Athens, Georgia, Dogs, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, San Diego, California, Uncategorized

Bringing Reggie Home

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Reggie’s urn

Where do the souls go when the dogs and cats are laid to rest? I wondered as I sat in the Memory Garden for Pets next to Toby’s grave.

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Toby’s gravesite in Memory Garden for Pets since October 25, 2011

Sounds of cars and birds and limbs falling. In the past several years, I have sat by this gravestone many times. My hand softly sweeping back and forth over the granite headstone, fingering the letters in his name, I’ve looked out at the field – at the myriad bouquets of flowers, marking other graves, at the  statues and the headstones, some upright, some flat.

Yet, today was the first time, in 7 1/2 years of visits to Toby’s grave, that it occurred to me: I am surrounded by souls of all the dogs and cats buried here.

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View of the Memory Garden

Shortly after Toby passed away at home, on the same dog bed that Reggie died upon last month, I saw Toby – walking in the bedroom – I swear – I did, or at least, I saw his ghostly spirit, but it was him. I have not seen Reggie’s spirit, here in the house, and because I saw Toby, when he died at home, I hoped I would also see Reggie’s ghost – but it has been 5 weeks today since Reggie died, and no signs yet. No ghosts walking in the hall, just his brown coat on my pillow – and his scent is beginning to fade, which pains my soul.

It is early, and maybe, I will still see Reggie’s ghost, some time – I know his soul is in the house, I can feel him, and Lizzie, but lately, mostly Reggie, as if his spirit follows me from room to room, much like he did when his body was here with me.

Saint Francis Assisi, the patron saint of animals, watches over the garden – his statue stands in the back, with dogs and cats around him, watching over all the gravestones, all the souls of dogs and cats long past, guarding them, like an angel.

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Last December, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I bought a new bouquet of flowers in soft fall colors for Toby – it was long overdue. There used to be a bouquet of  pink spring flowers, already torn and weather worn after 5 years of exposure to rain, wind and sleet.

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I hear another storm is coming tomorrow – and there have been many other heavy rains since December – it is miraculous that this bouquet still remains untattered, the colors still as brilliant as they were the day I bought them at the 75% off clearance sale at Michael’s. Now that winter is almost over, there will surely be thunderstorms – as there are every spring and summer in Georgia, but hopefully, Toby’s new faux flowers will hold their own against the elements.

The first time I came here, to the Memory Garden, was October 24, 2011. I said goodbye to Toby that day – he’d made a long journey from California to Georgia, to what was meant to be his final resting place, or so I thought. I did not see him again until months later, in 2012, long after he was interred.

On that first visit in 2012, a butterfly landed on the granite stone. In that moment, I was certain the butterfly was Toby reincarnated – it comforted me to believe his soul had traveled into another creature’s body and followed me from San Diego to Athens. I didn’t tell many people this, but the hardest part about leaving San Diego, was not leaving my family and friends, as hard as that was, for I knew I’d see them again.

But, leaving that condo, where Toby had died, where I’d seen his spirit walk the floor of the bedroom into his closet hideaway, I was scared that I was leaving Toby’s spirit behind, and that I’d never see him again. I feared his soul would be abandoned there, in the condo, trapped, unable to follow me, as he always had, close behind, or beside, his human companion.

That was actually the one, inconsolable thing – the thing that gave me the most angst about leaving for Georgia – that I worried I could not fix.

My counselor, Alicia, told me to do something that may or may not have worked, if such things are even true. She said to go to the closet, where Toby used to hide when he was alive, and where he passed away, on the day before I left, and tell Toby to come with me. To follow me, out the door, into the car, and all the way to Athens.

She said if his spirit, if his soul, was still in the condo, that he would heed my call and follow me to wherever I went from there.

When I sit by Toby, I do feel his spirit there, in the grave, under the earth, and I am certain, in my mind, that his soul did follow me, that he is not trapped with strangers in my old home.

Was he the butterfly?  I don’t know, I will never know, but…since that first day, I’ve never seen a butterfly again,  just the ants crawling up my leg, and around the edges of the granite – and inside the crevices of the letters and numerals carved into the stone.

 

Time stands still when I’m with Toby. Usually I talk to him, but having just retrieved Reggie’s urn and plaster paw print and pieces of his brindle fur, sealed in plastic, I am speechless.

