Hello Again: Visitation Dreams


Well, I sure left things on a depressing note last time, didn’t I?  I know it sounds like a lazy writer’s excuse, but as I’ve said before, take it as a good sign when I haven’t posted in a long time.  I have been moving forward with my life, and while grief never entirely goes away, it did get easier pretty quickly through help from my family, my friends, the universe, and the sheer passage of time.  Along the way, I’ve learned to recognize and accept comforting signs around me, and they particularly help on days like today:  the eight-year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing, which happens to fall a day after the four-year anniversary of Ben’s.  I’ll discuss, over time, different factors that guided me through the darkest moments and continue to do so, but today I’d like to focus one of my favorites: dreams.  Since my grandmother’s death, I’ve come to look at certain dreams as much more meaningful than others.

My Granny

This is a dog blog, so I have not said a whole lot about my Granny here before.  But since she taught me so much about unconditional love and since losing her fed so heavily into how I handled Petey’s and Ben’s deaths, she will be a big part of this post (and probably future ones).

My Granny was my Dad’s mother, and she helped raise me.  From my infancy, she took care of me every day when both of my parents worked.  She taught me how to read and write as I got older, and when I started kindergarten, she persuaded my parents to send me to the school down the street from her so that she could pick me up in the afternoons.  By the time my parents came for me each evening, my Granny had already bathed me and fed me dinner.  She got me through the toughest times of my childhood, including my parents’ divorce when I was six, and she even kept me at her house the whole time I had the chicken pox so that I would not pass the illness on to my sister, just a baby at the time.  While I was sick, she collected my work from my first grade teacher and brought it to me each day.  She praised how well I sounded out the words and made me feel like I could do anything, even from the cot at the side of her bed.  She was my hero–and still is.  I was lucky enough to have her in my life for thirty-five years.

On June 28, 2009, my Granny passed away after a long and difficult struggle with cancer.  I now lived across the country, but I woke up that morning feeling agitated.  Rob, Henry, and I had just returned home from a trip to the mountains, and we had gotten little sleep the night before because Henry, only 18 months old then, had woken up around 1 a.m. screaming, apparently from an earache caused by the changing altitude.  Nearly two months pregnant, I was still groggy and continued to lie in bed, but my mind raced. My Granny had been in hospice care and had basically slept, medicated for the past week.  The whole family knew that the time was approaching.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a light shine on one of my bedroom’s  interior walls.  It looked like the sun was hitting it, even though that wall never gets direct sunlight.  As soon as I looked, the light disappeared.  I got up and went downstairs.  A half hour later, my stepmother called me to tell me the news.


By now, I’d been reading a lot on what happens after we die.  I felt comfortable in my belief that my Granny was free and would be watching over us.  I did not expect, though, how she would let me know.  The dream I had the morning after her passing remains fresh in my memory today.  

I’ve read several times that “visitation dreams” happen in the wee hours of the morning, between three and six, when we’re in our deepest, least interrupted sleep.  This dream came to me within that time frame.  In it, I was at my Granny’s house, lying in the room where I normally stayed when I slept over as an adult, snuggled in the blankets.  She sat next to me on the bed, and we talked and talked about everyday events, just like we used to whenever I visited.  Her voice very passionate, she had so much to say. She couldn’t believe what certain people we knew were doing.  As I listened, I gazed at the door, which was surrounded by narrow, rectangular windows.  I could see a bright blue sky through them and knew that heaven was out there.  Eventually, when our conversation quieted, my Granny said, “Well, I better go check on Grandpa.”  She got up and, at the foot of the bed, folded a couple pieces of laundry first.  I sat up.  “I love you, Granny,” I said.  “I love you, too, Darlin,” she said without looking at me, keeping things as normal as possible.  And when she left the room, it felt like she had just walked into the living room, leaving me to relax while she continued to take care of the house.  I woke up shortly after that, surprised to be back in my own bed.  Her voice still echoed in my mind.  It made me confident that she did not leave us.  

That dream would precede many other periodic visits.  By the time Petey and Ben died three years later, I had accepted these dreams as reassurance that even when our loved ones die, their souls very much live on.

I do not remember having one specific visitation dream like that after Petey’s death.  At first, he just materialized briefly in several different dreams.  He always appeared in perfect form again, both eyes intact and bright, and he was usually a puppy.  In one dream, I went out to the garage to look for something, and I was digging through the double jogger stroller when I lifted a baby blanket from one of the seats.  Petey lay there snoring, and as he woke up, he looked at me with big sleepy eyes.  I kissed the black spot on top of his head, picked him up, and carried him inside the house.  In another, he ran around the coffee table at mega speed, and I only caught quick glimpses of him before he disappeared underneath the table or the rug again.  I finally caught him, a tiny, wiggly fur ball, and sobbing, told him how much I loved him.  Those moments left me feeling like Petey, now free from his old body, was back to his young, energetic self; he had no limits.

The night after Ben passed away, I went to bed in tears.  As I drifted off, I saw him sitting in front of me, hunched over and and staring at me with his heavy, sad eyes.  I jolted awake.  My sleep remained fitful like this until the early morning hours.  The dream I had during that window of time remains, again, just as vivid to me today.  I had exited my front gate, heading out on my daily walk, when I noticed two women talking in the driveway across the street from my house.  A young lady wearing a baseball cap with a blond ponytail sticking out of the back cradled Ben in her arms.  Despite his stocky build, it looked completely natural, like she always carried him around.  He loved it, totally surrendered, relaxing.  I knew, though, that he would want to walk with me, so I approached the lady and asked her if I could have a minute with him.  She put him down, and he ran to me.  After I showered him with kisses, we set off for the trail, him running and leaping with all of the energy of a puppy, his eyes on me the whole time.  

I could have never anticipated having a dream like this.  Like the dream about my grandmother, everything just seemed so normal–the neighborhood, the daily routine, the way the young lady just fit into the whole picture.  The outside light was maybe just a little more golden, the trees more defined, and the love and energy more pronounced.  I interpreted that dream to mean that Ben’s new home was not far away, and he was perfectly happy in it.  Ever the ladies’ man, he’d had no trouble finding a cute, nice young woman to take care of him.

Many more significant dreams have come to me over the years, and I may write about others later.  They often happen randomly, but they do tend to occur on significant dates, too, such as birthdays and anniversaries.  They always bring me hope, and over the years, they’ve helped me accept how things have worked out.  Saying goodbye to someone you love is always difficult, but my story is relatively easy.  These dreams remind me to say thanks for all the love life has given me and to embrace the blessings that continue to surround me today.   


