Our foster, Athena, was supposed to come a few weeks ago. There was a delay in her arrival from the shelter due to her having a rough spay operation and also that they had to remove a mammary tumor (it turned out to be benign). They had a hard time getting her incisions to heal and she was at the vet for over a week. I wasn’t for sure if we were even going to get her.
This did not stop me from planning. I bought bigger crates, I bought baby gates and I drove 40 minutes to buy the food she was currently eating so that we could slowly transition her to better food. It also gave me a chance to train Doug away from he mudroom.
When I went to pick her up on Saturday, she still had sutures (which I knew would be the case). Upon looking at her underside, it was obvious it didn’t look like it was supposed to. The area where the mammary tumor was removed should have been flat, instead it was raised up like a tennis ball.
We got her in the car. She was timid but sweet. Her sad eyes told her story.
The meet and greet with Doug did not go very well. They lunged at each other pretty early on (on the walk on leash). There was snarling. I was worried about this since Doug has never ever reacted this way but I was more worried about the state of her incisions.
The vet that the rescue uses got us in right away. When we got into the exam room, I noticed that she has a heart-shape-spot on the side of her body.
It took two vets and two vet techs to remove the mangled staples that were buried in her swollen incision areas. They flushed the areas out. They opted to not do new sutures because of the infection, they wanted to see if they would close better on their own, without the staples. They cleaned out her ears, they may never have been cleaned out before, and we left an hour-and-a-half later with her antibiotic and instruction that she should not be outside too much, or lay down outside at all. Her incisions were susceptible to more infection.
She remained sweet as could be.
I got her home and into the mudroom. Doug was hyper aware she was there and kept trying to jump up on the gate (I had three gates separating them, I am nothing if not efficient). She was extremely uneasy in the mudroom. She did not like being in the crate our outside of the crate near the gate. Even when I was in there with her, she was uneasy. I don’t know if she had ever been in a house before. If I left the mudroom, she tried to jump the gates, not a good idea in general or with her incisions.
I tried everything. Leaving her in the mudroom with a visual of me to see if she’d calm down. I went into the mudroom with her. I gave her a frozen peanut butter Kong, then a bully stick, then cheese. She wouldn’t eat. I put Doug in his crate in the office and brought her into the house to see if she would calm down. She didn’t.
It was only outside that she was relaxed. She had lived an outside existence for many of her years. After a few minutes outside, she would prance around, sniffing, occasionally coming up to me. It was a gorgeous day on Saturday so I would have stayed outside with her all day had it not been for her incisions.
Every time I brought her back into the house, she panicked. Her and Doug growled at each other from afar, although Doug did start to relax a little. He had no problem eating his Kong or bully stick. But she just barked and whimpered and paced.
I tried to get her more comfortable in the house. The rescue group’s trainer called me and we chatted about her anxiety. Was it Doug? Was it me? Was it the house? Was it how she felt? I had a had a plan for if her and Doug hit it off and for if they didn’t. I however did not have a plan for her being uneasy in the crate, mudroom or house in general.
The trainer asked me to send her photos of the incisions, that maybe the vet was being overly cautious. Once they saw them I think they agreed that she needed to stay as clean as possible to hopefully avoid more surgery. We chatted about options and decided to take her to the 24 hour vet (it was evening) so they could get her calm and get her some pain medication (something we had not gotten at the first vet appointment, even though I asked for them). It was painful to look at her incisions, it had to be painful for her to have them that way.
This vet was about 40 minutes away. She calmed down dramatically in the car. She was timid going into the next vet but I went with her into the back room and got her settled into a cage in the back treatment room. She was perfectly calm in that cage. She sat down and then laid down as I sat with her. She was much more comfortable in this setting over being in my house.
I went over everything with the techs, said my good byes to her and went home. The plan was for her to stay there until they decided if she needed surgery to clean up the incisions.
I went home and felt defeated, mostly for her. I had not thought that day one would be easy or great, I only thought it would be as good as it could be. But with the state of her incisions and her anxiety level, I felt like she had a much rougher time than anyone ever deserved. I’m not sure knowing about her health issue would have made me plan differently.
Doug rounded out the first day of fostering with marking all areas she touched. Luckily for him, I love him and I was way too tired to care.
Let me start by saying, this post is sad. And it’s happy. But it’s sad. No matter how hard I try to inject joy or humor (I gave it my all!), the answer to the question that so many of you have reached out to ask, ends with some obvious heartbreak.
I thought Jake and I would have a little more time together. I had also hoped that I’d be able to share with you when his time had come, but as I realized what was before us, my mind and heart and existence only had space for Jake. In our last few days, I gave myself fully to my boy.
