Thursday, April 19, 2012

Moving forward...

So, even though Leroy is no longer with us in the spiritual form, I have decided to not give up on my blog.  I am actually considering finally pursuing my long time desire to write a book, I am thinking it will be called "Letters to Leroy" I have always had a few ideas out there, but always felt there were so many "dog books" out there, how can I join the ranks, or compete with what is already written? But..stay tuned, I have an idea in the works that will be different than the other been there, done that, dog books. I want to keep writing about the process of coping with life and loss of your pets. Though sadly Leroy did lose his battle with Lymphoma, I would say that we kicked that cancer in the ass with his and I's determination to beat the horrific side effects of weakness, illness, and more that comes with cancer. I have to say that Leroy never suffered more than maybe one day, and for that fact it wasn't even a full day, it was the Tuesday before he died that he had the weakest point I had seen yet. It was strange though, as it was almost as if he knew his time was up, he gave me a wonderful afternoon of helping me feed the horses, staring at the cat (which I got on video) and even ate my crazy concoctions of food that I often made for him. That wednesday morning that he died he seemed perkier than I had seen him in a while. I went about my morning as if nothing was wrong. This is something that I struggle with, had I known he was going to die I would have spent more time on the couch with him, you know, all those thoughts you have if you could change what you would have done. I know that's not the case, and it is a small fraction of how I feel. Leroy has always had his own agenda his entire life. Though we were both so reliant on one another, he had the most independent spirit of any animal I have ever met. The morning he passed away we had a vet appt. at 9am with Dr. Emily. I asked him if he wanted to "go for a ride" and he leaped off the couch, waited patiently, wagging his tail, at the door. He trotted, head up, ears flapping in the wind, to the car. I turned my back to open the car door and I felt him hit my leg. He was on the ground, I thought I had tripped him as he was struggling to get up. I knew in a moment what was happening and I started to scream his name. His eyes locked on mine, I held him, watched his toungue turn purple, and he died in my arms with my head on his. All I could say was he was perfect, even while dying, he died the "perfect" death. I know I am SO lucky to have had this experience with him. I never had to make the decision, he did it for me and for all of us. It was beautiful in it's own right. We took him to the vet to be cremated. It was amazing, even in death he was so beautiful and the cancer had not robbed his beauty of it's shine and luster. He actually grew more beautiful, his coat more shiney, and his eyes a deeper, more soulful brown than I had ever seen them. When we laid him down on the blanket in the vet clinic, he was curled up, eyes closed, and looked like a puppy again. It was amazing, even the technicians commented on how he looked.

I as a vet tech, have seen a lot of death, more death than I care to remember, but I can honestly say this was the most amazing experience I have ever had regarding another animal making their transition. I have had a week to process it all, I am not going to say it has been easy, I can't even say it has been hard. There are no human words that convey the pain that comes with losing a pet or a family member. My body literally feels like it has lost a limb, the nerve endings are still there but the appendage is not. I still hear his nails on the hardwood floor, I thought I heard him whining in the house while I was teaching a lesson the other day, he is all around me, yet not here in form. I have cried the hardest and longest I have ever cried, and I have done so 2-6x a day, I feel as if he is on the other side of a door, so close, yet impossible to get to. I have never felt this feeling in my life and it is a very frustrating, hurts to the soul and beyond sort of feeling. There have been so many firsts without him. This past weekend was the first road trip without him. His ashes came with us, his dog collar was on the rear-view mirror, I thought I would spread some ashes on the coast, but I could not let him go yet. I always thought I would be creeped out by having somethings ashes nearby, but they are in a beautiful wooden box right next to my bed, along with his collar and tag that says "Leroy". Every morning I touch his collar and I know he is there somewhere. I went to the beach without him, that was awful. My heart physically hurt, and I never knew just how big that lump in your throat could hurt, but it was crazy, there were thousands of sand-dollars washed up on the beach, they were all broken except for one, a beautiful purple sand-dollar. I found a big shell that I will use to scoop his ashes when the time is right. We came home to an empty house, his beds all around, the smell of him still on his blankets. It's crazy, I sleep with his stuffed animal. All of these things I would have normally thought were kind of crazy, but my point of writing this is to let everyone know that this is normal. However you need to grieve is however you need to grieve. Ride the process out, cry so hard that your body hurts, then cry some more. I have kept visine in stock for over a month now!! Today was the first day that I was in my car without Jeff and Percy and it hurt so much to not have my pal with me. I came home to the empty house, usually Leroy, even when he was sick, would race me to the door, run in the house, grab whatever toy he found first, then happily settle on his bed and just stare at me while I do homework. At this moment I am sitting on the couch for the first time since he died, on my computer, he has always been right next to me, one of my hands on his warm body, and one hand on my book or laptop. Today his side of the couch is empty, and I am forcing myself to deal with it. Writing helps, knowing that even if my words reach one person who is faced with the losing or loss of a pet or loved one, is therapeutic in and of itself. I am not trying to wallow in sorrow, nor have anyone feel sorry for me, I am moving forward, not on, but forward. I felt today for the first time that I need a dog in my life. I have Percy, but he is lonely too, and he is "Jeffs dog", his jobsite dog. I need my soul dog, and I trust that Leroy will lead me to him or her and the right pup will come to me for the right reasons. I am going to keep up with this blog, it may be about random things, it may still just be about my Leroy, who knows, but in honor of him, in therapeutic ways for myself and maybe others, I feel the best thing to do is the only other thing I know how to do besides ride horses, and that is to write.
My beautiful pup lounging while I taught lessons, the day before he died.

