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Never “Just a Dog”

Thursday was one of the worst days of my life. I lost a piece of my heart. I had to say goodbye to my MJ, my sweet Mara Jade, forever my puppy.

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MJ’s last outing to the beach.

Sometime early last fall we thought she had a uti. Through a series of vet visits, prescriptions, homeopathic additives, and tears, she still did not seem to be herself. Eventually, this lead to a visit with a specialist and a surgery that lead to a biopsy, which proved positive for urethral transitional cell carcinoma. Our baby was in the 1 percent! That’s about how common dog bladder cancer is, and hers was even more rare as it was actually forming where it would eventually prevent her from even being able to pee. It also turns out it is an extremely aggressive cancer, with no cure, and a life expectancy of about 6 months if untreated, maybe about 8 with chemo. She had already been sick since at least October. We opted for mostly pain management, I researched a diet for dogs with cancer, and we got her special vitamins.

We loved her as much as we could. We wanted to fill her remaining time with adventures and quality time.  She wasn’t up for as many adventures as we had hoped. Her energy faded, and even with her extra healthy diet and an appetite that was still strong, her body was using all those nutrients to fight and she was quickly losing weight, and her battle.

From the first night after her surgery that we felt she was healed enough, she not only slept on the bed between us, but she often stretched herself the long way against my side or back, as if she was soaking up or radiating into me as much love as she could.  Her last week or so, nights were bad for her. She couldn’t get comfortable, and she was panting so hard she shook the whole bed sometimes. But she slept right up next to me, even on her last night, and I’ll never forget her looking at me with those ever intense eyes of hers as the light started to pervade the room. We knew it was the day. We had set up the appointment days before. I think she knew too. She didn’t want to move around much and just settled on a towel on our screened in back porch, staring into my eyes as I just talked to her.

I wanted to be able to write a beautiful tribute for MJ when her time came, but I knew I’d be the blubbering mess I am now, unable to focus or make much sense. What I did was write a little something from my heart about a week before we put her down. I knew it was coming, and I think she was trying to let me know too. This is what I had written before I even had the nerve to tell Robert I knew we were close.

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When Dylan first accepted MJ as his baby sister, he let her snuggle with his best friend, Green.

She will never have been “just a dog.” She is…

  • the reason we have tile instead of wood baseboards, and tile around our front door.
  • the dog who attempted to eat an electrical cord as a puppy, shot across the house from the dining room to the foyer, messed herself, and still just wanted her mommy (she also ate a Blackberry phone, a remote control, Robert’s glasses, and probably an inedible Nylabone we never found).
  • the dog who figured out if she barked at the front door, her brother would get off the couch to see and she could steal his spot.
  • so intense that if she did not catch her “flippy” (frisbee) before it hit the ground she would pick it up, fling it back and forth in her mouth, and growl at it…then bring it back to us bent like a taco in her mouth.
  • the dog who started trouble with other dogs at the dog park just to watch her brother come running to her rescue.
  • the dog who came back slimy and green from having eluded us and running into a swampy canal behind the neighbor’s house… twice.
  • the dog who could bend herself in half and walk at us sideways when she was happy to see us, snarling the hole time (a frightening sight if you didn’t know it meant she was happy).
  • the dog who leaned on everything.
  • the dog who scratched my arms every day when I got home because her love was so intense and she was trying to become one with me.
  • the puppy who ran down the hall carrying a large bathroom rug in her mouth, shaking it and tripping over it.
  • the devious dog who could duck into the shadows of the hallway and wait for the cat to fall into her trap, but then realize she was terrified of the cat.
  • the dog who was unaccustomed to kids and the noises they make. When Linnea first moved in, she was scared, then curious. She would spy on her from a distance and check on her while she slept. Then she decided the little person needed her protection and they became the best of friends.
  • the dog who still checked on Linnea’s room even when she stopped coming to visit us.
  • the dog who practically jumped into my lap to cheer me up when I was sad because we found out she had cancer. Her level of empathy far exceeded most of the people I know.

MJ will never have been “just a dog.” She was our fur baby, our little girl, our puppy, our family. She loved unconditionally, and she loved hard. I know her time is coming, and coming faster than I thought it would. I don’t want to cheat her out of any of her quality time in joy and love, but her bad times are becoming more frequent now, and I also cannot drag out her pain and suffering. I don’t ever want to say goodbye, but I know it’s coming. I cannot imagine coming home to a house without my MJ greeting me. And I cannot cry in front of her because she feels so much that I feel. I haven’t had much loss in my life, thankfully, and I just don’t know how to prepare for this.

There is no way to prepare, and I know she’s now gone, but it still just doesn’t feel real yet. I’m glad we said goodbye in our home, where she was comfortable. I’m glad her brother was there and that I got to pet her as she went to sleep forever.

 

 

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A Recovering Cat Person

This isn’t a cat-bashing edition. I was just thinking about how much I love and am loved by my dogs. In the last decade, I’ve grown into such a dog person that even when people come to our house, they are unaware that we actually have a cat. She just does her thing, and that doesn’t usually involve people. She likes it that way. She lets us know when she wants attention, and the rest of the time she is content to be a loner. I’m an introvert, so I totally respect that. It’s one of the best qualities of cats. They are so easy to take care of. And honestly, constantly tripping over my dogs who are clamoring for attention can be difficult.

