Oh, man. I’ve been putting off writing this post for so long that I’m not quite sure where to start. I guess the beginning is as good a place as any?
Many of you know that my oldest furkid, Peedee, passed away right before Thanksgiving due to complications from cancer. He was first diagnosed in March 2014; a few weeks later, he underwent surgery to remove a tumor, along with a sizable portion of one lung. Nine months later, the cancer returned and he started chemo. It worked swimmingly until it didn’t. (That was always the case: we got bad news when we were expecting good, and good when we expected bad.) On May 20th – the two-year anniversary of Kaylee’s death, as it just so happened – the oncologist gave him 2-3 months to live. Probably closer to two. She was doubtful that he’d still be around to celebrate his 13th birthday at the end of August.
We immediately put him on CBD oil. I would have done it a year+ sooner, if only I’d known that you can buy it online, legally (or semi-legally) in all 50 states. It’s not quite as potent as the stuff you can get in medical or recreational marijuana states, but I still think it helped. Scratch that: I’m positive it helped. He outlasted the oncologist’s best-case scenario by three months, and had a really good quality of life right up until the last few days. In any case, it was better than doing nothing; just sitting back and watching him die. This topic deserves its own series of posts, but suffice it to say: this ordeal only strengthened my stance on legalization. It’s like my main beef with Hillary Clinton at this point. But I digress.
About the same time that Peedee was waging his 20-month battle with cancer, I discovered Cane’s Bucket List on facebook. Cane was a 6-year-old pibble whose people planned a whole “bucket list journey” for him after he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Simple goals like “pictures in front of the Dallas skyline” and “paw print art projects” soon gave way to some really amazing experiences when Cane checked off item #14, “be featured on NBC DFW.” Not only did he get to sit on Santa’s lap – Cane’s caregivers threw him his own damn Christmas party. Talk about shiny!
I wanted to do something similar for Peedee, but … by this time, he was old and a little fussy and set in his ways. Also, the phobia he’d developed of the car – thanks in no small part to all those unpleasant vet appointments – didn’t really help. So I came up with a slightly less ambitious bucket list (called the Peedee-Do List) and resolved to share pictures of our progress each week. Enter: This Week in Pictures. (I still don’t love the series title, but it’ll have to do.)
Our last post was on November 3rd. Peedee was still doing reasonably well then, but symptoms of his illness (labored breathing, a decline in endurance) had begun popping up and just couldn’t be ignored. I knew Peedee didn’t have much time left, and I wanted to spend as much of it as I could spoiling him. So I put the bucket list blogging on hold.
This week, I’ve spent a lot of time looking back on those old posts. It’s a bittersweet thing. We created so many happy memories together, but now they’re all I have of him. I wish I could go back and do it all over again. All the stress and worry and anticipatory grief? I’d relive it in a never-ending cycle, just to see him again.
After Peedee died, I was lost. I didn’t know what to do with myself. When Peedee relapsed, he became the center of our lives. Everything we did, we did with him in mind. Fostering, doctor’s appointments, traveling: we put it all on hold. Peedee went everywhere with us…and if he couldn’t come, we didn’t go. I don’t think I ever left him home alone, not once. Now that he’s gone, I’m adrift. Unmoored. Directionless.
It took months before I was able to go through those last batches of pictures. Nearly three, apparently, before I could bring myself to write this last This Week in Pictures post. Even if it’s really just for me, I feel like I have to. Tell the story to its end, that is. (Yes, I totally lifted that title from a book in my TBR pile.)
Peedee was a devoted friend, a loving older (and younger) brother, and a crazy smart dog with a big, mushy heart to match. If I needed comforting, I could always count on Peedee to give it, and generously. He felt timeless, as though he’d always been with me, and always would be. And he will, in a way: in pictures and memories and blog posts like this one. He lives in my heart, and in the tubes, and in the stars. In bubbles in a glass of champagne.
On his last night, we told him stories.
We took Peedee, Rennie, Mags, and foster doggeh Ice Cream Star to Wallace State Park. Peedee was noticeably slower than usual, but we still managed a respectable .98 miles. (Yeah, I kept track!) The weather was nice that day, and the younger ones were raring to go, so we deposited Shane, Peedee, and Mags in the van and kept exploring a bit. I took some super-cute pictures of Rennie and Ice Cream on a bridge decorated with children’s handprints, but of course I can’t share them because privacy. That’s really the only downside to fostering for a DV shelter. No regrets though.
