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.
The whole ‘what day is it’, is so real right now. Maybe that is because every day is the same version as the previous day. I still feel like it is March 20th but that March 19th was a year ago. I have reorganized the house 72 times. I have started moving furniture to different rooms and I often decide to space out chores, just to have something to do, on all the days. Some days Doug is happy I am here and some days he wonders why I never leave. I don’t recall the last time I came home and he was excited to see me, because when I leave, he usually comes with me.
But having this time with him, is everything that is beautiful in this life. During our time in quarantine, we have reached six months with the onset of Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis. It is not lost on me for even one nano second, that many dogs do not live beyond six months once symptoms start to show. Six months seems to be how everyone talks about it. Statements like: If they live six months, let’s see where we are in six months, the next six months are telling. Now that we have reached this milestone(?), I don’t really know what the next chapter is. Currently, Doug is in the progressing slowly segment. If you have to get NCL, this is the coveted group to be in. It means that the disease is progressing slowly and steadily. This gives us options to dial treatments up and down and more importantly, it gives Doug a chance to acclimate. We hope to stay in the slow/steady group. I would give just about anything to stay here forever. The other, less appealing/heart wrenching group that goes beyond six months is, sudden decline/rapid deterioration. There are no signs that is coming. So each time a new symptom pops up, we have to sit and wait to see if it is the bottom dropping out. So far, I feel like the luckiest, most blessed, two creatures on the planet. Which is a lot, for facing down a fatal disease.
NCl is hard to watch with slow progression alone. I try not to visualize what fast decline would be like.
Jan and early February, Doug was great. He actually showed some improvement. He started compensating for some of the dizziness mostly in his stance and how he walks. He is more consistently dizzy now. I don’t think he can compensate much more on that part. He falls over more often and is generally just more unsteady. Good still outweighs bad, by far.
I desperately want to help him. I can’t make him less dizzy and I can’t explain to him why it’s happening. I watch him stare into space and try to get bearings and it’s hard. I hold him during those moments and I know he feels loved. I don’t know if my holding stops the room from spinning, but those moments are infinitely special. Sometimes the greatest gift, is just showing up.
The disease has slowed him down. He can’t play with toys in the way he loves to, by throwing them up in the air and having them land on him and he pretends he’s tackled and it goes on for an hour. Now, he mostly plays with toys laying down. We have a slight slope in our back yard and he can no longer find balance on it. Steps are getting harder. Not impossible, but takes him about one minute to walk up the steps at night.
None of these things are the end of the world. But let me remind you, Doug is four. Spiritually, Doug is an exuberant adolescent who loves mischief and destruction and exuberance. His brain however, is aging faster. Little pieces disappear and it’s hard knowing when something he can do now, he won’t be able to do in the future.
This disease feels the most unfair (compared to all the dogs’ issues). Part of that is likely that we are currently living it, but a good portion of it is because Doug is young. I might not argue, or complain, or rant about how hard and unfair losing him will be for me, and I’m still forced to recognize that in some bizarre way, Doug may be my most healthy dog. But none of this is even remotely ok. That he is being held down by this disease at such a young age, when these are the years he should be running zoomies with his bionic legs. If someone came to me and said, they could heal Doug and he would know happiness and joy but he couldn’t be with me, I would let him go. There are a lot of dimensions to rescue, but for me, it’s giving the boys a beautiful forever and a long(er) life measured in joy. Doug deserves to write all his chapters.
No one has come knocking with the cure. So instead we do what we do best. Packing a shit-ton of joy into the time we have. And Doug still celebrates every moment as if it is the very first glorious moment of his life. He is a joy junkie, just like his brothers.
Joy isn’t blindly pretending that none of this is happening or that any of it makes sense. Joy is acknowledging all the shitty parts, but not forgetting to see all the beautiful parts that exist simply because we have today. Doug tipping over when he poops stinks (pun intended), but he still believes the world begins and ends with all things food. Holding him may not stop the room from spinning, but it doesn’t change that Doug was homeless for months and now he is still living his very best life. Joy is recognizing that Doug exists outside of NCL. It’s impacting him, but I will not let it define him. Joy is also about not allowing all the big bad parts to overshadow the little moments. The little moments are where we live. The little moments are where we shine.
