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The Man in Black

April 4, 2016
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“They say new life makes losing life easier to understand … “

I know this is starting to seem like a dog blog and I promise I’ll talk about something else someday … but for now I have some exciting news!

After we lost Maddie we knew we wanted to get another dog sooner than later. With the exception of finding places for them to stay when we travel, having two dogs is no harder for us than having one. And it’s a lot of fun. I’d have ten dogs if I could but unfortunately there’s only room in the car for two!

We started talking about getting a dog almost immediately after we lost Maddie and started visiting shelters just a couple days later. I know that may seem unthinkable to some people but for us it felt totally right. No dog will ever replace Maddie – but we definitely had room in our lives and our hearts for another pup.

So we started looking and, to be honest, we didn’t have much luck. I love ALL dogs but we had some pretty specific things we wanted in our next dog. We wanted something a little smaller (not because we don’t love big dogs but because there is literally no more room in the backseat of our car!) and around a year old. We wanted a dog that was sweet and friendly and super healthy. It needed to be good with kids and other dogs and have the type of personality and energy levels that would make it a good hiking, running, and riding partner. Some day I won’t be nearly this picky when it comes to choosing new family members but for now, this is what our life requires.

I went to all the local shelters (some of them multiple times) and stopped at a couple rescue events and while I saw tons and tons of sweet dogs I didn’t see anyone that came close to what we were looking for. It was ok – we were wiling to wait – but I quickly realized that this was going to be harder than just walking into a shelter and finding the perfect pup. We weren’t looking for either of our other two when we found them – it just kind of happened – so this was all new to us.

To make things even tougher, the shelters here, especially our local one, have extremely high adoption rates. This is obviously a VERY good problem to have but it also makes it hard to adopt. I would see a dog online, go to the shelter, and find out it was already on hold or adopted.

So on Saturday night my husband, being the nerdy nerd he is, wrote a program (you can read about it here) that would track the shelter’s website and send updates to our phone whenever a dog was added. I thought this was ridiculous but I humored him anyway – whatever keeps him happy, right?

Yesterday morning Josh and the kiddo were out riding bikes on the sidewalk and I was working on an expansion to the chicken coop in the backyard. My phone beeped at me and I saw a notification that a one year old Australian Kelpie mix had been listed at the shelter. Josh saw it at the same time. I went to chase him down and as soon as I saw him he said “Go. NOW!”.

Twenty minutes after the listing went up I was begging the woman at the desk to meet him. By the time our thirty minute meet and greet (which the rest of the family joined us for once everyone was dressed and at the shelter!) was over, there were already two other families waiting in line to meet him. If we had been ten minutes later it would have been too late. We put a hold on him, went home to get our Spotty dog so THEY could meet, and the rest is history.

Cash was his name at the shelter and we are going to keep it because it fits him so well. He is a year old, forty-five pounds, and full of energy. He’s also sweet and super cuddly. We spent the evening playing in the backyard and then he curled up on the couch and snored away while we watched TV. Last night he slept in our bed, snuggled up against me with his head on the pillow. I am in love.

This guy is going to keep us on our toes for sure and we have some bad habits (like jumping on people) that we need to break but he seems like an amazing fit for our family. He is SO happy and friendly. He’s getting along really well with Spotty and is AMAZING with our three-year old. This morning he got a much needed bath, ran errands with me, and then tagged along when I picked up the kiddo rom preschool – where he was a total hit. The kids loved all over him and he was a perfect gentleman. We’re going to have a blast together.

It may seem like we jumped into getting another dog faster than we should have but we all felt ready and having Cash here just feels so right. These are happy days and I’m excited for what the future holds. This guy has adventure written all over him!

He was obviously thrilled about his spa day. ;)

Waiting for his human to be done with school.

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Our Girl is Gone

April 2, 2016
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It happened a few days ago.

Maddie had been feeling great. She was happy and bouncy and in every way had been feeling like her old self. We didn’t know the end was so near.

We went to the brewery for dinner that night and when we got home I noticed she wasn’t super interested in eating and didn’t want to go for a walk. This was cause for alarm for sure but it had happened a couple times since she fell ill and she always bounced back within an hour or two. By the time I realized that she was really going downhill it was around midnight and my big, beautiful, athletic dog couldn’t walk.

We debated taking her to the emergency vet but her condition was deteriorating so quickly that I didn’t think she would last very long. If she had been able to walk under her own power we probably would have taken her in anyway – but she couldn’t. And picking her up, carrying her to the car, driving her to town, and taking her to a vet that she didn’t know in the state she was in seemed like it would be too much. So we laid on the floor with her and loved on her until she was gone.

In the grand scheme of things it was mercifully quick – and I will be forever grateful for that.

