Grateful hearts.

I had surgery last week and spent an extra few days at my parents so they could help with Doug and my recovery. I’m so thankful to have family close by and that they are so generous with their time.

This week, someone from the blog reached out to ask me about the grief Jake experienced after Melvin died and to find out if we tried any medication to help. They needed some guidance on their grief journey. I have written before that Jake had a very hard time the hours and days and weeks after Melvin died. He was not Jake, he was hollow, and unsure and broken-hearted. He howled at the door Melvin had gone out of. I couldn’t use words to tell him what had happened. I couldn’t use any language to explain to him that I understood. I could only be as strong as my grief would allow and somehow try to cushion the hardest moment of our lives for both of us.

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Photo credit: Kate Juliet Photography

We did try medication. Prozac. And it helped tremendously.

After Melvin died, Jake and I had an appointment with a well-known behaviorist in our area. So much was going on with Jake in the Melvinless world. His sadness. His confusion. His physical decline; all he did was lay at the door. Waiting for his soul mate to return.

I told her stories of them, from their first days together, to their last.

She took everything in.

She said: Jake needs Prozac.

We had a two-hour session with her, it was VERY expensive and when she delivered that line, I stared at her waiting for more. This couldn’t be all she had to say and why did she say it so matter-of-factly? I could have suggested Prozac and I’m only a fake vet.

I said: Ok, why?

And then she delivered words that gutted me the way that “Melvin has cancer” and “Jake has Cancer” gutted me.

She said: He needs Prozac because from the day he arrived at your house, having lived a life of little interaction with humans and having felt no real love, he suddenly received natural Prozac in the form of Melvin. Melvin cured life for Jake. And now Melvin is gone and Jake feels alone.

My whole body went hot, she was still talking but I felt more emotion than I had been ready to feel at that moment.

So many images flashed in front of me. What I had seen between Melvin and Jake had been Jake idolizing Melvin, Jake obsessed with Melvin’s butt, Jake following Melvin around and sometimes trying to antagonize him. But all of a sudden, I saw it. Something I had never noticed. Melvin always the one to move closer to Jake, standing near Jake, waiting for Jake. Melvin allowing the invasion of his butt. MELVIN LEADING JAKE. Melvin giving Jake understanding unlike any creature I had ever seen.

Melvin saw who Jake was from day one and he accepted the all of him without pause. When Jake leapt of the couch onto Melvin’s head, Melvin met him with stability and forgiveness. Melvin made Jake feel safe, and cherished, and loved. When Jake’s legs gave out, or he’d fall, Melvin was by his side before I could get to him. Melvin was in the house, all day long, everyday, even when I was not. Jake was never alone.

Until Melvin died.

I may have signed the papers, but Melvin rescued Jake.

That moment with the behaviorist felt sad at first. Mostly because I got a glimpse into Jake’s grief and it was way too heavy for his sweet little soul. I felt Melvin after he died. He never left me. But Jake needed the visual of Melvin. The smell of Melvin. The feel of Melvin.

I would rather Jake have found and lost his soul mate, then to have never known what true love felt like. In all sadness, there is still joy.  No one hopes their dog will need medication to exist joyfully in the world, but I am always open to the dogs getting what they need to have full lives. That might be special diets, that might be appointments with trainers or a behaviorist and it might be Prozac. I’m glad we live in a world with options.

Jake’s gotcha day is Thanksgiving weekend. It is so poetic that he came to us at that time. I gave a lot of thought this Thanksgiving to when Jake showed up in our lives and how he and Melvin were destined to be. I live a grateful life, and there are very few things I am more grateful for than my boys.

Hoping you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with much to be grateful for!

xoxo

 

Is Doug brave? No.

If you follow us on Instagram (@dougholupka@for.president) you know that Doug has some fears. Public enemy #1 is the shiny tile on the fire-place. If a drop of the best food he has ever eaten rolls onto that tile, he will let that morsel go. He might stare it down, but there is zero chance he would risk life or limb to break the voodoo barrier of the shiny tile.

 

The shiny tile fear transitions to most floors that are not hardwood or carpet. The floor at the vet, scary. The floor at Home Depot, he calls it Terror Depot. The floor at all the pet stores we love – no thank you, love Doug.