The need for silence overcame me, as if I were at Reggie’s funeral, or maybe, I just had nothing to say.

Before I came to sit by Toby’s grave, I met with Mr. Myers in his office.  After he greeted me and expressed his condolences in the compassionate way only he can, he handed me the black and white bag with black paw prints. Inside it there was a large package, the urn, a smaller package, the paw print, and a large envelope with paper certificates commemorating Reggie’s passing, including one with a golden tag, signifying that Reggie had been cremated and ensuring his cremains were being returned to me.

I did not read the documents until I got home, later, after I placed Reggie’s urn and plaster paw print by his framed photo, a gift from Suzanne, and the clay paw print Dr. Stoppe and Tristan made shortly before they put him to sleep. When I sat by the memory table, as I now call it, I took out the certificates and read them. Mr. Myers had accidentally used my last name, Hartmann, instead of Roberts, for Reggie, but no matter. Hopefully on Audie’s certificates, the name, Reggie Roberts, was listed correctly.

Either way, the sadness of losing him came down to pieces of paper, an urn, two paw prints, a photo, and a vacancy no other dog can fill.

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In loving memory of Reggie “Reggwood” Roberts

Before I left Mr. Myers’s office to visit Toby in the garden, he and I had an awkward, albeit, brief, conversation I’d been putting off for a long time, since last August, but now that I was here, for Reggie, I knew it was time to ask him what I’d been needing to ask.

I asked Mr. Myers (stumbling through the words): was there a way for me to take Toby with me? I told him that I had never expected I would leave, or at least, I never thought about leaving when I first came here, and now here I was, faced with the possibility of leaving later this year, or perhaps in a year, or two, who knows, but nevertheless, most likely, sometime not too far in the future.

As the years have passed, since I came to Georgia, I hoped I would not leave, and that Toby also could stay, here, in Athens, but now that I know that dream has died, I cannot bear to leave Toby here when I go…and that was what I told Mr. Myers, that I could not bear to leave Toby behind, because, I was not sure if I would ever come back, and to leave Toby forever…was unthinkable (that last part, I did not say out loud).

Mr. Myers listened, quietly, and then he said, “Let me see if I can rephrase your question.”

He said, in his own words, that I was wanting to know if I would be able to take what was left of Toby with me when I leave, was that something he could do, and he said the answer was, “Yes, that is something I can do.”

Relief – I did not ask about the expense, I was too afraid to find out right then, but at least, I knew it could be done.

He said that Toby could be sent to me, but when I asked about the stone, he said if it was mine I could have it, but that it would be very expensive to ship. I told him I had bought the stone, but could I just take it with me, and not ship it? His answer to my original question slightly changed. He told me to give him two weeks’ notice, when I was ready, and I could take Toby and the stone with me, as I requested. He said he needed two weeks because of the weather, which is often wet and exhuming a grave in the mud was not something they wanted to do.

Holding onto Reggie, what was left of him (divided by two), was all my heart could take that afternoon, and yet, I still had to ask: what about the shirt and blanket I’d buried with Toby? Mr. Myers said I would not be able to take those with me, too (I could tell he was hesitant to tell me for a moment, but then he came out, and finished my sentence). “Because they would be too icky…” I said, and he added, “Yes, they would be icky.”

I get so busy with the business of life, I don’t come to visit the Memory Garden as often as I planned, or have wanted to. But when I am there, and time stands still, I feel closer to God, and to Toby, as I lay my hand on the stone, the protector of the sanctuary that shields what remains of the body of my beloved, my first dog.

Losing Lizzie and Reggie so recently, and so close together, has made the memory of Toby’s loss, however vivid, seem so much farther back in time than it did for these last several years. Somehow, now, after losing Lizzie and Reggie,  it is easier to sit in the field of souls than it is to kneel in front of the two urns and framed photos and paw prints spread in a row along the wooden table.

I feel their souls, all the time, and I miss them, all the time. Sometimes, it is so intense, the reality that both of them are gone, that all of a sudden, I simply can’t breathe.

I am tired. I am tired of grief.  I have had enough of grief. I am beginning to forget what it felt like, what life felt like – before the grief – life is divided into the time before, and the time after – the former being the time when all three of them were still alive.

