Our family has been showered with so much love following us saying goodbye to Keegan. Thank you. Many have asked how Jack is doing and my answer has been, “As well as anybody would be saying goodbye to a dear friend.”
Saying goodbye is hard.
The morning Dan and I agreed that it was time to call our veterinarian, we shared the decision with both of the kids. We explained that Keegan was in pain, he wasn’t eating and was having trouble walking. We needed to let him go. We talked about him always being in our hearts and that he was going to move on and get to be free of his body that was failing. Anna who had been visiting with my folks said she would come right home, and Jack didn’t react for a moment and then made a pained face and cried. Silent but very real heartbreaking tears.
We spent the day lingering in the living-room where Keegan rested on the floor. We gave him love and cried and laughed and watched bad tv. Jack got to spend a few hours with one of his other mothers, Monica, and got home just as the veterinarian arrived to peacefully send Keegan off to his next journey. It was horrible and beautiful.
We’ve spent the last week sharing a lot of stories about Keegan and picturing him up in heaven playing with many of his old friends. Through our tears we’ve laughed about him needing to be careful that Finn doesn’t stop him from having some fun – Finn never liked Keegan getting to play. Be strong Keegan – it’s your turn to be in charge!!
The house feels a little empty, but Tupelo is doing her best to give us the licks we all need right now. And Jack is doing as fine as any of us are right now. We are all going about our days and periodically getting a firm reminder of what is missing.
Saying goodbye is hard.
People often confuse silence and disability with ignorance, even stupidity – Jack is neither of those things. But, times like this, I wonder if a little ignorance (even stupidity) might not be such a bad thing.
We said goodbye to Keegan yesterday. I owe him some beautiful words, but I can’t find them and it’s hard to write through my tears. All I can say is that we will miss him with every inch of our hearts.
Rest In Peace beautiful soul. I know you are running around right now and enjoying endless bacon and belly rubs. Don’t let Finn steal your fun.
I wake up in the middle of the night and listen. His labored breaths are troubling but it’s the silence that gets me out of bed. I go over to him, kneel down and put my hand on his belly. … Continue reading →
People mourn in different ways. For me, saying goodbye to our dog, Finn, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I knew I loved him, but the level of pain was unexpected. Everything in the house felt empty and I kept thinking Finn would race out from the corner of the yard when he heard there might be a guest arriving. The tears kept coming and my stomach was sour. I swore I would never let our family get another dog.
That lasted a few days.
Then, I found myself pausing every time I saw a dog on TV or on the computer screen. I tried to picture what life would look like with another friend hanging out on the sofa and playing with Kee in the yard. But, it was too soon to jump into any spontaneous decisions.
It’s not like I was calling shelters or checking Petfinder. I wasn’t even talking to the family about the idea of getting another dog, I would just pause at the pictures of pups if they happened to stumble onto a screen.
Then, one face in particular made me pause a little longer, as if she was speaking to me. A local friend was posting on Facebook that she was fostering a puppy for Lost Paws Animal Rescue, “New foster pup. Six month old girl, hound mix with possible Italian Greyhound in there, getting over a skin condition. 20 pounds. Come and meet her, she needs kids!” Something about the eyes and those floppy ears. I shut off the computer.
Two days later, my friend posted another photo. This time I wrote a comment, politely asking my Facebook friend to stop sharing images of the unbelievably precious pooch that she was fostering.
She asked, “hmm. If I took her for a walk in Newstead, where shouldn’t I walk past back and forth until you run outta the house… 😉”
I laughed, walked away from the computer and then quickly returned to give my friend our address and tell her that I would be out front pulling weeds all afternoon. I told the family what I had done, expecting someone to be the voice of reason, but everyone seemed to think “just meeting a puppy” would be fine.
That was Monday.
An hour later we were all on the driveway playing with the puppy. She was lovely. That night I wrote my friend and asked if maybe the little pooch could come for a playdate the next day, “just to see”. I also wrote another friend who works for Lost Paws Animal Recovery and explained that we were filling out an application for the dog, “just in case.”
Anna and I went to pick up the doggie Tuesday and my friend loaned us a crate, “just in case” we wanted to do a sleep over “just to see”. As we pulled away she said good-bye to the doggie.