I accept Doug as he is and I’m just glad that for the most part we can avoid shiny floors. And that he is only 50lbs so I can carry him when he refuses to move.

Doug also doesn’t enjoy movement that causes noise. This does not include toy noise/squeaking (but secretly I wish it did).  Like if a ball rolls under the table with the acrylic chairs, and he bumps into a chair and it makes various noises, he’s gonna go with, see you later ball. If his tags are going to hit the metal part of the island’s stools, so long treat that rolled under there.

But last week, he took fear to a whole new level.

I was in the office and he started with his fear bark. Which sounds more like a smokers cough.

 

 

I never know right away what he is afraid of. Like legit, never.

 

 

But I do care, so I risk my own life, to fix whatever problem his fear has created.

 

 

But this one had me stumped. He loves that rug. He pretty much loves everything about the kitchen (except the island bar stools), so what could it have been?

I’ll tell you what.

 

 

It is clearly very hard to say ‘menacing’ when you are laughing so hard inside.

FU Koala Bears on a cereal box!

Be careful out there folks.  Danger is lurking everywhere.

The Decade of Melvin.

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.

Ten years of Melvin in my heart. I’m blessed.

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Who are the people in your waiting room?

Where oh where have we been?? I was traveling a little, Doug was being Doug, and next thing you know, it’s May!

We were at an internist appointment on Friday afternoon (to figure out why Doug’s poops are hot lava).  Our appt was at 3:30 and at 4:30, we were still alone in our exam room. I like to think of myself as a patient person, but had that been a doctor appointment for me, I would have said something long before the hour mark.

Here is the thing, this internal medicine practice is part of a larger Animal Hospital, including an ER. Melvin, Jake and Doug have all been ER patients there so I know those ER patients sometime require the specialist you are supposed to be seeing. We have been to this hospital so many times; some of those times we were the ones leaving with high fives and sometimes we were the ones leaving in tears and desperation.

But every time we have been there, regardless of issue, I have always left with the boys.

Jake’s eye ulcer ruptured and he was seen by ER and then they eye surgeon did her magic. That ER took care of Jake when he was choking on a bird. Melvin and Jake both had MRIs and Spinal taps done there. Doug had both leg surgeries done there and they fixed him up after that dog attacked him last summer.

Remember hamburger eye?

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And Wolverine nose?IMG_3696

I got both Melvin and Jake’s terminal cancer diagnosis at the oncology department of that hospital. As terrible as those moments were and as much as my world collapsed, I got to leave with my boys. I got to take them home. We had a little more time.

Here is a photo of Melvin, just because.

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On this Friday, there were many emergencies. There were many hallway tears.  There were many signs that some of the pet parents in the rooms with their loves, would not be leaving with those furry soul mates .

Some had to say final goodbyes.

So Doug and I had all the time that those people needed.  Our appointment would come and go and I had faith that Doug would be fine. What I really wanted to do, was to go to those closed doors and knock gently and make sure that no one was facing that heartbreak alone. To see if we could run up and get some cheeseburgers or donuts for a glorious last meal. To learn their dog’s name and let them know how awesome that dog seemed and that they hit the love jackpot with their owner.

There was a (human) couple there that had been on vacation when their dog started having seizures. Their dog sitter brought the dog in and they returned from vacation and went straight to the hospital. With them, were a couple they went on vacation with. When I said how nice it was of them to come to the hospital with them, the woman said: We have dogs, they are our world too, we get it.

Sigh.

I met a couple who had a boxer who had just gotten a terrible cardiology diagnosis. They told me how they had been spending extra time with their older boxer since they felt his time was coming, and then as it turns out, their six-year-old girl is the one that has a heart condition.  We spoke about how we do our best. The man part of this couple had been attacked by dogs (many times) growing up.  He was kind and understanding and as he told the story of those attacks, he gave forgiveness for each dog. The dog was not socialized, it was not that dog’s fault. One dog was older and maybe I startled him.

His empathy, made my day.

That is when I realized, my tribe, is absolutely always, the people in a waiting room at a veterinary hospital. Doug and I were eventually seen and as we were leaving, our friends called out ‘Douggggggggggg!’, or they ran over to give him some love. A  few even told me that Doug was their therapy dog that afternoon. An ambassador of joy if  you will.