Saying Goodbye to Ben


Geez, I said I would be back, but I did not expect to take this long. Take it as a good sign. I’ve been embracing my forties, enjoying my children’s move from baby-ness to older kid-dome, giving our new dogs a happy and active life, and taking charge of my own health and happiness. I guess this is what we call moving on.  It’s been an incredible journey, but that does not mean I’ve stopped thinking about Petey and Ben.  Today weighs particularly heavily on my heart because June 27, 2013 is the day we said goodbye to Ben. Every time this day passes, I remember that I have more to say about this experience. So without any further rambling, I will now share what I started writing more than two years ago. This picks up where I left off in my Bracing for the Inevitable post:

On a spiritual level, I had come to terms with Ben’s impending passing. I knew, as I said earlier, that Ben’s spirit would live forever and always stay near.  On a day-to-day level, however, my anxiety continued to rise.  How would we know when it was time to tell him goodbye?  Rob and I agreed that, as with Petey, we didn’t want Ben to suffer.  But figuring out if he was suffering proved challenging.  My experiences with Petey did not serve as a good gauge.   Despite his cough, Ben did not look like a dying dog.  He was very much alert and coordinated.  He never had any accidents in the house and didn’t even have to go out too often.  So much of what I read didn’t apply to him, either.  Several sites suggested loss of appetite as a tell-tale sign, but Ben still ate.  Some mornings, he didn’t show an immediate interest in his food, but later in the day he would devour everything in his bowl and want seconds.  What if his tough exterior was just fooling us?  How much room did he have left in his lungs?  What if we waited too long and he suffocated to death?  I would never forgive myself.

It was incredibly scary, but we had to establish a criteria unique to Ben.

Sites and online threads specific to lung cancer in dogs noted coughing up blood as a red flag.  I also scoured the ASPCA site, which gives several guidelines for determining whether or not a pet has a good quality of life and when it’s time to euthanize. Though I saw some of the usual guidelines that I didn’t think Ben would ever meet, the following questions resounded with me:

  • Does he avoid his favorite activities?
  • Does he seek out unusual places to sleep or hide?

Ben already couldn’t take walks with me anymore.  In addition, when we got home one evening after spending a couple hours at my in-laws’ house, Ben did not run to the front door like he normally did.  I called him, but he did not come.  I rushed upstairs, afraid I’d find him dead in my bedroom.  But when I got there, he was just lying under my desk, awake.  He followed me back downstairs, but the whole situation was so unusual.

The following statement also jumped out at me:  “If you observe that moments of discomfort outweigh his capacity to enjoy life, it is time to euthanize, even if your pet still experiences pleasure in eating or socializing.”  Slowly, this was becoming the case.  I started dreading nights the further we got into June.  Normally, Ben would follow Rob–who goes to sleep earlier than I do–to bed.  But climbing the stairs became more and more difficult, and he started staying on the couch, even after I went upstairs.  He would come up when he got too lonely, though, and have a coughing, heaving fit in our bedroom.  After he settled down, I’d lie in bed, my heart pounding, and tell myself that the time had come.

But it wasn’t a constant, steady decline.  He’d have a rough day and then a good one or two. I approached the weekends with caution, asking myself each Friday if I should take him in now; my vet’s office is only open half a day on Saturdays and closed on Sundays.  What if he clearly started suffering during that time?  But watching him, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  After one bad Saturday night, I woke up early the next morning and researched our weekend options.  I found a few, including the emergency vet and some agencies who specialized in at-home euthanasia.  But when Ben awoke that morning, he stayed mellow and had very few coughing fits.  I even made the appointment with my vet the following Tuesday morning but canceled it a little later when Ben improved and had a day with minimal coughing.

Later that same week, though, those fluctuations became much smaller, and Ben’s behavior became more and more telling.  One afternoon, my in-laws stopped by briefly. Normally during their visits, we’d have to put Ben in a different room because he jumped all over them and never calmed down.  This time, Ben walked outside, wagged his tail, then lay on the ground in front of my mother-in-law.  She had to bend over to pet him.  It was like he wanted to tell her goodbye.

The next day, he could only walk a few steps without having a coughing fit.  And during one of those coughing fits, he hacked up some saliva tinged with blood.  I left Ben downstairs that night when I went to bed, thinking there was no way he would try climbing stairs now.  A few hours later, though, he woke me up when he jumped on the bed.  As he settled next to my shoulder, still wheezing while he drifted off to sleep, I curled up next to him.  “You don’t deserve this,” I whispered.

I made the call the next morning.  The assistant asked me to bring him at 9:30.  Ben lay on the stairs’ landing, and I sat there petting him, praying that he would go as easily as Petey did, that I was making the right decision again.  download (3)

By now, the family was awake, and Rob nervously kept busy around the house. He’d had such a humorously adversarial relationship with Ben, but now, he was clearly heartbroken. I had the kids give Ben kisses.  When it was time to go, I asked Ben the same question I always did before we went somewhere together: “Want to go bye-bye?” He sprung from the stairs and onto the foyer floor, his tail wagging, then coughed.  Rob, watching from the living room, started sobbing.

I held in my tears until we got outside, and then I lost it; I’m sure that, once again, the neighbors heard me crying.  I asked in the car if this was the right time, hoping that the song on the radio would tell me (a practice I’d gotten into lately).  I turned the key, and Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” blasted in. Robert Plant screamed, “The time, the time, the time is now!” I had never gotten a clearer answer.

When Ben and I walked into the vet’s office, I said hi to the assistants behind the counter and then immediately doubled over in a silent cry.  I must have said I was sorry several times because, by the time we got back to the room, one of them told me to stop apologizing.  She said goodbye to Ben with tears in her own eyes, and then he and I waited for the doctor.  Next came the same steps I’d gone through with Petey: kind words and reassurance from the vet, a sedative, then a 20-minute wait before the doctor would return to give the injection. I expected Ben to surrender during that waiting period as easily as Petey did, but that’s where my dogs were different.

When we were left alone again, Ben didn’t come to me. He sat in front of the door and whined like he always did during routine vet visits. I called him over, and when he still didn’t come, I picked him up and sat on the floor with him.  I cradled him against me, told him I loved him, asked him to give Petey a kiss for me, asked him to always stay near me.  I could feel him getting heavier, but unlike Petey, he did not fall asleep in my arms. When the vet and his assistant returned, Ben was clearly groggy, but his eyes remained open.

The vet laid Ben on the table and, as he and his assistant positioned him, Ben stared up me, motionless, passive.  I stared back, channeling all the love I could. About twelve seconds after administering the shot, the doctor said, “He’s gone.” Ben’s eyes, now glassy and unfocused, stayed open. I ran my hand over his coat.  The vet offered his condolences, understanding all I’d been through in the past four months.  I hugged him, and as I thanked him for everything he’d done, I felt a warm nudge on my forearm. The hair on my whole arm stood up.  I knew that was my signal.  Ben was okay, and he would always be with me.

That didn’t mean, though, that moving forward would be easy.  I sat in the parking lot, holding Ben’s skull-and-cross-bones harness tightly and crying, for a long time.  How did all of this happen?  How did I lose both of my dogs within four months?  Why didn’t Ben get as much time as Petey did?  Why didn’t he get to be the alpha male for a couple of years?  I had to remind myself that he did have 13 years and that every pet, every person, every living thing has its own path.  I would have to learn to accept it.





Happy birthday, Ben! And where I’ve been for the past 6 mos.

?????????????????????????????I know.  I posted my last entry about Ben back on August 15th with all intentions of posting about his passing the following week.  It still hasn’t happened.  I’ve written most of the story–all except that final morning when I took him in and had him put to sleep. I guess, in many ways, I haven’t been ready to revisit that memory.  The idea of Ben dying was unthinkable to me back when it happened. Repeatedly reminding myself that he wasn’t leaving me, that his soul wasn’t dying, and that he was going to a better place helped, but it took a lot of strength.  By the end of last summer, it became a real challenge to maintain that energy.  I still I can’t believe that he died so soon after Petey did.  Though 13 is a good long life for a dog, when I look at his pictures and see his muscular frame, when I think of his constant puppy energy, it seems as if he should still be here, just starting to grow old now.  He would have turned 15 today.

