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

For the Love of Reggie

 

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Christmas lights glowing on Reggie under the Xmas tree, December 2018

Tomorrow, Monday, December 10, 2018, is going to be one of the most important days in Reggie’s life.

He is having a colonoscopy at Woodlands Veterinary Clinic to determine if his 18-month-long illness originating from his large intestine is a chronic autoimmune disease – or cancer.

Last week, I had to take him back to his regular vet at Hope Animal Medical Center for additional blood work and a second ultrasound  because his condition has worsened since September, in spite of additional medications and diet changes that we were hoping would ameliorate his symptoms.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, has worked.

Dr. Clifton found increased inflammation in his blood, and the ultrasound showed that the large intestine tissue looks worse – in other words, whatever is the cause of the abnormal-looking tissue has become more aggressive.

This does not surprise me given that Reggie is in more pain than he was a few months ago, and I’m scrambling to keep up my supply of carpet and floor cleaner and paper towels because he has gotten so much worse.

I’ve come up with every trick and solution I can think of: covering the bedroom carpets with heavy duty trash bags as best as I can, and putting down cardboard on some of the hardwood, but there is only so much I can do.  Often Reggie spontaneously has an accident before I can get him downstairs, and out of the house, and in the middle of the night, when I’m asleep, I don’t hear him crying to go out – in fact, he usually does not cry, he just goes – and then I can tell he feels bad about it in the morning from the look in his eyes. I can’t be upset at him, he can’t help it, but, I have had to set my alarm 15 minutes earlier every day to make time to do the daily am cleanup.

It’s a labor of love, and I have no complaints about that part – nothing is more important than saving Reggie’s life.

I just hope and pray that once the results of the biopsy are in that I will be able to save his life – or that the vets will, I should say.

I can clean and/or replace carpets and floors. I can’t replace Reggie. He is, and always has been, irreplaceable.

Reggie and I did not start off on the right foot, although I thought he was adorable, and I wanted him (and Lizzie) with me. I was skeptical because I’d heard rumors about how naughty he was back in Seattle, WA when he lived with Addie. Apparently he was not the most obedient dog and he often got into trouble – even his pet sitters claimed that he was a handful, or so I heard.

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Reggie with Lizzie in Audie and Addie’s condo in Seattle, before I met them, circa 2007-2008

Yes, this cute little Frenchie pug was a pound, or 20 pounds, of trouble. Hard to believe when you look at those ears and big brown eyes, but, it’s true. In fact, Audie used to warn me, “You have to be alpha with Reggie. You have to be dominant.”

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Reggie, age 4, shortly after he moved in with me in December 2009

This is true, and it’s taken years, literally years, to master that with Reggie, but at this point, I’m confident I’ve elevated to pack leader status.

At least, I hope so:)

However, he definitely has tested me over the years, especially when it came to my elderly rescue dog, Toby. In the beginning, I was very worried, but I consulted with Dr. Kaleka (my longtime general vet) at Governor Animal Clinic in San Diego and she gave me specific instructions on how to integrate Reggie and Lizzie into Toby’s domain without conflicts.

Toby’s internal medicine specialist, Dr. Sara Ford, assured me that it would be good for Toby to be around the younger dogs. She told me that it would add years to his life and rejuvenate him (it was true, it did put more life into Toby’s last two years).  Having a larger pack of dogs did have its pros and cons, but Dr. Ford felt certain that the benefits would outweigh the downsides.

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Toby, Lizzie and Reggie on the patio at University City Starbucks, circa 2011

As soon as Audie and I brought Lizzie and Reggie home from San Diego airport that first day, December 22, 2009, we took them on a long walk with Toby, before we even let them into the condo.

One of the best lessons I learned about adopting a dog, or introducing dogs to each other, period, is how to avoid the territorial battle: take the dogs on a long walk together in neutral territory.

It seemed to work out perfectly. After the walk, we brought Reggie and Lizzie into the house and put them in the kitchen behind the pet gate, where they had to live for a month, per Dr. Kaleka’s instructions. They needed to learn that Toby was the “main” dog in this house.

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Reggie and Lizzie behind the pet gate in December 2009

They were allowed to come out to eat with Toby, (who had to be fed first), to go on walks together as much as possible, and to mingle with the rest of the family in the main part of the condo in gradual increments. We started with 20-30 minutes and built up to full-time intermingling by the end of the first month. (Full disclosure: it was probably less than a month and moved faster than we were told, as I recall. I hated to leave Reggie and Lizzie behind the gate, though probably not as much as Audie did).

Toby didn’t mind. He’d stare at them from the living room – they’d stare back from the kitchen.

This went on for days…I think Toby built up quite a bit of chutzpah during that time – watching Reggie and Lizzie pawing at the gate and barking, wanting to get to him, and to us.

Yes, being king of the condo suited Toby very well.

Maybe that’s why Reggie let him have it fairly soon after he was allowed to roam free.

I was angry, and scared, when Reggie attacked Toby out of the blue – with no apparent provocation.

I was so distraught, that I told Audie I wanted Reggie to go back to Seattle.

I honestly feared that Reggie might attack Toby randomly at any time, and that his life would constantly be in danger, if we kept Reggie with us.

For the second time, we considered separating Lizzie and Reggie, but gladly, cooler heads convinced me otherwise and I backed down.

We kept Reggie, and I tried not to worry.

Thankfully, he didn’t make a habit of going after Toby, although, it did happen twice more, and I didn’t see it coming. First, Reggie went after him while Toby was sitting on his own dog bed (Mind you, the first week Reggie arrived, he lifted his leg and pee’d on Toby’s dog bed. Those alpha males!).

Everything was fine for more than a year and a half, and then suddenly, one day in 2011, all three dogs were doing their own thing, minding their business while eating from their own dog bowls, and Reggie lunged at Toby’s neck and knocked him down.

It was loud, it was violent, and thankfully, it was brief – neither dog was injured, though Toby was so weak, compared to Reggie, not to mention blindsided by the sudden attack, that he never had a chance to fight back.

I was shaken up, and angry at Reggie, but by this time, there was no question in my mind that Reggie was not going anywhere – I didn’t want him to – I was completely attached to Reggie.

I stopped feeding Toby and Reggie together for a while, but it was not long before I tried again. Thankfully, nothing like that surprise lunge ever happened again.

But, I never left them alone, either, at food time for the remainder of Toby’s life.

Reggie has often surprised me, in a good way.

When Toby died – I was touched – and surprised – how much Reggie grieved for him, searching for Toby in all the usual places, and looking at me with sadness in his eyes. This went on for several days.

