I have said this one billion times before, joy is not ignoring reality, it’s about making the best of it. And in so many unlikely ways, we found joy this year.
I started off the year, not knowing if Doug would be here with me at the end of it. When Covid hit in March, amidst all the fear and uncertainty, a wish I’d had came true. I was working from home full time, in that year when I was not sure how long Doug would be here.
Pure joy, even in a pandemic.
As we moved into summer, our family got a baby! A reminder that even when the sky is falling, joy can sneak in.
Also, I had more time to work on Bob’s trust. And he’s finally eating in the garage, just in time for winter. I guess I have a cat now. Words I never thought I’d type!
Covid shifted some of my anxiety. As spring moved into summer, and we hit the 6-month mark of Doug having NCL, I realized he would outlive the initial 6-month timeframe. In fact, his disease was progressing so slowly, his medical team barely noticed much difference in him. That brought with it, room to breathe. And the moment I took that first deep breath, the human medical community was revealing that Covid causes blood clotting in patients without clotting conditions. I already clot too much. How would I ever survive a virus that causes more? So I worried less about Doug, and went into some hyperdrive on quarantine. I worked really hard on finding a balance. Rearranging my house and pantry ten billion times and continuing to celebrate life with Doug has helped!
I am lucky enough to still be working from home. I regularly don’t know what day it is. I can’t believe we are at the end of December. Doug was diagnosed over a year ago, and even though there is still almost 100% uncertainty about what will come, NCL does not rule our day. Joy continues to win.
The time I have been given with Doug, is a priceless treasure. When cancer flipped our lives upside down with Melvin, we only got 40 days. When cancer showed up again with Jake, we only got 5 months. Every single day with Doug is new and beautiful and unexpected and everything I could ever ask for.
2020 gave us the one thing we needed the most, time together.
Merry, merry! Happy, happy! With so much love, Me, Doug, and Bob! xoxo
Wow, it has been a hot minute since we’ve been on the blog! I just read our last post and I don’t think too much has changed.
Most of you know, I have a blood clotting condition, so I am in a pretty strict quarantine which means, so is Doug. The company I work for is still 100% work from home, so I have had so much glorious time with my boy. Would I like to be able to see more people and do more things, absolutely! But time with Doug is a beautiful outcome of this rather tragic predicament the world is in.
Since late April…
We went to the beach with my family! Everyone quarantined in advance because there is a newborn in the family so we were all able to come together safely at our beach house. And that included Doug! He was around small kids, 24/7, for the first time ever. We took it very slow, he had a gated off area at the beach house so he could see the chaos but not be the chaos. After a few days of seeing a 10, 6, and 2 year old run back and forth non-stop, he was pretty much oblivious to them. He was also fine with me holding a baby. The 10 year old already loves dogs but at the start of the vacation, the 6 year old was not a fan. She left vacation crying, because she was going to miss Doug so much. Further proof that Doug is irresistible.
Doug went into a pool for the first time! It wasn’t planned (although there was no danger), and at first he sunk. All we saw were his GIANT eyes as he wondered WTF was happening! My BIL was the lifeguard on duty and helped Doug learn to paddle. He got out of the pool and never got back in. Typical Holupka dog.
Health wise, Doug is doing, great! We saw the neurologist recently and she is amazed at how well he is doing. She even said that the first thing she sees in him is joy, not NCL. He has bad days but he always rebounds. A bad day might look like him falling over for a few seconds, his eyes rolling back in his head, or him being frozen for a few seconds. It might be him falling over each time he shakes. These might go on all day, but the next day is much better. A good day isn’t free of NCL, it’s just that he is able to travel through the day and navigate the disease. The only thing he can no longer do, is run fast. When he tries to run, his body doesn’t move on demand. So half of his body is running and the other half isn’t moving at all. He rarely tries to run anymore, and honestly after his leg surgeries, his running has never really been easy or smooth.
Doug’s disease is progressing slowly. This means that we can learn a lot from Doug and we can help other dogs and families that face this. So far, about six people have found us through google, based on my sharing Doug’s story. Not all of the dogs have as much access to great veterinary care, so we share everything we are doing with them so that they have the same info we do. Doug does some traditional supplements, some holistic Chinese herbs, and acupuncture. Hearing the neurologist say he is doing so much better than she expected, makes me celebrate all our efforts. But either way, he will always know love, and the depth of his joy will always be my guide.
I go back and forth on getting a dog right now. Doug is so happy and content. He has a disease that causes dizziness yet he has never been more, balanced. I don’t know how long we have before he can’t maneuver as well. There is a damaged part of me that recalls what it was like to not have dogs in the house, but there is also a part of me that wants to pack Doug’s entire life into a this smaller timeframe. I remember the year I had when it was only Jake and I, and I knew his time was short. He absolutely deserved all of me. Doug deserves that too. None of it is easy, I am tearing up just writing this because I really do not know what is best at this point. We are winging it. Every. Single. Day.
On September 1st, we celebrated Doug’s 4 year adoption anniversary. Four years ago, I was falling apart over Jake dying and there being no dogs here and I was trying to meet dogs but every single one of them felt, wrong. I decided to stop torturing myself and I unfollowed all the rescue sites so I could take a break. But somehow, a dog named Hootie snuck into my feed. There was no panic, no breakdown, just a knowing that he was already mine. Through the feet mouthing, the leg surgeries, his anxiety and now the NCL, love has helped us persevere. When Doug first came, I thought he would be the dog I had the longest. I still very much hope that is true. I seek only to control the things I can – he is my beautiful purpose and I want him to know as much joy as possible.
The whole ‘what day is it’, is so real right now. Maybe that is because every day is the same version as the previous day. I still feel like it is March 20th but that March 19th was a year ago. I have reorganized the house 72 times. I have started moving furniture to different rooms and I often decide to space out chores, just to have something to do, on all the days. Some days Doug is happy I am here and some days he wonders why I never leave. I don’t recall the last time I came home and he was excited to see me, because when I leave, he usually comes with me.
But having this time with him, is everything that is beautiful in this life. During our time in quarantine, we have reached six months with the onset of Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis. It is not lost on me for even one nano second, that many dogs do not live beyond six months once symptoms start to show. Six months seems to be how everyone talks about it. Statements like: If they live six months, let’s see where we are in six months, the next six months are telling. Now that we have reached this milestone(?), I don’t really know what the next chapter is. Currently, Doug is in the progressing slowly segment. If you have to get NCL, this is the coveted group to be in. It means that the disease is progressing slowly and steadily. This gives us options to dial treatments up and down and more importantly, it gives Doug a chance to acclimate. We hope to stay in the slow/steady group. I would give just about anything to stay here forever. The other, less appealing/heart wrenching group that goes beyond six months is, sudden decline/rapid deterioration. There are no signs that is coming. So each time a new symptom pops up, we have to sit and wait to see if it is the bottom dropping out. So far, I feel like the luckiest, most blessed, two creatures on the planet. Which is a lot, for facing down a fatal disease.
NCl is hard to watch with slow progression alone. I try not to visualize what fast decline would be like.
Jan and early February, Doug was great. He actually showed some improvement. He started compensating for some of the dizziness mostly in his stance and how he walks. He is more consistently dizzy now. I don’t think he can compensate much more on that part. He falls over more often and is generally just more unsteady. Good still outweighs bad, by far.
