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

And Then There Were None…

On the last day of Reggie Roberts’s life, Friday, February 1, 2019, the sun was shining and the temperature was warm. When I woke up, he was sleeping in Lizzie’s dog bed, snuggled in the blankets, breathing air in and out, as he had every other day of his life with us, living in the moment, without worry, without fear – except, this morning, would be the last time. I’m glad he didn’t know…I’m glad that as he rested in the bed where his beloved Lizzie used to sleep, peaceful and fearless, he didn’t know that it would be for the last time.

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Lizzie in her dog bed when we kept it downstairs in years past

 

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Reggie in Lizzie’s dog bed on the morning of February 1, 2019

I sat by the bed and watched him for several minutes – I did not disturb him as I went through my daily morning cleanup of the bathroom floor – but he stirred and woke up on his own and resettled on top of the plastic trash bags protecting the carpet, as he did every morning, with his head between his paws, watching me with that guilty look in his eyes. I wish he did not feel guilty – he had nothing to feel guilty about – it wasn’t his fault.

It was cancer.

If there is any fault, it is the fault of the cancer. But that doesn’t make anyone feel better, nor does it bring him back.

Downstairs, as I did every other morning, even though it wouldn’t matter now, I gave Reggie his medications and his canned food – he ate it the same as he did every day. And that killed me – he was still eating, he still looked at me the same way he did on any other day, he walked like any other day, wagged his tail when I put on his brown coat and his harness, ready to get into the car and drive wherever I would take him.

He was alive, and I was making the decision to end his life.

I don’t know how, or why, I’ve had to do this twice in the past few months, once for Lizzie in October, and once for Reggie at the end of last month, but I know, I’m not alone. My next-door neighbor, Pennie, has become a good friend in the past year, but even before we got to know each other better, we talked about our dogs all the time. I remember she told me the painful story of losing her rescue boxers all in one year many years ago, and recently, in the spring and summer of 2017, she lost two of her three dogs, Suzie and Daisy. She told me the story of losing one of her dogs at home, without warning, in detail, and it pained me to hear about what they went through. I have a friend I met through dog rescue circles in San Diego, named Lorri, and a few years ago she lost two of her beagles and one of her other rescue cats all in one year, just a few months apart.

This happens all the time. And yet like anything else in life, that happens to a lot of people, if not to everyone, until it happens to you, there is no way to know exactly how hard it is.

Even though I treated that Friday morning like any other day in front of Reggie, nothing around me looked the same – not the house, not the car, not the road in front of me, or the familiar buildings we drove by – every car around us seemed unreal. Walking into Jittery Joe’s felt like an out-of-body experience with Reggie in the stroller, looking around him. Every time someone looked at him in the stroller and smiled, I felt a deep ache in my chest, literally. When I ordered a latte, and asked for water for Reggie, I tried not to think about how he would not be back – I did not want to waste a single minute thinking about how many hours I had left with him before 1:30 pm.

It was about 9 am.

There was a man, maybe my age, with glasses on the end of his nose, short dark hair, wearing casual sports clothes sitting by the window across from the long glass table where I sat down and parked Reggie’s stroller next to me. I pulled it as close to me as possible. When I looked toward the window, the man looked as if he recognized us, but when he smiled and then returned his attention back to his laptop, I realized I was probably imagining that because I had gotten so used to people admiring Reggie, I usually never thought about whether or not I knew people or if they were simply other regular customers.

But today felt so different, like I had to take in every little detail with such attention and care. It all seemed much more important to not forget.

I leaned my head down on Reggie’s head and pet him and kissed him. I hope no one saw that tears started to fall, but I had to stop, I had to for Reggie. I did. I had brought my laptop but I didn’t feel like I could write. I lifted him up out of the stroller and put him in my lap and just held him, hugged him, kissed him, breathed in his scent, rubbed my cheek against his fur, and slowly rocked him back and forth. I may have even hummed the lullaby I hummed for Toby, and for Lizzie, the night before I put them to sleep, in 2011 and 2018, respectively.  My voice was so hoarse from crying for so many days, so many months, I could not hear much of anything coming out of my throat. After a long while, with Reggie still in my lap, I opened the laptop. Somehow I found the strength to write…for Reggie.

Before I knew it, two hours went by.  It’s all a blur now, but eventually I realized that I’d been sitting there with Reggie in my lap, sipping my latte, for a long time. With a heavy heart, I lifted him from my lap and returned him to the stroller and wheeled him out of Epps Bridge Jittery Joes for the last time.

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Reggie at our favorite table at Jittery Joe’s

 

From there, I drove Reggie to Bishop Park, where Audie and I used to walk both dogs often on days like this. I didn’t leave him in the stroller. I lifted him out and let him walk on the path for as long as he could manage, at his own pace. I took video of him walking, as I had many times in the past month on our trips to state parks. I knew from experience how much it would mean to me over the years to be able to watch him – alive and moving.

He took his time, sometimes trotting, sometimes walking slowly.  He marked a lot, he pooped a lot. He stopped to smell trees and leaves and grass. Sometimes he sat, upright, to pause and rest. We did two loops around the park before he started breathing more heavily and I decided he’d had enough on his own – I wanted him to have energy for the next two hours, before the vet came to the house.

For the third and last loop, I returned him to the stroller and he lay down as we walked the path of Bishop Park for the last time.

 

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Reggie at Bishop Park in 2016

 

 

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Lizzie at Bishop Park in 2016

 

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Reggie walking at Bishop Park February 1, 2019

 

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Reggie at Bishop Park February 1, 2019

 

It was ten after 12, less than 2 hours until we had to be back home to wait for Dr. Stoppe.

Time for Reggie’s last meal.

I’d been pondering all morning where to take him. Neither Toby nor Lizzie got to have a last meal, not the kind I wanted Reggie to have, the kind they all tell you to give your dog – ice cream, pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries…”the kitchen sink.” With Toby, I tried, but he was so weak, he could barely move, much less eat. With Lizzie, there was no time to think. She did not want to eat anything on the morning of October 13, 2018 and left the salmon and tuna in her food bowl untouched as I raced to get her to Hope as fast as I could to end her suffering.

With Reggie, he was calm, and there was time, not much, but this was my last chance to give one of my dogs that gift of a “last supper” so to speak.

 

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Reggie on patio at Heirloom Cafe February 1, 2019

 

When I thought about it, I realized that Reggie deserved the best, and the best was my favorite place in Athens – the Heirloom Cafe. No fast food, Five Guys Burger was not good enough for Reggie – he deserved grass-fed beef, the good stuff.

There were only a few other customers inside when I told the hostess I had Reggie with me in the stroller. We had the patio to ourselves. Henry, one of my favorite people, was working the lunch shift but he was not our server. John, who is a very nice person, works the bar on weekdays, I believe, I never have seen him there on a weekend in all the years I was a brunch customer.  He had never met Reggie, and I didn’t tell him what was going on, just that we only had about 45 minutes and so he took our order right away – a grass fed burger with fries for Reggie – no toppings and the same for me without the bun and the cheese.

I took Reggie out of the stroller and placed him in my lap again, wanting to hold him for every single minute possible in this last hour and a half of his life. Before the food came, we had a surprise visitor – my friend, Mary, whom I met at the Heirloom brunch bar a couple of years ago, exited the cafe with a work friend. She came over to hug me and I did tell her that I was putting Reggie to sleep. She hugged me tighter. Mary is a dog and cat lover and a pet sitter – I didn’t need to explain to her how I was feeling.

I asked Mary to take a photo of Reggie and me at the table, she took several, and when our food came she watched as Reggie gobbled up a few bites of hamburger and about 8 French fries. It made me so happy to see him eating and enjoying the people food.