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Reggie circa August 2011

 

Reggie returned to his normally perky self in no time, but I never have forgotten that in the end, Reggie showed me how much he really did love Toby, and that he had bonded to him, in spite of their alpha male competitiveness.

If someone were to ask me, “What is your favorite thing about Reggie?” there is no question in my mind how to answer that. Although he doesn’t do it anymore, sadly, Reggie had the innate instinct, and ability,  to get himself revved up like the Road Runner (the cartoon character) when Audie and/or I teased him by trying to chase him, or even just pretending to go head to head by leaning down, as if we were going to pounce, reaching for his legs. In response, Reggie would lean forward, as if he were getting ready to pounce too, and then all of a sudden, off he’d go!

And when I say go, I mean gooooooooo!

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Image from Warner Bros. and Courtesy of Facebook images

 

He’d jump off the couch and speed down the hallway, in a flash, disappear for about 30 seconds, and then all of sudden, he’d whiz by us, full steam ahead, back into the room. He’d get more and more excited, to the point he’d trip over himself sometimes, spinning in circles two or three times, and then he was off! Like a little bullet, he’d tear off down the hallway again, out of sight, in a black blur. He’d go back and forth, several times, until he finally wore himself out and landed somewhere close by us.

All the while, we would laugh so hard, it was as if the whole condo filled with the sound of our belly laughter.

I never laughed harder, nor did I ever hear Audie laugh harder, than I did in those times – many, many times – over the years, in all three homes we lived in together.

We couldn’t help it. There was absolutely nothing funnier than Reggie when he got himself all worked up like that. It was so funny, in fact, that Audie and I would provoke him on purpose just so we could make ourselves laugh while watching him go, go, go!

Actually, I can’t remember anything that has made me laugh harder, time after time after time, in my entire life, than Reggie’s speedy Gonzalez routine. Hands down, when I look back on my years with Reggie, it is the thing about him that brought me the most joy, over and over again.

He never does it anymore. I have tried to get him excited and worked up to it, but he is just too tired, I think, or just is not feeling well.

The other day he did show interest in one of the plush squeaky toys I bought for him two Christmases ago – a reindeer – but after a couple of rounds of toss and retrieve, he got tired. Mostly, he just wants to rest nearby – nowadays, he sleeps a lot, for most of the day.

It is hard seeing how he is slowing down more and more each day.

Still, he has not lost his loving nature, and I’m thankful for that. He wags his tail when we meet people and still barks like the territorial protector that he is when the doorbell rings. And don’t even tell me about how bent out of shape he gets when he spots one of the neighbor’s outdoor cats wandering around our driveway or in the front yard. He does not bark at the TV as much as he used to, but he did let Sully, George H.W. Bush’s service dog, have it, when I was watching the dignitaries pay their respects to Bush 41 at the Capitol on CSPAN.

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Reggie cuddled with Lizzie back in Seattle circa 2007-08

This past week, I broke down and posted a GoFundMe fundraiser to help me pay for his colonoscopy tomorrow. I really did not want to ask for help, but I need it in this case, with no money coming in for several months and so much money going out for bills that I never expected this year, on top of my usual medical expenses and necessities. My friends urged me to try it because people post GoFundMe fundraisers for just about everything, they said, even if they just need to fix their car, or want to do something much smaller than trying to save their dog’s life.

I knew it would expose my vulnerabilities to put myself out on the Internet publicly in this way, so I hemmed and hawed about it for over a month.

Finally, last week, I looked at my situation and the reality slap left a sting and a nasty red mark on my cheek.

I decided to give it a try. So many people, near and far, local and long-distance, love Reggie and always ask about him, what could it hurt to try?

I told myself, Reggie is the one thing in my life I do not feel guilty about reaching out to others for assistance with, because God knows, he’s worth it. He’s the sweetest, most loving creature, and I can’t imagine losing him anytime soon. There is no way to help him if I don’t know what’s wrong – and whatever is wrong with him, is not going to be inexpensive to fix.

I’ve prepared myself already for the worst case scenario – and what I’d want to do about it, or at least, what I think is best for Reggie.

He also has a heart murmur and he has been very stressed and anxious. I don’t want to put him through major surgery, or chemotherapy, I really don’t. Dr. Clifton said palliative care is an option for a little while, if it’s cancer, because he currently isn’t showing any signs that he cannot have more time with quality of life.

If his cheerful greetings and wagging tail when people come up to pet him is any indication, I definitely agree with Dr. Clifton. Not to mention, he still loves people food, albeit he’s had it with the hydrolyzed protein kibble – wants nothing to do with it lately. (Thankfully Dr. Clifton said to let him eat what he wants until the procedure since we don’t know what is wrong with him, let him enjoy what he’s eating.  “He has to eat to live,” she said.

And, he really wasn’t eating, sometimes for 2 days, so that was that – he got a free pass to eat white meat ground turkey and ground beef and a little bit of apple and pumpkin. (I dare not give him anything else).

A few days ago, I was reminded, again, to be grateful for all the little things and all the small acts of kindness in the world.

In this case, it was owing to the kindness of a stranger.

Reggie was sitting by my feet at Jittery Joe’s while I was editing a story for the Slackpole and he was either in pain, or cold, I’m not sure which. It has been so cold in Athens lately, it probably was the cold. I tried putting him on my lap and it helped a little, but he kept shaking, mostly by his rear end, which worries me – he does that a lot lately and I’m not sure if it’s related to his intestinal problems.

A lady who looked to be in her 60s approached me to pet Reggie and noted how cold he was, in a nice way of course, she was just concerned.

“I forgot his coat at home,” I told her. (Audie bought him a beautiful brown winter coat several years ago and he looks very handsome wearing it).

“Ohhh,” she replied sympathetically.

She left after a bit and I went on with my business.

About ten minutes passed, give or take, and the woman came back, handed me a green argyle dog sweater with a snowflake pattern, and said, “Here.”

I was floored.

“Keep it,” she said, “Merry Christmas.”

And then, just like that, she left as I thanked her profusely.

I put the sweater on Reggie right away.

It fit perfectly.

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Reggie’s new sweater

 

He doesn’t even seem to mind it, and he usually hates wearing doggie clothes, except for the coat that Audie bought for him.

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Reggie’s brown winter coat

 

It’s been a long two months waiting for this appointment tomorrow, and they said it might snow, but I think it’s going to be okay, and that we’ll be able to get to the clinic in the morning.  It felt like this day would never come, and now in 24 hours, it will be over with.

Hopefully, I’ll know Reggie’s diagnosis very soon.