Doug healed a lot of the grief of losing Jake and Melvin, and the idea of losing him makes all grief feel like a nearby brewing storm. I recall the darkness I felt to not have any dogs in the house after Jake died. The reason Doug is even here is because that darkness started to feel overwhelming and I decided to adopt sooner than my heart might have felt it was ready for. Part of my healing from the loss of Melvin and Jake, was to put my active love for them into something here. I have an infinite love for them, but there is always going to be the need to give that love in the here and now also. And the thought of a Melvin, Jake and Doug love lingering aimlessly with nowhere to go, I am not sure how to prepare for that. But I think it likely looks like rescuing the next dog, while Doug is still here to show them the ropes. That dog, will have to be the unicorn of unicorns to fit into what we have coming. I believe that dog is out there though. The same way Melvin, Jake and Doug all found their way here with very little effort by me.
But today, in the center of a pandemic, joy is being home with Doug during this crazy crisis. I get to spend all day, every day, with him. I will always look back on Covid-19 as the time the universe gave me extra beautiful moments with my boy. I am fortunate to still have a job, and to be able to work from home. Most of the parts that are hard for us, stem from a lot of privilege to begin with anyway, so we are pretty much among the most lucky ones. I would never say ‘choose joy’ every damn minute of this crazy time, but instead, don’t forget to see the joy. I don’t wake up on any day and think, ‘one more day of quarantine’. I wake up every day grateful that Doug and I have another day together.
Hang in there. We know it can be hard. To those on the front line, healthcare workers, grocery staff, those doing delivery of any kind, those essential workers who are keeping us up and running, THANK YOU. You are the heroes of the world. For every complaint that creeps into our quarantined minds, we should send out infinite gratitude to those doing the hard work.
Hey interweb people! You out there? It’s me, Doug E. Fresh Holupka (that just rolls off the jowls, doesn’t it?)!
I’m giving the update this time because no one knows better about me than the Doug! OR is it no one knows better about the Doug than me? Anywho…
My beautiful body got more beautiful. Most people can’t look at me without being like ‘ohhhhhhhh maaaaaaaaaaa gaaaaaaaaaadddddddddddd, he is SOOOOOOOO incredibly handsome!‘. I just nod, because I am.
We still have a stupid cat named Bob. boooooooooooo bobbbbbbbbbb!
I have a dizzease called urinal polaroid lips and fish and noses (Neuronal Ceroid Lipafuscinonsis). I guess it’s called a dizzease because it makes me verrrrrryyyyyy dizzy. Like whoa, what’s happening, why is the room spinning or is that me spinning and then I’m not sure so I fall over or off or into something. (S)mother always catches me though, so that’s pretty cool.
We go to the dogtor a lot. It’s fine, I love the car. But (s)mother cries almost every time. I am not sure what that is about. Maybe she cries because no one tells her that she is ‘the cutest’ or ‘the most handsomest’.
She calls a lot of people about me. And she emails a lot. And she reaches out to people of DogBook and InstaDog. She has connected with a couple other (s)mothers who have dizzy dogs so I guess that makes her feel a little better? Or a little worse at first, then a little better? Being a mom must be very confusing. I wonder if she is dizzy too?
The other night one of the InstaDog ladies who has a dog like me told her that her dog no longer recognizes familiar faces. (s)mother read that, then threw her phone on the ground like it was on fire and started crying. The type of crying that is hard for me to watch, like when I first came and she would cry about Jake being gone. She was sobbing and saying something about how she would break in half if I ever forgot her, And if I forgot her, would I also forget about all the joy. And I wanted to howl: MOTHER, THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN, YOU ARE A PART OF ME, YOU CANNOT BE FORGOTTEN BECAUSE YOU ARE IN ALL OF MY MEMORIES. I TRIED TO TELL HER WITH MY BEAUTIFUL EYES. I COULD NEVER FORGET HER. THE JOY IS WHO I AM. But she was still very worried about this part so then I purposely fell off the couch to snap her back to the here and now.
