Grateful Hearts.

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!

IMG_8936

IMG_8573

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.

IMG_9190.jpg

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.

Harem, check. Treats, check! IMG_9182

My wiggly warrior.

Zonked on the way home.

IMG_9184

Happy New Year!

xoxo

t&d

Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis.

It’s been a week and I still can’t pronounce it.

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.

When joy calls, we gotta answer.

xoxo,

t&d

 

Let there be light.

The days and weeks after Jake died, were absolutely the darkest of my moments. Jake was gone. Melvin was gone.

I was so lost.

I couldn’t solve anything. I’d gone from being Jake’s caretaker 24/7 to having no obvious purpose. The house had no dogs. That silence killed me a little each day. The days and weeks after Melvin died, were hard, but I felt him guiding me. Melvin is a part of me. I didn’t feel that connection to Jake after he died. He felt far and the void swallowed me.

I am not ashamed to say I had to take medication to get me through that period. It helped. It helped to give me space to breathe. Breathing is important.

Thirty nine days after Jake died (and exactly two years ago today). I saw this post:

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 6.59.30 PM

I had tried to meet dogs. They all made me cry. I scrolled past the post.

I had hyperventilated after meeting dogs. They weren’t Jake. I’m not ready. I scrolled back up to look at the post again.

I kept reaching for Jakey. I decided to just accept the emptiness in the house. It was too soon. I scrolled past the post again.

The dogs I had met were all wrong. A few hours later I checked that post to see how many likes it had. Scrolled back down again. Back up to count likes.

Next thing I know someone had commented. It was me. Well that’s strange, I didn’t remember doing that. Oh wait, now I’m sending them an email telling them the story of Jake and how I know without question this dog, whose name will never stay Hooty, this dog is part of my journey. Pleading with them to consider me, to let me give this dog a forever. I sent them a link to this blog to show my commitment to dogs.

Crazy grief filled dog lady, line 2.

At the same time, an angel of ours, who had adopted from this rescue group before, sent a message on our behalf. Likely negating some of the crazy, and pumping up some of the normal.

The rescue wrote back that they would not post him as adoptable until I was able to meet him.

We decided that Thursday, September 1st seemed like a good day to meet.

I slept better that night.  I felt Jakey inch a little closer to my heart.

To be continued…

Jake and Project Joy.

I don’t know how it is for others who have lost a pet, but for me, year one was just getting through all the firsts. After that, holidays come and go and I wish Melvin and Jake were here but I don’t necessarily count the number of moments they’ve missed.

Except the anniversary of when we said goodbye. I try not to think about it, but my brain does not always comply. My brain reminds me in March, that Melvin died in April.  And I try to think of other things but something more powerful than me forces  me to remember. And on that day in April, I have a day to myself. No social media, no blog. Doug and I take donations to shelters and pay Melvin’s love forward.  I may cry a little, but for the most part, Melvin is always with me.

It’s a little different with Jake’s anniversary. My mind starts reminding me much earlier. And I fight really hard to ignore it. There are many more tears. Losing Melvin was pure sadness. Losing Jake was more traumatic. Melvin was gone, Jake was gone. There were no dogs. Days felt infinite because I was no longer caring for Jake.

Grief is so confusing and hurtful.

Next week will be two years since I looked into Jake’s googly eyes, and I can still feel the spiral of emotion that I went through before and after he died. And at the same time, joy washes over me every time I see his face.

IMG_9958

So that is where you come in. The best way for me to combat those emotions, is to pay Jake love forward. So Melvin & Jake’s Project Joy would like to find a dog in need of wheelchair. The dog can be in their forever home or waiting to be rescued, but preferably in the US.

Please message us at ohmelvinyojake@gmail.com if you know of a dog that needs a cart. We will pick one on July 18th so that Jakey’s anniversary can be more joyful than sad!

#loveliveson

mpj-_mjprojectjoyv3

A cart dog road off with my heart.

A rescue that I volunteer for, recently had a situation where a younger dog was starting to experience what Jake went through when we first realized he had a spine issue. This dog started losing use of his legs and in a panic, the owner felt they were unable to care for the dog and they reached out to this rescue to take him. The rescue responded and started having discussions with the owner.  They told them they were absolutely open to taking the dog, and behind the scenes, a foster was being lined up. The owner was understandably upset – spine symptoms can hit suddenly and there was the added emotion of having to give the dog up. The rescue made sure the family knew there was no rush, they were there if/when the family needed them.

Before I continue, all I know about this situation is: the family had a dog, the dog suddenly started to have mobility issues, the family panicked and reached out to rescue, rescue suggested a few things the vet should try (pain medication to start), the family and rescue touched base every day for about a week.

Here is what I do not know: what the feedback was from the vet, updates on that were from the owner, but from what the rescue could tell, it sounded so much like what Jake went through and that pain meds were helping.