In the meantime, he is resting by my feet under the dining room table, and he looks so peaceful. I hope there aren’t any complications – they said he would probably have some cramping and more gas and…more for me to clean up….if you know what I mean…but otherwise I am not sure what to expect for the aftercare. I do know that Reggie is in good hands, and Dr. Barker’s kindness and confidence has been very reassuring.

I know I’m doing the right thing, that’s what’s important.

It’s so strange when I think of Reggie and me.  I know I’ve said this before, but it comes into my head so often these days when he’s cuddling up next to me in bed, or nestling in my lap, or sitting by me near the Christmas tree, or riding with me in the car, or just about any time he comes up as close as he can get to me, looking at me with those amazing saucer-size brown eyes.

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Christmas 2018

Nine years ago, give or take two weeks, I didn’t even know Reggie, except in pictures. I almost did not keep him, twice, right before, and right after, he first came to live with me.

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Reggie and Lizzie in the dog bed behind the pet gate, circa December 2009

 

I was second-class human for years; Audie was his person, period, unless I was the only human in the house, and even then, he never climbed into my lap to get as close to me as possible like he did with Audie.

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Audie with Reggie in his lap at University City Starbucks, Thanksgiving 2011

 

I used to tease Audie that Reggie only wanted me when he was not home, and Audie used to tease me back about how Reggie liked males best, especially him. Often Reggie would not obey me at all if Audie was home, and sometimes not even when Audie wasn’t home. When he climbed up onto Audie and put his paws on Audie’s shoulders and stuck his head right up to Audie’s face, trying to kiss him, I knew, that was it, I was definitely #2. In fact, sometimes Reggie would give me this look like, “Don’t come near him, he’s mine.”

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Lizzie and Reggie climbing on Audie, circa 2012

 

I laugh about it now. Everything is always bittersweet in hindsight after it’s gone.

Reggie does remind me of Toby in some ways, especially how he likes to kiss my face for a long time. I should not let him do it, but it is really comforting and makes me happy. When I really think about it, Reggie is very much like Toby.

But, Reggie deserves his own place in my heart, and he has more than sealed that deal. He always will have as much a piece of my heart as the other two (Lizzie and Toby) did, and in some ways, being just the two of us, he has an even bigger piece of it.

And he always will.

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Our Christmas portrait, December 2018

 

Dedicated to: Reggie “Reggwood” Roberts who has completely stolen my heart.

 

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Reggie Roberts circa December 2009

 

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Reggie Roberts circa December 2018

If you happen to see this blog post, in the next few days, and want to donate to the GoFundMe for Reggie, here is the link:

https://www.gofundme.com/my-dog-reggie-needs-a-colonoscopy-on-december-10?fbclid=IwAR1VHIqjmegopAk_tbkIX_9do2pcdTV2ge2gdWQFSomps4MQK1hB3LHF8kQ

 

 

Athens, Georgia, Dogs, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Mental health, San Diego, California

Three Times the Gratitude

It’s easy to be grateful when life gives you lemonade instead of lemons. That sounds cheesy, doesn’t it? I just made that up – I like the saying: when life gives you lemons, turn it into lemonade. It works, and I’ve recently been reminded by one of my best, most honest friends: “Jill, you are the most resilient person I’ve ever known.” (Thus, my home page header with the Emerson quote on perseverance).

The point is that gratitude can take work, effort and willpower if life consistently gives you lemons, and it’s even more challenging if you are born with DNA cells made up of lemons instead of the proverbial lemonade.

I fully admit that I have much to be grateful for, even in this dark time in my life, darker than most, actually.  Contrary to what people believe, fighting negativity takes work if you are not born with a brain filled with the “feel-good” chemicals reproducing themselves without drugs, exercise, meditation, or a charmed life filled with endless good luck. And, if you grew up in a nuclear family with healthy boundaries and strong role models, mixed with a lot of love and laughter (no family is “normal” or “perfect” but some come pretty close) then your cup of lemonade will forever runneth over.

For the rest of us, we have to work at it, constantly, every day.  Not because we don’t have an inherent love of life (I do), or gravitate toward the silver linings in the clouds (I do), but only because life handed me (and millions like me) a deck with several of the key cards missing – and just ask my grandma who taught me all I know about card games – you can’t play the game the right way without a full deck of cards.

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Grandma and me circa September 2003

The game of life is very similar to a game of cards.

Back in 2006 when I lived in Santa Barbara, California for a brief time, I took a class through the city’s free continuing education program called, “Coping with Grief and Loss.”

It was one of the best things I ever did and it cost only $5 for 12 weeks.

Marilyn Grosboll, one of the most inspirational and insightful motivational speakers/social workers I’ve ever had the good luck to encounter, taught the interactive workshop. (I also took her other class, “Building Self-Esteem,” which was another gem).

Marilyn recommended the book, Life After Loss, as a companion to the material in the class. I read it that summer and it delivered what she promised it would.

The other day I dug that book out of my boxes of old books. It’s time to re-read it.

But, I’m a slow reader these days…so…in the meantime…I’m refocusing on the main lesson I learned from Marilyn’s class: wake up every day and go to bed every night writing down three things you are grateful for that day, and keep them in a journal. When the grief hits you so hard you can’t breathe (that happens to me a lot lately), go back to the journal and re-read what you have written. Say it aloud. If you think of more to add, write those down, too – even if it’s not first thing in the morning or bedtime.

I remember the doctor I was working with at the time said to me, coincidentally, “Some people are born with a natural joy for living. They feel happy every day, no matter what happens to them.”

Must be nice. I wonder if they take that for granted. I hope not. That would be something to be incredibly grateful for – the world would be a peaceful place if everyone felt that inner peace and happiness 24/7, would it not? I bet that it would and people would have much less to fight over.

I remember I felt insulted at the time, or criticized, at least, by what he said, in the context of our conversation which centered around why my depression was not getting better and why I couldn’t just pull myself out of it.  Yes, doctors who treat depression, or some, at least, have that attitude about their patients. When the people who are professionally trained to treat the illness judge you, that’s pretty messed up. And it makes it harder to get well – note to the mental health professionals. It sure doesn’t help the stigma, either.

But, thirteen years later, I’m grateful that he said that. Yes, it’s true. I am. Because it gives me perspective now: there’s nothing wrong with me that isn’t wrong with most of us. The majority of people do not fall into this category of “Pollyanna positivity” that is elusive to the rest of us.

The majority of us, to one degree or another, have to work at that inner peace and joy.

We have to remind ourselves to be grateful for the good things in our lives: past and present – and to be hopeful about the future.

I think based on what my friend said about my resilience (which I know is true), I fall somewhere in the middle on the spectrum of positivity: somewhere smack dab in the center in between severely depressed and pessimistic, and that 24/7 innate joy that nothing, and no one, can put asunder.