The clouds are gathering now, the sun is hidden behind the trees, the light is dwindling – time to go. If the souls should follow me out of the garden, over the footbridge, into the car and out the open gate onto the highway, all the better. I’d be happy to take the souls of the dogs and cats laid to rest in this beautiful garden with me wherever I go.

Either way, they will be waiting for me next time I come to visit Toby.

When I got home, I carefully took Reggie’s urn out of the package and set it on the table beside his picture. I removed the paper protecting the plaster paw print and gently set it on the picture stand beside the urn.

And then, I sat, for a long time, staring. Just staring. At Lizzie. At Reggie.

Reggie has come home, home to rest beside his Lizzie…home to stay.

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

The Eyes Are the Window to the Soul

It was just supposed to be a donation. Part of the downsizing. Just a quick stop. Drop off the blankets, the sheets, the bedspreads, the old towels. Then turn around and go.

In honor of Reggie and Lizzie, I made two trips to Athens-Clarke County Animal Control this week.

Just to drop off sheets, towels and bedspreads.

But…it was much more than that.

No, I did not adopt a dog. But as soon as I heard the chorus of barking when I exited the car, I should have known, like the children hearing the flute of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, I would not be able to leave without looking at the dogs in the kennels.

When I got out of the car, the first thing I noticed was the redneck guy with a huge, macho-looking black pickup truck, stocked up to the brim with tires in the bed of the truck – doing what I hate most, what I can’t stand, what I fight against – he was surrendering his dog to the shelter. He handed his medium-sized, light-colored dog, on a rope to the shelter worker. The dog looked at him with its tail wagging, not understanding what was happening – he watched as his owner walked away without even petting him or saying goodbye. He just strutted back to his truck. He looked at me, and I looked away. (I won’t tell you what I was thinking or what I wanted to say – especially on my public blog, but if you are a regular reader of my blog, or if you know me personally, I’m sure you can imagine).

Thank goodness he didn’t just dump the dog on the road – or tie him up somewhere and just leave him – that would be far worse, and too many people around the world do just that.

I know for a fact he did surrender his dog because his dog, Scar, was one of the dogs I saw in the kennels not long afterward. He had not been there long, but he already looked terrified and lost and confused.

And Scar, you did not deserve that.  There is always another way – but again, I remind myself, it is better than leaving him on the road.  This way, he has a chance – someone, or a rescue group, may save him.

But this is not a no-kill shelter. That’s why they are closed every Wednesday.

When I entered the lobby, I brought the four or five bags inside and asked if I could also donate the wool blanket that Reggie had soiled before he died. Unfortunately, for health code reasons, they could not wash it there, but I did take it to the laundry on Prince where I went a few weeks ago, and Michelle, gladly took it and told me she would not even charge me to clean it since I am donating it to the animal shelter.

As I turned toward the door that led to the kennels, I took a deep breath. I could hear the dogs from the inside, and once I entered the walkway of the front kennels, it was strange – I felt like I was listening to a concert – but it was not soothing – the dogs’ howls ranged from desperate to agonizing to angry to sorrowful to hopeful. It did not bother me as far as the noise, it was more like music to my ears – hearing dogs barking does not phase me at all – they must truly be my soulmates in another life, as well as this one. I am very sensitive to loud noises, but not dogs barking. Though, the sound of the dogs in their emotional pain did create these waves in the center of my chest, where my heart chakra is – it drew me to them, and I could not help but bear witness to their pain and to their longing for someone, anyone kind, to take them home and give them a forever human to love.

The first two dogs were pitbulls, and I have to tell you, (I’m terrible with names), the smaller one, a female, tilted her head and looked right into my eyes with an expression I will never forget, I’m sure – it was like she was pulling me toward her, like a thread, a rope, connected her heart to mine. In her eyes, I saw her plead for me to love her, to take her out of this cage and give her a home. She jumped up, not in anger, but in eagerness, in hope, that I would be the one to open up the gates to a new life for her.

But I can’t. I couldn’t, and yet, I could not walk away from her.

I squatted down and approached her and looked at her, right in her eyes, and I told her, “I’m so sorry. I can’t take you with me. I’m sorry.”