I had a checklist for the visit. I needed to use my brain with this one — my heart couldn’t be trusted with her velvety floppy ears.
1. She must get along with Keegan
2. She must be (at least close to) housebroken
3. Not a huge barker
4. Jack needed to approve
As soon as she arrived, our visitor and Keegan frolicked in the backyard, stopping only to take a pee on the grass. When we brought her inside, she jumped onto Jack’s lap and sat there letting Jack rub her head. And, she didn’t bark, even when we put her in the crate for her “just to see” sleepover — I swear she wanted to make sure she was very clear to check every box.
I wrote both our friends the next day and told them that this magical pooch needed to be a Torrey.
The brief history we’ve been given is that she was raised in the family home in South Carolina where she’d been born, but she and her brother were recently taken to a shelter because their family was going through something and could no longer care of the pups. Lost Paws Animal Rescue rescued her from the shelter and brought her up to NJ last week. She is a six month old mutt and clearly has been well-cared for. Pretty housebroken, doesn’t bark or jump, just wants to play and cuddle.
Her original name was Margaret and then my friend was calling her Ladybird or Birdie. We tried all three, but she didn’t respond. We played with other names all day, but there was one that seemed to suite her best. A Torrey doggie family name that happens to be Elvis Presley’s hometown, the name of a band we love (Uncle Tupelo), a delicious honey and a song by Van Morrison.
She’s as sweet at Tupelo honey
She’s an angel in the first degree
She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey
Just like honey from the bee
Welcome to the family Tupelo Torrey III
Special thanks to Joe Rispo and Alia Covel and Lost Paws Animal Rescue for bringing sweet Tupelo into our lives.
For years there have been five dogs roaming my in-law’s property on Block Island every Fourth of July weekend. For the last few summers, we’ve had a contest rating them and awarding TheMost Rotten Dog. Finn won most years. He’d run away, he’d jumped on strangers, he’d eat garbage, he’d steal shoes, he’d eat food off platters, he was even known to bite a person or two. And, it wasn’t just while on vacation, even at home, Finn was never the perfect dog — but he was ours and we loved him.
Finn arrived into our lives 14 years ago, when we’d first moved into our house on Clinton Ave. The kids were 7 and 5 and Finn was our way of completing our perfect family. Within a year, Jack was unraveling and Finn didn’t get the attention a puppy should have. Puppy classes were traded in for doctor’s appointments and rules were replaced by yelling, “BAD DOG!”.
Despite the changes in our house, and our less than exceptional puppy raising skills, Finn was always there for us. When we brought Jack home from the hospital following transplant, PopPop and Sue offered to take him up to Block Island, but we were determined to keep our family intact, so we kept Finn home and watched him like a hawk so that he won’t step on Jack’s IV lines or jump on his g-tube. Finn didn’t – he would just sit quietly by Jack — until the doorbell rang and then he would run like a bullet and jump on whoever was arriving.
For the last 14 years Finn has been a huge part of our family and he has also been my personal shadow. He slept on my side of the bed and waited for me looking out the dinning room window when I’d leave the house. To avoid him scratching the door, I even learned to keep the bathroom door opened a crack so that he could find me.
Since Christmas, Finn has been suffering from seizures and “episodes”. He was losing his vision and hearing and could no longer enjoy his long walks and his usual routine of mischief. Last week, as a family, we decided it was time. His life was full of more bad days than good days, and at fourteen, his veterinarian didn’t see anything in his future but a quick decline. We wanted to do the best thing for our boy so we found a wonderful vet who could come to the house and ease Finn into his next life.
Our friends and family used to joke about life without Finn. How easy life would be without our trouble maker. Guests could come without being warned. The mailman had a chance at safely delivering mail. We could watch our nighttime shows without Finn constantly barking at the door to be let out – then in – then out – then in. But, when the veterinarian arrived yesterday, we were all in a puddle of tears. Finn had woken up with more energy than he’s had in weeks. He was not the mischievous pooch from his younger years, but he seemed fairly comfortable and happy. I kept thinking we should reschedule our appointment, but then kept remembering his last episode and how I’d promised him that we would do everything we could to have him avoid that pain.
We all sat in our living room, Finn on my lap and cried and gave our boy love as the doctor did her thing.