In other words, I’m your average human being.

Not black or white, but many shades of gray, or I prefer, rainbow colors – they’re much prettier, and who doesn’t love all the colors of the rainbow?

Off the top of my head, as I sit down to write this week’s post, a plethora of things to be grateful for come to mind for me, and since I haven’t been writing in my gratitude journal the last 12 years, I have some major catching up to do. Though, I’d like to be more creative here – rather than list the obvious (my innate gifts, family members, home) – it’s a good time for me to reflect on some of the small, and large, moments in my past that I’m grateful for, and especially for the mountains I have already overcome. (On a recent episode of “Mom,” Marjorie had a great line: “When we look at the mountains ahead of us, we forget all the mountains we’ve already overcome.”)

So here goes…

I am grateful for:

In September 1990, I bought a $1 raffle ticket for free parking on campus and a reserved parking space in the parking lot closest to Muir College residence halls for the entire school year at UCSD. Out of thousands of students, I won that raffle.  With a single $1 ticket.

 

On January 5, 2011, our dog, Reggie (yes, the one I blog about so often), ran away. We left the front door open (unbeknownst to us) while we were preoccupied and just like that, he was gone. We searched in the dark for several hours, but we didn’t find him and we lived near a busy road…the next morning we put up flyers that we created the night before, but no one had seen him.

19 hours after we realized Reggie was missing, Audie got a call from the vet in Washington that the PetSmart in LaJolla had contacted them from the microchip company (Chip your pets!). Someone had found Reggie the night before and took him into PetSmart but Audie had not registered him in San Diego yet (easy thing to forget about, trust me) so it took them longer to locate the owner. At first, they called Addie, his ex-girlfriend, whom Reggie’s chip was still registered to in Seattle. Long story short, we got Reggie back. A couple of nice students had “Lucky” (his original name, not changed either with the chip company) and kept him safe and sound overnight in their apartment, just a few blocks from our condo! He didn’t get that far, thank goodness.

Audie gave them a $200 reward (he’s always been a very generous person, I love that about him) and our contact information so they could visit Reggie when they wanted to. They were very grateful – they had already bought him a bunch of toys and dog food from PetSmart. I felt bad for them, I knew how they felt. They were so excited to have a dog. We did hear from them once more, about four weeks later, to tell us that they adopted their own dog. So in a way, maybe Reggie did a mitzvah by running away: spending one night taking care of him motivated the students to give another rescue dog a forever family.

On July 1, 2015, I tried to change lanes on Oconee Street near downtown Athens, GA, but  I didn’t see the black Lincoln Continental in my blind spot. I sideswiped their car in the right lane and then pulled back into the left lane as soon as I hit the Lincoln.

I was sick about it. It was such a stupid thing and I had a perfect driving record. I felt my body go numb as I drove to the Church’s Fried Chicken parking lot a block or so down the street, followed by the Lincoln. As I parked the car, I felt faint. I couldn’t think straight – it must have been panic – panic attacks do that to me. I don’t sweat, I get lightheaded and feel faint and it’s a scary feeling. I sat in the car for about 10 minutes. Finally, I exited the car and a young girl (probably a UGA student) was waiting for me, leaning on her car.

I apologized I don’t know how many times, and of course, admitted it was my fault. Showed her my license and insurance – we all know the drill.

And then, something amazing happened. Never happened to me in California, that’s for sure.

She looked at my car, and at her car, and told me most of the damage was on my end and her car looked fine.

“Let me call my dad and ask him, okay?”

“Take your time,” I answered. (I was afraid to look at the damage on the right side of my car just yet, so I took her word for it).

She took a few minutes to call her dad while I waited by the undamaged side of my car.

When she came back to talk to me she said, “It’s okay. My dad said it’s fine to let it go since there’s no damage.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I was at fault. Are you sure you’re okay with that?” (I really couldn’t believe anyone would be so nice about it. Anytime I had a fender bender in a parking lot in Los Angeles or San Diego, people were out for blood, even if there was barely a scratch, much less a dent).

“Yes, my dad said it’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

“Thank you!” I said. “You are very kind.”

She smiled and left. I walked over to my car at that point and saw that I had paint damage and a pretty deep dent above my right front tire.

But, I could breathe easier again.

I’m still in disbelief to this day as I write about it.

And…extremely grateful to that young lady and her dad for their kindness.

Ha! Even as I am writing these three memories I am grateful for, the feel-good chemicals are buzzing in my head!

Marilyn’s right. Gratitude uplifts us when we are grieving.

And helps turn those sour lemons into sweet, delicious lemonade.

lemonade

Athens, Georgia, Christmas, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Writing

My Grown-Up Christmas List

 

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For the first five years of my life, my dad and my mom celebrated Christmas in our house – it was such an integral part of my early childhood that I never got over my love of Christmas, no matter how much my Jewish identity said I should not want or need a Christmas tree, or decorations around the house, or Christmas carols, or the same Christmas classic movies year after year.

But it didn’t matter what anyone said, not my college boyfriend, not his family (I adored them), not my step-family, conservative Jews from New York, whom I loved, not my fellow Jews in the Jewish Federation Young Adults Group – I loved Christmas – everything about the season makes me feel happiness, joy, and full of life – no matter how old I get, or what is happening in my life year after year.

It is not hard to understand when I watch the home movies from my early life before Mom and Dad divorced, with Nana and Pop-Pop, Uncle Randy and my cousin, Carly, my dog, Misty, and my Aunt Lynn, and all the presents and lights and beautiful colors everywhere around us. Everyone smiling and a house filled with people.

After Mom and Dad divorced, my dad did convince my stepmom to let us have a Christmas tree a couple of times, and we had presents on Christmas morning and Santa Clause and it was wonderful, but that did not last long.

After that time, and throughout all these years,  I have spent most Christmases alone.

When I was a teenager, my family did not approve of me bringing my love of Christmas into the shared spaces of the house, but they did not stop me from decorating my own bedroom. Until I left to go to college, I had to keep my Christmas celebrations, including Christmas music, to myself.

In college, my roommates went home to Northern California to be with their families. But, every year, we put up an artificial Christmas tree in the living room of the house we shared. When I was alone during those winter breaks,  I used to love listening to  Christmas music for hours while I lay on the couch, reading romance novels and admiring our tree decorated in large multi-colored bulbs.

After graduating from college I lived in various roommate situations in San Diego where we always had a Christmas tree, but it was often not my own tree – the landlady decorated it or I shared it with other roommates.