Happy birthday, Ben.  I haven’t forgotten about you, baby.

After my last post about Ben, life pulled me in several different directions.  Both kids started school at separate schools with different schedules, and I volunteer in both classes regularly.  My husband, Rob, also started classes and took on a ridiculous course load including organic chemistry, which consumed all of his time.  My seven-year-old son, Henry, who has been receiving school-based services for his special needs since age three, started a months-long screening process for autism through our health care provider.  He received an official diagnosis in November after several long and involved appointments in various locations; this has led to more valuable services, but it has also required more appointments and, for me, getting very creative with my work schedule. (Luckily, I work from home.) The kids and I have also gotten sick at least once a month since August.  Everything has really seemed to hit me hard; I’m not sure if it’s because I turned 40 in July or what, but every illness has brought lasting effects, such as crippling joint inflammation and violent coughing fits, weeks after the initial symptoms have gone away.  In the fall, it became harder and harder to maintain my healthy eating habits, and once it started getting dark early and the rain came down–and boy, did it ever–I kissed my walking routine goodbye.  I watched myself gain back all the weight Ben had helped me lose.  Guilt set in, and before I realized it, I was suffering from debilitating depression.  I didn’t even realize it until December, when I saw my doctor to request a change in my birth control and I just sat in her office and cried uncontrollably.  She ordered some blood work and discovered that my Vitamin D3 levels were extremely low.  She recommended some supplements, which have helped a lot.  Slowly, I’m picking myself back up, and I’ve been hitting the trail again a few times a week.  But this is only after Henry’s birthday just before Christmas, the holidays themselves, and my daughter Veronica’s birthday on Valentine’s Day.

?????????????????????????????So that’s why I’ve been away.  The thing with feeling so overwhelmed is it really screws with the memory.  I’ve thought about my blog plenty, but aside from not having a single free moment, I’ve had a tough time remembering things.  When I started this blog, I intended to write about everything linearly.  But memory doesn’t work that way, and I don’t want to force stories; I want the memories to flow vividly and natural.  They will as I get more exercise, more sunlight.

I do remember Ben’s birthday, though.  When I got him, I immediately noticed his date of birth because March 6 is my dad and stepmother’s wedding anniversary (They celebrate 33 years of marriage today.  Happy anniversary, Mama and Daddy!).  As with Petey’s birthday, I’ve always tried to do something special for Ben on his big day.  He didn’t care for most treats, such as Frosty Paws, like Petey did.  But he loved his toys and tennis balls.  He made such a huge mess with them that I tried to save them for special occasions, like his birthday.  The lady at the nearby tennis shop would save the used balls for me, and every once in a while I’d go in, and she’d hand me a big bag for Ben. ????????????????????????????? Whenever Ben got a new ball, we’d  try to play catch with him, but he always decided he didn’t want to share.  He’d run off and settle somewhere on the carpet, loudly chomping on the ball and snorting into it with the sole goal of tearing into it, then ripping it apart.  He spit out little pieces all around him.  He did the same with toys.  It was amazing how (1) he could distinguish between his own stuffed animals and the kids’ and (2) how he would not give up until he’d completely destroyed  them.  Rob and I usually picked up the pieces and fluff with the canister vacuum so that they wouldn’t kill our upright one.

?????????????????????????????I’m not going to claim to have always made Ben’s birthday my top priority.  It did fall right around mid-terms, and when I was teaching, it really snuck up on me.  One night in Fresno, Rob and I were relaxing on my couch after a long day.  It was probably about 10:00 when I jumped up and shouted, “Oh shit!  It’s Ben’s birthday!”  I ran into the kitchen, looking for something to give him.  I made him and Petey a peanut butter sandwich and sang happy birthday as they devoured it.  He didn’t know or care that I’d forgotten.

Rob and I also got married on March 2 (Nine years on Monday!), and when our anniversary falls on a weekday, we’ve often waited till the 6th to celebrate.   That is the case this year, and we plan on having a date today, just after another appointment.  But I wanted to wish Ben a happy birthday first because it is his day.  Still.  This will always be his day.  Last year, I took my new dogs Pia and Timmy for a long walk on this day and paid close attention to my surroundings, taking pictures, breathing in the life around me.  There was so much green and even a little water in the stream after a long and dry winter.  I will go out and see what I can find again today.  I will walk hard, soak in the light (with plenty of sunscreen on!) and envision Ben right next to me every step of the way.  And I will blog again soon.  Promise.2014-5-30 mobile uploads 135

Happy Birthday, Petey!


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IMG_0067I haven’t posted lately because I’ve been overwhelmed with our new fall routines and a ridiculous series of health issues.  But I promise to continue my journey with Ben soon.

I post today because it’s Petey’s birthday.  He would have turned 17.  He lived to celebrate 15 birthdays, so I don’t feel like we were cheated any.  But his day has always been a big deal to me, and that has not changed.

When Petey was a young dog, we celebrated his birthday with ice cream.  The Dairy Queen in Oviedo, Florida gave free puppy cups to dogs who accompanied their owners.  I’d take him through the drive-thru, and he’d demolish his cup in my back seat, snorting like a pig, his eyes wide.  Then, when we got home, he’d promptly throw the ice cream back up on my carpet (as I said in an earlier post, he threw most things back up).  Our local Dairy Queen eventually stopped offering puppy cups–apparently, too many customers were taking their dogs only to get free ice cream for themselves–so I started paying for Petey’s ice cream.  To see him in all his glory was well worth the dollar.IMG_0048

Petey also got a trip to PetSmart for a new toy on his birthdays.  Of course, his favorite thing to do at PetSmart was take a huge dump on their floor.  I took both Petey and Ben one year, and we paused for a second when we walked in.  When I started to move again, they did not.  I looked down to find them both squatting.  I just stood there helplessly, no plastic bags on hand, wondering how the heck I was going to take care of this while keeping other people from stepping in it.  Before I could worry too much, though, this whole cleaning crew manifested and got to work.  A young man brought out these bright yellow pylons with caution signs on them, a wad of paper towels, and a special cleaning solution.  Within seconds, the messes were gone.  Knowing that this happened regularly with other dogs, I felt like less of a spazzy owner and could pick out Petey’s present with a clear conscience.

IMG_0009Once we got Petey’s toy, we’d rush home, and I’d present it to him while singing “Happy Birthday.”  He loved it.  He’d dance in front of me, wiggling his new toy in my face for several minutes before settling down somewhere and chewing on it.  He knew it was his birthday, and he relished every moment.

As the years passed, making my life busier and gradually limiting Petey’s range of motion, our birthday routines became more and more tame. Once or twice, I actually forgot Petey’s birthday.  I’m still ashamed to admit it. September has always been a hectic month for me since I’ve followed an academic schedule for most of my career, and I must have gotten caught up in a new semester.  As soon as I realized my negligence–late at night–I created a ruckus apologizing and whipped up a treat of peanut butter and other random dog-friendly food items.  He loved it all just the same.  For his last few birthdays, we celebrated ?????????????????????????????with Frosty Paws.  I’d give them to both dogs, and after devouring his own, Petey would move onto Ben’s bowl.  (Ben didn’t really like the ice cream; he just wanted to participate in the celebration.) I still have two cups of Frosty Paws in the freezer from Petey’s last birthday.  They’re too old to give our new dogs, but I also can’t bring myself throw them out yet, either.