I desperately want to help him. I can’t make him less dizzy and I can’t explain to him why it’s happening. I watch him stare into space and try to get bearings and it’s hard. I hold him during those moments and I know he feels loved. I don’t know if my holding stops the room from spinning, but those moments are infinitely special. Sometimes the greatest gift, is just showing up.
The disease has slowed him down. He can’t play with toys in the way he loves to, by throwing them up in the air and having them land on him and he pretends he’s tackled and it goes on for an hour. Now, he mostly plays with toys laying down. We have a slight slope in our back yard and he can no longer find balance on it. Steps are getting harder. Not impossible, but takes him about one minute to walk up the steps at night.
None of these things are the end of the world. But let me remind you, Doug is four. Spiritually, Doug is an exuberant adolescent who loves mischief and destruction and exuberance. His brain however, is aging faster. Little pieces disappear and it’s hard knowing when something he can do now, he won’t be able to do in the future.
This disease feels the most unfair (compared to all the dogs’ issues). Part of that is likely that we are currently living it, but a good portion of it is because Doug is young. I might not argue, or complain, or rant about how hard and unfair losing him will be for me, and I’m still forced to recognize that in some bizarre way, Doug may be my most healthy dog. But none of this is even remotely ok. That he is being held down by this disease at such a young age, when these are the years he should be running zoomies with his bionic legs. If someone came to me and said, they could heal Doug and he would know happiness and joy but he couldn’t be with me, I would let him go. There are a lot of dimensions to rescue, but for me, it’s giving the boys a beautiful forever and a long(er) life measured in joy. Doug deserves to write all his chapters.
No one has come knocking with the cure. So instead we do what we do best. Packing a shit-ton of joy into the time we have. And Doug still celebrates every moment as if it is the very first glorious moment of his life. He is a joy junkie, just like his brothers.
Joy isn’t blindly pretending that none of this is happening or that any of it makes sense. Joy is acknowledging all the shitty parts, but not forgetting to see all the beautiful parts that exist simply because we have today. Doug tipping over when he poops stinks (pun intended), but he still believes the world begins and ends with all things food. Holding him may not stop the room from spinning, but it doesn’t change that Doug was homeless for months and now he is still living his very best life. Joy is recognizing that Doug exists outside of NCL. It’s impacting him, but I will not let it define him. Joy is also about not allowing all the big bad parts to overshadow the little moments. The little moments are where we live. The little moments are where we shine.
Doug healed a lot of the grief of losing Jake and Melvin, and the idea of losing him makes all grief feel like a nearby brewing storm. I recall the darkness I felt to not have any dogs in the house after Jake died. The reason Doug is even here is because that darkness started to feel overwhelming and I decided to adopt sooner than my heart might have felt it was ready for. Part of my healing from the loss of Melvin and Jake, was to put my active love for them into something here. I have an infinite love for them, but there is always going to be the need to give that love in the here and now also. And the thought of a Melvin, Jake and Doug love lingering aimlessly with nowhere to go, I am not sure how to prepare for that. But I think it likely looks like rescuing the next dog, while Doug is still here to show them the ropes. That dog, will have to be the unicorn of unicorns to fit into what we have coming. I believe that dog is out there though. The same way Melvin, Jake and Doug all found their way here with very little effort by me.
But today, in the center of a pandemic, joy is being home with Doug during this crazy crisis. I get to spend all day, every day, with him. I will always look back on Covid-19 as the time the universe gave me extra beautiful moments with my boy. I am fortunate to still have a job, and to be able to work from home. Most of the parts that are hard for us, stem from a lot of privilege to begin with anyway, so we are pretty much among the most lucky ones. I would never say ‘choose joy’ every damn minute of this crazy time, but instead, don’t forget to see the joy. I don’t wake up on any day and think, ‘one more day of quarantine’. I wake up every day grateful that Doug and I have another day together.
Hang in there. We know it can be hard. To those on the front line, healthcare workers, grocery staff, those doing delivery of any kind, those essential workers who are keeping us up and running, THANK YOU. You are the heroes of the world. For every complaint that creeps into our quarantined minds, we should send out infinite gratitude to those doing the hard work.
Hey interweb people! You out there? It’s me, Doug E. Fresh Holupka (that just rolls off the jowls, doesn’t it?)!
I’m giving the update this time because no one knows better about me than the Doug! OR is it no one knows better about the Doug than me? Anywho…
My beautiful body got more beautiful. Most people can’t look at me without being like ‘ohhhhhhhh maaaaaaaaaaa gaaaaaaaaaadddddddddddd, he is SOOOOOOOO incredibly handsome!‘. I just nod, because I am.
We still have a stupid cat named Bob. boooooooooooo bobbbbbbbbbb!
I have a dizzease called urinal polaroid lips and fish and noses (Neuronal Ceroid Lipafuscinonsis). I guess it’s called a dizzease because it makes me verrrrrryyyyyy dizzy. Like whoa, what’s happening, why is the room spinning or is that me spinning and then I’m not sure so I fall over or off or into something. (S)mother always catches me though, so that’s pretty cool.
We go to the dogtor a lot. It’s fine, I love the car. But (s)mother cries almost every time. I am not sure what that is about. Maybe she cries because no one tells her that she is ‘the cutest’ or ‘the most handsomest’.
She calls a lot of people about me. And she emails a lot. And she reaches out to people of DogBook and InstaDog. She has connected with a couple other (s)mothers who have dizzy dogs so I guess that makes her feel a little better? Or a little worse at first, then a little better? Being a mom must be very confusing. I wonder if she is dizzy too?
The other night one of the InstaDog ladies who has a dog like me told her that her dog no longer recognizes familiar faces. (s)mother read that, then threw her phone on the ground like it was on fire and started crying. The type of crying that is hard for me to watch, like when I first came and she would cry about Jake being gone. She was sobbing and saying something about how she would break in half if I ever forgot her, And if I forgot her, would I also forget about all the joy. And I wanted to howl: MOTHER, THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN, YOU ARE A PART OF ME, YOU CANNOT BE FORGOTTEN BECAUSE YOU ARE IN ALL OF MY MEMORIES. I TRIED TO TELL HER WITH MY BEAUTIFUL EYES. I COULD NEVER FORGET HER. THE JOY IS WHO I AM. But she was still very worried about this part so then I purposely fell off the couch to snap her back to the here and now.
Does anyone out there know what ‘be careful’ means? These are the words she says the most and I don’t know the meaning so I just usually fall over right after she says it. Does it mean fall over or crash into things? Because if so, I am doing it right!
She bought me a new bed and a blanket that gets hot and I love them more than food.
I mean I guess that is it. Mostly our lives are about me being dizzy but not really about that as much as about chasing joy while dizzy. It’s possible, trust me. Hope everyone out there has a great weekend!
I have so many updates I don’t know where to start.
We have seen a slight bit of progression of NCL, but also, some improvements. This disease is the definition of confusion.
Doug had one mild seizure in the middle of the night two weeks ago. I woke up to it, and it only lasted about 20-30 seconds. When Doug came out of it, he was disoriented but it was also the middle of the night. He went back to sleep and it has not happened since. I do not know if that means Doug will have seizures or not.
There was a different night that he woke up at 2am and was immediately frantic and was up and down and pacing and circling and up and down and darting here and there and I was unable to calm him. I had no idea what was happening. I took him outside in case he had to go and that seemed to make it worse. There was snow on the ground and he just got more and more disoriented and I had to get a leash to get him back inside. Once inside, I turned the lights on and he seemed to settle a little. That is when I realized, he might not be able to see clearly. He stood there, panicked, tail tucked and I started crying. 3am is not the best time to get a schooled by Neuronal Ceroid Lipafucisinosis. I gave him a sedative, and he was able to fall asleep. The next day he was wobbly but, ok. Thankfully, it has not happened again.
