“Do you know the Memory Garden?”
“I think so,” Dr. Stoppe answered.
“My dog, Toby, is buried there. We didn’t have time to call with Lizzie. I’d like to go there if that’s okay. I like him, he’s very nice.”
“I can have Terry call over there and find out,” she answered.
I’ve had this conversation four times this week, well, not exactly. I’ve had a version of this conversation four times this week – but this time – it’s for real.
We believe. If I want to be safe. If I want to avoid a serious emergency on the weekend or at night one day next week where I’d have no choice but to rush him to the hospital – the last place I want to take him to say goodbye.
I felt sick – for the third time – but this time – it didn’t end with any relief. “We don’t have to do it today.”
Even though I’m bringing him back one more time, Thursday late afternoon, just to be sure, I think she’s sure. She knows I don’t want to let go, and she knows why.
He is the last of my family members I love in Athens (yes, I know he’s not human, but he’s my baby) and he is the last tie to my marriage. I can’t bear thinking about this being the ending of all of the pieces of the last decade of my life that I love.
I can’t believe this is happening. But it is.
Last night, Reggie didn’t want to eat. He was bleeding from the rectum everywhere. It was on the bedsheets, on my pajamas, on the floors. His rear end and his tail looked pink and raw and inflamed. Something had happened, something with the tumor.
When I woke up this morning there were more blood spots in the bathroom than I’d ever seen. It was hard to get him to eat. It took a few hours after trying dog food, chicken, and canned salmon and he finally ate some chicken, but he wasn’t happy. He lay by the glass door for a long time, and he was still there when I came home off and on during the day. (I wish I could have brought him everywhere).
I’ve felt sick to my stomach and had panic attacks constantly. I’m exhausted, I can’t remember ever being so tired.
It is hard to breathe. My breath catches in my chest, my heart races, I wake up in panic in the middle of the night and can’t sleep. I cry, often, and I think to myself, I am not going to get over this.
This dog is my everything. Much like the other two. Much like their daddy was. And I just can’t imagine all four of them being gone.
When I brought Reggie in to Hope Animal Medical Center today, walking on the leash, not in the stroller, he didn’t want to go into the exam room. He must be tired of it, but I have to be sure, and they said if I needed to come every few days right now, they were happy to keep checking him.
I’m glad – I got an extra week and two more road trips to state parks with Reggie.
Cheyenne, one of the vet techs, picked up Reggie in the lobby and carried him into the exam room. His eyes looked as big as golf balls with his pointed ears sticking up – he’s lost so much weight, his head looks smaller now.
He was 18 pounds exactly, she told me, as she put him on the table, the blood stains from his rectum on her scrubs, much like I’d found on my clothes and bedding.
(I’m losing my breath as I write this)
It’s all a blur right now. But I know what Dr. Stoppe said, after she examined him, she told me his colon felt very thick, like the mass had gotten bigger or as if there was poop stuck that was not coming out. She asked if she could take him back for some pictures.
When she came back, she told me the colon had a thread of space, and the rest was blocked (the mass tumor must have grown) and was pressing on his rectum so it made him feel like he had to go all the time. Even if he didn’t. Thus, the straining which had been worrying me. She said he was close – the danger being that the rectum could perforate and he could get so sick, he’d have to be put down immediately. The risk of an impacted bowel is high and she said he probably only had a couple days before a perforation occurred – but she couldn’t be sure.
When I asked about his lungs, she said they look worse – much worse – there are many more small tumors, and because he’s losing so much blood from the colon, he might be anemic and with a lower red blood cell count, it would be harder for him to breathe.
We didn’t take his blood to check, because at this point, it didn’t matter if he was anemic.
As she said, “He’s getting close to time.”
She was really telling me it was time. I knew that.
I went through each of his medicines to see if I had enough to get through the next few days. She said I should try to feed him baby food, if he’d take it, but then, she found something better: canned wet food that they give to hospitalized dogs. He just lapped that up, right out of the can, in the exam room!
So she sent me home with some cans of that instead and told me to get Miralax to add to his other laxative. She also gave me prescription steroid cream to rub on his rear to stop the inflammation. Poor little guy.
She gave more theophylline (Lizzie used to take that) to help him breathe, but it all feels too familiar – this push to make him comfortable in the last days, knowing it only does enough good to lessen the pain, the physical pain.
He still follows me around the house and he wags his tail and is alert. His eyes are big and warm and loving.
I never had to put down a dog that still seemed so alive to me in so many ways.
After the appointment and a stop at Publix for his medicine, I decided to take him to Barnes and Noble, even though it’s in the upper 30s and it was getting late and I was starving.
Every day matters now and I love taking him there.
I wrapped him in a warm blue blanket in the stroller, bought a tall soy latte, and took him around the store.
Regina, one of the sales managers, often has come up to Reggie to say hello. This time she stayed to talk to me and asked me more about him.
“Can I say hello?” she asked.
“Yes, he likes everyone, as long as they have two legs.”
“How old is he?”
“Almost 13 years old,” I answered quietly.
“Have you had him since he was a puppy?”
My heart sank.
“No,” I pet Reggie before I continue, “he was my husband’s dog.”
“Oh,” she said.
She went on to tell me about her cats and we listened intently. I didn’t tell her Reggie would only be back a few more times. I didn’t think it was necessary and why tell them? They’d find out, after it happened.
As I walk around the store with Reggie he alternates between looking up from the stroller and huddling in the blanket.
I stop at the Valentine’s cards for a moment and move on. I don’t want to think about Valentine’s Day, not this year.
I linger in the store a long time, strolling, slowly, up and down the aisles. Many times, I just stop, and stand there for several minutes.
Then I walk around to the front of the stroller, bend down, lean my forehead on top of Reggie’s head and close my eyes. I kiss his cheeks, I sniff his fur. It smells different. I don’t know why.
Finally, I realize it’s getting late, and I should take him home and feed him, start his medications, and think about how I want to spend the next few days making the most of the time we have left.
I do not know if I will be okay. Right now, it does not feel like anything is okay, or that it ever will be again.
But I hear Reggie breathing heavily under the table while I write, and in this moment, this precious moment, I am okay.
Reggie is still here, he hasn’t left me yet, and so for now, everything will be okay.
Last night, when Reggie was laying down, spent from getting up and down so many times, and looking frail, I asked him:
“Reggie, do you want to see Lizzie and Toby?”
Knowing that he will, is the one comfort to me – knowing my 3 beloved dogs will once again be reunited in their pack, across the Rainbow Bridge…
“Reggwood, Lizzie Bear, Tob-er,” he called out. And I followed suit.
Yes, we can call out again, and there they’ll be, the way they used to be, tails wagging, ears up, competing for the front spot on their walk around the block with Audie holding their leashes, a spring in their step, and no pain.
No more pain, just peace and happiness.
I need to remind myself. Where he is going, there is no more pain.
He looks so handsome in his brown coat right now, sleeping under the table, and I love the raspy sound of his snoring. Lizzie used to snore like that, too.
He sounds peaceful.
I want to remember him, just like this, my sweetest boy.
Reggie Roberts – I’ve always loved that name.