You knew Jake’s health plight, oh so well. He had a crappy spine that took his hind legs down. The mobility part, was a lot. But we worked towards solutions and he learned to move forward, literally and heroically. When strangers would see Jake they would always say, ‘poor thing, he really struggles’ and I’d say, “he’s fine, he’s Jake”. And that was truth. But the secret life of a special-needs pet-parent is that you are constantly evaluating the current state of struggle and being. I was always tracking the balance of joy. Jake always just kept finding a way to move forward in his spunky little way. It was my honor to join him on his journey and share in such an incredible love.
He taught me so, so much.
Jake’s challenges did not end at his legs. If only they ended there. The universe seemed to single him out sometimes, with issues that we tried so hard to overcome and we could almost fix, but not really. He had a strain of MRSP with no compatible treatment. He developed not one, but two eye ulcers at the same time, one that formed a hole in his pupil and while emergency surgery helped keep the eye, his eyesight, his beautiful wall-eyed eyesight, suffered. So he had a hamburger eye. Yet, still he kept going. He lost control of his pee and meatballs (to be fair, this did not bother Jake!). Even though diapers helped, they also weighed him down and he battled many diaper rashes.
The spine and leg issues were enough. Add in all the other things and as his mom, I sometimes cursed the universe for unloading on my boy. But for every issue, we worked out a solution. For every single situation that made his eyes look at me with worry, I came back with something that helped it. My goal with Jake was that his balance always went towards joy. He returned my every gesture, with laughter and love.
Teamwork at it’s finest.
We even found our way after we lost Melvin. In the past year, we were each other’s everything. Our little family, was perfection.
Then came spinal cancer and the soft tissue cancer in his hind leg. The universe bearing down on him, again. A cancer that we couldn’t treat and one that would be painful. A battle we were not going to win or solve. My evaluation structure changed. I no longer had to balance the struggles, I just had to monitor the pain.
Or so I thought.
When Jake was diagnosed with cancer, he still had some upright moments in his hind legs. Not many, but he could wobbly stand to eat sometimes, or he’d do a walk-drag (a move that earned him a ‘drunk uncle’ nickname). But the cancer took his left leg down pretty quickly and then his right leg tried hard, but it too lost that fight. The odd part about this chapter was, the hind legs part was always going to happen to him. That was a plight we’d accepted after figuring out his wonky spine. So sometimes, I’d forget he had cancer or that it was actually the cancer doing the current damage. In a way, having had accepted his mobility plight before the cancer, helped us stay strong and closer to joy after he was diagnosed.
Yoga mat runways throughout the house helped a lot too. He strutted his stuff like a boss.
Over his last few weeks, Jake became less active. Some days much less, but some days were better. When we’d go out back, I’d put him down to go potty and he’d just sit at the end of the ramp and pee there. I’d pick him up and put him in the yard and try to get him to move around but he’d just sit again, looking towards the door to go inside. I’d carry him inside. If it was a mealtime potty break, I’d go in and make his breakfast or dinner. Prior to this time, if I said ‘dinner‘ he’d come ‘running’. But now, Jake would still be sitting in the mudroom. So I’d go and get him and carry him to meals. His pain management was constantly reevaluated and he was, for all we could measure, comfortable. He just wasn’t moving around on his own very much.
He was still so happy though. His face was pure love.
There was also a change in how he dragged his legs, going from dragging his legs to the side (normal and easier for him as he could use his bum to help push himself forward) to having his legs drag directly behind him (so much harder for him to pull his weight that way). He tired easily. I just loved on him harder.
Normally, through these changes, we’d be at the vet or have the vet to us. But I knew what the decline was about. And like so many things in Jake’s life, I couldn’t fix it. I could only try to make it easier on him. So I carried him a lot more, knowing him so very well and knowing where he liked to be at each hour of every day. When Jake was in my arms, he’d kiss me constantly, as if kisses were the gas pedal that kept me going. And they were.
I’d carry Jake to the end of eternity and back again.
Jake had also been having some very minor seizures. We were not sure why. Part of me thought maybe it was his medication. During his last two weeks he’d also started having little spasms when he was laying down. At first it was two to three a minute. Towards the end, it was 20-30. They were like these zingers, it almost seemed like he had the hiccups. But he didn’t have the hiccups. They seemed to bother me more than they bothered him.
Yet though it all, my bug still knew so much joy.
Then there was the terrible infection that stemmed from his most recent diaper rash. And all our usual tricks that battled diaper rash before, failed. Cancer was being a real jerk. The thought that a diaper area infection would take my ninja warrior down seemed so unacceptable so I fought that rash harder than I think I have ever fought anything. We battled it hours and hours a day. I set a time limit on the infection, if it continued to win, I could not let him continue battle it. It would have infected the joy.