Instead of surrendering the dog to rescue, the family choose to put the dog down. They told the rescue after they put him down, not before, when the rescue could have pleaded.

When Jake and I came to be, I had no idea he would start to become paralyzed a year later. I only knew he ran funny, his back legs would go in a circular motion when he was running. I just assumed that was how Frenchies rolled. Jake’s paralysis was destiny. There was nothing his first family or his forever family could have done to prevent it. I often wonder if I would have adopted Jake knowing he’d be or if he already was, paralyzed. It’s a hypothetical not worth dwelling on, because similar to Jake’s paralysis, he and Melvin and I, were also destined to be. One way or another, he was to rescue us.

Able body Jake, the day we met him. photo[2]

The day Jake’s legs suddenly gave out, panic is not even close to what I felt. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I had no comprehension of all the terms the vet and neurologist were throwing out to me. I cried for so many different reasons. But the next day, we all got up, and we started figuring it out.

Wheels and diapers, check. IMG_1731IMG_4119

When I read the post that the family put the dog down, a lot of the air around me vanished. Everything started spinning and I had to sit down. My mind started going in so many directions. There was lack of comprehension and information. Grief showed up out of nowhere and gut punched me and my hands became desperate to reach for Jake again. To scream how grateful I was that his first family gave up on him before they had any sort of reason to put him down. The only thing worse than a life that is now without Jake, is a life that never knew him.

IMG_1615

I don’t know this family’s story. I only know our story. Our story is about dog named Jake and the family that he made whole. When Jake’s legs gave out that winter morning, I am not the only one who panicked. Jake looked to both Melvin and I when his legs were swimming and Melvin was the first one to make it over to him. He used his nose and front paws to stand behind Jake and push on him so he wasn’t losing footing. I then picked him up. My little family at is absolute finest.

IMG_2449

Caring for Jake was one of the hardest roles I’ve ever had. Frustration came knocking daily. Life threw a lot of obstacles in Jake’s way, but we said to every one of them:

Move bitch, get out da way“. (Ludacris)

Special needs dogs are not for everyone.  And that is ok. But they are absolutely for someone. Jake widened my patience. He taught me about resilience. He gave me the most incredible purpose. Every obstacle, was an opportunity to find solution. We never gave up.

He wasn’t broken, he was perfect.

My bond with Jake is strong and tough and fierce – forever.  I’m sad that family made the decision that they did, because that dog would have saved a person he was meant for. The same way Jake saved me.

xoxo

 

May Day.

It has been a little too busy over here. I am helping out with some extra projects at work so that is one part of it, our roof decided to give up 7 years into existing so when it rained ALL week last week, it did so outside AND inside.

Here are some highlights as we call ‘uncle’ on May!

  • Doug met a few ‘potentials’. It turned out they were only potentials for me. Doug hated them. Thus, we met with a new trainer, who I really like.  In the past I have worked with trainers on his need to mouth feet, or my need to be able to encourage him from wild to place. This trainer is going to help us get Doug back to being more comfortable with play dates and hopefully then, a housemate. I will do a separate post on this.
  • I don’t think Bob #1 is with us anymore. She could have relocated, we had a surge of feral cats this spring so maybe she found a new gang to run with. I have not seen her in several months. She is chipped to me and I have not gotten any phone calls so, who knows. We wish that vixen all the best.
  • Bob #2 is a regular. Last night I pulled into the driveway and he was in our bushes.  I stood in the garage to see if he would come up to his bowl and he did. Every time a bird flew by or there was a noise, he would flinch. I guess that is the life of a feral cat. After he ate he took a little siesta on the driveway and even though I’m deathly allergic and he is just generally terrified, I think he knows I’m the provider of food. Also, I love him. IMG_9524

 

  • This spring is so much better than last spring for Doug! Last year at this time we were a few weeks into Doug’s first surgery. This year, Doug owns his yard like a boss. He chases the squirrels out of it, he digs for moles (I could live without this), he makes sure his jolly balls get the attention they deserve and then he lays down on every soft surface, except the dog chaise I bought for him.IMG_9396

 

  • To add to the awesomeness of Doug’s life, he has graduated from being in the mudroom when I am gone to having access to the main floor of the house. I slowly gave him more freedom and he has done really great with it all.  The first few days he sat and stared at the door like a statue, but somewhere around day 5 he realized he could do what all other dogs do when their humans are way – lick his parts and nap.IMG_9363

 

  • Melvin and Jake continue to send me songs and beautiful sunsets. And Doug and I continue to help dogs in need so that their #loveliveson .

Have a wonderful week!

 

 

Merry and Happy.

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.

We understand.

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.

IMG_7852IMG_7854

That’s the way love goes.

