Losing Lexie


Sweet Lexie exploring at the base of a waterfall in North Carolina. What really made the camping trip memorable were the ticks.

After a long, tear-filled week, this afternoon I said a final goodbye to my almost-15-year-old dog Lexie.

Writing this elegy is easy and heartbreaking. Lexie lifted me on days I could not move; she loved me fiercely, and taught me how to properly cuddle. Telling our lovestory is like spinning a campfire tale. Her spirit leads me, like fireflies blinking into the night.

If Lex was anything, she was nearly human. As evidenced by her dew claws, the pup practically had two thumbs, and got into all sorts of trouble because of it. Right away, it was clear she was a master at stealing food. It was stealth skill I learned of in her first week with me after she ate an entire container of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I found her afterward, licking the Tupperware lid. Amazingly, she didn’t leave a crumb behind.

Lex could unscrew the lids of jars of candy or peanuts. She made an art of emptying the garbage can. She also knew how to magically remove full loaves of bread from the top of the stove. I often joked that she knew how to operate the step-stool, and honestly believe it’s a serious possibility.

Colorful journey

Lex was so loved that she even was dognapped once. I retrieved her a week later, and rarely let her out of my sight after that.

She loved being at home so much that she ran away just one time. I had woken up early, and somehow the wind had blown open our front door in the middle of the night. Lex simply walked out of the house. It was trash day, and Matt hopped on a bicycle at  6 a.m. to scour the streets. He found her about three blocks to the east casually sniffing a bush.

Lexie, showing her gray.

Lexie, showing her gray.

More than anything, Lex loved negotiating space on the couch with Matt. They always ended up in some contorted pile of pillows and fur, both of them snoring away.

Lex deeply loved her little brother, Charlie. She enthusiastically welcomed him into our family, and showed him the ropes to Big Dog World.

She didn’t like playing dress up, although when she was younger she did allow me to suit up her paws in doggie muttluks for our winter walks. Lex never quite forgave me for that.

Lex took part in a colorful journey, and was quite possibly more traveled than some people I know. Over the years, she accompanied me on numerous camping trips, morel mushroom hunting and a two-month odyssey driving from Detroit to Miami and back again. She demanded the front passenger seat when it was just us girls driving. Her eyes remained alert as we passed farms and skyscrapers. She didn’t want to miss a thing.

Saying goodbye

If anything, Lexie was a fighter. She came close to death last year, and unbelieveably fought her way through kidney failure. But she was no match for dementia and old age. She no longer knew who I was, and frequently got lost in the house. Her hind legs betrayed her, refusing to hold her weight. She frequently fell off her favorite chair, and recently got stuck behind our couch.

More than that, our vet  told us that Lex lived in constant anxiety, and that medication was not an option. We had simply come to the end of the road. It was time to say goodbye.

I learned early in my newspapering career, that not everyone equally values the death of a loved dog.

Once I was written up by an editor after I expressed despair upon learning the death of my dog, Barkley. I didn’t think my tears were out of line, but a coworker was upset and complained because she thought I had lost a child.

In many ways I had.

In many ways I have, in losing Lexie.

As a 43-year-old, never-been-married spinster, I know Lexie was a close proxy. The reality is that I may never have children, and she, indeed, was my baby.

Sleep well, darling. Mama loves you.

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Losing focus


Lexie rests after pacing through the house all afternoon.

Lexie rests after pacing through the house all afternoon.

It’s been almost a year since Lexie recognized her own name.

Slowly, her eyes lost focus.

Then she simply forgot who I am.

Each day when we meet, it’s as if for the first time. She opens her mouth wide, and gently nibbles my hands for a clue to who I could be. Some days she will lower her head onto my lap. Other days she simply walks away, to start her endless circling path around the coffee table.

Dementia has stolen our baby Lex. She hardly barks any more. A dog treat barely registers more than a mouthy snap.

For 15 years she has been my constant companion. So when symptoms of her dementia reared up this month —including her getting stuck behind our couch — I knew it was time to get her evaluated.

The vet was shocked at her appearance. Lex had lost 3 pounds since our last visit. Her eyes seemed distant. She was not friendly or open to meeting the vet tech.

During the physical exam, Lexie snapped at the vet. Before I could process the situation, the tech placed a muzzle on Lexie’s snout. She writhed and shed what seemed to be at least half of her coat. I put my hand on Lexie’s chest, and did my best to calm her. As her eyes rolled around the room, I could see the terror rise up.

