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.

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, Grief and Loss, Memoirs

My Farewell Tribute to Reggie

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On Saturday morning, February 2, 2019, I went to Heirloom Cafe and sat at the brunch bar – I did not tell anyone that Reggie had died the day before. I pretended like nothing had happened when Rachel, the brunch server, asked me how I was doing. As I was spooning the creamy white foam off the top of a soy cappuccino, imagining what it would taste like if it were ice cream instead, the inspiration hit – and I had to write it down – a poem about my beloved Reggie. I pulled some paper out of my bag and began writing the words – they flowed without effort.

Tonight, the Athens Writers Association held our 5th Open Mic at Normal Books store on Prince Avenue. I was the last reader of the night. I did not tell the audience about the poem in advance, except that I wrote it at the brunch bar a few weeks ago. I read the poem, I didn’t cry, I held it together, which I was determined to do – it worked. At the end I told them, “My dog, Reggie, died on February 1st from colon cancer,” and then I sat down and thanked them.

Here is the poem, “Reggie,” that I wrote for him. I noticed a missed call from Loran Myers at Memory Garden for Pets on my phone. Sometime this week, I expect I will be picking up Reggie’s urn. I don’t feel ready. Right now, it feels better to have his spirit in the house, but it will never be easy….

 

“Reggie”

By Jill Hartmann-Roberts

 

Your brown coat on the pillow,

Still full of your scent.

Your hooded brown raincoat laying on the floor.

 

Your empty dog bed –

The last night

I found you there,

Snuggled in the crocheted blankets.

 

Your favorite nyla bone chew toy,

Brown and worn down at the edges-

The blue rubber center still clean and intact.

 

Stains from your cancer on the sheets,

On the white down comforter,

On the carpet where I slowly set down my feet.

I rub the bottoms back and forth and push down,

Trying to ground my body back into the earth.

 

Trash bags, plastic bags, tied up,

Filled with soiled paper towels,

The smell beginning to fade after so many weeks.

 

A purple cushion where you took your last breath,

Your eyes were open –

They went glassy as you left me,

Her stethoscope against your chest,

You weren’t moving.

“He’s gone,” the vet said.

 

The rabies tag on your black harness,

The blue Star of David and chain choke collars

Hanging on a peg,

Your Georgia Bulldogs canvas leash with the broken latch.

 

The polaroid photo of you and me on a park bench,

Near the beach in San Diego

Where we walked to save the animals

 

A pink pig, a brown bear, a raccoon,

Your last Christmas presents.

You were too tired to chase them across the room

When I tried to play fetch with you.

 

The strands of your brindle fur,

Your green Christmas sweater,

The torn up faux leather beanbag,

Your favorite spot on the red couch.

 

Open bags of kibble you’ll never finish,

Closed cans of dog food I’ll never open,

Prescription pills unused,

Half-filled bottles of liquid medicines,

Empty syringes all over the countertops.

 

The empty space under the oak table

Where you sat at my feet,

As I wrote about your life.

 

The empty stroller.

The empty front seat in the car.

The empty food bowl.

The empty house.

The empty space in my heart.

The empty space in my life.

 

This is the day after the worst day,

The day we said goodbye.

 

My skin is crawling,

The house is silent.

This morning I called your name, “Reggie.”

But you didn’t answer.

 

Losing you was harder

Than I could have ever imagined.

You were still so full of life,

But the cancer said otherwise.

 

I had to let you go;

It was the right thing to do.

 

My heart has a gaping hole

That only you can fill.

 

 

You were my co-pilot,

My best friend,

My savior,

My soulmate.

 

I am lost without you.

I love you.

I miss you.

My sweetest boy.

My Reggwood,

My Reggie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, San Diego, California

9 years, 108 months, 3,285 days

 

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Loving on Reggie Roberts in Balboa Park, July 27, 2011

“We have a code brown at the front of the store.”

Yes, folks, it happened again, today, on the nine-year anniversary of the day that Reggie and Lizzie first rolled down that conveyer belt, secured inside their crates, and made their mark on my life, and my heart, forever.

