“We have a code brown at the front of the store.”
Yes, folks, it happened again, today, on the nine-year anniversary of the day that Reggie and Lizzie first rolled down that conveyer belt, secured inside their crates, and made their mark on my life, and my heart, forever.
Reggie had another “code brown” at Pet Supplies Plus.
Not in front of the shelf with the floor cleaners this time.
Nope, right up front by the registers, 3 days before Christmas, so all the shoppers could step over it.
I told Reggie, “No ‘code browns’ this time, okay, Reggie?”
It didn’t quite work out that way, but it didn’t embarrass me this time. We’re old pros at the “code browns” now. Yes, the cashier did announce it over the loudspeaker, and yes, there were many other people watching it happen in real time this time.
But, the last time it happened, I didn’t know yet, not for sure, at least, that Reggie and I are living on borrowed time.
Not to mention today, December 22, 2018, is a special date for us. I am all about dates. I have an uncanny memory for dates – I’ve always been that way. My friend, Dan, once said, “You are so good at remembering dates, it’s scary. It’s like a super power.”
It’s true, I do have a weird talent for remembering the dates of events, birthdays, what people said on a particular date, that sort of thing. But mostly it’s about remembering to celebrate a special date like today – an anniversary as important as this one should never be forgotten…
It was important to me that Reggie have Christmas presents this year. I meant to order him something special from the “In the Company of Dogs” catalog, but I forgot, and maybe that’s okay. I’m glad I forgot, in this case – it was much more fun helping him choose his own gifts in the store.
Technically, the “code brown” should never have happened because I rolled Reggie into the store in the pet stroller, mostly for his safety.
In the past year, Reggie has displayed some fear aggression towards other dogs, most likely because he feels his vulnerability, I’m guessing.
Surprisingly, Reggie has **not** been aggressive toward other dogs at all recently. Not since the day, Lizzie died, from what I have seen. He will bark at dogs, but it’s not the same as it was a few months ago when he’d get bent out of shape and try to bite. I think he is changing, his demeanor, his temperament, are very different – I can see it every day. He’s softened and mellowed. When I take him to the vet for his B12 shots, he does not seem to be bothered by other dogs.
Maybe it’s the tumor, maybe it’s something else. But, we’ll have to see.
However, I wasn’t going to take any chances in the pet supply store, knowing there would be a lot of dogs there, especially the Saturday before Christmas. He was fine, though. In the stroller, he does not seem to feel threatened and just kind of stares them down.
When I led him over to the section where they keep the squeaky toys, he was eager to help me pick one – I could tell – because he immediately stood up in the stroller to check them out.
That was fun. I tried out the squeaker in a few of them, to see how he reacted, before deciding on which ones to buy for him.
When Reggie heard the squeaky sound, his ears perked up, he got so excited, and tried to get at them, barking at them like his old self. He barked every time he heard that squeaky noise. I tried four or five different ones: first a plump pig, he really got excited about that one. Definitely had to get him that pig. I tried out the squeaker on some other critters – raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, otter…he loved them all, grabbing at every single one. It warmed my heart to see him like that.
By the fourth animal I tested, Reggie had had enough of staying in the stroller and took it up on himself to exit, on his own. He jumped out the front, into the aisle. – He’s done that front leap once already this week, at Jittery Joe’s, without any warning. Scared me to death. He literally leapt out of the front of the stroller, in an instant, before I could even blink, much less catch him…”Bombs away.”
Fortunately he was not injured, in either store.
I decided not to put him back in the stroller because there were not as many dogs as I’d anticipated and he really needed to be free to walk around – exercise is important and I didn’t think he’d have a problem with the one or two smaller dogs on leash with their owners.
That’s how the “code brown” happened.
Oh well, like they told me before, it happens all the time.
It’s been very, very hard to be at home the last few days. I’m having a hard time thinking about Christmas. I know I said I would make this the best Christmas for Reggie that I can. And I will. Thus, the toys for him. But, I can’t remember a Christmas when I felt more heartbroken or despondent or scared or full of regrets.
I wish I could pull one of those “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” tricks to make the pain go away.
Life doesn’t work that way. I thought I could do it. I thought I could push the feelings away, push the memories away, but it isn’t working. I’m not in the Christmas spirit at all, quite the opposite. I haven’t been able to get myself to do any of my Christmas traditions, except for listening to Xmas music and decorating the tree. I do love looking at our tree and the ornaments – especially the dog ornaments.
