruse-Domeyer
Witness Editorial Assistant
GREENE — It’s been said that “every dog has its day,” and Gunner — the almost 7-year-old German Shepherd, known for his big ears and his even bigger heart — recently had his day at Loras College in Dubuque, where he spent time on campus with students and staff and had the opportunity to become an honorary “Duhawk.”
Gunner has, in fact, had many special days as of late, thanks to his owner, Casey Conry of Greene, who created a bucket list for him — a list of things for him to do before he dies — after Gunner was diagnosed with terminal cancer two months ago.
When creating Gunner’s bucket list, which originally was comprised of seven items, but has now grown to 14 items and counting, Conry made sure a visit to her alma mater was something she included.
“I am a third generation Loras grad,” Conry, who graduated from the college in 2011, said, “and I absolutely loved my time at Loras and wanted Gunner to join the family and be a Duhawk too!”
When Gunner visited Loras on Saturday, Sept. 29, he and Conry attended the tailgate and the football game and even provided a little commentary from the press box. The two toured the campus and had the chance to meet the college’s president, Jim Collins. After a nap, Gunner went to one of the residence halls, where he became a resident assistant, or RA, for the night and did rounds checking in on the students and finished the night with a pizza party.
Conry said that one of the many reasons Loras is such a special place to her is that when she was a student there, the Catholic college’s chapel, Christ the King, was a space where she found solace during difficult times.
“I lost my grandmother my freshman year only about a week after losing a teammate and friend,” Conry said. “So while at Loras, I was going through a lot, and honestly had my doubts, but I spent a good amount of time inside Christ the King and will always be grateful for that.”
In addition to visiting the Loras campus, other examples of completed items on Gunner’s bucket list include: being a K9 deputy for the day, getting a tour of a fire station, eating something on a stick from the Iowa State Fair, enjoying an entire McDonald’s Happy Meal, drinking a “puppucino” from Starbucks, getting 1,000 “likes” on Facebook, and experiencing a photo shoot with a professional photographer.
Explaining just how her pup’s bucket list came to be, Conry said, “A few days after we found out that Gunner’s cancer was terminal, I decided that I had two choices to handle the situation. I could either be really sad and sit around crying … or I could make as many memories with him while I could. I’ve seen people doing bucket lists for their dogs, and I just thought it would be such a good distraction from all the sadness.”
Conry said the bucket list would continue to grow as long as Gunner, her 100-pound “gentle giant,” keeps up his strength and is well enough to complete the adventures. The dog is undergoing chemotherapy treatments, which will not cure him, but are meant to prolong his life. With treatment, veterinarians have given him up to nine months to live.
Though she doesn’t know exactly how much longer she will have her companion Gunner with her, Conry said the two are very much enjoying the time they have together now. As Gunner continues to complete the items on his bucket list, Conry said, “He seems to be really happy!” She said the bucket list has been immensely helpful for her too. “It seems like such a silly thing to be doing, but honestly, it’s been so helpful in the grieving and coping process,” she said.
A lifelong animal lover, Conry also has two other dogs besides Gunner, a black lab named Raider and a yellow lab named Buzz, as well as a 24-year-old horse named Buck. “I absolutely think that animals are God’s creatures,” Conry said. “They’re just so kind and pure, and I wish every person could understand that.”
While she has a strong affection for animals in general, Conry said Gunner, the first dog she has ever had, holds a special place in her heart.
“I’m able to confide in Gunner in ways I may not be able to with any person, no matter how close,” she said. “When I’m feeling low, Gunner just knows how to lift me up and make me smile, and I sometimes have to wonder if it’s God’s way of nudging me and telling me he sees me struggling and Gunner is my little bit of comfort I’ve been asking for.”
What the church teaches about animals
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Animals are God’s creatures.” “He surrounds them with his providential care,” it says. “By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness” (No. 2416).
God has entrusted animals to the stewardship of human beings whom he created in his own image. For this reason, the catechism states, it is legitimate for people to use animals for food and clothing and to domesticate them to help with work or leisure (No. 2417).
The catechism also says that it’s wrong to cause an animal to suffer or die needlessly. But it also adds, when utilizing financial resources, it is important to prioritize the relief of human misery over animals. “One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons,” it states (No. 2418).
Many Catholic saints are known for the love they had for animals, and the catechism makes reference to two of them. “We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals,” it notes (No. 2416).
St. Philip Neri had a pet cat he carried in a basket and is said to have sometimes celebrated Mass with a chipmunk on his shoulder. St. Francis of Assisi is known to have tamed a wolf and preached the Gospel to birds. During October, in honor of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and ecology, whose feast day is celebrated on the fourth of the month, many parishes hold a special blessing for pets and other animals.
Casey Conry of Greene, a 2011 Loras College grad, poses with her dog Gunner, who has terminal cancer. (Photo courtesy of Sally Kleiss Timmer Photography)