There are some positives. Doug falls over less when he shakes his head now. This is because he has started adapting to what he is experiencing and has started widening his stance. It is hard to put into words how proud I am of him on this. This little victory, is huge.
His wild eye movements (there is a vet term but why use that) are not as bad, the neurologist agreed on that.
He had his first acupuncture session and the days that followed, Doug was like a puppy. Not that he isn’t usually like a puppy, but his movements were more fluid and he was more carefree.
We had a follow up with the neurologist. We have not seen her since he got diagnosed. I only had one question. What will are we facing? I still don’t know for sure. She said Doug might live with the disease well for a couple years or he could start to decline quickly and not be here come six months. That information was not new. She thought he looked great and she noticed his improvements. Then she said something to the effect of ‘We will have to see what progresses faster, the NCL or his spinal issues.
Wait, what? Hold up, come again on that last part.
She said that she had told me last time when we were there that he likely had a brain/spinal (connection?) issue and I thought that was one thing it could be and it was only one thing total so when we got the NCL news, that was the ONE THING. Apparently, she feels he also likely has Cervical Myelopathy. That I can pronounce because that is what Jake had and it’s what made his hind legs give out.
She said the words and I looked at her and said – OK. That’s it, OK.
I don’t have questions about Cervical Myelopathy, I lived it for 3 years with Jake. She may have talked more after that, but Doug and Jake’s mobility started flashing in my head in unison and overlaying them made me realize I had never seen it but it was right there. Doug has the same exact wonky gait and legs that Jake had when he first came here. They literally maneuver the same exact way. How did I miss this? I did worry about how he would face both, but the reality is, he may not live long enough for the CM to impact him as much.
It guts me to write that, but that doesn’t make it less true.
Doug and I had a lovely 3-day weekend. There were a few I-am-human-moments that I said – why him. Why dump on him. This isn’t fair. Why do we get the worst things.
But you know what. We don’t only get the worst things. We pretty much get all of the best things that life has to give too. I can’t scream out WHY US when I also don’t scream out HOLY SHIT WHY DID WE GET SO MUCH TO LOVE.
This life gave me Melvin. That alone negates me personally being able to ask, why me.
And Melvin and I got to love Jake. And that was absolutely meant to be and we were there for him that morning his legs stopped working, exactly where we were supposed to be and yes, life could have gone easier on him, but he couldn’t have been loved any more than he was and I couldn’t be more grateful he was mine.
And then by some great miracle, Doug. A stray, with puncture wounds and two legs growing all wrong, who could have ended up in a backwoods dog fighting ring in SC. But someone decided to get him out of there and send him to DC. And I found him. And he saved me a billion times more than I saved him. He might have died an early death down there. But instead, he now only knows joy and love and food. Melvin taught me how to love unconditionally. Jake taught me how to persevere with joy in my heart. And Doug has taught me to enjoy the ride. And my grateful heart turns those things into beautiful lives full of love for the boys. And yes, we have had a lot of terrible and a lot of heartache, but the amount of joy in our lives is infinite. Doug may have a shorter life than I had hoped, but he doesn’t know that. He thinks he’s been alive forever and life has always been incredible. He doesn’t remember his old life. He has a life where he can pack more nuclear joy into his few years on earth than people who live to be 110 are able to. And in return for him saving me, I will carry the grief. He can just focus on basking in the love. And eating all the food.
All of this is very hard. I still cry a lot. But sometimes I cry because our lives are so beautiful and I’m so thankful for all that we have. We’ve already won this life, ten times over, and we are, as always, committed to joy.
Joy is who we are.
Also, don’t forget, I bought Jakie the large dog stroller, just in case, and now we have a just in case and can you even imagine how adorable Doug will be with his head sticking out of the top and all his sister wives riding shotgun?!
I am so thankful for each and every one of you. Each time I have come here to celebrate the boys, you have cheered us on. Every time I have come here broken hearted, you have lifted us up.
To each of you that has commented, messaged, called, texted, and sent goodies. Thank you! You all have reached out to your vets and your rescue communities to try and help us and I am forever grateful. And thank you for raising the most wonderful minis!
The Christmas after Melvin died I was going through the decorations and I had a bunch of stockings with his name on them. I vowed to never do stockings again so that I wouldn’t have to have a void where his should be. When Jake died and Doug came and Christmas followed, I felt fine about my decision. We are living proof that Christmas still occurs even if you don’t have stockings. But this year, with Doug’s health improving and Bob being here, I leapt into faith and got them matching stockings with their names on them. As I was undecorating this week, and it came to those stockings, there was a painful pause. I put them in the box and I prayed that my future self would be able to handle opening that box next year if Doug isn’t here.
Doug’s disease was always going to be. In the same way he and I were written in the stars, so was this diagnosis. Doug and I are not the sum of what is coming. We are the sum of every second of every minute of every day that we have had. We were sent to each other, so neither of us would be alone. Don’t forget, he came to me during the darkest days of grief. I owe him a debt of love that is infinite.
In the time since Jake died, I have given a lot of thought to adopting another special needs dog. To be honest, up to now, I didn’t think I could do it again. Not so much the taking care of (that’s just love), but the void that is left when a special needs dog dies. There are still nights that I wake up to help Jake. I’m not sure when that will stop.
Turns out, Doug is that dog. And all of me is 100% ready and 100% terrified and 100% armed with joy and 100% heartbroken. All of those things can absolutely exist at once.
We had arranged to buy another cart for a Frenchie in Jake’s rescue. We were just waiting on them to place the order and give us the amount. The invoice came the evening I found out about Doug’s genetic test. Paying that bill, still brought joy. And Doug and I celebrated that a little frog dog named Dorey was about to start a beautiful new chapter. Sometimes, in darker moments, you have to be or see the joy in someone else’s life.
I am happy to report there have been no changes in Doug’s symptoms over the past two weeks! We have started seeing a new rehab specialist who wants to teach Doug how to live in an unbalanced world before the NCL hits him harder. And that means, we are back in rehab with his girlfriends! I am also setting up acupuncture and a nutritionist. We have found one Am Staff that went through this, and our vets are working to learn all they can from that case.
I continue to look for someone who has been through this disease with their dog. If I can’t find one person among any breed, I’m not sure how I will find someone with an Am Staff.
My emotions range from heartache that this is happening, to moments of rage that this is happening.
As I have mentioned, Doug has always been clumsy. His hind legs may be bionic but apparently for Doug, bionic = mediocre. He has never been able to stop himself when he is running too fast inside the house, just ask the 50 things he runs into daily. Going down the steps in the morning he goes three at a time and going up in the evening, is very, very slow. That has pretty much been him since the day I got him, before and after the leg surgeries.
So a few months ago, I just thought he was more clumsy. It was cooler, maybe his arthritis was acting up . There were a few times early on, that he tipped over, but since I couldn’t anticipate it happening, I never really saw what preceded it. I thought he tripped, or turned a leg the wrong way and it gave out. The first time he fell off the couch, he was sleeping. So when it happened again the same day when he was awake, I thought nothing of it. We all have those days.
At no time did I think that he was dying. Because I had talked myself out of thinking that way the first year with him. I would say: it won’t be like Melvin. It won’t be like Jake. Have faith.
