Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Only one wag bag

Your dad's name was Kahoochie Creek Kramer. Your mom, Trader's Flying Arrow.

Yet, we settled on something simple: Peanut.

It was all by circumstance. Married just four months, Daddy and I had a simple Saturday breakfast at the Waffle House. A trek to the Melbourne Square mall afterwards, just days after Thanksgiving. A walk into Puppies Plus. I'd always been a fan of Jack Russell terriers, thanks in part to the PBS series "Wishbone" (how could an English major resist a JRT with a sense of humor AND a passion for literature?) and the wiry little rascal Eddie on "Frasier." So I kind of always had my eye out for one of you.

And then, our eyes met.

A little white and reddish furball in a tiny crate. The cutest face I'd ever seen. And then the thought, "Let's just hold her a bit."

That's all it took.

After five minutes in a puppy cubby, we were signing the papers to finance (gasp!) the cutest Jack Russell Terrier we'd ever laid eyes on. Foolish, I know. (And it certainly set the bar high for the cost of keeping you happy and healthy.) You were three months old, spry, wiry and sporting what I called a cow belly, and completely freakin' nuts. But it was love at first sight.

You were our first baby.

We loved you up more than we could imagine. Called our parents to tell them about our new addition. And relished in every cute puppy moment.

The razor-sharp baby teeth. Jumping waist-high in a frenzy. The warm puppy breath in our faces. Getting your head stuck in an empty 12-pack box and wandering around as Daddy fell on the floor laughing. That precious little bellowing bark. Licking our faces like crazy, to the point where you ripped  Daddy's earring out of his ear (we saw it surface a couple days later during a walk, but decided to let it go). Chasing after cute little lizards (and sometimes catching them and bringing their writhing little bodies into the house).

Sure, there some not-so-great moments. Like when you ate a friend's leather jacket and destroyed our apartment's carpeting (costing us our security deposit). And chewing up a heating pad in the bed. And other disgusting things I'd prefer not to put in writing. But that's just part of the puppy deal. We started making choices with you in consideration. Like ensuring our first house had a privacy fence so you could run like crazy in the backyard. Choosing plants that wouldn't kill you if you scarfed them down. And adopting a second JRT so you'd have a canine companion.

Peanut and Banjo

I feared, at times, something bad would befall you. Like the time I was wearing a tank top and short-shorts, washing the kitchen floor, and realized you'd been way too quiet. Sure enough, I found your doggie brother in the backyard with a quizzical look on his face -- next to a freshly-dug escape route under the fence. I was in sheer panic, sure you'd be taken out by a larger critter or a car somewhere between our home and the Winn-Dixie. I ran, looking completely indecent and yelling like a buffoon, through the field until I caught up with you and scooped you up to safety. I couldn't bear the thought of anything bad ever happening to you.

Yet, you seemed to get the short end of the stick when it came to health. Crystals in the kidney that required long-term, special (translation: high-cost) dog food. Allergies that led to all kinds of insane testing and, eventually, regular injections to try to make you immune to the irritants that made you look like a molting bird every spring. But you were a trouper. And we were a happy little family.

And then the human babies came.

When I was pregnant with Kristen, I fretted you and your dog brother wouldn't react well. I read up. Bought a baby-sized doll, sprinkled it with baby powder (like the books said a real baby would smell like), and carried it around before she was born, so you would be somewhat prepared. I'm sure you wondered why this fat fool was waddling around clutching a toy, but you still seemed to love me.

And you loved my babies, both of them. It's like you knew. You were always so sweet and tolerant. Sure, you bared your fangs a few times, but it was usually well-deserved. Mostly with Jake. And you relished in the chance to chase after a football (which had to be put away immediately, or it would be in chunks in the backyard in a matter of hours) or jump up and snap at bubbles the kids were blowing, much to their squealing delight.

