I have said this one billion times before, joy is not ignoring reality, it’s about making the best of it. And in so many unlikely ways, we found joy this year.
I started off the year, not knowing if Doug would be here with me at the end of it. When Covid hit in March, amidst all the fear and uncertainty, a wish I’d had came true. I was working from home full time, in that year when I was not sure how long Doug would be here.
Pure joy, even in a pandemic.
As we moved into summer, our family got a baby! A reminder that even when the sky is falling, joy can sneak in.
Also, I had more time to work on Bob’s trust. And he’s finally eating in the garage, just in time for winter. I guess I have a cat now. Words I never thought I’d type!
Covid shifted some of my anxiety. As spring moved into summer, and we hit the 6-month mark of Doug having NCL, I realized he would outlive the initial 6-month timeframe. In fact, his disease was progressing so slowly, his medical team barely noticed much difference in him. That brought with it, room to breathe. And the moment I took that first deep breath, the human medical community was revealing that Covid causes blood clotting in patients without clotting conditions. I already clot too much. How would I ever survive a virus that causes more? So I worried less about Doug, and went into some hyperdrive on quarantine. I worked really hard on finding a balance. Rearranging my house and pantry ten billion times and continuing to celebrate life with Doug has helped!
I am lucky enough to still be working from home. I regularly don’t know what day it is. I can’t believe we are at the end of December. Doug was diagnosed over a year ago, and even though there is still almost 100% uncertainty about what will come, NCL does not rule our day. Joy continues to win.
The time I have been given with Doug, is a priceless treasure. When cancer flipped our lives upside down with Melvin, we only got 40 days. When cancer showed up again with Jake, we only got 5 months. Every single day with Doug is new and beautiful and unexpected and everything I could ever ask for.
2020 gave us the one thing we needed the most, time together.
Merry, merry! Happy, happy! With so much love, Me, Doug, and Bob! xoxo
Wow, it has been a hot minute since we’ve been on the blog! I just read our last post and I don’t think too much has changed.
Most of you know, I have a blood clotting condition, so I am in a pretty strict quarantine which means, so is Doug. The company I work for is still 100% work from home, so I have had so much glorious time with my boy. Would I like to be able to see more people and do more things, absolutely! But time with Doug is a beautiful outcome of this rather tragic predicament the world is in.
Since late April…
We went to the beach with my family! Everyone quarantined in advance because there is a newborn in the family so we were all able to come together safely at our beach house. And that included Doug! He was around small kids, 24/7, for the first time ever. We took it very slow, he had a gated off area at the beach house so he could see the chaos but not be the chaos. After a few days of seeing a 10, 6, and 2 year old run back and forth non-stop, he was pretty much oblivious to them. He was also fine with me holding a baby. The 10 year old already loves dogs but at the start of the vacation, the 6 year old was not a fan. She left vacation crying, because she was going to miss Doug so much. Further proof that Doug is irresistible.
Doug went into a pool for the first time! It wasn’t planned (although there was no danger), and at first he sunk. All we saw were his GIANT eyes as he wondered WTF was happening! My BIL was the lifeguard on duty and helped Doug learn to paddle. He got out of the pool and never got back in. Typical Holupka dog.
Health wise, Doug is doing, great! We saw the neurologist recently and she is amazed at how well he is doing. She even said that the first thing she sees in him is joy, not NCL. He has bad days but he always rebounds. A bad day might look like him falling over for a few seconds, his eyes rolling back in his head, or him being frozen for a few seconds. It might be him falling over each time he shakes. These might go on all day, but the next day is much better. A good day isn’t free of NCL, it’s just that he is able to travel through the day and navigate the disease. The only thing he can no longer do, is run fast. When he tries to run, his body doesn’t move on demand. So half of his body is running and the other half isn’t moving at all. He rarely tries to run anymore, and honestly after his leg surgeries, his running has never really been easy or smooth.
Doug’s disease is progressing slowly. This means that we can learn a lot from Doug and we can help other dogs and families that face this. So far, about six people have found us through google, based on my sharing Doug’s story. Not all of the dogs have as much access to great veterinary care, so we share everything we are doing with them so that they have the same info we do. Doug does some traditional supplements, some holistic Chinese herbs, and acupuncture. Hearing the neurologist say he is doing so much better than she expected, makes me celebrate all our efforts. But either way, he will always know love, and the depth of his joy will always be my guide.