As he started falling off the couch more, and stumbling for reasons I couldn’t figure out, I knew it was something, but I still was leaning towards his legs. But then one day, I was taking a video of him for Instagram and during the time I was taking it, he shook (as all dogs do many times a day), and that’s when I saw it. I stopped recording and pulled up the clip to see if I had imagined it. Something was wrong, and it was not his legs.
This is the video clip I took that day. He shakes, and immediately after, his eyes roll back into his head. A wave of motion then runs through his body and you can see him falter a little.
I may not know for certain when his symptoms started, but I know the exact moment I knew it wasn’t nothing.
The following are Doug’s current symptoms:
He shakes about 20 times a day and his eyes roll back into his head about 15 of those times. Sometimes he falls over, sometimes not. That has not changed much since I first noticed it. This is by far the hardest part to watch at this point. There is a part of me that wants to look away, but I owe it to him to watch every single one and count them out for our documentation.
He is wobbly on softer surfaces.
He stumbles sometimes when he is going faster than a normal walk pace.
I can tell when he is having dizzier days than others. On those days he is a little out of it. He tends to stay close to me those days. He also stares into my soul on those days and I know he knows I know. I stay close to him too.
There have been two shakes to date that I have seen where he froze for about 3 seconds after it ended. I don’t think he could move for those few seconds, but then he was fine.
He has had 2-3 bad days. When he can’t walk in straight line, more like he’s in a fun house. I mean our house is fun, but…
He is on a few new supplements (CoQ10 and Super B Complex) to maybe help. He is also on a motion sickness drug. I have been giving it to him in the morning but I am going to move it to dinner because he wakes up dizzy and I think it might wear off during the night.
Our vet has not had much luck digging anything up but she did find one piece of research that suggested Am Staffs were not as likely to go blind. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I’m holding onto it pretty tightly.
While we were waiting on the test results this past month, a little voice kept whispering what if you lose Doug too? I almost talked myself out of doing Christmas cards because of that stupid voice. I didn’t want to do them if I knew it was going to be his last Christmas. So we held the fastest Christmas photo shoot ever known to Santa. I took the photos, edited them, and ordered the card within 1/2 hour. I found out his diagnosis two days later. The cards came this weekend and I’m really F’ing happy we did it. I think this journey is going to be a lot like those cards. Less thinking, more doing.
I have been staring at this blank page for hours, unsure of how to begin. My brain is not able to put this into some order that makes sense, so I am just going to give you info as it pops into my thoughts.
We had to postpone Doug’s endoscopy because Doug was having dizzy spells and falling over when standing. He was also falling off furniture (in a world where he had never fallen off furniture before; it is why I bought the new couch). Also, when he shakes his head, his eyes started rolling back into his head and I was able to catch it on video. Our regular vet felt we needed to see the neurologist over having the scope done.
The neurologist confirmed that Doug had deficits. I went in thinking it was likely inner ear. They put that pretty low on the list of things they thought it was. She was very clear that she thought it was serious. Four of the five things she thought it could be (brain tumor, malformed brainstem/spinal cord connection, too much spinal fluid or a brain that was too large for his skull), would be able to be seen on two different MRIs and a spinal tap. We had fasted that day just in case, and none of those test are new to me. Melvin had one MRI and spinal tap; Jake had two. At no point during this conversation did I flinch. We would figure it out.
She then told me that there was one other thing it could be. A brain disease where the brain stops controlling the dogs body. The first sings are unsteadiness, stumbling, dizziness, uncoordinated eye movements. She said, it was the worst possible diagnosis since it was 100% fatal. All the air left the room. What about it just being an inner ear issue?! She said there was a genetic blood test that took 2-4 weeks to get back. If the test came back positive, we would not need to do the MRI or Spinal Tap. I agreed to have the test to rule it out.
I waited 26 days for the results. Everyday, watching Doug not getting better on antibiotics and accepting the fact, it was not an inner ear issue.
When Melvin died a month after his 10th birthday, I was heartbroken in a million different ways, one of which was that I would never know old-man-Melvin. When Doug came, I knew the universe was giving me a dog I would have the longest and that even though Melvin didn’t grow old with me, I would get to see what Grandpa Doug was all about. When Jake died, I knew that I would likely never care for a living creature to the extent that I did with him. And that, it was unlikely another of my dogs would go through as much as Jake did. Jake would always be my baby. I also assumed that my heartache with the dogs, had reached a lifetime max.
I was wrong, about a lot of things.
Doug has a fatal, neurodegenerative disease called Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscionosis (NCL). It turns out I won’t get to know Grandpa Doug after all, the weight of even typing that, suffocates me.
I got the results yesterday.
Heartache is the bulk of what I feel. Not just the realization that I will lose Doug, but much more so the fact that Doug won’t have the opportunity to be showered with love for many more years to come.
This disease is very rare. Mostly because breeders test for the mutation before breeding since it is so terrible. I feel actual rage that Doug was likely born to some backyard breeder that didn’t give a shit.
It being rare leaves me with a ton of unanswered questions. The symptoms are breed specific and there has not been enough Am Staffs reported to have it for me to have much insight into what to expect and when. The neurologist office has seen one other case, our vet has never seen it.
Every dog, regardless of breed is different. Some dogs decline more slowly, some decline rapidly. Right now, we are throwing out about a year. Give or take, whatever terrible version of math that is.
All I really know is that it usually strikes Am Staff’s between ages 3-5. Doug is 4. Doug’s brain has already started communicating less with his body, and that will continue. I don’t even know when it started because his hind leg issues have always made him clumsy. He might go blind, he might not. He might not recognize things that should be familiar. It might be painful, it might not cause any pain. Some dogs have seizures. Obviously he is going to be confused as to what is happening to him. The given is that, eventually, his brain will cut ties with his body and mobility. So sometime between today and the day before joy no longer reigns supreme, I will have to say goodbye to my boy.
I will find a way for Doug and I to make a difference. I already plan to write down every symptom, every day. I will take video of his decline. One day, we can help someone else as they journey towards this horrible fate; they will at least have one person who says ‘I understand and here is what I know’. This is one of a million ways that Doug love, will live on. If any of you know any dogs who have had this, especially if they are an Am Staff, PLEASE let me know.
The other way he and I will make a difference, is that we will continue to find the joy in every day we have left together.
There are a few things giving me strength. My family and friends. Melvin, as always, is with me. And I know that when Doug is no longer here, Melvin will be there with him. And Jakie too. When I heard the results, the first thing that I realized was, I don’t have to change a thing to give Doug a beautiful forever. Live a life where if you find out someone is dying, you can rest easier knowing, you are already giving them the very best of who you are.
Lastly, and way more importantly, life is not meant to be measured in length. A long life is never the given. Instead, it is to be measured in width and depth. Doug’s life is infinitely wide and wildly full of joy, and I will never allow for anything but that for him.
Remember how I used to really kill it on Halloween with the dog costumes? Well, Doug does not do costumes. Unless do costumes = eat costumes off his back.
Last year I dressed him up as a Handmaids TAIL, and he rammed the bonnet into the wall and destroyed it before I could even push the camera button on my phone.
The ONLY costume I have successfully kept on him for more than 5 minutes was Frankenweenie, when I drew the costume on him with liquid eyeliner (and I couldn’t get it off for weeks).
Here is a little walk down memory-costume-lane so you can waste a few extra minutes at work on a Friday.
Also, if you need me, I’ll be decorating for Christmas.