The dog to her right was also very excited to see me and looked at me with that hopeful joy, the kind of joy someone feels when someone who might just be the one to love them forever, unconditionally, has just come their way.

But I couldn’t.

I continued walking down the row, in the front, very slowly. There were medium-sized mutts, some looked like Rottweiler mixes, some were Pit mixes, some looked like a mix of all kinds of dogs. None of them were very large, but none were small, either.

Even if there were a small dog, I could not take one home right now. For many reasons, but even if I did not have to keep my house immaculately clean, now that it is immaculately clean, for the first time since I moved in, I am not ready.

No dog, anywhere, can take Reggie’s and Lizzie’s place. I can’t even imagine another dog besides Reggie or Lizzie living in this house.

Some of the dogs, in the back kennel, looked at me with fear, with suspicion, and I knew – these were the dogs who had been abused, beaten, neglected, and they were the ones I was drawn to the most, and yet I also knew, they needed me to respect them, and give them space, at least, for now – if I was not going to take them home with me, it was not fair to do anything else.

There was one dog, an older lab mix, a girl, that leaned right up against her cage when I drew near, and I stuck my hand near her nose. She licked my hand and then pressed her body – on her right side, as close to the chain link as she could. I knew exactly what she wanted me to do and I was happy to oblige her. I stuck my fingers through the small space and began to pet her.

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It was like coming home for me – to pet a dog again – even if she wasn’t mine.

She is the first dog I have pet, that I have touched, since Reggie died.

I have seen dogs, but I have not approached them, not even my neighbor, Pennie’s dog. I just feel like since Reggie died, I don’t want to do that, but somehow, being in the shelter, something happened, and I did it without thinking when she reached out to me, without words, and asked me.

There were some female students who were taking dogs out of the kennels to walk them and play with them in the back fenced-in area designated for the dogs to exercise and let out some of their pent-up energy – and who could blame them – being cooped up in those kennels with nothing but a tiny canvas cot and a floor made of concrete – no warmth, no love, no comfort of any real substance.

No wonder their cries fill the air with voices that are so ripe with hope and agony, they must be singing out to God to help them, and yet, so few of us hear them.

These last few weeks, this last week, especially, I have been lost myself, much like them. Really, I have been lost for almost 2 years now – since May 2017. In some ways longer than that, but most acutely since May 2017, and in some ways, it has consumed me, completely, since June 3rd of last year.

And then, as I knelt before the dogs, and looked into their eyes, I felt as if I could almost read their minds, and their souls, and I knew – I knew who I was, or more specifically, I ***remembered*** who I was – for the first time in a long time, I felt like me again. These lost dogs, who have been led astray, guided me back to me, the real me – the one who has a dream of a dog rescue of my own, the one who loves dogs with all my heart and soul, the one who would do anything to save a dog in need, the one who, after the worst heartbreak of my life, the one that I was sure would break me, is still standing – unbroken and resilient and stronger than ever.

Make no mistake, I am heartbroken – I have never, ever known heartbreak like this – but in their eyes, I remembered that my heart, though broken, is still beating, still alive and still open to love – to love my friends, to love my mother, to love the memory of Toby and Lizzie and Reggie.

And someday, when I’m ready, to come back, to this shelter, or to another rescue group, to open my home, my heart, and my life to another dog, who I know I will love as much as I love the three I have lost.

I did not intend to see the dogs. I did not intend to ask the front desk about how else I could help, but I did. I only intended to drop off some sheets and towels and bedspreads.

The universe had other plans for me. And I am so glad. I know I will be back. I used to be afraid to go to the animal shelter – afraid it would be too hard for me.

It’s not too hard – not anymore – having made it to the other side of “too hard,” “too painful,” and “too much to bear,” I have found I can handle more than I ever realized – I underestimated myself – and I’m not the only one, but I won’t do that again. I know where I belong – I belong with the dogs, I belong with other writers, I belong with other people who tell the truth, who keep their word, and who know how to forgive and let things go, when someone expresses remorse and makes amends. I belong with my music,  I belong with my books, and I belong with my advocacy for those who have survived trauma.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  I always have hated cliches.

Maybe I should reconsider that – losing my entire family, the future I dreamed of, the man who was the love of my life, my dogs, my home, it didn’t kill me. Not yet.