I go back and forth on getting a dog right now. Doug is so happy and content. He has a disease that causes dizziness yet he has never been more, balanced. I don’t know how long we have before he can’t maneuver as well. There is a damaged part of me that recalls what it was like to not have dogs in the house, but there is also a part of me that wants to pack Doug’s entire life into a this smaller timeframe. I remember the year I had when it was only Jake and I, and I knew his time was short. He absolutely deserved all of me. Doug deserves that too. None of it is easy, I am tearing up just writing this because I really do not know what is best at this point. We are winging it. Every. Single. Day.
On September 1st, we celebrated Doug’s 4 year adoption anniversary. Four years ago, I was falling apart over Jake dying and there being no dogs here and I was trying to meet dogs but every single one of them felt, wrong. I decided to stop torturing myself and I unfollowed all the rescue sites so I could take a break. But somehow, a dog named Hootie snuck into my feed. There was no panic, no breakdown, just a knowing that he was already mine. Through the feet mouthing, the leg surgeries, his anxiety and now the NCL, love has helped us persevere. When Doug first came, I thought he would be the dog I had the longest. I still very much hope that is true. I seek only to control the things I can – he is my beautiful purpose and I want him to know as much joy as possible.
I have so many updates I don’t know where to start.
We have seen a slight bit of progression of NCL, but also, some improvements. This disease is the definition of confusion.
Doug had one mild seizure in the middle of the night two weeks ago. I woke up to it, and it only lasted about 20-30 seconds. When Doug came out of it, he was disoriented but it was also the middle of the night. He went back to sleep and it has not happened since. I do not know if that means Doug will have seizures or not.
There was a different night that he woke up at 2am and was immediately frantic and was up and down and pacing and circling and up and down and darting here and there and I was unable to calm him. I had no idea what was happening. I took him outside in case he had to go and that seemed to make it worse. There was snow on the ground and he just got more and more disoriented and I had to get a leash to get him back inside. Once inside, I turned the lights on and he seemed to settle a little. That is when I realized, he might not be able to see clearly. He stood there, panicked, tail tucked and I started crying. 3am is not the best time to get a schooled by Neuronal Ceroid Lipafucisinosis. I gave him a sedative, and he was able to fall asleep. The next day he was wobbly but, ok. Thankfully, it has not happened again.
There are some positives. Doug falls over less when he shakes his head now. This is because he has started adapting to what he is experiencing and has started widening his stance. It is hard to put into words how proud I am of him on this. This little victory, is huge.
His wild eye movements (there is a vet term but why use that) are not as bad, the neurologist agreed on that.
He had his first acupuncture session and the days that followed, Doug was like a puppy. Not that he isn’t usually like a puppy, but his movements were more fluid and he was more carefree.
We had a follow up with the neurologist. We have not seen her since he got diagnosed. I only had one question. What will are we facing? I still don’t know for sure. She said Doug might live with the disease well for a couple years or he could start to decline quickly and not be here come six months. That information was not new. She thought he looked great and she noticed his improvements. Then she said something to the effect of ‘We will have to see what progresses faster, the NCL or his spinal issues.
Wait, what? Hold up, come again on that last part.
She said that she had told me last time when we were there that he likely had a brain/spinal (connection?) issue and I thought that was one thing it could be and it was only one thing total so when we got the NCL news, that was the ONE THING. Apparently, she feels he also likely has Cervical Myelopathy. That I can pronounce because that is what Jake had and it’s what made his hind legs give out.
She said the words and I looked at her and said – OK. That’s it, OK.
I don’t have questions about Cervical Myelopathy, I lived it for 3 years with Jake. She may have talked more after that, but Doug and Jake’s mobility started flashing in my head in unison and overlaying them made me realize I had never seen it but it was right there. Doug has the same exact wonky gait and legs that Jake had when he first came here. They literally maneuver the same exact way. How did I miss this? I did worry about how he would face both, but the reality is, he may not live long enough for the CM to impact him as much.
It guts me to write that, but that doesn’t make it less true.
Doug and I had a lovely 3-day weekend. There were a few I-am-human-moments that I said – why him. Why dump on him. This isn’t fair. Why do we get the worst things.
But you know what. We don’t only get the worst things. We pretty much get all of the best things that life has to give too. I can’t scream out WHY US when I also don’t scream out HOLY SHIT WHY DID WE GET SO MUCH TO LOVE.