That was a couple days ago now and we’re all doing really well. I suspect that we had done a lot of the grieving over her illness before she actually died. That limbo time was hard and knowing its over and that she’s not suffering anymore feels like a bit of a relief. The day after she passed was full of tears, especially when we had to drop her body off at the vet so she could be cremated, but every day has gotten better. Our house feels oddly empty even though we still have another dog and three year old human romping around. Something feels missing. I suspect that it always will.

The afternoon after Maddie died we knew we needed to get out of the house. One can only sit on the couch and cry for so long – at some point you have to get up and do something. I had bought some cans of dog food for Maddie as a treat and she never got to eat them so we decided to drop them off at the shelter. To be honest, taking the cans in was just an excuse. We all needed some puppy therapy.

As we walked the rows of kennels we felt our spirits start to lift. What could have been a sad reminder of the family member we lost really helped us look forward. It doesn’t hurt that the shelter in our town is the happiest I have ever been to. The dogs there are well cared for and get adopted fast. Forget cycling, running, and climbing – the most competitive sport in Boulder is trying to adopt a dog from the pound. It’s a happy place and watching new families be built made us all feel so much better.

People have asked us if we are going to get another dog and the answer is a resounding yes. It might happen next week. It might happen next year (although I suspect it will be much sooner than that). We will never stop missing our girl and no dog will ever be able to replace her – but we are a two dog family and our lives are better with all that love.

Thank you so much for all of your thoughts, emails, and messages over the last couple weeks. It’s been hard, really hard, but knowing so many people “got” it helped immeasurably. There will surely be a long and rambley memorial post coming at some point but I haven’t sat down to write it yet. It will happen eventually.

Rest in peace, my sweet girl. We couldn’t have asked for a better dog.

 

 

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Living with a terminally ill dog

March 30, 2016
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First of all, I wanted to say thank you so much for all the emails, messages, and comments about our sweet Maddie girl. I’m happy to report that she is doing really well! She had a rough afternoon on Sunday but other than that, she’s been acting like her old self again. We feel incredibly lucky.

It’s been over a week now since we rushed our girl to the vet and learned that a mass on her spleen (most likely hemangiosarcoma) had ruptured. The days following that news were a blur as we grappled with the diagnosis and the tough decisions we had to make about her treatment (or lack thereof). For a while, I woke up every morning filled with dread, wondering if today would be the day. That’s no way to live. And I don’t feel like that anymore.

We’ve come to terms with what is happening, at least as much as one can. Life has mostly gotten back to normal. Assuming the vet was right in his diagnosis, her condition is terminal. There will come a day, and it’s probably not too far off, when she will start to decline or maybe a morning when she just doesn’t wake up at all. And it will be hard – really freaking hard – but we will get through it.

Figuring out how to manage her activity levels during this time has been a challenge. She feels good and because she feels good I want to do all the things with her. I want to take her hiking or snowshoeing or skiing. But that feels too risky. Even long walks seem like they may be too much. I want the remainder of her days to be as full as possible – but I don’t want to push her. So we are mostly sticking to short strolls around the neighborhood. We go up the street. We walk around the block. We say hi to all the people and dogs we meet. And we try not to wonder if this walk will be the last one.

Planning is hard and awkward. This is the time of year when we start looking forward to summer. It’s when we start penciling in dates on our calendars – camping trips, bike races, long weekends in the desert – and not knowing what our family will look like on these trips feels strange. Will we be taking one dog? Will we be taking two? Will one of those two dogs be someone besides Maddie? A dog that we haven’t met yet who will be going on their first camping trip and learning to love the mountains, just like she did so many years ago?

We’re staring into the unknown and trying to live life as normally as possible. Mostly we’re succeeding. At the very least, we’re doing the best we can.

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A Life Update: Our Dog is Sick

March 26, 2016
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Monday morning was bright and sunny. It was the first day of Spring Break and the kiddo and I spent our day wandering around the Botanic Garden and soaking up the sun. That afternoon we went to the gym and then to the brewery for dinner and drinks. I was looking forward to a great week and thinking about summer.

When we got home that night I tried to take our dog Maddie for a walk. We made it as far as the neighbor’s house when she put on the brakes and refused to move forward. We turned around. I gave her dinner. She didn’t eat. Never in her life has she turned down a meal or a walk.

I was worried.

First thing Tuesday morning I called the vet. The receptionist said they were booked all day but to bring her in so the doctor could take a look at her between appointments. An hour later the phone rang and the vet was on the other end sounding very concerned.

After a long day and a series of tests we learned that Maddie has a tumor on her spleen that had ruptured and was leaking blood into her abdomen. The vet said it was possible that it was a benign hemangioma but that it was more likely that it was hemangiosarcoma which is malignant, aggressive, and nasty. The only way to determine what was going on in there would be to open her up and remove her spleen. He said that if she made it through surgery and the tumor was benign she’d go on to live the rest of her life normally and die of something else someday. If the tumor was malignant the prognosis was much poorer. The surgery could buy her a few more weeks, maybe a few months. But that was it.