Dying with comfort and dignity is all that we could provide our four-legged friend after everything he provided for us for 14 years. We are going to miss you Finn and I promise I will always keep that bathroom door open — just a little — in your honor.
The daughter of one of my oldest/bestest friends reached out to me last week. She had an assignment to write a paper on a rare disease and chose ALD. Her thoughtful questions had me sharing details about Jack’s life. Questions about his diagnosis, experiences through transplant, returning to school and about what Jack’s life looks like now.
I always try to be honest when answering such questions. The idea that a high school student is spending the time to educate herself, and in turn, educated her teacher and her classmates, is valuable and I want to make sure the information I provide is accurate. And, after eleven years, I’ve shared the details enough that I’m usually able to write the words without focusing too much on the meaning behind them.
This week has been different. As I was writing, the words keep hitting me — but not in the way you might expect. As I was describing what Jack’s life looks like now, I kept thinking, I wanna be like Jack.
Let me explain.
I’m feeling rather overwhelmed. Putting our house on the market this month seemed like excellent timing. Our three story home is filled with rooms that we don’t use and Jack’s life would be far easier with fewer steps. Anna seemed excited about returning home from second semester to a new house, and I kept thinking it would be a wonderful distraction from my blues about Anna being away at school.
So we hired our dear friend/hotshot realtor, cleaned up our house and put it on the market. Within a week of listing, we were under contract (we were fortunate to have a lot of interest and ultimately sold to a beautiful young family from Brooklyn). So easy, but I guess I wasn’t really prepared for Part One of our moving project to be completed so quickly. I hadn’t thought too much about all the next steps – the inspections and lawyers and finding our next home.
The other day, I took a break from digging up old paperwork and searching house listings to answer some questions about Jack’s life for my friend’s daughter. I looked over at Jack who was sitting on his favorite couch, his legs up on the ottoman and his dog by his side. He had a grin ear to ear. He doesn’t worry about home inspections or details like where we are moving in May. He just lives in the moment and knows that his team has everything covered.
I could have felt sad as I wrote the long list of things that Jack can’t do, but all I could think about was how relaxed and happy he looked. Sometimes I wish I had a team that I could trust would take care of everything.
Sometimes, I just wanna be like Jack.
Before you pick up the phone to send me a text trying to cheer me up — I’M OKAY — just a little stressed. I know that within the next few weeks, we will figure out our next move. It’s time to pass along our beautiful house to another family that will fill it with love and memories. And, it’s time for our family to start a new chapter. It’s going to be amazing — and easy and flat.
We have an alarm that sounds every time the front door opens — a two-note chime. It’s usually followed by Finn (bad dog) barking loudly and racing to see who’s arrived and how long he can get away with jumping all over them. Last week, the constant chime exhausted poor Finn so that by Wednesday, all he could manage was to lift his head off the couch for a second to see who’d walked in the door before returning to his nap.
At the beginning of the week, I too would race to see who’d arrived so that I could give them some love and offer them a snack or something to drink. After a couple of days, I figured everyone knew that I loved them and how to walk to the kitchen.
We invited another ten people and two dogs for Thanksgiving Day. Nineteen humans, five dogs, two turkeys (one fried), six pies, two stuffings, bourbon sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, cranberry sauce, and more wine then our poor recycling cans could manage. Crazy, delicious, fun AND constant door chimes.
We said goodbye after Thanksgiving dinner to ten guests and two dogs, but added two more people on Friday (my best friend from college, Enger, and Katie Mackays roommate, Hanna). I feared we’d not have the energy to entertain them, but we managed. We even threw in a little party on Saturday night to round off the week!
The front door kept on chiming.
Yesterday we woke up and everyone did their part cleaning up the house, stripping beds and starting the laundry. Then, one by one everyone headed out – back to college, work, reality. I usually love the quiet after the storm of a holiday, but everything was so perfect last week, that I really didn’t want it to end.
I’ve been stressing lately about some things, but when it comes down to it, our lives are wonderful. Our friends, our family – they’re really all that matters. I can’t wait for the holidays to continue. We need some time with the Torrey side – and our door needs to go back to chiming!!
PS Anna comes home in 17 days and the Mackays promised to come for New Years!!!!