But you know what, as of that last Saturday night, the infection turned a corner, and it was on the mend! And I high-fived the shit out of Jake and we did a ‘we won dance’ and it had been a long time since we got to do a ‘we won dance’ and we went to bed Saturday night renewed in our fight! The time I had given us to beat the infection had not run out.
Time is funny. It doesn’t care who you are or what you want or how hard you fought or how many things you faced down or how much you danced. It doesn’t care that your little guy worked harder to travel through life than most will ever have to.
Time didn’t care that Jake was only eight.
On Sunday morning, the day after our we beat the infection parade, Jake woke up, toppled over and had a seizure. This was not a minor seizure like the others, it was major and it was terrible. His body went so rigid that at first I thought he was having a heart attack. I held him in my arms and I told him that he was going to be ok and that if he saw Melvin he should run towards him with all that he had. I told him over and over and over that I loved him. During the seizure, he pooped (this is normal for a seizure but I think Jake was sending me a ‘I love you, too’). As his body started to relax, he stared up at me…with love and then kisses. And in that moment, in that tiny, giant moment with my little warrior, we were the only two living creatures on earth. In that moment, we won at love.
I called the vets. We briefly discussed the reasons it could have happened. A conversation that didn’t really require words.
Jake was not himself on Sunday. I know some of that was the seizure. But as he and I traveled through the day, and as I started to paint the picture of our last few weeks and months…I knew.
I know Jake. I know his body better than anyone. I know the exact moment during that day that he let me know he was tired. Tired of challenges. Tired of having to overcome. Aware that his ability to travel though our life together, was becoming too much.
If Jake had a wonky spine and seizures, well I’d clear the calendar and we’d be a regular at the neurologist. If he had the worst diaper rash and wonky legs, we’d tackle it. If he had MRSP and a wonky spine and eye ulcer surgery with months of a cone, well we call that 2015.
Sometimes you can’t outrun reality. Even when you can’t really run at all and your mom is carrying you and she is running as fast as she can. Jake had cancer and all the other crap that the universe dumped on him and now seizures were invading our precious space and I knew, in a way that only I could know, that his joy would only be reigning supreme for a few more days.
I couldn’t let him go through anything more, except love.
The day I let Melvin go, he was not having a bleed. It was an ordinary day with my extraordinary boys, he woke up with joy in his heart. He ate, he walked out back on his own and he snuggled with me and Jake. His tumors hadn’t ruptured yet. There was no collapse. There was only joy.
I wanted the same for Jake. His life had known such struggle, 100% more struggle than I ever wanted him to have known, and yet my little superman choose love and perseverance every single time. Jake’s end was coming and I would rather die myself than have him feel one more ounce of struggle or confusion as to what was happening now. So Jake had a beautiful Monday. His village came over and loved on him and he gave them the sweetest, gentlest kisses. He had the best meal he could have ever imagined. He and I went on a stroller walk, right down memory lane. To all the places he and Melvin used to walk, on all eight of their legs. We went out back and reminisced about all the things he ate in our yard. We did his last neighborhood watch at the front door.
Then he and I tuned out the entire world and we snuggled. We snuggled so hard and so perfectly. I breathed him in. He kissed away my tears. I told him all the things I wanted to tell him and he looked into my eyes and told me all the things he needed me to know.
We could not have loved each other more. We got each other through the roughest year of our two lives. We chased joy, and we caught it.
I let Jake go at home. In his favorite spot.
I know that as his vision of me faded, Melvin appeared. I know that Jake leapt into Melvin’s face with an unimaginable joy and I know Melvin shared gleefully in that glorious moment. Jake moved forward, cancer free and struggle free, eyes wide and his second leap was likely straight towards Melvin’s butt. There is a part of me that finds such peace in that even as the whole of me grieves. The heartache and sadness I feel, is worth every ounce to know that Jake and Melvin knew my love and that they are reunited in sweet, joyful, odd-couple joy. To know that they have each other, for forever this time.
Jake still has an infection. He has had it for a few weeks. Other times battling his diaper area infections have turned out fine. Those other times however, we were not also battling cancer.
This infection has consumed me. It owns my mind and all my time and energy goes into battling it or worrying about it. This is one of those times when you start to understand what they mean when the cause of death is something other than the disease at hand. Like…he died of complications from cancer. This infection, is most certainly a complication.
There have been a lot of vet visits, countless efforts to fix it, so many creams that I had to make room in the garage. There have also been some tough conversations in the case we can’t get it under control. Luckily, his pain meds seem to be protecting him from feeling much of it at all. And his wonky spine takes care of diminishing the rest of the sensation, so for that I’m thankful. He is for the most part, still Jake.
