Sunday, March 02, 2014

A Beautiful Mess





This is going to be a blog about a dog. But before I can tell you Rosie's story, I need to tell you mine.

I was a miserable child. My dad left my mom and I when I was two. We were in North Carolina and he was in Utah. I never saw him again, although there was the odd phone call (and later, email) here and there. My aunt and uncle never had children, so I was an Only Child in the truest sense of the word. Only Child, Only Niece, Only Grandchild, and for 10 years, Only Great-Grandchild. I spent my childhood profoundly lonely.

When I was 6, I got my first pet--a cat I named Midnight Noir Eclipse Cricket Bremer. We (mercifully) called her Middy for short. Middy, and Paisley, and then Maya, were my only companions throughout what I can only characterize as the wide gaping wound of my childhood. Periodically we had a dog--first Tally-ho, a beautiful Setter mix, and then Oscar, a miniature poodle we found as a stray, but they were outside dogs because my mother didn't have the first clue how to train them. Tally-ho became too big and too hyperactive to deal with and mom gave her away. She ended up getting euthanized by her new owners who also found her too much to deal with. Oscar lived in the backyard for more than a decade--where he received an annual grooming and very little attention. When he was a senior dog, and I was in college (and just beginning to understand my connection to dogs), my mother had him euthanized for a bladder infection. I try not to think about the wrong done to these two dogs. It haunts me every day.

I can separate my life into two phases: Pre-Dog Brittany and Post-Dog Brittany.

Pre-Dog Brittany was a wreck. Chronically lonely, over-eager to please, desperate for people to like me, but naturally introverted, and not happy in my own skin, my interaction with humans was messy and (looking back on it) some of the most cringeworthy, boneheaded, idiotic behavior you can imagine. I also have an over-developed sense of intuition(?) that enables me to feel a person's inner emotions when I'm with them. This would be a great sense to have if it was accompanied by some psychic abilities, because then I would know not only that a person was irritated, but what they were irritated at. But that is not the case for me. I can only feel the irritation. A more confident person would feel irritation and not take it personally, but since I was always unsure if their irritation or anger or general unhappiness was directed at me, I tended to just slink away and isolate myself from people even further. All of this came to a head my senior year of college when I got sick. I'm still not exactly sure what my issue was/is but it's definitely related to eating gluten/foods with a high lectin concentration. In any case, I was sick. SICK sick. I lived in the bathroom. And on the internet with my Canadian Fiance (see: idiotic behavior). I was a social hermit. And what does a chronically sick, social hermit, planning to move to a foreign country and marry a man she's only seen in person six times want for a wedding present? A dog.

That was the first (semi?) rational thought I'd had in some time. And it paved the way for more rational thoughts...like "Brittany, what the ^&%$# do you think you're doing marrying a guy in a foreign country who spends $2K a week on alcohol and blacks out on the phone with you after accusing you of taking "American Military Drugs" (whatever those are???) Girlfriend, you need to sit your butt down and think this through a little better. Lose the fiance. Stick with the dog."

So that's what I did. I got Tuendi. Someday I will tell you Tuendi's story, and how she provided more mental healthcare for my family than a passel of psychiatrists, but today I'm going to (eventually) tell you about Rosie. The only thing you need to know about Tuendi right now is that she was like a Doggie Messiah. Prior to her arrival, I was living in B.C.E. (Brittany's Crazy Era), and after her arrival, I was living in a whole new era known as A.D. (After Dogs).

Scientists have studied dogs and their relationship to human physical health (lowered heart rate and blood pressure, etc) but they're just starting to research how dog ownership effects mental health. For me, having dogs (after Tuendi I wasn't stopping at one!) allowed me to relax. Dogs don't have the jumbled up, multi-emotion minds that humans do. They're mostly at peace. If their moods go wild, it's more often euphoric than angry, and their anger passes quickly. And I became really attuned to my dogs. The more I tuned into them, the more I could tune out everyone else's emotions. And then *I* was finally at peace. I started making better decisions, using my intuition to guide my own life and the things I had control over, and things started to fall into place.