I have some friends who have lost dogs recently and find themselves in a heavy-hearted conundrum. One that I know very well. No dogs in the house and uncertainty about ever being able to love a dog again. Then there is the ever awesome (not) feeling of guilt that they are in some way, moving on, or away from, the one they lost.

The number one question I get about grief and moving forward with Doug is: Did you love Doug right away.

The answer is, no. Love and grief are a strange combination.

Max was the dog that showed me the way. Without him, there would never have been a Melvin, a Jake or a Doug. He was the beginning, the catalyst, the original.

Melvin was a massive growth spurt for my heart. It is unlikely I will ever love another dog in the same way I loved Melvin. Our connection is spiritual and I am fine with that part of me belonging only to him. He changed me. But as with all loves, they grow and move and are meant to live on.

Melvin love, brought Jake home.

Jake is my baby. My love for him is different from my love for Melvin or Max. It is no more or less, just unique to Jake.  I felt that way when Melvin was here and after Melvin died. I doubt I will ever love a dog the way I loved Jake. That is exactly how it was meant to be.

Jake love, brought Doug home.

When I got Doug, my heart was still living in the Melvin and Jake era. I was still figuring out where my little family went. He didn’t fit in perfectly but at the same time, he didn’t have to find his place because there were no dogs here. I never felt guilty about bringing Doug home (but I certainly had felt that about dogs I met after Jake but before Doug).  I also never felt passionate about Doug’s arrival. In a lot of ways he solved the empty house problem which is not the most loving reason to get a dog.  Then again, I got Melvin because Max was dying so maybe life knows what it’s doing after all.

For most of Doug’s first year, I missed Jake.  If I wore some sort of emotional gauge, that is what would register as #1. Grief owns you until it doesn’t.

Last night after Doug was a madman and ran and jumped and did all the things he is not supposed to do post surgery I snuggled with my little guy. I have felt love for him for a long time now, it sorta just snuck up on me a few months into him joining the family. I know that sounds sad, I loved him enough to bring him home and keep him during the times he tried to eat my feet but I was not struck with an overwhelming YOU ARE THE ONE, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH right away with him.  I liked him a whole lot. I just didn’t have control over where my love had scattered after losing Melvin and Jake.

Last night, I realized, in a rather quiet, a-ha moment, that I LOVE him. Fiercely. Every bit as much as his brothers and in a completely different way that is also exactly the same. For anyone and everyone who has loved and lost and then loved again, you know what I mean. It’s not a guilty, replacement love. It is brand new love from the same loving heart.

I believe with all that I am that love lives on. That our hearts love, and when we lose the one we love, that loves stays theirs but our capacity to love widens to welcome the next love home. The chapters of our lives move on. What other choice do we have? Love is not meant to be tucked away in its pages, love needs air and light and new places to land.

The world needs love to live on, more than ever.

I know that if Doug could talk the first thing he would do is to thank Max, Melvin and Jake for sending my love back out into the universe.  I know with all that I am that Melvin, the owner of my heart, wants me to rain love down on as many dogs as I can fit into this lifetime and that anything else would be unacceptable to him.

Melvin’s song as you all know is Photograph.  Jake’s song is Superman. Every time I look at Doug, this song plays in my head.

Go out and spread some love today. Or better yet, do that every day.

#loveliveson

IMG_6847

I gotcha, Doug.

Dear Doug,

A year ago I was broken. I was overwhelmed with grief and I was paralyzed under the weight of there being no dogs here. Jakey had not been gone that long and the void in my heart and in the house was crushing me. I’d met dogs and all of them made me have breakdowns. None of them were the dog I wanted.

The dog(s) I wanted had died.

So I gave up. My exact words were: it will just have to be shitty until it isn’t.

Then I saw you. I was scrolling on Facebook and I saw you and went past you and then scrolled back up and then back down and then back up. What was it about you? I didn’t think: you’re not Jake. I didn’t say: it feels too soon. In you, I saw the love-child of my delicious duo. More so, I saw a tomorrow that you could be in. I brought you home (one year ago today) and there were no breakdowns, at least none that were grief driven.

IMG_0076

In the first weeks that followed, my feet bled.  This is not some sort of poetic rhetoric, they literally bled because you were insane and tried to eat my feet with every step I took.  Every step.  I remember running and hiding in the bathroom.  I googled steel toed shoes.  Steel toed footwear in the heat of summer = not cute. During those torturous weeks, you made me miss Jake more.  I won’t lie, I did not love you. I regularly asked myself and you out loud, what was I thinking?

In addition to my bloody stumps, you had more energy than all the dogs combined times infinity. We walked non stop and still you were wound up and running zoomies. Still trying to leave me footless. How was I going to walk you with no feet?

I cried. A lot. About you. You were not at all what I wanted.

But then it was October. Then November. And we’d worked on you chewing toys and not feet and although I was still sad about Jake, I was not as unsure about you. December came and I still cried myself to sleep missing Jake, but I woke up smiling that you were here.