The time is going by quickly, too quickly. Because Reggie is on borrowed time, and I know I have to enjoy these moments with him while I can.
If anything, Reggie is making this Christmas a little less painful. I am so lucky he is with me this year, of all the last nine years together, this one, especially, I’m thankful for Reggie.
I am holding on for dear life to every moment we have together. Every moment with Reggie is precious right now. I know from experience it will all change so quickly, I won’t know what hit him…or me.
I’ve never experienced a death from canine cancer firsthand, not in my own dogs, at least. My mother “protected” me (sheltered me, really) from our family dogs’ cancers – two of them died of cancer. One, when I was 7 years old, the other when I was 29 years old.
(Advice to parents out there: don’t shelter your kids from the death of your pets. You think you’re doing them a favor. You’re not. Kids are resilient and it will help them face the death of loved ones later in life).
Right now, by some miracle, Reggie is in some kind of “honeymoon” period. He has an excellent appetite. He eats all his food, he is taking his medicine like a champ – even the liquids. He is sleeping through most of the night, I think, peacefully, I hope. He still has accidents in the bathroom, but he hasn’t had them every single night like before. It’s the first time in 7 or 8 months that I haven’t had a huge mess to clean up every single day. He has made a mess on the tile floor the last few nights, but less than before, which means he must be getting more rest, I’m sure.
This is inevitably going to change, the question is when.
I don’t want to think about it with Christmas a few days away, but what scares me is that it’s happening again.
The denial. The mind games. Fooling myself into thinking Reggie is going to be okay because he’s doing so well right now.
If I didn’t know any better, I would think that he didn’t have cancer.
It’s a catch-22: I want to allow myself to be happy about how well he’s responding to all of the medications and the acupuncture treatment. I want to enjoy this time with him, while it lasts, because I know it won’t last long – especially not with Prednisone (God, don’t I wish he didn’t have to take that, but apparently it’s the only thing they can give him right now to slow down the tumor and ulcerations).
And that Godzilla of a thing is growing – anything that stops it, must be engaged to stop it, or he’ll die sooner than later.
It’s hard though, not to deceive myself about what’s really going on in his body. He’s so much like his old self, in some ways. Slower, yes. Quieter, yes. Sleeps more, yes, but on the outside, he seems to be feeling better. He seems comfortable, and is responsive to people petting him. He gets so excited about food, with his big eyes, and his ears perked up. He still barks at other animals, and wags his tail, and steals my food if I’m not careful. (He stole a tomato off the fork the other night – just like he used to before. He waits under the table for food to accidentally drop). He sits by my feet and follows me around. He looks as if he is getting better, most of the time, even though I know deep down he’s not.
All in all, you’d never know he’s living on borrowed time.
I selfishly hate that for the second time, in a short time, I will be forced to make that awful choice I do not want to make. It feels unfair and cruel, to both of us. It shouldn’t happen this way, not again.
It doesn’t matter what should or shouldn’t happen. Reggie doesn’t deserve this. He doesn’t deserve ***any*** of what has happened to him. That’s what matters. It’s up to me to make it up to him, even if I can’t, I have to try.
He does make it easier to do that – he is as lovable as ever.
Today, on our 9th anniversary of meeting, I look down at him, sleeping in the stroller right now (Thank God for this stroller – we thought it would be much longer before he’d need it), and I can’t believe 9 years have gone by…
So, enough about the present and the cancer for a moment here…right now, I want to talk about some of my favorite memories with Reggie. Some of the best times I’ve had as Reggie’s mom the past nine years, 108 months, and 3,285 days.
I don’t want to repeat what I wrote about in the last few posts. If you’re reading this one, please enjoy the others. They are a series in an ongoing love letter to Reggie, much like I did with Lizzie, and one day, hopefully in 2019, when I finish Toby’s book, that will be his love letter, too.
(I really hope I meet my goal of finishing and publishing it in 2019 – I declared that I would because I think it is important to declare a goal aloud, or in writing, or both, to set yourself up for success. At least, that way, it is not nebulous, even if it takes longer than you think it will).
Two of my favorite memories of Reggie that come to mind are the charity/non-profit 5K walks we did together in San Diego, both in 2011.
The first walk was the Voice for the Animals Walk to raise money for the San Diego Humane Society on May 2, 2011 in Crown Point. I have a framed polaroid photo one of the volunteers took of me sitting on a bench with Reggie after the walk.
The second was later that year in Balboa Park – the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to raise money for breast cancer.