I didn’t mind at the time, but I did look forward to living on my own and picking out my own Christmas tree one day and decorating the whole house with my own Christmas decorations that I picked out myself. I had a favorite place to find them: the Curie Craft Fair in University City – every year on the first Saturday of November.

I was thinking just the other day – I miss the Curie Craft Fair so much.

Believe it or not, it was not until 2007 that my wish came true. I moved into the Grayson’s condo, and the rental had vaulted ceilings and the unit had enough space overall that I could finally not only have my own full-sized Christmas tree (not just the little grocery store tabletop ones), but I also finally had space for all the Christmas knickknacks I had bought from the vendors at the Curie Craft Fair over the last 7 years.

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It was a dream come true. And I had Toby with me, too. So I wasn’t really alone.

Two years later, my other lifelong dream came true. My boyfriend, Audie Roberts, proposed to me on Christmas Eve under a different Christmas tree, at the Hotel Del Coronado.

Every Christmas dream I had ever had came true that Christmas Eve in 2009.

 

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Audie and I in front of the Xmas Tree at Hotel Del Coronado after he proposed
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Wearing my engagement ring atop Audie’s hand

 

The following year, Audie and I got married, and we held our wedding reception on December 28th, which was my grandparents’ wedding anniversary.  It was also a dream of mine.

That was a long time ago. It feels like a lifetime that never really happened at all.

Everything is so different now.

This year, Lizzie is gone. Audie has moved on with his life. And Christmas dreams are a thing of the past, a past that does not feel real to me anymore, except the photographs remind me it really happened.

It was real, for a little while.

I wasn’t sure I would want a Christmas tree this year, or to put up decorations, for just me…and Reggie.

The house feels so empty, even filled with all of the Christmas decorations that I have more than enough space for, and the 7-8 foot tree that is so tall it reaches high up to the ceiling.

decorated tree

I knew this Christmas would be the hardest one of my life to date, but I was not prepared for the depth of the sadness I feel – I never imagined with a lifetime full of happiness at Christmastime that I could feel such loneliness, such grief and loss.

It does not feel like Christmas.  And I wonder, will I ever feel joy at Christmas again?

I hope I will, but right now, it is hard to imagine that the bittersweet reminder of Audie getting down on one knee that night and asking,  “Will you marry me, sweetheart?” will ever stop hurting.

When I was a little girl, I always made a Christmas list of all the toys I wanted: Barbie Dolls and Mattel toys and books and so many other things, like every child, there were so many things I wanted.

This year, I have a grown-up Christmas list.

I wish for my heart to heal.

I wish to feel happiness and joy at Christmas again.

I wish to be able to trust in love again.

I wish for Audie and I to be friends again, if nothing else.

I wish for Audie to look back on me with love, not with hate.

I wish for Reggie to get well and to be with me for a few more Christmases, at least.

I wish for all the children separated from their families to be reunited.

I wish for all the seniors who are cold, hungry and alone to have warmth, food and companionship.

I wish for all the people who have lost homes to fires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes to find new homes again.

I wish for us all to pull together to stop the advance of climate change.

I wish for all the children who are sick to be cured.

I wish for homeless dogs and cats to be rescued.

I wish for an end to child abuse and animal abuse forever.

I wish for the women to be believed.

I wish for good health care to be available to everyone.

I wish for military families to be reunited at the holidays.

I wish for people in this country to stop hating each other for our differences and to love each other for our common humanity.

I wish to feel true love again.

Most of all, I wish for forgiveness, for me, for Audie, and for everyone who seeks it from those they’ve wronged.

Because we’re all human. We all make mistakes. And we all deserve to be remembered, and loved, for the good in us, and for the happiness we once gave to those we love.

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Audie and me in front of another Christmas tree in the hotel after we got engaged on 12/24/09.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACLU, American Disabilities Act, Athens, Georgia, Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, San Diego, California

“He Doesn’t Look Like a Service Dog…”

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Reggie at Epps Bridge Jittery Joes Coffee House

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. § 12101) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964,[1] which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. In addition, unlike the Civil Rights Act, the ADA also requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.[2]

Yesterday, I had an experience that irked me to no end. I should not be surprised it happened, but frankly, I am. Because Athens, Georgia is a small town, and people like the proprietor of the establishment where this incident occurred, are the litigious type, I will call her “Vivian,” rather than use her real name. I will refer to her coffee house as “V’s Place,” although that is not the actual name of the business, either. That way, if anyone who reads this should happen to figure out where, or whom, I am talking about, no one can claim I defamed anyone’s reputation. In fact, as much as I am tempted to, I’m not even going to give her one of those “eeeek” one-star reviews on Yelp.

Last month, I lost my dog, Lizzie, and because Reggie, my surviving Frenchie pug, is now alone, I felt it was time to do what I’d been talking with my doctors about doing for over a year. Two of my doctors, not one, two, wrote me a letter designating Reggie as my Emotional Support Animal, meaning he is a service animal who is allowed to accompany me in public establishments that normally would not allow dogs inside the business.

Georgia has slightly different standards for Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) than California does, but according to one of my doctors, the only real difference I need to worry about is airlines. I always fly Southwest when I go back to San Diego and I know there is no problem there, but it is good information, nonetheless.

In any case, I will have to look up the nuances of the law, in relation to the American Disabilities Act, but in general, all I need is the letters I have from my doctors. Since the designation is recent, I have not had the chance to acquire an official service animal jacket or card for Reggie, but the doctors told me if anyone asks, the letters are legally sufficient.

In California, business owners are not even allowed to ask what my disability is, and I heard that the laws are such that they cannot even ask if Reggie is a service dog, although, out of consideration for people like me who do have legitimate service animals (no peacocks here), I prefer to cooperate and show the letter. I am not offended by them asking because the whole issue with airlines now arose from people abusing the privilege of bringing their exotic and/or unruly pets on crowded airlines.

The difficulty of managing an “invisible disability” in the real world is different than the challenges of a visible one: a wheelchair, for example, is unquestionable. However, one of my dearest friends, whom I met in my chronic illness support group, has shared many of the frustrations of having to deal with people and businesses, even hotels, who are not abiding by the ADA’s requirements for accessibility for wheelchairs and other apparatuses needed by people with physical handicaps of one kind or another.

My medical disabilities are 100 percent invisible, and in most cases, the millions of people like me who are battling a long-term chronic health condition are walking around with the same facade of appearing “normal.” I hate that word, but I don’t know how else to describe the difference between “them” (the non-disabled) and “us” (the disabled) because the phrase we most often hear is, “You look fine.” In fact, there is a book called, Just Fine, that talks about this whole battle with the rest of the world’s misperception that we look fine, so therefore we must feel fine.