 

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Reggie on Heirloom Cafe patio February 1, 2019

 

After Mary left, Reggie had more trouble eating, meaning he didn’t eat anything. I kept trying to feed him smaller bits of French fries and smaller pieces of the burger but he turned his head away, or sniffed the pieces and refused the food. I suppose the rich, heavy food hurt his stomach – it’s not as if the colon cancer or the massive, ulcerated tumor cared that he deserved to enjoy this kind of treat that would be his last.  Eventually I stopped trying, and just picked at my own food. I didn’t have much of an appetite, either.  As 1:00 approached, I asked John for a check and a box for all the leftovers and headed home.

When we got there, Audie’s car was parked on the street (I was confused as to why he didn’t park in the driveway, but no matter). He was sitting in the driver’s seat texting or doing something on his phone when I pulled into the garage, head-in (I usually back in, I didn’t bother to worry about it that day). Dr. Stoppe wasn’t there yet, and I told Audie I wanted to take Reggie on a last walk around his neighborhood. He agreed and I let him take the leash. Audie commented on how weak Reggie looked, which he had told me he’d noticed the day before when he was walking him during some of the visits I’d granted him with Reggie in the last several weeks before he died.

Reggie didn’t make it very far, and we walked at a snail’s pace. I couldn’t help but think about all the walks over the years when I could barely keep up with Reggie, as he pulled Lizzie behind, with the dog leashes that Audie tied together into one to keep the two of them together – Reggie pulling Lizzie along so she didn’t fall behind.

And now we were awkwardly, almost silently, taking Reggie on his very last walk, and with that ending the era of our life with our dogs, altogether.

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“Best pet” Toby on our wedding day: October 25, 2010

When we saw the car driving down the street, I said to Audie, “that must be Dr. Stoppe.”

It was, the car pulled up the driveway, and Dr. Stoppe and Tristan, one of the head vet techs, exited the Subaru and flipped the trunk, removing the supplies they needed for the euthanasia.

I apologized for the mess and the odor when they entered the house. I showed them upstairs to my sitting room, where Toby’s dog bed waited for Reggie to say goodbye as he did at home, on the same bed, back in 2011. It was serendipity, in a sad way, that my first dog, and my last dog, would go to sleep in the same way, and in the same place, albeit in a different home.

I had hoped Reggie would feel more comfortable at home, and he was, but he recognized Dr. Stoppe and Tristan and was very aware something was going on that affected him, and he began to shake. It was very hard, but I knew it would have been worse at the clinic. At least here he was home, and Audie and I were there with him.

Dr. Stoppe had brought the clay to make paw prints for Reggie and we watched as a nervous Reggie allowed Tristan to press his paw in each circle of clay, one paw print for each of us.  What was touching was that they’d already carved his name, “Reggie,” into the clay before they came.

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We pet Reggie, while Dr. Stoppe prepped him for the procedure, though he panted and shook, and it was heartbreaking, but the worst part, and the best part, for me, was watching as Reggie walked over to Audie, his original human, and cuddled up next to him for protection. Reggie looked over at me, and at the vets, and back at me, as he huddled in Audie’s arms, and I knew, no matter what happened, or had happened, I did the right thing by bringing Audie home to be with Reggie when it was time to say goodbye. I knew it would be what Reggie needed, and what Reggie deserved, and I was right. I could not bear the thought of Reggie not saying goodbye to his daddy, and I knew that if our roles were reversed, I’d want to be with my dog when he died.

As I have often said, years from now, all that will matter to me is that I behaved in a way where I will look myself in the mirror, and know that when Reggie, and Lizzie, died, I did what was right.

 

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Reggie and Lizzie sitting on their daddy as they often did over the years

For some reason, I felt much more stoic, or more resigned, or stronger, or more something this time. With Lizzie, I cried as I said goodbye, but this time, I did not. Neither  did Audie. It happened much more quickly, there was less time, because Dr. Stoppe and Tristan had to return to the clinic. The whole process of sedating Reggie, which made him sleep, with his eyes open, happened quickly, although it was difficult to get the catheter in originally, which was why it was hard to see him so scared and aware – Dr. Stoppe assured us he’d be okay, once he was sedated, everything would be fine.

She was right, his breathing calmed down and he rested, although it was unnerving to see his eyes open as he slept. Lizzie’s and Toby’s eyes had been closed.

“Are you ready?” she asked us. I didn’t look at Audie but we both nodded and said, “Yes.”

I can’t speak for Audie, but I was never going to be ready, it was just that I knew there was no other choice but to resign to be ready to let Reggie go.

As Dr. Stoppe gave him the drug, Audie being the scientist asked them what drug they were giving him. It started with a “B,” I think, or a “P.” I don’t remember the name).

“It’s okay, Reggie. You’re going to see Lizzie and Toby soon. It’s okay, Reggie.” I pet him and reassured him as she administered the drug.

I knew when he was gone, even before she put the stethoscope to his chest and eerily, the same way she did for Lizzie on October 13th, said aloud, “He’s gone.”

His eyes had gone glassy, his chest had stopped moving, before I heard the words.

Last time, I cried with my head on Lizzie’s. This time, no tears came. The numbness came immediately.  And suddenly I was thinking to myself it would be okay, that he was with Lizzie and Toby, and at peace, and I kissed him, and all I could say was, “He feels so warm.”

“It takes a while,” the doctor told me (meaning for the body temperature to change).

Audie kept saying to me we’d done the right thing in a very matter-of-fact way. It was strange. It was not that I didn’t know that, and yet, I think he needed to hear himself say it aloud. We all grieve in our own way. He seemed calmer than he did last time, too, and we only had a few minutes before Dr. Stoppe asked us again, “Are you ready for me to take him?”

I didn’t fight it, and I reminded her Loran Myers from Memory Garden would be picking him up at the vet later to take him for the after-death procedures. I told Dr. Stoppe I wanted to be able to pick out an urn this time (with Lizzie we did not get to do that, though the wooden box is very pretty).

Tristan wrapped Reggie’s behind in a giant gauze pad and put him in Dr. Stoppe’s arms – two-handed, they carried him downstairs and Audie and I followed. We watched them put Reggie’s still body in the trunk of the car, and the last thing the doctor said to me was to let them know if I needed anything.

Audie turned to me again to tell me that I had done the right thing, that Reggie was suffering, or that we couldn’t let him suffer, same difference. Audie did not hug me, he did not offer to stay and talk, he just said he had a faculty meeting and then a retirement party that night.

“Take care of yourself,” he said flatly as he walked down the driveway to his car.

I watched his car pull away and drive down the street, to the stop sign, right turn signal on, and then he turned right, and was gone.

I stood, standing there, for a long time, staring at the street. I couldn’t even move. My body had gone into shock, or my brain, or both. I didn’t cry. I felt as if I was in a dream, watching myself stand there. I heard the sounds of cars, the sounds of my next-door neighbor’s daughter, S.J. and her friend talking in their driveway, the sounds of Doug, across the street, getting in and out of his car, and opening and closing the garage door.

Eventually, maybe half an hour later, my feet hurt, and my legs were hurting so I sat down, right there in the driveway, not talking, not crying, not even thinking. I just sat, the rest of the day, with the sun on my face and the wind blowing now and then, and did not move, except to reposition myself from the pain of sitting on concrete, but I could almost not feel that, either. Eventually my neighbor, Pennie, pulled up into her driveway in her white car, into her garage, but she did not come over. I knew she knew I needed to be alone.