Does anyone out there know what ‘be careful’ means? These are the words she says the most and I don’t know the meaning so I just usually fall over right after she says it. Does it mean fall over or crash into things? Because if so, I am doing it right!
She bought me a new bed and a blanket that gets hot and I love them more than food.
I mean I guess that is it. Mostly our lives are about me being dizzy but not really about that as much as about chasing joy while dizzy. It’s possible, trust me. Hope everyone out there has a great weekend!
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 continue to look for someone who has been through this disease with their dog. If I can’t find one person among any breed, I’m not sure how I will find someone with an Am Staff.
My emotions range from heartache that this is happening, to moments of rage that this is happening.
As I have mentioned, Doug has always been clumsy. His hind legs may be bionic but apparently for Doug, bionic = mediocre. He has never been able to stop himself when he is running too fast inside the house, just ask the 50 things he runs into daily. Going down the steps in the morning he goes three at a time and going up in the evening, is very, very slow. That has pretty much been him since the day I got him, before and after the leg surgeries.
So a few months ago, I just thought he was more clumsy. It was cooler, maybe his arthritis was acting up . There were a few times early on, that he tipped over, but since I couldn’t anticipate it happening, I never really saw what preceded it. I thought he tripped, or turned a leg the wrong way and it gave out. The first time he fell off the couch, he was sleeping. So when it happened again the same day when he was awake, I thought nothing of it. We all have those days.
At no time did I think that he was dying. Because I had talked myself out of thinking that way the first year with him. I would say: it won’t be like Melvin. It won’t be like Jake. Have faith.
As he started falling off the couch more, and stumbling for reasons I couldn’t figure out, I knew it was something, but I still was leaning towards his legs. But then one day, I was taking a video of him for Instagram and during the time I was taking it, he shook (as all dogs do many times a day), and that’s when I saw it. I stopped recording and pulled up the clip to see if I had imagined it. Something was wrong, and it was not his legs.
This is the video clip I took that day. He shakes, and immediately after, his eyes roll back into his head. A wave of motion then runs through his body and you can see him falter a little.
I may not know for certain when his symptoms started, but I know the exact moment I knew it wasn’t nothing.
The following are Doug’s current symptoms:
He shakes about 20 times a day and his eyes roll back into his head about 15 of those times. Sometimes he falls over, sometimes not. That has not changed much since I first noticed it. This is by far the hardest part to watch at this point. There is a part of me that wants to look away, but I owe it to him to watch every single one and count them out for our documentation.
He is wobbly on softer surfaces.
He stumbles sometimes when he is going faster than a normal walk pace.
I can tell when he is having dizzier days than others. On those days he is a little out of it. He tends to stay close to me those days. He also stares into my soul on those days and I know he knows I know. I stay close to him too.
There have been two shakes to date that I have seen where he froze for about 3 seconds after it ended. I don’t think he could move for those few seconds, but then he was fine.
He has had 2-3 bad days. When he can’t walk in straight line, more like he’s in a fun house. I mean our house is fun, but…
He is on a few new supplements (CoQ10 and Super B Complex) to maybe help. He is also on a motion sickness drug. I have been giving it to him in the morning but I am going to move it to dinner because he wakes up dizzy and I think it might wear off during the night.
Our vet has not had much luck digging anything up but she did find one piece of research that suggested Am Staffs were not as likely to go blind. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I’m holding onto it pretty tightly.
While we were waiting on the test results this past month, a little voice kept whispering what if you lose Doug too? I almost talked myself out of doing Christmas cards because of that stupid voice. I didn’t want to do them if I knew it was going to be his last Christmas. So we held the fastest Christmas photo shoot ever known to Santa. I took the photos, edited them, and ordered the card within 1/2 hour. I found out his diagnosis two days later. The cards came this weekend and I’m really F’ing happy we did it. I think this journey is going to be a lot like those cards. Less thinking, more doing.
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.
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.
You have been here for two years. I went to visit you at your foster’s house on 9/1/16. Jake had been gone for six weeks. I was not the best version of me when we met.