This life gave me Melvin. That alone negates me personally being able to ask, why me.
And Melvin and I got to love Jake. And that was absolutely meant to be and we were there for him that morning his legs stopped working, exactly where we were supposed to be and yes, life could have gone easier on him, but he couldn’t have been loved any more than he was and I couldn’t be more grateful he was mine.
And then by some great miracle, Doug. A stray, with puncture wounds and two legs growing all wrong, who could have ended up in a backwoods dog fighting ring in SC. But someone decided to get him out of there and send him to DC. And I found him. And he saved me a billion times more than I saved him. He might have died an early death down there. But instead, he now only knows joy and love and food. Melvin taught me how to love unconditionally. Jake taught me how to persevere with joy in my heart. And Doug has taught me to enjoy the ride. And my grateful heart turns those things into beautiful lives full of love for the boys. And yes, we have had a lot of terrible and a lot of heartache, but the amount of joy in our lives is infinite. Doug may have a shorter life than I had hoped, but he doesn’t know that. He thinks he’s been alive forever and life has always been incredible. He doesn’t remember his old life. He has a life where he can pack more nuclear joy into his few years on earth than people who live to be 110 are able to. And in return for him saving me, I will carry the grief. He can just focus on basking in the love. And eating all the food.
All of this is very hard. I still cry a lot. But sometimes I cry because our lives are so beautiful and I’m so thankful for all that we have. We’ve already won this life, ten times over, and we are, as always, committed to joy.
Joy is who we are.
Also, don’t forget, I bought Jakie the large dog stroller, just in case, and now we have a just in case and can you even imagine how adorable Doug will be with his head sticking out of the top and all his sister wives riding shotgun?!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why did that dog Wolverine my face?
Now, he’s getting much better about being around his own kind again and he shows the most love and promise with 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Tomorrow is Melvin’s 14th birthday. I honestly cannot think of anything more delicious than a 14-year-old Melvin.
I am far more happy that he was born, than sad that he died. I carry him in my heart every beat, every day. He and I remain perfectly and beautifully connected. He continues to make me a better person, and he continues to remind me to choose joy.
As his birthday is approaching, I have been talking to him a little more lately. Just reminding him of all the little things that I love so much about him. And he responds back, in songs on the radio, in beautiful sunsets, and in love.
When Melvin was here, the one constant every day was that he would make the big bed his own while I was at work. Every day I would make the bed, and every day Melvin would ‘make it better’. When he died, seeing the bed untouched by him each day, was really hard.
But last night, Melvin sent a hello, via Doug.
Doug is not allowed upstairs when I’m not home. But yesterday I accidentally left the gate open. I came walking into the bedroom, took one look at the bed, lost my breath for a moment and then felt so much Melvin that I tear’d up realizing how blessed I am to have so much love and beauty in my life. Melvin is always watching over me; he is my original joy.
I get a lot of questions about how I get the dogs to sleep in. I think Melvin trained me, to sleep train. Melvin’s foster dad was in the army and they both woke at 0500 to walk. I don’t even know what 0800 looks like, so 0500 was never going to fly. The first couple of weeks Melvin was mine, he slept during the day and paced on top of the bed (with me in it) all night. I tried putting him downstairs so that I could get sleep but he barked non-stop. He had run stray, his skin was on fire. It took him a while to learn to relax but once he did, that dog embraced sleep like no dog ever has.
It has been such an honor to give all the boys a life where they could embrace sleep, and without them really knowing I was a sleep pusher, I was also happy to get them addicted to it.
Here are some of my tricks:
Never, never, never get up when your alarm goes off. This gives them the go-ahead to rise and shine the moment they hear it. By not getting up when the alarm goes off, they basically stop hearing it. This step will take the longest. Jake wasn’t great at this so I had an alarm clock downstairs and while we were watching TV or I was working, it would go off and I would not change what I was doing. Eventually, he ignored it.
Vary the times you hit snooze. Dogs can count, trust me. If you vary the snooze hits, they will learn that each subsequent alarm noise is a non-day-starter also.
During training, if they get up and try to get you up, be a lifeless zombie. Melvin would lay on top of me and cut off my breathing and I never moved. I just kept thinking: ‘0500 is what happens if you move’. Doug would lay on my face. DO NOT GIVE IN.