Reggie had another “code brown” at Pet Supplies Plus.

Not in front of the shelf with the floor cleaners this time.

Nope, right up front by the registers, 3 days before Christmas, so all the shoppers could step over it.

I told Reggie, “No ‘code browns’ this time, okay, Reggie?”

It didn’t quite work out that way, but it didn’t embarrass me this time. We’re old pros at the “code browns” now. Yes, the cashier did announce it over the loudspeaker, and yes, there were many other people watching it happen in real time this time.

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Reggie in 2011

 

But, the last time it happened, I didn’t know yet, not for sure, at least, that Reggie and I are living on borrowed time.

Not to mention today, December 22, 2018, is a special date for us. I am all about dates. I have an uncanny memory for dates – I’ve always been that way.  My friend, Dan, once said, “You are so good at remembering dates, it’s scary. It’s like a super power.”

It’s true, I do have a weird talent for remembering the dates of events, birthdays, what people said on a particular date, that sort of thing. But mostly it’s about remembering to celebrate a special date like today – an anniversary as important as this one should never be forgotten…

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Reggie and Lizzie Roberts Dec. 22, 2009

It was important to me that Reggie have Christmas presents this year. I meant to order him something special from the “In the Company of Dogs” catalog, but I forgot, and maybe that’s okay. I’m glad I forgot, in this case – it was much more fun helping him choose his own gifts in the store.

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Reggie in the stroller about town December 22, 2018

Technically, the “code brown” should never have happened because I rolled Reggie into the store in the pet stroller, mostly for his safety.

In the past year, Reggie has displayed some fear aggression towards other dogs, most likely because he feels his vulnerability, I’m guessing.

Surprisingly, Reggie has **not** been aggressive toward other dogs at all recently. Not since the day, Lizzie died, from what I have seen. He will bark at dogs, but it’s not the same as it was a few months ago when he’d get bent out of shape and try to bite. I think he is changing, his demeanor, his temperament, are very different – I can see it every day. He’s softened and mellowed. When I take him to the vet for his B12 shots, he does not seem to be bothered by other dogs.

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Reggie at Jittery Joe’s

 

Maybe it’s the tumor, maybe it’s something else. But, we’ll have to see.

However, I wasn’t going to take any chances in the pet supply store, knowing there would be a lot of dogs there, especially the Saturday before Christmas. He was fine, though. In the stroller, he does not seem to feel threatened and just kind of stares them down.

When I led him over to the section where they keep the squeaky toys, he was eager to help me pick one – I could tell – because he immediately stood up in the stroller to check them out.

That was fun. I tried out the squeaker in a few of them, to see how he reacted, before deciding on which ones to buy for him.

When Reggie heard the squeaky sound, his ears perked up, he got so excited, and tried to get at them, barking at them like his old self.  He barked every time he heard that squeaky noise. I tried four or five different ones: first a plump pig, he really got excited about that one. Definitely had to get him that pig. I tried out the squeaker on some other critters – raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, otter…he loved them all, grabbing at every single one. It warmed my heart to see him like that.

By the fourth animal I tested, Reggie had had enough of staying in the stroller and took it up on himself to exit, on his own. He jumped out the front, into the aisle. – He’s done that front leap once already this week, at Jittery Joe’s, without any warning. Scared me to death. He literally leapt out of the front of the stroller, in an instant, before I could even blink, much less catch him…”Bombs away.”

Fortunately he was not injured, in either store.

I decided not to put him back in the stroller because there were not as many dogs as I’d anticipated and he really needed to be free to walk around – exercise is important and I didn’t think he’d have a problem with the one or two smaller dogs on leash with their owners.

That’s how the “code brown” happened.

Oh well, like they told me before, it happens all the time.

It’s been very, very hard to be at home the last few days. I’m having a hard time thinking about Christmas. I know I said I would make this the best Christmas for Reggie that I can. And I will. Thus, the toys for him. But, I can’t remember a Christmas when I felt more heartbroken or despondent or scared or full of regrets.

I wish I could pull one of those “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” tricks to make the pain go away.