As it grew later, I could tell it would be dark within an hour or so. I stood up and stared at the sliding glass door and I realized why I probably had stayed in the driveway so long:

I did not want to walk back into that house. I’d be alone, without Reggie, without Lizzie, without Audie, without anyone.

 

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Audie with Reggie and Lizzie in San Diego 2011

 

 

I did not want to walk inside – I’d known for weeks every time I pulled up the driveway and saw Reggie waiting for me on the other side of the glass that this day would come, and I’d be dreading it, and now it was here. I wasn’t ready, I’d never be ready, so I stayed, in shock, avoiding it, for as long as I could, until I couldn’t anymore. My body hurt too much from the concrete – everywhere – and it was never going to get easier. The dogs, Lizzie and Reggie, filled that house up, still, in every way that mattered, except they were not there, and never would be.

 

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My family that I lost: Audie, Reggie, Lizzie and Toby

 

And then, there were none.

 

 

 

 ***

Two weeks have passed, and Audie and I have each ordered our urns and paw prints from Mr. Myers. We have not received them yet, and unlike the day we ordered my gravestone and golden cast paw print for Toby, along with a digitized version in a silver charm, Audie and I will be going alone, separately, to pick up our respective urns and paw prints.

When Lizzie died, it took many weeks for me to touch her things, and for some reason, this time, I needed to collect Reggie’s things immediately to donate to Hope. The day after he died, that Saturday, February 2nd, I spent most of the day doing that, and then robotically cleaning all the surfaces of the house in shifts, of one hour at a time, since it hurt my body too much to do it all at once. When I went to bed that night, my body hurt all over from exerting more physical activity than I’m supposed to, but I didn’t care.

It was better than the emotional pain I felt. The grief hit me so quickly, so hard – and I needed to push it away, push it down, quickly.

On Valentine’s Day, I hired Certified Clean Care to take care of the caked on and hardened feces and blood left behind from Reggie’s cancer, along with the years of buildup of dirt and red clay and urine and feces accidents that had occurred when one, or both of us, didn’t get home in time to take the dogs out, or when we were on a trip and came home to find the pet sitter had not cleaned it up – which didn’t matter anymore, and didn’t matter much then. When you have rescue dogs, especially dogs with medical issues, these things happen. I knew there’d be a day, this day, to clean it all up, as if it never happened. And it worked, the floors and carpets look practically new, especially the hardwood floors and all the kitchen and bathroom tiles. The carpets look fairly new, and the air is clean to breathe.

I would have done it anyway, myself, because I promised Audie I would, and I always keep my word, but it also felt like a gift to myself, when it was done, for all the months and months of taking care of both Reggie and Lizzie at the end of their respective lives. I felt I had earned this fresh start, with fresh carpet, fresh floors, fresh air and a clearer mind. Or as close to that as possible.

A few days earlier, I had finally decided it was time to clean the bedding – my blankets and sheets that Reggie had soiled in the last few days of his life when he’d been on the bed with me. For some reason, this was hard – you’d think it would be the first thing I’d want to clean, even before the floors and the carpets, but for whatever reason, it was the hardest thing to let go of – I couldn’t smell anything anyway, but visually, you would think I wouldn’t want to see it – the spots and stains the tumor left behind. Or, more likely, I was just too exhausted – that’s probably it, mostly. My same friend, pet sitter Mary, had told me about a wash and fold on Prince Avenue that was willing to wash pet-related stains – a dry cleaners wouldn’t do it, she said. It took a couple of bags to fit in all the bedding – sheets and blankets and comforter. (Thankfully, there was no damage to the mattress or mattress cover. My tiny throw pillow – I just threw it away).

The lady who works at the laundry, Michelle, was incredibly empathetic and a dog lover. She told me she’d been through something like this once, too. Her kindness made a world of difference – I felt embarrassed walking in, thinking of how to explain what happened – and she took care of all that right away. When I picked up the bedding on Valentine’s Day, while the other guys were taking care of the floors, Michelle showed me the bedding and it was as if nothing had happened – there were no stains, no spots, as if the cancer – and Reggie – had never happened, either.

Many friends have sent kind messages and texts. Hope Animal Medical Center sent me a sympathy card, as they had done with Lizzie, with signatures and notes from Dr. Clifton, Dr. Jeni, Dr. Stoppe, Leah, Cheyenne and Nicole.

That was when the tears came the hardest.

It was not the first time they came. It took about 4-5 days, but one morning I woke up and Reggie’s brown coat was there, beside me, on the bed. I picked it up and cradled it, and put my nose to the material. I could still smell his scent, and then it came out, the grief, the screaming of his name, the anger, the loss, the emptiness of all the multiple losses: Audie, Toby, Lizzie, Reggie, my marriage, the life I had sacrificed everything for when I left San Diego to come to Athens, and everything in between.

And then, I got in the shower, brushed my teeth, got dressed, and it was over, for the time being. Until it happened off and on, the past two weeks, sometimes while driving, sometimes sitting in the car in the garage, sometimes in the bathtub, sometimes when I look at the photos sent by my friend, Suzanne, of Lizzie and Reggie, with their paw prints and Lizzie’s urn, waiting for Reggie’s to join it – and then I can’t stop crying. I look around the room, my favorite room in the house, the dogs’ favorite room, too, and all I see are paw prints and photographs and pictures and  – nothing – nothing but memories of the most beautiful, most loving, most amazing three dogs this world has ever seen.

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Lizzie, Reggie and Toby 2011
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Toby, Lizzie and Reggie 2011

I know they are together, across the Rainbow Bridge, the way they used to be, since the day they came together as a family, with Audie and me, on December 22, 2009.

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Rainbow Bridge legend

I believe in the poem, the legend, and I know someday, somehow, I will find my way back to them, as I cross the bridge myself.  There they will be in the valley of dogs long past, and they will see me, our eyes will meet, their ears will perk up, their tails will wag, and suddenly, they will start running toward me. And pain free, like I once was, myself, long ago, I will run to meet them, and I will fall to my knees, opening my arms, as they jump into my lap, put their paws on my chest and lick my face until we stand up, together, and they follow behind me, as I walk into the valley to be with the creatures that I love most in this whole world…and always will.

 

 

Athens, Georgia, Cancer, Canine Cancer Awareness, Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Uncategorized

“Ask forgiveness not permission.”

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“Ask for forgiveness not permission.”

Audie taught me that many years ago – it is his philosophy, and that of many others, so I’ve heard.

It’s not something I find as easy to do – it doesn’t come to me naturally to “push the envelope” and break the rules. I’m a stickler for rules, too much so sometimes – even when I should break the rules, I have trouble doing so. It makes me uncomfortable, I fear getting in trouble. Big trouble.

No, following the rules is my comfort zone.

And then, today, with Reggie, I did not do that.

“Ask forgiveness not permission,” I said to myself (like he taught you).

And so I did, and I opened the door to Dr. Niknafs’ office and rolled Reggie right into the waiting room.

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Reggie at Dr. Niknafs office

I didn’t ask permission, I didn’t even blink. I just walked right up to the sign-in sheet and wrote down my name. There were several people in the waiting area, one lady gave me a “what is that dog doing in here?” look, but, everyone else was taken with him, and then all of a sudden, that lady smiled, too!

Hmmm, interesting.  Have to remember that.

I walked to the chair in the corner, set my books on a side table, and sat down, pulling Reggie’s stroller close to me. The lady in the chair next door flashed me a big grin and said hello to Reggie. I moved his stroller closer to her and asked her if she’d like to pet him.

Her name was Cheryl, and she was all over petting Reggie.

“You smell my dog, don’t  you…” she said as she pet him. “You smell my Sophie.”

We had to wait a while. They were busy today, more than I remember from past visits.