Frankenweenie (it worked because he had so many scars from his leg surgeries. Prisoner, because he was on lockdown during leg surgeries. Hannibal Lector, because he ate so many frogs. Mr. T and the Fool.
Hey yo! It’s Doug E. Fresh! She has been keeping me from my adoring fans and I am so sorry, that just ain’t cool, amiright?
As a reminder, here is my beautiful Chick Magnet being:
Here are some updates for all the interwebs people that love The Doug:
My belly is broken. I have no idea what that means but i’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that I used to eat great food (and throw it up) and then I ate food that tasted like cardboard (and did not throw up) and then I moved up to a slightly more favorable food and yeah, throw up. The people at the shiny floor facility said I cannot eat the cardboard long term, and well YEAH, no sh!t, it tastes like butt. No wait, butt tastes good, it taste like cats. Because I hate cats.
Speaking of cats, I guess she thought Bob #2 was dead but now he is alive and since he started coming back to see her again she is all like ‘oh Bob, I love you so much, here you go, have the best food ever made because you are the greatest…’. Just stop. I live INSIDE the house and eat cardboard and he lives outside WHERE STUPID CATS BELONG and he gets food flown in on a private jet from Fancy Catville. Don’t ask me how I know it’s delicious, I just do. Also, cat food makes me throw up too.
When I come down the steps in the morning I go top speed, miss a few, ram by beautiful body into the island stools and keep on running, all day long. She calls me Mr. Lunatic. Then, at 7pm when I try to go to bed and I have to take one step at time and go slow-poke-mode, she calls me Grandpa Joe. She is dumb. My name is Doug.
She is not all terrible. She takes me for rides to nowhere, I am pretty sure she does that just to make me happy. But then sometimes she takes me to the ER shiny floor vet because of all the throw up and those are the moments I find her less desirable as a s’mother. She should only be allowed to take me for rides to Starbucks and to see my soulmate, Grandpa.
I’m on a die. What? It’s not called die? I think I’d know what it’s called and also because I MAY DIE IF YOU DON’T START FEEDING ME MORE. (Apparently, it’s Diet. I think the ‘t’ might be silent though).
She was supposed to go a concert in tex’s ass and, huh? That is so how you spell it. Tex’s ass. Texas is not a word, stop. Anyway she was supposed to go to a concert and I got sick so she stayed with me. She is not all bad.
I take that back, she is horrible. She has forgotten to feed me today. What the frick? She said someone wants to photograph my beautiful belly but what does that have to do with her STARVING ME? What is the hotline number for s’mothers who don’t feed their dogs and then brazenly EAT BREAKFAST IN FRONT OF THEIR EYEBALLS AS EXTRA TORTURE?
I cannot continue this post as I am about to pass out from hunger…
I think it goes without saying that I don’t post here as often (hello captain obvious). One of those reasons is that I love Instagram and Doug gives me so much content for daily stories so we are over there each day and I sometimes just assume all of you are over there with us. The other reason I find myself over here less is that for a long time, I’ve felt uninspired, or maybe inspired differently. Instagram has been a great channel to share Doug because he is ridiculous and funny and the things he does require video proof. In fifteen-second intervals, people get to know Doug. But when it comes to blogging about him, I haven’t really felt the same connection between writing and Doug that I did with Melvin, and then Melvin and Jake.
Neither could read.
I had Melvin for a couple of years before I started this blog and you got to experience how my love grew for him. Jake fit seamlessly into the blog stories as his own googly-eyed personality but also as Melvin’s soulmate. You then traveled these pages with us as Melvin and I said farewell for now, as me and Jake mourned, and then as I said another painful see you on the other side to Jake.
Even when I forced myself to share Doug with you all, it wasn’t the same. It isn’t that I didn’t love telling you about him, I just didn’t derive as much joy from writing about me and him. And when Instagram stories became a thing, that felt way more right.
I’ve been thinking about the why of that lately.
I think part of it has to do with Melvin. This blog, the reason it exists, is Melvin. And it’s not because I don’t love Doug like I love Melvin, it’s that my love of writing this blog, was always tied to, my love for Melvin. I felt a disconnect when I started writing about Doug, because I couldn’t connect him to Melvin. I could have written every day about Doug and you probably would have kept on reading, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it they way I should have, so I slowly tapered off.
That is probably not the only reason.
I’m also afraid of losing Doug. Not every minute of everyday, or even something I think about regularly. More so in the way that, sharing him in words on this page, make him a dog I will lose. He has had a ton of health issues this year and I want to come to this community and share it but there is a part of me who wants to keep his updates verbal. Nothing to refer back to, every detail not chronicled in words somewhere for me to linger on. No Facebook memory pop-ups to remind me of posts that end in heartbreak.
I still wholeheartedly chase joy and Melvin and Jake love lives on the most beautiful ways. But losing them, broke big parts of me. And for a long time, this blog haunted me more than it reminded me that joy is who we are.
Photo Credit: Kate Juliet Photography
I know that Doug is connected through Melvin in the second best way; me. And these past few years with Doug, although not as much was chronicled here, he and I have forged a beautiful life. A life filled with love that healed a tremendous amount of grief in me. A love that soothes his anxiety and gives him something to rely on. A love that is fueled by Melvin and Jake but uniquely made for only Doug.
And in the past month, I have found myself wanting to be here more. Wanting to write more about Doug. Moments in the ER, yes, but also moments where Doug steals hearts and brings laughter. So I have written some posts and didn’t post them because I wanted to really decided if we would be back more or not.
I think we will be here a little more often. If nothing else, you know that a piece of my heart will always be found at ohmelvin.com. Melvin and Jake #loveliveson here, it’s like coming home.
In late Summer of 2016, two very different versions of me existed. Both versions, were heartbroken to have just lost Jake.
Sad Tracey, otherwise known as the artist formally known as me, ached in ways I was unprepared for. Missing Jake (and Melvin) aside, the house was dog-less for the first time since I’d had dogs AND the house was empty. This version of me couldn’t bring myself to meet dogs because it was too soon, even though I knew the emptiness of the house might suffocate me. This version of me found comfort in dark places.
Desperate Tracey, otherwise known as survivor-mode-me, kept screaming inside of Sad Tracey’s head that fixing the empty house part would help. That getting a dog, despite every theory of when is ‘too soon’, was an easy solution to a very, very big problem.
Sad Tracey pulled most of the strings and screamed FU to thoughts of a dog, there would never be another dog in this house, not ever. The current heartbreak was too unbearable.
Desperate Tracey went rogue and adopted Doug.
That was three years ago. Today there is (thankfully) just one version of me. The me that has loved and lost and found more love. The me that joyfully hops through life with Doug, as Melvin and Jake love lives on in us both.
Doug came into this home six weeks after Jake died. He didn’t get the best version of me, which is funny in a way because Melvin joined my home as Max was dying and he didn’t get the best of me either. Dogs don’t always need the best of you, as long as the worst of you is still based in goodness and love.
We started off in a complicated way. I fought loving you because it felt like a betrayal to Jake, and you were pretty intent on eating my feet, literally. You and I had to compromise a lot for each other. I had to make room for you in my broken heart and you had to deal with some pretty intense mouthing urges. Both were high hurdles.
After three years, all of that is a bit of a blur now. When I walk in the house and I see you, my heart beats with pure joy. I love you fiercely. It seems like you have always been here and I pray that is how it feels for you too. There was another version of you at one time also, but that discarded dog has found a forever with me.
