On Sunday, Jake and I went over to my parents house for a day of relaxation and pool. I put Jake into the car at 10:15 and he was up ALL DAY. All day. Jake is never up all day! But this is how it is at my parents house. They don’t have a dog so there is food that falls on the floor that no one notices and Jake swims on the hardwood floors to find it ALL (Melvin taught him well). Add to it that my niece Maddy was there also, and well all these things make my parents house Jake’s favorite place on earth.
While we were at the pool, Jake stayed inside the temperature controlled pool house (such a rough and tortured life). Maddy caught a frog and recalled that Jake loves hunting frogs so we let him hunt it (through the glass) (He was not fooled by the glass but he did try to take one bite!). I immediately added this to his bucket list and then immediately checked it off. Photo and video below:
Instead of frogs, he ate a kong full of hot dog (his eyes rolled back into his head). Then it was time to go, I put Jake in the car to go home, and he was passed out before we even got out of the neighborhood. And on Monday, he got up to eat breakfast and then slept all day.
After Melvin died and Jake’s gang violence escalated territorial monitoring and prey drive increased, we called our dear friend and trainer Nancy to work with him (and me). I explained to her that his favorite thing to do was sit at the door but with every passerby, especially that of the dog variety, Jake would flip and flail and foam at the mouth.
Her advice, shut the blinds and work with him under controlled open-blind circumstances until we could give him the skills to handle the activity of outside. It was brilliant and we set off on our positive reinforcement clicker training with fake and real dogs (Yes, our trainer would walk down our sidewalk in front of our house with a fake dog on a leash and I would click from inside with Jake the moment he saw them). It was awesome! I believe in positive reinforcement training – not just for the dog, but for the human too. It’s not ‘all my rules all the time’, it’s ‘how can we both be the best that we can be together’.
Jake didn’t exactly ‘graduate’. We worked real hard but since he was diagnosed with cancer, the clicker got put in the drawer and the peanut butter came out.
There are so few activities that give Jake joy. Partly because there are so few activities that don’t require struggle. But staring out the front door, has always been at the top of his joy list. After his legs started failing even more and we found out about the cancer, he would drag himself to the front door several times a day to see if the blinds had miraculously opened again. Sort of like in Willy Wonka where the candy factory has been closed but then one day, boom it’s wonkafied and back open!
So I ompa-lumpa’d and opened that blind and let him be the jerk he has always wanted to be! Even on the rainiest day when there is no activity, he watches the world. He naps and gets up to make sure the outside is still out there, then he goes back to napping. When he kids walk by from the bus, he makes sure they pass by our house safely. If one of them stops to tie their shoe, he barks at them to keep moving. When the brown truck man drops off a package and gently door taps to say ‘hi’ to Jake, Jake Barry-White-voice barks at him and tells him to scram. When a dog walks by, he flips the F out.
There are moments I think ‘you should be training him’. Then I think ‘just let him have the one activity he can do no matter how many legs work’. I don’t give in or up a lot so there is definitely an internal struggle.
Sometimes, cancer comes a-knocking and you have to lessen your grip. That said, Jake was an ankle biter and now is not an ankle biter and to his last breath, he is not permitted to be an ankle biter again. I mean it’s not a totally rule-less society over here! And if Jake didn’t have cancer, we’d be clicker training every day. I’m not giving up on Jake, I’m just giving up on some rules that don’t fully embrace ‘joy now’.
Our life right now is fairly, ordinary. I love ordinary. We made some changes to Jake’s pain management and so far, he’s doing really great. We are in that phase where living in denial is not really possible anymore but we are also not in the phase of ‘this is the end’.
We’ve made it three months since diagnosis. Instead of thinking he has a certain amount of time left, we instead like to rest on our achievements. We made it three months!
Stop! Snuggle time.
Jake is still eating. Peanut butter is a part of his every day. The pain meds help him sleep super soundly (so soundly that I have to set my alarm to check for meatballs because homeboy now does not wake up if he has gone in the middle of the night) but they don’t keep him sedated all day. He is more limited than six months ago, heck he’s more limited than one month ago, but he in fact is, just Jake. He does the ramp to out back as if he has done it his whole life. He is clearly still CEO of the meatball factory. He still takes his Neighborhood Watch shift very seriously.
Not every day is all lollipops and rainbows. Life is just not like that. I will admit, I do get a tad upset at Jake’s circumstance. Not that he has cancer, I mean geeze, I think it’s a given that I don’t want him to have cancer. But cancer is out of my control. My angst is more centered around the added struggle for Jake. Why does his cancer have to limit his mobility even further? I mean this one is just hurtful. Why does he have an ear AND eye infection AND a diaper rash flair-up on top of it all? No seriously on that last one, WHYYYYYYY? But all in all, I find my moments of frustration are brief and short-lived and we instead focus on the gratitude and joy. And peanut butter, Jake said not to forget to give another shout out to the glorious peanut butter.