“Jill?” I heard my name called.

I got up, gathered my things, and walked right up to the red-haired nurse and said, “This is Reggie, he’s my emotional support animal.”  Just like that.

And, surprisingly, I needed no forgiveness, or permission. She just “oooh’ed” and “aww’d” like most people do and all was well.

Dr. Niknafs, and Tyler and the nurse’s mom (I forgot to ask their names) were just as kind. I especially appreciated that the doctor was so understanding.

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Reggie in the exam room at the doctor’s office.

When I checked out, the older nurse, the younger redhead’s mom as it turns out, had a hard time – she couldn’t look at Reggie without tearing up.

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Reggie at Dr. Niknafs

As it turned out, she too had a story to tell, about three older dogs of her own, and what was worse, she didn’t realize until recently, you could, and should, be with your dog, at the end.  I didn’t even know people couldn’t, but she had had experiences in the past where they took her dog in the back and put him to sleep, alone.

“No, you need to be the last person they see,” she said, “when they die, they need to know the person they love is right there with them.”

I agree with that, and I can’t imagine it any other way, but if your dog is in the ER or the hospital, it definitely would not happen that way.

I hope that does not happen to Reggie. I’m trying to avoid that, even if it means I lose him sooner.

We are at Jittery Joe’s now and he’s staring at me, wanting my lunch. I’m glad to see that he has an appetite. We stopped at Marti’s at Midday after Dr. Niknafs to get some tuna salad.

Again, I did not ask for permission (or forgiveness), and I wheeled Reggie into the cafe with me. I’d done that once before, so it was not as risky, but, this was only the second time, and the first time, I did ask permission.

I also had an ulterior motive for stopping at Marti’s at Midday today – the ladies that work there love him. And even though I couldn’t bring myself to say these are his last few days, it gave me happiness to see Kim, the manager, come over especially to say hello. I wish more of the people we knew had been there, especially the owner, Marti, who took to Reggie right away, but it was late in the day and long after lunchtime. Better, for us, I’m sure – it would have been more difficult to bring Reggie inside with a long line and throngs of people at the counter.

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Reggie inside Marti’s at Midday Cafe Jan.  30, 2019

Reggie is having a good day today.

A very good day.

Such a good day that I don’t want to do it.

Too good of a day to imagine it – his best day in Athens since early December.

He’s more like he was a few months ago, than he was in the last few days. He’s even gone the whole day without any accidents – that hasn’t happened in a while, where I am able to handle this by just taking him out to the bathroom every hour or so.

(Disclaimer – I wrote this earlier in the day, and he did have an accident in the stroller, all over his beautiful green sweater. Oh well. Only one today, but in the wrong place)

He’s awake and interacting with people,  barking for my food, barking at another dog, even his walk, my God, it was quick, not slow and unsteady, but like his normal gait, normal speed.

(Later in the day I took him to Barnes and Noble and walked him down the sidewalk to the post office first. He was strutting at his old speed, keeping up with me and the stroller, and then halfway there, he slowed down again, to his latest slower pace. But, then he picked up the pace again for the homestretch. On the way back to the store, I put him in the stroller again. I didn’t want to push him too much. He’d had a good walk, a short one, but a great one. That was enough for one night).

My friend, Wendy, who is a vet, visited with us in between appointments today and she told me that happens, people do it too. They rally at the end and have this amazingly good day.  (I read about it in my colleague Lisa’s book, Words at the Threshold, also)

Are there more bad days than good days is the question. Eventually there are more bad than good. With Reggie, it’s hard to say. When I’ve taken him on the road trips, they were all good days, like today.  Saturday started off as a good day and by evening was terrible, and then Sunday was better. Monday and Tuesday were rough days.

Today has been amazing – like his old self (except for the diarrhea).

Should I do the math? Divide the days into halves? Or into hours? This many hours he was great, and then that many hours he was terrible.

2 1/2 good days, 2 1/2 bad days, I told Wendy.

When I started writing this post today at 4 pm, so far it had been all “good hours.”

We left the house around 9:30 am so…that’s almost 8 good hours.

I’m grateful for Reggie having such a good day.

It’s already 6 pm, today went by too fast. Way too fast.

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Why is it the hours go by fastest when you want them most to drag out?

He’s been so happy today.  I’m so glad for that.

He deserves it.

We spent two hours at Barnes and Noble, speaking of time flying by.  I didn’t take any new photos tonight, as I usually do, but he sat in the stroller the whole time and did not cry to warn me to rush him outside. When was the last time he went 2 hours? I can’t remember. He was so peaceful as I drank my tall soy latte and walked around the store, finally settling down to look through a book more closely, and I stroked him with one hand while he rested – that’s how the time went by so fast – it was so normal, as if nothing were wrong, as if nothing were going to change in a short time from now.

At home, I watched Reggie scarf down the prescription food and then hide under the table again in his beautiful brown coat that his daddy gave him many years ago.

I am sitting here having doubt – nothing but doubt – that I’m making the wrong decision if I let him go on Friday.

Reggie had such a good day.

The best day he’s had at home in weeks.

According to the books, that means the end is near.

Reggie is standing up underneath my chair as I eat my dinner I just sat down to eat, he is looking up at me, hoping I’ll drop something for him to eat.

Just like he always did when he was not sick – like he did just a month ago, before his sickness accelerated so quickly.

What does it mean?

I wish I knew.

Why do we have to play God – “I feel like I’m killing my dog,” I told my friend today.

“You are,” she said, “it’s the worst decision we ever have to make.”

She also said it’s a gift to free them from pain, and she’s right.

But he’s not in pain right now. He hasn’t been all day.

I feel confused, and I don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want to let him go if I don’t have to…but…I know what Dr. Stoppe said yesterday, I know what she saw. What she told me.

I’m glad I’m bringing him back tomorrow. We can talk more. So I can be sure. Sure I’m doing the right thing for Reggie.

He’s given up now, no food from me, but he’s laying by my feet, close to me, I can hear him breathing – it’s raspy, but not as bad as it’s been. More like snoring.

When I think of all the people who have loved on Reggie today: Ashley at Oconee Wellness, Cheryl and the nurses and Tyler at Dr. Niknafs, my friend, Wendy and my friend, Marcy (also a vet – we had coffee dates with 2 vet friends today), and the ladies at Marti’s…

No matter what happens tomorrow, no matter what happens on Friday…

Today, Reggie had the best day.

The best kind of day of all – the kind filled with love.

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Ashley Roberts and Reggie Roberts, Jan. 30, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

Athens, Georgia, Cancer, Canine Cancer Awareness, Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Uncategorized

One More Day…

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Reggie at Barnes and Noble Book Store January 23, 2019

“He’s gained a pound!”

Dr. Clifton brought Reggie back into the exam room where I was reading the article they’d given me about how to decide when it’s time to let go.

“He is stable. I don’t think you need to worry about the weekend. I think his breathing is the same as it was on Thursday. He looks the same as he did on Thursday as far as his comfort level. He’s no worse. I think you can bring him in for another recheck, or you can choose a time, you can always call and cancel that morning if he’s not decompensating.”

I did not expect this at all. I felt a huge weight lift off of me, and my stomach settled down for the first time in 2 days – I stopped feeling that grabbing at my chest that made it hard to breathe. I hadn’t slept hardly at all the night before, dreading what she’d say this morning.

I didn’t expect this miracle at all.

She was giving me the green light to wait, if I wanted to.

We had an honest discussion – I was able to share how I felt while also being fair and logical. It was much different than Thursday when I could not keep from feeling the pain.

