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.

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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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Eight years.

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.