I was in a good place when I met her. Last April, we had just come back from our first family trip to Disney World, and I went to pick up Tuendi and Ruby at my friend Joni's house where they'd been boarding, and a little dog ran up to the fence to say hello. I saw her and my heart pinged. And then it longed. This dog was mine. One second was all it took before my intuition screamed (icreasingly incoherently) OMG! THIS IS YOUR DOG! YOUR DOG! YOUR DOG! YOUR DOG! LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!!! TAKE HER HOME WITH YOU!" And then, from her little doggie body, her voice filled my head (first time for that too) and said "Will you take me with you?"

I was mush. I'll admit it, I do what the voices in my head tell me to. They told me to get Tuendi, marry Tom, move to NY, etc. These voices are usually reliable and for my own good. This was the first time the voice in my head was just flat out irrational. I didn't need another dog. I had two. And two cats. And two kids. And a home business. And a novel to write. What rational reason could there be to take this dog home? Besides she probably was boarding too, and had owners, and I was clearly having a psychotic break hearing multiple voices in my head and all...

So I said to Joni, "So who's this?"

And she said, "Oh, this is Parker. Well, at least that's what we're calling her, She's had like six names already... She's a dog I'm fostering."

And from that point on, I quit trying to tame the crazy and just went with it.

She's a fear biter? Don't care. Hates men? Don't care. Hates crates? Oh well. Can't be picked up? *shrug*

 All I cared about was that she got along with my dogs (she did), she liked kids (she did), and that her aggression was predictable (it was). I had been through unpredictable rage with our second dog, Sammy, when he'd become a senior, and I knew I couldn't deal with that.

Joni kept warning me. "This dog is a headcase. Just wait."

I knew it and I took her anyway. I took her in for all the Oscars and Tally-hos out there. For all the B.C.E. Brittany's out there. And because I absolutely positively, but totally irrationally, loved that dog.

I slowly found out her backstory.  She was picked up at a stray in Troy, NY in December of 2012, which makes it possible that she survived Hurricane Sandy as a stray. She was about 4 years old. They called her Pandora at the shelter, because she was a bit of a loose cannon. The day I went to officially adopt her, the receptionist at the shelter apologized for charging me the adoption fee and said, "I sort of just want to give you a box of bandaids and wish you good luck." It pissed me off at the time. I remember thinking "What is wrong with these people? How can they not love you like I do?" Rosie had to fight for everything. Before she could even be adopted out, she contracted kennel cough twice. Then, when she was adopted, in two months time, she was adopted and returned and in and out of foster families 6 times. I had to take her back to the shelter twice--once to fill out her adoption paperwork--and once to have her spay incision looked at, and both times she huddled miserably on the floor of my van and vomited repeatedly the whole way there. She always looked a little surprised when she came back out with me.

I decided she needed a name that reflected my hopes for her (and not other people's expectations), so I re-named her Rosie. I would sing "Everything is Rosie" to her (from Bye Bye Birdie) and taught the boys to sing it to her as a greeting. We called her Rosey Posey, and Miss FurryPants, and after many years living with terrier carrot tails, I absolutely delighted in her furry, curly dollop-of-whipped-cream-on-her-butt crazy tail. The sheer sight of it reduced me to giggles. She and it were just so ridiculously froufy. She looked like such a froufrou dog, but inside beat the heart of a mastiff (or mastadon?).

I called her The Enforcer.  Nobody in this house raised their voice at me without her having something to say about. If the boys didn't listen to me, she'd start barking at them too. And all Tom had to do was look like he was going to bluster on about the mess in the house, and she'd stand between us and bark at him menacingly too.With her around, I felt like I had a security detail on staff. Woe be unto the poor unfortunate soul who tried to do me harm. She weighed 17 pounds, but she didn't let that stop her. She was ready to rumble. I knew no matter what happened, that girl had my back. I used to joke with her and tell her she lived in Scotia now. She didn't have to be so "street". Eventually it sunk in. She learned the word "snuggle" quickly and loved to sit beside me while I worked and was always first in line for attention.

