Saying Goodbye to My Pack Puppy

It’s 2:30 in the morning and I’m nestled in bed, cozy and warm. My husband is sleeping next to me and I’ve got two dogs snuggled on my feet. I’m very content and then it hits me.

For some reason the memory of Lola pops into my head. I think my train of thought was:

  • I should visit Tanya again before she has her baby, or at least be sure to send the package I have for her.
  • I should have taken the sheets off the bed the last time I visited her. Must be hard to make the bed when it is up against one wall when you are 30 weeks pregnant.
  • I hate beds that are up against a wall like that, solely because the bedding is such a pain in the ass to change.
  • My bed was up against a wall like that at my last apartment in Chicago because the place was so tiny.
  • I used to slide the bed around on the wood floor in order to change the bedding.
  • It was also a pain in the butt to drag my bedding downstairs to the laundry room. The apartment building had one of those old elevators with the gate you had to open and close.

Then I remembered taking Lola in that elevator. I screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-3-36-55-pmcouldn’t remember why at first, because
it was a dog-friendly building and they didn’t care if you used the regular, non-freight elevator. Then I remembered that she used to go with me when I’d take the recycling downstairs. We would do that together then I’d take her outside for a walk. She was such a good girl. She’d wait while I got the elevator squared away, wait while I dumped the recycle. Waiting patiently.

She was my girl. So in tune with me. I’m so thankful we had three years of living together, just the two of us. I’m guessing she knew it, but she kept me together. Even before we lived together, after I graduated college. There was a brief dark time for me in college and thinking about Lola being confused as to why I never came home to visit anymore is a large part of what pulled me out of my own head.

We got Lola when I was in high school. She was technically my mom’s dog, although we bonded and she really became mine. We joked that we were pack puppies. We adopted her from a shelter in Genoa. She was so calm and quiet. Then we got her home and she destroyed things for about a year straight. My mattress, a quilt my aunt made me, shoes, socks, pillows, the couch. The girl had some major separation anxiety. We did crate train her, but at some point she started sleeping upstairs with me. She knew when it was time for bed and usually headed up before me, waiting to get snuggled up.

I loved when I’d be halfway asleep and then I’d feel her shift so that her back was completely up against my back. It was so comforting.

When I graduated from college Lola came to live with me downtown. We explored together. She adapted surprisingly well to being a city dog. I thought she’d need her yard, but she was ok. She was ok as long as she had me. We walked all over the place. Lincoln Park, the zoo, Oz Park, Lake Shore Drive, Belmont Harbor, Michigan Avenue — all over the Gold Coast, River North and Old Town. Then Lakeview, down Broadway to Belmont then back up Halsted. She got so many compliments. People usually paid no attention to me, just her.

She was a sweet, sensitive girl and it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, saying goodbye to her. It’s been about a year and a half and it still makes me cry.

Lola started having accidents inside the house, very unusual for her. After doing this in screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-3-33-37-pmfront of a bunch of people at our Halloween party, I knew something was wrong. We went to the vet and they couldn’t find anything, so we treated her for a urinary tract infection. After a few rounds of different antibiotics the issue wasn’t clearing up. It took a couple of months and many vet visits to finally get a good diagnosis. She had a tumor in her urethra. After attempting one type of surgery we found out the tumor was inoperable, it was around the entire circumference, not just one side.

I never thought I’d want to put my dog through chemotherapy. I thought people that did that were insane. I took Lola to a great clinic near us and after meeting with the doctors I decided to try it. It was not like human chemo; there wasn’t crazy nausea or hair loss. It wasn’t about curing Lola, it was about keeping her comfortable. It was an attempt to prolong her life (for me) and keep her happy (for her). screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-3-33-27-pmSince Lola wasn’t in pain, I wanted to do what I could for her to continue to be a happy gal. This entire time her only issue was not being able to pee properly. She never seemed to be in pain or uncomfortable.

I decided I would regret not trying all I could for her. I also decided the second she was in
pain, that was that. It killed me to think that she may be hurting and not understand why. I dreaded her thinking she did something wrong or was in trouble.

I remember her first chemo appointment. I was a nervous wreck. It took less than twenty minutes and she came bounding out the clinic doors, waggy tail, happy to see me. She was fine. She was her normal Lola self. No nausea, no weird side effects. Lola also loved car rides and didn’t seem to mind going to the clinic every couple of weeks. So we kept at it.

We did a handful of rounds, then another ultrasound to see if the tumor had shrunk and sadly it hadn’t. We tried another type of chemo, but no change.

We stopped the chemo and tried one last thing. Lola had surgery to have a stent put in her urethra. This was to help keep her comfortable and able to urinate.

I was also a nervous wreck during this surgery. She was ok though, and it went well. It too a few weeks for her to regain control of her bladder, I felt so horrible for her. I’d put a bunch of towels on the couch, but she’d inevitably have an accident without realizing it. This stopped, but I initially thought I had made a mistake. Again I didn’t want her to feel bad or guilty. My poor girl.

One morning though, I took her out before I left for work as usual. Since all of this had started I had been paying a lot more attention to how Lola peed. It isn’t something you normally watch, but in Lola’s case it was the key indicator that something was wrong. This particular morning nothing happened. She squatted like she normally would, but nothing. I knew what it meant.

I called work. I called Jonathan. I called the vet. I took her to the vet and the doctor confirmed what I already knew: this was it. The doctor told me that there wasn’t anything else they could do for her. The tumor had moved through the stent and was now complete blocking her urethra. I needed to decide exactly when, but today was the day we’d have to say goodbye. They were able to clear her bladder with a needle, so we went home and enjoyed our last afternoon together.