I look at you and think, you are so much like Melvin and Jake. I guess that has a lot to do with you each getting the same love from me. But you are also, very much, Doug. With your odd bursts of crazy, and your love of destruction. I think the disruptive parts of you, are what moved us both forward at the beginning. I think my love has calmed some of your anxiety. Prozac has helped too.
I see you bud. I know you, I know you better than you know you. My life is about you now and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You make me laugh. You destroy my things but you remind me, things are nothing compered to you being happy and safe. There is nothing that you can throw at me that I won’t see you through.
Then there is your breed. You being a hippopotamus and all. I have had to verbally defend you to people who don’t even know you. I have had to explain, it is not how they are raised, it is in fact, the here and the now of who YOU are. The same as it is the here and now of who I am. I vow to always share your wacky ways in hopes that it will educate those who don’t know, just how silly and loving hipppos can be.
In the next year, there will come a moment that I will have had you, for as long as I had Jake. And in the moment that follows that one, I will have had you longer. Time is funny, how it marches on. I can’t control how long I have with each of you, I can only choose to focus on maximum joy and love with the time we are given.
Too soon is a barrier that broken hearts put up for protection. The leap I took with you, is everything now.
I love you with my whole heart. Three looks really beautiful on us.
Putting it in that context has always made it hurt a little less. I was always meant to find Melvin, and so was Jake.
Losing Jake was so hard, something this community knows very well. Melvin was gone and Jake’s last year was so difficult. His soulmate had left him and he didn’t know why. His beautiful googly eye formed a hole from an ulcer and after emergency surgery, struggled to heal (never forget hamburger eye!). He went fully paralyzed in his hind legs. He got MRSP. His body had a much harder time fighting infection and then cancer came knocking again, this time with two different types for Jake.
I have conflicting feelings about his last year. He was so lost without Melvin and there were moments, where it was just me and him, that I saw how small and lonely he was without his big brother. But he and I got to have that year together, just the two of us, and I really do believe that is how it was meant to be. He got all the love, something he had never gotten from anyone, ever.
We made the best of that year. Many moments of me holding him in my arms, dancing around the house. Trips to the beach, rolling around the hood in his stroller. Owning the front door watch post like a boss. Him doing all the meatball production and me doing all the meatball clean up.
A lot has happened in the last three years, and in some ways, nothing has changed. I said goodbye to Jake and hello to Doug; my little family may look different, but Melvin and Jake are still part of it. Jake is still my baby, I don’t think any dog will ever need me as much as he did. Melvin is my co-pilot and Jake is Doug’s. He is the little voice that whispers inside Doug’s head, some are really good ideas and some are really, really, really bad ideas.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jake told me to do it.
Every year around the time of Jake’s death, I try to find a dog in rescue who needs a cart. It started with Oliver, just before Jake died, and this week, we bought our 4th cart in memory of Jakey, paid with love, for a little nugget named Declan. Declan is about to regain his mobility, and every joyful step he takes with his new wheels, will be more of Jake’s beautiful love living on, and one more step closer to Declan finding his forever.
I am so thankful this wonky-googly-eyed ball of comedy rescued me. I’m so happy to have been chosen to watch over both Jake and Melvin and watch their love grew. They brought me more happiness than I could ever explain! If you ever ask my advice on how to navigate all of life’s beautiful and soul crushing moments, my response is always: Be the joy. So this week, in memory of someone who’s love should live on, be the Jakey joy. I promise, you won’t regret it.
I didn’t want to share the update on Bob. The last time I saw Bob was late March. I started getting very worried and reached out via our neighborhood Facebook pages for folks to be on the lookout for him. There were no reported sightings.
I reached out to the Cat Coalition that had helped me trap both Bobs, and they sent word out to their contacts. Nothing. They thought it would be odd behavior for him to move on his own. I took that as they felt he was gone (in the bad way). They had other theories, that were very depressing. I blocked those out.
I called the shelter. Nothing.
I put up an outdoor camera to see if he was coming by at night. I only saw a raccoon. And even the raccoon stopped coming. Was the condo no longer a 5 star abode?
I still put food out, every night. I also cried, a lot.
I have spent my whole life allergic to cats so I have never really had deep feelings for any. I basically saw them as a health threat. But then I rescued Bob’s mom, Bob(1) and she was a total bitch who hissed at me and pretty much terrified me on a daily basis but for whatever reason, I got her. She stopped coming by shortly after I took away her reproductive rights. That seemed fair.
Then Bob’s son, Bob(2) started coming around. And he was sweet and gentle and he stared into my soul from the bushes. And after his man-parts were rendered inactive, he still kept coming. And I bought him condo after condo and the best food and when I saw him in the driveway I would run out and put his natural flea and tick preventative drops in his food to try and give him the best chance at joy. And he’d let me get pretty close and that was close enough because the ER bores me.
I mourned my boy Bob for several weeks. I had come to love a feral cat. I couldn’t believe it but I was a cat person. Well, a dog person who happens to have a feral cat that they are allergic to but that is pretty much the same thing. I kept putting food out, and some nights it would disappear and I was a little hopeful, but also just glad some creature was being fed.
Yesterday, I got an alert on one of the posts from FB that a neighbor (who knows Bob) said her husband had seen Bob in their yard and he even drew a photo to show what the cat looked like, and as the cat mom of Bob, that IS BOB!
Could it be true, my cat Bob is alive and back???!!!!! Then another neighbor saw him and hot damn if I am not a crazy cat person again who in fact does not have to deliver the news of Bob(2)’s death!
Bob is alive! And Doug could care less. And yay for JOY!!!! All is right in our world.
As a reminder, Doug is impossible to keep weight on. We tried food after food to find one that he keeps down and doesn’t poop 25 times a day on and one that keeps his poops ‘moderately’ good. While on the one food that somewhat worked, he consistently lost weight.
His bionic leg endeavors deterred some of our digestive progress. Or masked it. Or made us forget all about it. But he started throwing up regularly and we went to the vet. And the vet did bloodwork and it all came back terrible and they were worried Doug could be in organ failure and I was overwhelmed and he was malnourished and ok universe JUST STOP BEING SUCH AN A$$HOLE.
We did x-rays. We did ultrasounds. Scope was up next, but we decided to do a food change to see if we could pinpoint the issue. Doug went on the food that has pre digested protein. The one I argue is the worst.
You knew all of this from previous posts but I wanted to get you back up to speed. Also, here is a reminder of what Doug looks like!
We did the food trial for 8 weeks. Doug went from skinny to pleasantly plump. I had to cut back on the recommended amount because he was clearly back up to healthy hippo weight, and maybe even for the first time, a little overweight.
We had his bloodwork redone and the vet called. I could hear in her voice that the results were unexpected, maybe even questionable. Then she delivered a statement to me that has never once been said, to me, about any dog:
Doug’s bloodwork is perfect. Like textbook perfect. Like we’ve never seen such good bloodwork ever, in the history of all the bloodwork.
I legit cried. I mean I’m not saying we will ever be able to find out what the mystery of an ‘annual vet visit’ is like, but hot damn, we got him from possible organ failure to poster child of health!
Turns out, Doug has an intolerance to Chicken. And a few other things. This explains while during the terrible weeks, when we put Doug on the bland diet (chicken and rice), everything got way worse. The predigested food is a short term solution as even that manufacturer of the foods says that dogs should not stay on it long term. Doug is now on a food trial with Kangaroo and higher fiber (which we know he does better on). He’s tolerating the food great and we will do another blood test after 8 weeks, but I can just tell, he’s nutrient boosted and being fueled by food joy. Yay!