This is not to say all was kittens and rainbows. She was a strange, profoundly psychologically damaged dog. I consider myself a fairly experienced dog owner, and she left me baffled a lot of times.

She knew when a storm was coming a full day before it arrived. She'd hunch herself up and guard her blankets and toys and was infinitely more aggressive when she knew one was coming. I finally bought her Calm-Quil tablets with Valerian, Chamomile, etc and she eventually worked through her storm fears. She  came to love playing in the snow with Ruby. They'd race each other in circles around the backyard, running up and down the snow ramps they'd created by the bird feeder, trying to catch the squirrels that congregated there. They'd come inside, snow covered, and happy. And then she'd pee. Wherever she was. No matter what I did, I could not get that dog potty trained.

Eventually I crate trained Rosie, in spite of her barrier rage, and she came to enjoy hanging out in it with the door open. It was easy once I discovered her deep and abiding love for Provolone cheese. She'd follow a piece of Provolone to the ends of the Earth, and right into the back of her crate.

We'd tried letting her sleep with us when she first came to us, since she wouldn't go in a crate for any reason, but she was so aggressive to everyone else on the bed, and would try to guard me from everybody (including Tom) that we gave up on it. She'd only recently been allowed back on, and was behaving herself, and relished every moment of it.  At night, she'd stretch out between me and Tom, place her head on Tom's shoulder, and kiss his nose before moving to the foot of the bed. I think at some level she knew that her Shih-tzu ancestors had been bred to sleep on beds and warm feet, and she treated it like a job. That was the one and only time I was allowed to pick her up. She'd stand on her back legs and put her front paws up as high as they would go, and that was my signal that I had her permission.

And she was a brute to Tuendi--bullying her away from me, instigating attacks with Ruby. There were several months there that the three dogs couldn't be on the same floor of the house together because having Rosie around made Ruby so aggressive that I was afraid she was actually going to kill Tuendi. Fortunately, we got through that too and for the last few months the dogs had been hanging out harmoniously inside.

While some things were easily overcome, others were not. Scissors were her mortal enemy. She'd try to take my hand off if I used them in her presence. I could sweep the floors, but not Tom. Men with brooms enraged her. As did Tom's tan workboot-colored bedroom slippers. She attacked his feet until we replaced them with navy corduroy ones. She hated men with tools too. My guess is she was abused by men on a construction site at some point. And as far as she was concerned, veterinarians were Satan's spawn. I would almost rather swallow glass shards than take her to the vet's office. She had to be muzzled immediately because she wouldn't allow them to handle her.  And after a mild back injury jumping off our bed right after we got her, she wouldn't allow anyone to pick her up either.Forget about hugs too. You could pat, scratch, and rub her all day long, but she wasn't letting anyone get their arm around her.

And while John was one of her most favorite people, she didn't care for Sam. He tormented her by barking at her, and trying to rile her up, to see how far he could push her. We told him and told him not to do it, but he wouldn't listen to us, so Rosie made him listen to her--and he got bitten frequently (though never badly--I loved her, but there were limits to what I'd tolerate). We were hoping, like everything else, that this would work itself out over time.

We worked through so much with her, and in turn, she was there and helped me work through my son Sam's autism diagnosis this fall. It is difficult to hear that the child you have is not the one you were expecting--and that your only choice is to accept and embrace what you have and figure out how to work with it. Sam does not seem autistic. He is extremely high functioning and delightful to be around. You expect him to behave normally because he does, most of the time. But when he doesn't, and he melts down, it's always a bit of a punch in the gut. Rosie was the same. Most of the time, she was delightful, and then she'd lose her doggie mind and have a meltdown too. We joked that she had Dog-tism. A little quirky neurologically, but delightful nonetheless. So I couldn't take her to the vet? We can't take Sam to Lowe's. Something about the fluorescent lighting and store layout makes him nuts. So be it. We'll keep her at home if we can. So she hates brooms? Sam hates the sound of wind. We'll vacuum. You deal with the hand your dealt.