And that is when I turned to each of them, said personal space be damned, and hugged everyone still waiting. We said a prayer for each family we met, and for those whose doors were still closed.

#loveliveson

 

 

He’s Doug.

I have always tried to help champion pit bull type dogs. From friends who have them, to rescues that save them, to campaigns that fight injustices surrounding them. I sort of assumed I would eventually have a pit bull type dog.  Melvin and Jake had their own BSL in place that no dogs of any type could come into our home. Or cats. Or bunnies. You get it. Jake was determined to keep that BSL going after Melvin died.

When it came time to add a dog to a home where no other dogs were, having a blank slate was so strange. I could bring any dog in. Any breed. Any personality. Any size or gender. There were only a few things on my NO list. I didn’t want a special needs dog at that point.  A dog with needs like Jake would have felt more like a fill in. I wasn’t ready to nurture like that again,  I was still reaching for Jake. I also did not, and still do not, want a yellow lab.

During that time, I met all the dogs, all the breeds. I just wanted the right dog for me.

Every dog I met, I had a breakdown over. If you recall, Jake died and on top of losing him, the house was empty. I wanted a dog to solve one of those issue because both of those issues together was just too much.

Then I saw Doug.

Doug brought life back to this home. He was crazy, and spastic, and did I mention how crazy he was? I was not sure what his breed was, he was definitely a mix. When I got him DNA tested, I hoped he’d come back part pit something. But a part of me also worried about that. Not because of myths or stories not based in fact, but mostly because at the time, he was not well-behaved and if he was a pit, we were going to have to work extra hard, harder than other dogs would have to. That excited me and pissed me off at the same time. I’m Doug’s mom and even I was looking at him with extra expectations. I then realized that I in fact, expected no less or more of him than I did of Melvin or Jake. The issue was likely going to be, that others would expect more from Doug. Others are not the boss of us. My goal for Doug is the same as my goal for all my dogs, to give him the best life he can have.

His DNA came back 65% Am Staff and 25% English Bulldog.

Knowing his DNA changed one thing and one thing only.  I was so proud to be his mom. I would be his voice, always.

Most people who see Doug come toward him and say is he an English Bulldog? I first say, he’s Doug. I usually wait until he is wiggling and wagging around them and making them laugh before I say oh so proudly: actually, he’s mostly Am Staff with a little English Bulldog mixed in. 

Some stop petting him. Their loss. Others dive in even more with a what an awesome mix to have! Those people are our tribe.

When people ask worriedly about his past, I tell him that Doug and I live in the present. Since the day we met, he has only known love. He is quite literally, powered by joy.

He is love and joy and Am Staff and bionic and always hungry and always happy and always zooming. He is Doug.

He is all mine. Haters beware, momma is the one you need to worry about.

The only thing I require of Doug, is to live his best life.  Check, check.

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Rogaine Joe.

I have been looking at Doug and trying to figure out what is different about him. It took me a few days but I realized that the spots on his back, his dark skin spots (not his brown cow patches), have been getting darker.  Then I realized that the spots were not actually getting darker, but instead, his hair was falling out, thus I could see the spots better.

Here is Doug from one year ago.  IMG_2126

Here is Doug from this past December.IMG_7802 (1)

Here is Doug now. Please note the very fancy line I added to show exactly where the hair loss starts.  I’m so scientific. IMG_8408

I posted the situation on our FB page and there were so many AWESOME ideas of what it could be – seriously, you guys are the best! We went to the vet, got some tests done and:

  • It’s not fleas (I would have moved). Once we were settled in a new, non-flea home, I would have sued since he is on preventative.
  • It’s not mites. I itch every time someone says mites. Jake had mites 3 years ago. Still makes me itch.
  • It’s not his thyroid.

The experts in our life all agree, it is (maybe seasonal) Alopecia. Doug is going bald at 2! Of course he is, he’s mine, would you expect anything less?