You were this low riding hippopotamus with a permanent smile. Your foster mom was telling me how you were absolutely perfect and that you hadn’t had any issues with the other dogs in your house. That is the exact moment you got protective of me and lunged at the other bulldog. I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom and cry, because that is EXACTLY what Jake did the day I met him.
Jake was there with us.
I took you home.
I wasn’t sure I would ever love you as much as you deserved. My love was fractured and you spent all day trying to eat my feet. I was tired and wondering what I had done in bringing you home. It’s all a bit of a blur, some of that is because I was in perpetual heat exhaustion taking you on 9,000 walks a day and hopping through the house the rest of the time, trying to save my feet.
I cried a lot of nights for the first four months you were here. The balance of why, teetered from losing Jake to trying to understand you.
I felt inadequate.
It’s been two years. It seems like much longer. Grief is no longer an open wound in me. It left beautiful battle scars, but the days of looking back or standing still, those cracks have been filled in with Doug joy.
Adopting you disrupted the theory of It’s too soon to get another dog. Now I know, It’s actually never too soon. A lot of grief’s load, is just love with nowhere to go. Love wants to be perpetually in motion. Grief suggests a sudden stop in love. That is when the war in our hearts start. What I have found to be true, is that love, is it. It’s why we are here. It is not meant to stop. In the same way we don’t have to feel rushed, we also should embrace, It’s never too soon. If something were to happen to me, I would never want my loved ones to delay seeking joy. I would want them to run to joy and bust through that joy door with all the love they have in their hearts for me.
That is what I did when I brought you home. I said FU to too soon and hello to let love live on.
Jake has always been your #1 fan. I know this. Jake was the scrolling power on the Facebook post when I first saw you. His googly eyes saw what my sad eyes couldn’t. He absolutely loves how disruptive you seem to me sometimes. In that way, you are so much like him.
That concern I had, about being able to love you enough… it was unfounded. I love you fiercely. I love you forever. I love you, no matter what. A love that could not be bigger or more glorious but yet every day, it is.
I love you every bit as much as your brothers. My love passes over and through each of you, infinitely.
I would not trade time with you, for time with them. I had my beautiful years with Melvin and he filled up my heart with joy and he is with me every moment of every day. I had my beautiful time with Jakey and he and I won at so much life together, he is my baby, and I know that he guides you now, the same way that Melvin guides me.
My little family is stronger and more beautiful than ever.
Doug, you have taught me so much. You and I have bent equally for one another. I have to advocate for you differently than I did your brothers. Where so many used to run up to them, a lot of people are unsure about you. If you could dial down the exuberance every once in a while, that’d be good too. If not, we’ll figure it out.
I didn’t get to see your brothers grow old, and now there is a very good chance, that I will have you for the longest. That I will have you longer than the seven years I had with Melvin. And the four years I had with Jake. I hope there are more dogs that can join our family during that time. This is a giant hint, mister. Hopefully none of them are as young as you were!
Happy Gotcha day chicken legs. You are a beautiful part of my journey of joy. I look forward to many more years of waking up with your ass in my face and you breaking world records in zoomie nation. I promise that our next house will have no shiny tile. Please don’t eat Bob. Also, if you could try to keep your limbs intact and somewhat unharmed, that’d be super.
I 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.
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.
The holidays can be lovely, joy filled, and happy. They can also be challenging, lonely, and heartbreaking.
I always say that best part about any holiday is who you share your couch with. Sometimes, the couch is full. Inevitably, someone is missing.
This will be our third Christmas without Melvin, and the second without Jake. There are a few tears when I put their ornaments on the tree, but at this point, I’m mostly just grateful that they are both in my heart and that every beat is a chance for me to seek and spread joy in their memory. Despite their physical absence, I’m blessed to still have a full couch.
Love lives on. But it is not always an easy journey.
We wish you all much love and much laughter this holiday season. To anyone who is dreading the holidays or too sad to celebrate, we send you love and hugs. We’ll hold a spot for you, just in case.
xoxo, Tracey & Doug
PS: If you are wondering what Doug thinks of Christmas, just check out his expression on our card. It’s the ho-ho-ho version of F-you.