After Petey died, I wanted to plant some flowers on his birthday to commemorate him.  I wanted to paint his name and Petey-like images on a pot and then grow a fall perennial in it.  But the idea sounded much better in my head.  I had already tried planting some pansies in his honor shortly after his death.  Their dark little masks reminded me of his face.  But I failed miserably at keeping them.  20140926_092851They bloomed for about a week and then shriveled up and didn’t come back.  I just figured I didn’t have a green thumb, and the idea of his memorial plants dying broke my heart.   So I didn’t try again.  This summer, though, I did manage to help Rob keep some pepper plants alive and fruitful.  We still have plenty of habaneros and Fresno peppers growing today.  Secretly, I call them my Petey peppers.  They get full sunshine, just as he liked, and they sit on our front step, where he lounged in the afternoons.


Bracing for the Inevitable


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download (1)Right after we discovered the tumors in his lungs in March, Ben remained his usual active, eager self. He walked with me every day and jumped at any opportunity to “go bye-bye” in the car.  But despite that and our changes to his diet, his illness progressed quickly after about a month.

Every cough made me grind my teeth.  What started off as a brief, quiet episode first thing in the morning became louder, longer, and more frequent.  When Ben jumped out of bed, he’d hack and hack until he gagged.  The same would happen when he walked upstairs or downstairs.  With each occurrence, it seemed to take more effort to get his breath back.

Our walks also took more and more out of Ben.  His panting would escalate into several coughing fits. We had to stop regularly.  He still wanted to come with me, though, so I modified our routine to suit his needs.  We walked in the mornings while it was still cool out.  Our 45-minute jaunt up and down a 6%-grade incline evolved into a 20-minute flat trip around the block.  When even that became too much, I  dusted off the baby stroller and tried to get Ben to ride in it while I walked.  But he hated that.  He jumped out several times, wanting to walk beside me, only to cough and wheeze. ?????????????????????????????I tried to hold him in place with a tight leash and by putting dog treats in the snack tray, but if he didn’t struggle with me, he whined, both of which made him cough, too.

I felt desperate. I second-guessed our decision against chemotherapy and did more research, only to reconfirm our decision.  I asked my vet if he could do anything else.  Could he drain the tumors?  But he could only present the options he initially gave me and offer pain medication.  The most we could do now was keep Ben calm and comfortable.  If we didn’t require him to do too much, he could breathe easier and just enjoy our company.

Summer approached, and the heat aggravated Ben’s symptoms.  With some 100-degree days in the forecast and our central air broken, I bought a window A/C unit for our bedroom and kept Ben in there with me throughout the day while I worked.  Heartbroken but determined to keep off the weight he’d helped me lose, I also started sneaking out on my walks without him.

As Ben’s cough grew worse, I felt more and more defenseless.  Why did his body have to betray his spirit, which still had so much life?  With Petey, we got so many second chances.  There was always some procedure to correct his condition and keep him around, happy and healthy, a little longer. ????????????????????????????? When the time came to put Petey down, it was relatively easy to accept because we had done so much to help him.  Why couldn’t we do the same for Ben?

It was a hard pill to swallow, but we had to accept that every dog has his own path.  We had to come to terms with the inevitable and cherish every breath Ben had left.

I turned to my spiritual side.  In the car, I quietly asked questions and then turned on the radio, hoping for some sort of message.  On April 17th, I asked how much time Ben had left, and Stacey Q’s “Two of Hearts” played, making me think he had either two weeks or two months.  (Two years seemed out of the question.)  After two weeks passed and Ben was still with us, I asked if he would be around for my birthday, which is in mid-July.  Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You” came on.  The line, “You know that love survives so we can rock forever, on,” still resounds with me.  An aching in my stomach, I figured it meant he’d be physically gone by then but that he’d be by my side in spirit.  Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” also played a few times during these moments.  Lyrics like the following told me that the time was coming but to stop looking at it so negatively:

The mist across the window hides the lines
But nothing hides the color of the lights that shine
Electricity so fine
Look and dry your eyes
So tired of all the darkness in our lives
With no more angry words to say
Can come alive
Get into a car and drive
To the other side


It sounded like we were supposed to be celebrating this time.  I should try to see Ben as starting a new life, not dying.  download (3)

I also tuned into my dreams. One still stands out so vividly in my memory.  In it, Rob, the kids, and I were packing into this dome theater for a Fourth of July celebration. Families sat on the floor on blankets, anticipating a laser show on the ceiling.  As we looked for a spot, loud music played. Nancy Sinatra’s voice sang “These Boots Were Made For Walking.” These giant white go-go boots walked across the dome, dipping down toward us.  As my family settled onto the floor, a red light caught my attention; it glowed from a dark closet across the room.  I walked toward it.  It took on a heart shape.  As I stepped into the closet to get a better look, the music changed.  Now, a choir of hundreds chanted a song that sounded like the chorus from “Over at the Frankenstein Place” in Rocky Horror Picture Show.  But instead of, “There’s a light,” they sang, “There’s a heart.”  I closed the closet door, and the heart grew brighter until white lines shot from it, then burst into a whole spectrum of colors.  The song reached its peak as the choir belted, “Whenever this life gets too hard….”  Then, a man’s voice with an English accent spoke: “I will kiss ya.”  At that moment, all of the light intensified and engulfed me.  I closed my eyes and soaked up its warmth.

As cheesy as some or all of that may sound, when I woke up that morning, I knew that whatever happened, Ben would always be near me.   I did not have to fear losing him.

That dream would help get me through the next stages of our journey.


Ben’s New Life


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download (2)Petey’s death affected Ben like I never would have anticipated.  When I got back home after putting Petey to sleep, Rob held me in the kitchen, letting me cry on his shoulder for a while.  Ben stood behind us and whined nervously.  He ran outside and looked around, then came back in and whined some more. I told him to be quiet once and immediately regretted it. He knew.  Of course he’d sense when his constant life-long companion had died.

That day, my relationship with Ben changed.  Having turned 13 just three days earlier, Ben was an elderly dog now, too. I wanted to give him his chance to be the dominant dog, letting him do the things he couldn’t do with Petey around because it would have been unfair or too chaotic.  He accompanied me every morning when I took Henry to school.  Since it was still cool out, he often tagged along on errands, too, and waited for me in the car.  I’d bring him back a bone whenever I went into Whole Foods.  And although he’d been walking the trail with me every day for the past year–since I’d first made serious efforts to get into shape–that part of our routine changed, too. download (1) I didn’t get uptight or jerk the leash back anymore when he tried to veer off the path.  I let him sniff the grass and low-lying branches and make his mark on them, too.  I guided him along in a positive tone and told him often that I loved him.

As old as Ben had become, I figured he still had three to four years left with us. Even though his mask had turned mostly white, his shiny brindle coat still showed off his sturdy muscles.  If I broke into a sprint on the trail, he did too without any hesitation.  He could have easily gone three times our usual distance.  He could still knock any of us over when he got excited.  If Rob, who is six feet tall, stretched out his arm at shoulder height, Ben could jump from the floor in one swift move and touch his hand.  His teeth had also stayed in perfect condition, still tough enough to shred tennis balls all over our living room floor.