So that's where we were this past Wednesday.

It started like any normal day. Rosie and Ruby were sleeping in the bed with me. Cheez-it and Dove (our cats) were hanging out in the room too. One of the cats ran and both dogs jumped down to chase. And then Rosie stopped. She wouldn't go down the stairs. She started shaking. It was exactly like her back injury before. I coaxed her downstairs and tried to get her to go outside to go potty. It took her a while but she made it. She went outside, did her thing, came inside and I tried to give her a pain pill and she refused it. She didn't eat or drink or go outside again for 24 hours. I knew she was hurt, but I also knew I was not going to be able to get her to the vet's without getting my arm ripped off. So I let her be.

She just wanted to be where I was all day. No matter where I went, she followed, and lay there pathetically, shaking. I have to give her credit, she had every reason in the world to be a ferocious, feral beast, but she never lashed out in pain.

I had a thirty-one party Wednesday night. And when I got home, Tom told me that when he'd gone upstairs to get ready for bed, Rosie had slowly followed him up the stairs. She was still shaking, Still not eating or drinking, though I was able to give her a pain pill wrapped in turkey finally. We went to bed and she stayed where she was and didn't ask to come up.

I woke up at 2am, got out of bed and checked on her. No change. I sat up and pet her for a long time, and then went back to bed. She got up and slowly drug herself over to the bed. I realized she wanted me, so I walked back across the room to lay on the futon, so I'd be closer to the floor. It took her a long time. And she could only go a couple of feet before she had to stop and rest, but she finally made it back across the room. She lay down beneath me and I petted her while she shook.

Around 4am I woke up again, and Cheez-it, our 8 month old kitten, who loved Rosie best of all the dogs, was stretched out beside her on the floor. I reached down to pet Rosie again, and discovered there was a string on her back. I picked it up and realized that Cheez-it had put his cat toy there sometime in the night. It was a little mouse attached to a string on a stick, and a toy both he and Rosie loved. I was amazed at his outpouring of love for her--but I also knew that none of this was normal--and my intuition said to pay attention to the animals' behavior because something wasn't right.

The next morning, Rosie was clearly miserable, and still following me around the house. She didn't want to go outside, but finally did and I noticed that she could no longer stand on her hind legs. She wasn't completely paralyzed, but they continuously gave out under her so she was rolling places rather than walking. Once she got outside, she didn't want to come back in. It was 16 degrees outside. Rosie hated the cold and never spent long periods of time outdoors. I called the vet.

I had some sedatives on hand for future vet visits and gave her one.

It still took me an hour and a half to get her in my van. She wouldn't come inside. She wouldn't go in her crate (since provolone and turkey no longer held any appeal now). I was very afraid she would bite me if I put a leash on her, but she cooperated. And I was able to cover her with heavy blankets and lift her in one shot into the van. She didn't even try to growl.

The vet said things didn't look good. In order to correct her back, she needed surgery ($5K-7K) that only had about 30-50% odds of being effective, and before that, she'd need to see a veterinarian neurologist. She was saying this over a muzzled Rosie, who was growling and lunging at her during the physical examination. She was talking to me like I could just pop Rosie in the car and to a vet's office any old time I wanted. I reminded her that this was not going to happen obviously and she agreed that Rosie wasn't a good candidate for surgery because of her aggression. And then she added that post-op Rosie would also need physical therapy at a vet's office too. My heart sank. I knew EXACTLY how that was going to go.

