My Friend LeeLoo

mood: devastated | drinking: who cares?

the_leeloo

I woke up this morning to a world that’s just not right.

There was no LeeLoo snoring at the foot of my bed, and she wasn’t curled up like a peanut on the couch, either. There are empty patches on the floor in the bedroom and the living room, where her dog beds are supposed to be. The dining room is strangely bare of bits of kibble. The house is so quiet. The clock ticks so loud. And LeeLoo is just… gone.

It’s been nearly 8 years since Boy and I saw her picture on petfinder.com. A side profile of a small fawn boxer, sitting quietly with her lower jaw jutting about 2 inches out below her top lip. “That one,” I said. “We definitely have to go see that one.”

I remember walking up to the foster home in San Jose where she was staying and seeing her through the fence. She trotted right up to us, smaller than I had imagined. “I know who you are,” I said. Two hours later, she was riding home with us.

LeeLoo has been a part of our family through some of the best years of our lives, and some of the most difficult times, too. She’s been such a faithful friend to me. Boy travels a lot for his work, but I was never alone when he was out of town. I had LeeLoo. Our routine would just change slightly while he was gone. Instead of hopping onto the foot of the bed in the middle of the night, the Loo would pop right up onto the bed and curl up on Bruce’s pillow, within arm’s reach, every single time.

Boy is out of town for work again, but there was no LeeLoo on his pillow last night.

She was elderly for a boxer lady. We adopted her when she was 5, and she would have celebrated her 13th birthday this December. Pretty impressive, since boxers usually fall prey to cancer at a much younger age.

But LeeLoo has been healthy and happy for a long time, and at her senior checkup just a couple of months ago, the vet passed her with flying colors and said he thought she’d be around for quite awhile.

So I was making plans, having visions of LeeLoo and the Bean. She loved kids and babies, with those small deliciously lickable faces. I had imagined LeeLoo when we brought Bean home from the hospital, all excited at this new fun adventure we all were embarking on. It’s fairly heartbreaking to realize that Bean will never get to know her.

Everything took a turn for the worst 2 weeks ago when LeeLoo suffered a seizure on a Tuesday night. It took her about an hour to recover from it, and Boy was on the phone with the emergency vet while I sat by her bed and stroked her. She seemed to perk up off and on over the last two weeks, but now that I look back on it, she never really returned to “normal”.

After a battery of tests that revealed nothing, no tumors, no anomalies in her bloodwork, nothing but a mild heart arrhythmia, the vet was stymied and said that only further (invasive) testing would help us determine the cause for sure. But Boy and I didn’t want to put LeeLoo through all of that. She seemed comfortable, she hadn’t had any more seizures. She was just more tired than normal, so we were all taking it easy.

At 34 weeks of pregnancy, my walking pace is so slow that a grandpa on a walker with arthritis could pass me by, so LeeLoo and I were well suited for taking short, slow walks together.

That’s what we did on Sunday, with Boy, in Golden Gate Park. I took these pictures of her, I guess out of some sort of unconscious intuition that they might be her last. loo3

We had a fun walk. She was slow, and tired, but so was I. So we took plenty of time to smell odd-looking blades of grass and meander slowly through the park paths.

Sunday night I helped her climb up on our bed and she slept there, snoring quietly between us, until 6 a.m. I had to help her down the stairs to the back yard, since she was pretty wobbly. But I never thought, yesterday morning, that it would be our last morning with her.

Boy left for his out-of-town job, I headed to work and dropped LeeLoo off at our friends’, Trini & Kim’s house. They also have a senior lady dog, Reilly, and she and LeeLoo have been good friends for years now.

At 12:30 Kim called to tell me that LeeLoo had vomited blood and passed out. They were on their way to the vet. I left work and met them there.

All I had to say to the receptionist was, “LeeLoo?” And they rushed me to a back room marked “Staff Only”.

And there was my little furry lady, my best friend, my LeeLoo, weak and limp on a shiny silver table, wheezing for every breath with an oxygen mask over her muzzle and an IV of fluids in her right front leg. She rolled her eyes and looked up at me and I just kept telling her it would be okay.

But it wasn’t ok. As far as the vet could tell, she had suffered another seizure that had damaged the area in her brain that controls respiration and blood pressure. Her legs were no longer working, her breath was not coming easy, and her blood pressure was nearly zero. They think perhaps she’s had a small tumor, slowly growing on her brain for months, and all the x-rays never detected it.

“If I were you and she were my dog,” the vet said, “I would let her go.”

I had to call Boy and tell him. I know it was very difficult for him not to be there. I got to spend several minutes with her, saying goodbye and telling her that she was the best dog in the whole word. Not a hyperbole. To me, she was.