I never guessed things would change so quickly.

Ben’s list of health issues fell way shorter than Petey’s.  He had some allergies; eggs and the DHPP vaccine made him break out in hives, and he got itchy ears and often sneezed and coughed during the winter and spring.  On Christmas Day when Ben was four years old, he suddenly started bleeding from the nose.  A trip to the emergency vet and a $1500 endoscopy only turned up some inflammation in his nasal passage.  When he got older, he developed a small lump on his back, which the vet removed.  And a year earlier, he had developed a stage-two malignant tumor on his tail, but the vet had removed all of it by resectioning the tail.

20130418_090059Like Petey, Ben also had a few fatty tumors.  He’d developed one on his chest and another on his shoulder, and they both tested out benign.  So when I noticed a lump on the bottom of his throat soon after his 13-year checkup, I didn’t think much of it.  By then, Petey’s health and everything going on with the kids consumed all of our attention, so I just let it go.  I didn’t even think much about it when, over the holidays, Ben started coughing some.  I just thought it was his usual allergies.  But after Petey died, the cough became more and more obvious.

On the day I picked up Petey’s ashes, I took Ben with me to see the vet.  The doctor felt the lump and could move it around; that sounded promising.  But he would need to run some more tests to determine if it had any connection to the cough.  He asked to keep Ben for a while that day, then took him back to the X-ray room.  Before I left, the vet came back with three tubes of fluid, which he had aspirated from the lump.  He didn’t like the look of it.  He told me he would call me later.  Walking out, though, I didn’t feel very worried.  I truly thought that all tests would turn up nothing and that all the worry and fear would stay behind us for a while.

?????????????????????????????I stopped at the front desk before leaving, and the assistant gave me a white cardboard box, which I opened.  Inside sat a small cedar box wrapped in plastic and topped with a card that said, “In Remembrance of Your Beloved Pet, ‘Petey.’”  It gave our family’s name, the date of Petey’s passing, and a pet identification number. The assistant showed me a spot for Petey’s picture at the front of the box. “That’s so sweet,” I said, choking up.  When I looked up, the assistant smiled at me through her own tears, which of course made me cry more.  But as I clutched the box to my chest, I told myself that Petey had lived a long life with many second chances.  Whatever information we’d receive about Ben, we’d do what we could to give him a long quality life, too.

Later that afternoon, the vet called me.  “I have some not-so-good news,” he said, then told me that the X-rays had revealed two masses in Ben’s lungs. He would share the X-rays with the radiologist at the end of the following week.  If she found the images suspicious, she would recommend a biopsy.  And that’s what Rob and I would have to give the most thought.  The purpose of the biopsy, which ran anywhere between $600 and $800, would be to get a clear diagnosis.  The purpose of a diagnosis would be to get chemotherapy.  And in lung cancer, chemotherapy did not have a very high success rate; while it could slow the tumors’ growth some, it would not likely cure or reverse the condition.  We’d have to look at the big picture and consider whether or not that whole process was worth it.  On the upside, though, Ben could live another 12 to 24 months, even if the tumors were malignant and we got no treatment.  download

The vet did suggest removing the lump in Ben’s throat as soon as possible, though.  This could perhaps give us more insight to the masses in his chest.  When I picked up Ben that afternoon, I scheduled the surgery for the following Monday.

Over the weekend, I read anything I could find on lung cancer in dogs, and it all confirmed what the vet had said. Surgery to a dog’s lungs could be very painful and complicated, if the tumor’s shape and size didn’t make it impossible.  And though chemotherapy was the most recommended treatment for various types of cancer in dogs, it did not sound promising for lung cancer.  One site said that doses were smaller for dogs than humans, hence leading to much less success in dogs.  Chemo also seemed so taxing in an elderly dog.  If given intravenously, each treatment could take several hours.  Side effects, while less severe than those that humans experience, could include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and would probably call for more medications.  It could also decrease his white blood cell count and weaken his immunity to other conditions.  Rob and I couldn’t see putting Ben through all of that in his final years.  It sounded like torture.  Not to mention, there was some concern about the chemicals coming out in his waste; I read several warnings that pregnant women and children should ?????????????????????????????stay away from where dogs undergoing chemo peed and pooped.  Having two young kids, that really scared me.  A biopsy sounded more and more useless.  But hopefully, after the neck procedure and the radiologist’s reading of the X-rays, the doctor would deem one unnecessary.

A few hours after I dropped Ben off on Monday, the vet called and said he’d reconsidered the surgery.  He’d consulted with another doctor, and based on the lump’s location–right by Ben’s thyroid gland and near his carotid artery–they didn’t feel comfortable removing it.  They could if I insisted, but it may be more risky than we initially thought.  We decided to wait and see what the radiologist said before making the next move.

I did more research in the meantime.  On several websites,  owners of dogs with cancer swore by a low-grain, high-protein diet.  Carbohydrates apparently fed cancer cells while protein starved them.  A friend of mine, whose first dog had developed splenetic cancer and been given just days to live, had seen her dog live nine more months with such a diet.  In addition, certain supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids and a small amount of Vitamin D (too much could be toxic), could inhibit or prevent certain tumors’ growth. ????????????????????????????? I asked my vet his opinion; he said he could only give advice from a medical standpoint and not a homeopathic one, but he didn’t see any harm in trying, either.

At the end of the week, the vet called me back.  The radiologist recommended a biopsy, but only if we wanted to put Ben through chemotherapy.  Rob and I tossed around the idea again, but it just didn’t seem practical or fair to Ben.  And to some degree, neither one of us fully believed his condition could ever progress that badly.  “Look at him!” Rob said.  He still seemed more likely to die from one of his wild episodes, like the time he ran out of my Fresno apartment in the middle of the night to chase a cat, leaving me in his dust as I desperately ran after him, barefoot and in my bathrobe, across the complex.  Or like the time he caught a squirrel in our backyard.   We couldn’t imagine that he would ever lose that energy.  And we were going to treat him that way.

?????????????????????????????After perusing several recipes, I concocted a mixture of ground beef, liver, peas, carrots, and a small amount of brown rice.  This would become Ben’s meal twice a day.  I also fed him Merrick’s Grain-Free dry food once a day, and I gave him supplements of vitamins A, C, D, and E coated in peanut butter.  Ben loved it.  He stayed in the kitchen and whined while I cooked for him.  When I served him up, he licked his bowl, pushing it all over the kitchen and dining room with his nose.

Throughout the day, he chewed beef bones on our living room floor.  We took him on our family vacation to Lake Tahoe, where he and I walked the trails and he soaked up the sun spilling onto the cabin’s floor. And he continued to walk with me every day when we returned home, helping me reach my pre-pregnancy weight by June.   We had to believe things would continue in this way for several months.   Maybe years.













Baby Veronica Puts Petey in His Place


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Before I post about Ben’s final months, I thought I would break up the sadness with some comic relief.  One of Petey’s biggest goals in life was to get our food.  He very cleverly plotted.  If Rob and I sat on the couch and ate our dinner at the coffee table, Petey would sit across the room on the love seat, occasionally glancing at us sideways.  Then he’d slink over to the chair, closer, and lie there for a moment.  Then he’d make it to the couch’s arm rest…then above one of us on the back of the couch.  Sometimes Rob or I would turn suddenly toward him and shout, “Petey!”  He’d look away quickly as if saying, “I’m just hanging out!  Don’t mind me.”  But if we dropped a piece of food or got up for a moment, BAM!  He pounced upon it, his eyes big, the happiest dog on the planet.