Have a verbal get up signal – mine is OK. This is crucial if you have to pee, but plan to come back to bed. I always give a stay command for this. It does not always work but all dogs have learned to follow me back to bed until the office OK.
I need 8 hours of sleep and that was always enough for Melvin and Jake. Doug needs 10-12 hours so he has been pretty easy to train once he realized the alarm means nothing.
I have a gate at the top of our steps so Melvin could go out into the loft whenever he wanted. Doug sleeps with me about 50% of the time (he has to stay used to his little bed area for when I have migraines) so he can also venture out to the loft. But by keeping them upstairs, we avoid ‘starting the day’ or seeing food bowls. Jake always stayed in his ‘meatball factory’ zone so he was the easiest.
Have a water bowl near the bedroom. It’s not prison!
This is how I did it with Max (came to me used to getting up at 7am), Melvin (0500), Jake (I’m not sure anyone ever gave Jake a schedule so he was just happy to have love), and Doug (goes from 0 to 4,576 upon waking so waking rules are key).
During the early days with Melvin, I was all about making lists of all the things he needed to change. A list of all the things ‘he was doing wrong’. When we finally found a behaviorist that I liked, and after finding a way to secure him in the car so that he didn’t jump in my lap while I was driving and traveling 55 mph, we met with her.
In one 60 min session, she changed the way I think about dogs (and people) forever. That might be selling myself a little short, since I have worked really hardat this area of life, but she was the one that gave me an ‘ah ha’ moment to build on.
I brought my list to her. The Melvin-is-terrible list. The how-can-one-dog-do-so-much-wrong list. She asked me to pick one thing on the list that caused me the most frustration. The one thing I wish I could change about him.
He is missing out on playdates with other dogs because he seems to hate every dog we meet.
In response to that she asked me three questions:
Do you like and want to spend time with every person you meet? No.
What exactly do you feel he is ‘missing out on’? Fun?
What if this is Melvin and he just doesn’t like other dogs? Is that ok? Wow. Of course.
She took my list and asked, what are the things he does that makes you happy? Make a list of that. What are the areas he’s already improved on? Make that a list.
From her I learned to meet Melvin where he was. Not to wait for him to arrive where I was or where I wanted him to be. I had to do the work to figure out who Melvin was, why he was where he was, and honestly assess what he (and I) should become. I couldn’t hand him a list and say ‘be this/do this’, I had to take each area of him and figure out how the two of us could be a team in him having a happy, successful life.
Obviously, he turned out to be perfect.
Melvin couldn’t bend for me. We had to learn a shared language. I let go of the demands, and embraced our journey.
In my life with Melvin, he never, not even once as a joke, play-bowed. He preferred me over other dogs, and he preferred me over all people, although he did love just about every human that he met. In Melvin’s first life, he didn’t know love. So once he came to me and felt crazy amounts of love, he became a love and joy junkie. He didn’t need a life with other dogs.
He had me. And then he had Jake. His life was complete.
I met Jake where he was. I’ve done the same for Doug.
She’s lying. I was perfect.
The number one thing I ask almost every day now is: why is Doug doing this? I don’t scream this at him, I don’t get upset about this question, I truly want to know why he’s doing what he’s doing so that he and I can figure out a better plan. What I have come to learn is that, Doug has a lot of fear about life. And the more comfortable he is with me and the more joy we find, the more he is willing to let his fear flag wave. He will run joyfully towards life and he will experience some form of fear in everything that is new. This list includes but is not limited to: bugs that crawl, bugs that fly, leaves, leaves that move with wind, mud, a clicking noise, a new car, a new food bowl, a sweater, a blanket with pom-poms, a new ring tone, shiny flooring, a purple koala bear on a cereal box.
He ran stray before he came to me. They don’t have purple koala bears on the not-shiny, rural streets of South Carolina. Every thing is new to him. It’s my job to make him feel safe but still encourage him to move in the direction of new things. In doing so, I have to step VERY FAR out of my comfort zone with bugs and mud and just this morning a slug, to meet Doug at Fear Avenue and get him on his way to the Joy Highway.
We had our annual family vacation last week. The dogs have never gone because a few family members are allergic to dogs. Last year when I left Doug for this trip, he was still in recovery from his first leg surgery and was living life as an inmate in his pen. He was also on meds to keep him calm. Just typing that makes me laugh, most days those drugs were no match for Doug.
