Three years without Wonkalicious.

Jake went to be with Melvin three years ago.

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Putting it in that context has always made it hurt a little less. I was always meant to find Melvin, and so was Jake.

 

Losing Jake was so hard, something this community knows very well. Melvin was gone and Jake’s last year was so difficult. His soulmate had left him and he didn’t know why. His beautiful googly eye formed a hole from an ulcer and after emergency surgery, struggled to heal (never forget hamburger eye!). He went fully paralyzed in his hind legs.  He got MRSP. His body had a much harder time fighting infection and then cancer came knocking again, this time with two different types for Jake.

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I have conflicting feelings about his last year. He was so lost without Melvin and there were moments, where it was just me and him, that I saw how small and lonely he was without his big brother. But he and I got to have that year together, just the two of us, and I really do believe that is how it was meant to be. He got all the love, something he had never gotten from anyone, ever.

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We made the best of that year. Many moments of me holding him in my arms, dancing around the house. Trips to the beach, rolling around the hood in his stroller. Owning the front door watch post like a boss. Him doing all the meatball production and me doing all the meatball clean up.

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A lot has happened in the last three years, and in some ways, nothing has changed. I said goodbye to Jake and hello to Doug; my little family may look different, but Melvin and Jake are still part of it. Jake is still my baby, I don’t think any dog will ever need me as much as he did. Melvin is my co-pilot and Jake is Doug’s. He is the little voice that whispers inside Doug’s head, some are really good ideas and some are really, really, really bad ideas.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jake told me to do it. IMG_2805

Every year around the time of Jake’s death, I try to find a dog in rescue who needs a cart. It started with Oliver, just before Jake died, and this week, we bought our 4th cart in memory of Jakey, paid with love, for a little nugget named Declan. Declan is about to regain his mobility, and every joyful step he takes with his new wheels, will be more of Jake’s beautiful love living on, and one more step closer to Declan finding his forever.

I am so thankful this wonky-googly-eyed ball of comedy rescued me. I’m so happy to have been chosen to watch over both Jake and Melvin and watch their love grew. They brought me more happiness than I could ever explain! If you ever ask my advice on how to navigate all of  life’s beautiful and soul crushing moments, my response is always: Be the joy. So this week, in memory of someone who’s love should live on, be the Jakey joy. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Love. Lives. On.

 

We didn’t make the cut.

I am going to share something with you that might send some of you into a tailspin, but hear me out, it will be ok.

We were denied approval to adopt a dog. Technically, we didn’t even apply.

Deep breaths, it’s ok. I would love to think we live in a world where everyone, everywhere is willing to give me all the dogs. And the truth is, 99.9% of the time we are approved. It’s usually me that decides it’s not a good fit. We have met a lot of dogs that  the interaction between the dogs decided a NO for us. There were also seemingly great dogs that for whatever reason, I didn’t think were right.

It took me 7 months to choose a couch, I take commitment pretty seriously.

The story goes like this. Doug used to be great with dogs. Doug met a few dogs that did not love him and attacked him and he ended up in the ER one time but still he loved dogs. Then he had two extensive leg surgeries and he became not so lovey of dogs and started lunging at them.

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Now, he’s getting much better about being around his own kind again and he shows the most love and promise with puppies.

Ugh.

Puppies.

I know I am not the majority on this one but I’m just not a puppy person. There is not a single person who can suggest I am not willing to do the work with dogs. A day in the life of Jake has more than proven that. But puppies, and their chewing and their housebreaking and their need to be up when the rest of the world sleeps, make them, not for me. The argument that puppies grow up does not work with me like you would expect it too. It is that very theory, that puppies grow up, that has me proclaiming I shall wait until they do to adopt them. Some people ohhh and ahhh over puppies. I love me a good sugar faced senior.

So, puppies are a yes for Doug and a, maybe, for me.

The second part of this story is about my over abundance of caution. I had zero fear with Melvin meeting dogs. I brought Jake home and knew that Melvin would accept him by virtue of me being the one to bring him home. Melvin trusted me. I was 3000% nervous about every dog that Jake met because Jake was the most beautiful asshole that ever lived but he was extra assholey to any dog that was not Melvin. Every time. Every dog.

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Even Doug being great with dogs, I always want success for him. He’s a pit bull. He gets judged much harsher than others. So Doug might be doing great with another dog, but my caution knows no boundaries so it is always on high alert. Many will argue I’m too cautious. I will argue that there are far worse things to be.