Banjo, Jake and Peanut

But, as the family grew, I was certainly guilty of devoting the bulk of my energy to the kids. They became my new babies. I still loved you, but I certainly grew less tolerant as the demands of being a working mother grew. Dogs that used to get Christmas gifts were now lucky to find a bonie under the tree. And, eventually, I didn't want you and your shedding fur in the bed with me. Especially since every time I tried to get you to move over, you'd try to bite my ass.

But you were a good girl. You knew I was in over my head and let it be. You were content with sporadic attention and let me try to figure myself out. And you were cool with me hollering at you for yapping at all hours of the night.

Unconditional love, they call it.

And then, we noticed a couple years back something wasn't right. You were exploding in girth, going after every morsel of food you could shove in your face. We had to move Banjo's food bowl so you wouldn't wolf down his meal. You shot to the kitchen every time you heard the dog food kernels hit the bowl or when I started chopping food. You and your cohort looked like Laurel and Hardy. I was sure you would eat till you exploded and Banjo would wither away to nothing.

And then Daddy held out a bone for you. And you walked right past it.

That's when he knew you were blind. A specialist confirmed it. Something called SARDS -- sudden acute retinal deficiency. Such sadness overwhelmed me when I heard it. I held you and wept. But the vet assured us you still knew your way around the house and could function. You could still live your life. You just couldn't see.

Peanut (yes, she's alive here) and Kristen

So, we trudged on. Tried to make things as accessible as possible. And it seemed OK. Our sweet girl even wrote about you for her second-grade book project.

And I tried to not get frustrated as I exercised and you stood right under me, dazed and confused. When I tripped over you when you snuck up on me in the kitchen.

Things were OK. Until about a month ago.

You had a growth in your mouth. We took you to the vet. They suggested it be removed under anesthesia. And we agreed. So, we sent you in, even got your teeth cleaned. It went fine and you came home. And things were never the same.

Suddenly, you were in unfamiliar territory. The map of the house once emblazoned in your head was gone. You couldn't make it outside to go the the bathroom. And then, last, week, you started getting sick. And you stopped eating.

We took you to the vet on Thursday. I halfway expected that was it. We were told you had doggie dementia, pretty much. But I wasn't ready. After 12 1/2 years, the doctor said she wouldn't judge if we wanted to let you go. Or we could try to give you some meds to clear up an infection you had, plus attempt to clear your cognitive problems. Daddy and I both felt we wanted to give you a chance. Yeah, we didn't like constant cleaning of hardwood floors or plunking down hundreds of dollars, but you were our baby. Our first baby. So, we choked up another couple hundred dollars and gave it a go. We decided we would let you go over the summer, after the kids had a chance to grasp you weren't going to get better, probably. And us.

But it was a nosedive from there. You refused the meds, for the most part. You wouldn't eat your food, though Daddy did call me at work to let me know you'd consumed some of the low-fat buffalo chicken I'd made (yes, I was glad and horrified at the same time, sure I'd be coming home after work to a total mess. "Just rinse it off," he said). But then, you wouldn't even eat that.

I became one of THOSE people over the weekend. I bought you a rotisserie chicken, hoping you'd eat that and maybe take your meds. But you, the pooch who used to nearly take off my finger if I tried to remove a dog bowl, wouldn't touch it. You literally stuck your nose up at it. I even left it in your bed as you lingered there all weekend. Nothing. You barely moved for three days.

That's when I knew.

I prepared the kids. Told them you were very sick and likely wouldn't be with us much longer. That they needed to say their goodbyes. And I prepared to say mine.

I did something I didn't do in ages. I sat on the couch, holding you in my arms. Left my iPhone in my purse, TV off, and just held you. I could tell your breathing was a bit labored, but I didn't think you were suffering. I just held you, pet you and talked to you.

Just like I used to.

I was consumed by guilt. I knew I was a shitty dog mom in the last several years. I didn't give you the attention you deserved. But I was damn sure I wasn't going to screw up my last moments with you. You would not go this alone.

Sometimes, I hoped you would let go in the middle of the night, partly so Banjo could recognize you were gone and come to grips with it, since he's in complete hysterics when we take you anywhere on your own. And partly because I didn't want to make that choice.