I continue to be dealing with anxiety. I had been feeling rather optimistic about my progress thanks to a few helpful books, learning to focus on my breath, essential oils, experimenting with meditation, standing behind a pretend waterfall and a wonderful therapist who reminds me to take all of these things with a grain of salt. I even drove over a small bridge last week and didn’t acknowledge it until I’d almost reached the other side. I was starting to think that maybe I had even reached the other side of this anxiety.
Then, life got in the way.
Our family is heading down to Hopkins this weekend for Dan’s 30th college reunion. I’ve been looking forward to seeing old friends and spending family time celebrating Dan’s alma mater and Anna’s future home (NOT home, temporary housing for four years). Everything was going according to plan until I learned that Anna can’t join us until Saturday because she has a lacrosse game and Dan needs to go on Thursday for business meetings. That leaves me and JackO to go over the Delaware Memorial Bridge alone.
The Delaware Memorial Bridge is HUGE!!
Just writing this has me sweating. I’ve thought about taking the train or taking a longer route with a smaller bridge or waiting until Saturday to go with Anna or leaving early to go with Dan or calling for a “bridge escort”. Yes, that’s a thing. Over 400 people a year call a magic number from either side of the Delaware Memorial Bridge to get assistance. I know because I’ve done the research and have the phone number on a post-it note attached to my computer screen. I am officially ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. I keep going back and forth about my plan, but (as ridiculous as it sounds) somehow that post-it has calmed my nerves a little.
Unfortunately, the bridge is not our only challenge this week. An attempt to be proactive and responsible Dan and I decided to take an old oil tank out of our front yard. We’re not ready to move just yet, but we know it’s in our not-too-distant future, so why not take care of any linger issues? We did our research, hired a reputable company and crossed our fingers. The finger crossing didn’t work. Our next step is soil remediation. We are not sure of the outcome, but it looks like this story may be far from over.
I spent much of yesterday cursing, regretting ever buying a home and hating being a grown-up. The worst part is that we will not know the extent of the problem for several weeks – not great for someone who is spending too much time worrying about a long list of who/what/where/hows. Again, the sweat is rolling down my back as I write this.
After a day with several steps backwards on my road to tranquility, I picked up my dog at the groomer. I didn’t know what to say when I first saw him. Finn has never had a good reputation. He jumps and barks and has even been involved in a lawsuit with our mailman. His one good quality has been his looks. He looks like a big, furry muppet. He DID look like a big, furry muppet. When I walked into the groomer yesterday he looked like a skinny, bald rat.
I felt sorry for the young girl who handed over his leash. She looked so sad and embarrassed, “His chart said you told us to cut off anything matted. At least he won’t need a cut for a long time.”
I tried to laugh, gave her a tip and told her not to worry. Then I grabbed the leash and tried to sneak Finn out to the parking lot without anyone seeing me walking a skinny rat-dog. Another step backward.
Finn the rat-dog and I went together to go pick up JackO from school. I was steaming the whole way there thinking about bridges and oil tanks and money and bald dogs, but my mood turned quickly when I walked into the school and saw a friend and her son. I told her I was having a bad day and she said, “Jess, whenever I’m having a hard day I remind myself how lucky I am to have this kid in my life. Look at our boys – who’s happier then them? We get to wake up and see their smiles every day.”
She’s right. My boy – our boys – live in the moment and when the moment is good, they enjoy every second. I need to focus on the good moments and not worry so much about the complicated/expensive/scary moments. I know somehow we will get to Baltimore and our yard will get cleaned up and my rat-dog’s hair will grow back. I just need to get behind that waterfall and let my worries spill in front of me. Don’t judge them, just witness them and allow them to pass (am I don’t that right?).
Jack and I walked out to the car and I was starting to feel better. When I put Jack in the car he started laughing uncontrollably. I didn’t realize what was going on until I realized that Jack was looking at poor Finn lying in the back seat.
Life is more GOOD than BAD or UGLY.
FYI – Rereading this, I feel a little guilty about saying that Finn’s only good quality is his looks. He is one of my favorite writing companions and always knows when I need a little extra love.
Keegan is a Service Dog. To be exact, he’s a “Skilled Companion” which means that he has been trained to work with people with disabilities (JackO) under the guidance of a facilitator – that’s me. He was trained for two years by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) and is qualified to be in public – wherever a human is allowed.
