“She’s our miracle baby.”
These were the exact words spoken by our vet, Dr. Clifton, this last summer at one of Lizzie’s checkups.
On March 14, 2018, I got a phone call from my husband at 4:00 pm, just as I was about to walk into a doctor appointment, and silence my phone.
I thank God I picked up that call. Audie was telling me he was at UGA vet hospital and that he was taking Lizzie to Hope right away to put her to sleep.
Audie choked up, as he told me.
He was about to make the hardest decision of his life.
In the ten years I’d known him, I’d never ever heard him get choked up. I’d never seen him cry. I’d never seen him grieve. Hearing the emotion in his voice for the first time, I felt my own emotions well up in my throat.
We’d made the decision that no matter what, when we took Lizzie to the emergency hospital earlier that day, we would never let her be put to sleep there. We wanted to make sure that Lizzie did not take her last breath in the hospital. We really wanted to put her to sleep at home, as I had done with Toby. Audie believed in souls, as did I, and that her spirit would stay in the house. After I had put Toby, my first rescue dog, to sleep in 2011, over the next few months, I often was certain I saw his spirit walking in the bedroom.
But I could have imagined it all.
Lizzie was Audie’s first rescue dog. He adopted her from Seattle Pug Rescue at the age of 3 years old, in 2005. She was scared to death, afraid to walk, afraid of people, afraid of the stairs. She had been in a puppy mill, and so that alone told us that horrible things, unmentionable things, had happened to her at the start of her life.
But once Audie adopted her, Lizzie left behind that life. And she has been loved and pampered ever since.
I didn’t meet Lizzie until December 22, 2009, but it didn’t take long to fall in love with her. In fact, I fell in love with her the first time I ever saw her picture back in January when I met Audie and asked him to email me photos of both of his dogs, Lizzie and Reggie.
Being that Lizzie was a purebred dog, and a puppy mill dog at that, I knew that she’d been exposed to trauma and malnutrition. Because of that, I made a lot of assumptions, one of which was that she probably was not very smart.
I was dead wrong.
Lizzie Roberts is one of the smartest dogs I have ever met. And she’s a diva.
When she and Reggie came to live with Toby and me, my vet in San Diego, Dr. Kaleka, advised me on the best way to transition the new dogs into Toby’s home. One of the strategies was to separate them and gradually allow the dogs to get to know each other. Toby had to know he was still number one dog, the king, and so Reggie and Lizzie had to stay in the kitchen, behind a pet gate. They were allowed to eat with Toby and go on walks with Toby and to spend time with the whole family (i.e. Audie, Toby and me), but most of the time they had to stay in their space for the first month to safely blend our family of dogs all together.
Well, apparently Lizzie didn’t like this idea.
About a week after they moved in, I heard a sound on the side of the bed in the middle of the night that sounded like a paw scratching on the bed.
It was Lizzie.
We thought that somehow she’d gotten the door to the pet gate open. I picked her up to take her back to her little den with Reggie. When I returned to the kitchen, I looked at the pet gate. I was floored by what I found.
The gate was still locked.
Reggie was standing on the other side of the gate, wagging his tail, waiting to be let out, too.
Somehow, she had figured out how to squeeze her chubby body through the narrow slats, and she’d left Reggie behind all by himself.
He whimpered when he saw me, obviously hurt that Lizzie had not opened the gate door to let him out along with her.
I lifted Lizzie up over the top of the gate and gently set her back down for the night.
Audie and I laughed about it when I told him how our “little Houdini” had somehow managed to escape without opening the door.
We went back to sleep.
Fifteen minutes later, I heard a paw push open the bedroom door, the sound of footsteps, heavy panting, and that pawing sound on the side of the bed again.
It was Lizzie.
She’s escaped, again, and as I suspected, when I brought her back to the kitchen, with Audie alongside me this time, the pet gate door was still latched shut.
In case you’re wondering, she was three for three. After we opened the gate, put her back inside the kitchen with Reggie, we checked the gate latch to make sure it was secure.
But lo and behold, she found her way out, again, and back into our bedroom, and the side of the bed, again.
It’s 2018, it’s been almost 9 years, and to this day, we still have never figured out how Lizzie, whose girth was at least twice the width of the slats, managed to get out without opening the pet gate door, not once, not twice, but three times.
She seemed to get the hint after that third escape, and stayed with Reggie, snuggled up together in their dog bed.
It never happened again after that night, and luckily the next few weeks went by fast, as we permitted Lizzie and Reggie to spend more and more time outside of the kitchen. It was a relief to all of us. We hated having to keep them behind that pet gate even more than they did, I’m pretty sure.
Lizzie’s magician’s act that night is still one of my favorite memories of her, and of my life with her dad, Audie Roberts. I’ll always smile when I think of how we laughed in disbelief and admiration of our “little Houdini.”
Lizzie is a miraculous dog – in so many ways. But her ability to cheat death is the most amazing feat of willpower and perseverance and strength I have ever witnessed in any dog, or even in any person.
She has survived cancer, radiation and chemotherapy, multiple mast cell tumors, heat stroke, a collapsed trachea, and earlier this year, on March 14th, prednisone.
When we were with Dr. Clifton at Hope Clinic that afternoon, Lizzie was not in good shape. Audie felt it was time. Dr. Clifton, Dr. Jeni, and the team all thought so.
But I had another instinct.
I asked Dr. Clifton if she thought Lizzie would be all right to bring home for just one night so we could say goodbye. I’d needed that one more night with Toby back in 2011, and if there was any way to have that time with Lizzie, too, I wanted that chance. I wanted Audie to have that chance, also. I knew from experience how much it would mean to him down the road to have one last night with his first dog.
