It’s been 19 months since my last blog post. It seems way longer than that. Today, has been six years since I said goodby to Jake. It doesn’t feel that long ago at all.
Time is funny.
Jake’s death was the hardest season of my life. I was still grieving Melvin, I was still figuring out life with just Jake and I and then, Jake was gone. I remember being so incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin. So much of my day was spent caring for Jake, the realization that was no longer my role, my purpose, was impossible for me to maneuver away from. Add to that, Melvin and Jake were both no longer here. No dogs lived here anymore.
There was no light. No joy.
I remember being in my house not wanting to be in a place where I no longer saw Jake. So I’d leave. And I’d see people walking their dogs and I was so a angry they had their dogs. Why didn’t I have mine? So I’d come home. And I’d stand outside the door and cry at the silence I was about to endure. Why is grief such a mother fucker?
That version of me, and that unbearable grief, they don’t live here anymore. I have healed. I have also let go of the anger that I didn’t get to see them grow old. They grew as old as they were meant to. I guess that’s true for all of us.
Time is a delicate lifeline.
The boys are as close as I will ever come to having kids. While I know losing a dog, is nowhere close to losing a child, losing the boys was still the loss of my little family.
And I would do it all over again. Again and again. Now, when I close my eyes, Melvin and Jake are there, and when I open my eyes, Doug is here. Melvin and Jake love lives on. That same love that ripped a hole in me through grief, healed me, and guided me, and reminds me that it is always worth it. One day, Doug love will live on.
What other choice is there? ❤️
I miss you, Jakey. You perfect, little delicious cinder block of googly wonkiness. You will always be my baby. I even had meatballs for dinner in your honor. Say hello to the big guy for me, although I know he’s right next to me, as always. ❤️🌈
Thanks for always checking back in on us. I’ll try to post more often than every 19 months. xoxo
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 know that the norm in rescue, is to not know your pets actual birthday (or age). Melvin and Jake were both turned into to rescue by their original owners, so I knew both for them.
Doug’s age was guessed and his birthday was chosen by me. On December 1st he is ‘officially’ three. But there is a chance he’s four. Or five. And there are 364 chances that his birthday is not December 1st.
The only thing we know for sure, is that Doug is living his best life.
The time he has lived in this home, exceeds the time he lived as a stray in South Carolina. If I’m doing my job right, he doesn’t even recall his first life. He only knows stability and routine; his belly is always full and his legs are now built to ferociously chase joy.
He is unlike any dog I have had before and at the same time, he reminds me of his brothers daily. Love lives on fiercely in this one.
We are opposites, in so many ways. He has so much energy and a party animal mentality. I’m laid back and calm. He likes mobs of people, I like intimate crowds. He seeks to destroy, I like mending things.
There are a few areas we agree on. We both like the same spot on the couch. We both are food motivated. We both like a good nights sleep and we both give all we have, to spreading joy.
Doug – your entire existence in my life was unexpected. The only thing I know for certain is that you have my heart. I can’t wait to watch your glorious life continue to unfold.
The dogs have never gotten birthday gifts – they live lives of leisure and safety and they want for nothing. Instead, to celebrate, we donate items to a shelter so that a dog in need will know about comfort and love.
Happy Birthday, baby! Three (or four or five) looks great on you!
I am having surgery in November, and it’s all Doug’s fault.
She’s a liar, I’ve never done anything wrong in my life.
Last fall, I was lifting Doug out of my SUV. We had just been to rehab and even though he was cleared for activity, jumping out of the back of the SUV is a little tough on his stubby hippo legs so I always lift him out.
It is important to note here that aside from my parents house, Doug will not go #1 or #2 anywhere but in our yard or in our neighborhood. He would drink 5,000 gallons of water at rehab and never pee before I got him in the car to come home.
Why, Doug, why?
I’ll tell you why, my body, my rules. If you get to say it, so do I.
When I put him down on the ground and took the leash, I didn’t expect for him to lunge-run to the closest grass, which was about 30 feet away. I was pulled down and dragged/slid. The pain was terrible and I honestly felt dizzy from it. All I could do was hold onto his leash and get us both inside.
