Athens, Georgia, Cancer, Canine Cancer Awareness, Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, San Diego, California

“My Dog is Quieter Than Your Baby…”

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I know it’s not nice to say this kind of thing out loud (and I love babies, I love children, in fact, there is a hole in my heart that can never be fixed because I was denied the chance to have a baby of my own). And I didn’t say it out loud, just thinking it, as I’m sitting in Starbucks with Reggie quietly resting in the stroller while two tables away, a baby is screaming  and the mother cannot get him to quiet down.

The sound is deafening, but I sympathize. What is ironic is she can take her crying baby anywhere, and I can’t take my quiet dog…almost anywhere.

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Reggie sleeping in his stroller at Starbucks

Thanks to the stroller, and an ESA letter, it’s better than it could be, but I wish there were no limits to where I could take him. He certainly does not bother anyone, I don’t think, at least not as far as I’m told.  But those crying babies…

It doesn’t bother me much. I wish I were a parent with a crying baby instead of a woman grieving for an empty womb, the empty room that should have been a nursery, that is now a storage room, and for the dog I lost, and for the one I am about to lose.

My friend who is a veterinarian set my heart at ease by letting me know that animals do not think of death the way humans do. She said an animal communicator told her that death is just a natural part of living for animals, and that they do not want us to grieve when they are dying. They are stressed by our sadness, our fear of their leaving. I will keep this in mind. I would not want to ever cause Reggie any stress over the loss I am dreading.

I fear I may have, inadvertently, with Lizzie. I tried not to, and I hope I didn’t. I think I did okay because I remember the time we spent together in September and October and she seemed very happy, in spite of being sick. She seemed to feel the love surrounding her, from me and from everyone who got to see her in those last weeks.

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Lizzie Roberts Oct 7, 2018

The other day I came home from somewhere, and Reggie was sitting up and waiting for me as I drove up the driveway – I could see him looking at me on the other side of the sliding glass door.

I felt my heart flip with excitement, looking back at his sweet face. I want to take a photo of him in my mind, just like that, sitting up and looking for me behind the glass (I think it was me he was looking for, I can’t be sure).

But in any case, he was right there, at the door. He didn’t bark like he used to. Or start humping Lizzie like he used to when she was alive (that used to drive me nuts). Seeing my dog waiting for me to come home, filled me with so much joy, I physically felt that joy in my chest – the love I feel for him is so strong. And I thought, I can’t wait to get out of the car and take him in my arms and pet him and kiss the top of his head over and over again.

I don’t want to think about coming up the driveway one day, and passing that sliding glass door, knowing there is no Reggie on the other side, waiting for me.

When I got out of the car, I practically ran to the door ( I didn’t literally so I wouldn’t fall – I’ve had two bad falls in the last 3 years). I called out his name, “Reggie! Reggwood! Reggie!”  as I unlocked the door and pulled it open.

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He didn’t jump up or bark, but he did start wagging his tail as I leaned down and hugged his thin frame as I kissed him. (His wagging tail looks extra cute behind the back of his brown coat).

He’s not always quiet, but he is much quieter than ever before. This is a good thing in some ways (like today, sitting at Starbucks where I’m proud to say he’s quieter than the baby). It may mean that he is getting weaker. Not quickly, at least. He still loves to eat. However, the worst sign is that he is having more and more “accidents,” and I admit – I am exhausted.

I can’t keep up with it anymore. Not at all. But I try.  My fingers and wrists hurt all the time from trying. (I think I pulled a muscle in my shoulder from the scrubbing and scraping while cleaning earlier this week because my upper arm hurt so much and was so stiff, I could not lift my arm hardly at all, especially above my head, and I know I didn’t injure it).  Last night, I came in and just looked at the floor and I was so tired, I didn’t have the energy to do more than spray everything, hoping it would be enough, for now. I’d been working on it for so long that afternoon, my body ached and I just couldn’t do it again, not that day.

I know people might think I’m insane for going on like this, but I’d do this for another year if he would still be with me, like this, happy, more or less not in pain, and able to still enjoy his life and his people, and eating!  Any time I’m eating, he’s right there at my feet. Very reliable this dog – as food motivated as ever.

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He still loves riding in the car, and Barnes and Noble and Jittery Joe’s are his new hangouts. They recognize him there now. I choose to believe the people working there are happy to see him – I bet they are.

I met my friend for a late afternoon coffee this week and brought Reggie with me in the stroller. This was one of his less quiet moments, when he was barking as much as the baby was crying, at least at first. Of course, my friend had a pretzel, and that’s all it takes for Reggie to perk up and make himself heard.  Food within reach. One lady in the cafe said, “That’s one spoiled dog,” as I was petting him.

I didn’t tell her why, I just replied, “Yes, he is.”

