Three years of me and Doug.

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.

Dearest Doug,

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. 

Love, your s(mother). xoxo

 

Three years without Wonkalicious.

Jake went to be with Melvin three years ago.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. IMG_2805

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.

Love. Lives. On.

 

The update on Bob.

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.

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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!

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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.

Wait, what? Can you repeat that please.

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!

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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.

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We didn’t make the cut.

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.

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Now, he’s getting much better about being around his own kind again and he shows the most love and promise with puppies.

Ugh.

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. IMG_6002

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.

Give me all the puppies, smother. IMG_3061

 

We are all works in progress.

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.

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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.

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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? IMG_3030

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.

My joyful zoomer

 

 

Oh spring.

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. IMG_3056

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. IMG_3041

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.

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