Well, his plotting continued into his old age.  When the kids came around and started enjoying their treats all over the house, he did what he could to get their cheese puffs or toast or even just a taste of the kids’ fingers.  In the video linked below, I wanted to capture the kids dancing to one of their favorite segments of Yo Gabba Gabba.  Veronica had been eating a snack at the coffee table.  Understanding she was now distracted by the TV,  Petey–now 13–sidled up to her and tried to lick her fingers.  But even at 16 months old, Veronica knew how to handle Petey.  She growled, and Petey quickly backed away.

Wait till the very end of the video (it’s only 22 second long), where you will strike gold.  Enjoy!

I’ll be back next week with a post about Ben’s last few months, a term I still haven’t completely accepted.

Saying Goodbye to Petey


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Petey on stairsIn the last few months of his life, Petey’s mind started slipping.  He had many accidents in the house.  It wasn’t like before when he marked his territory; now, he couldn’t hold it in.  He would stand up, and urine would just fall out of him.  He also seemed confused about where to go.  Sometimes, he’d walk outside, then come right back in to pee on the floor.  He also pooped in the kitchen a few times and, once or twice, even ate his own poop, something he hadn’t done since his puppy days.

I put him to bed in the kitchen so that we could clean up his puddles more easily in the morning, but that didn’t work for long. He’d bark in the middle of the night, like he’d become scared of the dark.  Veronica, who was still nursing, already woke me up several times throughout the night. Desperate for rest, I brought him into the kids’ room, where I shared a twin bed with my daughter.  Since Henry slept with Rob in our bedroom, I lined the other twin bed’s mattress in plastic and laid more mattress protectors and towels on the carpet below. We all slept more peacefully after this, even though I had to frequently wash the linens, which Petey had often soaked by the morning.

2009-3-9Throughout the day, I closed off the stairs with a baby gate to limit where Petey wandered. He’d lie against me on the couch when I wrote on my laptop.  Other times, he’d sprawl out in patches of sunshine in the kitchen.  I even caught him cuddling with Ben a couple of times–something the two of them had never done before.  Things continued to deteriorate, though.  He demanded to go outside constantly.  I work from home, and every time I’d start a new task, he’d sit by the back door, which meant I had seconds to get up and let him out.  To get anything done, I eventually had to close him off in the kitchen with the front slider open, letting him wander in and out as needed without either of the kids following him.  But he barked a lot, and now that his hearing was going, I had to yell extra loud to quiet him.

This all came to a head on the evening of Friday, March 8, 2013.  I’d just taken Veronica upstairs and was nursing her to sleep. Rob and Henry had stayed downstairs with the dogs, and it sounded like they were playing.  Just as Veronica drifted off, Petey barked.  I thought at first that they’d just gotten too hyper and that Petey was barking out of play.  Veronica, still latched on to me, started sucking vigorously again, as if conscious.  I tensed up.  I wanted to shout, “Shut up!” but I knew that would definitely wake her up.  I had to just hope the noise would subside quickly.  But it didn’t stop. Rob yelled Petey’s name, but the barks only escalated.  “Honey!” Rob called.  “I think he’s finally lost it.”

?????????????????????????????Finally, Veronica unlatched, asleep.  I came downstairs to a very scared Petey.  As I knelt next to him, he jumped backwards, his eye big, and he continued to bark.  I clapped my hands and screamed his name.  I offered him his favorite treats.  But nothing worked.  “I think he’s dying,” Rob said.  Deep down, I felt the same, but I didn’t want to say it.  I charged into the kitchen, grabbed the phone, and called the Emergency Vet number that had been sitting on my fridge since we’d moved here.  I explained the symptoms to the woman on the phone, and naturally, she told me I should bring him in.

By the time I got off the phone, Rob had taken Petey upstairs to our bedroom, the most interior room in the house, and closed the door.  He knew that, at least there, Petey’s barking wouldn’t disturb the neighbors.  I quickly researched Petey’s symptoms online. Knowing what emergency vets charged and still in debt from Petey’s most recent surgery, I tried to figure out if a trip to the ER was really necessary.  Could they truly solve the problem tonight, or would they only offer the same solutions that our regular vet could when his office opened at 9:00 the next morning?  I found that other dog owners had written about similar situations. In one forum, a vet had responded to a woman whose dog had been behaving the exact same way Petey had.  Things sounded grim.  It was most likely a brain tumor, I gathered.  And especially at Petey’s age, 15 ½, none of the treatment options seemed realistic.  I went over my findings with Rob, and we agreed not to put Petey through a bunch of new tests or draw out his suffering any longer.  It was time to say goodbye.

During this discussion, Petey stopped barking.  He had worn himself out and fallen asleep on our bed.  Rob took Henry and Ben back downstairs, and I stayed with Petey.  I covered him with my bathrobe and let him lean against my lap.  I listened to him snore, praying that he would sleep peacefully until the morning.

?????????????????????????????Veronica stirred again soon after that, so I returned to the kids’ room and fell asleep while nursing her. I awoke a few hours later to Petey’s voiceless cry.  In the yellow glow from the nightlight, I could see him lying in the doorway.  He still knew, despite his blindness, where to find me and how to get my attention.  I walked over to him, picked him up, and carried him back to Veronica’s bed.  He slept at my feet for the rest of the night.

When I woke up Saturday morning, I actually thought for a little bit that things would be okay.  Petey and Veronica were still sleeping when I came downstairs. I did my stretches and planned the morning in my head.  I had just joined Weight Watchers two weeks before, and my meeting started at 8:30 a.m.  I thought I would go weigh in and then take Petey to see my vet right after.  Looking back now, I don’t know what I was thinking.  I guess I just wanted to delude myself.

Once everyone got up and we served the kids and dogs their breakfast, Petey started barking again, just like the night before. My vet’s office would open soon, so I ran upstairs and got myself dressed.  Petey followed me, barking the whole time.  When we got back to the living room, he jumped on the loveseat and peed all over it.  I picked him up.  Rob told the kids to say something nice to Petey, but they didn’t understand.  They continued to play on the Wii Fit Balance Board.  Rob patted Petey on the head and kissed me. I walked outside with Petey and, on the way to the car, started sobbing.  The day I’d feared and dreaded increasingly for the past seven years had finally come.

?????????????????????????????I walked into my vet’s office with Petey in my arms.  “I don’t have an appointment,” I said and, in broken sentences, tried to explain to the vet’s wife what had happened.  She escorted me to a room, where the doctor met me.  He checked Petey’s heart and listened to his breathing, then paid attention as I narrated the previous night’s events.  He said what I knew he’d say.  It was definitely a neurological disorder.  To diagnose the exact problem, though, we’d have to see a specialist at UC Davis.  Given Petey’s age, we should consider whether or not it was worth the trouble and the expense. But we could try. The vet could give me some medication to tranquilize Petey until we made up our minds.