Ha ha ha...we called him the "lounge lizard"

His last day, staring and pointing at the cat...Leroy never suffered or lost his spirit to cancer.

Leroy making peace with the kitty on his last full day with us.

I think Leroy finally figured that kitties were o.k, to just look at for once.

The second to last picture I ever took of Leroy, the night before he died.

The last picture of Leroy, the amazing thing was the morning he left this earth, he had this toy with him on the couch, when we got up to go for a ride, he dropped this next to the door. I didn't even notice, when we came home from bringing his body to the vet, this toy was the first thing that greeted us when we walked in. He knew what he was doing leaving me his toy. I will cherish this toy forever. <3

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Letter to Leroy, The Best Dog in the Universe 7/3/2002-4/11/2012

  Leroy, I always said you were the “worst” puppy, that turned into the BEST dog in the world. You came to me at 16 weeks old, scared to death from living your life born in a puppy mill, landing in gross, inhumane, pet store. You sat in my lap and looked down at me with your long nose, dignified face, and human-like, knowing eyes. I knew you were mine. You walked in the door for the first time when we brought you home and in your cocky, puppy way, got yourself into all sorts of trouble with the older dogs. I can’t count how many seromas we drained off of you, the “best” one was off your butt, from you tangling with Sierra, the matriarch pointer. You would always trot up to “Howard” and bat him on the nose with your long paw, and they all loved and loathed you at the same time. I remember how you had to actually get in the shower with me everyday, otherwise you would chew my clothing, shoes, watches, hats, couches, CD cases, riding helmets, seatbealts, armrests, the most infuriating was a 300.00 pair of brand new hiking boots…but..despite all of that you were still the “best” dog in the training. Speaking of training, remember we posted your diploma from graduating “Obediance” school on the fridge for a few years?

The year we got you was the worst Maine winter I can remember. 4-foot snowstorms weekly and a german shorthaired pointer puppy were not a good mix. You could not run outside, so I would build jump courses with chairs and brooms in the house, I would throw food to the top of the stairs so that you would run up and down, we would do this for hours and I still never could tire you out. You were a great riding companion, I would close the indoor arena doors and you would run, run, run, while my horses were begrudgingly getting used to you. The miles on the trail, with me screaming for you as you would chase whatever scent you could find, despite all that, you always came back to me. Remember the time the neighbor called me because you ran away and they found you eating food off their counter in their house? Remember the time you made us an hour late to the boyfriend I was dating at the time’s, parents surprise anniversary party? We missed the surprise, but you were there. It was amazing the miles you would roam too, but always aware of the cars, and you never got hit. Remember the road trips you so eagerly jumped into the car for, yet you wouldn’t eat the whole trip so I would have to go to McDonalds and buy you bacon so you would not be taken from me for “neglect”? You would even make me get on the floor and pretend I was going to eat your food, and only than after you had gotten a kick out of making me do stupid human tricks, would you finally eat. 5:00 was your favorite time, you would stand at the door, wagging that tail that just never stopped, even today, your last day, waiting excitedly to go to the beach? We did that every day, we met many good friends and dogs during our days on the beach. Rain, snow, or shine we were there. I remember when I ran with you daily, and felt like a piece of me was missing when my hands were empty, and leashless running down the road. When you could no longer run with me, I stopped running, not having your little brown and white butt in front of me was not enough motivation to get the run done.