November is usually beautiful in San Diego and that day was gorgeous. There were so many dogs, Reggie was in heaven, and he walked sooooooo fast. I had a hard time keeping up with him! He was very speedy in his youth. Walking with hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs was incredibly stimulating for him to boot. I took a photo of us together at the walk, a selfie.
The breast cancer walk was a wonderful experience, and I’m so happy Reggie and I shared it together.
(Audie and I did the same walk two years earlier in 2009, but did not take Toby with us, as I recall).
I always intended for Reggie and I to do more of those non-profit walks. I don’t know what happened. We did leave San Diego the following month, but I suppose we could have signed up for one of the walks in Athens after we moved to Georgia with Lizzie.
I have many regrets, too many to list, about what I could have done, should have done, wish I’d done, in Athens, when I had the chance. I guess I should add this to the list, but maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll have one more chance to walk with Reggie, while he still can, in another charity walk. Or, at least, walk him in the stroller, if he’s too weak to walk himself.
I hope that is not the case when the opportunity comes, but we’ll see what happens. I’m realistic, but I feel optimistic, too, that we may have more time.
Another favorite memory of mine is of Reggie and Lizzie at Southeast Dog Park in East Athens. During the first 6 months I lived in Athens, I’d take Lizzie and Reggie over there every weekday morning, literally, five days a week, without fail, at 10 am, to meet up with some of the regulars and their dogs.
We made friends, fast friends, with the other people and their dogs. I remember Suzanne and Gene best: they had two dogs: Pete, a Bichon Frise, and Sam, a huge Newfoundland.
Reggie loved running around with the other dogs. Lizzie, not so much. She is not a dog person, or wasn’t, I should say; she was a people person. She had no interest in the dogs at the park. She stayed by the bench, sometimes under it, watching the other dogs run around, staying as far out of their way as she could. People feet – that was her spot.
Reggie, on the other hand jumped into it head first, in a good way. He always had a lot of fun with his doggie peers. His enthusiasm was always high; and, he made me nervous a few times with his alpha attitude. One day, I remember this dog fight started with some dogs we didn’t know (not regulars) and Reggie decided to referee. I shouted for him to get away, and thankfully he was not hurt. I don’t think any dogs were hurt, even the ones in the fight, but I thought my heart would stop for fear of what could happen to Reggie and the other dogs. (In all fairness, it seems like Reggie’s instinct to referee is just that, an alpha canine instinct. It’s a thing. I have seen it more than a few times. If a dog fight starts, the alpha dogs all pile in and try to get into the middle of it. It’s a lot like kids on the playground, watching two of their friends go at it. (Or maybe I have just seen too many episodes of “Little House on the Prairie.” That was one of the recurring scenes in the schoolyard on that show).
I have a plethora of memories with Reggie, and Lizzie. I could fill up pages and pages, and someday, maybe I will.
Speaking of chew toys and Christmas, Reggie loves to chase after them, grab them, shake them as if he’s killing prey, and pull all the stuffing and squeaker out of them..in about ten minutes. That’s about how long we got to enjoy some of his past Xmas presents. One of the best was the gefilte fish, the Chanukah fish, that would say, “Oy vey,” when you squeezed it, followed by the sound of bubbling water. That one was my favorite of all. I also loved the dreidel (which appropriately sang the song bearing its name), the birthday cake, that sang “Happy birthday to you…” and there was even a dog that cheered, “Let’s go bulldogs!” for UGA.
It has always been so fun watching Reggie make mincemeat of those chew toys, or the insides of them, at least.
Going through old photos has reminded me of some of the little moments – the ones that build into a full life together:
Reggie and Lizzie finding bedspreads, beanbags, blankets and other warm places to burrow in, or under. Reggie loves to burrow under covers and bedspreads.
The many adventures we’ve had: some local, and some on the road. It was fun having the dogs in the backseat driving cross country with Audie when I moved to Georgia. Road trips with dogs can be challenging in terms of finding lodging. Audie, being the smart person that he is, planned out a route that would land us at a dog-friendly establishment each night. On the second night, we stayed in Roswell, NM, where Reggie encountered his first snow. (You’ll notice the warm brown coat – this trip was why Audie got it for him – so he would not be cold when we reached higher elevations).
As far as I know, Reggie had never relieved himself in the snow before that day, so I made sure to get a picture of his first experience.