Oh sure bitch, just leave me.
When I used to leave Melvin, he knew the moment the suitcase came out that I was abandoning leaving him. He’d have an extra sad face, he’d be an angel for the dog sitter and when I got home, he’d greet me with pure joy and delight and then ignore me for at least a week. Punishment hurts.
Please don’t leave me alone with him. I miss you already.
Jake didn’t care that I was leaving and he didn’t really notice when I came back. The only living creature that Jake reacted to them leaving, was Melvin. If I snuck Melvin out for a vet appointment, Jake would rally his digestive system and even if he had JUST GONE, he would start shooting meatballs out while also flailing his body around and doing some odd gurgle-howl. He is the reason we have so many cameras, so we could watch his crazy outbursts. When Melvin left us, Jake sat by the door and howl-cried for two weeks. I had to put him on Prozac just to help get him through.
Thank you for this new bed. It is mine now.
I don’t think Doug sees the suitcase as anything but something new to chew or jump over. But once I’m gone and the sitter is here for a few days, he decides to retaliate. This last trip, retaliation was going from being fine left alone, to dragging every item not bolted down to the center of the room and trying to eat it all.
The first question I asked the dog sitter, after laughing hysterically, was if the basket still had all it’s pom-poms on it. Priorities folks!
Doug did notice when I returned. Which of course makes up for all the shit he destroyed while I was gone.
There was a lot of debate about how old Doug was when I rescued him. The shelter that took him in and the rescue that brought him to DC put him at 2 years old (In August of 2016). When I adopted him, based on all this, I thought he was two. That made him the youngest dog I had ever rescued.
Once I got him to my vet, they were not feeling the two-years-old part. After a very thorough looking over, and a few vets weighing in, they felt he was more of the 8-months old.
Rescue photo of Doug. HOW OLD ARE YOU 2016 Hooty (his rescue name)?
My first photo of Doug.
It took me a minute to realize what I’d done. I’d adopted a puppy. (Insert record scratch noise here). Jake had just died six-weeks before, I’d adopted Doug in a desperate attempt to have dog life back in the house. I was grieving so hard, a puppy was the last thing I needed.
Oh, but I was wrong. Doug is exactly the disruption that would see me through.
The only thing that came even remotely close to how painful losing Jake was, was Doug mouthing my feet. It was like he’d see me cry over Jake and say, you want to cry, I’ll show you pain. That mouthing and his insane energy level screamed PUPPY. We trained, we walked, he ran zoomies, he mouthed my feet.
We celebrated his maybe first birthday on his made up birth date, December 1st (2016). Then we went on a not epic journey, to surgery town. Two surgeries and five months of lockdown, with a dog born to zoom.
We then celebrated his maybe 2nd birthday on December 1st (2017).
Over the last few months, Doug has started channeling an inner calm. It’s not a consistent calm, consistent is not a word that really fits with Doug. Homeboy likes to mix it up. There are still moments when his face gets tight and he looks like he could implode from nuclear energy and running zoomies only exasperates the situation. But, in general, I would say that 75% of the time now, Doug is somewhat chill.
Some of it might be his legs. They are fixed in an as good as it gets way, but they are not perfect. They may be slowing down his body but I don’t think they could be fully responsible for slowing down his soul.
Our current estimate is that Doug is two-and-a-half. But maybe the rescue was right, maybe he’s four. That would better explain some of his calmer nature.
Here is the thing, Doug is following the same trajectory that Melvin did. Arrive crazy, be insane for about two years, find some inner zen.
I think the main contributor to the calm, is that Doug knows he’s home. Both Melvin and Doug were outdoor wanderers before they came here. Melvin had a home but he was more of their outside dog. Doug ran legit stray. Maybe even in a gang. Living life on high alert, adrenaline pumping. I guess it took about two years for them to know they were home. There is something really magical about a dog snuggling into their forever.
When I was trying to tame wild Melvin, we worked with a behaviorist on a few of his issues. I went in with a list of things that seemed ‘off’ about him. She and I worked through the list and for each item she’d say…what if this is just Melvin? What if this is who he is? For example, while I wanted him to like other dogs and have playmates, she made me realize that Melvin did not want that. Melvin just wanted to be around me and other humans. What I wanted was what seemed normal, but dogs are anything but. Not all dogs like dogs. Some love cats. Others chew. Some don’t like thunder. I could go on and on but that behaviorist taught me to approach each dog as a unique individual.