I was 24 when I got you, young, trying to figure out men, life, and commitment. You were slightly aloof, never needy, just what I needed, yet I wondered why you “didn’t need me” did in your own way, and that only came out as we were together longer…remember the men that were needy, we ditched? You were needy in your own way in that you let ME learn to love YOU, you never forced it upon me. I never knew if I was capable of loving like you read about in books. When we went through that first break-up together, you let me lay on the kitchen floor and we cried, he was a good man, and a good doggy dad to you, but we all knew it was time to move on, the couches that you ate during your anxiety of our arguments were testament to that fact. For the first time I connected with you instead of a man. You were excellent at picking my men, many men were jealous of you, did not understand why you needed to come into the house with me all the time, it was what it was, if someone wanted to be with me, they had to be with you. You would just look at me patiently with your knowing look, letting me know you would be there for me when I finally, sadly, figured yet another relationship was not going to work. You went everywhere with me, there was never a day that we were part for years. You spend the night in the back of my car with me when we would party a little too hard in Kennebunkport, you would chase crabs on the docks in the boatyard, and though you weren’t a huge fan of canoe rides, you still sat at the head of the canoe and sat like a statue, watching the shore get further away. You were always with me.

You were there for me when I almost died, July 11, 2006. You were sitting in the back of my Hyundai santa fe, with the hatchback wide open, when that horse had a seizure on top of me,  you watched the whole thing, and I heard you whining, though I could not see, and was bleeding out my mouth, I stayed conscious because I NEEDED to make sure you were taken care of and not left in my hot car while I went to the hospital. While I was in the hospital, drugged on pain medication, I kept hallucinating that you were at the end of the bed laying on my legs. Even when you were not with me, you still were. You stayed with Micheal for 2 weeks while I healed, and he would bring you over daily and that helped me heal. After that accident we put 18,000miles on our car in 8 weeks on the road trip of our lives. We went everywhere, you have been more places than most dogs will ever see. I have photos of you in the nations highest elevations and in the lowest elevation in death valley, you have ran on all the beaches Norteast, south, West, and Northwest, there are more photos of you than most peoples first born child. You were my first born child in a sense. You let me dress you in silly clothes, and ALWAYS posed for the camera. There are pictures of you in sunglasses, margaritas next to your paws, clothing, you name it, you let me do it. All with a graceful tolerance that many creatures and humans will never learn to possess. I actually really think you enjoyed the attention, If I didn’t think so I would have never done it.

You let Jeff into my life, you two are similar in spirit. You traveled with us, laughed with us, argued with us as we figured one another out in Santa Cruz, you survived your first round of cancer with us. You moved with us 8 times in 5 years, you shared 9 cars with me. You were the “best pet” and  ring-bearer in our wedding. You wore that role and goofy ribbon around your neck with pride. You knew this was the most important day of our lives. I thought you would be around to be a big brother to a baby someday, as you were only 9, but that’s not the way life works. You were however the best big brother to Percy, who is only 4 and has no idea how big the shoes are he will now fill. You fought this bravely, patiently, and did not really suffer a single day. You took your pills daily without much fuss, you always came when you were called when it was time for your shots. Yesterday I could see you were fading, I was trying to help you make it through the weekend so you could come to the beach with us this weekend for my class in Astoria. I was so anxiety ridden that you would get sick while we were gone, you had to have known this. You looked perkier this morning and I had a glimmer of hope. When I asked you if you wanted to go for a ride you leaped off the couch, trotted confidently to the car, and your big, giant, beautiful heart just burst. It was violent only for a second, I got to catch you, pick you up, lay you down gently and feel your beautiful heart beat for it’s last time. The only words I could say were “perfection” You were perfection, Leroy. Even in death, you were perfect. Cancer did not take your beauty, you were shiny, in excellent weight, your muzzle never even really grayed. Your hips and body never gave out on you. I held you as you left me on the physical form, and could only thank you for your confident way of taking charge of your destiny, as usual. You never made me make the decision. You let me do everything that I could do so that I was never left feeling as if I could have done more. You had an amazing week, you got to see the new facility, mark it with your presence, and give me the o.k. to move onto a new place. You left me as we had hoped it would go, your decision, quick, painless, as you were heading off to do your favorite thing, “go for a ride”. Death is not easy, but it can be perfect, and twice I have felt perfection with you this year, first was my wedding as you watched with those knowing eyes of yours, and second as I held you and you soared to your new place. I know you are around, and I find it no coincidence that the first thing I saw when I came home to the empty house, empty of our belongings and empty of you, was your little, blue, stuffed bear, waiting for me right at the door where you had left it when we “went for our ride”. You knew what you were doing Leroy, and you possessed a brilliance that I am not sure I will ever find in another dog.