Ok, if I’m being honest, I may remember doing this now. But in general, I would never try to purposely hurt my sMother. I mean, my Mother.
My shoulder and arm hurt so bad, I thought they were broken. I had road-rash up and down my entire body. As someone who has a blood clotting condition and a takes blood thinners, you can imagine the horror scene. I had to make my way upstairs and into my shower so as not to bleed out on all of the white furniture I see the need to invest in!
Why, Tracey, why?
The road rash eventually cleared up. My shoulder pain went from excruciating to acceptable. I managed to still love Doug.
Over the past six months or so, my shoulder has become more and more painful and the activities I’m able to do with that arm have become more and more limited. Also, sleeping is impossible. There is no position that works. I mean, who needs sleep anyway?
I got an MRI and some X-rays and it turns out that I have fully torn Rotator Cuff on my right (dominant) shoulder. Surgery is set for mid-November and apparently recovery is terrible. Thanks again, Doug! I will be off work for one week, working from home the 2nd week and hopefully be in the office a little more from weeks 3-6. I guess the first two weeks I won’t have much use of that arm at all, which seems like it is going to make everything challenging. I’ve been trying to not use that arm at all to get my left arm ready but so far it’s not going well. I tried to put make-up on with left hand and I legit looked like a crack whore. I also tried to get dressed, brush my teeth, makes Doug’s food and blow dry my hair with just my left hand and I can say with absolute certainty that if it was only up to me, none of those things would happen. Luckily, I will have plenty of help.
The worst part about all of this is that I can’t drive for 6 weeks. Well, the actual worst part of this is that the pain I’m currently feeling is causing problems with my neck and likely contributing to an increase in migraines. But the not being able to drive part is up there.
Way to go Doug!
Um, who’s going to take me to get Pupccinnos?
Um, who’s going to feed me? It’s not my fault my brother is a jerk!
Melvin pulled me down once on a walk when he tried to take off running after another dog. I escaped with only a bruise. Jake poop’d on me but that mostly caused emotional bruising, nothing physical. Doug has caused the need for surgery. I don’t know what award he wins for this but congratulations on whatever it is!
When we moved into this house seven years ago, I bought a new couch made specially for the main living area. If I was on that couch, Melvin was on the couch right next to me.
When Jake came, he sorta owned the chaise part of the couch like a boss (see, one of my dogs did appreciate a good chaise). He would nap there, with his face pressed into the cushion and snoring loudly. He had therapy on the chaise. I changed his diaper there. That chaise saw its fair share of meatballs. We even said goodbye to the little nugget on his favorite spot. But nothing more spectacular took place on that couch, than Melvin and Jake becoming soul mates. (also, their matching collar game was STRONG).
My dad helped me get it cleaned up and we donated it to a fantastic organization called Gabriel Homes. They provide independent living for adults with Down Syndrome. It is now bringing joy to a new little family.
Someone asked me if it was hard to give it away since it is the couch where the boys became one. The answer is, no. That couch doesn’t have to exist for my memories to live on. And the fact that it is making a new set of people happy, means their love lives on.
On the last couch, Doug had zero interest in using it for rest or hanging out with me. He used the chaise part as a cliff to jump off of as many times a day as possible. Exactly what the leg surgeon suggested. Oh wait, no. Exactly what a dog with double TPLO, shin stabilizing and grade 4 luxated patella fix SHOULD NOT DO.
I legit had to pick a couch that was safer for Doug.
As for the new couch. Well it’s F’ing magical. Every time Doug is on it, he falls right to sleep. I am not sure if it is the couch alone or the couch paired with the new pillows, or that fact that there is no chaise since he so clearly ANTI CHAISE, but it doesn’t matter, because I have a magical unicorn couch and Doug snuggles now!
You have been here for two years. I went to visit you at your foster’s house on 9/1/16. Jake had been gone for six weeks. I was not the best version of me when we met.
You were this low riding hippopotamus with a permanent smile. Your foster mom was telling me how you were absolutely perfect and that you hadn’t had any issues with the other dogs in your house. That is the exact moment you got protective of me and lunged at the other bulldog. I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom and cry, because that is EXACTLY what Jake did the day I met him.