As a side note, Peedee really warmed up to Ice Cream Star in his final few weeks. He didn’t fall in love with him the way he did Loverboy (of Loverboy and Little Troublemaker fame), but they became pretty friendly. When Peedee first relapsed, we made the decision to stop fostering for a bit – thinking that he had two, maybe three months left at most, and we wanted to spend it all with him. Once the four-month mark passed, we received an email from the pet outreach coordinator asking if we’d be willing to foster a more mellow, middle-aged guy. I had my reservations, but I’m so glad we said yes. Ice Cream really challenged Peedee on their walks and I think he enjoyed having a new dog in the house. It warms my heart to know that Peedee was able to make one new friend in his last few months. Ice Cream Star will forever be bound up in my memories of Peedee. Yeah, I miss the little bugger. Just a little.
But back to today’s walk. My favorite part of the trip was the ride home, when Peedee used his little sister Rennie as a pillow. He slept on her for the better part of twenty minutes, and she gamely allowed it. Cue the heart eyes emoticons.
TGIF! We took another trip to Wallace State Park with the usual suspects – Peedee, Rennie, Mags, and Ice Cream Star – this time to explore a new little trail Shane found on the map. But Peedee wasn’t really having it, so after a brief run around the soccer fields, we set up an exercise pen to corral the older dogs. Peedee, Mags, and I caught some sun while Shane took the yung’uns on a longer walk. I think it did Peedee some good to get out of the house for a change, even if he preferred our soft, cozy beds to a blanket on the ground. Ice Cream Star was still pretty hyped up after his walk, so Shane and I switched places and Ice Cream and I strolled around for a bit. When I returned, there was a guy cutting across the parking lot with a giant mutt (part Lab, maybe?); everyone went bonkers barking at them. This would be especially hilarious if you knew just how teeny tiny Ice Cream Star is (like seven pounds maybe? tiny AF, with a high-maintenance ‘do to match.) To his credit, the interloper paid them little mind.
– November 7, 2015 –
A random pic of Finnick sunbathing, on account of he doesn’t make too many appearances in this series otherwise.
– November 8, 2015 –
Movie night! We saw Spectre and Goosebumps, or at least caught parts of them through Peedee’s demands for french fries and dog biscuits.
– November 9, 2015 –
One of the things I struggled with when writing this post is whether I should format it like all the others, or focus solely on Peedee. After all, this is his story; and including pictures of everyone else is sure to turn an already lengthy post into a real beast. But you know what? I decided that IDGAF. These are Peedee’s peeps, and he was standing by watching their antics the same as I, so this is part of his story too.
Anyway, according to my notes (yes, I have notes), earlier in the day I took everyone walking in the park. Then we retired to the sunroom for our customary afternoon sun. Rennie and Ice Cream Star loved to chase balls together, so I tried to take some creative pics of them leaping on and off the bed. I think I scored a few winners, no? Peedee wasn’t all that impressed, however.
– November 10, 2015 –
Another walk, this time around the recreational area of Smith’s Fork Park. I really wanted to let them loose in the fenced-in tennis/basketball courts, but the sign said NO DOGS. And there was video surveillance to back that command up. Boo!
THAT SAID, Ice Cream Star and I did get our daily dose of civil disobedience by sneaking into the closed-for-the-season campground area for a second walk. Take that, state!
– November 11, 2015 –
Morning = walking in the park; afternoon = relaxing in the sunroom. Wednesday was Ice Cream Star’s last full day with us so, in honor of the occasion, Finnick was allowed to join us. Peedee and Finn had a longstanding beef (on full display in that last photo!), so after Peedee relapsed, we tried to give him a relatively Finnick-free environment. Mostly that just means that Finnick spent the majority of his time with Shane vs. lounging around with the rest of us lazybones, which isn’t a huge sacrifice on his part – Finnick is a huge Daddy’s boy. Still, he’s happy to be included in our naps once again.