And I don’t plan to let it.

Maybe, there is something ahead of me so wonderful, so magnificent, so fulfilling, that I can’t even picture it – and then, maybe then, I will know why this happened, and maybe, I will be glad it did. It’s hard to imagine that I could ever be glad about that, but I am stronger than what others think of me, stronger than the false way in which they choose to define me, stronger than the black-and-white and distorted way in which they see me.

On the night he proposed to me, he read me the list of 32 reasons why he loved me, before he knelt down and said, “And for all these reasons, will you marry me, sweetheart?”

Even though that life, that future, is no longer, those 32 things are still true. They always were. They are the real me.

If the dogs at the shelter, if the souls I saw in their eyes, are the beginning of my journey to finding me again, then I can’t wait to meet her.

Bless the dogs of Athens-Clarke County Animal Control…and all rescue dogs everywhere. They are God’s gift to the world.

Save a life…adopt a pet.

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, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, San Diego, California

Racing Against the Clock – Tick Tock

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Reggie after acupuncture #4 at Hope Animal Medical Center Jan. 18, 2019

This is the first in a series of shorter blog posts I’m going to write in the next week, hopefully longer, about Reggie – in lieu of one longer weekly post.

I want to chronicle my memories, the events, the important moments, facts and photos of the last days of the life of my sweet Reggie.

Last night, Dr. Stoppe came into the exam room and said, “I’m glad we took the pictures. The cancer has spread to his lungs. His lungs are filled with tiny tumors and cancer cells. I’m sorry.”

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Reggie waiting for me in the lobby at Hope Jan. 18, 2019

It didn’t hit me right away, and yet it did. It’s hard to explain – I felt both sensations – of nothing – just numbness – and the sense that an L-train had just crashed into my chest.

The doctor went on to say that she had seen how Reggie was breathing differently – as if something was pressing up against his diaphragm, but really it is the cancer causing him to struggle and it takes more effort for him to breathe in and out – thus the heavy movement I’ve been seeing in his abdomen the last several days. And he’s very tired – he still can jump up on the bed and climb up and down the stairs and walk, but he does lay in bed among the blankets for longer and longer periods of time, and it is hard to tell if he’s just sleepy or uncomfortable.

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Reggie wrapped in blankets

Wednesday was the hardest day: he didn’t want to eat and I couldn’t get him to take his medicine. I was sure that was it, and I was ready to call the vet the next day and bring him in to find out. But, he rallied on Thursday and ate normally – took his medicine, was happy – tired, but happy. I took him with me to visit my friend, Carmen, at Epps Bridge Jittery Joe’s and he rested peacefully while we talked.

I figured he could make it without an urgent care visit until his 4:30 pm appointment for acupuncture on Friday – but – I still scheduled an exam with Dr. Stoppe, before she did the acupuncture itself.

We talked about how Reggie’s diarrhea (pardon the candor) had gotten much more frequent and bloody the past week, and the breathing…I mentioned he was eating less and she said that when she scanned his belly, it looked like the tumor had gotten bigger, maybe, and that it was harder for him to digest food, that it was moving more slowly, so he might not be as hungry. She said his stomach was full, in fact, on the scan.

He still has shown interest in my food, though, and I’ve given him pieces of cauliflower and blueberries and blackberries and a little bit of hamburger.

Dr. Stoppe asked me if I wanted her to take a radiograph of his lungs to find out if the cancer had spread, or if he might be breathing more rapidly and heavily due to pressure from his stomach.

We got our answer, and she told me I need to think about letting him go soon – not today, she said, or this weekend, but to be thinking about next week.

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Reggie on Toby’s dog bed, once Lizzie’s now, Reggie’s.

I asked Dr. Stoppe how I’d know, and she said we would have to see how he does. She said I could feed him whatever he wants now – hamburger, fruit, ice cream, whatever he wants.  As long as it’s not binding, she said, give him whatever he wants to eat at this point.