I asked her about euthanasia then because I knew my dog. I knew she was in horrifying amounts of pain and I had lived through that already with Sammy. I knew what rage-filled black dog eyes looked like, when they go to a place where their connection with humans is gone and there's nothing left in the brain but pain and feral responses. I knew Rosie would take the express elevator to that place and that no one in my house would be safe when it happened. But the vet sounded confident when she said we should try rest and meds first. She prescribed enough drugs to choke a horse. Sedatives, pain pills, steroids, anti-psychotics... She told me to take Rosie home, give her the meds, and hope for the best.

I am an optimistic person by nature. If you have a medical degree and you're hopeful, I'm hopeful. But I'm also a realist. I was scared. I know what the type of back pain that a chiropractor can fix feels like--and it's enough to make me want to bite people. This was waaaay waaaaay worse. And I'd already been through this once with Sammy. Those pan pills might be strong but they weren't strong enough for him.

I brought Rosie home, stopping at McDonalds on the way home for cheeseburgers. I stuffed it full of her meds, she ate it beautifully, then drank a bunch of beef broth, and then spent the rest of Thursday resting calmly on a blanket in my office. She looked much better. She still couldn't walk, but her spirit was back. I posted a happy update on facebook. "She's trying to run after squirrels with Ruby! She's mouthing off to the boys! Yeah!"

I didn't let her come up the stairs Thursday night, and Friday morning when I came downstairs she was in BAD shape. She was shaking again. Wouldn't eat or drink but I did get her to take her meds. I tried to pet her, as I had been for the last two days, and she snarled at me. Her eyes black and soulless. Cheez-it and Ruby tried to sniff her hello and they were snarled at too. And she was acting like she needed to go out--in fact was crazed with wanting out--but wouldn't go down the steps to actually go. She appeared to try to poop, but couldn't balance on her back legs and kept flopping over. She crawled behind the wood stove and turned her back to me. I left her there and went to the post office, for pepcid for her to take with her steroids, and back to McDonalds for cheeseburgers. When she wouldn't eat the cheeseburger, I called the vet's office and said she doesn't look good at all. Please ask the vet what I can do. I posted a truly despondent facebook message about her condition. I had no sooner hit send that she walked (on four legs) into my office and (for the first time) peed on the pee pads I left out for her. Then she asked to go out. I let her out and she walked around the backyard, all over the icy parts, up and down the snow hills. Her leg was still giving out every few steps but at least her legs were weight bearing for short periods of time. I was so happy. I called the vet to ask if maybe she was feeling so good she should have a sedative (they said yes) and I posted again on facebook, "yeah! she's walking!".

I went outside to try to coax her back in (because it was only 16 degrees again) and noticed she was acting wierd. I have heard that dogs want to roam before death, and that's what she appeared to be doing. Even though she was shaking uncontrollably, she didn't want to be in the house. She just wanted to keep on the move. Then she tried to dig out from under the fence (something she'd NEVER done before--I didn't even know she knew how to dig). I finally coaxed her into our unheated sun porch, and she crawled under the chaise lounge in there and refused to move. She wouldn't eat, wouldn't drink, and just lay there shaking. I went back periodically to open the door to see if she'd come inside, but she wouldn't budge.

She no longer wanted to be with me. That for me was a sign that this story was not going to have the happy ending I wanted. I wanted to throw up and cry and scream and wail, but most of all I just wanted to be able to comfort Rosie and hold her. Since that wasn't going to happen, I decided I wasn't going to wait.

I called the vet on his lunch break and told him flat out that I could not get Rosie to his office in her current condition, but she needed to be released. I loved her too much to let her suffer like this. He couldn't come to be for another two days. I told him he was going to need a suit of armor to deal with her anyway--that they was no way she was going to let him anywhere near her with a needle. He said (in seriousness) "I can use welding gloves." And I said (in seriousness) "You're going to need the whole welding suit." I didn't want that to be the way she left the earth though, if I could help it, so I asked him if we could tranquilize her. He said that was an option. I said, "Listen, that tranquilizer you prescribed for yesterday for not strong enough. She needs a horse tranquilizer. Something really strong." He said he had something like that. It wouldn't kill her but she would be out of it enough that I could handle her and get her to the office.