– November 12, 2015 –
Peedee is already missing his foster brother. :(
Thursday afternoon we met Z. in Liberty to drop off Ice Cream Star. It was a bittersweet day; I’m always happy when our temporary dog-kids are reunited with their forever families, but I usually miss them something awful. Really the only foster I’ve fallen head over heels for – at least so far – is Loverboy (who I search for on Petfinder once every few months, just in case. There aren’t too many Malteses listed there, so it sounds more arduous than it is. But yeah, I definitely have a problem.) But Ice Cream Star will always hold a special place in my heart, if only because he stayed with us during an especially emotional time. My memories of Peedee will always be wrapped up in Ice Cream, and vice versa. Plus it was extra-hard to say goodbye to him when we knew that we’d soon be doing the same (but worse) with Peedee.
Anyway, while we were in the area, we decided to check out an all-new (to us) park in Liberty: Stocksdale Park, which has bike and cross-country trails in addition to an off-leash dog park. We decided against taking them in the off-leash area, since there were a fair number of dogs there at the time and we didn’t want to deal with any drama. Instead we just explored the rest of the grounds, chilly winds be damned.
On the ride home we stopped for a slushee and fries, which I shared with everyone, but Peedee especially. The more we spoiled him, the fussier he became with his treats. He got so hooked on the drive-in fries that I started buying an order each trip just so I could share with him.
ETA: In his honor, I got two large fries and a cherry slushee on the way home from his cremation, twenty-five days later.
– November 14, 2015 –
With Ice Cream Star out of the picture, Jayne finally got her turn at adventure. Saturday afternoon we walked around the aforementioned campgrounds at Smith’s Fork Park. Peedee’s speed and endurance was definitely waning by this point, but the (slight) change in scenery enticed him to walk a whole mile! It still amazes me that we were able to find new trails (or stretches thereof) to explore, right up until the end.
One of the things I’ll always be thankful for is that we managed to hit all the major milestones we’d hoped for in 2015: Peedee lived to see his 13th birthday, even though the oncologist called it a long shot. He was with us for our annual Halloween movie marathon, and he even outlasted the 2015 drive-in season. Though we weren’t 100% sure at the time (we had our suspicions), this was the last weekend that the Twin and I-70 were open. We went all out with popcorn, pizza, fries, and slurpees. We saw reruns – Crimson Peak and Trainwreck – which I only remember because I still have the ticket stubs (save ALL the things!). But that’s okay, because we loved the latter, and the former was exponentially better the second time around.
It’ll be hella depressing next year (or rather, later this year) when we go without him; there are so many places and things that remind me of Peedee, and the drive-in is a biggie. I don’t think I’ll be able to walk the girls around the parking lot or stand at the base of a screen and peer up at its expanse without thinking of Peeds. Which is funny, because this was the first and only year he went with us. (Okay, there’s a rare regret.) That said, I’m really looking forward to it. Anything that makes Peedee dance in my heart is most definitely a GOOD THING.
– November 15, 2015 –
Sunday afternoon we visited the unfortunately-named Jesse James Park in Kearney – another new trail! This park is a lot more elaborate and well-kept than I expected for a small-town park, with miles of paved trails; soccer, football, and disc golf fields; a giant playground; and an amphitheater. (No dogs allowed! Boo hiss boo!) Even though it was overcast and chilly, with a cool breeze coming off the pond, the dogs enjoyed themselves. Peedee, Rennie, and Jayne especially liked the fields, which seemed to be housing some nice, smelly critters of some sort.
Side note: Someone tossed an old Halloween pumpkin in the pond, and it looked creepy as fuck. The stormy skies did not improve the horror movie vibe any.
– November 18, 2015 –
November 18th was the last okay-ish day Peedee had. We spent much of it snuggled up in the sunroom under a layer of blankets; after some unseasonably nice autumn weather, the temps had finally started to take a nosedive. (Though it would still be several weeks before I closed up the sunroom for good. It’s always a sad day, I tell you what.)
I broke out the puzzle toys for Peedee and Rennie (Mags does not work for food, thankyouverymuch), but he spent more time barking at Rennie’s success than getting lucky himself. Eventually she got so cocky/greedy that I locked her in the bedroom (and taunted her by tossing treats at the sliding glass door. Hey, it was funny! And she got to eat them all afterwards! So there.)
I also got an adequate picture of Peedee’s neck, stained blue from the raspberry slushee he shared with me at the drive-in four days earlier. It was still there when he passed away and was later cremated – a thought that makes me smile, even now. Hell, even then, when the loss was still fresh. It’s kind of like he carried some of our fondest memories into the ashes with him. Like a piece of me – of us – joined him, kept him company. Yeah, I like that.