Life doesn’t work that way. I thought I could do it. I thought I could push the feelings away, push the memories away, but it isn’t working. I’m not in the Christmas spirit at all, quite the opposite. I haven’t been able to get myself to do any of my Christmas traditions, except for listening to Xmas music and decorating the tree. I do love looking at our tree and the ornaments – especially the dog ornaments.

The time is going by quickly, too quickly. Because Reggie is on borrowed time, and I know I have to enjoy these moments with him while I can.

If anything, Reggie is making this Christmas a little less painful. I am so lucky he is with me this year, of all the last nine years together, this one, especially, I’m thankful for Reggie.

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I am holding on for dear life to every moment we have together. Every moment with Reggie is precious right now. I know from experience it will all change so quickly, I won’t know what hit him…or me.

I’ve never experienced a death from canine cancer firsthand, not in my own dogs, at least. My mother “protected” me (sheltered me, really) from our family dogs’ cancers – two of them died of cancer. One, when I was 7 years old, the other when I was 29 years old.

(Advice to parents out there: don’t shelter your kids from the death of your pets. You think you’re doing them a favor. You’re not. Kids are resilient and it will help them face the death of loved ones later in life).

Right now, by some miracle, Reggie is in some kind of “honeymoon” period. He has an excellent appetite. He eats all his food, he is taking his medicine like a champ – even the liquids. He is sleeping through most of the night, I think, peacefully, I hope. He still has accidents in the bathroom, but he hasn’t had them every single night like before.  It’s the first time in 7 or 8 months that I haven’t had a huge mess to clean up every single day. He has made a mess on the tile floor the last few nights, but less than before, which means he must be getting more rest, I’m sure.

This is inevitably going to change, the question is when.

I don’t want to think about it with Christmas a few days away, but what scares me is that it’s happening again.

The denial. The mind games. Fooling myself into thinking Reggie is going to be okay because he’s doing so well right now.

If I didn’t know any better, I would think that he didn’t have cancer.

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It’s a catch-22: I want to allow myself to be happy about how well he’s responding to all of the medications and the acupuncture treatment. I want to enjoy this time with him, while it lasts, because I know it won’t last long – especially not with Prednisone (God, don’t I wish he didn’t have to take that, but apparently it’s the only thing they can give him right now to slow down the tumor and ulcerations).

And that Godzilla of a thing is growing – anything that stops it, must be engaged to stop it, or he’ll die sooner than later.

It’s hard though, not to deceive myself about what’s really going on in his body. He’s so much like his old self, in some ways. Slower, yes. Quieter, yes. Sleeps more, yes, but on the outside, he seems to be feeling better. He seems comfortable, and is responsive to people petting him. He gets so excited about food, with his big eyes, and his ears perked up. He still barks at other animals, and wags his tail, and steals my food if I’m not careful. (He stole a tomato off the fork the other night – just like he used to before. He waits under the table for food to accidentally drop). He sits by my feet and follows me around. He looks as if he is getting better, most of the time, even though I know deep down he’s not.

All in all, you’d never know he’s living on borrowed time.

I selfishly hate that for the second time, in a short time, I will be forced to make that awful choice I do not want to make. It feels unfair and cruel, to both of us.  It shouldn’t happen this way, not again.

It doesn’t matter what should or shouldn’t happen. Reggie doesn’t deserve this. He doesn’t deserve ***any*** of what has happened to him. That’s what matters. It’s up to me to make it up to him, even if I can’t, I have to try.

He does make it easier to do that – he is as lovable as ever.

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Today, on our 9th anniversary of meeting, I look down at him, sleeping in the stroller right now (Thank God for this stroller – we thought it would be much longer before he’d need it), and I can’t believe 9 years have gone by…

So, enough about the present and the cancer for a moment here…right now, I want to talk about some of my favorite memories with Reggie. Some of the best times I’ve had as Reggie’s mom the past nine years, 108 months, and 3,285 days.