(Reggie is sleeping in his stroller in Barnes and Noble Cafe, next to me, as I’m writing this post, and a lady came up to me to ask what kind of dog Reggie is. I ran into someone I know from meditation, and at least 5 people have come up to Reggie to say hello. Oh my goodness, they know him here, now, “The Girl with the Dog in the Stroller,” and one day, very soon, too soon, I will walk in here, without Reggie, without the stroller, and they will be looking for him, and ask where he is. It reminds me of those first days after Toby died – everyone at University City Starbucks came up to me to ask where Toby was – and some of them didn’t need to ask…Bruce, this one regular looked at me and said, “Toby’s no longer with us…”)

Those questions are the hardest part, and now, I think, I will have no reason, soon, to even go to Hope Animal Medical Center, and I won’t see them again…unless I get another dog, which I won’t for the time being. I don’t think I can. I will long for one, but I take having a dog very seriously, and I don’t have the money to adopt another dog until other things are sorted out…if one organically came into my life, knowing me, I’d do it. But I can’t see purposely seeking out a new dog. It takes a lot of time and training, if you do it right, especially rescue dogs. I feel spent – physically, mentally, emotionally and financially, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat – in fact, I thought I’d be doing it for a few months at least.

But this is always how it is with dogs – it is unexpected, and unplanned, and it never lasts as long as you think it will – you think you can keep your dog alive, and comfortable, and then it all comes down the way you don’t want it to – no matter how much you do to help him or her to keep going – for you, more than for them.

When Dr. Stoppe and I began to discuss putting him to sleep, I told her I wished I could do it at home, like I did with Toby, because Reggie hates the vet (so did Toby). He shakes and tries to get out of there, heading towards the door, his tail between his legs, looking up at me with fear in his eyes. They love him and he always does fine once he’s in the back with them. In fact, when I went to pick up more pain medicine for him this morning (Gabapentin), I talked to Anna about my worry about knowing when to put him to sleep and she told me they love him. (Dr. Jeni was just thinking about us this morning, she said, and wanted to send me home with some information about how to know when it’s time to let go).

I am trying to be brave, and I know I can be – but I also know I’m not myself lately, maybe I won’t be for a long time. A big dog that some college student let off leash in the lobby started charging toward Reggie when I was paying the bill last night. I pulled Reggie back but the dog (Rosie) came at him fast and I screamed and growled with bulging eyes at the dog and put my body in between Reggie and her. I can’t explain it, I’m not like that, I don’t scream or yell or growl or threaten other dogs, but I knew if that dog attacked Reggie, he’d never survive that. I’d just found out I had only a few days with him, I wasn’t about to let some dog take those days away from me because some stupid kid can’t keep his dog on a leash. My primal instinct, something in me, that protective lioness, the mother, kicked in and I was ready to fight that dog before I’d let her hurt Reggie.

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I apologized once everything calmed down, because I was embarrassed, but the student, of course, defended his dog, “she’s fine,” he uttered, and didn’t apologize at all, for his part in the incident. There are many lax dog owners (trying to be generous here) and I try to remember to just be grateful nothing bad happened. I’ve made mistakes, too, but I get frustrated when those mistakes happen on someone else’s end and they can’t just own up to it and say, “I’m sorry,” but I was more embarrassed it happened in front of the people working there, and I scared myself. Obviously this all is harder on me than I’m allowing myself to admit. And the worst part is, I did the wrong thing, the stupid thing, for both dogs.

I guess I need some peace, and some time with Reggie, and some comfort that isn’t there because Reggie and Lizzie…they were my comfort.

I asked them about taking Reggie on the trip, and damn the weather, it’s raining all weekend, but Monday it is supposed to be sunny.

Friday, January 25th, is the 10-year anniversary of the night I met Audie, and I’d like to go that day, for both of us. It is a hard day to look ahead towards alone.

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Audie used to call Toby, Reggie, Lizzie and me, “My little family.”

 

But if Reggie doesn’t make that date, I don’t want to wait, so we are going on Monday, MLK day, when it’s a holiday and the sun is supposed to be shining. I hope Reggie is here on Friday, too, so we can take two trips, and my dog and I can take off to somewhere far from here, far from exam rooms, and medications, and waiting…waiting for the ending.

Whatever happens, whenever it happens, I’m so grateful that Reggie and I have had this time together as human and dog. We have a special bond now – like my bond with Toby – and it’s all come full circle with Reggie – even the dog bed that has become his reminds me of how it all has come around to this moment with Reggie and me.

I love him so much.

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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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