The vet didn’t mince words. She said Lexie lives in a world of fear and anxiety. Sadly, anti-anxiety/depression medications would only lift her inhibitions, possibly leading to more dog bites. If Lex was her dog, she didn’t think it would be fair to keep her in this emotionally painful space.

The tears were falling into my lap before she passed me a tissue.

She offered to put Lexie down right then if I wished. I wondered if this was some sort of bad dream.

I told her Matt and I would have to talk, and that we’d get back to her with our decision.

My heart aches. I can’t imagine my world without my Lexie Doodle.

But I know the vet’s right. At this point in the game, it’s not a matter of if … but when.

FurFamHORZNTL

Hide and seek


Lex takes a nap after a rough night.

Lex takes a nap after a rough night.

Some days it’s hard to believe Lexie is almost 15 years old.

Other days, I can’t deny it. She struggles.

I’ve especially noticed her doggy dementia has progressed. Recently when a friend stopped by, Lexie growled and the hair went up on her back. This was surprising, and new behavior for her.

As we were setting up the spare bedroom for our new cat Cora, Lex had wandered in. Moments later, I found her stuck in the corner, unable to simply turn herself around.

Then something truly shocking happened.

A few days ago, we started watching Matt’s mom’s dog. The house felt like a zoo (three dogs and a cat, oh my!!!) but everyone seemed to settle in. Lex seemed nonplussed by the visitor, and chose to slumber most hours of the day.

In the bustle of activity, I must confess to not keeping tabs on each animal every second of the day. But sometime last night Matt and I discovered something awry.

“Did you hear that?” Matt said. I did. It sounded like three thumps coming from the side of the couch. I looked behind my recliner into the little corner cave where the dogs love to hide out. Charlie was stretched out on a dog pillow, twitching to a good dream.

“I think Charlie kicked in his sleep,” I offered.

Matt peered over the end of the couch, down at Charlie. “Hmm.”

We went back to watching TV.

About five or 10 minutes later, we heard some muffled dog noises.

“Is Lexie stuck behind the couch???” we both cried out at the same time.

Matt jumped up, and we both took an end of the couch, frantically pulling it from the wall. Lex stood there, somewhat bewildered and blinking in the sudden shift of light.

We guessed she had only been back there about 10 minutes, but that was enough to scare us and, no doubt, our confused pup.

When Lex initially was diagnosed with dementia, the vet told us there’s a medication that might be helpful. I put it off at the time because it all seemed so quick; I hardly believed the diagnosis to be correct.

But now I think I’m changing my mind.

This morning, I found Lex sleeping on her throne, with her paws tightly pressed against her eyes … as if playing a game of hide and seek.

My sweetheart is slowing down. I reached down to rub her ears then softly ran my fingers down her back.

She needs her sleep.

Close encounter


After thinking on it for a week, Matt and I packed Charlie in the car today and drove up to PetCo for a meet-and-greet with Lola.

The tortie kitten was sleeping in her cage when we arrived. I poked at her back through the cage bars, and the rescue volunteer came up to see if we needed help.

Lola, a sweet tortie.

Lola, a sweet tortie.

I explained we spotted Lola last week, and that we wanted to see her up close and personal. Also, we brought our dog to make sure they were compatible.

The man opened the cage door and grabbed Lola by the nape of her neck. He pulled her in close to his chest, but invited me to pet her.

We chit-chatted. I told him that we were expert cat owners. I shared about Pink, and how we lost her to kidney disease last fall. I explained Charlie loved Pink, that they often played and even slept together.

Matt lifted Charlie up in the air and gently pushed his snout toward Lola. Both of them seemed nonplussed. No big deal at all.

I reached in and rubbed Lola again. I was wondering if he was ever going to let me hold her. I pushed my hand  between her and the adoption guy, and he pulled her closer.

“How about if I put her down so Charlie can sniff her?” he asked.

I thought it was odd that he clearly didn’t want me to hold the cat, but that he was going to let Charlie and Lola interact.

He put Lola down, and Charlie hid behind Matt’s knees. No signs of aggression at all.

The man encouraged us to fill out an adoption application, or to do it online when we got home. I felt odd about filling put an application for a cat I never got to hold. How would I know if she would cuddle me??

We agreed that we would think about it.

As we walked away, we were surprised to see Angry Eyebrows run up to him. We wondered if she had told him about our dog door.

On the drive home, we discussed our options. Matt was upfront. He didn’t think we were ready for a cat.