Now that I’ve piqued your curiosity, you are probably wondering what happened yesterday afternoon, Saturday, November 10, 2018, when I met my friends and writing colleagues at “V’s Place” to talk about our upcoming AWA open mic event at Normal Books, and to hang out and talk about life in general.

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer.

When we walked into the small coffee and dessert shop, there were no other patrons in the place. There was a long counter with stools and a couple of seats by the wall. The owner, “Vivian,” looked at me, and at Reggie, and I automatically told her, “He’s a service dog. I have a letter.”  (I guess I could feel her negative energy so I preemptively alerted her to Reggie’s ESA status).

“I don’t allow dogs,” she curtly replied.

“He’s a service dog,” I told her again.

“He doesn’t look like a service dog.”

“I have a letter from my doctor. I can show it to you.”

“I don’t need to see the letter.”

My two friends suggested we go somewhere else, which was fine with me, but before we left, I asked “Vivian” if I could use the restroom. (I really had to go, you know how that is, ladies).

Then, get this, “Vivian” said to me, “We don’t have public restrooms.”

I replied, “We were going to be customers.”  (I think I shocked her a bit with that one because she lied and said, “We don’t have indoor seating anyway”). As if that matters in a coffee house. We could have bought a cup of coffee to go for all she cared.

I was livid on the inside, but calm.

I wasn’t done with “Vivian” yet. You see, unbeknownst to her, I’m friends with her best friend, and I’d met “Vivian” a few years ago at this friend’s birthday.

“Vivian” obviously didn’t remember me.

“You’re friends with Allison (name has been changed) right?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Yes,” she replied, a bit taken aback.

“I’m friends with Allison, too,” I said. “I met you before, at her birthday party a few years ago.”

“Vivian” looked like she didn’t know what to say. She may have said something like, “Huh,” or “Oh,” but who cares.

I made my point.

“Have a nice day,” I said as we left and she said some fake cordial goodbye as well.

The worst part of this was the embarrassment in front of my writing colleagues and friends, but they were absolutely cool about it, and I’m grateful. I always worry here in the South about coming across too bluntly, but I am glad my friends respected that I stood up to her, and did not simply back down.

For what it’s worth, folks, “Vivian” was breaking the law.

Yes, that’s right. The American Disabilities Act of 1990 is the law of the land.

If I wanted to be a real b**ch, I could file a lawsuit, that’s how serious a violation of the ADA this incident was – I had a letter, she refused to even look at it, and asked us to leave.

That’s against the law.

Even my friends were shocked that she refused to look at the letter.

So, I could go to the media. I could “lawyer up.” I could take this case as far as it might go.

And, since I have two witnesses, she’d have no case.

Fortunately, for “Vivian,” my life is so complicated right now that I don’t feel the need to do that…

Yet.

One of the hardest things about the last two years, for me personally, was seeing the Congress “gut” the American Disabilities Act. Even the democrats got on board with it.

Even my former democratic congressman from San Diego got on board with it, and that made me sick to my stomach.

I don’t want to use my blog to get political, so I will stop here, on that note, but please understand, from a human perspective, how seeing your civil rights stripped away, rights you depend on, can take a toll on your sense not only of justice, but of safety.

For the first time in a long time, I felt truly vulnerable in this country, and in this world. And I hate this feeling.

Right now, Reggie and I are hanging out in Walker’s Pub in downtown Athens where they not only allow service dogs, but all dogs, according to the ladies working behind the bar.

I always liked Walker’s. They have awesome soy lattes anyway.

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Reggie under the table at Walker’s Pub and Coffee

Reggie is a little scared, because it is more crowded and noisy than he’s used to, but I’m still working on the kinks of bringing him out into the world on a regular basis.

He likes it, a lot.

In fact, I think he loves it.

People just adore him, and, I think it is not only helping him to bond to me as “his human,” I think it is helping him to heal.

For, the recent events in our lives have hurt Reggie as much as they have hurt me. Probably more so, because he cannot understand what happened.

I’ve written about this before so I need not repeat it, but yes, dogs do grieve losses just like people grieve, in their own ways, in their own time.

(Right now, people are coming up to me to ask to pet Reggie, he’s feeling better. This is the best part of having a dog, being able to meet people, nice people, dog people.)

I realize by training Reggie to be my ESA, bringing him out into the big, bad world, I’m inviting people like “Vivian” to get in my face (not that she was that bad, it could have been a lot worse, it’s the principle of it that makes me angry).

I think I better get used to it. She was probably just the warm-up.

For, people with disabilities, people who are different, people who push the envelope, like myself, are always going to face people like “Vivian.” We always are going to have to justify who we are, what we stand for, and why we have the same rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the “normal,” non-disabled folks who do not need service animals, for any reason.

Aren’t they the lucky ones.

Although, I wouldn’t trade Reggie for anything, not even the chance to be “normal.”

reggieblanket

 

Athens, Georgia, Dogs, San Diego, California

What Happens in the Aftermath

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Toby and me in UTC, one of our favorite places to walk, in 2006

There is a sad irony in today’s date: a date I have celebrated annually for 17 years:

October 20, 2001, I adopted my first rescue dog: Toby “Tob-er” Hartmann.

And, a week ago, today, I said goodbye to my precious rescue pug: Lizzie “Lizzie Bear” Roberts.

Toby is buried in the Memory Garden for Pets in Bishop, Georgia, about 15 minutes from my home. When asked why I chose to bury Toby in a pet memorial park instead of cremating him, which is easiest if you move around, I replied, “I could not bear the thought of them burning his body. I just couldn’t.”

At that time in my life, I was not able to think about pragmatism or logistics. All I could tune into was the feeling of losing my first dog. For years, I had been in denial, playing this mind game with myself. Just this morning, an acquaintance of mine said to me, “My dog is never going to die. Maggie is going to live forever.”

I know that game. I played it with Toby. I played it all year with Lizzie.

I know I will play it with Reggie, too.

We can’t help it.

It’s called true, uninhibited, unconditional love.

How do you say goodbye to that?

What I have been telling my friends, my wonderful, kind-hearted, dog-loving friends, all week is that after having gone through it a second time last Saturday, I have found that although it was not easier the second time, I learned something –  something that I’m grateful for, something that has given me some small semblance of peace all week:

When you see your dog suffering, and you know there is nothing you can do to stop his or her suffering, except to say goodbye, you will find the strength to let them go, because you’d rather suffer the grief yourself than watch them suffer the pain they are going through…I promised my dear friend, Jennie, whose first rescue dog has crossed that point into senior dog years… that when it’s time, you will find the strength to do the right thing, because you love Baxter so much, you will not be able to bear seeing him suffer.