When we met the puppy in question, Doug did great! Like super great. Like if I loved puppies we would have just said yes right away. During the meet and greet, I left Doug’s leash on. The foster mom suggested I could take it off, but – hello, my name is caution and I oh wait, what, yes I want to leave the leash on. Leaving it on is not about Doug. It’s about safety. I want to set both dogs up for success and safety. If you bring your baby over to my house, I will also leave Doug’s leash on because Doug will knock that baby over, sit on top of him/her and lick their face joyfully.

The puppy we met seemed to love Doug. This puppy is very people shy, but I felt like she did well with me.

I guess my caution raised a red flag. To be honest, I was having a hard time with this very young puppy part anyway, but the rescue reached out and said they felt we were not a good match for the puppy because of my over abundance of caution and/or them wondering why I kept Doug on leash. They wrote a nice email, and I wrote a thank you back and told them that there was probably no circumstance where I would come in, confidence ablaze, to make a puppy feel my assurance over being a responsible dog owner. Sort of an agree, to disagree.

Apparently having Jake’s life documented on the web does not in fact guarantee we will be approved for all situations.

We are not approved for cautious puppies. I am okay with this! I have said no to some really great dogs, it’s ok that someone says no to me. That little nugget was meant for someone else. And I get to hold onto my caution for longer!

If a puppy is meant to be, I’ll know when we meet.

Give me all the puppies, smother. IMG_3061

 

We are all works in progress.

Doug and I came to be six weeks after Jakey died. Doug didn’t get the best of me, he probably didn’t notice because even the worst of me is probably better than living on the streets. It took about two weeks for him to decompress. Decompression is different for every dog. For Doug, during his first two weeks, he rested. Then he unleashed an exuberance and energy fury the likes I had not seen since I first got Melvin. Even then, Doug was WAY more into constant movement than Melvin ever was.

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Doug barely rested. He was also painfully mouthing my feet, so my heart and soul missed Jakey and my feet were begging for me to amputate them. He declared the couch a diving board and the house was his racetrack. Walks didn’t tire him out, in fact, they seemed to give him more energy.

This is about the time a different family might have returned Doug. I remember just agreeing with myself that it was OK that I didn’t love him with every fiber of my being at this point. And you know what, he probably felt the same about me. We had to figure out some things together, the road to joy is still paved with speed bumps, detours,  potholes and bloody feet.

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I reached out to some pit bull owners who assured me that many hippos like Doug were VERY energetic, that many mouthed, that many were impossible to keep weight on. And after those conversations, I looked at Doug and said out loud: I guess you are normal. I came to accept him because that’s what rescue and love is about. He came to accept me too.

We worked through the constant mouthing. It was not easy. In fact, of all the behavioral issues I have face, and don’t forget that Jake hunted EVERYTHING and I had to rescue living creatures from his mouth on a regular basis, Doug’s mouthing was by far the hardest. Not because it hurt, but because it made him be a dog that only I could be around. I couldn’t ask others to overlook the sharp clamp of his teeth on their feet by assuring them he had good bite inhibition. If he continued mouthing feet, he would never be ok for public consumption without a muzzle. (It should be stated here that I am a big fan of muzzle usage when it’s used right – not as punishment but as a safety tool – safety for dog and all involved). Doug mouthing feet was his quirk, but in a Pit Bull type dog, it would have been a scarlet letter.  Labs that mouth are ‘joyful’, Pit Bulls that mouth are ‘vicious’.

The mouthing eventually ended. Praise be!

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But Doug continued to be a dog that went non stop. During his back-to-back leg surgeries, others became aware of just what I meant when I said that. We tried a lot of different sedatives to keep Doug calm and safe during his five months of recovery and vets and surgeons and rehab techs would all ask: I thought you said he was on a sedative? He was. Even sedated Doug, was perpetually in motion. Eventually we found a medication that gave him the ability to self regulate his energy, still be Doug, and keep him safer during recovery.

It was when recovery was over and he came off that drug that I noticed something I had not seen in a while. That Doug’s day, is a series of escalation. He sleeps 10 hours a night and wakes up exuberant and joyful. As the day continues, Doug ramps up. The more he walks, the more energy he has after. The more zoomies he runs, the more zoomies he runs. I started noticing there were afternoons and evenings, that he was unable to relax or rest. I would have to force time outs/naps, just to give him a break. It was also during this time that his fears and anxieties came back full force. So he was in near constant motion and life was overwhelming him. So, after a few discussions with our vet, he went back on the medication that had helped before. It’s a human drug that regulates blood pressure and for Doug, it provided him the perfect balance – joy and energy and zoomies and fun but also the ability to relax. It worked beautifully for one year. In 2018, Doug lived his very best life.

And then overnight, this past January, it stopped working.