I don’t think I’ve ever done that more than I have with Doug. Jakey probably comes closest.
She also taught me the most important approach to loving dogs. And that is…to meet the dog where they are at. Not where you want them to be, how can they meet you where you want them to be when they are clearly where they are at and they don’t speak english or understand your flailing arms. But if you meet a dog where they are at, and you explore the place they are comfortable in, you can slowly, get to the next chapter, together.
Where was Melvin at and what did he need? His body was on fire from allergies and mange and I doubt he’d ever felt true love. He needed me.
I just need you, woman.
Where was Jake and what did he need? Jake had spent five years waiting. Waiting for his owner to return from 12 hour shifts. Waiting for someone, anyone, to make him feel loved or wanted. What did Jake need? He needed a home where his life could begin. He needed love from me and Melvin.
Am I done waiting?
Where was Doug and what did he need? I have learned from watching Bob that stray animals are always on high alert. There is no rest. Doug had come from running stray (perhaps his whole life before me was him being stray), part of his crazy was probably him always having one eye open. He needed safety, and rest, and someone who could provide a lookout for him so that he could just be a dog.
Uh, when I asked you to protect me, jail was not what I meant.
Ahhhhhhhhh, this is more like it.
I love Doug’s calm. In general, it’s just a way better day when he is not trying to be my back pack or climbing on me by using my hair as some sort of rope. But mostly, I see a soulfulness peeking through in him that is very reminiscent of Melvin. And that is good for the universe.
I rescued Melvin ten years ago. Of course he rescued me ten years, and one week ago (when I drove to Delaware to meet him). I don’t know how it is possible that it is only ten years, because I cannot really recall a time before, or without, Melvin.
Melvin made me believe in fate. I believe the universe delivered a master plan in us.
Yes, Melvin won in his life with me. He got the vet care he needed. We waged an assault on his allergies. He had the healthiest life he could have, with me. I love him with my whole heart. But the winner of our union will always be, me.
He changed me. He taught me to chase joy. Jake came, because of Melvin. Because we were joy junkies and we needed that little peanut so we could all be more joyful together. I have so much patience for Doug, because Melvin taught me to be understanding of all dogs. To accept that it is not where we’ve been or where we are going, it’s where we are right now.
I worried when he died that he wasn’t able to impart his wisdom on more dogs. Had I know cancer would strike so quickly, I would have brought more dogs into our house so they could soak up Melvin vibes. But now with Doug, I realize that I am his link to all that. I am the connection from Doug to Melvin and Jake. And there are so many things about Doug that remind me of his brothers. My love is the link to them all.
There will be more decades of Melvin, because I carry him in my heart. His love, and life, and light, will always shine brightly in me. Melvin magic lives on.
A few years ago, I wrote a letter to Melvin’s first family. You can find it here.
I have said this before, I have hard time being anything but happy about Melvin. I didn’t spend a ton of time being angry at his life before me. I made a huge effort to not be angry when I was grieving his loss. Melvin personified (dogified?) joy every moment he was alive. I mean his tail got amputated and he came out of that surgery, on the stretcher, wagging his nubbin. He was ALL JOY, all the time. I worked really hard after he died, to not let anger become a part of our story. There is a peace that has always washed over me when I see Melvin’s face. I hope that stays with me forever.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms! To the hockey moms, the dog moms, the new moms, the grand-moms. To the male moms, the single moms, the families with more than one mom moms. To the cheer moms, the carpool moms, the dance moms. To the moms that gave birth and to the moms who open their doors to children in need. To the working moms, the stay-at-home moms and the do-whatever-is-necessary moms. To the worry-they-have-no-idea-what-they-are-doing moms. To the moms of one and the moms of many. To the moms setting a better example for their kids, than what was set for them. To the moms preparing to become moms.
To the moms who have lost a child. I won’t pretend to have the words.
To those who have lost their moms. I wish you strength as memories sneak or flood in.
Moms rule this universe. A mom created your beating heart and then (hopefully) filled it with love and confidence and joy and understanding.
To my mom, you taught me the meaning of true, unconditional love. It’s the foundation of my beautiful life.
To Max, Melvin, Jake, Bob(s) and Doug, being your mom, is my everything. You are my joy.
I get asked a lot about choosing joy. How I choose it over grief, or anger, or uncertainty. The answer to that is, it is not always easy, but it has become who I am.