Neither Melvin or Jake were insurable. When I got them, pet insurance was different. If a dog had a pre-existing condition, the dog was denied. Now, the pre-existing condition isn’t covered but the dog still can be. Let’s be honest, Melvin and Jake were walking pre-existing conditions.
During Jake’s last year of life. With the eye ulcers, the emergency eye surgery, the follow-up eye issues, the MSRP infection, the diaper rash, the cancer, the radiation and all of his medications, ointments and specialists (6) over that 12-month span, I paid out $25,000. This is not a complaint, it’s just a fact.
When I got Doug, I had already investigated pet insurance plans and had decided on Healthy Paws. I pay $30 a month. The annual deductible is $500. Our plan reimburses 90% of accidental issues and illness. Routine care and pre-existing conditions are not covered.
I just got our $5,000 check reimbursement for Doug’s surgery. I cried. Whenever possible, I take a positive approach to life, even when things are dark and heavy, I try to see the light. It’s been a couple of dark years with Melvin and Jake both having cancer and dying. That reimbursement check meant way more to me than money.
I deserved that break.
I have a great job. I have a great family support system. I happily paid Melvin and Jake’s bills and I will happily pay Doug’s. But it felt really good to get something back from a health conundrum.
That said, we pay joy forward. So in honor of yesterday being ten months since Jakey died, we’d like to buy an Eddie’s Wheels Wheelchair for a dog in need. Please share submissions of dogs who could use a cart (their name and story) in the comments below, on this Facebook post or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll put together a little committee of folks who will help me pick the lucky dog.
Melvin died two years ago this week. I’m not sure how that is even possible since I was so sure I wouldn’t make it through losing him, let alone exist without him.
Melvin changed me, profoundly. He changed the structure of my existence, he guided me to my purpose.
I have said this before. Melvin was a part of me in life and now in death. He is the goodness in me, the joy, the laughter and the reason love lives on. Losing him broke me, but then, he healed me. I carry him in my heart. I feel closer to him now than I ever have. I am grateful for that every day .
As we approach the anniversary of losing him, it makes me miss Jake even more.
You read that right.
When I lost Melvin and went through the grief and then found out Jake was dying, I sorta just thought, here we go again. In a, grief will repeat itself sort of way.
Grief is not a protocol. It’s a living, breathing, organic, emotional, extension of us. I persevered Melvin grief, I remember what it felt like to start to emerge from it. With Jake grief, I usually don’t feel like dealing with it much at all. I want to overcome it and I don’t ignore its impact but it’s more of a one day it will be over sort of way. Truth be told, I’m a bit apathetic about this grief journey.
I think some of that has to do with who I spent each journey with. Jake and I lost Melvin together. Jake sat a lot so we sat a lot together and we worked through our sad moments as a team. Doug didn’t lose Jake, so he goes on his merry way and I go along with him and sometimes I try to bypass grief on my very, very, oh so very long walks with Doug. Grief doesn’t work that way; there is no going around it. Grief will chase you and tackle you and say hey, I’m the boss of you, get back here.
Grief is an asshole.
Jake died nine months ago this week.
Jake is most certainly a part of me too. Jake taught me to see the beautiful in the broken, he taught me that struggle is not the end, in many ways, it’s just the beginning. But spiritually, Jake is not necessarily the parts of me that I derive strength from. He’s more like my weakness. In a beautiful way, not in a way that I would change.
Jake is my baby.
I have come to accept that my hands will always reach for him. The need to nurture him, lives on as much as the love does. It is a constant, and perhaps, eternal ache. It just is what it is. I think some thoughts of Jake will always trigger that lump in my throat. I’m not sure why. It’s ok though, each and every time, my soulful connection to Melvin helps ease the Jake sadness.
They are still a team, even in death.
Don’t fret, memories of Jake bring me joy. I laugh out loud watching videos of him, even videos of him towards the end. For every struggle, we found a solution. In Melvin and Jake’s life, we won, way before cancer showed up. I think at the end of my life, that is what I will be most proud of.
As we come up on the two year anniversary of losing Melvin, I’m grateful for the unbreakable connection I have with him. And, I’m so happy that if I can’t have Jake here, that Melvin holds him close for me.