Doug is the perfect example of how nothing happens overnight. This September will mark our 3rd year together, and it is has taken this long to figure out all his digestive issues. In between all of it was two major leg surgeries and a host of anxiety and behavioral learnings. He is never boring, currently his hind legs are posturing in a way that his outside paw pads and nails don’t touch the ground. We learned this by noticing that those nails are always super long, unlike the other nails that wear down normally on all the walks. Who knows what the solution to that is.
I think the moral to this story and maybe all of my stories about all of the dogs is 1. get health insurance for your pet and 2. there are no guarantees for how easy or difficult or challenging life with a pet will be. There is only what you make of the joy.
I am going to share something with you that might send some of you into a tailspin, but hear me out, it will be ok.
We were denied approval to adopt a dog. Technically, we didn’t even apply.
Deep breaths, it’s ok. I would love to think we live in a world where everyone, everywhere is willing to give me all the dogs. And the truth is, 99.9% of the time we are approved. It’s usually me that decides it’s not a good fit. We have met a lot of dogs that the interaction between the dogs decided a NO for us. There were also seemingly great dogs that for whatever reason, I didn’t think were right.
It took me 7 months to choose a couch, I take commitment pretty seriously.
The story goes like this. Doug used to be great with dogs. Doug met a few dogs that did not love him and attacked him and he ended up in the ER one time but still he loved dogs. Then he had two extensive leg surgeries and he became not so lovey of dogs and started lunging at them.
Why did that dog Wolverine my face?
Now, he’s getting much better about being around his own kind again and he shows the most love and promise with puppies.
I know I am not the majority on this one but I’m just not a puppy person. There is not a single person who can suggest I am not willing to do the work with dogs. A day in the life of Jake has more than proven that. But puppies, and their chewing and their housebreaking and their need to be up when the rest of the world sleeps, make them, not for me. The argument that puppies grow up does not work with me like you would expect it too. It is that very theory, that puppies grow up, that has me proclaiming I shall wait until they do to adopt them. Some people ohhh and ahhh over puppies. I love me a good sugar faced senior.
So, puppies are a yes for Doug and a, maybe, for me.
The second part of this story is about my over abundance of caution. I had zero fear with Melvin meeting dogs. I brought Jake home and knew that Melvin would accept him by virtue of me being the one to bring him home. Melvin trusted me. I was 3000% nervous about every dog that Jake met because Jake was the most beautiful asshole that ever lived but he was extra assholey to any dog that was not Melvin. Every time. Every dog.
Please bring me more dogs to eat.
Even Doug being great with dogs, I always want success for him. He’s a pit bull. He gets judged much harsher than others. So Doug might be doing great with another dog, but my caution knows no boundaries so it is always on high alert. Many will argue I’m too cautious. I will argue that there are far worse things to be.
When we met the puppy in question, Doug did great! Like super great. Like if I loved puppies we would have just said yes right away. During the meet and greet, I left Doug’s leash on. The foster mom suggested I could take it off, but – hello, my name is caution and I oh wait, what, yes I want to leave the leash on. Leaving it on is not about Doug. It’s about safety. I want to set both dogs up for success and safety. If you bring your baby over to my house, I will also leave Doug’s leash on because Doug will knock that baby over, sit on top of him/her and lick their face joyfully.
The puppy we met seemed to love Doug. This puppy is very people shy, but I felt like she did well with me.
I guess my caution raised a red flag. To be honest, I was having a hard time with this very young puppy part anyway, but the rescue reached out and said they felt we were not a good match for the puppy because of my over abundance of caution and/or them wondering why I kept Doug on leash. They wrote a nice email, and I wrote a thank you back and told them that there was probably no circumstance where I would come in, confidence ablaze, to make a puppy feel my assurance over being a responsible dog owner. Sort of an agree, to disagree.
Apparently having Jake’s life documented on the web does not in fact guarantee we will be approved for all situations.
We are not approved for cautious puppies. I am okay with this! I have said no to some really great dogs, it’s ok that someone says no to me. That little nugget was meant for someone else. And I get to hold onto my caution for longer!
If a puppy is meant to be, I’ll know when we meet.
Doug and I came to be six weeks after Jakey died. Doug didn’t get the best of me, he probably didn’t notice because even the worst of me is probably better than living on the streets. It took about two weeks for him to decompress. Decompression is different for every dog. For Doug, during his first two weeks, he rested. Then he unleashed an exuberance and energy fury the likes I had not seen since I first got Melvin. Even then, Doug was WAY more into constant movement than Melvin ever was.
Doug barely rested. He was also painfully mouthing my feet, so my heart and soul missed Jakey and my feet were begging for me to amputate them. He declared the couch a diving board and the house was his racetrack. Walks didn’t tire him out, in fact, they seemed to give him more energy.
This is about the time a different family might have returned Doug. I remember just agreeing with myself that it was OK that I didn’t love him with every fiber of my being at this point. And you know what, he probably felt the same about me. We had to figure out some things together, the road to joy is still paved with speed bumps, detours, potholes and bloody feet.
I reached out to some pit bull owners who assured me that many hippos like Doug were VERY energetic, that many mouthed, that many were impossible to keep weight on. And after those conversations, I looked at Doug and said out loud: I guess you are normal. I came to accept him because that’s what rescue and love is about. He came to accept me too.
We worked through the constant mouthing. It was not easy. In fact, of all the behavioral issues I have face, and don’t forget that Jake hunted EVERYTHING and I had to rescue living creatures from his mouth on a regular basis, Doug’s mouthing was by far the hardest. Not because it hurt, but because it made him be a dog that only I could be around. I couldn’t ask others to overlook the sharp clamp of his teeth on their feet by assuring them he had good bite inhibition. If he continued mouthing feet, he would never be ok for public consumption without a muzzle. (It should be stated here that I am a big fan of muzzle usage when it’s used right – not as punishment but as a safety tool – safety for dog and all involved). Doug mouthing feet was his quirk, but in a Pit Bull type dog, it would have been a scarlet letter. Labs that mouth are ‘joyful’, Pit Bulls that mouth are ‘vicious’.
The mouthing eventually ended. Praise be!
Did someone say feet?
But Doug continued to be a dog that went non stop. During his back-to-back leg surgeries, others became aware of just what I meant when I said that. We tried a lot of different sedatives to keep Doug calm and safe during his five months of recovery and vets and surgeons and rehab techs would all ask: I thought you said he was on a sedative? He was. Even sedated Doug, was perpetually in motion. Eventually we found a medication that gave him the ability to self regulate his energy, still be Doug, and keep him safer during recovery.
It was when recovery was over and he came off that drug that I noticed something I had not seen in a while. That Doug’s day, is a series of escalation. He sleeps 10 hours a night and wakes up exuberant and joyful. As the day continues, Doug ramps up. The more he walks, the more energy he has after. The more zoomies he runs, the more zoomies he runs. I started noticing there were afternoons and evenings, that he was unable to relax or rest. I would have to force time outs/naps, just to give him a break. It was also during this time that his fears and anxieties came back full force. So he was in near constant motion and life was overwhelming him. So, after a few discussions with our vet, he went back on the medication that had helped before. It’s a human drug that regulates blood pressure and for Doug, it provided him the perfect balance – joy and energy and zoomies and fun but also the ability to relax. It worked beautifully for one year. In 2018, Doug lived his very best life.
And then overnight, this past January, it stopped working.