“He ate a whole can of salmon this morning with blueberries and last night he ate the whole can of tuna. He was wagging his tail and he’s slow, but he follows me around most of the time. He doesn’t get excited, exactly,  when I have food or take out his leash, but he wags his tail and jumps off the couch to come get his food or to go in the car. When I ask if he wants to go “bye bye car” he gets up and comes to me. He’s walking around the house, and up and down the stairs. He can still jump on and off the bed, he’s slow, but he can get himself up and down without struggling. The diarrhea is the hardest part, for both of us…But I do not want to wait until he’s suffering.”

Dr. Clifton had told me on Thursday there was nothing they could do, but then she saw him today, and she’d changed her mind. I couldn’t believe it. I asked more and more questions.

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Lizzie (after her eye surgery) and Reggie in October 2011 at La Jolla Cove

“With our dog, Ginger, that we put to sleep four or five months ago, she was 18 and filled with cancer, and when it was time, my husband and I just knew. She couldn’t eat or get up and she looked up at us and we knew, she’s done. With him, he’s not doing that, he had a good day yesterday, most of the day, and he’s eating, he’s not breathing as easily as we want him to, but I don’t think you’re going to have to bring him to an emergency hospital tomorrow. You just need to get through to Monday when we open. But, if he stays stable like this, I think you can wait and see how he does. It’s faster now that it’s in the lungs but you can decide if you want to bring him in for a recheck early next week, we can do that, and then you can decide if you want to book at time, you can always call and cancel. It’s up to you, it’s your decision. We can check him once a week…”

I was so confused. In a good way, but maybe she didn’t mean it literally – to suggest that he could have enough time to come in once a week.

“Dr. Stoppe is here on Tuesday, I’m here on Wednesday, if you want another pair of eyes.”

“Yes, I’d like Dr. Stoppe to take a look at him, too,” I answered.

I told her I didn’t trust my judgment these days, and that I felt that my brain might be telling my eyes what I want to see, not what’s real.

Sometimes the closer you watch something, the harder it is to see what’s there.

“That’s what we’re here for to help you.”

Anna, the technician, who is so kind, and so sweet with Reggie (she was the same with Lizzie, she’s a natural), was with us – I was so glad. Before the doctor came in to see Reggie I showed her photos and videos from our trips this week.

“I do not want to wait until he’s in distress, so how do I know?”

“That’s the thing, sometimes we have dogs come in like this…” She huffs and puffs really hard. “But usually it’s a slower progression where it takes more effort for him to breathe.”

“Lizzie had a bronchial dilator, do you think it would help him breathe?”

“I don’t know, probably not. We could try it. His airways aren’t closed. The lungs have a space like a balloon that fill with air, and the cancer cells are taking up that space with tissue so there’s less room in that space in the balloon for him to take in that air.” (She said it differently, more scientifically than this, but this is my summary in my own words).

“We can try Theophyllin, do you have any more of Lizzie’s, or did you donate it all?”

“I donated all of Lizzie’s medicines.”

“Let me see if we have any.”

Reggie was hanging out on the floor of the room, his back moving up and down, much more relaxed than when we came in – that’s the other thing. He does not like coming here, and the thought of him having to come in, knowing where he was, conscious of where he was, and then putting him to sleep – I could not imagine doing that to him – I realize that’s just my guilt, but I hated the idea of him coming in that door, so conscious and alert and nervous, not knowing he would not be coming home with me, and his trusting me that he would.

She came back in with some Theophyllin that she’d found, for a few days, until I come back on Tuesday.

I’m going to try this for a couple of days, while increasing his other medication for pain and stress management. She suggested that would be the best thing to do and what she would want for herself if she had cancer.

“You can take him somewhere else this weekend. It’s beautiful out.”

It was like night and day. I would not call it a miracle, per se, he is not going to get better. It’s not like it was with Lizzie at the 11th hour last March where I will have 7 more months with him, but if I could have even 7 more days…it would be worth it, for many reasons.

One more day…one more day to take him somewhere beautiful.

You know what, I take back what I said.

It is a miracle.

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Athens, Georgia, Cancer, Canine Cancer Awareness, Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Uncategorized

“You’re A Good Dog Mom…”

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Reggie and me at the top deck of Anna Ruby Falls, Unicoi State Park, January 25, 2019

I heard that exact phrase, word for word, twice today – it left a pang in my chest, and it was bittersweet.

The first time, a lady and her husband were walking down from the falls and saw Reggie in poop position on the paved trail.

“He’s not pooping. He’s straining. He has colon cancer.”

“Oh,” she said, “You’re a good dog mom.”

Today was the first time I told strangers the truth – just like that.

The second time, Reggie and I were in the Higher Ground Coffee Shop in Helen, GA, where I was grabbing a small latte for the drive back home. In the parking lot, I’d asked a nice lady if there was a place where I could bring Reggie to eat if he stayed in his stroller. (We ended up at an outdoor patio, where I’d been once before, many years ago – it was easier). As it turned out the lady who had suggested a couple of indoor restaurants worked in Higher Ground Coffee and she asked if we’d found a place for my baby and me to eat. She then said, “I hope people have been showing you Helen hospitality.”

“I ate outside with him. Is it okay if he’s in here with me? He’s my service animal. He isn’t well. He has cancer.”

It just came out – again.

“You’re a good dog mom,” she said.

And there it was – again. The bittersweet feeling came again, too.

“I hope people have been showing you our Helen hospitality,” she repeated.

I smiled and nodded.

“Come back and see us again, okay?” she told me.

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It was an easy drive to Anna Ruby Falls – about an hour and 40 minutes – according to the GPS.  I knew it had a steep paved trail (my friend had told me about it) and there was the option to explore the lake and trails by the Unicoi lodge instead, but I had my heart set on the falls – and – I knew it would be easier to have Reggie in the stroller – just in case he was not feeling up to walking as much as he had on Monday at Tallulah Gorge (How lucky to have been able to take him on two trips this week. Albeit it was an unusual indulgence on my part – but I will have no regrets, ever. It was worth every moment with him.

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Reggie on the top deck at Anna Ruby Falls looking out at the water

Anna Ruby Falls Visitors Center is the starting point for the 0.4 mile walk up to the top of the falls. The river is called Smith Creek. The paved trail extends all the way up, bordered on one side by mountainous terrain, and on the other side by the rushing river with the sound of the rapids and the view of the white foam tumbling over the rocks downstream.

It was breathtaking.

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Anna Ruby Falls at the top 

It was a difficult climb, with Reggie in the stroller and me pushing at a slow pace, stopping often to rest, and trying to be mindful of my back and neck – but I was determined.

There were several patches of black ice, which was the biggest challenge. I almost slipped once, but thankfully, it was just a close call. There were not many people visiting the falls today – not too many people on the trail, which made it easier to take our sweet time up the narrow path. I stopped to take photos of Reggie looking out at the river. He seemed to be drawn to the sound of the water – or maybe it was the view, but given that dogs have superhuman hearing abilities, I think it was more the sounds of the moving water. He was bundled up in blankets and I put his thicker raincoat on him this time instead of the long brown one (the raincoat was once Toby’s).

He was quiet and thoughtful, and I kept him in the stroller the entire walk uphill except for one or two flat spots – one where he walked among the leaves to go to the bathroom and the other to take in the view of the falls as we walked higher.

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Reggie looking at the river from his stroller on the way up to Anna Ruby Falls 
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Reggie watching the river on the way up to Anna Ruby Falls

When we neared the top, I left the stroller at the bottom of the steps and helped Reggie walk up the short stairway to the top viewing deck. The falls were raging with  strength and the sound filled the air with a thunderous glory. There was a spray near the farthest end of the deck, close to the bottom two waterfalls. We stayed away from that end so that Reggie would not get wet. When a large family joined us on the deck, I asked them to take a few photos of us. There were two little girls who were fascinated with Reggie and giggled, as they spun and danced around on the deck, watching, but not coming up to him, as Reggie and I shared a snack of cashew butter and apples.

