Grateful Hearts.

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!

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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.

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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.

Harem, check. Treats, check! IMG_9182

My wiggly warrior.

Zonked on the way home.

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Happy New Year!

xoxo

t&d

This is us.

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.

xoxo

t&d IMG_7459

Doug hates Halloween

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. IMG_7448Prisoner, because he was on lockdown during leg surgeries. img_0953-1Hannibal Lector, because he ate so many frogs. IMG_6124IMG_6128Mr. T and the Fool. IMG_0835IMG_0824

King of my heart. 11 4 13f

Snookie. 10 30 13a11 4 13c

He hated this so much. I took it right off him. 10 30 13

Punk Melvin. IMG_2839IMG_2819photo[1]

Time is funny.

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. IMG_9840

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

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