AT the start and end of every day, I’m thankful. If cancer was going to be, I’m grateful that this time we get a slow decline, that he gets a chance to acclimate. I’m glad we got three months and I’ll be grateful for each and every day we have together.
Wishing you joy and gratitude on this lovely Tuesday!
There are a lot of rescuers who think of me when they get a special needs dog into their rescue. They reach out to let me know they have one and we chat about it. Then, I explain to them that Jake prefers to be an only dog.
I have friends who tag me whenever they see an adoptable with severe allergies. Or one who wears diapers.
When I took Melvin in, I knew (or so I thought) what I was in for. The rescue group told me that his allergies were severe and they would be an issue his entire life. They told me I was committing to a shared, lifelong struggle. Of course Melvin had countless health issues, but almost all them stemmed in some way from his allergies. The net, net is that I took him on knowing there were going to be a lot of hurdles. I’d do him all over again. I fell in love with him at first sight.
I did not know with Jake (that he would be such a health challenge nor was it love at first sight. It was definitely like at first sight, but I never thought I wanted a small dog and he didn’t even seem to like me when I first met him…), I think that is probably how it is most of the time. There are no health guarantees when you get a rescue or a puppy (or a human for that matter). Jake’s issues all came unexpectedly. Eye ulcers and blindness. His legs failing, his need for a wheelchair and a stroller. The need to change his diapers 10-15 times a day, the need to adjust his diapers 100 times a day (not the diapers fault, if you dragged your hind legs around, your underwear would slide off too), his inability to hold his meatballs. The constant struggle with diaper rash, allergies, infections and MRSP. It’s a lot. Some days it’s overwhelming. But that’s what love is. We were a year into life with Jake when the first issue came up. A year in equates to me loving him an immeasurable amount.
Love drives me to care for Jake. It wakes me up at 3am when he has poop’d and it keeps me calm when he starts leaking the moment he comes back inside and dirtys a perfectly clean diaper. Love controls my voice, so that it never sounds annoyed, always gentle. Love gets me through the gagging I go through every day when I smell A&D ointment. For every time I hear ‘I don’t know how you do it’, there is a ‘love gives me the ability to do anything’ response.
To be honest, I have no idea if I would have taken Jake had our paths not crossed until a year later. If I was to meet him as a leaky, wonky legged rescue at an event. I really don’t know one way or the other. Sometimes I think I would not have. The struggle with Melvin’s health was lessening everyday at that point-in-time and I was glad to be getting a bit of a break. I might have said no. Sometimes I think, of course I would have adopted him, that I would have known he and Melvin and I were meant to be. I had a year to fall in love with Jake before our struggle became real. Our rescue played out as it was supposed to.
When I get calls or emails about special needs dogs, the very first thing I think is ‘their owner is out there somewhere, but I don’t know that it’s me’, because if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that I don’t know what I am willing to go through until I meet a dog. In theory, I want to help all the dogs, but I don’t want to adopt all the dogs. There is a connection that occurs, it’s why most of us say that the dog rescues us. Something happens, and you just know from that point on, come hell, cancer or paralysis, you are their forever.
What I do know for certain is that Jake’s struggles, and my needing to adjust to them, have forever changed me. From dealing with his challenges, I learned that being frustrated (or not), is a choice. True story, the next time you are in the heat of frustration, you can choose not to be. It takes practice but it’s a good code. I learned that no matter what I feel my struggle is, his is always greater. Thus, I rarely complain, if Jake can’t, I shouldn’t either. I learned from Jake, that moving forward doesn’t always have to be physical, sometimes it is more of a spiritual movement. I found out that my ability to love has infinite depth both emotionally and physically. Where I think Melvin sensed my love, Jake feels my love more through actions. Some through nurturing and care and patience. When I change his diaper and apply four different medications to his diaper area, and it gives him relief, he feels loved. When I carry him, he feels my love. In the middle of the night, when I meet him with a gentle voice and clean him up, he knows it’s love. Sometimes love is spiritual and sometimes love is found in actions or shared moments. Sometimes love is just who we are. (Sometimes love tries to snuggle and dogs named Jake say ‘if you love me, you will back up’). Love listens. Melvin made me a better person by showing me what perseverance looked like and that happiness can be found in the smallest moments and in the greatest challenges. He made me a joy seeker. In a thousand different ways, Jake has made me more resilient, more understanding, more calm. He taught me that as challenges stack up, laughter can still reign supreme.
I think this post came from a couple different places. Some of it is the very popular question of if/when I will get another dog. A question that I answer ‘if/when I do’. My heart says it has felt enough ache, but Melvin whispers to me that more dog joy will come. I have to assume that the universe will give me the level of challenge I need when the time for that decision comes. That time, is of course, not now.