 

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Reggie resting as he makes his way up the steps

 

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Reggie walking in the leaves on the way up the trail
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Reggie sitting with me on the top deck at Anna Ruby Falls

Reggie and I stayed up at the top of the deck for 2 hours today. At first we had our snack, and then I sat for a while with him in my lap. I was alone for a long time -or what seemed like a long time – before any new people came up to the deck, after the family who had taken our photos left. When I was by myself, I began to think and I lowered my head to smell Reggie’s fur. I thought to myself, I could stay like this forever just sniffing your fur.

 

And then, with no one there, and the mesmerizing waterfalls with the sound of their power before me, like a calling from God, I began to cry. I lowered my head on top of Reggie’s body and the tears came. It may have been the release of all the pent-up grief, the anger at losing so much – so many – of those I love most, or the anxiety at what is coming tomorrow, and in the next few days, and in the next month. I did not think about the significance of today, I did not let myself think about the decade that has passed, and what it means to me, what it could have been today, no, I thought only about Reggie.

But the suppression of the rest fed into the tears that came because they could, because no one was watching, and in that fortress of natural beauty that I had risen to behold – I felt close to God, close to Earth, close to everything pure and beautiful.

The tears stopped before the next couple came. Many couples came off and on after that – some older, some younger, some girlfriends, some co-ed friends, two men with dogs – that made Reggie break his silence really fast.

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As people came up to the deck, they smiled at Reggie – as people tend to do – who could resist smiling at that face with those big pointy ears. I wanted to give Reggie an experience he’d remember today – if dogs do remember these things, I’m not sure, they may not. I picked him up and held him, leaning his body forward on the fence, from the middle of the deck, where he could smell the water, hear the river falling down over the rocks, two merging into one, and see it – see everything. He did not stir, or struggle, or shake – he peacefully watched. We watched together.

And in those moments, I felt peace.

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Reggie sitting at my feet 
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Close up of Reggie and me at the deck where we watched the falls for a long time
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Reggie in the sun at Anna Ruby Falls

After a couple hours up on the deck, Reggie did start to shiver, and as hard as it was to leave Anna Ruby Falls (I gravitated toward them – I’m a water baby), I did not want to take any chances of Reggie becoming uncomfortable – or worse. His breathing was not as slow and easy as it had been on Monday (though it was better than it is inside at home – it still seems like being outside in crisp, fresh air helps him, even if it’s just a little bit).

I picked him up and carried him down the steps, just in case, but since the downhill would be easier for him to walk, I let him walk the whole way down on his own, and pushed the empty stroller (safer too with gravity).

I remembered to look out for the black ice, and there was no danger or close calls on the way down. We encountered the older couple whom I mentioned at the beginning of the post, and a few other walkers on their way up, but walking back took a very short time, compared to the walk up the hill. In fact, Reggie did not need to stop at all and he kept a steady pace, his gait quick, but not fast, the entire 0.4 miles.

I know I can’t allow myself to hope that it is a sign he is okay, but rather, I am grateful that he still can walk like that at all, and that he seemed to enjoy the freedom of navigating the trail without a care in the world.

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Reggie sitting on paved trail when we reached the bottom

(I’m waiting for more photos to upload. Barnes and Noble WiFi is slow and Reggie is with me, in the stroller, and as always, many people have come by to tell me how cute he is and how sweet he looks. I will miss bringing him here very much).

When we reached the visitors center I realized there was another short, paved and flat trail by the creek across from the parked cars.  I put Reggie back in the stroller and we walked along the path all the way to the end. We stopped and watched the water for a short while, and then made our way back to the car.

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The Unicoi Lodge and nearby lake was not far, and I was curious, so we drove over that way. I looked around the lodge for a few minutes and then headed to the lakefront, but didn’t take Reggie out – we headed to Helen instead (it was about 3) and I knew we would need to leave by 4 to get back home well before dark.

Reggie had never been to Helen before, and the one time I’d been myself, it was Labor Day weekend and very crowded so it was strange to see so few visitors there. Many stores were closed.  Reggie sat up and watched people walk by and surveyed the Bavarian style village as we walked down the sidewalks. He was slightly interested in the bratwurst and sauerkraut I ate for my late lunch, but not much.

He is being brave for me. It’s true. I can tell. And at the same time, most of the time, he seems happy, but what do I know? I love him so much, and he loves me so much, when he looks at me, maybe he’s just happy to be near me.

What a gift that is. It’s the best gift I could have asked for.

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I do think the vet was wrong about one thing yesterday: it did make him happy to be out on the trail and in the fresh air, and I could tell he was enjoying watching the river and the waterfalls and listening to the sound of that water pounding down the mountain against the rocks. I know this because I can tell the difference in his energy and his alertness and his comfort level, then and now. Even in the car, he went to sleep for the entire return trip, probably from being so tired. But it was a peaceful sleep, or at least, I think it was.

I hope it was.

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Anna Ruby Falls will always be a memory of that one last day with him. An ending on two fronts: of my life with Audie, and of my life with the family he brought me: Reggie and Lizzie.

 

I know what she is going to tell me in the morning when I bring him in, looking at him now. He is managing, but he is breathing harder than he should be, laying down in a stroller inside a bookstore that he loves, with me sitting next to him. Strange – how he was more like himself today, slower and quieter, but in his element outside, walking, listening, contemplating, sniffing.

I am grateful I can remember him like that. Not once, but twice, this week – I can remember him just like that.

Peaceful.

Content.

Loved.

and

Free.

 

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Athens, Georgia, Cancer, Canine Cancer Awareness, Christmas, Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Writers

“The Last Christmas Tree” – Dedicated to Reggie Roberts

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Reggie underneath his last Christmas tree: December, 2018

This short memoir, “The Last Christmas Tree,” was submitted to Flagpole Magazine. I wrote it for Reggie, knowing it would be our last Christmas together in our home, but also suspecting the truth – that he was dying of cancer, which was confirmed on December 14, 2018. The story was not published ( a different story of mine, “Chasing Fireflies,” was published under the pseudonym, J.L. Mirisch), however, I am including the Christmas tree story in the blog post ahead of an update on Reggie’s Christmas week – which follows the memoir below. Thank you to all my blog readers, and to everyone out there who loves, or has ever loved, Reggie “Reggwood” Roberts.

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Our 2018 Christmas tree

 

The Last Christmas Tree

By Jill Hartmann-Roberts

 

For three months, I wrestled with whether or not to fly back to California for Christmas. My $455 Southwest Airlines voucher made the prospect of a warm west coast Christmas that much more tempting.

 

But I knew if I went to California, there would be no Christmas tree. And I couldn’t imagine Christmas without my own tree – especially this year.

 

You see, this will be my last Christmas tree – my last one in the life I have known for the past decade, at least.

 

Before 2016, I spent every Christmas in California with Mom, but since then, I’ve stayed home in Athens.

 

I really wanted a tree for my first Athens Christmas in 2016. Coincidentally, my friend, Jay, drives the Cofer’s tree delivery truck. He suggested I check out their selection of fir trees and try out their state-of-the-art delivery service.

 

They did not disappoint. I picked out a beautiful 7-foot tree, with so many branches there was space for every single ornament with room to spare.

 

In 2017, I settled for a 5-foot tree; I didn’t even sign up for delivery – just packed the tree in the back of the station wagon.