This post, is a post I go back to regularly. I wrote it a week after Melvin died and it is, everything to me. It’s a reminder of how strong my connection to Melvin has always been. And this post was written one year ago. A testament to love living on.
I miss my boys, but the honor of loving them is worth every ounce of grief.
This Monday is the one year anniversary of finding out Jake had cancer. I remember sitting in my car after getting the call and my eyes and chest burning from sadness and fear. I couldn’t breathe. I remember feeling so overwhelmed because I was still mourning Melvin. Jake couldn’t have cancer, they must be wrong. I raced home to be with Jake, since more than ever, every second counted.
Why are your eyes so leaky?
In two weeks, it’s the two-year anniversary of finding out Melvin was dying. Calendars suck.
I don’t plan to remember these dates forever. But back to back loss makes me feel like I’ve been sad for a long time. I also know how far I’ve come despite losing them both so close together.
My love for Melvin continues to grow. He is me. He is my heart, my guiding light, the goodness I try to put out into the world. As for losing Jake, he and I still have some first to go through on our way to the year anniversary of his death this July. I still feel that burning in my chest sometimes when I think of Jake. Sadness and joy still struggle for the win when I think of him.
But then there is this, in my world, Melvin and Jake are the sun, they are the joy, and the laughter and everything that is beautiful in this life. I have learned that great loss does not slow down the trajectory of great love.
Melvin was, and in some ways, will always be the muse for this blog. He is the reason it exists.Funny though, I have a hard time even recalling the posts I did about Melvin as an only dog. When I look back, it’s as if it was always Melvin and Jake. I guess that’s all part of a love that was meant to be. Now that they are both gone, they are eternally one. Melvin & Jake. Jake & Melvin. My favorite odd couple. The source of so much of my joy.
After Melvin died, I mentioned that I might change the name of the blog. There were many comments asking me not to, that it felt wrong to do that, and in the end, I kept the name.
But now, its time.
Here is where my heart is…
Oh Melvin the blog started six years ago with just me and Melvin, hardly anyone even read back then! I chronicled his severe allergies, his tail amputation, his joyful exuberance.
When Jake came along, it was easy to add him and still feel like Oh Melvin worked. Everyday that passed, they became life partners. Now that Doug is here, and knowing other dogs will come, Oh Melvin feels…like a look back. Oh Melvin doesn’t feel like it captures this new world where I am without Melvin and Jake, where I am learning to chase joy with Doug.
Oh Melvin is from where I’ve come, and although it will always be a part of me, I don’t say those treasured words very often anymore. And the moments when I do say them, well now those moments are more personal, they belong only to me.
The URL will always be ohmelvin.com because Melvin is the soul of this blog. OhMelvin.com is the road that will always lead you to me and me to you, but it’s time for the blog name itself to support a past, present and future.
Moving forward is OK. Its good. Its how life goes.
I’m not going to do a big introduction, one day soon you will stop by and the change will have occurred (it’s actually all loaded up, I just have to publish it). The photo will change too, I thought I should warn of you that also. I hope when you see it, you smile. I can tell you with certainty that Melvin and Jake are fine with it.
Just as a sidenote, I changed our Instagram name this week too (it’s now: @dougholupka.for.president). It only seemed fair that Doug get some real estate in some of our social media presence. I’m not sure why I never changed that account name after Melvin died (but had I, it would have either been Just Jake or Wonkalicious). I think Jake was ok living under the Oh Melvin umbrella though. I think he wouldn’t have had any other way.
Grief was wrong. Grief made me feel there would be a break in the timeline of my little family. That Doug would never be connected to Jake and Melvin because he never knew either of them. I cried about this a lot.
Turns out I forgot about the one link in the family chain that remained. My love. They are connected, forever and beautifully, I feel it with all that am.
It’s funny, I’ve written before how sometimes a dog comes and they just fit and sometimes a dog comes and it’s stressful and worrisome and you are not sure you made the right decision.
When Melvin came, I was dealing with Max who was at the end of his life and Melvin was, a wild, untamed creature full of energy and exuberance. I had moments where I wondered what the hell I had done, not just to Max, but to myself. Max died and Melvin and I eventually found a groove. Clearly, ours was a love story written in the stars. He taught me that love takes work. My post about that struggle is HERE.