We had a rough few months at the start of this year. Doug’s digestion went to hell (again), he had blood work done and the values were so alarming we had to do scans and more tests to be sure his organs were functioning. Those test were fine and we started thinking he might have a digestive mobility issue. On top of all of this, and maybe even due to it in some way, his calming/anxiety medication stopped working. He was nauseous, manic and unable to rest. His anxiety and fears were at a new high. This is about the time he started self soothing, by suckling furry objects and licking EVERYTHING, constantly.
Videos of Doug mouthing to self sooth/calm:
I love Doug’s quirks. And alone, each one can be comical. But together, well I don’t want him to live a life that doesn’t allow him a moment of peace. Part of being joyful, is being content. Doug was no longer able to find contentment.
Doug’s fears include loud noises and change (I can’t change things in the house as Doug becomes uneasy, even if I just move something, like the trashcan.) Shiny floors, the vet, the vet’s shiny floors. Wind. Butterflies (I agree with this one). He is also uneasy about the powder room. He is unable to calm down if I am in the powder room with the door shut and if I leave the door open he pretty much freaks out until he is able to come in and lick my hand. So I sit on the toilet and let Doug lick my hand and there is nothing I love about this except for, of course, Doug.
We are getting his physical health back on track (food trial) and now we are focusing on his mental health. We went to see the behaviorist that I had taken Jake to after Melvin died. She is, at the top of her field and highly revered in the VA/DC area. I could listen to her talk for days. She taught me so much about Jake and she really helped me understand Doug so much more than I already did. Doug is hyperactive. Not just energetic, he has an inability to turn off. It’s not easy to watch. Also, his fears add up and it’s not OK with me for him to live with so much anxiety. So we talked about goals – my one demand for Doug’s life is the same I had for Melvin and Jake, that life be measured in joy. This is harder for Doug because I can put joy in front of him and he might not be able to see it through some of his barriers. Day-to-day, I want him to be his full exuberant self and those legs are built for zoomies so the more the better. I don’t want him to be sedated or tired, but I do want him to be able to relax. We agreed he needs help to turn off and find calm and he needs help to channel his anxiety. We are trying some new meds and so far he’s doing great. They are working really well on his hyperactivity but a little slower on his fears, which is totally expected.
I have nothing but time for him and making sure he is living his best life.
I wholeheartedly believe in tools to help dogs thrive, like muzzles, and medication and holistic approaches. We have tried everything on the Google search. CBD, oils, plug-ins, clothing, exercise, puzzles. I’m thankful we have a team of vets (from traditional to specialty to holistic) to help us. Every dog deserves to be seen as an individual and have their human advocate for his or her joy.
This is the time of year that both Melvin and Jake were diagnosed with cancer. I don’t think about those actual dates as often as I think of all the memories. Warmer days, lingering outside, both of them slowing down during their respective battles. Melvin would be 14 this year and Jake would be 11.
Googly eyed pots watching over us.
As the warmer weather starts to bare it’s pale hiney, Doug is sent into ballistic joy to be outside, with no snow, and the sun shining on his seasonal alopecia spots (which are finally filling in)! He runs out the door as if the sun and warmth are his long lost loves returning from battle. He will stay outside, trying to eat bees, until I have to chase him in.
Bring my food outside, I’m never going back in.
I’m living in the moment with crazy Doug. As we play in the yard and I throw him the ball, I still see Melvin staring blankly at me as I threw him a ball he never once retrieved. I still see Jake ‘running’ the way he only could, in dewy grass, wonky legs dragging behind. I see all three of them, in the same space that is my heart.
Doug continues to make sure I’m coming along on his crusade of zoom. He snuggles like Melvin, he’s as defiant as Jake, and he is 100% like no other dog I have ever had.
Doug has had his fair share of health issues these last few months. We are still working things out and getting tests done. At one point, liver failure was being thrown around and it would be really easy for me to say ‘it’s likely one of my dogs has this’ but that is not how joy rolls. Joy reminds me to stay in my lane until told to pull over. He didn’t have liver failure. He may or may not have a properly working digestive system. We are figuring that out with a food trial (I’ll do a post on this).
On top of his physical health, Doug struggles with anxiety and fear and hyperactivity (beyond energy). He is the most outgoing, exuberant dog you have ever met until he encounters a fear and then he is paralyzed and looks to me to get him to safety, or until he runs so hard that he is incapable of shutting off. We are working on those things too. I will share that in a future post also.
A lot of you ask how we choose joy. We do not find joy 24/7/365. But, we do find joy eventually. There will always be grief, and stress, and health challenges and the universe determined to hold us down or kick us. I don’t see Melvin and Jake as not here anymore, that they were here, is something I celebrate every day. Doug destroys things that I love and his anxiety is not always easy to maneuver, but that dog is fueled by pure joy so I don’t have a whole lot of time to worry before he is standing on top of me wiggling with delight. Doug (as his brothers were also) is a walking and living reminder that life is unfolding every second of every minute of every hour. I don’t want to miss a single beat of his wild drum.
I started this blog, eight years ago today. It began as a way to chronicle life with the world’s most allergic dog. But it quickly turned into a blog about US. The definition of ‘us’ has grown, but the focus has pretty much stayed on our journey to joy.
The me that started this blog, has changed more than I ever thought I would or could. Eight years ago me had no idea what was to come. I didn’t know that three dogs (and cat) would drive my evolution.
Eight years ago, Melvin was six and it was just him and me.
I didn’t know back then…
that Melvin would teach me how deep love can go
that the vet would become a weekly destination
that Melvin would lose his tail
that I would have one of the most bonded pairs ever
that I would have a googly-eyed, cart dog
that I wasn’t meant to see Melvin grow old. Or Jake
that I would lose Melvin so quickly
that grief would break me. Twice in one year
that Melvin would become a part of me, his heart guiding mine
that my hands would always reach to care for Jake, even years after he was gone
that love could live on so beautifully, as if it was always meant to be
that joy would be my guiding light
that a pit bull named Doug, would save me
I also didn’t know that so many glorious and thoughtful people would love us and lift us up for so long! Thank you for following along with us. I know I don’t post as often. I want to, I promise! Doug has had some health issues and anxiety the past few months but we are turning a corner and I will be back to share that with you. We are over on Instagram stories almost daily if you want to get your Doug fix over there too (@DougHolupka.for.president).
I love this blog. I love its readers. I wholeheartedly love the dogs that have inspired each and every word, laugh, and tear. My heart will always be full because of them and you.
Tomorrow is Melvin’s 14th birthday. I honestly cannot think of anything more delicious than a 14-year-old Melvin.
I am far more happy that he was born, than sad that he died. I carry him in my heart every beat, every day. He and I remain perfectly and beautifully connected. He continues to make me a better person, and he continues to remind me to choose joy.
As his birthday is approaching, I have been talking to him a little more lately. Just reminding him of all the little things that I love so much about him. And he responds back, in songs on the radio, in beautiful sunsets, and in love.
When Melvin was here, the one constant every day was that he would make the big bed his own while I was at work. Every day I would make the bed, and every day Melvin would ‘make it better’. When he died, seeing the bed untouched by him each day, was really hard.
But last night, Melvin sent a hello, via Doug.
Doug is not allowed upstairs when I’m not home. But yesterday I accidentally left the gate open. I came walking into the bedroom, took one look at the bed, lost my breath for a moment and then felt so much Melvin that I tear’d up realizing how blessed I am to have so much love and beauty in my life. Melvin is always watching over me; he is my original joy.