Both Reggie and Lizzie are/were excellent travelers. It’s lucky. They loved the long days of driving in the car, sticking their heads out the window, breathing in that wind. It’s not good for the eyes but the smells are so intense, I’ve heard, that dogs love the wind hitting their faces when the car is speeding down the freeway. They were well behaved in the hotel rooms (no accidents, thank goodness), only barked at the border patrol officers (that’s a story for another time), and they loved all the new places where we took a break to walk them.
2,500 miles in 5 days is a long drive, and along with Audie, they made it one of the best road trips ever.
Reggie has had his funny moments, like not quite fitting into the Darth Vader halloween costume I bought for Toby and gave to Reggie. (Audie probably has the photos of Reggie in the costume, and I can’t find any, so sadly, I can’t show you the photo, but suffice to say, it was very big on him, he didn’t like it and tried to get it off, and it kind of dragged behind him in the back. The helmet was cute, and because Reggie’s coloring is so dark, he really looked like a little Darth Vader – it was a much better costume for Reggie than for Toby. I tried putting it on Reggie today to get a photo of him in the costume but he would not let me do it. I took one of the bag, but it’s not the same).
Now, I wish I’d tried dressing him up for Halloween this year, for the Boo-le-Bark walk in Athens. But, it was so soon after Lizzie died, we were not up to the big crowd.
Reggie has forged so many loving relationships with the people he’s met over the years. Too many people to list all at once. I have many memories of the two of us (Audie and me) walking the three dogs in a pack, in San Diego, both around the block, and everywhere we brought them around town. San Diego is one of the most dog-friendly cities in the USA, and the weather is so mild, there were so many opportunities to take them out with us. (I took them to Starbucks more often than anywhere, since it was close and had a large patio, but it was much more fun to take them to the parks, like Balboa Park).
Audie was the pack leader, at that time, taking charge of all three dogs on those very long walks. (I look back fondly on those family walks in San Diego, and in Athens, too, for that matter).
I’ve mentioned before that Reggie and Toby had a frenemy relationship at times, but they always got along like brothers and buddies when we took them to neutral territory. They liked going to Nobel Dog Park together, which was right across the street from our condo complex, very lucky. They got along fine at Starbucks, waiting for crumbs or treats from anyone willing to share (which was most people), and all in all, all three dogs learned to co-exist as a family.
However, Lizzie was the love of Reggie’s life, in my opinion. He loved cuddling up close to her, and like Toby, loved kissing her, whether she liked it or not. I miss seeing them together – they were one of a kind as a doggie couple.
Yes, many friends of mine, who have met Reggie over the years, both in San Diego, and Athens, past and present, absolutely adore him. It’s not hard.
One of Reggie’s favorite memories, I’m sure, was the week that my friend, Suzanne, returned to San Diego for a visit. She stayed with us for 4 days in October 2011 and she could not get enough of the two dogs. She wanted to spend as much time with them as she could and loved walking them. I remember Suzanne asking me if she could take the leashes every time we went out – I think she fell in love with both Lizzie and Reggie that week. Who could blame her?
But, if Reggie had, or has, one true love of his life, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Audie was, and I believe, still is, the true love of Reggie’s life.
I often caught both dogs sleeping on Audie, while he was asleep, and when Audie was on the couch, on the bed, wherever he was, if Reggie could get to him, he was right there, climbing up to get as close to Audie as possible. Reggie was a “French-er,” as Audie put it – you had to watch out for him or he’d French kiss you. That tongue of his was quick! I remember many times Reggie tried to French kiss Audie, and when he was successful, the sound of Audie’s laugh was priceless.
Yes, those two were a special pair – actually, the three of them were a special trio. I’m glad I was there to see that over the years. The love between the three of them (Audie and his dogs, Lizzie and Reggie) was one of the things I loved most about that time of my life.
Last year, in 2017, Reggie injured his spine, probably while jumping off of something. He was in so much pain from a slipped disk, he could not even move. Audie and I were devastated, and we were lucky, this time, because the prognosis for success through surgery was high. Audie and I worked together, combining our resources, to make a plan to afford the $4000 surgery at a facility in South Carolina recommended by Dr. Jeni at Hope.
It was worth the money, it saved his life, and Reggie was able to move pain-free again. He didn’t like having to be restricted from jumping and going up and down the stairs, and to this day, I have to remind myself to keep a close eye on Reggie so he does not slip a disk again (it’s common in his breed – French bulldogs – apparently).