You saw me through almost all the firsts I had to go through without Jake. You were fairly insensitive about my sadness, in fact most times when I would cry you would jump on my back and chew my hair.

In hindsight,  you were everything that I needed.

I didn’t need a hug. That was Melvin’s job. Melvin’s collars were too big for you. I didn’t need you to make me laugh, Jake had that covered.  Jake’s jackets were too small for you. What I needed was a disruption to the structure of grief. I needed to go a little crazy.  Who better to show me that than you? You are my boy in the middle. Sandwiched between your brothers. Sort of like that circle on the top of your head.IMG_1852

You crept slowly into my heart.

I didn’t love all the walks, but the fresh air healed me. I was not excited about how much training you needed, but it helped pass time that would have otherwise been spent wishing Jake was still laying on the couch next to me. I didn’t love that you were such a terror, but every night I went to bed, I was almost too exhausted to be sad.

You were not the dog I wanted at first. But no dog was.  Today, I know with certainty that we were meant to be. Not just because you are addicted to surgery and I love going broke, but because when you look at me, my heart squeals. You are so much like Melvin, and so much like Jake, and nothing like them at all.  Even though you never met them, I still feel like you are brothers, that you are connected to them, and I do not think I would have felt that way with any other dog but you.

Your story is the opposite of mine.  You never had a family to lose. You never had someone committed to your health or well-being. You never had a home, or beds or peanut butter. If there is one thing I know, it’s that the universe will send me the dogs that others would not be able to go the distance with. I will travel this crazy life with you and your wonky Barbie legs, always.

I know you know you’re home.

Thank you for joining me on this journey of joy.  You are a strong force in this army. You bring the joy AND the funk.

You own my heart. Sure, some days I am still worried you will chew it up like one of your beds or swing it around like one of your Jolly Balls, but as all unconditional loves go, I’m willing to take that risk.

Happy Gotcha Day, bud.  I love you.  Forever.

 

 

Pet Insurance and a Melvin and Jake’s Project Joy giveaway.

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 ohmelvinyojake@gmail.com.  I’ll put together a little committee of folks who will help me pick the lucky dog.

Melvin and Jake love, lives on. Always.

mpj-_mjprojectjoyv3

 

March 1st.

March 1, 2015. That is the day I would give if someone granted me the ability to go back. It’s one day before Melvin’s 10th birthday and two days before we found out he was dying. Its today…two years ago.

That March 1st is the last normal day I had with my perfect little family. It’s the last day that felt right, complete. That I even have a day to go back to where I feel life was such perfection, makes me blessed beyond measure.

IMG_3608

In addition to Melvin being there, Jake would be there too. My odd couple, in all their glory. I could live March 1, 2015 on loop, indefinitely.

That said, I have started realizing that March 1, 2015 will not always be the day. In fact, with each new day I remember, joy is where you look for it. I am still in a bitt of a messy grief stage since Jake has not been gone that long. A phase where escaping loss and missing Melvin and Jake, sometimes trumps the joy that is currently unfolding. But each new day, I become less torn, more here-and-now.

I have loved Doug since the moment I saw him on Facebook. I didn’t have my full self to give to him because Jake had only been gone a few weeks. As the grief of Jake lessens, I realize how much my heart is opening up to Doug. There is a love that connects him to his brothers, and that love is powerful and lovely. There are moments I look at Doug and know that we are building towards a love that will own me, (and one day, crush me). You can’t have one without the other. I can confirm that journey is worth it.

I love Doug. I love him every bit as much as I love Melvin and Jake and he has started healing me in ways that I didn’t expect. He has started to soften March 1st. He has made me believe in right now and has made me excited about tomorrow. He holds coveted space in my heart next to Max, Melvin and Jake and he is every bit as amazing (albeit much more crazy) than my angels are.

It’s hard to learn a new love in a shadow. I don’t think Doug realizes any of that though. From day one with me, he has been loved a thousand times more than he ever was in his previous life. As that bond between us becomes magical, I see the realization in his eyes. I see him look at me and he knows I’m his. He knows he’s home. He has opened himself up to love and joy and relaxation.

So have I.

On the eve of Melvin’s 12th birthday, when all of me feels the ache of not knowing a 12-year old Melvin (I mean the only thing more perfect than a 12-year old Melvin would be a 9-year old Jake by his side), I sit with Doug, and I tell him stories of his brothers and I realize that this March 1st, is a good one too.

Doug’s love anchor is winning. And that is how it’s supposed to go. Tomorrow we will celebrate Melvin’s heavenly birthday.  We will do things that Melvin enjoyed and we celebrate a love that lives on, a love that Doug owns now. I know Melvin sent Doug and I know he is fine with me letting the old March 1st go.