I don’t want to repeat what I wrote about in the last few posts. If you’re reading this one, please enjoy the others.  They are a series in an ongoing love letter to Reggie, much like I did with Lizzie, and one day, hopefully in 2019, when I finish Toby’s book, that will be his love letter, too.

(I really hope I meet my goal of finishing and publishing it in 2019 – I declared that I would because I think it is important to declare a goal aloud, or in writing, or both, to set yourself up for success. At least, that way, it is not nebulous, even if it takes longer than you think it will).

Two of my favorite memories of Reggie that come to mind are the charity/non-profit 5K walks we did together in San Diego, both in 2011.

The first walk was the Voice for the Animals Walk to raise money for the San Diego Humane Society on May 2, 2011 in Crown Point. I have a framed polaroid photo one of the volunteers took of me sitting on a bench with Reggie after the walk.

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Reggie and me after the San Diego Humane Society Walk for Animals at Crown Point May 2, 2011

The second was later that year in Balboa Park – the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to raise money for breast cancer.

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Longshot at the Susan G. Komen Walk, November 6, 2011 in Balboa Park

November is usually beautiful in San Diego and that day was gorgeous. There were so many dogs, Reggie was in heaven, and he walked sooooooo fast. I had a hard time keeping up with him! He was very speedy in his youth.  Walking with hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs was incredibly stimulating for him to boot. I took a photo of us together at the walk, a selfie.

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Selfie at the Breast Cancer Walk Nov. 6, 2011

The breast cancer walk was a wonderful experience, and I’m so happy Reggie and I shared it together.

(Audie and I did the same walk two years earlier in 2009, but did not take Toby with us, as I recall).

I always intended for Reggie and I to do more of those non-profit walks. I don’t know what happened. We did leave San Diego the following month, but I suppose we could have signed up for one of the walks in Athens after we moved to Georgia with Lizzie.

I have many regrets, too many to list, about what I could have done, should have done, wish I’d done, in Athens, when I had the chance. I guess I should add this to the list, but maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll have one more chance to walk with Reggie, while he still can, in another charity walk. Or, at least, walk him in the stroller, if he’s too weak to walk himself.

I hope that is not the case when the opportunity comes, but we’ll see what happens. I’m realistic, but I feel optimistic, too, that we may have more time.

Another favorite memory of mine is of Reggie and Lizzie at Southeast Dog Park in East Athens. During the first 6 months I lived in Athens, I’d take Lizzie and Reggie over there every weekday morning, literally, five days a week, without fail, at 10 am, to meet up with some of the regulars and their dogs.

 

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Reggie in front and Lizzie by the water bucket at Southeast Dog Park circa May 2012

We made friends, fast friends, with the other people and their dogs. I  remember Suzanne and Gene best: they had two dogs: Pete, a Bichon Frise, and Sam, a huge Newfoundland.

Reggie loved running around with the other dogs. Lizzie, not so much. She is not a dog person, or wasn’t, I should say; she was a people person. She had no interest in the dogs at the park. She stayed by the bench, sometimes under it, watching the other dogs run around, staying as far out of their way as she could. People feet – that was her spot.

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Lizzie sticking by one of our people friends at Southeast Dog Park

Reggie, on the other hand jumped into it head first, in a good way. He always had a lot of  fun with his doggie peers. His enthusiasm was always high; and, he made me nervous a few times with his alpha attitude. One day, I remember this dog fight started with some dogs we didn’t know (not regulars) and Reggie decided to referee. I shouted for him to get away, and thankfully he was not hurt. I don’t think any dogs were hurt, even the ones in the fight, but I thought my heart would stop for fear of what could happen to Reggie and the other dogs. (In all fairness, it seems like Reggie’s instinct to referee is just that, an alpha canine instinct. It’s a thing. I have seen it more than a few times. If a dog fight starts, the alpha dogs all pile in and try to get into the middle of it. It’s a lot like kids on the playground, watching two of their friends go at it. (Or maybe I have just seen too many episodes of “Little House on the Prairie.” That  was one of the recurring scenes in the schoolyard on that show).