Anyway, Shane grabbed some one-on-one time with Peedee that evening, and reported that he wasn’t doing so hot; he seemed to be having trouble settling down. That night, he was breathing especially heavy and couldn’t get comfortable. Neither of us got much rest; I stayed up most of the night, stroking his face and trying to coax him to sleep. I stole some rest in short bursts, but felt so terribly guilty sleeping when he couldn’t.
The next morning, I broached the subject with Shane: maybe this was finally it? After surprisingly little discussion – because this was something we’d been preparing for, something we knew was coming and had undeniably arrived, finally, but also much, much too soon – he put some calls out to mobile vets he’d researched during the early months of Peedee’s relapse, and scheduled an appointment for Monday at 3PM. We figured we could always cancel if we were wrong and Peedee somehow improved, but…he didn’t. In fact, he grew steadily worse, which only told us that we were making the right decision.
Thankfully, Peedee wasn’t in any pain those lost few days, or at least we don’t think so. As the cancer spread and occupied more and more space in his lungs, his breathing became rapid and shallow. He had trouble getting comfy, since laying down put pressure on his lungs, and sleeping was next to impossible. We tried to prop him up with pillows and blankets and love, with varying success. He was exhausted and uncomfortable at the end, but also happy and content. As far as cancer goes, I’ve seen far worse. And he had 183 mostly great days leading up to this point, which is 2-3 times as many as we expected.
I kept telling myself this in the wake of his death – even to this day – yet it hasn’t made his loss any easier. You think you’re prepared, but… in the end, there’s just never enough time.
– November 19, 2015 –
And the beat goes on: Peedee and Rennie and the morning routine.
Watching the world go by. Peedee seemed to be especially comfortable (or at least slightly less uncomfortable) on the spare beds out in the sunroom (maybe because the mattresses are harder and have less give?). We spent a lot of time chilling out there his last few days; we fluffed pillows and stacked blankets to help elevate his front end, in the hope that it’d make breathing slightly easier and help him to get some rest. He really liked being on the windowsill so he could gaze out the back window. That’ll always be our place, I think.
So here’s the thing. Even though his endurance was shot, we wanted to visit a new park or trail with Peedee every day, if only to take his mind off things. Plus, we reasoned that he wouldn’t be any less miserable laying in the car vs. laying on the couch: we cushion the van like whoah; and also, after months of vehicle-induced anxiety, he had actually started to enjoy car rides again (it’s a bummer we couldn’t cure him of his phobia sooner; even more so that all those vet appointments caused it at all). Worst case scenario, we drive there, sit in the sun for a bit, then come home.
Luckily, Peedee still had one last decent walk left in him. We visited Wallace State Park and took a new, short trail that cut through the woods, over a stream, and led us to the pond (lake?), where I got some pretty lovely shots of Peedee by the water. The air was crisp and perfectly November-ish; leaves crackled underfoot and the sun shone bright.
On our way out, we stopped to watch two deers grazing almost painfully close to the road. (You hate to see free-roaming animals get too cozy with humans, especially in places where hunting is allowed. IDK about Wallace State, but Smithville had managed hunts that weekend.)
If it wasn’t a day of goodbyes, it would have been pure bliss.
P.S. Mags and Rennie, those aren’t the butts you’re looking for.
After arriving back home, we went straight to the sunroom to hang out until dinnertime. Sunset-watching became a bit of a habit. (Winter sunsets = Thing #820 That Will Always Remind Me of Peedee.)
That night, I seriously needed a Fucking Drink, so Peedee and I shared the last of the strawberry daiquiris. He dripped a little on his shoulder; the red nicely complement the blue raspberry slushee stain on his neck, and gave him yet another memory to carry with him to the great beyond.
– November 20, 2015 –
The weather on Friday was kind of awful: cold, overcast, and just blecht. Probably that’s why I didn’t take too many pictures (or at least none worth sharing) that day – the lighting was just the worst.
We decided to brave the stormy skies anyway and take them to the beach. Specifically, the public swimming beach at Smithville Lake, which is normally closed to dogs. Actually, it’s closed for good this time of year, totally deserted, and what better time for a little sneaking around?
The wind coming off the lake was brutal, though (plus Peedee was becoming weaker by the day), so we didn’t do much more than a brief stroll around the beach. There was some digging in the sand, a pee line or two, and then Peedee and Shane went back to the van to rest. Rennie and Mags were feeling a bit adventurous, so they got an extra ten-minute walk. Probably they could have went longer, but I couldn’t feel my nose by that point, so yeah.