 

I was happy to have a tree at all, but it just wasn’t the same.

 

I promised myself, “Next year I’ll get a bigger tree.”

 

It feels like last Christmas was just yesterday.

 

Jay advised me to get a jump on buying my tree this year to secure an early delivery time slot, so I didn’t waste any time. On November 16th, my French bulldog/pug mix, Reggie, and I set off on our quest. As soon as we arrived, anticipation welled up inside me, and I headed straight for the Christmas trees. We were met with a sight to behold: rows and rows of lush fir trees as far as the eye could see.

 

A gentleman approached us right away and asked what kind of tree I was looking for.

 

“I want your best 8-foot tree with the full delivery package!”

 

I was still determined to go all out and buy the biggest tree I could afford.

 

The huge selection was overwhelming, but when I told the clerk I have heavy ornaments, he led me straight to a tree with thick branches capable of carrying their weight.

 

“I’ll take it!”

 

After he tagged the tree, I set up delivery for the day after Thanksgiving, the perfect day to decorate a Christmas tree – with a whole month left before Christmas Eve to enjoy it.

 

When Jay and his partner, “Boo,” arrived at my home, Santa hats and smiles in tow, they had to cut the branch at the top of the tree; it was so tall it hit the ceiling. Almost immediately the scent – that fragrant scent that nothing else in the world compares to – filled the living room.

 

I love that Athens is small enough of a city that one of my friends happens to be the person to deliver the one thing that could make it feel like a real Christmas this year.

 

It has been a hard year: my pug, Lizzie, died in October, and Reggie has been gravely ill since 2017.

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Lizzie Roberts Oct 7, 2018

 

This will probably be my last Christmas with Reggie. Last year, I knew it would be my last Christmas with Lizzie, and so I stayed home with the dogs instead of going to California.

 

I’m so glad I did that. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I’d missed Lizzie’s last Christmas.

 

Reggie watched closely as I wrapped strings of multi-colored lights around the tree. He followed behind me as I searched to find the perfect branch for each ornament. (My favorite one has a photo of me holding Toby, my first dog, at his last Christmas in 2010).

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My Christmas 2010 portrait at PetSmart with Toby – our last Christmas together. Toby passed away in August 2011

 

Now, Reggie loves to sit under the tree and the beautiful lights glow on his dark coat and in his large brown eyes.

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Christmas tree lights glowing –  lighting up Reggie

Every time I descend the stairs, the first thing I see is our glorious tree, illuminated in lights, and I immediately feel uplifted with the Christmas spirit. That’s the magic of it.

 

This may be our last Christmas tree, but it is no less beautiful, and I know it will be a joyous holiday for Reggie and me, if we let it.

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Reggie and me with our last Christmas tree

 

A special thanks to my friend, Jay, and his partner, “Boo,” who work so hard all season long to bring that Christmas spirit into all of our homes and hearts.

(End of story)

 

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Reggie in his favorite spot in the house: December 2018

Lately when I come home, or when I can’t find Reggie, he is sleeping on the red couch, in the space where his daddy always sat – it seems to be Reggie’s favorite place to be nowadays, especially when I’m not home. I’m not sure if this is recent, or if I wasn’t paying close attention before, but I have noticed how often I find Reggie there in the past two weeks. It makes me wonder if he knows the end is near, if he feels his vulnerability. I imagine that he does, to some extent. Animals are far more instinctual and intuitive than we humans give them credit for. I don’t know if Reggie knows that his body is dying, but I can tell he knows that something is wrong by how he feels – even if he does not have the words to define what is happening to him.

 

I’m learning by experience how rapidly things are changing for Reggie. Last week, he was responding to the medications: Metronidazole and Prednisone. This week, at least since Christmas Day, his symptoms have returned – meaning, I come home to a big mess, I wake up to a big mess, and I hear Reggie getting up several times in the night.

The good news is that I do not hear him wailing in pain, so I think that the other treatments, the holistic ones, are helping, so far. We are still waiting for the Chinese herbs that Dr. Stoppe ordered for him. He has been to acupuncture twice, and Anna, one of the techs, has told me that he does wonderfully – he sits quietly while the needles do their magic.

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Reggie during acupuncture: December 17, 2018

The first time (see above) Dr. Stoppe kept the needles in for about 10 minutes.

The second time, 10 days later,  (see below) she kept them in for about 20 minutes. She said since he’s doing so well, she will try increasing the time towards 30 minutes next time, give or take.

It’s hard to know for sure, but I have a feeling that the acupuncture is helping with pain, as of now, and I hope it continues to do so. I know with human cancer patients, acupuncture and massage and other holistic healing is often recommended not only for anxiety, but also for pain management. Reggie does seem less anxious these days, albeit, quiet, most of the time. He gets feisty and fussy when I take him out in his stroller. He seems to have a lot to say when we go to Jittery Joes, and boy, did he really have a lot to say at the “Read-In With Us in December” meeting I hosted at Barnes and Noble Cafe on the 27th! I suspect the problem was that I forgot to bring his food with me, my bad, and he was letting me know how he felt about having to wait for his dinner. But, around the time our meeting ended, he went to sleep, and rather than wake him up, I let him nap in the stroller while one of my writer friends and I visited. He didn’t make a sound, and I was happy to see him rest so peacefully. He seems to sleep more peacefully in the stroller at the coffee houses than he does at home. It reminds me of infants who can sleep through anything when they are out and about, but have more trouble at home (I’ve heard this happens with some, not all, babies).

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Reggie in his stroller at Jittery Joes, December 2018

Reggie and I had a lot of fun at Barnes and Noble on Christmas Eve. It was a hard day for me (Christmas Eve this year, in particular, was a very sad day for me, and I needed to get out of the house for as long as possible). He loves to sit up tall in the stroller at Barnes and Noble. I’ve brought him there with me often, now that I think of it, and roll him around the store while I look at books – which is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world – even if I do not buy any books. It has been since I was a little girl.

Books (and dogs) have always been my “best friends,” so to speak.

On this particular day, Christmas Eve, the store was packed, and I mean, packed, with people, not surprisingly. However, one adorable little African-American boy, who was probably about 3-4 years old, absolutely stole my heart. He didn’t say a word, and his mom watched from afar, not too far away, at the information desk, as he shyly approached Reggie, with a coy little smile on his face, looking up at me with big brown eyes that silently asked me, “Can I pet him?”

“You can pet him. He likes people,” I said to him, smiling and enjoying the moment.

The little boy stayed with Reggie for well over 5 minutes, maybe longer, petting him softly, and Reggie was very accommodating, happy to have the gentle child pay attention to him. Reggie sniffed his hand and gave it a few licks. He never got close enough to lick the little boy’s face, which is one of Reggie’s signature moves, but I was ready to warn the child to watch out if Reggie stuck out that tongue – I wasn’t sure how he’d like a bath on his face, nor did I think his mom would want that, either.

But, you never know, some people, like me, love that. Others hate it. Better to err on the side of caution with strangers.

I wish I’d thought to take a photo, or ask the mom if I could take a photo, I should say, but I was enjoying the two of them together so much (it made me feel much better, too) that I didn’t even think of it.