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Reggie mixing it up with some of the other dogs at Southeast Dog Park

I have a plethora of memories with Reggie, and Lizzie. I could fill up pages and pages, and someday, maybe I will.

Speaking of chew toys and Christmas, Reggie loves to chase after them, grab them, shake them as if he’s killing prey, and pull all the stuffing and squeaker out of them..in about ten minutes. That’s about how long we got to enjoy some of his past Xmas presents. One of the best was the gefilte fish, the Chanukah fish, that would say, “Oy vey,” when you squeezed it, followed by the sound of bubbling water. That one was my favorite of all. I also loved the dreidel (which appropriately sang the song bearing its name), the birthday cake, that sang “Happy birthday to you…” and there was even a dog that cheered, “Let’s go bulldogs!” for UGA.

It has always been so fun watching Reggie make mincemeat of those chew toys, or the insides of them, at least.

Going through old photos has reminded me of some of the little moments – the ones that build into a full life together:

Reggie and Lizzie finding bedspreads, beanbags, blankets and other warm places to burrow in, or under. Reggie loves to burrow under covers and bedspreads.

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Reggie under the covers
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Reggie and Lizzie on the beanbag that I used to keep in my classroom when I was a teacher
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Lizzie and Reggie found the bedspread right away when I was unpacking after we moved to East Athens, January 2012
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Lizzie and Reggie snuggled together watching TV with us in the den

The many adventures we’ve had: some local, and some on the road. It was fun having the dogs in the backseat driving cross country with Audie when I moved to Georgia. Road trips with dogs can be challenging in terms of finding lodging. Audie, being the smart person that he is, planned out a route that would land us at a dog-friendly establishment each night. On the second night, we stayed in Roswell, NM, where Reggie encountered his first snow. (You’ll notice the warm brown coat – this trip was why Audie got it for him – so he would not be cold when we reached higher elevations).

 

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Audie walking Reggie and Lizzie in the snow in the morning before we left for Dallas, 12/28/2011

As far as I know, Reggie had never relieved himself in the snow before that day, so I made sure to get a picture of his first experience.

Both Reggie and Lizzie are/were excellent travelers. It’s lucky. They loved the long days of driving in the car, sticking their heads out the window, breathing in that wind. It’s not good for the eyes but the smells are so intense, I’ve heard, that dogs love the wind hitting their faces when the car is speeding down the freeway. They were well behaved in the hotel rooms (no accidents, thank goodness), only barked at the border patrol officers (that’s a story for another time), and they loved all the new places where we took a break to walk them.

2,500 miles in 5 days is a long drive, and along with Audie, they made it one of the best road trips ever.

Reggie has had his funny moments, like not quite fitting into the Darth Vader halloween costume I bought for Toby and gave to Reggie. (Audie probably has the photos of Reggie in the costume, and I can’t find any, so sadly, I can’t show you the photo, but suffice to say, it was very big on him, he didn’t like it and tried to get it off, and it kind of dragged behind him in the back. The helmet was cute, and because Reggie’s coloring is so dark, he really looked like a little Darth Vader – it was a much better costume for Reggie than for Toby. I tried putting it on Reggie today to get a photo of him in the costume but he would not let me do it. I took one of the bag, but it’s not the same).

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Darth vader costume

 

Now, I wish I’d tried dressing him up for Halloween this year, for the Boo-le-Bark walk in Athens.  But, it was so soon after Lizzie died, we were not up to the big crowd.

Reggie has forged so many loving relationships with the people he’s met over the years. Too many people to list all at once. I have many memories of the two of us (Audie and me) walking the three dogs in a pack, in San Diego, both around the block, and everywhere we brought them around town. San Diego is one of the most dog-friendly cities in the USA, and the weather is so mild, there were so many opportunities to take them out with us. (I took them to Starbucks more often than anywhere, since it was close and had a large patio, but it was much more fun to take them to the parks, like Balboa Park).

Audie was the pack leader, at that time, taking charge of all three dogs on those very long walks. (I look back fondly on those family walks in San Diego, and in Athens, too, for that matter).