I have human moments. I start crying in the car for no reason (ok, fine, when the boys send me songs) and I have to pull over for other’s safety. I get sad and even mad that Melvin and Jake are not here anymore. Work stresses me out. People annoy me. Sometimes, it seems like the day/week is against me.
Choosing joy is not always a done deal. Eventually though, Melvin pops into my mind and love and joy rush over me and well… I have no option but to do as he taught me.
Jake and Melvin are not here anymore. But they were here. And were here is way more incredible than never here. And I feel them and I see them in all the beautiful things.
My heartbeat, is joy.
Doug does things that frustrate me. He is absolutely not the yin to my yang. He sometimes manages to push all my buttons, at once. But the moment I feel the frustration creeping in, I start laughing. Because Doug is, quite literally, powered by joy. He was delivered to my life when I prayed to still be a joy seeker after Jake died. I said the words please help me to continue on this joy journey and the universe said: here you go. Joy powers this one, whenever you are running low on joy, just look at him.
Joy still lives here.
Sometimes the wrong memories get served up. A moment of frustration with Jake, me wondering if Melvin’s cancer could have been cured had we found out earlier. A day after Melvin died when I was broken and not the best mom for Jake. Life sometimes tries to come at me from all the wrong directions. I do not entertain any of those moments. I did my best, I refuse to be torn down, not after all we’ve been through. So when those moments try to sneak in, I say nope. I go towards the joy. I go towards the moments that mattered, the moments that we won.
Joy owns my past.
Work stresses me out. Some days I feel like I’m drowning. But there is never a moment that joy doesn’t remind me that this job, that I happen to LOVE, this job has allowed me to give the boys everything they have ever needed. When cancer struck, I didn’t have to worry about whether I could give them the best care possible.
Joy is always just around the corner.
Let’s be honest folks, joy does not win (right away) every time. That would be odd and impossible. Sometimes, the grief is way stronger than the joy. Sometimes, the transition from angry to joy filled takes a few days. I choose joy when I can and I accept that some days it’s going to be harder than other days.
I just don’t see myself ever giving up on the chase. Joy for me, translates a lot of the time, to thankfulness. I have yet to arrive at a day where I am not thankful for something.
This joy journey all started with Melvin. From day one, Melvin dragged me, forward. I kicked and screamed and he just kept dragging me. One day he stopped for a break, and I had a moment of reflection and I looked back and realized, he’d gotten me through. Where I might have been happier to linger in a sad or difficult situation, he had shown me how to persevere. He changed me. From that point on, every time I looked at him, I felt joy wash over me and I knew with all that I was, that he and I were meant to continue chasing that emotion. He was the original joy for me. The joy catalyst. The one creature in this life that absolutely, every time, no matter what – moved forward with joy in his heart.
I’m just another way that his love lives on. Even saying those words, is joy to me.
We are coming up on the third anniversary of his death. I get haunted by flashbacks of our life three years ago. But our life is not defined by our end, in fact I’d argue, the end is separate. The end will always come, but the middle, the middle is all ours. What we make of the middle, is what defines who we are. We don’t get to choose our beginning or our end, but we can own the shit out of the time in-between.
Thirteen years ago today, at some point, my life was set on a path. I didn’t know it that day. It would be three years until I understood the magnitude of this date, one so great, as to change my life and my purpose, forever.
Today is Melvin’s birthday. He would have been 13.
There are parts of me so full of joy that he was born, that we found each other, that I got to love him. Oh man, that I got to be the one to love him is so much of everything that it is in fact, everything. Me. I was chosen. I’m infinitely grateful for everything about him.
I have never wanted to be by a dogs side as they grew older, more than I did with Melvin. Every year, he was more soulful, our connection more spiritual. I cannot imagine anything more delicious than Melvin being 13. I would have been honored to care for him, to linger longer on walks, to stare into his always loving eyes.
Melvin and I were not meant to grow older together. He is forever ten. Same goes for Jake, he is forever eight.
On Melvin’s birthday today, I will celebrate love. I will celebrate all the moments I had with him, and all the moments I’ve had becasue of him.
Today, I choose joy.
Maybe, just maybe, Melvin and Jake, were preperation for me guiding Doug as he grows older. Maybe Doug will be, my old dog.
Time will tell. Melvin will guide us. Love lives on.