Jake was there with us.
I took you home.
I wasn’t sure I would ever love you as much as you deserved. My love was fractured and you spent all day trying to eat my feet. I was tired and wondering what I had done in bringing you home. It’s all a bit of a blur, some of that is because I was in perpetual heat exhaustion taking you on 9,000 walks a day and hopping through the house the rest of the time, trying to save my feet.
I cried a lot of nights for the first four months you were here. The balance of why, teetered from losing Jake to trying to understand you.
I felt inadequate.
It’s been two years. It seems like much longer. Grief is no longer an open wound in me. It left beautiful battle scars, but the days of looking back or standing still, those cracks have been filled in with Doug joy.
Adopting you disrupted the theory of It’s too soon to get another dog. Now I know, It’s actually never too soon. A lot of grief’s load, is just love with nowhere to go. Love wants to be perpetually in motion. Grief suggests a sudden stop in love. That is when the war in our hearts start. What I have found to be true, is that love, is it. It’s why we are here. It is not meant to stop. In the same way we don’t have to feel rushed, we also should embrace, It’s never too soon. If something were to happen to me, I would never want my loved ones to delay seeking joy. I would want them to run to joy and bust through that joy door with all the love they have in their hearts for me.
That is what I did when I brought you home. I said FU to too soon and hello to let love live on.
Jake has always been your #1 fan. I know this. Jake was the scrolling power on the Facebook post when I first saw you. His googly eyes saw what my sad eyes couldn’t. He absolutely loves how disruptive you seem to me sometimes. In that way, you are so much like him.
That concern I had, about being able to love you enough… it was unfounded. I love you fiercely. I love you forever. I love you, no matter what. A love that could not be bigger or more glorious but yet every day, it is.
I love you every bit as much as your brothers. My love passes over and through each of you, infinitely.
I would not trade time with you, for time with them. I had my beautiful years with Melvin and he filled up my heart with joy and he is with me every moment of every day. I had my beautiful time with Jakey and he and I won at so much life together, he is my baby, and I know that he guides you now, the same way that Melvin guides me.
My little family is stronger and more beautiful than ever.
Doug, you have taught me so much. You and I have bent equally for one another. I have to advocate for you differently than I did your brothers. Where so many used to run up to them, a lot of people are unsure about you. If you could dial down the exuberance every once in a while, that’d be good too. If not, we’ll figure it out.
I didn’t get to see your brothers grow old, and now there is a very good chance, that I will have you for the longest. That I will have you longer than the seven years I had with Melvin. And the four years I had with Jake. I hope there are more dogs that can join our family during that time. This is a giant hint, mister. Hopefully none of them are as young as you were!
Happy Gotcha day chicken legs. You are a beautiful part of my journey of joy. I look forward to many more years of waking up with your ass in my face and you breaking world records in zoomie nation. I promise that our next house will have no shiny tile. Please don’t eat Bob. Also, if you could try to keep your limbs intact and somewhat unharmed, that’d be super.
I don’t know how it is for others who have lost a pet, but for me, year one was just getting through all the firsts. After that, holidays come and go and I wish Melvin and Jake were here but I don’t necessarily count the number of moments they’ve missed.
Except the anniversary of when we said goodbye. I try not to think about it, but my brain does not always comply. My brain reminds me in March, that Melvin died in April. And I try to think of other things but something more powerful than me forces me to remember. And on that day in April, I have a day to myself. No social media, no blog. Doug and I take donations to shelters and pay Melvin’s love forward. I may cry a little, but for the most part, Melvin is always with me.
It’s a little different with Jake’s anniversary. My mind starts reminding me much earlier. And I fight really hard to ignore it. There are many more tears. Losing Melvin was pure sadness. Losing Jake was more traumatic. Melvin was gone, Jake was gone. There were no dogs. Days felt infinite because I was no longer caring for Jake.
Grief is so confusing and hurtful.
Next week will be two years since I looked into Jake’s googly eyes, and I can still feel the spiral of emotion that I went through before and after he died. And at the same time, joy washes over me every time I see his face.