Today Jack, Keegan and I are going out to Long Island for our Public Access Certification Test. We will be meeting up with a CCI team and several other CCI graduates at a mall where they have us work for an hour to see whether on not we are still qualified (under CCI standards) for public access. I’m a little nervous.
I hope the folks at CCI don’t see this, but I am pretty sure we’ve ruined Keegan. Sure, compared to Finn (our other pup), Keegan is a star, but when I think back to the dog we brought home 7 years ago, I cringe. Keegan knew over 40 commands and did not need any guidance to behave perfectly when in public. Now he’s a very sweet, kinda smartISH pet.
I keep warning our CCI trainers that we may have gotten a little lax over the years, and that perhaps Keegan’s skills might be a little rusty. The team has been sweet, assuring me that they understand that Keegan’s primary role is to be Jack’s buddy. “As long as your team can be handled safely and appropriately in public you should be fine”.
So why am I brining him? Because I am a rule follower AND because I feel that if I DESERVE to be scolded, I should be. A great deal of time, effort and money went into Keegan’s training. If we are falling short on our end of the bargain, I need to do what I can to rectify it. After all, I am the first person to judge people that take advantage of the rather loose definition of a service animal.
I am an animal lover and I know a pet can be a member of the family. I also know that many pets can be well behaved and probably wouldn’t cause much of an issue in public, but the training it takes to insure an animal is silent, respectful and helpful in caring for specific disabilities is huge.
If you buy a vest on-line for your pet so that he/she can accompany you on vacation, you are actually hurting people who can’t be independent without their animal. If your dog/cat/miniature horse/ferret does not behave appropriately in public, people start to complain that all service animals are just “pets with vests”. We don’t want laws to change regarding public access for service animals because so many people gain a huge amount of support and independence because of their four legged friend. I know for Jack, Keegan is primarily a best friend/furry pillow, but some people rely of their service animal for far more than licks and cuddles.
So we are up bright an early to drive out to Long Island. Keegan has been bathed, his nails have been cut and his vest has been cleaned. I’ve been working on “Wait” and “Under” and “Car” for weeks, and we are as ready as we are going to be. I will let you know as soon as soon as we get the thumbs up or thumbs down.
PS If we do not pass, CCI isn’t going to put me in handcuffs and take Keegan away. They will work with us to regain what we have lost.
For those of you who have been worried that I may be sharing too much with Jack, I’m sorry. It is true that he has heard more than a teenage boy should about local gossip and various peri-manopausal symptoms. I am trying to be better at avoiding such topics when Jack’s in earshot. And, it’s not just because I’m worried that he is going to blackmail me – it’s just the right thing to do.
The truth is that he is not the only holder of my secrets. I have another silent boy in the house who’s also a really good listener. His ears are floppy and he lets me lie on the couch with him and rant about everything. He never gets bothered if my breath is bad or my feet are stinky. He just snuggles in and lets me vent about things and sort out my crap. He is the one that people should be worried about – Keegan knows EVERYTHING about EVERYONE.
Things I am too scared to even write in my private journal have been shared with my furry friend. There’s something about the way he looks at me, that I know he understands and cares. Keegan’s brother, Finn (AKA “Bad Dog”), walks away in the middle of a story if he hears a truck outside or the postman walking up the front steps. Keegan never leaves my side until he knows I’ve really let it all out.
Yes, I know that technically Keegan is Jack’s service dog, but the truth is that without him, I’m not sure that I could manage. There are just some days that I feel like I am going to explode (or implode). Stuff builds up and I need someone. I can’t always burden my friends and family – particularly when it’s my friends and family that I need to discuss. We all need a sounding board and Keegan is mine.
Yesterday was Keegan’s 7th birthday. I tend to forget birthdays of people/creatures I love (just ask my nieces and nephews). Ironic, because I expect everyone to remember mine — November 19 — 13 more shopping days left. Keegan’s puppy raisers reminded me today and I instantly stopped what I was doing to showered our boy with some love. Then, I gave him a nice long walk and two cups of kibble for dinner. Next year, I promise to throw in some balloons and streamers.
Thank you Keegan for being Jack’s best friend and my therapist.
For more information about Canine Companions for Independence check out: http://www.CCI.org