Doug in Melvin’s chair, in Jake’s sit style. #lovelivesonimg_3108

 

 

 

Six months now.

Jake has been gone for six months. I’m not going to write too much because at this stage, I still miss him so much.  What I will say is that my love for him has grown infinitely and that photos now bring many more smiles than tears.

Jakey, I love you. You will always be my pea-nugget. #loveliveson

One love.

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.

A little example of how love lives on.

 

 

 

Happy weekend!

I had a dream.

I use the term dream lightly.  It was a nightmare.

I came home and the house was empty and I was calling for Melvin and Jake.  I searched the entire house and panic overtook me.  I started making calls, running around the neighborhood.  Screaming their names. It was one of the worst dream moments I’ve ever had.

People came but they wouldn’t help me look for them. Not in a mean way, they would just stand there and watch me and listen to me.  But they wouldn’t help me look.  I frantically begged them to help me but they just kept saying you won’t find them. I was crying so hard, my heart was pounding.

A man came over to me and said, go through that door, maybe you can find them in there. I tore the hinges off of that door opening it and I ran in desperate to see my boys.

I found myself in a giant maze inside a building that was the size of a city. There were hallways and staircases and ramps but no rooms. I started running and screaming Melvin and Jake’s names. At every dead-end, someone I knew was standing there and they would say, you won’t ever find them again.

I continued to run and scream their names and I hit a dead-end each time. The same words were repeated to me, that they would never be found. The dream went on for what felt like eternity. I was exhausted but I refused to give up. I would have stayed there forever, looking for them.

I woke up screaming and sweating.  Unable to breathe. I sat on the edge of the bed and then walked around to shake it off. I eventually fell back asleep.

The next morning I laid in bed thinking about the dream.  I thought about how horrible it was. How tormented and helpless I felt.

Then all of a sudden, I got it. That nightmare, is me.

That nightmare is all the feelings I carry with me. It’s who I am now that Melvin and Jake are both gone. It’s not the whole of me, but there is a part of me that feels a painful hole from having lost my little family.  My perfect little family. That city sized maze with stairways and ramps and hallways that I was running through blindly, is my grief.

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that above all else, I’m grateful they were mine to love. That we found such a lovely balance is one of life’s greatest gifts of joy. The dream was not the story. The story is love.

img_1633

Losing both boys required me to start over in a lot of ways.  I am not the same person I was after I lost Melvin. I am most definitely not the same person since losing Jake. I wouldn’t say I’m better or worse, I’m just a more current version of me. I’m still figuring me, without them, out.  That Doug wasn’t part of the Melvin and Jake era doesn’t make him any less perfect. That he wasn’t in the dream doesn’t mean that he doesn’t fit. It actually is more along the lines of me not fitting. Like life continues and I have to reinsert my new self back into it and that new self is not technically new. I have memories and I often want to go backwards to how it was as much as I want to go forward and see how it will be. I think the dream is a reminder that I still have to work to do. As I continue to build on life moving forward, a new family structure will grow that can’t be and shouldn’t be painted from a memory. It should, however, be influenced by the same love.

img_1632

I have started looking for a new dog.  I spend a lot of time thinking about who that dog should be (to me and to Doug). Who that new dog is can’t be fully determined until he or she is here, which is part of the problem about even trying to envision it or wanting to be one way or another. It will be how it will be. I do happen to have faith in my ability to pick awesome dogs. I’m excited to see how the next dynamic duo plays out.

To all of you reinserting yourself back into life. I get it.  It’s a maze sometimes, but new chapters must be written if we want our story to continue.

As 2016 nears its end, it would be easy for me to say this was a terrible year and to want 2017 to arrive already.  The truth is, I’m OK if this year lingers a little longer. This year is the last year I had Jakey here with me. So despite his cancer, his death, the grief and even the blood clots, I want to stay here as long as possible. I’m familiar with this wind down to the end of the year. I felt the same exact way last year about Melvin.

This year is also the year of Doug! And that makes it all kinds of beautiful too. I’m very excited about the adventures Doug and I will have next year and curious as to who might join us on our journey of love and exuberance.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Chanukah! Happy everything! We hope with all of our hearts that you find your joy!

xoxo – T&D

img_1639img_1641

 

 

Joy rising.

I was thinking about #loveliveson last night. How the day after Melvin died, that idea formed in my mind and got me out of bed. I didn’t know then what I know now, that it would become my purpose, who I was to become. Love living on is a force that drives me. Sometimes it’s a big gesture of effort and sometimes it is much more quiet. 100% of the time, I’m a required participant.

Joy can’t spread on its own.