But come Monday, I knew it was over. I held you again, as much as I could. I was afraid you'd die when I went to the dentist. I was afraid you'd die when I was at work, alone in your wag bag. When I went to work, I told Daddy to make sure to hold you, make you feel loved. But as I worked Monday night, I started getting the updates. You were sick. Several times. Couldn't make it outside to go potty. I called the emergency vet just in case. And tried to stay focused throughout the rest of my shift.

But when I got home I knew what I had to do.

You were in the middle of the living room, laying on a towel Daddy had used to clean things up after you'd gotten sick. And you were still getting sick. And I heard your labored breathing.

Daddy and I had the same thought. It's time.

He stayed with the kids in the wee hours of the morning after he helped me get you into the car. The dog that would go crazy for a car ride (and get sick after 45 minutes) was now as still as a turtle. He said his goodbyes to you and I left, bawling like a baby all the way. The five-minute drive felt like forever as I told you how I felt, how sorry I was I wasn't a better mom to you. You sat there, motionless, as I pet you.

I carried you into the clinic in the middle of the night. The wait for them to come and prep you felt like an eternity. I sat there, blubbering alone like a buffoon in a room that reeked of bleach. Hearing every second click on the purple flower wall clock. Looking at a framed photo on the wall of a little white and brown dog with the inscription "Darby" and wondering, "Who the eff is Darby?" Cradling you like a baby and listening to your raspy breathing. It almost seemed, as I looked into your eyes, like you could see me, too. Almost.

I signed the paperwork,  paid the couple hundred dollars for it to be done and for your ashes to be returned to me. I couldn't, just couldn't, agree to hand you over for a communal cremation. I wanted you to come home, at some point.

And finally, it was time. They prepped you with the IV, gave you something to make you comfortable, and laid you down on a Thomas the Train blanket (I would have brought a Mickey blanket if I knew you were going to lay in that shit). I held you and told you I loved you. And then it was over.

I took the few minutes they gave me afterwards to love you some more. Pet your wiry fur. Run my fingers over the reddish patches on your back. Pat that cute little cow belly that had become so small in a matter of weeks.  And realized that, sometimes, walking out the door is the hardest part. After several minutes, I finally did.

I hope you had a good life, my sweet Peanut. You certainly brought much to ours. I hope that you're that crazy little puppy once more, able to see again and chasing lizards on a fence up there.

And I hope that Doggie Heaven and People Heaven aren't separate kingdoms. Because at some point, I'm bringing the bubbles.


Anonymous said...

All I did was cry as I read it because I remember most of those things you spoke of. It only seems like yesterday she was chasing the bubbles. I hope as time goes on we can all sit around and laugh at the crazy things she did.

Judy Berman said...

I knew what was coming. I've been there myself. Yet, I bawled like a baby. A beautiful tribute to a wonderful little dog, Peanut, who I'm certain knew how very loved she was.

Brian Monroe said...

Wow. Where do I even start. Your letter expresses such love, caring and compassion for your cute little pooch. I know it hurts right now. Alot. But thank you for writing it. You just had me crying like crazy. Bawling. Heaving. That hasn't happened in a LONG time. But when it comes to pets, I, like you, love with all of my heart and am a huge softy. I have a mini schnauzer now that we adopted about two years ago and now I can't imagine life without her. She is so smart, funny and affectionate. She loves to snuggle, love, hug, lick, play, you name it. The first thing I did after reading your note is give her a huge hug. I know this is a tough time, but be comforted that you gave this dog a great life, full of love, happiness and attention, the things that dogs crave. I got to know you at Florida Today and I know you have a huge heart and give so much of your caring and time to others and your family. I wish you the best and I urge you to cherish the photos and memories of your dog and its warm and joyous personality and not the sadness that comes when something so cherished leaves us. Take care old friend. I will have you, and your little rascal, in my thoughts and prayers. Best regards,