So that is where you come in. The best way for me to combat those emotions, is to pay Jake love forward. So Melvin & Jake’s Project Joy would like to find a dog in need of wheelchair. The dog can be in their forever home or waiting to be rescued, but preferably in the US.
Please message us at email@example.com if you know of a dog that needs a cart. We will pick one on July 18th so that Jakey’s anniversary can be more joyful than sad!
A rescue that I volunteer for, recently had a situation where a younger dog was starting to experience what Jake went through when we first realized he had a spine issue. This dog started losing use of his legs and in a panic, the owner felt they were unable to care for the dog and they reached out to this rescue to take him. The rescue responded and started having discussions with the owner. They told them they were absolutely open to taking the dog, and behind the scenes, a foster was being lined up. The owner was understandably upset – spine symptoms can hit suddenly and there was the added emotion of having to give the dog up. The rescue made sure the family knew there was no rush, they were there if/when the family needed them.
Before I continue, all I know about this situation is: the family had a dog, the dog suddenly started to have mobility issues, the family panicked and reached out to rescue, rescue suggested a few things the vet should try (pain medication to start), the family and rescue touched base every day for about a week.
Here is what I do not know: what the feedback was from the vet, updates on that were from the owner, but from what the rescue could tell, it sounded so much like what Jake went through and that pain meds were helping.
Instead of surrendering the dog to rescue, the family choose to put the dog down. They told the rescue after they put him down, not before, when the rescue could have pleaded.
When Jake and I came to be, I had no idea he would start to become paralyzed a year later. I only knew he ran funny, his back legs would go in a circular motion when he was running. I just assumed that was how Frenchies rolled. Jake’s paralysis was destiny. There was nothing his first family or his forever family could have done to prevent it. I often wonder if I would have adopted Jake knowing he’d be or if he already was, paralyzed. It’s a hypothetical not worth dwelling on, because similar to Jake’s paralysis, he and Melvin and I, were also destined to be. One way or another, he was to rescue us.
Able body Jake, the day we met him.
The day Jake’s legs suddenly gave out, panic is not even close to what I felt. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I had no comprehension of all the terms the vet and neurologist were throwing out to me. I cried for so many different reasons. But the next day, we all got up, and we started figuring it out.
Wheels and diapers, check.
When I read the post that the family put the dog down, a lot of the air around me vanished. Everything started spinning and I had to sit down. My mind started going in so many directions. There was lack of comprehension and information. Grief showed up out of nowhere and gut punched me and my hands became desperate to reach for Jake again. To scream how grateful I was that his first family gave up on him before they had any sort of reason to put him down. The only thing worse than a life that is now without Jake, is a life that never knew him.
I don’t know this family’s story. I only know our story. Our story is about dog named Jake and the family that he made whole. When Jake’s legs gave out that winter morning, I am not the only one who panicked. Jake looked to both Melvin and I when his legs were swimming and Melvin was the first one to make it over to him. He used his nose and front paws to stand behind Jake and push on him so he wasn’t losing footing. I then picked him up. My little family at is absolute finest.
Caring for Jake was one of the hardest roles I’ve ever had. Frustration came knocking daily. Life threw a lot of obstacles in Jake’s way, but we said to every one of them:
“Move bitch, get out da way“. (Ludacris)
Special needs dogs are not for everyone. And that is ok. But they are absolutely for someone. Jake widened my patience. He taught me about resilience. He gave me the most incredible purpose. Every obstacle, was an opportunity to find solution. We never gave up.
He wasn’t broken, he was perfect.
My bond with Jake is strong and tough and fierce – forever. I’m sad that family made the decision that they did, because that dog would have saved a person he was meant for. The same way Jake saved me.
It has been a little too busy over here. I am helping out with some extra projects at work so that is one part of it, our roof decided to give up 7 years into existing so when it rained ALL week last week, it did so outside AND inside.
Here are some highlights as we call ‘uncle’ on May!
Doug met a few ‘potentials’. It turned out they were only potentials for me. Doug hated them. Thus, we met with a new trainer, who I really like. In the past I have worked with trainers on his need to mouth feet, or my need to be able to encourage him from wild to place. This trainer is going to help us get Doug back to being more comfortable with play dates and hopefully then, a housemate. I will do a separate post on this.