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Lizzie and Reggie are ready to go for a drive circa October 2018

The new normal, the empty spaces, are not as easy to bear. But, just like with Toby, I am finding a way to bear it.

I have not been able to touch, much less move, or sort through, any of Lizzie’s things yet. Everything remains exactly where I left it a week ago when I rushed her to Hope Animal Medical Center, with Reggie in tow.

Eventually, I will go through her medications and her food and her toys, one by one, because there are other dog owners out there, who are not as fortunate as I have been, who cannot afford all the things I’ve been able to do to keep Lizzie alive as long as I did…just as I did with Toby…and I know I will do it again…and again…and again….

I do not think I can ever let go of Lizzie’s favorite beanbag (which was once in my classroom for the kids to lounge on), or her favorite chew toy, or her crate, or her dog bed, or her stroller. I know Reggie will eventually want to snuggle in her bed, or sit in her crate, all the things he used to do when she wasn’t paying attention, as a sign of sibling rivalry, so to speak. Someday when Reggie’s legs do not work as well, or if he, too, loses his eyesight, that stroller will allow me to take him everywhere with me, just as I did with Lizzie.

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Lizzie on the beanbag she loves so much.

Really, I want to keep everything of Lizzie’s as a sort of shrine, but the right thing to do is to pay it forward, and help other dogs in need.

I have been lucky: the first two times I had to say goodbye to my beloved dogs, respectively, I had to pull myself out of my own sadness, my own emptiness, immediately, because I had other dogs, or in this case, another dog, Reggie, who needed me to be there for them.

I can’t afford to fall apart. I have to keep going, for Reggie, who has taken a backseat to Lizzie’s medical crises since late September, even as he has a medical crisis of his own that I refuse to put off dealing with any longer.

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Reggie in Bishop Park circa late 2016

 

Reggie needs an expensive colonoscopy, and after losing Lizzie, I decided: I’m not waiting anymore. It’s been a year already. I’m not losing another dog, not now.

Dr. Clifton has done all the traditional things, the conservative things, that she can try: all the scans, all the lab work, the meds, the change in food to a hydrolyzed protein, everything – the only way to diagnose Reggie’s gastric condition now is a colonoscopy.

I feel confident, and at peace, with that decision: I’ll figure out the money later.

I always do.

Having any peace at a time like this, the first week after, is some comfort – I’ve been told by many people that making a difficult decision, no matter how it plays out in the future, automatically lifts the weight off of your chest.

I definitely notice that peace with moving forward with Reggie’s treatment – no matter what.

Partly, I feel guilty, about what happened to Lizzie…maybe there was something I could have done, and the doubts are sinking in again, much like they did with Toby the first week after I lost him 7 years ago.

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Lizzie had a cough when I took her to Hope on Monday, October 1st, but her trachea(airway) was open. Her lungs were not great, but they were definitely clear of any sign of pneumonia.

I was on pins and needles, not knowing what Dr. Clifton would find in the tests, thinking this might be the end, but I was spared that pain that day.

Hydrocodone and the low dosage of Prednisone did the trick…for a little while.

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Lizzie in her stroller waiting for her Hydrocodone at Oconee Drugs Pharmacy

Her cough improved significantly over the next 2 days, and I honestly thought that she was in the clear: crisis averted.

But, on Wednesday night, October 3rd, Reggie, who has always been a sensitive dog, and who often gets jealous, without any immediate provocation, suddenly attacked Lizzie when I lifted her onto the bed with us. It happened so fast: when Reggie lunged at her, I pulled him away from her neck in less than 10 seconds, but she was hyperventilating and gasping and coughing for several minutes afterward.

The damage had been done.

It’s not Reggie’s fault. He feels lost and confused and abandoned – his human, his daddy, is not here with him, and he does not know why, even though I tell him all the time that his daddy loves him, and he will see him again, and that his daddy has not left him.

Reggie does not understand – I can see his broken heart in his eyes as I pet him. It’s almost as if he’s crying, without tears, behind those big, sad, brown eyes.

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Reggie loves these blankets on the bed.

When Reggie is upset, or jealous, or feels threatened, he sometimes acts out. He did it with Toby, in San Diego, a few times. And he’s done it with Lizzie, too – more than a few times in the last several years.

I have no way of knowing for certain what triggered Lizzie’s rapid decline. The vet cannot tell me for certain, either.

But, after that night, Lizzie’s cough got much, much worse, and on Monday, October 8th, after living through a second difficult weekend of waiting, the X-rays confirmed that Lizzie’s trachea had collapsed, again, her airway was closed up, and her lungs were filled with fluid – she had  pneumonia, and I thought: she must have aspirated when her throat closed from the attack, or more likely, during her panic in the aftermath of it.

Within a span of five days – or less – everything changed.

It’s not about fault, or blame –  but it is about doubt.

I honestly thought Lizzie was doing so well all year, that she could make it all the way through the holiday season. I felt filled with hope that I’d spend another Thanksgiving and Christmas, maybe even New Year’s, with both of my dogs.

It’s hard to avoid that denial, that mind game, we dog owners play with ourselves. She’d cheated death, and gained so much quality of life, in the last 7 months, that I’d stopped recognizing her true age of 16 years, and I only saw the energetic, happy, alert and resilient “miracle baby” that lit up every moment of my life every day.

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Riding together in the backseat of their daddy’s car circa 2017

 

Knowing that we had all this extra time with her, just one day short of 7 months’ extra time, has comforted me, and yet…

I still have that doubt, that nagging doubt….

What if their daddy had been here?

What if Reggie hadn’t attacked her on October 3rd?

It’s not fair to do this to myself, and every time it comes up, I push the doubt away, because I know, that I’ll never know.

And even if I did, it would not change the fact that Lizzie is no longer with us.

When Toby died, 7 years ago, I received many cards from friends and loved ones, and from Governor Animal Clinic, his dermatologist at VSH Hospital, and of course, from Dr. Ford, his internal medicine specialist at VCA hospital.

To this day, I have never opened any of them.

(To my friends, who sent them to me, I do still have them, in sealed envelopes, please forgive me).

In all these years, every time I start to pull them out, I put them back again, unopened.

I have not been able to.

I think that for me, it is a sign that the pain is so great, the grief is so frightening to feel, that I can’t read the cards – on some level, they have always represented the proof that Toby left this world – and facing that is different than sitting with it, and truly feeling it.

I have been thinking, today, the anniversary of the day that Toby came into my life, and the one-week mark since Lizzie’s passing, that it may be time.

It’s time that I read those cards.

Today, when I celebrate the life Toby and I shared, is the time.