And then Kim and Trini came in and we all sat around her and petted her and loved her until her breath went away.

The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was leave her lying there, so still, wrapped in her red blanket. I kept saying goodbye and then sitting back down and then trying to leave again.

I know she wasn’t there anymore, but it was the last time I’d ever see her, all the little bits of her that are so familiar to me. The scar on her hip where the Doberman bit her 6 years ago, the little lumps and bumps she’s grown as she got older. The soft flaps of her ears and the way she would sigh whenever I rubbed them. Her little chiclet teeth and her one-of-a-kind underbite. The way her long pink tongue would stick out and get all crispy when she slept. Her little footpads that smelled of corn chips. That little butterfinger tail nub that would wag so hard, her body would turn in a U-shape when you walked through the door.

I can’t believe she’s gone.

The house is so quiet, the clock ticks so loud.

I can’t stop crying.

Someday, I know, the ache will dull. Bean will be here, and Bruce and I will take her to meet a new dog, a dog who will ride home with us and become a part of our family and teach us new memories.

But that doesn’t change the fact that now there is no LeeLoo in the world. And we’re all worse off because of it.
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I told LeeLoo, when I was alone with her yesterday, before the vet came with the needle, that she didn’t have to fight for breath anymore. That her pain would go away and she’d go meet her old friend Yoda, and they would both be young and healthy and happy, and they could go to the beach and chase birds for hours.

I don’t know what happens to our fur friends when they leave us, but I hope that someday, we will meet them again.

LeeLoo, I miss you. So much, my little friend. You changed my life. I love you.
-Lo

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(LeeLoo & her old pal Yoda)

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(LeeLoo and her “internet boyfriend” from Portland, Henry D. Monster, who is hopefully feeding her bacon cupcakes right about now.)

In Dog Years

mood: content | drinking: tea

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It’s true, what they say about dogs being man’s best friend.

My parents bought me a puppy when I was five years old. We lived out in the country and they wanted me to learn the responsibility of pet ownership. Mitzi the Beagle became a good friend of mine, accompanying me on most of my childhood adventures.

Mizti was joined later by Biskit, a blonde Cocker Spaniel, who had a natural mohawk and the sweetest temperament. They were better friends to me than I was to them. I went off to college and left their care to my mother, leaving them behind as if they were teddy bears I had outgrown.

I channel some of my guilt over my unfaithfulness into my love of LeeLoo, my current best friend of 7 years.

Although, let’s be honest, LeeLoo is easy to love for her sake alone.

Boy and I decided we wanted a dog 2 years after moving to San Francisco. (And after trying, unsucessfully, to cultivate warm fuzzy feelings for a tank of tropical fish.) We did our breed research and settled on Boxers–a medium-sized short-haired dog with a good temperament.

Then we scoured websites like Petfinder.com for a friendly face and a good backstory. We noticed LeeLoo’s giant underbite right away, and added her to our list of potential candidates.

Early one Saturday, we drove the 50 miles south to San Jose. LeeLoo was there, with Bay Area Boxer Rescue. She was 5 years old and had been abandoned by her family in LA: sent first to the pound, then to the LA Boxer Rescue. No one wanted her. So they sent her up north to try her luck, and that’s where we found her.

LeeLoo was the first dog we looked at, but after spending nearly 2 hours with her, we couldn’t leave her behind. When we left for home, she was in the backseat.

I quickly learned that being a dog owner in the country doesn’t mean squat when it comes to living with a dog in a metropolitan area. LeeLoo, Boy and I had a lot to learn about each other. We learned quickly with the help of a dog trainer named Dennis and logged a lot of hours of together just roaming the streets, sidewalks and park trails of San Francisco.

LeeLoo soon proved herself to be a loyal, loving and hilarious companion. After 7 years together, we know each other well.

She’s traveled with us on countless roadtrips all over California, up to Portland (where she met her famous Internet boyfriend, Henry D. Monster), down to Phoenix and all points in between. We’ve explored the beach, climbed the mountains; I’ve brushed snow from her paws and pulled out a few cactus needles, too.

She’s always waiting at the door when I get home and no matter how bad my day was, she manages to make me smile.

LeeLoo is part of our family, and today she turns 12 years old. That’s something like 84 in dog years, but as I told her this morning (while handing her a piece of birthday bacon), she doesn’t look a day over 65.

Boxers don’t often live into their teens, and many of them go before their time due to cancer. We’ve been lucky so far, and we’re hoping LeeLoo has many good years left to her. (If 7 naps a day on the couch can add years to your life, she’s going to be spry well into her second decade.)

Here’s to you, LeeLoo. We’re going to celebrate by going to the beach later, with a stop for some cheese on the way.

-Lo, who believes that dogs know a lot more than you might think.