I don’t think Bob #1 is with us anymore. She could have relocated, we had a surge of feral cats this spring so maybe she found a new gang to run with. I have not seen her in several months. She is chipped to me and I have not gotten any phone calls so, who knows. We wish that vixen all the best.
Bob #2 is a regular. Last night I pulled into the driveway and he was in our bushes. I stood in the garage to see if he would come up to his bowl and he did. Every time a bird flew by or there was a noise, he would flinch. I guess that is the life of a feral cat. After he ate he took a little siesta on the driveway and even though I’m deathly allergic and he is just generally terrified, I think he knows I’m the provider of food. Also, I love him.
This spring is so much better than last spring for Doug! Last year at this time we were a few weeks into Doug’s first surgery. This year, Doug owns his yard like a boss. He chases the squirrels out of it, he digs for moles (I could live without this), he makes sure his jolly balls get the attention they deserve and then he lays down on every soft surface, except the dog chaise I bought for him.
To add to the awesomeness of Doug’s life, he has graduated from being in the mudroom when I am gone to having access to the main floor of the house. I slowly gave him more freedom and he has done really great with it all. The first few days he sat and stared at the door like a statue, but somewhere around day 5 he realized he could do what all other dogs do when their humans are way – lick his parts and nap.
Melvin and Jake continue to send me songs and beautiful sunsets. And Doug and I continue to help dogs in need so that their #loveliveson .
Your legs seem to be doing better. Only one dog can own wonkalicious and that is me, brother. You’re going to have to get your own nickname. I was thinking you could own zoomiezombie!
I have been sending you some high fives from Heaven. You try to chase birds, in flight! Dude, you are awesome! You run, while they fly, and then you ram into the fence. Hahahahahaha – oh brother, I really wish I was there with you, we would destroy those birds.
I also really, really, really appreciate how viciously you bark at Bob #2. I mean s/he runs when you ram up against the window at her/him. You and I both know that you would crap yourself if s/he ever saw you without the protection of the window. But good for you brother, you make me proud.
We noticed that you are finally not a spaz in the big bed. That bed has a really beautiful history of naps with her (she called them migraines but they were naps), we were starting to think you were going to darken our legacy, but you finally calmed the F down.
Things here are great. We miss her, a lot. We send her signals that we are there with her and she catches every single one. She is so smart. Melvin and her talk all the time. He says it is his joy and purpose, on earth and in Heaven, to be her guardian angel. I love her too, but I keep pretty busy making sure this place stays bumpin! I greet all the new dogs like I own the place!
We added a few to our gang recently, Sally – I know how much you love her brother, she’s here and she’s doing great. She is my spirit animal. She and I will probably get married. She is just impossible not to love. Massey is here, I used to fence fight him but come to find out, he’s a cool, chill dude. He’s running (he is so fast) and jumping and keeping an eye on his family. Guinness is here now. That dude is so awesome, like I secretly watch him so I can learn his moves. He’s still pretty focused on letting his mom know he’s ok and that he’s with his sisters. I have a feeling he and I will get leather gang vests at some point (Sally will totally get one too). Diamond just arrived. Corbin leapt over like six hundred dogs to meet her! She lived the longest of all of us and she said that despite all her years, all she recalls is the love over the last few years with her mom.
Hey Doug, that time of year is coming up, the dates when she found out that Melvin and I had cancer. Those dates still haunt her a little. She tries really hard to forget them, but she can’t, because they are linked to us. So on February 9th and March 3rd – be extra saucy or snuggly. Keep her mind focused on joy. We are counting you. Don’t let me down bro.
We still have bets on you. You are such a wild card. I think you will still turn out like me. Weird legs, troublemaker, badass. But Melvin thinks you will be soulful, like him and Max (boring!). Either way, we made a really great choice in sending you to her. We can tell you love her like we love her. And it’s ok that she loves you every bit as much as she loves us. Love is supposed to live on. We only want her happy and safe.
Ok brother, I gotta go, my peeps need me to start this day with some Jakey funk! Keep chasing the birds, I’ll be right next to you, hoping you catch one!