I think most of this post comes after the direction that Jake can no longer use his wheelchair as it puts too much pressure on his cancer leg. This one broke me a little, just typing it brings with it a swell of emotion. Not because his wheelchair is something we can’t live without. We can. And not because his wheelchair is really needed all that much any more. It’s not. But because the wheelchair was the very first thing I ordered when we found out about his spine. It was our very first solution. It visually stands for what we believe, and what we can achieve. And when he’s in it, for just a little while, he’s Jake before the paralysis. He’s free. I had to ask myself, should I keep it. Will you be rescuing another Frenchie (I’m convinced they will all need wheelchairs!)? Since I do not know the answer to that question right now, I will not hold onto his wheelchair. That wouldn’t be fair to a dog who needs it right now. We will let it go. We will lessen someone else’s immediate load.
Lastly…Sunday, as I was taking my place on the couch next to Jake (after a long, lovely Mother’s Day), I looked over and saw this. I laughed so hard! Sometimes love can be found in quiet clean-up so as not to awaken the sleeping baby!
Happy mother’s day to all the moms out there! To the moms of humans, to the mom of cats, to the moms of dogs. To the moms of humans, cats and dogs (an/or add your animal here _________). To God-moms, the step-moms, the adoptive moms. To the male moms and the foster moms. Happy mother’s day to those who so desperately want to mom and are dealing with a wait on that. To the women who help to mother the kids of other moms. To the moms in heaven. To your mom and you future moms.
To the moms who have lost a child.
To my mom, who is the kindest most loving woman I know. She is the light and joy in my day.
Mom love can be the wildest, greatest most beautiful love. Mom love can heal.
And lastly, thank you to Max, Melvin and Jake for giving me my most favorite role in life and for filling my universe with joy.
In the last week, we have seen the oncologist, our holistic vet (for therapy and a check-in) and our regular vet (to get on the same page and decide what the heck that page is).
Here is what I know.
Jake’s cancer leg no longer works. I am a very positive person but I think that leg is probably done. I don’t blame it, I’d quit too.
Jake has lost 5 lbs. since February. I know that cancer requires a lot of calories and I think that for Jake, eventually his body won’t be able to keep up on the eating. As for now, he eats fine, so that is great. We are increasing his food intake and that makes him very happy!
Jake is fairly stoic when it comes to pain. He showed no response to having a cracked tooth or various split nails. We do believe we are starting to see signs of him experiencing pain (and nausea) so we are treating both and will continue to monitor him closely. I want him comfortable.
It was time for a few of his vaccinations and to refill his heart guard. We had a realistic conversation about his prognosis, that his cancer is not treatable and that his body is weaker with every passing day. I told our regular vet that I only wanted to do the vaccinations he truly needed. We ended up opting against some. I don’t think that his cancer is from vaccinations or from any preventative (I don’t know that for sure but I do believe some of them are important) but I do feel like there is no need to throw any unnecessary treatments at cancer or his body right now. I am Jake’s voice. I have no veterinary training but I am trained in the art of loving Jake and love makes decisions sometimes and right now, love decided that we won’t be putting some of those treatments into his body. These decisions we face are big, insurmountable, giants. But I believe with all that I am that at the end of our pet’s lives, relying on love is the best guide.
He still has joy, and for that, we have everything that we need!
Put more food in my belly.
This weekend I continued my quest to find a ramp that Jake can use to go outside. I can carry him, but lifting him up and setting him down so many times a day is not good for his spine (or mine!) and sometimes it seems to bother cancer leg so the ramp is still the most ideal option. The steps to the outside are brick and Jake gets too scraped up going down them on his own. I have tried carpet pads, nothing has worked. We are now on ramp four. I found a ramp with a Melvin look-alike on the box and I took that as a sign that it was the one! Then I went to a sporting goods store to buy some yoga mats (one for the ramp since it’s lined with a sandpaper type gripping and that would just result in Jake dragging his then BLOODY stumps). I told the salesperson I wanted the cheapest ones they had since at some point, it would be pee’d on. I felt bad for him but welcome to my world sales guy!
The good news is, Jake is using the ramp! I still hold-guide him but it seems to be the one! Thank you Melvin-look-alike! And of course the cheapest yoga mats are the light ones. The ones that show black mulch paw prints and pee very clearly.
Since getting Jake, he has ‘gone through’ roughly 15 rugs. I clean them, you have no idea how well I clean them(!), but there comes a point when the rug has taken its last beating and we have to let it go. When we got Jake’s diagnosis I decided that I would keep our current rugs and replace them all at once after he went to ‘see Melvin’. Well, Jake’s body had other plans for one of our rugs so its departure came early. Unfortunately it was a rug that covered a lot of ground. So now, instead of matching rugs, I have matching yoga mats, all throughout my house. They are MUCH easier on Jake and MUCH easier to clean. It’s odd to have random yoga-mat-walkways, but it’s working so I have let go of the decorating fight and embraced the ‘just make it easier for everyone’ approach.
Follow the yoga-mat road!
Goodbye, fifteen. I remember the very first day I had you and Melvin threw-up pumpkin on you. It took me three hours to get the stain out. I have a feeling you will be happier at the dump.