Dr. Clifton listened to Lizzie’s heart and lungs, made a judgment call that it probably would be safe, and then said it was up to us. She did warn us that Lizzie might not make it through the night, and that watching our dog pass away would be extremely painful. But, she also said there was certainly a chance that Lizzie would be able to make it one more day, if that’s what I wanted. At first, Audie was adamant that we put her to sleep then and there, and I went back and forth with him on that – he thought it was cruel to keep her alive for our sake, but eventually he changed his mind.
We took Lizzie home with us, believing it would be for the last time.
In the middle of the night, at about 4 a.m. Lizzie suddenly started panting heavily and struggling to breathe. I thought she was suffocating, as Dr. Clifton had warned. I cried as I held her and rocked her and begged God, prayed over and over, that God forgive me for being selfish and to please not punish her for what I’d done. I asked God over and over to stop Lizzie’s suffering and bring her peace, to let her rest. I promised God I’d do anything if He’d just punish me, not her.
Two hours later, Lizzie was breathing softly and resting.
Originally, Audie and I had told Dr. Clifton we’d bring her into the clinic in the late morning. Audie even called Memory Garden for Pets, where Toby was buried, to make arrangements for Lizzie to be cremated.
He sounded so calm (in fact, the day before, he told me he was surprised that he’d gotten so emotional on the phone with me about Lizzie).
But, when it came down to it, Audie wanted more time with her, too, and he called Hope, after talking it over with me, to change the time from 11 am to 3 pm.
I’d made the first good decision. And Audie made the second.
Lizzie had not been moving, not drinking, not eating, since we brought her home. All the signs that she was telling us she was ready to go. Audie and I sat by her all morning and petted her, and as the hours went by, and it got closer to 3, the water and tiny pieces of meat were left untouched, as she lay in the dog bed, tired and weak. We reminisced about all the favorite memories we’d had with her, we talked about how lucky we were to have such a phenomenal dog. She was a fighter, she never gave up, with all she’d faced. She had lost her eyesight and her hearing and come back from so many close calls with death. At 16 years old, she’d lived a full life, and we were blessed, so blessed, to have so much time with her.
But, as it turned out, she was not done with life. Not yet. At 1 pm, two hours before our appointment, Lizzie got up out of the bed, and drank water on her own.
We cried out with joy.
And then, she ate a piece of chicken breast from the paper plate.
We laughed and hugged each other with exuberance.
“We’re not putting her to sleep today!” Audie shouted.
When we arrived at Hope, as promised, we told Dr. Clifton about the miracle, and she agreed, we could wait, but that Lizzie would be in hospice now, and there was not much time left.
But it would not happen that day, Thursday, March 15th. Lizzie’s will to live, her heart, her unconditional love for us, for life, had bought us more time with her.
We thought it would not be long. Audie said no more medicines, no more treatments, and we prepared ourselves for our final days with Lizzie. We felt grateful that we’d had any more time at all after UGA hospital had said there was nothing more anyone could do to save her that afternoon of March 14th.
That was almost 7 months ago. And Lizzie is still here.
Somehow, Lizzie healed from the harmful side effects from the Prednisone once we stopped it. She still needed medication to keep her airways open, and her lungs were vulnerable, but all the fur she’d lost grew back, the open wounds on her skin healed, she got her appetite back, and she literally gained two more years of her life back, or at least, that’s what we said about her feisty attitude, and her upbeat energy this past spring and summer.
Today is September 30th, and it’s been a long Sunday.
Two days ago, Lizzie started coughing, non-stop. She’s struggling to inhale, and the medicine does not seem to be helping much.
It’s been almost 7 months, and at 16 years old, that’s a lifetime. But in that time, the denial has set in, that her time was still coming. Sometimes I’d remind myself that I’d already had my last Christmas with her, but then I’d hear her barking, see her ravenously eating her food, growling at Reggie to get away, or watch her briskly follow me around the house, and think to myself, she’s going to beat death a while longer. She’s not going to leave me, not yet.
It seems like things happen at the worst times, and I have been counting the hours until 8 a.m. tomorrow morning when I can call the vet and bring her in. Whatever they tell me, I know how lucky I have been to have all these extra months with her.
But I’m still not ready to let her go. My stomach has been in knots all day, and I’ve tried to speak quietly and to soothe her, so as not to let her know how much my heart is aching.
There is a chance that she may have a little more time. But I’m not fooling myself. Last year was my last Christmas with my Lizzie Bear.
We never lose people, or dogs, at the best time. If there even is such a thing as the right time to lose someone whom you love so much that your breath catches in your throat with the fullness of that love you feel.
I know that now is the worst time that something like this could happen to me, and to Reggie. But I also know, if it is time, we don’t get to decide that. And in fact, I’m being greedy to even ask God for more time. He has given me days, weeks, months…time neither Audie nor I could have ever expected…or hoped for.
I’d ask everyone who is reading this blog to pray for her, to make it through this time, but I know it’s really not our decision. It may not even be Lizzie’s. I know as she wanders around in circles in the bedroom, and paces, coughing around the house tonight, that she is fighting to stay. I know she does not want to go. I can feel it. She ate her dinner, she is still alert and moving.
But when it is time, it won’t be her choice, or mine, or Audie’s or Reggie’s. And if that time is coming soon, as I sense that it is, I know that I will find the strength to be brave, to hold her, to be there for her, just as she has been there for me every day since December 22, 2009.
To all of you who have known Lizzie Bear…I know you share in the love I feel, and I know no matter what, none of us will ever forget her, our amazing “little Houdini,” our diva, our miracle baby, our precious beautiful pug, who has fought and won so many battles, she truly has taught me about the joy of being alive.
I love you forever, Lizzie Bear.