I grew up as a cat person and thought that was all I needed. We had dogs, but they lived outside. My parents had grown up in rural farm areas and that’s how they did it. Plus, my mom said dogs smell.  We had a couple cats at a time in the house. They were funny and spunky, and my Siamese Suzie was even lovable and cuddly. Suzie started out as my sister’s cat, but I ended up adopting her and she was a huge part of my life. This time of year I remember her the most because she loved Christmas. We used to joke that any picture taken of the Christmas tree was sure to have Suzie in it. This is also the time of year when she died, at the ripe old age of seventeen.

I was a mess.

My husband surprised my by allowing a kitten to pick him out a couple weeks later. That’s how we got our current kitty, who is now sixteen. Truffles, our crazy tortie. I had told Robert I knew losing pets was hard, but I never wanted to be without one. They complete a home, and though one can never take the place of another, each can hold a new and special place in our hearts. Now that Truffles is older, I’m not as terrified of her attacking me out of nowhere anymore. She’s fairly mellow now and just purrs all the time.

Truufles and MJ

A few years after moving into our house, I conceded to fulfill the promise I had once given Robert that we would get a dog. I always thought dogs seemed so needy, and I did not think I would ever love a dog like I had loved my cats.

Now, this is not to discount the love I had for Suzie, or even for Truffles now. I do/did love my cats. But somehow that neediness of dogs, I have come to see, is really just because they love so deeply. Seriously, I know my husband loves me with as much capacity as one human can love another, but I still don’t think he loves me as much as Dylan and Mara Jade love me. I just walked down the driveway to get the mail a few minutes ago, and they were concerned for my safe arrival back into the house. Sometimes I sense one of them staring at me, and when I look at them, I can almost see hearts in their eyes. Their expressions are so doting and intense. Have you ever looked into the eyes of an Australian shepherd?

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Again, this time of year, I remember my Suzie and how devastated I was when I lost her. Dylan just had his twelfth birthday earlier this month. He still has plenty of moments when I completely forget about his age, but sometimes, even in little things, I notice him slowing down. I see the white fur filling in around his snout. Sometimes he just doesn’t want to get all the way up onto the bed without taking a break on the ottoman at the foot of the bed first. And then there’s MJ, Mara Jade, our puppy. Of course, she’s ten now, so even though we call her our puppy, she’s technically considered a senior now as well, though we haven’t really seen any signs of her aging, other than the dusting of single white furs spread out on her head.

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All of our pets are in their senior years, and I don’t think I’m ready for that. They’re more than just pets; they’re family. The kind of family that sheds all over, throws up at the most inconvenient times, and lays in every doorway you want to walk through, quickly getting up to move as soon as you begin to raise your foot to go over them. I wouldn’t trade that though, because their love is more unconditional than most people can give. Is it coincidence that dog backwards spells God? He seems to have made them with the ability to love nearly as much as He does. As they age, I commit to being there for them and always doing what is best for my fur-babies, as they have always been there for me.

Home is Where the Heart Is

There she was, curled into a dot on the bed, wrapped in a furry dog. I hoped my instincts would kick in as the dog’s had. This was way out of my comfort zone and level of experience… yet here she was, left in my uncertain hands.

The phone call had come just nine days earlier, during a leisurely afternoon nap (I had a feeling naps would be scarce in my new life). My blurry brain was having a hard time comprehending the surreal conversation. Perhaps I was still asleep and this was a  dream.

“Jane took off today. Nobody knows where she is, but I had a feeling this was coming. The kids are both with your father and me, but…” my mother trailed off. “It’s just too much for us with both the kids.”

What was she saying? What was she about to say? I knew there was a reason she had called me, and I think even in that foggy moment, I knew what the question would be. I’d had this conversation with my sister only a few weeks earlier. At the same time as it was a shock Jane had actually left, there had been some signs and a deep feeling it would come.

“Lynn, would you and Michael please consider taking in Diana?” What did that mean, and for how long?

My simple reply was, “Give us a couple days to think this over.” I could have just answered then. I knew what the answer would be. How could we deny taking in an innocent little girl who needed a home? Yet, this was my family, not his blood, and I knew a life-altering decision had to be discussed. That initial discussion lasted about 45 seconds. We knew it was the right thing to do, even if we were both frightened. So frightened.

So we stood in the doorway of the now pink room we had spent days preparing for her, and we watched her sleep, enthralled by what was happening.

She had not gone to sleep peacefully. She had screamed and cried and when there was nothing left for us to do, we had put her to bed where she cried herself to sleep as we helplessly cringed and stared at each other. She was angry, confused, and absolutely inconsolable. Who could blame her? But a four year old doesn’t know how to voice what we knew she was feeling. She didn’t understand where her mother was, why she had just spent a week and a half at her Gran and Pop’s house, and why she was now in our home, her great aunt and uncle she mostly just saw on holidays.

Our hearts went out to her. We knew she was in a tender place, but we also had to set a certain tone of authority, because this could very well be a permanent situation for us and we needed to be the ones in charge. What a crazy balance we would have to learn when we had spent fourteen years avoiding parenting.

She sighed and rolled over, and the dog stirred. The other dog, as uncertain and scared as we were, stepped towards the bed and peered over the top at the tiny creature who had made so much noise earlier, but now only lightly snored. She was a curiosity. Something new to be discovered, for all of us. And she would change us.

**Just a little creative writing draft**

Terri Klaes Harper

Copyright 2017