I sighed.  “He’s had a long and happy life,” I said, then explained what Rob and I had already decided.   “Do you want to be with him when we put him to sleep?” the vet asked.  I nodded, then burst into tears. He said he had other office calls this morning, but he’d check up front to see what we could do.  He returned shortly and said they had time.  He would give Petey a shot now to sedate him, then come back in about 20 minutes to euthanize him.  “You’re doing the right thing,” he said.  Having developed a wholehearted trust for my vet over the past nine years, I needed to hear that.

Immediately after the doctor gave him the first shot, Petey fell asleep.  I sat on the floor and held him against my chest, rocking back and forth.  I quickly called Rob to tell him the plan, and then I whispered to Petey.  I told him I loved him.  I thanked him for sharing his life with me and for filling mine with so much happiness. I asked him to visit me in my dreams and to give my grandmother, who had died nearly four years earlier, a kiss for me.

An assistant came in while I waited.  A somber look on her face, she rubbed my arm and asked what I’d like to do with Petey’s remains.  I told her I wanted to cremate him.  She returned with the doctor a little while later.

download (1)The vet explained each step to me.  He had to get the medicine directly into a vein, so he would have to lay Petey on the table with the assistant’s help.  Petey’s brain and heart would die within 12 seconds, but his muscles might continue to contract, or he might even vocalize.  As the vet wrapped a tourniquet around Petey’s leg, he told me to talk to him.  I’m not good at speaking my feelings, especially in front of others, so I just repeated, “Mommy loves you, Petey.”  Then the vet put the needle to Petey’s vein.  As he pressed on the plunger, I wailed.  I didn’t make any more efforts to keep quiet.  The assistant, holding Petey steady, touched my arm.  I watched Petey take one more breath, then exhale for the last time.  His dainty little paws repeatedly closed and opened.   The vet put the stethoscope to Petey’s chest.  “He’s gone,” he said.

Expressing his condolences, the vet hugged me.  I thanked him through my tears for everything he’d done.  As I pulled away from him, I felt this strange sensation in my chest–a lightness.  It was somehow comforting.  The vet and his assistant left me alone with Petey a little while longer.  I ran my hand over his coat and kissed his head.  But he wasn’t there.  He had gone so peacefully and easily.  I spoke quietly to the air and asked Petey to always be with me.

The doctor came back in a little while later and offered a few more comforting words before wrapping up Petey’s body in a towel.  I thanked him again and left.

Outside, the sun reflected off the white sidewalks and buildings.  Squinting, I drove home through the town’s main streets so that the traffic lights could make my decisions for me.   I pressed the radio’s buttons, but the only music I heard sounded angry and bitter.  I turned it off.  Inside our neighborhood, the trees lining the streets bloomed with pink blossoms. Some teenage boys played basketball in the courts, and a few other residents walked by with their dogs.  Beyond our street, the green hills rose into the bright blue sky.  Soak it up, Petey, I thought.  You are free.  2014-5-30 mobile uploads 136

Petey’s Health Whoa-Whoa-Woes!


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?????????????????????????????I’m grateful but quite surprised that Petey lived to be 15 ½, considering his long list of health issues.  Throughout his lifetime, he ended up in the vet’s office for some of the strangest problems, most of which I had never even heard of in dogs. Here is the quickest (really) rundown of them that I can give:

Habitual vomiting

Since our first week together, Petey threw up on a near-daily basis.  Some episodes had clear causes. He couldn’t hold down corn or corn products.  If he ate his food too fast, he would throw it back up.  In either of these cases, his pile of vomit often would appear much larger than the bowl of food he had eaten.  If he swallowed something he couldn’t digest, like a piece of a toy, he would walk around heaving, leaving a trail of yellow bile behind him, until he hacked it out.  Other times, though, there was no explanation. It got worse as he got older.  First thing in the morning, he’d jump out of bed, and clear liquid (sometimes with a few whole pieces of kibble) would just fall out of his mouth.  This would be followed by a major snorting session that would wake up everyone in the house.  Petey’s vets throughout his lifetime would prescribe different foods and perform various tests, but none of them would identify a definite cause until he was about 14 years old, when an X-ray revealed a narrow opening between his esophagus and stomach.

Urethral prolapse

Petey and Ben, inseparableYeah…a dog’s penis is always quite the conversation starter.  But I’m writing about Petey, so what did you expect?  When Petey was about three years old, the tip of his penis turned outward. Trying to assert his alpha-maleness, he had gotten into the habit of humping Ben while I was out, and his penis had gotten stuck out a few times.  It even became scratched and started bleeding once.  That whole process, I guess, led to the prolapse.  It looked like a little red ball at the tip of of his penis. When my Fresno vet first saw it, he freaked out.  “That doesn’t look normal at all!” he said.  To make that clear, he showed me Ben’s unit, which was pink all the way through.  The vet warned me that we should be concerned about cancer.  He wanted to send me to a specialist in Sacramento.  Single and having just moved across the country, I of course became hysterical and desperately sought another opinion.  A second local vet did more research and identified the condition.  At the time, urethral prolapse had only been reported in some tiny percentage of dogs, including–surprise, surprise–one Boston Terrier.  The second vet called in a board-certified surgeon, who normally worked on horses, to correct the issue.  He used a purse-string suture to pull the urethra back to normal. (This was the first time Petey had to wear the Elizabethan collar, by the way.  When I picked him up from the vet that evening, he stuck his head in a corner and cried like a newborn puppy.  He hated that thing.)

Petey would never have issues with the prolapse again, but that’s not to say he didn’t try.  He’d continue to hump Ben if left alone with him, and and his lipstick would still get stuck out. When I got home, I’d have to apply ice to it to shrink it back down and put vaseline on it to help it slip back into its sheath.  I tried separating the dogs whenever I left, but Ben knew how to jump over baby gates, and he didn’t like to leave Petey’s side.  When Rob and I moved to the Bay Area, we tried putting a belly band on Petey to stop him from marking his territory in our new home and to hopefully stop him from humping.  That only led to more fun.  He’d pee in the band, then wriggle the thing off, probably by mounting Ben, and then get his penis stuck out again.  Rob captures the whole problem best in a 2-page, typed, single-spaced document that he left for his parents, our dog sitters, when he and I once went to visit my family in Florida.  Don’t let the kids read this excerpt:

If Petey’s fire engine is left out of the garage, so to speak, then you can ignore it and put the dry belly band on him.  OR–and this is asking too much, as far as I’m concerned–if you are feeling particularly daring and/or generous, you can apply an ice pack to his groin to shrink the fire truck after a few minutes.  If that doesn’t work, you can apply vaseline to the fire engine in the hopes the garage will move over it.  (Both dogs love to eat the vaseline, though I try to prevent them from doing so.)

Once again, this is the above and beyond call of duty section of your handout.  Having done the job, I will not judge you in the least if you decide not to touch a dog’s cock.

That’s my Rob.  By now, you’ve probably guessed that I met him in graduate school and that he wooed me, in part, with the power of language.

That issue would persist into Petey’s senior years.Petey tongue out

Fatty tumors

When Petey turned seven, I noticed a soft, moveable lump on his hind quarter.  Another developed on his front shoulder.  The vet biopsied them but, because of their texture and shape, told me they were probably benign fatty tumors, which are not uncommon in older dogs.  The biopsies would confirm this.