Grief can tend to make a lot of things grey and dark. Being open to joy takes work.  I sometimes have to dig deep to see the colors of a day fill in. I have to be open to seeing Melvin and Jake’s love, growing and blooming in unexpected places. While I may wake up on any given day with a strong ache of loss, the universe will almost always serve me up something beautiful to balance it. It’s not always obvious, but it’s always there. Like a note from a reader saying my grief experience is helping her deal with the loss of her dog. Or unexpectedly seeing a video of Oliver running around in the wheelchair that we donated to him. Sometimes, love living on is as easy as sunshine or a quiet moment that lets a memory of the boys take over. Love lives on in every sunset too. Last night there was a frost warning here, love exploded through that alert because for many, many years the first frost signaled the end of allergy season for Melvin.  That alert was joy reminding me from where I came.

IMG_0446

Love living on requires me to take action. To donate Jake’s things. To take in a foster, to donate to a cause, to be there for someone in need.  Some days, love living on is through patience for Doug.

img_0911

Love living on requires me to hold onto the fact that they were here, we persevered, love won; in the same moment it requires me to be present. If I had been the one to go, Jake and Melvin would have spread my love like a wildfire.

This is life’s beautiful work.

Of course, the boys live on through my efforts with Melvin and Jake’s Project Joy too. I was more public with how we reached out with Melvin’s Project Joy efforts.  Since adding Jake to that cause, I have been a little more quiet about the ways we are helping.  Melvin was loud and proud and exuberant. So were our efforts in his memory.  Jake was more reserved. Our last year together was he and I leaning on each other, so for the last few months, my giving has been more quiet, like Jake and I were. But every single thing I do in his memory, sends loud joy outward and inward.

IMG_7405

Every thought of them both, inspires me to always give more than I take.

IMG_3201

When I get up each morning, there is a nanosecond where I keep my eyes closed and pretend Melvin and Jake are still here with me.

  • I have gotten up 562 times since Melvin died. Since that very first morning, I felt him with me.  I will never be able to explain it but he has never really left me.
  • I have risen 100 times since Jake died.  There is still sadness in those moments. Less air. There is still more healing needed, more joy to spread to be sure that mending continues.
  • I have woken up to Doug, 55 times. That makes me have a smile explosion.

Three different boys, two different losses, one beautiful love. I rise up every day to make sure that love lives on and grows and that I do my part to fuel our joy train.

This song lifts me, inspires me, calms me and brings me joy. This song is my battle cry.

 

 

 

Two months and new urns.

This weekend it will be two months since I lost Jake.

I miss him. Pretty much all the minutes and all the hours and all days. The ache is constant, but it’s no longer overwhelming.

I miss the meatballs, oh how i miss the meatballs. Why do I miss the meatballs? I miss the diaper changes, his face, his paws, his eyes. I miss his strange smell. I miss all his noises. I miss him needing me. I miss his glance. I miss him in my arms, kissing my face. I miss cooking for him. I miss our evenings on the couch. I miss waking up to his wiggly, wonky body.

I miss the all of him and the all of us.

I still get up in the middle of the night to check on him. Doug’s snoring, which is not nearly as loud as Jake’s snoring, reminds me that Jake is gone and Doug is here. I smile for the here-and-now and go back to sleep.

After one month without Jake, he felt so far away from me. It felt like he’d been gone forever. At two months I can start to admit that while he was loved and happy, his body was not built to last. Now, he’s a part of me. Now, two months feels like, two months. It’s not that long from a sadness perspective but its long enough for some healing to begin.

I’m still processing the last year.

We lost Melvin.

We had the hardest year of both of our lives.

I lost Jake.

It’s OK. Love is hard and beautiful and wild and complicated. I carry the heartache. I cry the tears. But I also find great comfort in them being together again. My angel dogs.

Three days after Jake died, I ordered him and Melvin matching urns. Jake’s arrived on time, about three weeks after the order was placed. It’s lovely and everything that I wanted. Melvin’s did not arrive. I called the post office and they set out on a search for it. They had been having some ‘troubles’ and a lot of packages had ‘gone missing’.  I asked them who would open a box and realize it was an urn and still keep it?  They did not have an answer.

Melvin’s original urn never came. The tracking still says delayed in transit. There is a beautiful hero in this story though. The very awesome owner of Vitrified Studios made me another one. She is amazing in all the ways we like people to be amazing!  Melvin’s urn arrived last night.  My boys are together at the bridge, together in my heart and now together here:

img_0401img_0407img_0403

If you’d like to get your very own, you can learn more about them here. Tell them Oh Melvin sent you!

We are only human.

I cannot tell you how many times I step in to console someone who has lost a pet and who feels they didn’t do enough. Didn’t see the signs. Didn’t make the right choices. And every time they ask me, why are you not second guessing everything about Melvin and Jake? My answer is the same no matter who asks…

…because I’m only human. I did the best I could. So did you. 

I lost two dogs to cancer. They were diagnosed less than one year apart.