We had a rough few months at the start of this year. Doug’s digestion went to hell (again), he had blood work done and the values were so alarming we had to do scans and more tests to be sure his organs were functioning. Those test were fine and we started thinking he might have a digestive mobility issue. On top of all of this, and maybe even due to it in some way, his calming/anxiety medication stopped working. He was nauseous, manic and unable to rest. His anxiety and fears were at a new high. This is about the time he started self soothing, by suckling furry objects and licking EVERYTHING, constantly.

Videos of Doug mouthing to self sooth/calm:

I love Doug’s quirks. And alone, each one can be comical. But together, well I don’t want him to live a life that doesn’t allow him a moment of peace. Part of being joyful, is being content. Doug was no longer able to find contentment.

Doug’s fears include loud noises and change (I can’t change things in the house as Doug becomes uneasy, even if I just move something, like the trashcan.) Shiny floors, the vet, the vet’s shiny floors. Wind. Butterflies (I agree with this one). He is also uneasy about the powder room. He is unable to calm down if I am in the powder room with the door shut and if I leave the door open he pretty much freaks out until he is able to come in and lick my hand. So I sit on the toilet and let Doug lick my hand and there is nothing I love about this except for, of course, Doug.

We are getting his physical health back on track (food trial) and now we are focusing on his mental health. We went to see the behaviorist that I had taken Jake to after Melvin died. She is, at the top of her field and highly revered in the VA/DC area. I could listen to her talk for days. She taught me so much about Jake and she really helped me understand Doug so much more than I already did. Doug is hyperactive. Not just energetic, he has an inability to turn off. It’s not easy to watch. Also, his fears add up and it’s not OK with me for him to live with so much anxiety. So we talked about goals – my one demand for Doug’s life is the same I had for Melvin and Jake, that life be measured in joy. This is harder for Doug because I can put joy in front of him and he might not be able to see it through some of his barriers. Day-to-day, I want him to be his full exuberant self and those legs are built for zoomies so the more the better. I don’t want him to be sedated or tired, but I do want him to be able to relax. We agreed he needs help to turn off and find calm and he needs help to channel his anxiety. We are trying some new meds and so far he’s doing great. They are working really well on his hyperactivity but a little slower on his fears, which is totally expected.

I have nothing but time for him and making sure he is living his best life.

I wholeheartedly believe in tools to help dogs thrive, like muzzles, and medication and holistic approaches. We have tried everything on the Google search. CBD, oils, plug-ins, clothing, exercise, puzzles. I’m thankful we have a team of vets (from traditional to specialty to holistic) to help us. Every dog deserves to be seen as an individual and have their human advocate for his or her joy.

My joyful zoomer

 

 

Eight years.

I started this blog, eight years ago today. It began as a way to chronicle life with the world’s most allergic dog. But it quickly turned into a blog about US. The definition of ‘us’ has grown, but the focus has pretty much stayed on our journey to joy.

The me that started this blog, has changed more than I ever thought I would or could. Eight years ago me had no idea what was to come. I didn’t know that three dogs (and cat) would drive my evolution.

Eight years ago, Melvin was six and it was just him and me.

I didn’t know back then…

  • that Melvin would teach me how deep love can go
  • that the vet would become a weekly destination
  • that Melvin would lose his tail
  • that I would have one of the most bonded pairs ever
  • that I would have a googly-eyed, cart dog
  • that I wasn’t meant to see Melvin grow old. Or Jake
  • that I would lose Melvin so quickly
  • that grief would break me. Twice in one year
  • that Melvin would become a part of me, his heart guiding mine
  • that my hands would always reach to care for Jake, even years after he was gone
  • that love could live on so beautifully, as if it was always meant to be
  • that joy would be my guiding light
  • that a pit bull named Doug, would save me

I also didn’t know that so many glorious and thoughtful people would love us and lift us up for so long! Thank you for following along with us. I know I don’t post as often. I want to, I promise! Doug has had some health issues and anxiety the past few months but we are turning a corner and I will be back to share that with you. We are over on Instagram stories almost daily if you want to get your Doug fix over there too (@DougHolupka.for.president).

I love this blog. I love its readers. I wholeheartedly love the dogs that have inspired each and every word, laugh, and tear. My heart will always be full because of them and you.

 

Happy Birthday, Melvin.

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.

Last night…

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Pictures from the past…

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Happy Birthday, baby! I love you!

 

Sleep training.

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).

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Come as you are.

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 hard at 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:

  1. Do you like and want to spend time with every person you meet? No. 
  2. What exactly do you feel he is ‘missing out on’? Fun?
  3. 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. 2014-03-31_0003

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. IMG_6124

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.

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