You’re about to have surgery,” he said to me. “I have concerns about the cat jumping on your stomach, or even about the cleanliness of another animal in the house as you recover.”

I understood. I wondered if it would be too much transition right before I was out of commission for six weeks. How fair would it be to get a cat (that I wanted) and to expect Matt to care for it while I recuperated? Not that Matt wouldn’t want to care for Lola, but I believe if I’m going to get an animal, it should be a joint effort to care for it. And if I know I’m going to be down-for-the-count for six weeks, why not wait until I am healthy enough to coparent?

We would not be adopting Lola.

This decision made me sad, but in the end I felt it was the best for this sweet kitten.

I know the right cat will come to me.

And at the next close encounter, I will be ready.

FurFamHORZNTL

Lexie loves salmon!


Lex gobbles down a bowl of salmon kibble.

Lex gobbles down a bowl of salmon kibble.

I’m proud to report Lex is not only eating regularly, but she’s eating with gusto!

When our wee pup Charlie recently grew old enough to become a dog, we graduated him to big boy food. We studied our choices for months in anticipation of the switch.

We made our final decision at Costco, when we found Nature’s Domain: Salmon meal & sweet potato formula for dogs (Kirkland Signature brand). It had never occurred to us to feed fish to our dogs. But Matt had heard fish oil was good for a dog’s coat, so his eyes locked on the bag of salmon kibble.

After we brought it home, we filled both dog bowls up with kibble. We decided to include Lexie at least on the first bowl to see if she would give it a go. Every since she was diagnosed with kidney failure last summer, her appetite has been fickle. We finally settled into a routine of feeding her wet holistic dog food (sometimes by hand) and occasionally supplementing with a kidney-friendly can of dog food. It wasn’t a kidney-perfect diet, but most days she would entertain us and eat a bit. She no longer was skin and bones, sitting at death’s door.

Lex has a ball!

Lex has a ball!

So we filled her bowl to the brim with salmon, and watched. She quickly sniffed something new in the air, and checked out her bowl. Lex grabbed a piece of food and thoughtfully chewed it up. She looked back over her shoulder at us, then lowered her face back into the bowl. She didn’t resurface until it was empty.

Lex now repeats this ritual twice a day, almost like she’s a normal dog again. When we forget dinnertime, she’s quick to gently bite our hands, or rambunctiously whine until we feed her. In full disclosure, we still dress up the bowl with dog treats to get her started, but once she’s eating she finishes the bowl on her own.

Could there possibly be a negative in this joyous situation?

I rarely get to sing the “Eat your nummies!” song anymore.

Now that Lex is eating regularly, the physical transformation is undeniable. Her eyes are more alert and her fur is super shiny. She hops up on the couch and her special chair with ease. This after months of me lifting her up.

Lex STILL has a ball!

Lex STILL has a ball!

And best of all, her energy level is at an all-time high. This means she gets to play, and play hard with Charlie. She trots out into the back of the yard, then rushes back full-tilt, running like a puppy.

Not bad for a gal who will turn 15 in a few months.

She’s also started playing with toys again. In particular, she loved these teeny tennis balls made specifically for dogs. She plays catch in the house, and races Charlie to retrieve the ball from the hallway. She also will carry the ball around the house, rolling it around in her mouth.

She also recently developed an affection for Charlie’s deer antler. She’s taken it from him a few times, but then has no idea what to do with it. She’ll sniff it and mouth it, but she’s really lost the dexterity to actually have a chewing session.

Still, it’s cute to see her try. I do believe Lex has got her groove back.

FurFamHORZNTL

Addressing anxiety


Matt distracts Charlie as a tech readies to give him a shot.

Matt distracts Charlie as a tech readies to give him a shot.

We recently brought Lex and Charlie to the vet to get them up-to-date on their shots.

For Lex, this was old hat. She calmly waited for her shot, and didn’t even try to hop off the exam table.

Charlie, however, was another story. He wiggled and whined and twisted and turned. The vet tech told us not to fret, that she had it under control. And then Charlie would break free. Matt stepped in to help calm Charlie, gently rubbing his nose and telling him he was such a gooooood boy.

I took this opportunity to speak with the vet about Charlie’s anxiety. I told her about his destruction, the couch cushions, the window sills, the Thundershirt. His insistence upon pooping in the house, even though we have a dog door.

She suggested leaving him for short periods of time, and seeing how he reacts. Rewarding good behavior, then leaving him for longer periods of time.

Other alternatives tossed around include consulting a behaviorist, purchasing a special collar and anxiety medication.