Next time…and I hope there will be a next time with a gentle child just like him. I didn’t even get his name…

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That night, my friend Lisa, and her husband, invited Reggie and me to her house for dinner. Much like two months earlier, with Lizzie, shortly before she passed away, Reggie rested calmly in his stroller, at Lisa’s house. He stayed beside me at the kitchen table, so quietly, in fact, that we almost forgot he was there with us!  Lisa had been concerned that Reggie might try to get at the stew, but he didn’t even try, he was so well behaved. It was the first time I brought him to anyone’s house, as a guest, since he was diagnosed with cancer, and he was an absolute angel. I’m glad – hopefully we can do it again, not everywhere we go, but sometimes. I know many of my friends have very active pets, including large dogs, and it wouldn’t be a good idea. But, any time Reggie can come, I am glad I can bring him since we have so little time together, and these last days, or weeks, or however long I have him, are so precious – especially now, while he still has quality of life. I don’t want to miss a single opportunity to share my life with Reggie.

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Reggie falling asleep in his stroller at Jittery Joes while I was working

Christmas morning with Reggie was bittersweet. I took 2-3 videos of him, wanting to capture his last Christmas Day on camera, and not just in still photos. (Unfortunately I do not think I can attach videos to this blog post, but, if I figure out how to do that, I will update the blog post with at least one of the videos).

He struggled to open his presents, even though they were not wrapped in paper. I put his three stuffed animal toys in a gift bag to make it easier for him to get to them. He sort of picked at the bag with his paw, and sniffed at it a few times, stuck his head partially inside, but unlike past years, he didn’t go for it full throttle. His energy level was so low, it broke my heart. I could see that he was not feeling well, and like I mentioned, he’d had some accidents in the night, and so it was clear, he’d spent some of his limited energy dealing with his cursed symptoms.

I didn’t give up, though, and pressed the center of the toys’ bellies to sound that squeaker noise Reggie loves so much. He did become more interested in the toys at that point, and he even took the raccoon in his mouth and started chewing at it for a minute, or less. He didn’t shake his head wildly back and forth, as he once did, trying to kill the prey, and when I threw it across the room (along with the pig and the otter), he didn’t chase any of them. He watched them fly to the other side of the living room and then just looked at me, as if to say, “I’m too tired to chase them. Can you bring them back, please?”  Which I did, bring them back to him, that is. He quietly sat by his toys, and rested against my feet, with his back to me, waiting to be stroked, as he does so often.

Later in the morning, he did trot into the living room (presumably feeling a little bit better), when I made another effort to get him excited about his toys and their squeaky sound. He’d been resting in the dining room, heard the sound, and answered the call. Slower than in past years, but he still came. He took the otter, or tried to, it was too thick, and played with it, paws and teeth engaged, only for a few moments, but it happened – and I thankfully captured it on video.

I had to leave Reggie home in the late afternoon when I went to my neighbor’s in-laws, and then to my friend, Jay’s, mom’s house. (I am so grateful to have had people to see on Christmas Day). I didn’t like having to leave Reggie, and I thought about canceling, but I knew that I had to take care of myself, too, and that it would sink me further into despondence about the loss of my family if I stayed home alone all day.

Thankfully, my friend, Marcy, who is a veterinarian, coincidentally, invited both Reggie and me over to visit her in the late morning/early afternoon, and that was wonderful! He rested and slept, didn’t fuss much, maybe a little, and when I took him out in her yard for a walk in the warm sunshine (lucky for us, the weather was beautiful) Reggie was like his old self, or, his old senior self, l mean, (pre-cancer) – marking the grass several times and sniffing all the bushes, rife with new scents.

This past week has flown by, which I was hoping would not be the case, but it has been quiet and peaceful in Athens, and I have had quality time, both in town, and at home, with Reggie. That pet stroller has been a Godsend (as I’ve said before).

I am grateful to Reggie and Lizzie’s daddy, Audie, for buying it for Lizzie, and I remember when he did that, Audie said that one day we would be able to use it for Reggie, too.

Little did Audie, or I, know how soon that day would come, when Reggie would need the stroller. I wish that day had been far off, very far off, and I’m sure if someone were to ask Audie, he would say the same.

But, thank goodness, Reggie has it, when he needs it, however too soon it happened.

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Reggie is happy to be out and about in his stroller

I have yet to find a grant writing expert to assist in applying for some of the canine cancer grants I found through some Internet research. I hope I find someone in time.   I have no regrets, and I never will, about spending what I need to spend to take care of Reggie’s needs and to make him as comfortable as possible, but I’m also worried about it. Worry does not mean I am giving it a second thought, though. I will not sacrifice Reggie’s well being for anything – he’s counting on me, and I love him so much. He is the only remaining member of my family, and I want him to be happy, and for his life to be as full as possible.

I have many friends who are trying to prepare me, to be able to make the decision, when I am confronted with it. I do not want this to be real – every day, I can feel the denial setting in deeper, even though I’ve had to set my alarm 15 minutes early again to clean up the morning mess, even though he’s slowed down so much. (He still has an excellent appetite, which is one good sign, for now).

But, I did get some bad news when he went in for acupuncture on 12/28: Reggie lost 1 1/2 pounds in just 10 days, in spite of eating his breakfast and dinner and taking all his medication like a trooper. (It’s unbelievable, actually, how he not only does not fight me on the liquid medications, he actually licks the droppers as if he’s drinking a treat – thank goodness for that because Lizzie and Reggie used to hate liquid medications. It was a chore to get them to cooperate in the past.  Any tiny blessing…).

In any case, the doctor expressed deep concern at this rapid weight loss – 1.5 pounds is a lot of weight in a dog his size, too, which makes it even more dangerous. She told me to feed him more, but he needs moist food, because of the tumor, so I am soaking puppy kibble (per her recommendation) and adding it to his food. It is high in calories and nutrients. I remember, I had to do this with Lizzie, too, in the last couple months of her life…

As New Year’s Eve is upon us tomorrow, I am glad that Reggie and I will be together. I had hoped with all my heart and soul that December 31st would not end the year 2018 in the way that it will, but I am grateful that Reggie made it to the new year. I was worried that he wouldn’t, and that I was being selfish in asking him, or expecting him, to, for my sake.

But from all indications, he does not seem to be ready to go, not just yet. The vet did not say anything to that effect, either, so we go on, for as long as we can, for as long as he can, with quality in his life.

I am not ready to send my third, and last, dog over the Rainbow Bridge. When I think of it, I have to stop thinking about it, in order to go forward. I never let Reggie see me fall into that state of despair that is lingering below the surface, waiting to emerge when my conscience and my love leave me with no other choice but to say goodbye to him. There are other decisions to be made in the meantime, and other people who love Reggie, and I am trying my best to think of them, too, in terms of what is best for Reggie. It’s not easy, but I have said for a long time that in the end, we have to be able to live with ourselves, to look in the mirror, and be able to look in the eye of the person staring back without shame, or guilt, or regret, if we can. Years from now, when I look back on Reggie, and Lizzie, I want to be able to look in the mirror and be 100% certain that I did the right thing – for them, and for those they love.

Hopefully, there will be many more weeks to write about Reggie, but if there are not, thank you for reading my stories and for keeping Reggie in your thoughts and in your hearts, and a few prayers wouldn’t hurt, either. Know that Reggie is receiving the best care possible – he is loved, and safe, and he is living in peace. He loves to be with people, and people love to be with him. Whatever can be done, will be done. I am glad I elected not to pursue a dangerous surgery – his life, however short it may be, will be better this way – without pain or infections or whatever else could have gone wrong, and was likely to do so, according to Dr. Barker and Dr. Clifton.

Knowing I am willing to let go, gives me a little bit of peace of mind, for now, but every day that I wake up and Reggie is still here to greet me, wagging his tail, or barking at me, or smiling, or following me, or resting on my foot, to stay close to me, I am relieved that it is not that time yet.

As I used to say with Lizzie, “Every day that Reggie is alive is a good day.”

Happy New Year from Reggie “Reggwood” Roberts to everyone!

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Reggie in his favorite winter coat