Reggie was lucky, we were lucky. 2017 was a hard year with the dogs, medically speaking. It started off with Lizzie’s trachea collapsing in January, and then in the summer, for about 3-4 days, we had both dogs in UGA vet hospital, inpatient, at the same time. Lizzie had respiratory issues, and a scare with heat stroke. Reggie’s neck pain came on so suddenly – we started that saga by taking him to UGA before he ended up in SC. (Audie almost ended up paying for an expensive MRI and surgery at UGA but Dr. Jeni helped him out with the alternative).
There were more medical crises with Lizzie over the years, by far. Up until 2017, Reggie was very healthy – just a couple of ear infections, and sores under one of his toenails from a nail that kept breaking off. It triggered some kind of recurring hot spot, or some such thing. He had some gastritis off and on, but up until that slipped disk, he had been fine. Gotten into trouble, yes, being the escape artist and the precocious alpha dog that he is, but no major medical problems.
I thought it would be easier to tackle a grant for canine cancer. I was wrong, and I realized the other day, I need to reach out for guidance, mostly because I’m pressed for time, and I have no clue what I’m doing. I am a writer, but grant writing is highly specialized and competitive and you can’t just write whatever. If it’s not targeted, you’ll be “triaged,” as Audie called it, or what I would call, “slush piled.” I’ve been so overwhelmed, with not enough hours in the day, all of a sudden, to juggle everything, that I decided reaching out for assistance from an expert, at this point, would be wiser. It’s on my long list of “to-dos.”
I did take a one-week crash course in grant writing (5 days, 40 hours) at UGA Continuing Ed. in March 2012, but I learned from all the years I lived with Audie, watching him battle the “Game of Grant proposals” (my play on words for “Game of Thrones”), that grant writing is no game – it is a battleground, with too many competitors, and not enough spoils to go around for everyone.
Sometimes I think of it like a game of chess, and the one who captures the king, or in this case, the grant, wins all.
(Time is of the essence, and I hope that by the time I find someone to guide me through the grant writing process that it won’t be too late for Reggie. He does not have a lot of time, so neither do I).
This morning (December 23, 2018 – I am writing this blog in two parts), I found more blood spots in the den.
I don’t know if that means the Prednisone stopped working, and that the tumor is ulcerating again, or if it’s some other issue with the colon, caused by the tumor, but it’s a bad sign.
Something isn’t working today.
I am praying it’s a fluke. I’ve gotten so used to Reggie doing well this past week or so, I don’t want to let go of that hope that we have some quality time before he gets sicker, and worse, before I have to let him go.
I am so afraid of losing him, it is hard to remind myself that I have to be unselfish, no matter what. It’s not easy. I can’t believe how attached I am to this dog. Which sounds weird coming from a person as passionate about dogs as I am, but I had always thought of Audie as Reggie’s person, and me as Audie’s partner-in-crime, co-pilot, permanently ensconced pet sitter, dog mother, and many other titles, but never as Reggie’s primary human. I never imagined feeling as bonded as I feel now.
Or maybe I was, and didn’t know it, until Reggie let me see it, or until I let myself see how much I love Reggie, and how much he loves me.
Maybe I was afraid to love Lizzie and Reggie as much as I do, because of how much it hurt to lose Toby.
I know I never held myself back, in fact, I think I let myself get so attached, that I often stayed behind when I could have, and maybe should have, left them with pet sitters to travel with Audie.
I do regret that I spent so much time away from them, traveling to San Diego by myself. I regret that I spent so much time away from their daddy, too, but if anything good came from me staying behind on any trips, I hope that it helped Reggie and Lizzie to live longer, and healthier, and happier.
Reggie is a one-of-a-kind. He’s got the most soulful eyes, the most affectionate kisses, the best cuddles, the most rambunctious mischievousness, the most athletic speed (or he did), the most inquisitiveness…the biggest heart.
He prefers men, to girls, I think, or he did, and he’s made many male friends over the years, including my dad, who is a huge dog person himself.
If anyone out there has some special memories with Reggie, or photos, or both, that you’d like me to post in a blog, as I write about the last days and weeks with Reggie, please send them to me using the “Contact” page on the website. There are so many people whose lives he’s touched, so many people who’ve loved him. And I know we all want to hold onto our memories with Reggie and never forget how much we love him, and how much he loves us.
Thank you again to everyone who donated to the GoFundMe fundraiser for Reggie. The fundraiser is active for 3 more days if you are able to contribute to the medical fund for Reggie: