She always slept in Joe’s bed when she was a pup, curled up under his arm close to his chest. He was never alone for she was always by his side. He could not bend to feed her or place her water bowl on the floor, but there was no doubt about it – she was his dog.
It was late and Lis had gone off to bed. Mia stared at me as if to say, now what? I turned and she trotted after me into my bedroom. She would be sleeping with me now. But sleep wouldn’t come, I tossed and turned, the covers a rumbled mess. Moonlight streamed through the window onto the eight-month-old puppy snoring by my side. My breath began to follow hers, more rapid than my own. The next thing I knew it was dawn and the sun was beginning to color the sky.
Late at night I’d worry her life would be short too, especially after she started to have back problems. Her doctor explained – Mia’s vertebrae had spiny protrusions (hemi-vertebrae, he called them) that could cause pain and inflammation. Disc problems were common in French bulldogs, sometimes even leading to paralysis. I did my best to keep her weight in check as her doctor advised, hoping to keep her spine as healthy as we could. Anti-inflammatory drugs, pain meds, and laser treatments helped when they could.
Once I said to Lis, “This breed can be short-lived.”
“Oh no, don’t say that, Mom!” she exclaimed.
“I hope she has a really long life, but we never know.” I said.
She loved everyone she met – people and dogs alike. Like an ambassador, she waited at the door, greeting all who arrived. She just about fainted with excitement when she’d see my sisters and nieces, my brother-in-law and nephew, too. Every part of her body exuded happiness. How many people greet you with such enthusiasm? She made you feel recognized.
A true lap dog, she enjoyed my favorite chair, a fire, and a good book as much as I did. She was my little heater on cold, winter days and my buddy on walks to Lake Elise. I loved how she nestled into the nook of my knees and we’d settle into sleep. She was better than any sleeping med I’ve ever tried.
When Lis was living here, Mia would race up to her bedroom and catch a nap with her whenever she could. But when Lis would leave to run errands, Mia would jump into a chair by the window and watch her car depart up the hill looking forlorn and a tad annoyed that I had let her go. “Don’t worry,” I‘d tell her. “She’ll be back soon.”
Mia and I had a routine, which she loved. I’d get my coat and things and as I turned to go, I’d call out, “Watch the ranch, Mia!” and then place some treats between the spindles of the railing. Mia would dash up the stairs to gobble them up. One day, I forgot to pay her. She sat glaring at me from the top of the stairs. I looked at her and couldn’t figure out why she kept staring at the railing, then back to me. Oh, so you want to sit there today? I’m leaving now you know. Why don’t you find a cozier place? But Mia wouldn’t budge. Once again, she turned to stare at the railing as if to say, “Hello, are you stupid or what? Where’s my pay?” Then it hit me; I had forgotten to pay her! I grabbed the treats and gave her extra. I could tell she was smiling.
It was a brilliant, sunny day, the kind of day in May that invites you to step outside and do something. Except today, Mia was different. She did not want to leave the bedroom. I coaxed her to the kitchen and she ate her breakfast, but hesitated going out the couple of steps to the front yard. When we came in, something happened. She yelped, screeched, and started dragging her rear legs. (Her doctor had warned me if this ever happened, it could mean a neurological emergency.) Mia hid trembling under the coffee table by the sofa. I ran to call the vet, Mia’s ear piercing screams cutting the air like a knife. I ran back to find that Mia had somehow managed to drag her body halfway up the stairs. She lay with her legs stretched out oddly behind her, staring at Joe’s old bedroom door, yelping at the top of her lungs.
After a quick visit to her doctor, we went directly to the emergency veterinary hospital in Middletown where Mia was admitted for an MRI. She was in severe pain and still shaking uncontrollably. She kept turning, trying to look at her hindquarters as if to tell me – it hurts right there, can’t you help me? I was trying, really I was.
The next morning, the neurologist, (yes, veterinarians have specialties, too) called to tell me it was a disc problem. Mia continued to be in severe pain, how could she not be? She was receiving pain medication and would need to remain hospitalized and monitored closely as the paralysis was extending up her spine. If it reached her thoracic vertebrae, she would suffocate. Lis made plans to fly home.
It was raining that afternoon when I stepped out of my car and ran into the hospital to visit Mia, one of those gloomy days that mirror exactly what you are going thru in your life. I lay on the cold floor of the exam room with one arm curled around Mia who was panting heavily, eyes bulging, stress written on every part of her little body. After what seemed like forever, her breathing slowed and she collapsed exhausted next to me. I hated to go home without her.
The first thing I noticed the next day, was the shaved area and the patch on her backside. “Yes, it is a pain patch,” the vet tech explained. “The doctor increased her meds to a fentanyl patch. Can you believe it? Just like the ones they use on people!”
The world slowed and I stared. Fentanyl, an opioid pain medication, opioids just like Joe needed. It hit me then how serious Mia’s situation was.
“Mom, you will always make sure I have enough pain medication, right Mom?”
“Yes, of course, Joe.”
“But even if I can’t tell you – right?” he asked again staring at me with those dark brown, almost black eyes of his.
I blinked away the tears and looked down into another pair of dark brown eyes, the eyes of his dog and thought - Yes, of course, Joe. I’ll make sure she has enough pain medication, too.
Lis flew in the next day from south Florida. “Mom, she can’t live like this.”
“I know, Lis, I know.”
It was Wednesday, May 23, '18; Lis and I sat waiting in an exam room at the vet hospital. Somehow it seemed wrong that the sunlight dared to stream through the windows.
“Mom, you really should read this,” Lis said, pointing to a plaque on the wall.
I dragged myself out of my chair and walked over to read the words she wanted me to read. I cried.
We held Mia telling her how much we loved her. Lis cradled Mia in her arms and I held her little face in my hands, bending close and breathing deep, slow breaths praying Mia would match my own and relax. She did. We said goodbye.
What happens after death? Each of us has our own beliefs or non-beliefs, right? Not one of us really knows.
But if Mia is anywhere, I’m betting she’s with Joe now because after all, she was his dog.