When Jake came, it was not so crazy. We did the two-week shut-down approach and then did Jake on tie-down for a few weeks. Also, by that point in life, I had complete faith in Melvin. There were challenges for sure (Jake, I’m talking about you buddy), but I never doubted that the two of them would work out.
Doug is a lot like Melvin. So much so that sometimes I think Melvin is inside him (A Dog’s Purpose is my favorite book). Doug has now been here for four months. It seems more like four years (even though his is only one, math bores me). He came along during a blurry time in my life and sometimes memory and timelines play tricks on me and I think that maybe he’s been here for longer, maybe he was here with Jakey. It’s a good kind of strange.
Doug has come farther in four months than I think any dog I have had has. The whole dogs age seven years for every one of our years, is never so apparent than during the first year and the last years. I’ve come far in four months too. Doug is my first young dog and I was his who-the-hell-are-you-forever. When he first came, his feet biting had me very worried. I could tell he was sweet and exuberant but that impulse control was never needed when he ran stray. The mouthing was really scary to me and I worried a lot about it. Not just that it hurt me physically but I was worried that he would mouth someone and they would claim biting or have reason to perpetuate myths about Pit Bulls based solely on Doug. Would he be a breed ambassador someday? I hoped so. Was that day in the foreseeable future? No.
Hour one with Doug. The tag hanging from his neck says Melvin on it because I had to have a tag with my phone number on it to take him home. Little did I know how much he’d be like his brother.
To be clear, he never bit. He has very good bite inhibition. But his canine teeth are SUPER sharp and you don’t need to draw blood for mouthing to hurt. I read up a lot on mouthing. Ways to train against it, how long it could last. I tried everything. The first month, it seemed as if the more comfortable he got, the more he mouthed. I’m a positive person, but I was not seeing the light on this one.
Please put your foot in my mouth.
I was already crying over Jake at that point but I spent many a night crying about Doug and his need to put all things into his mouth. There were days I looked forward to putting him in his crate at night because I needed a break (you will always get honesty here). I don’t know when it started getting better, I only know that it took A LOT of work. It took more patience than I thought I had. It started with praising him and treating him if he went one-second without mouthing. We then made it to one minute. Impulse control is hard, we had plenty of setbacks. Somehow we went from him mouthing most of the time to him mouthing a few times a day. He almost never mouths me anymore and if he does I know it’s because he is over-tired so he goes in for a nap and exits much more well-behaved. Because he gets SO excited over every visitor or person we meet on walks, well that is still a work in progress but he’s doing much, much, much better.
He still has a lot of energy but I’m more used to it now. I know when he needs to burn some off with an extra long walk and I know days when he is calmer that we can cut back on a walk here and there. He usually offers me every bit of compromise that I offer to him. I think that the recent start of snuggling has a lot do with him trusting me more and more. I was broken when Doug came to live here. As I mend, he finds more calm in me.
Max will always be the dog that made me a dog person. Melvin will always be my heart. Jake is my heartbeat (because he and Melvin are an eternal team). Doug is, hopefully, going to be the dog that I own the longest. He is the dog that I will go through every phase of his life with. He is the dog that I will bring more dogs home to. He is the dog that will see me through the next decade or more of my life.
Doug is my future.
My boy, having a moment with his brothers. #loveliveson
We had a relatively quiet New Years. I had a migraine (fun!). Oh, and miracle or two occurred.
Things like, DOUG SNUGGLES NOW!
I’m not sure how it happened. I was talking to Melvin and Jake one night, saying how it’s ok that I don’t see them in my dreams, that maybe it would be too hard to see them and then wake up. It’s ok, because I feel them and that matters more to me than dreams. I did throw out there to them that they should, COULD, WOULD need to help guide Doug. I specifically asked that they help him learn to snuggle (or at least let me sit on the couch without being playfully mauled).
The next day, this started. I assumed it was a fluke. That’s my head, he’s not sitting on it!
And that is my leg, he’s not standing on it.
When he let me put the blanket over him, I assumed he was dying.
Snugglefest has continued for a week now!