When I go to Toby’s grave, I am going to bring the cards with me. I am going to open the envelopes, take out the beautiful condolence cards, and read them aloud – to Toby.

I am going to celebrate the life Toby and I began together, 17 years ago. And I know he is still there, right there, with me, wrapped in his favorite blue paisley blanket, with the shirt I placed beside him in the casket, that shirt I proudly wore, the pink beaded shirt with the huge red heart that says, “I ‘heart’ my dog.”

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Toby and me in our 1-bedroom condo circa 2007

And, in a way, maybe Lizzie’s passing, after 7 years of being afraid of it, has given me what I’ve needed to fully feel the grief of losing Toby.

I don’t know if that’s the ultimate gift, but I do know that Lizzie’s strength has given me strength every day that I’ve been her mom.

Maybe I will be able to do what I could not do in 2011.

Which is not to say I will forget Toby, much less stop thinking about him every day, even if just for a moment.

But, maybe, I can finally be at peace with why Toby died, and when he died…that doubt, those questions, have held me back from being at peace…all these years.

Everything I have been feeling today, and the past seven days, also tells me this: that grief is not linear.

Grief is personal.

Grief is private.

Grief is complicated.

Grief is universal.

Grief is human.

Without grief, we cannot love.

And without love, we are without life.

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My family of five: July 27, 2011

Reggie and I are starting over from scratch.

We are getting to know each other, again, after 9 years together, in a whole new way.

I’ve taken Reggie with me everywhere I can this week, not only because I need it, and he needs it, but because for both of our sakes, I need him to bond more closely with me.

Now, I know that Reggie is bonded to me, but not in the same way he is bonded to his daddy. Most dogs in a family of more than one human have their person, their human, their pack leader – and for Reggie – that human is Audie.

But, at the same time, I spent more time with both Reggie and Lizzie than Audie was able to – especially considering all of the time Audie spent traveling for conferences, both in and out of the country, on top of the long hours he worked every single day – even on weekends. During those times, when Audie was not home, Reggie has always wanted to be with me, Lizzie, too, of course, and it definitely helped that I usually was the one to give food and treats. And walks – this year Reggie and I have taken many walks together.

Unfortunately I cannot walk him as far as I’d like to in our subdivison. I took him for a walk yesterday for the first time in over a month.  I’ve missed it, and it made him so happy.

I do have to avoid the street that I now call, “Loose Dogs Lane,” so we took a shorter route, that still filled the need to get us out of the house, without having to get in the car.

Since I began taking Reggie with me around town all week, he has become very spoiled – and he deserves it. Now, when I do have to leave the house without him, he follows me all the way to the door, and gives me the saddest look when I tell him, “I’ll be back soon, Reg,” and “I’m sorry I can’t take you with me this time.”

I can’t wait to have him officially certified as my emotional support service dog so there will be nowhere that I can’t take him, and I will never have to leave him behind again.

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In the meantime, Reggie has been quite the dog about town in Athens. He’s been to Sipz and Starbucks and Five Below and Best Buy and Earth Fare and Marti’s at Midday Cafe and Robins Financial Credit Union and the list goes on…

Today, I took Reggie to Memory Garden for Pets to visit Toby’s grave, and to commemorate this special day, the 17th anniversary of the day I adopted Toby.

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Selfie I took of Reggie and me beside Toby’s grave in the pet memorial garden

I was 30 years old on that day, teaching Kindergarten in a low-income neighborhood school, and living in Murrieta, California.

And as you will read in my memoir, on this day 17 years ago, my life changed forever…

Reggie and Lizzie and Audie changed my life forever, too, and I long for the times, the happiest times in my life, when the five of us were a family in San Diego, looking forward to a lifetime together.

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Toby, Lizzie, Reggie, Audie and me in San Diego

 

Even though I knew the dogs would not live forever, I never thought of it that way. I remember those days, when Audie would take the three of them out walking in our gorgeous neighborhood around Capri condos, across the street from a beautiful park with waterfalls and ponds and ducks, and a nearby public library.  I could not even imagine life being any different, much less see life without our blended family of 3 dogs.

We met so many wonderful neighbors with our dogs, and of course, we always remembered the dogs’ names, not so much the people’s, or at least, not at first. But you’d be amazed how easy it is to make new friends when you have a dog, much less three of them. Last Sunday alone, I met four new people, two of whom had lived in San Diego before! Here in Georgia, 2500 miles away from San Diego, that is a crazy coincidence I did not expect.

It reminded me of the days when it was just Toby and me. People would come up to me all the time and ask to pet Toby.

Everyone wanted to do that with Reggie, too. It was especially funny at Sipz. Reggie was on the patio, waiting for me, and I could see a young girl, a student, eyeing him and trying to get his attention. I was watching from inside and I smiled, thinking about myself, and how much I love to pet dogs, any dog, I meet.

I opened the door between the store and the patio and told her, “It’s okay you can pet him, he loves people.”

He really does.

Yesterday, when Scott from Best Homes Gutter Cleaning drove up the driveway, Reggie got so excited, he ran out to the truck so fast: thank goodness I caught him!

It was the same when James, our pest control technician from American Pest Control, drove up on Tuesday morning. Except this time, I did not let Reggie out. When James parked the truck, I sighed, opened the door, closed it, walked up to his open car door, and told him, “She’s gone.”

He knew exactly what I meant. James had been one of the last people to see Lizzie alive the previous Thursday, October 11th, two days before she passed away.

It was raining that day, and James could not administer the mosquito treatment, so he came back 5 days later, only to find that Lizzie was no longer there to greet him with her wagging curly tail.

I was glad James came back, and even more glad that I could tell him in person. He’d been coming to treat our house for so long, and I knew he loved animals. His eyes were sorrowful, but kind, when he said, “I’m sorry. I’m glad I got to see her before she passed. I’m glad I got to see her for three years.”

I know I’m not done making calls, but the essential ones have been made: to Dr. Pentlarge, Lizzie’s ophthalmologist, for one. Three days later,  I received a beautiful card from them in the mail. Hope Animal Clinic sent one, also, that I received in the mail yesterday – and each one of the people who signed it had written their own individual note to me. I will treasure that card forever.

This time, I opened the envelopes and read both cards right away.

This time, I am not afraid to face the pain, and the grief, of losing my pet.

It is not any easier. But I am stronger.

And I’ve still got Reggie. He needs me. We need each other. And with all I’ve learned in the last 17 years, I know I will do right by him.

And just like with Toby, back in the days when it was just Toby and me, Reggie is going to get my undivided attention…and my unconditional love.

Because when it really comes down to it, nothing else in life matters more…than the people and pets you love.

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