I cannot say with absolute certainty that I did every thing I could do for them both so that they didn’t get cancer.  They both had really great care. The best food, excellent veterinary care and options. Whatever they needed, they got. If love alone could have protected them from cancer, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

I didn’t expose them to known radiation. I didn’t treat the lawn with poisonous chemicals. I didn’t let them drink from an unknown water source. I also didn’t wake up on any single day of their life and say, today I am going to be sure they are not exposed to carcinogens.

They were both rescues. I got one at three and one at five. The three year old lived to be ten and the five year old lived to be eight. They were both purebreds, a lab and a French Bulldog. They had regular vaccinations. During summer months, I did flea and tick treatments on both. They were both on medications for other health issues. If you want to know if I think any of the things in this paragraph led to them having cancer, I will say with absolute certainty that, I don’t know.

Traveling down the road of did I do something to contribute to their cancer, did I not do something that led to it…those paths, lead to nowhere for me. I love Melvin and Jake more than I love myself. I woke up everyday with one goal, to love them better than I did the day before.

I could not control the cancer. I could only control the love.

It was out of my hands that two different cancers found two different boys in one household. I could not control that Melvin had no treatment options or that Jake’s option didn’t work. I could not control that Melvin had 40 days or that Jake had five months. I could not control that both situations, broke me.

I will always wish that they lived longer, but time was never a guarantee. I am learning to celebrate that they were here.

There were a few brief moments during Jake’s cancer where the thought of his last year picked at me a little. His last year, was undeniably his worst year. I did all that I could to make it bearable. We’d lost Melvin and we were not the best versions of ourselves. He got health knockdown after knockdown and then just when we were turning a corner and getting back up, we got his cancer diagnosis. When thoughts of doubt about his last year try to creep into my mind, I stop what I am doing and say no. No! I stand convicted that we did the best we could. Both of us, he and I, even during the hardest of days, we did our best because every day, there was love.

For us, cancer is a chapter, cancer is not the story.

We have to be kinder to ourselves during loss. There are so many incredible parents who lose a pet and then turn on themselves and suggest they didn’t do enough. They missed a sign. They second guess it all. At the beginning and end of every day, we are human. We don’t have magic eyes that see cancer when it starts to form (if only!). There is not a manual called: “Do exactly this when your pet gets cancer”. Instead, we do the best we can with all the love in our hearts.

You did enough. You were guided by love. You did the parts that you could do, beautifully.

I would OBVIOUSLY much rather cancer not exist. I would much rather Melvin and Jake were both at my feet right now. I loved them unconditionally before cancer. I loved them beautifully during cancer. I loved them enough to let them go and my life’s purpose is to be sure that their love lives on, forever. Part of that is donating to cancer research in their memory, so that one day, maybe we can control cancer.

Jake’s name has been added to our project joy. #loveliveson

mpj-_mjprojectjoyv3

 

 

 

 

Doug the power plant.

Doug has been here for a little over a week now. His energy could provide power to New York City. I’m exhausted! He is exuberant, mischievous and a complete love bug.

A lot of my photos of him look like this:img_0318

I’d be lying if I said he was easy. As a reminder, I went from Jake, who was paralyzed and loved to nap to Doug, whose idea of a good time is pretending like he’s a backpack (on my back) when I’m trying to sit on the couch and rest my weary bones. So some of the challenge is me and what I’m used to.

He be cray, but I love him.

He’s doing great with housebreaking, he’s only had one accident. It wasn’t really even an accident because he had already been out and he seemed pretty purposeful in his actions.  Dude does not realize that I know intentional peeing when I see it.

We have gotten our walk schedule down.  I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to get a young dog during an East Coast heat wave. For the past 10 days I have felt perpetually sweaty and my Apple watch alerts me everyday that I have met my exercise goal, by noon. His energy has been a challenge, a little due in part to the fact that I work from home and when I say work I mean I REALLY DO WORK. The challenge is, I’m here, so he wants me to play. We are slowly working out together time and independent time. We take our first walk in the morning after he eats. We take a 2nd walk around lunchtime, our 3rd walk late afternoon and our last walk after dinner. In between each walk I will take him into the backyard and play Jolly Ball or fetch with him. Sometimes he just runs zoomies on his own and I stand out there asleep with my eyes open. The rest of the day he plays in the house and even sometimes takes load off and rests.

img_0359

We started back with our trainer.  I cried when I was waiting for her to arrive. She has only ever trained Jake. In fact, our first session for Doug was paid for by a left over session from Jakey. It just felt odd for her to be here and for Jake to be gone. I am coming up on two months without Jake, I still have many more of these types of moments to go through. But Doug did great on training day one and we have practiced our homework of touch and sit every day.

For the most part, Doug is a lot like Melvin. A lot. The early-years-Melvin that used to leap off the back of the couch and fly into the glass french doors (that were closed) to try to chase squirrels. I recall having to call upon a lot of patience for that Melvin, the same way I am calling upon it now for the Dougster.