The holidays can be lovely, joy filled, and happy. They can also be challenging, lonely, and heartbreaking.
I always say that best part about any holiday is who you share your couch with. Sometimes, the couch is full. Inevitably, someone is missing.
This will be our third Christmas without Melvin, and the second without Jake. There are a few tears when I put their ornaments on the tree, but at this point, I’m mostly just grateful that they are both in my heart and that every beat is a chance for me to seek and spread joy in their memory. Despite their physical absence, I’m blessed to still have a full couch.
Love lives on. But it is not always an easy journey.
We wish you all much love and much laughter this holiday season. To anyone who is dreading the holidays or too sad to celebrate, we send you love and hugs. We’ll hold a spot for you, just in case.
xoxo, Tracey & Doug
PS: If you are wondering what Doug thinks of Christmas, just check out his expression on our card. It’s the ho-ho-ho version of F-you.
I have some friends who have lost dogs recently and find themselves in a heavy-hearted conundrum. One that I know very well. No dogs in the house and uncertainty about ever being able to love a dog again. Then there is the ever awesome (not) feeling of guilt that they are in some way, moving on, or away from, the one they lost.
The number one question I get about grief and moving forward with Doug is: Did you love Doug right away.
The answer is, no. Love and grief are a strange combination.
Max was the dog that showed me the way. Without him, there would never have been a Melvin, a Jake or a Doug. He was the beginning, the catalyst, the original.
Melvin was a massive growth spurt for my heart. It is unlikely I will ever love another dog in the same way I loved Melvin. Our connection is spiritual and I am fine with that part of me belonging only to him. He changed me. But as with all loves, they grow and move and are meant to live on.
Melvin love, brought Jake home.
Jake is my baby. My love for him is different from my love for Melvin or Max. It is no more or less, just unique to Jake. I felt that way when Melvin was here and after Melvin died. I doubt I will ever love a dog the way I loved Jake. That is exactly how it was meant to be.
Jake love, brought Doug home.
When I got Doug, my heart was still living in the Melvin and Jake era. I was still figuring out where my little family went. He didn’t fit in perfectly but at the same time, he didn’t have to find his place because there were no dogs here. I never felt guilty about bringing Doug home (but I certainly had felt that about dogs I met after Jake but before Doug). I also never felt passionate about Doug’s arrival. In a lot of ways he solved the empty house problem which is not the most loving reason to get a dog. Then again, I got Melvin because Max was dying so maybe life knows what it’s doing after all.
For most of Doug’s first year, I missed Jake. If I wore some sort of emotional gauge, that is what would register as #1. Grief owns you until it doesn’t.
Last night after Doug was a madman and ran and jumped and did all the things he is not supposed to do post surgery I snuggled with my little guy. I have felt love for him for a long time now, it sorta just snuck up on me a few months into him joining the family. I know that sounds sad, I loved him enough to bring him home and keep him during the times he tried to eat my feet but I was not struck with an overwhelming YOU ARE THE ONE, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH right away with him. I liked him a whole lot. I just didn’t have control over where my love had scattered after losing Melvin and Jake.
Last night, I realized, in a rather quiet, a-ha moment, that I LOVE him. Fiercely. Every bit as much as his brothers and in a completely different way that is also exactly the same. For anyone and everyone who has loved and lost and then loved again, you know what I mean. It’s not a guilty, replacement love. It is brand new love from the same loving heart.
I believe with all that I am that love lives on. That our hearts love, and when we lose the one we love, that loves stays theirs but our capacity to love widens to welcome the next love home. The chapters of our lives move on. What other choice do we have? Love is not meant to be tucked away in its pages, love needs air and light and new places to land.
The world needs love to live on, more than ever.
I know that if Doug could talk the first thing he would do is to thank Max, Melvin and Jake for sending my love back out into the universe. I know with all that I am that Melvin, the owner of my heart, wants me to rain love down on as many dogs as I can fit into this lifetime and that anything else would be unacceptable to him.
Recently, we got some bittersweet news. Our friends over at Yellow Brick Home are stepping back from doing pet portraits (I had to stop when I was reading it to hyperventilate) to make more time for the newest project they are cooking up, a baby girl! Ugh, it’s so hard to stay upset when it’s for such a good reason!