You taught me so much, you stuck with me through so much, and you taught me that my heart is so much bigger than I ever thought it could be. I am wrapped up in your blanket, the fire going, I wish you were here to enjoy a rainy day snuggled on the couch watching a movie with me, but you are not. You are up there somewhere chasing seagulls and cats. Your last 24 hours were painless, you made peace with the cat ‘moses” yesterday, which we got on video, and we enjoyed a few minutes of scratches and snuggles before we got up to meet our day. You were one of a kind Leroy, an old soul that knew so much in your short 9years. I am not a religious person in the Christian sense, but I sure as hell am spiritual, and I know that my version of “heaven” or whatever you want to call me, entails you meeting me as I journey to you, your tail wagging furiously, as you run off to show me where the best birds are, and I hop on one of my long lost horses and we greet the new trails together forever. I love you Leroy, to say you were my best friend is an understatement. You were something that there are no words for, just a primal feeling that all humans possess instinctually if they let themselves. I vow to take care of myself the way I took care of you, and thank you, thank you, thank you, for being there. You are perfection. I love you buddy~ Samantha

                                                      Sunday Morning Snuggle session
My beautiful dog radiating his light!

Leroy and his dragon, the last toy he picked out.

Come on Papa..I beat you up the stairs-this was Sunday, Leroy ok'd the new place for us, even though he sadly will not be joining us.

Yesterday, Leroy making peace with the kitty. It was amazing to watch.

Taken last night, as Leroy perked up a bit. This is the last photo I will ever take of my beautiful pup.

Friday, April 6, 2012

I now know where they coined the term "Live Strong"

I thought I would write a quick update on my boy Leroy! It's been a really hard few days. We started the Lomustine last Tuesday with no real results. Friday he was very sluggish and in a lot of pain so we brought him in for fluids in which after he practically pranced out of the vet clinic. His pain was making it hard for him to eat or drink. For some reason the pain had localized around his neck and spine area so he could not put his head down, probably some weird side effect from the chemo. He did pretty well throughout the weekend, Monday was a beautiful sunny day and he spent it outside all day chasing shadows, bugs, and just sunbathing. Tuesday we woke up to a different dog, his lung sounds were harsh and crackly, his energy was back to lethargic and his eyes were depressed. All he wanted to do was press against me and followed Jeff and I everywhere around the house. Wed. I took him to the vet, we gave him Tramadol for the pain, some accupuncture on some energy points and it seemed to help just a little bit. Still very little appetite throughout the entire week. We decided on Wed. that if he deteriorated throughout the night, that we would re x-ray on Thursday.