We’ve opted to introduce neighborhood walks, in addition to our running games in the back yard. Also, we have increased the number of times and length we leave him alone. For extended periods of time (for example eight hours or more) we have opted to board the dogs at Camp Bow Wow, which they love.

I have been experiencing medical issues that have prevented me from being as actively involved with Charlie as I would like. I’m hoping to get this resolved by summertime.

I think Charlie would like a new walking partner.

FurFamHORZNTL

Snow, sleep and kittens!


Charlie surveys his first snowfall.

Charlie surveys his first snowfall. (Photo by Bryan Bogater)

Special note: We got caught up in the holiday excitement, and just realized we haven’t posted a blog in a while. Today’s entry should get us all caught up. Happy New Year!

Christmas came a day late for Charlie, but he says it was well worth the wait.

Mother nature delivered his first snow.

In all honesty, my brother has ordered up the storm. He flew in from Ft. Lauderdale earlier in the day, and had specifically requested a sizable amount of snow. He told me if he had to be in freezing temperatures while visiting me, the least I could do is provide a scenic snowy backdrop.

So once we returned from the airport with Bryan, snowflakes began to fall. Charlie hopped up on the couch, and watched through the front window. His eyes grew pensive, as he pressed his brown nose against the glass.

Charlie romps in the snow.

Charlie romps in the snow.

What is that white stuff falling from the sky?

It was dark by the time we had several inches on the ground. Matt and walked out back with Charlie to see his reaction. He pranced through the yard, occasionally stopping to grab a mouthful of snow. As we pretended to snatch him up, Charlie ran full tilt, losing traction in the snow as he tried to replicate his usual tight corners.

Lex stepped delicately in the snow, and did her best to avoid Charlie as he flew by.

With the snow came some interesting developments.

First, our sand-in-the-house problem instantly disappeared! We now can walk barefoot inside, and no longer build sand castles on our couch.

Second, dog toys started disappearing. Then reappearing … covered in snow. At first it was a collection of squeaky toys. The hedgehog and the chipmunk, specifically. They were gone, then a day later reappeared as a snowball on the couch. Interestingly, Charlie switched it up to include his Nylabones and a deer antler.

Apparently, he prefers his chewies chilled, thank you very much.

Lounging Lexie

It seems that Lex has fully recovered from her vertigo scare. And while she has not had any more dizzy spells, she spends most of her time sleeping, these days. Her favorite spot has become a high-back chair in the front room, closest to the heat register. When she curls up on the chair, I cover her with a blanket, and she’s instantly out.

Lex snags one of Charlie's frozen Nylabones.

Lex snags a frozen Nylabone.

When she’s awake, Lexie has amazed us with her energy. She’s eating well, and consistently, and often has enough energy to instigate a wrestling match with Charlie.

When Matt spoke with our vet for the vertigo follow-up visit, she said Lexie’s kidney values are within healthy range, but on the high end of normal. She said this meant we did a great job with her special kidney diet, but that we have to keep a close eye on her. Considering Lex had one paw in the grave just six months ago, I call this a victory.

In the last couple weeks, Lex has really turned into a snuggle bug. Now that she can hop up on the couch on her own power again, she will tuck herself tight next to Matt or me. When she’s wanting to melt hearts, she’ll gently place her snout on my chest and stare up at me. Awwwe.

Smitten with kittens

In the last month or so, when Matt and I go to PetSmart or Petco, the first thing I do is make a beeline for the cat display. Both pet stores provide space to local rescue organizations for cat adoptions.

After losing Pink last fall, Matt and I both agreed that we would not get another cat. For 10 years, we said.

Some ginger cuties I spotted at Petco.

Some ginger cuties I spotted at Petco.

It’s funny how looking at those sweet fuzzy faces can makes our resolve dissolve.

I’ve secretly been taking photos of cute kittens for a couple months. And now I can’t disguise my excitement when it’s time to see the kitties. Matt always indulges me, but tonight a certain little kitten stole our hearts.

He was a small grey and white striped kitten, full of spunk and spasms. He saw us looking at him, and put on his best cute kitten show. We fell hard, and Matt noted he’d probably get along with Charlie.

“You should see if we can have a visit with him,” Matt said.

I almost fell over, but ran to a store associate before he changed his mind. It ends up the rescue organization only has meet-and-greets on the weekends, so we’ll have to come back.

The little fuzzball may the the one. Or maybe not. But I cannot lie. I’ve got kitten love in my heart again. Meow.

FurFamHORZNTL