Doug is young. He doesn’t know any rules, or any commands and doesn’t know what is expected of him. When I say words to him that the boys used to know, he just runs zoomies at the sound of my voice. He went from being a stray, to being in a shelter, to being in foster to me. It’s easy to get frustrated when he mouths my feet with each step that I take (trust me, I walk into the bathroom, shut the door and count to ten a lot. Sometimes I count to 50). Or to curse when he jumps on my back while I’m resting my bones on the couch (instead I take some deep breaths and I stand up and wait it out). Instead of yelling or correcting his every move, I look at a photo of Melvin and I recall our journey from wildebeest to soulful boy. From crazy to sweet. I recall what’s possible. Then I look at Doug and I know that he does what he does, out of pure joy for life. A life that I am responsible for guiding. He just has to learn to focus his joy on good, not my feet.

I still wake up and wish that Jake were here too. I wish Melvin and Jake were both here to help me guide Doug.  But they are not, so I will lead him. Doug keeps me in the here and now, the here and now where I have to stay very hydrated!

img_0322-1img_0329img_0332

 

 

 

 

Superman.

This is the song I sang to Jake during his battle with cancer.  I’d pick him up and dance around the house. I’m pretty sure he hated it but he must have felt I needed those moments so he gave in and for the most part, didn’t pee on me.

Now, sometimes when I’m missing Jake hard, I ask him to come sit with me. Almost every time, this song plays shortly thereafter.

Now, he sings it to me. #loveliveson

 

img_0053

Hey Doug!

I met 20 dogs over the past seven weeks.  Every single time, while I loved the dog (I love them all!), I’d come home and have a terrible breakdown because that dog, wasn’t Jake. The house was empty, but I wanted Jake. I wanted my boy back.

I kept trying. I kept having breakdowns. Why was I torturing myself? I finally decided to take a break. The moment I decided to do that, a weight was lifted. I knew I would find a dog when I found a dog and it would just have to be ok that there were no dogs here.

That decision, lightened me. My smile started coming back. I found my laughter. I cried when I missed Jake but there were no torturous breakdowns. I needed time to realize that there is no situation that could present itself, even the next dog, where I wouldn’t still want to have Jake back. I accepted that another dog would come and that there could be sadness over the loss and joy over the gain. It didn’t have to be one or the other.

I could breathe again.

A little over a week ago, I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw this:

IMG_0076

I froze, in the warmest way. I saw Melvin in this dog. I saw Jake in this dog. This dog was their love child. My boys sent me this dog, I knew this to be certain. I applied for him immediately. I emailed them to say I must meet him. He was meant to be mine.

There were no breakdowns.

I had a home visit, didn’t cry once.

I bought him stuff (before meeting him), still calm.

Then last Thursday, my friend Virginia and I drove to meet him.

He came rounding the corner in his foster mom’s house and I felt Melvin and Jake. I felt them in his exuberance, in his clumsiness, in his joy.  I also, just saw him, as his own being. This new, beautiful change my life was about to take.

The moment I saw his face in the first photo, I saw a Doug. Face-to-face, he was still Doug to me. He’d found a new name. A new home.

Doug was found as a stray in rural South Carolina. He quickly became a shelter favorite.  The shelter called Pet Connect Rescue and asked if they could take him out or SC and give him a new life in the DC area. The rescue said yes, and Hooty/Doug made his way up North, into foster and now to me.

Here is what I know so far…

  • A lot of things in the house are new to him.  Like garage doors opening. And refrigerator ice maker noises. And mirrors.
  • He was neutered mid-August and the vet estimated him to be 1-2 years old. I worried a lot about 1-2 years old because that was by far the youngest dog I have ever considered. But he was already mine so 1-2 would have to be ok.  Imagine my surprise when I took him to my vet and she said… he is not a day over eight months. My eyes were crazier than Jake’s at that moment!
  • Doug is a puppy. He mouths EVERYTHING. When I try to walk, he tries to put my feet in his mouth. We go on 7,489 walks a day and somehow he still has energy.
  • He has not had a single accident in the house.
  • He puts himself to bed at 7:30pm, and I go get him to keep him up for fear that he will want to wake up at 4am.
  • He has yet to meet a person or dog he does not like.
  • At any moment, he could explode from joy.
  • He is not the dog I thought I wanted.  As it turns out, he is everything that I need.

Especially if what I needed was exhaustion! No seriously, how long are they puppies?

We start obedience training on Wednesday! Amen to training!

As for what breed he is, he’s listed as an English Bulldog mix. I ordered a DNA kit so we’ll def do a contest at some point for guesses.

I can only confirm he’s happy.

As am I.

Don’t be fooled by these photos, he only rests about 14 min a day.

IMG_0128IMG_0158IMG_0180

IMG_0223