 

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Walking Toby, Lizzie and Reggie at Balboa Park, July 27, 2011

I’ve mentioned before that Reggie and Toby had a frenemy relationship at times, but they always got along like brothers and buddies when we took them to neutral territory. They liked going to Nobel Dog Park together, which was right across the street from our condo complex, very lucky. They got along fine at Starbucks, waiting for crumbs or treats from anyone willing to share (which was most people), and all in all, all three dogs learned to co-exist as a family.

However, Lizzie was the love of Reggie’s life, in my opinion. He loved cuddling up close to her, and like Toby, loved kissing her, whether she liked it or not. I miss seeing them together – they were one of a kind as a doggie couple.

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The photographer caught Reggie kissing Lizzie in the photo shoot.

Yes, many friends of mine, who have met Reggie over the years, both in San Diego, and Athens, past and present, absolutely adore him. It’s not hard.

One of Reggie’s favorite memories, I’m sure, was the week that my friend, Suzanne, returned to San Diego for a visit. She stayed with us for 4 days in October 2011 and she could not get enough of the two dogs. She wanted to spend as much time with them as she could and loved walking them. I remember Suzanne asking me if she could take the leashes every time we went out – I think she fell in love with both Lizzie and Reggie that week. Who could blame her?

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Suzanne at the helm with Lizzie and Reggie at La Jolla Cove

 

But, if Reggie had, or has, one true love of his life, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Audie was, and I believe, still is, the true love of Reggie’s life.

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Reggie loving on his human, Audie

I often caught both dogs sleeping on Audie, while he was asleep, and when Audie was on the couch, on the bed, wherever he was, if Reggie could get to him, he was right there, climbing up to get as close to Audie as possible. Reggie was a “French-er,” as Audie put it – you had to watch out for him or he’d French kiss you. That tongue of his was quick! I remember many times Reggie tried to French kiss Audie, and when he was successful, the sound of Audie’s laugh was priceless.

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Lizzie with her butt up against Audie, and Reggie on top of his back, while Audie was sleeping – or trying to sleep – in East Athens, circa early 2012

Yes, those two were a special pair – actually, the three of them were a special trio. I’m glad I was there to see that over the years. The love between the three of them (Audie and his dogs, Lizzie and Reggie) was one of the things I loved most about that time of my life.

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Loving on Lizzie in Balboa Park, July 27, 2011

 

Last year, in 2017, Reggie injured his spine, probably while jumping off of something. He was in so much pain from a slipped disk, he could not even move. Audie and I were devastated, and we were lucky, this time, because the prognosis for success through surgery was high. Audie and I worked together, combining our resources, to make a plan to afford the $4000 surgery at a facility in South Carolina recommended by Dr. Jeni at Hope.

It was worth the money, it saved his life, and Reggie was able to move pain-free again. He didn’t like having to be restricted from jumping and going up and down the stairs, and to this day, I have to remind myself to keep a close eye on Reggie so he does not slip a disk again (it’s common in his breed – French bulldogs – apparently).

Reggie was lucky, we were lucky. 2017 was a hard year with the dogs, medically speaking. It started off with Lizzie’s trachea collapsing in January, and then in the summer, for about 3-4 days, we had both dogs in UGA vet hospital, inpatient, at the same time. Lizzie had respiratory issues, and a scare with heat stroke. Reggie’s neck pain came on so suddenly – we started that saga by taking him to UGA before he ended up in SC. (Audie almost ended up paying for an expensive MRI and surgery at UGA but Dr. Jeni helped him out with the alternative).

There were more medical crises with Lizzie over the years, by far. Up until 2017, Reggie was very healthy – just a couple of ear infections, and sores under one of his toenails from a nail that kept breaking off. It triggered some kind of recurring hot spot, or some such thing. He had some gastritis off and on, but up until that slipped disk, he had been fine. Gotten into trouble, yes, being the escape artist and the precocious alpha dog that he is, but no major medical problems.

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Reggie looking up at the camera, circa October 2011

Until 2017.