I forgot what it is like to watch TV and not have every muscle in my body tensed-up because Doug is hanging off my back or climbing my hair or standing in my lap trying to lick my face.
I reward snuggle-Doug with belly rubs and calm face massages to encourage him to always want to be calm on the couch. The miracles continued as he slept in the bed ONE NIGHT! He was pretty good from 10pm to about 4am and then he decided it was time to rave so we are taking that one slower. Mama needs her sleep!
I am not sure where to begin with this one. It’s been quite a week.
I was having back pain and it hurt to breathe so I assumed that I pulled something. I went to our local ER and that turned into an ambulance ride to a different hospital and that turned into being in the hospital for three days. I had a pulmonary embolism. Before you gasp and hurt yourself, this was not my first PE. In fact, I have had many, many blood clots find their way into my lungs. I’m not sure how I’m still here but I’m grateful that is the case.
The thing that is different about this time is that I was on medication to prevent blood clots. Yet here I was in the hospital with another PE. My blood clotting condition had gone to new heights, not in a good way. Three things owned my worry at that point:
Doug. I had left for a quick errand and now I would not be home for days. I called his tribe and they took over. His meals were made, he got walks, he got play time and I got lots of video proof that my boy was just fine. This was perhaps the best of all the medicine.
That I was suddenly not safe. That I could clot and/or perhaps die at any minute. This feeling has not gone away yet. Its heavy and scary and I’m still working on this one.
That there was a clot at all. After you have situations like this, the event itself is less scary. I knew it would be painful, I knew it would be some time of not feeling well but it occurred, I survived, and the doctors were taking care of it. This is not me making light of anything, it’s just a reality that I live with.
I came home to a well fed and very loved Doug. My not feeling well pretty much went unnoticed by him, he still wanted to jump on me and ride my back and eat my hair. In some ways, although more painful than usual, it helps to have a dog that is of the everything is normal and great, let’s go!.
A few days later, on Thanksgiving, I got a migraine, because why wouldn’t I. Then decided to decorate the Christmas tree and had to come face-to-face with all my Jakey decorations. One year ago I had to deal with Melvin’s ornaments and now dealing with Jake’s made pulling both of their decorations out of the box sting so much more. I wanted Jake to be here. I wanted him on the couch as I decorated the tree. He wasn’t supposed to die. So I cried and I got overwhelmed because the week had been hard enough and well to be honest, because I felt sorry for myself and I gave in that it was ok to feel defeated. Now, the tree is up. The boy’s decorations are on there. I survived a blood clot, a migraine and another painful grief moment. This week had to let go of me eventually. Then I looked at the calendar.
Yesterday was Jake’s gotcha day. I miss him more than I am afraid to die.
Here is the thing though, being scared and overwhelmed and sad, those are human emotions and I am going to feel those things because, well because last time I checked I am still human. But they aren’t who I am. I can’t stay there because I believe in joy. I’m committed to joy. When the boys died I promised them that I would carry on. When I feel afraid, my first instinct is to wonder when or how I can feel brave again. When I feel beaten down I think, I’m still here, get up. When I think of Jake and Melvin, I know it’s ok to be sad, but I desperately want to feel warmth during thoughts of them both. Joy takes work. Sometimes chasing joy is the last thing I want to do and often I have no energy to even try but then I realize, it’s the only way. Joy haunts me. When I look at the tree now, those ornaments that brought tears, bring smiles, because Melvin and Jake were here, they were right here with me and I had precious time with them and I also had a ridiculous amount of ornaments made with their names on them and that alone is both crazy and funny. I also think, poor Doug has no ornaments. YET!
I had written Jake’s last gotcha letter before the health events. I will finish that up and post it tomorrow. Everyday I will celebrate quietly that he came to me. He was here. That there was and always will be, great Jakey love.
And I’ll leave you with this. On the tree decorating day, after the hospital stay and the migraine and all the ornament ugly crying. I sat on the couch exhausted and Doug started jumping on me and I said out loud but calmly, I need Melvin. Five minutes later Doug allowed me to lay down and he snuggled with me on the couch as I cried and I napped, for the rest of the day.