Since returning from my trip, I have not really left Jake’s side. I lay with him so he can have the infected area uncovered and untouched. I put different medications on him. I have to use surgical gloves which makes sense but feels strange. I do homeopathic treatments (made for us by our amazing holistic vet), making a paste out of herbs and honey and I put that on the area for 15 minutes. Then I meticulously clean it off and start back on the medications. I have everything on a timer and the timer is almost always going off.
I’m desperate for more time with him.
But more so, he still feels joy.
I had the worst migraine of my life this past weekend and every time that alarm went off, I somehow got up. He is my purpose right now. He is my goal.
There is a part of me that knows that this infection might be the sign that it’s time. To let him go before the cancer takes him. I know that his time is coming. But there is also still this light in him that ignites a light in me and it makes me wants to solve just one of his problems before I say goodbye. I’m not sure that light ever goes out. But I have started adjusting the glow. Instead of always saying ‘you’ll be fine bud’, I have started saying ‘if it’s time to go to Melvin, I understand. I’ll carry all the sadness bud, you need only travel with joy’.
I had a conversation with someone recently. I was working through a let down, trying to focus on forgiveness so I could move on. Forgiveness is way better than bad mojo. I learned that from Melvin. During the conversation, came some great advice. He said… ‘never set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm’.
And I thought a long time about that and it hit home in ways that were probably way outside of the scope of his meaning for it (although it made sense that way too). I decided I was going to cut back on everyone else’s needs for a bit and only focus on Jake and me. I had been spreading myself too thin. I recall feeling this way last year with Melvin. When my capacity was focused on him. And now it’s the same with Jake.
Right now, my plan is Jakey. His time is short and my time is his.
It’s funny, during this past week with Jake, I realized that the fire advice has some parameters — if setting myself on fire would help Jake, I’d be ablaze right now.
Love is so infinitely wonderful and so incredibly hard sometimes. What love looks like can change in an instant. We work so hard to make the end lovely but the reality is that it’s also impossible and messy and it always feels like yours is the very first end ever and no matter how many people surround you or call you or show up, you are still…alone. The end is lonely. So my advice is…don’t feel bad for needing ‘me/us’ time. Remember that being human has its limitations. For cripes sake, do not set yourself on fire! Most importantly, try to forgive the end (even more importantly, always try to forgive yourself).
But don’t forgive infections, they suck.
Side note:we had the infection cultured and it’s not an easy one to treat but there are medications we can try so we are going try that route, for now.
I promise you that suffering is not in Jake’s future. I’m still hopeful this infection won’t be the end.
In cased you missed how Jake got the new nickname MRSA Joe, that post can be found HERE.
The infection is not worse, so that is great! I think it might even be a tad better. We are using a topical antibiotic to combat the MSRP.
The topical works best if the areas where he has the infection gets shaved (except for his paws, he has the infection there too but we don’t shave his precious feet). The funny part, yes, there is always a funny part in our lives, is that it’s sorta hard to tell the infection parts from his ‘cow spots’. You see, Jake has some cow spots (this is my highly technical term for them, I have no idea what they are called. Maybe giant, mutant freckles?) they are just normal spots on his skin that he swears make him even more sexy. The infection patches are raised just the tiniest bit and dry but with his coarse hair, it’s hard to be 100% sure when shaving. So when we went back in for a re-shave, a few of those got shaved (accidentally) this time too.
He has about six shaved, infected patches at this point, so move over Bieber, Jake has the coolest cut now.
Here is an infection spot on his side
And here is an example of not being sure! The top, big spot is infection, the lower little spots are his cow gang-markings.
Jake has had a skin rash (it’s not really a rash as much as black patches on his skin) on and off for two years. Usually we take some meds and it clears up but lately the patches have been opting to stick around. So we got him swabbed to see what was going on, and when they test what it is, they also test what antibiotic will work on it.
I got a call and our vet said ‘I have bad news and more bad news’. Typical.
Jake has MRSP (it’s the animal form of MRSA, although as I understand it, animals can also get MRSA but MRSP is mostly just transmitted between animals whereas MRSA is transmittable by animal and human.). Just like some humans carry MRSA and other humans get MRSA infections, so to can animals be carriers and others get infected. So he has it, and that is bad news #1. And bad news #2 is that only one antibiotic showed up on the panel to help and it’s a drug that has been known to cause bone marrow cancer in some humans that handle it.
The vet actually said these words: ‘Only a small % of people who handle it get bone marrow cancer from it, but Tracey, knowing you and your dogs, you would definitely get it.’ So aside from medicine that might help Jake and that could kill me, we have no treatment options. There is a cream that we will try (Jake has to have the spots shaved to help it work better). So he’s going to look extra ‘special’ with his new hair cut, a lame eye, a diaper and a wheelchair. He does nothing halfway!
If anyone else has faced something similar, please reach out and share your experience! Until then, I have started calling Jake, MRSA Joe. Only because MRSP requires explanation.