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Reggie at Barnes and Noble Cafe

Most people are very nice, and the ones who, I have a feeling, are not dog people, and are not that into Reggie, (that’s being generous), give me some strange looks, but they don’t say anything.  (Not so far…)

I have this dream, this fantasy, of putting Reggie in the car and taking a long road trip with him, somewhere, I don’t know where. I want to take him on the plane with me to California, to take him with me for a visit, but I’ve been advised it would be very risky – if he went into distress on the flight there is nothing I could do for him. We’d be stuck up there and it would be awful.

Still, I wish I could take him to the ocean with me where we could sit on the rocks in La Jolla Cove, looking out at the water and listening to the waves. I never did take him to the dog beaches, just dog parks. (He has been to La Jolla Cove Park though).

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My friend Suzanne and I (photographer) with Reggie and Lizzie at La Jolla Cove park in October 2011

I did bring Toby to the Del Mar and Coronado dog beaches. Toby didn’t like the sand. Maybe that’s why I didn’t try it with Reggie or Lizzie. I know I mentioned it to Audie, but we never did. I wish we could go back and do that. I’d love to get photos of Reggie by the ocean, even if he were not interested in going in the water. Knowing how much he hates baths, he probably would not have gone anywhere near the ocean. I bet he would have barked at all the dogs who did, though!

I want Reggie’s life to be about more than going to the vet, and staying home, and going to coffeehouses and bookstores, or even around the neighborhood, or local parks, or Athens, Georgia (as much as I love Athens, Georgia, now, I want Reggie to experience more of the world in these last days).

(I read a story about a woman who took her dog with cancer on a road trip and she took these photos documenting it on Instagram).

It’s winter – I wonder where we could drive to – there are so many places nearby I’d want to see, too.

As I’m writing this, I think it would be wonderful – even just for a day or two – just so Reggie could stick his head out the open window and smell the fresh air hitting his face as we sped down the road. There might be a pet friendly place we could go to (how I’d manage all the dog shit, I don’t know, but I bet the vet would have some ideas on that). There’s nothing I can do about what’s happening with that. It’s the story of our lives right now, and it’s only getting worse – how would that work in a hotel, or an airbnb? I can’t see camping at this time of year, even in the south it’s cold…but oh, the things we could do and see and Reggie could smell out there.

It’s been so long since I’ve been on a trip – the last time Reggie went on a trip was the week that we drove out from San Diego to Athens, and he and Lizzie had the best time! They loved it, and I know, he’d love to do that again.

I imagine taking Reggie to someplace where there are woods filled with trees – tons of trees – or fields with miles of grass and fragrant flowers – except it’s wintertime. Or maybe a little town with cute little shops and friendly people. I imagine all the people flocking over to meet him. It is so endearing here in Athens – how many people, children and adults alike, come up to me when we are out together- they ask about him, and I can tell their hearts are reaching out to him. I think he can sense it, too.

When I brought Reggie to Hope today for a B12 shot, they weighed him and he’d gained 0.2 pounds. He went from 18.8 lbs. on Monday to 19 lbs. today. That may sound insignificant, but it is truly significant. It gave me a little bit of hope that I’m doing something right, something to help him, at least for a little while.

I do believe in the healing power of love. I’ve felt it myself, though it’s been a long time, particularly the touch of someone you love very much, who loves you back.

I miss that. I ache for it. But in this case, it must be helping Reggie, I know it must be.

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Reggie burrowing in the bed

Several years ago, my counselor told me that by holding Toby, and comforting him by giving him that physical touch, I was helping him to feel less physical pain, too. The day that Toby died, I held him in my arms for hours, and he was so peaceful, so unafraid.

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Toby and me in our apartment in San Diego, June 2007

I know this is true – the healing power of loving touch.  I know when I cuddle with Reggie, we both feel less pain, emotionally and physically.

Yesterday morning I skipped my morning meditation, and cuddled beside Reggie instead. He breathed slowly, and I smelled his fur as I snuggled close to his head,  my arm draped across his shoulders. We stayed there for a while, and it’s those moments that matter so much more than anything else – I’m holding onto him for dear life, while trying to be unselfish, too.  It is not easy to think about the future, but with Reggie, when I hold him like that, and hear him breathing, feeling his chest rise and fall, and smelling the life in him, feeling his warmth, the touch of his fur, it is easy to live in the moment – and nowhere else.

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Dogs help us that way – they only know the present moment – nothing else beyond that. I’ve learned so much from dogs. I don’t think it’s an accident that dog is God spelled backwards. Some people don’t agree with that theory, but a lot of people do…

Looking at Reggie sleeping in the stroller, I can’t believe his body, his small body, is filled with cancer. I know it’s true, but all I see is him – he is so much more than the cancer cells that are stealing his life away. His abdomen is rising and falling more rapidly than it should – that is the one sign, that something is wrong. But he’s a fighter, like me, like Lizzie, like Toby, like Audie…he won’t give up, and neither will I.

Eventually nature, cancer, will turn that course in the direction we don’t want to go, but until then, we aren’t giving up.

And somewhere out there, like the song says, is a place for us, for Reggie and me to go and live the last days of his life, the way they should be lived…

Free.

 

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