I am not sure I can put into words the feelings I have for the YBH paintings of my boys. Despite having tens of thousands of photographs of them, our YBH paintings are among the treasures I would rush in to save during a disaster. It’s not just that they are one-of-a-kind; they are one of my kind. My boys. I commissioned each one during a very definitive phase of our lives.
Melvin & Jake was ordered the moment I realized that my little odd couple were becoming soul mates. My very first, little family.
Melvin’s was ordered just before his 10th birthday, to capture how soulful his Eeyore face had become. I found out he was dying while Kim was painting it and it arrived one week before we said good-bye.
Jake’s was ordered just after Melvin died. During his intense grief, Jake’s eyes took on the most delicate vulnerability and I wanted Kim to capture it. Little did I know how poetic the timing was; his eye ruptured just a few weeks after the painting arrived.
I had just ordered Doug’s (in the hopes no sadness would surround the timing of it) when YBH announced they were stepping back from the pet portraits. I just recently received it. My collection is complete!
Some would say it’s all just paint on wood, but it’s infinitely so much more than that. Kim understands the connection between pet and person. There is an emotion in each stroke, the same way true love is painted into our hearts.
Farewell (for now) Yellow Brick Home. Thank you for the treasures!
I am part of a support group on FB for folks who have dogs going through the same surgeries as Doug. A lot of times people will post that they feel bad for their dogs, day after day, every day, to have to go through any of this, and that is the moment where I have to ask myself: why I don’t feel this way? Do I not care about Doug? Am I dead inside?
The reality is, despite what Doug is going through, it is nothing even close to what Jake (or even Melvin had to go through). And that is not to say that Doug’s life is a comparison to theirs, not at all. It’s just…I never looked at Jake and thought, you poor thing. I felt for his struggle but our entire lives were built around overcoming and opportunity. Sure, that last year I screamed to the universe ENOUGH already! But Jake and I moved forward, even on his last day.
Doug is going to have a great life. I have a lot of faith that his legs will be better than ever (and sure, a little worry here and there that they will not be able to keep up with him at all). Whatever will be, will be. We will figure it out.
Our plans for this summer got squashed. No doubt about it. Unlike Melvin and Jake, Doug loves to be outside, even by himself. I have screens that allow him to go in and out on his own while I’m home. The back yard is built for him to enjoy and run zoomies There will not be a single day during spring, summer or most of fall that Doug isn’t outside on leash, with me. No opening the door to let him run, I must go out with him. No lingering on the patio furniture, he is not allowed to jump up or down. No pool time, he’d 100% break another part of his body.
As sad as that is, Doug is fine. There is no way he will remember this phase. The first chance he has at a full outside zoomie session, he will transition from inmate to superhero. He will live in every moment and continue to have everything he needs. If and when the next challenge comes along, he’ll get through that too. Doug is powered by joy. Trust me on this, I live it every day.
Here are some positives that have come out of Doug being in jail:
He’s had to work on impulse control, and he’s doing great.
If I am not in the room with him, he will chill all day in the jail cell if necessary. This is a great tool for us to have when people come over who are not dog/Doug enthusiasts.
Despite the death stares, he knows I’m in this with him. He and I have bonded, even during the barking and snarling. (I bark and snarl also).
Walks are less stressful now because he is so excited to be out and about that he doesn’t chew the leash or dart left and right and backwards the entire time.
We have MASTERED all his commands.
One of my favorite sayings/quotes is: Where you’re at is not who you are. I have applied that to just about every struggle I have ever had. Those low moments, they don’t define you. This legs phase, will pass. And I have no doubt that one day Doug will break something else in his attempt to be the most insanely crazy dog on earth!
And with that, I give you my little graduate. I wrote this blog post last week and this week Doug was cleared to be off leash in the house. I am 100% panicked he will break his entire body but here we go anyway!
Where are the chains that usally hold me down?
The jail cell comes down:
Doug’s first moments of freedom are spent next to me. Can anyone say Stockholm Syndrome?
He’s clearly not familiar with freedom yet. All those lovely industrial rugs and mats are to prevent slipping (and surgery!).