We snuggled. She had Greek yogurt. We went for a walk and smelled all the smells. Jonathan came home early and brought her a cheeseburger and fries. Finally, I said we had to go. It had been long enough where I was worried she would start to feel uncomfortable.

Jonathan drove and I sat on the backseat with her. She was excited as usual for a car ride.

The same doctor that was there earlier in the day was there when we went in. He was very kind and patient. We squared away the details as far as her ashes and getting a ceramic paw print (something I never thought I would want, but I’m glad I decided to have that done). Then we sat and petted her and hugged her and held her.

I eventually asked for the doctor to come back in. I decided it was time. It was quick. I’ll never forget that she looked at me in kind of a confused way as the drugs took hold of her. It broke me. When she wasn’t able to sit up anymore, we helped her lay down, held her, she was in my arms, cradled in my lap. I told her I loved her and that I was sorry. Then she was gone.

I sobbed. It was fucking heartbreaking.

We brought a pink blanket that she liked to sleep on with us to the vet. It was on the floor with us. I had requested that they pick her up before we left. I couldn’t leave her on the floor. So, again, once we were ready, they came back in the room and they picked her up with the blanket and put her on a stretcher. I said one more goodbye to her and we left.

I think I stopped crying on the way home. I was drained. I know we came home, got in bed, I took a melatonin and lorazepam, Jonathan turned on a TV show and we went to bed.

The next few days were full of on-and-off-again tears. It helped to be at work and be busy. It was so hard to be at home and not have her there. I couldn’t pick up her toys or blankets or anything yet. I couldn’t get rid of anything. It wasn’t right.

Saying goodbye to her was so hard. Jonathan always says that there was no way he could have done it, that when I asked the doctor to come in, he couldn’t have done that. The only thing that made me do it was thinking of her comfort. I didn’t want her to suffer for a single moment, and I really don’t think she did.

We had a black Lab when I was little, Kallie, but Kallie was my dad’s dog. My dad was Kallie’s person. I was Lola’s person. We had a bond like I have not had before. It’s even different than the bond Jonathan and I have. Lola got me thought the end of high school, she got me through college and she was right by my side my first few years after college. She explored Chicago with me. She made me feel safe and never alone. She snuggled up to me and gave me cute little delicate sniffs when she knew I needed it most. She protected me, she watched over me. She took care of me.

She was there when I first met Jonathan…well, she was there when I received my first email from him. And I’m sure if told her all about the first dates. She was apprehensive about Jonathan at first, but it didn’t take long for her to love him.

There was one time when my doorman let Jonathan upstairs at my first apartment. At the same time I was taking Lola outside. When the elevator opened on my floor and Jonathan was standing there, after a split second Lola recognized him and was all waggy-tailed and hearts in her eyes.

I moved that poor pup sound a lot. From DeKalb to Chicago, LaSalle Street to Rogers Park, to Lakeview, to Deerfield, and finally to Wheeling. She didn’t love the moving part, but as long as I was there it was ok.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-3-36-11-pm

We said goodbye to Lola on May 1, 2015. It wasn’t part of the plan. It was just time.

Jonathan proposed on May 7, 2015. It was his plan. It had been for a while. He didn’t know for sure if he should keep his plan after Lola died, but I’m glad he did. It had been a rough week and I needed happiness and excitement to help move through the sadness.

I always thought Lola would be part of our wedding. While the timing didn’t work out, she was there for the proposal. Poor Jonathan. On May 7th when we got home from going out for dinner for his birthday, a small package was on our stoop. It was Lola’s ashes. I wanted to call it a night: open the box, cry, go to bed. He asked me to set it aside for a moment though. He said he wanted to show me something a nerd made. It was this:

Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 3.58.43 PM.png

I said yes. We started to call our families and share the news. Our repair guy joined us to fix our air conditioner…he was technically the first person we shared the news with. He didn’t seem that excited.

Shortly after that, we decided to adopt two puppies and we made the biggest mistakes of our lives: Buster and Indy.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-3-45-01-pm

Puppies are trying. A lot of cleaning up pee and poop, a lot of destroyed items. You have to watch them like a hawk. In their tiny annoying ways though, they helped. Especially Buster. He was so small when we got him. He was (is) my baby. He’d nap on me, snuggled in my arms.

I don’t have the same bond I had with Lola with Indy or Buster. I used to get upset about that. Lola and I also were together for 11 years. We haven’t even had the pups two years yet. I’m sure my bond with the two knuckleheads will continue to grow, but I also don’t think I can ever have that same bond. Lola was unique. That bond was unique to the two of us. So it’s ok that it won’t happen again. I know the pups love us and love me, but it isn’t the same love Lola and I had. That isn’t a bad thing. It’s just different.

I miss my Lola everyday. It used to hurt to see old pictures of her pop up on Facebook, from two years ago or six years ago. But now I like it. I like seeing her sweet face every now and then.

My dad wrote me an email a few days after Lola’s passing. A lot of my family and friends sent me nice messages or cards; it meant a lot. Part of what my dad said was:

The best thing about dogs is that they love you unconditionally. It feels good to be loved unconditionally. And it feels good to love them back.

Dear Lola,

I hope that wherever you are now, you know I loved you – unconditionally. And that I’m so thankful for you. You were my girl and I miss you. I think you’d like Indy. Buster would drive you nuts though. I just wanted you to be happy, always. I hope you are now. I hope you get to eat whatever you want and that you have plenty of squirrels to chase. I miss your wet nose, your stinky paws, your silly howl, and your gentle kisses. And your beautiful brown expressive eyes. Thanks for being my sidekick.

Love you.

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