We will see if it is actually, seasonal. It does make sense. He was in jail during last spring and summer so anytime he was outside, I either had his sunscreen shirt on or I had him under a tarp. He was on movement restriction and he would get too hot if the sun was beating down on him. So he did not get a ton of sunshine last year. Add that to him hating the cold (so he does not spend a lot of time outside without a fleece and coat and snood) and poor guy needs some vitamin D-oug!

It is bright and sunny today – we have gone from 30 to 70 to snow and back to 70 in four days and although climate change is apparently not real, our options for sun exposure are limited for a month or two more. He is sunning up as I type this. In the meantime, he is has also been put on 6mg of Melatonin, twice a day.

He has no comb over options so either the hair grows back or he is gonna need a t-shirt wardrobe. Also, and this is just to reiterate that Doug is ALWAYS in motion, he has lost 6 lbs since the start of winter (which was precisely when he got back to his zoomie-rific self). He had gained a few pounds during lock down, so this puts him at his ideal weight but I had sorta forgot his ability to burn through all calories.

Also, just to give a good Jakey laugh – Doug only weighs 10 lbs more than Jake did.

  • Melvin,  82 lbs, 18 inch neck.
  • Jake, 35 lbs, 18 inch neck.
  • Doug, 45 lbs, 18 inch neck.

Maybe this blog should be called 18-inch neck.

 

 

The odd couple.

A couple of friends and readers have lost their dogs recently.  The most asked question in my inbox is along the lines of:

How I got through losing Melvin or how I get through without him. And/or, how did I survive losing Melvin and Jake, back to back.

I don’t cry everyday anymore. Every so often, something will pop into my mind and the joy I feel for that memory will overwhelm me and I’ll have to stop what I’m doing and let some tears flow. I still stay goodnight to Melvin and Jake every night, but long gone are the days when I cry myself to sleep. Everyday, there is a beautiful reminder of them.  Sometimes its Doug doing something one of them would totally of done.  Sometimes its Doug being terrible and I remember how Jake used to leap off the couch onto Melvin’s head.  Sometimes, the blanket at the foot of the bed feels a little heavier over my feet, and I pretend it’s Melvin. Sometimes the reminders are obvious, sometimes I have to look a little harder to find the joy. No one said joy is always easy.

I had a moment on New Years day when I realized I can no longer say that Jake died ‘last year’. Time is both an enemy and a friend.

The answer to how I got through, starts at Melvin.

Melvin was the one thing that was supposed to happen to me in this life. The one thing that would drive who I was to become. It’s not to say my life before him wasn’t spectacular or without meaning.  My life before him was wonderful preparation. For all the joy that was about to explode in my heart.

Melvin made me a better person. He pointed me in the right direction. He taught me to choose joy, to have patience, to make kindness reign supreme. He taught me love. The type of love that requires that we take action, to make life easier for others. To love, even when it requires forgiveness. To choose joy, over all other things.

At some point, Melvin became Melvin and Jake. Jake became Melvin’s plus one. Eventually, there was no,  just Melvin.  At that point, it was impossible to have one without the other.  Especially, when Melvin died.

Melvin’s love lived on in both Jake and I. Jake became my beautiful link to Melvin. We had to learn to reach for joy through our grief. As for Jake dying a year after Melvin, well that was pretty much the universe sucking and being as hurtful as possible and there were some dark moments and I screamed and threw my fists (and a lot of karate kicks) at joy.  Then Doug’s face showed up on Facebook, and he disrupted the sadness. Sometimes joy shows up in disguise and you must have faith it will work out. Even when it’s trying to eat your feet.

I carry Melvin and Jake in my heart. Melvin is still with me, guiding me. Reminding me that joy is what I make of it. Reminding me of how much patience he had with Jake, at the exact moment Doug is driving me nuts. And Jake is the reason that when Doug had back to back surgeries, I didn’t stay in a ‘poor Doug’ state.  I was thankful we had what we needed to make it through. And we did. Jake moves me forward.

I got through losing Melvin, because of Melvin and Jake. I got through losing Jake, because of Melvin and Jake. I love them more today than I did yesterday. I feel closer to both of them (Melvin especially), right now than I ever have. Life put them into my life when it just as easily could have put them somewhere else. We found each other and that is where our story starts.  As for where it ends, well it doesn’t.

Love lives on.