We opted out of the surgery and brought our girl home.

It was a hard decision but I think it was the right one. Maddie has always been exceptionally healthy (she had a UTI once – it was the only time she’s ever been sick) but she’s getting up there in age. Our best guess is that she’s eleven and a half but she may be twelve or more. The surgery would be hard on her and would most likely only buy her a little more time. Putting her through a major operation would only be delaying the inevitable. It’s also expensive and, while I hate that the cost is part of the decision, it is part of the decision. I’d pay any amount of money to keep her healthy forever – but I won’t put her through major surgery and pay thousands of dollars to keep her around for a few more weeks.

So we’re riding the canine cancer roller coaster and trying to hang on. We’re spoiling her rotten, giving her her favorite treats and smothering her with more love than she probably wants (being the independent girl she is). We’re taking her for walks when she feels up to it and opening all the blinds so she has access to sunny spots galore. We’re taking care of her as best we can.

The day after she was diagnosed we were hit with an unexpected blizzard. The snow fell hard all day but when night came the sky had cleared. I was putting on my boots to go shovel the snow when Maddie came running down the stairs and stood there wagging her tail at me like she does when she wants to go for a walk. I put her leash on and we slowly made our way around the block on slippery sidewalks. There was a foot and a half of fresh snow on the ground and a full moon in the sky and we were out adventuring (even if it was in the most tame way possible) and things felt good again.

She’s been feeling really good for the last couple days and is mostly back to her old self. She’s barking at the neighbors, playing with her sister, and bouncing around when it’s time for dinner. I know these moments are fleeting but I’m going to enjoy the hell out of them while I can.

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So yeah, I kind of love Ireland

March 18, 2016
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The last time I wrote for this blog I was sitting in Heathrow airport, weary from a long day in a place I wasn’t loving and the massive effort it took to get to where I needed to be. I was exhausted, both mentally and physically, and ready to be anywhere but there.

The night’s last flight out of London got me to Cork just before midnight, which is way past my bedtime regardless of timezone. I gathered my luggage and stepped out into the cool, damp air. I hailed a cab and settled into the backseat. The taxi driver was old and Irish and chatty. Classical music played softly in the car and a light rain fell on the windshield. For the first time in two days I felt like I could breathe.

I fall in love with places easily and Ireland sucked me in quick. It wasn’t the culture or the history or the old stone buildings around every corner, although those certainly didn’t hurt. It wasn’t the food (which largely wasn’t amazing) or the whiskey (which definitely was!).

It was the people.

Our hotel was a good mile and a half or so from the center of Cork and because I’m cheap and like to walk, I hoofed it pretty much everywhere I needed to go. I spent my first morning getting the lay of the land – walking past old churches and up narrow sidewalks, checking out the bustling downtown, and strolling along the river. It was on one of these walks that I met John.

[This is John! I took this picture before I knew we were about to become BFFs.]

John was an older Irish gent who was out for a walk with his two little dogs. We first crossed paths as I headed down the trail that runs alongside the river and out of town. We struck up a conversation about the weather (the Irish love talking about the weather) and an hour later we were still walking and talking. He told me all about the city and the schools and the old abandoned asylum that sits up on the hillside. We talked about beer and dogs and politics. Our walk took forever because every time he wanted to make a point he’d stop walking, look at me, and gesture wildly with his hands.

I loved every minute of it.

This was a pattern that would repeat itself for the rest of the trip in every town I visited. The woman in the little craft store in Cobh. The lobstermen who were working on their traps in Kinsale. The owner of our AirBnB in Killarney. The cab drivers – Oh my god, the cab drivers! They were the chattiest of them all.

I learned early on that you don’t start a conversation with an Irish person unless you plan to be in that conversation for a very long time. I started a lot of conversations because as far as I’m concerned, hanging out with the locals is one of the very best reasons to go to Ireland.

The places we visited were a lot like the people – friendly and warm and welcoming. The pubs were a cozy kind of crowded and the drinks and conversation flowed. The landscape was soft and green and painfully pretty. Even the sheep (which were everywhere in the countryside) were extra fuzzy and adorable.

Ireland is nothing like the place where we live – but it felt like home from the moment I arrived.A week wasn’t nearly a long enough time in this place and we’re already scheming about how we can go back someday. I want to spend more time in Killarney and visit the Cliffs of Moher. I want to drive the Wild Atlantic Way and try like hell to not cross over onto the right side of the road. I want to spend more time drinking beer in pubs with the people that make this place so great. And I want to take my son – because I know he would love it there too.

Stay tuned for more posts and pictures about our trip to Ireland. I have a lot to tell you!