I thought it would be easier to tackle a grant for canine cancer. I was wrong, and I realized the other day, I need to reach out for guidance, mostly because I’m pressed for time, and I have no clue what I’m doing. I am a writer, but grant writing is highly specialized and competitive and you can’t just write whatever. If it’s not targeted, you’ll be “triaged,” as Audie called it, or what I would call, “slush piled.”  I’ve been so overwhelmed, with not enough hours in the day, all of a sudden, to juggle everything, that I decided reaching out for assistance from an expert, at this point, would be wiser. It’s on my long list of “to-dos.”

I did take a one-week crash course in grant writing (5 days, 40 hours) at UGA Continuing Ed. in March 2012, but I learned from all the years I lived with Audie, watching him battle the “Game of Grant proposals” (my play on words for “Game of Thrones”), that grant writing is no game – it is a battleground, with too many competitors, and not enough spoils to go around for everyone.

Sometimes I think of it like a game of chess, and the one who captures the king, or in this case, the grant, wins all.

(Time is of the essence, and I hope that by the time I find someone to guide me through the grant writing process that it won’t be too late for Reggie. He does not have a lot of time, so neither do I).

This morning (December 23, 2018 – I am writing this blog in two parts), I found more blood spots in the den.

I don’t know if that means the Prednisone stopped working, and that the tumor is ulcerating again, or if it’s some other issue with the colon, caused by the tumor, but it’s a bad sign.

Something isn’t working today.

I am praying it’s a fluke. I’ve gotten so used to Reggie doing well this past week or so, I don’t want to let go of that hope that we have some quality time before he gets sicker, and worse, before I have to let him go.

I am so afraid of losing him, it is hard to remind myself that I have to be unselfish, no matter what. It’s not easy. I can’t believe how attached I am to this dog. Which sounds weird coming from a person as passionate about dogs as I am, but I had always thought of Audie as Reggie’s person, and me as Audie’s partner-in-crime, co-pilot, permanently ensconced pet sitter, dog mother, and many other titles, but never as Reggie’s primary human. I never imagined feeling as bonded as I feel now.

Or maybe I was, and didn’t know it, until Reggie let me see it, or until I let myself see how much I love Reggie, and how much he loves me.

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Reggie and Lizzie in our rental in East Athens before the movers brought the furniture, circa December 31, 2011

Maybe I was afraid to love Lizzie and Reggie as much as I do, because of how much it hurt to lose Toby.

I know I never held myself back, in fact, I think I let myself get so attached, that I often stayed behind when I could have, and maybe should have, left them with pet sitters to travel with Audie.

I do regret that I spent so much time away from them, traveling to San Diego by myself.  I regret that I spent so much time away from their daddy, too, but if anything good came from me staying behind on any trips, I hope that it helped Reggie and Lizzie to live longer, and healthier, and happier.

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Lizzie resting on the pillow.
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Reggie tucked in – with only his head in view under the covers

Reggie is a one-of-a-kind. He’s got the most soulful eyes, the most affectionate kisses, the best cuddles, the most rambunctious mischievousness, the most athletic speed (or he did), the most inquisitiveness…the biggest heart.

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Close up of Reggie, December 2018

He prefers men, to girls, I think, or he did, and he’s made many male friends over the years, including my dad, who is a huge dog person himself.

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Reggie claiming my dad circa August 2012

If anyone out there has some special memories with Reggie, or photos, or both, that you’d like me to post in a blog, as I write about the last days and weeks with Reggie, please send them to me using the “Contact” page on the website.  There are so many people whose lives he’s touched, so many people who’ve loved him.  And I know we all want to hold onto our memories with Reggie and never forget how much we love him, and how much he loves us.

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Thank you again to everyone who donated to the GoFundMe fundraiser for Reggie. The fundraiser is active for 3 more days if you are able to contribute to the medical fund for Reggie:

https://www.gofundme.com/my-dog-reggie-needs-a-colonoscopy-on-december-10?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=fb_dn_cpgntopnavlarge_r&fbclid=IwAR3vQJ4clLDcAZs-sFdJs6eRT5PPyDjHdc2dvHoIUPWfoL7yjWor8x9sm28