– November 21, 2015 –
Saturday we visited the campground area at Wallace State Park. (The road there is pretty well-maintained and makes for a smoother ride than, say, Smithville. Yes, this is in part how we were choosing our destinations at this point!) Normally it’s closed to everyone but campers, but the place is pretty deserted in the off-season (though we did spot a few RVs parked by the main building. Crazy!) Between the cold and the cancer, Peedee wasn’t up to more than a short walk around the van; but, to be fair, Rennie and Mags didn’t last that much longer. The car ride was aces, at least: warm and cozy and cuddly with dogs.
Back home and eagerly awaiting dinner (which, by this time, consisted mainly of hot dogs and cold cuts, yuck. The more we spoiled Peedee, the pickier he became. Fucking evil genius.)
Back to the sunroom for naptime/playtime/snuggletime.
Ralphie and Peedee always loved to sit on my lap while I worked. Of course it couldn’t be compact little Rennie or ten-pound Mags, but sausage-bodied Ralphie and long-legged Peedee. My back ached and pins and needles assailed my legs, but I sucked it up anyway. As long as I could. The snuggles and random pets were totally worth it. As I type this, I realize that my lap is sadly naked. Where have all the lap dogs gone?
I don’t remember this, but according to Shane, when we lived down in Stilwell – back before we adopted Rennie – Peedee would run into the living room and pretend to bark at something out the front window. Once he’d lured Ralphie off of my lap and out of the office, Peedee would sneak in and demand the now-empty spot on my lap. Like I said, genius.
I’m pretty certain that this was the last time he ever asked to come up. :(
– November 22, 2015 –
Peedee’s nose got a little crusted over with snot the last few days, but there was no easy way to wash it all off. Since this was a connoisseur of poo, I somehow doubt he’d want me to apologize on his behalf for the grossness. Gotta respect his wishes, yo.
We spent the morning lounging in the office, waiting for the weather to warm up enough to go on a walk. Despite the hard floors, it’s a surprisingly cozy place to rest – there are blankets and dog beds all over the place, and the morning sun throws its light across a wall of windows.
Peedee liked it when I rubbed his ears, especially when he was feeling down. Not quite as soft and golden velvety as Kaylee’s, but as big as satellite dishes – all the more real estate to grab onto!
Peedee’s last weekend, Smithville was holding managed hunts (boo!); most of the parks were closed to the public, which limited our options for walking. In the end we parked by the Army Corps building – there’s a trail that runs behind it, and a nice big lawn to walk on. I guess you could say that this was Peedee’s last-ever walk, and it was kind of a sad one: he was entirely too exhausted to venture more than a few yards away from the van on his own, though – by the looks of that last pic – he sure did appreciate the feel of the sun on his face.
I ended up carrying him around the lawn…not a whole lot, unfortunately, because he was entirely too heavy. Not only had he gained some weight since his relapse (almost unheard of with cancer patients), but he sagged against me in such a way that it felt like I was carrying a sack of potatoes (Jayne!). I really wish we’d gotten that wagon we’d been thinking about all summer. (Now upgraded to a stroller, which we’ve still yet to actually purchase.)
As sad as the outing was, it helps to know that Peedee enjoyed it: the car ride, once a source of terror, soothed him; he was clearly happy to be up and out of the house and (bonus points!) someplace kinda-sorta new; and, hello, he was surrounded by his mom and dad and little sisters. What else could a guy want?
Once we got home, we retired to the sunroom where we loved on Peedee and tried to keep him as comfortable as possible. (He enjoyed watching us tease Mags, so of course we obliged.) I stroked his face, which was his new favorite; idk if it helped him to relax, relieved some of the stress on his neck, or was just a source of comfort (all of the above?), but he couldn’t seem to get enough of it.
Then we watched his last sunset together: him, propped up on the windowsill; me, cozying up as close as I could without disturbing him. It was the saddest, y’all. But we’ll always have winter sunsets, Peedee and I. Forever and ever.
Curling up with Rennie after dinner. It’s obvious just how utterly exhausted he was by this point: he couldn’t sleep for very long, but he also couldn’t keep his eyes open. As much as I miss him, at least he’s not struggling anymore. Small comforts.