Tooth problems

Common in Boston Terriers, many of Petey’s teeth had to be pulled as he got older.  It was harder to brush the teeth toward the back of his mouth, where it was more crowded, so some of them decayed. His front teeth were much smaller and prone to getting fibers and hair caught in them; this led to some gum recession and made the teeth loose.  The vet once had to remove six teeth in one procedure.  I thought this would mean feeding Petey soft food for the rest of his life, but the vet said I could continue using the same kibble I’d been using.  Sure enough, the night Petey got home from his first procedure, he went straight for his bowl.  Dogs, like humans, figure out how to chew on different sides of their mouths when necessary.


So far, I’ve only described the health issues Petey had.  They don’t even cover the mischief that prompted vet visits or at least nervous phone calls. Once, on a trip to my mom’s for the holidays, Petey, about a year old, ate a piece steak fat out of the trash can.  This lead to severe vomiting and diarrhea, and I had to rush him to the vet, who chastised me for giving him table scraps (there was no use explaining that I didn’t give him scraps or even know there had been steak fat in the trash).  Once, I called Poison Control and then induce vomiting when he and Ben had gotten into my own trash and eaten some old deli meat.  I called Poison Control another time when I’d stepped out of my apartment for just a few minutes and returned to find an entire tub of butter–which had been sitting on my dining room table–empty on the floor.  And, one weekend in Fresno, a pair of stray Rottweilers knocked down our front gate and attacked Petey, who was barking to protect his territory, in our own yard.  Rob scared off the dogs just as one had grabbed Petey by the scruff and was about to shake him.  There was no outward bleeding, but afraid there was some internal damage, I rushed Petey to the emergency vet, who prescribed some anti-inflammatories and rest.

Each time a major incident struck, I was convinced Petey would die.  I figured that, with each treatment or surgery, we had used up one more free pass and that we’d soon be out.  Nothing, however, would make me fear his mortality like the issues that sprung after the children came along.


When I got pregnant with Henry, the pupils of Petey’s eyes took on a bluish tint. My vet told me that cataracts were forming.  He said I might consider surgery to have them removed, but that procedure ran a couple thousand dollars that I did not have. Since Petey, now 10, seemed get around fine with his decreasing vision, I decided against the surgery.  That decision would haunt me–and my credit cards–for the rest of Petey’s life.


downloadTwo months after Henry arrived, my family was spending President’s Day weekend at home when Petey’s entire right eye suddenly turned bluish-white. He squinted and cowered, clearly in pain,  whenever we came near him.  Monday morning, I took Petey to my vet, who–thankfully–was open on the holiday.  He ran some tests and, startled at Petey’s high eye pressure, sent me to an animal ophthalmologist (which I’d never even known existed!).  The specialist confirmed that Petey had secondary glaucoma.  It had probably been caused by the cataract coming loose or uveitis, irritation caused by a foreign object.  The only option was to have the eye removed.  I had my vet, who charged about half the price as the ophthalmologist, perform the enucleation.

Before the procedure, my vet told me that Petey would take on a new life after this.  We’d see his energy levels rise, and he’d revert to his playful self.  We were doing the best thing for him.  That afternoon when Petey got home, though, both my husband and I cried; his beautiful right eye, one of the reasons we’d fallen in love with him, was now gone, and his eyelid was swollen and stitched up.  But my Petey was still there.  That evening, after putting Ben on his leash and situating Henry in his stroller, I started out for my daily walk.  I just assumed Petey would stay home with Rob.  As I walked to the gate, though, Petey routinely followed close behind us, confident and ready to go; no question about it, he was coming, too.  So Rob put on his shoes and pushed the stroller and walked Ben while I led Petey around.  It was a short walk, but boy did Petey prove our tears unnecessary.

The left eye

A subluxated lens

After removing Petey’s right eye, the vet had me regularly apply anti-inflammatory drops to the remaining eye to keep it from developing uveitis and subsequent glaucoma.  This worked out for about two years.  Three weeks after I had Veronica, though, the cataract in that eye became loose, causing Petey to yelp, and making the appearance of his eye change (sometimes the cataract appeared to go away, and other times his eye looked like the right one did when it had glaucoma).  My vet immediately sent me to another animal ophthalmologist.  The specialist told me that Petey had a subluxated lens and, unless removed, it would continue to shift and could cause glaucoma in that eye, too.  He performed the surgery a couple of days later.  For the rest of Petey’s life, I would have to take him in for regular visits and, at home, apply eye drops and ointments to the remaining eye daily.  But Petey still had an eye, and once again, his quality of life improved.?????????????????????????????

A hole in the cornea

I thought that if I followed the prescribed treatment plan, I’d keep all of Petey’s eye surgeries behind us.  About 18 months after the lens procedure, though, I was applying eye drops when I noticed a round indentation in his cornea.  It was Sunday, and I called the ophthalmologist on his cell phone.  He told me to bring Petey in the next day.  This left Rob and me a brief window of time to contemplate the next decisions we’d have to make.  What if this eye needed to be removed?  Petey was about to turn 14.  At his age, would we want to put him through that again?  Would it be fair to make him live the rest of his life without any eyes?   When Monday rolled around, we decided to take our questions to our regular vet before heading over to the specialist.

After a quick look, our vet thought the specialist would suggest another enucleation, but he was much more optimistic about that possibility than we had been.  He said he had seen elderly dogs get along just fine without eyes and that, by now, Petey was mostly blind in that eye, anyway.  He said removing it wouldn’t make much difference.  Petey could go on for another two or three years, happily.  Relieved, we took Petey to the ophthalmologist, who said that the eye was about to rupture. He went over our options:  He could save the eye, patching the cornea with pig intestine.  He could remove the eye altogether.  Or he could put Petey to sleep.  Had we not seen our vet first, we probably would have considered that last possibility.  But having already accepted the idea of removing the eye, we were glad to find out about the less drastic option.  We had him patch the cornea.

While Petey recovered from his final eye surgery, I had to keep him closed off in the kitchen for much of the day to avoid any complications.  He even had to sleep in there for a while.  The specialist said, though, that he still had some vision in that eye.  And this became evident at home.  Once Petey fully recovered, he climbed onto the back of the love seat, like he’d done so many times in his youth, and watched us all proudly, reclaiming his throne.

android 2014-2-27 117Pneumonia

After Petey’s final eye surgery, I think–I can’t remember exactly when–Petey started vomiting more than usual, and clear liquid would sometimes even come out of his nose.  This is when the vet conducted some X-rays and discovered the small opening between esophagus and stomach, in addition to some cloudiness in his lungs.  He said Petey most likely pneumonia and prescribed some antibiotics, which eventually improved the symptoms.

During follow-up visits, another vet (who was new to the office) discovered a heart murmur and said that Petey’s mediastinum, the space between his lungs, was enlarged.  None of these issues seemed like much cause for concern and, because we already had so much going on, just got pushed aside.  On some level, we just had to accept that Petey was getting old, and we had to let him age in peace.


A Conversation Between Dog and Baby



I said in my most recent post that Petey, due to his advancing age, did not engage with the kids as much as Ben did.  This past week, though, I remembered this video that I took when Henry was about 18 months old.  Henry did not talk much at the time, but he did yell to get the dogs’ attention. In this clip, Petey  responds to him by howling.  They played this game pretty regularly:

Please look out for another story from me at the beginning of next week!  Have a very safe and happy 4th of July.