Thursday AM rolled around and he wouldn't move. His lungs sounded terrible, Jeff and I layed on the bed with him and cried thinking this was maybe his last day. I was still trying to be optimistic. We took him in to the clinic, he wanted nothing to do with going back with Dr. Emily, which has NEVER happened, usually he trots back there without even a glance back at me, ready to torture the clinic cat with his staring, shaking, and whining. This time he shrunk to the floor and looked at me as if it was the last time he would see me. It was heartbreaking to see this unusual behavior. The other thing that occured since the day before was his veins were popping up all along his sides. Being a shorthair with thin skin you could see his vein network enlarged and raised along his rib cage and sides of abdomen, this was cause for alarm for all of us. I got the call from Dr. Emily, while in the middle of the appointment with our accountant for the dreaded tax season (which we were so late on, due to all that has been going one) I could hear it in her voice it wasn't good. Leroy's tumor burden had increased to about 7-8 quarter sized masses throughout both lung lobes, NOT good. The fluid in his chest had increased as well. We went to get him, and had the hard conversation about when "the time" would be. She thought without treatment of some sort he would not make it through the weekend. We discussed tearfully, her coming out to the farm to let him go, making plans now rather than when we have to in an emergency. We gave him a dose of Dex. as one last ditch effort to make him comfortable and give him a few good days. We were all unsure rather the Dex would even work at that point. We took him home, I layed on the couch with him all day, I cancelled going to the local dressage club social, which was so hard to do as on one level I knew I should continue life as normal, but who wants to be social with puffy eyes, a migraine, and a "dying dog" at home, so I stayed with him. At about 4pm I had to teach a lesson, when I got done and came into the house, Leroy jumped off the couch, grabbed his new dragon that he picked out at Petsmart, and did the "wiggle-butt" for the first time in days. He even went over to his bowl that had been full for a day or two, and devoured his food, he looked at me proud as ever at how strong he can be. It made me so happy to see the Dex working. We discussed the option of trying a new chemo called Elspar, that is an enzyme that will break down the lymphoma cells and masses. It has been used with great results, giving the animals a little more time in remission. I made the appointment for Friday at 11:30, but the techs were so understanding and said I could cancel if I needed more time to think about it. The cost is 450-500.00 and remission time, if any, is a gamble.

The next day, yesterday, he looked great. He slept pressed against me all night, his breathing was noise-free, regular and even. He had a great day yesterday, lots of energy, and ate well. We went to Sage Vet for his first dose of Iscador, Dr. Steve showed me how to give the injection, what to watch for, which is a red circle at the injection site. When you see this it means the body is reacting as it should to the Iscador, he said it may happen on the first injection or the 29th injection, every dog, and every immune system is different. Last night, I saw a small red circle appear, so that is good news. The Iscador may not "cure" the lymphoma, but at least we are doing everything we can to boost the immune system. I cancelled the appt. at the specialist, as I wanted to get the Iscador on board and get the immune system the kick in the pants it needed before adding more toxin to his body. I can go to the emergency clinic and get the Elspar done if I decide over the weekend that is the route we should take. The thing is, I am happy with any decision I make. It's amazing how rational one can really be when faced with these situations. I have never gone through anything like this in my life, and when my dog was healthy I never thought I would be able to cope with what is going on. What has helped me immensely is the complete, 100% immersion I have in committing to educate myself, experiment with options some conventional, some unconventional, I know in my heart and I know Leroy knows as well, that we are doing everything we can possibly do, within our means, to make him happy. I never thought my bond could be stronger with my pup, but this has brought the meaning of love to a whole new level. I guess that's the beautiful, yet bittersweet reality about death and being faced with it, it allows you and gives you the time to connect deeper in ways that you won't when in good health. I always thought maybe it would be easier for my dog to die a sudden death, but I cherish this time that I have to be with him, soak him in, and him soak me in, during his last days. I am ready for life to move on, whether it is in sickness or health, it's been hard to schedule meetings, lessons, etc. as I have to tell everyone "I am planning on being there, but..." I am not trying to write as if he is no longer around, he is, MORE than ever, his presence is the big it has ever been in his life, he is the brightest spot in my life, and when he is no longer with us, which will eventually be, given the way the cycle of life works, be it 3 days or 3 years, he will always be with me. Live strong is not just for the cancer fighter, it is for the survivors that hold and support those fighting with cancer or any disease. I have found my weakest moments in life through this time, but I have also found my strongest moments in life. And for this I thank my pup, my greatest teacher. Hug your pups, ponies, kitties, rabbits, hamsters, children, husband, parent, sibling..whatever/whoever it may be that gives you that feeling of undying love and commitment, then love yourself for having the ability to love so freely and deeply another living creature.

                                                      Leroy with his new Dragon!!!