My friend Sarah had been checking in with me all day and offered to come with me to get the sedative. I went through the motions like a robot. We stopped at Price Chopper for Rosie's last meal. I got her steak and ground beef, fresh from the butcher. *I* don't even buy the meat from the butcher's case for myself, but since there was nothing else I could do for her, I got her the best. I went home and made her a meatball with the sedative. At first she refused it, but the steak won her over.

The vet said she'd be out in half an hour. She wasn't. I googled the drug I'd just given her. It's used to tranquilize wildlife--like bears. An hour later. Still nothing. I called the vet again. He said sometimes, if a dog has a lot of adrenalin in their body, it doesn't work. Super. He suggested that as a last resort I could come get an injection to give her. That wasn't going to happen. I knew she'd bite me and I wasn't going to have that be our final interaction. I just wasn't.

Sarah came over and rolled up her sleeves and said "We are doing this. We are getting Rosie in that crate if it kills us." I pointed out that it very well might. But with the help of some meat and gentle guiding, we finally got her in the crate without so much as a curled lip. I was grateful that Rosie's last moments would be peaceful.

Or so I thought.

Ruby and Cheez-it must've known what was going on, and they were tag-teaming Sarah and I as we tried to get the crate out to the car. Ruby kept rushing past us into the backyard. We'd no sooner get her back in the house than Cheez-it would bolt into the sunroom. I'd get him in, and out Ruby would charge past me. Animals know. Don't tell me they don't.

While we were waiting for the vet to arrive, Rosie was docile and allowed me to pet her again. She even moved her paw so she could "hold" my hand. She snuggled against me arm and I was able to tell her how much I loved her and told her to go find Sammy when she got to The Great Dog Park In The Sky. That he loved to chase squirrels too and they could raise hell together. I liked the thought of them knowing each other. Both dogs were such goofballs, with quirky, larger than life personalities. Both dogs I had been forced to put down. Both dogs I knew I would grieve forever. They were a match made in heaven.

Then the vet came in. Rosie looked so calm that it seemed likely the sedative was working a little. But as soon as he poked her in the butt with the morphine, she rose off the table like Cerberus, ready to tear the vet's throat out. I swear to God, I didn't know she had it in her. I'd never seen such rage. Even half paralyzed, and drugged senseless, she wasn't going to go softly into that good night! She stopped lunging and just looked at him and gave him a long growl. Me, Sarah, and the vet scattered around the room and looked at each other in shock-wonder-amazement-horror-awe, and he left the room to try Plan B.

After he left she calmed down again and let me pet her. Then the vet returned with his assistant, wearing elbow length welding drugs and carrying a towel. They were able to get the morphine in her, and finally, for the first time in three days, she was comfortable.

I'm very sad. I'm very relieved. I miss her.

I know people think I was categorically insane for loving this broken dog--but in the not-quite-year she shared her life with me, she taught me a lot about living. Joni once called her a Beautiful Mess, and truer words were never spoken. But my life is and has always been a Beautiful Mess, and after having known her I know so much better how to cope with it.

Her Life Lessons:

Rule #1  - Don't do anything you don't want to do. Live life on your own terms. Learn how to say no and mean no.

Rule #2 - Sometimes it's okay to break your own Rule #1. Just make sure you do it for people who love you and who ask you to do things to help you grow.

Rule #3  - Be unpredictable. Keep people on their toes. People should have to make exceptions for you sometimes. You make exceptions for them, so they should return the favor.

Rule #4 - Take time out of your day to be playful.

Rule #5 - Make friends with cats.

Rule #6 - Learn the word "snuggle" and never pass up an opportunity to get one.

Rule #7- Give second chances. Expect others to give you second chances (and third chances... and fourth chances...)

Rule #8 - Embrace your crazy hair.

Rule #9 - No matter what life throws at you, never lose your will to try again.

Rule #10 - Never underestimate yourself. You are stronger than you appear.





















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