Monday, May 27, 2013

My Baby Molly

Friends, I generally try to keep things light on this blog. Being funny is one of my favorite pastimes, right up there with reading, writing, and randomly dancing in public. However, if you've come into this blog post hoping for verbal shenanigans and pictures with silly captions, I urge you to skip this post and try another. This is not going to be a funny post. This is a post where I mull over the loss of my best friend and an irreplaceable piece of my heart, Miss Molly the Wonderpup. Writing is how I make sense of the world, and if I can explain my thoughts, then I can understand them better. So down this post lies only nostalgia and sadness. Turn back if you must. Go forth if you wish. But whatever you do, don't bitch in my comments. :P

 The first picture I ever took of Molly, fresh from her first bath.

I adopted Molly when I was 19 years old, not long after starting my second year of college. I had moved into a rental house in Tallahassee with two friends, and it just so happened that my room had a door leading into the backyard. My roomies immediately saw that this as a compelling reason for me to get a dog. For my part, I was not adverse, but I wasn't completely sold on the idea. I knew a dog was a big responsibility, and I hadn't even been that good at caring for myself up to that point. So when they talked me into going to the pound that day in September 1999, I had decided to humor them, but had privately come to the conclusion that I would not come back with anything but fond memories of all the cute dogs I'd seen. 

Proud mama. 

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and coeds. I suppose I should've known better, because I've always had a soft spot for animals, but I couldn't have imagined meeting a pup as wonderful as Molly. She was Kryptonite for any sliver of resolve I might've had left at that point. She was this teeny thing made up almost entirely of a floppy-eared head and spindly legs. She was there in a litter of five, in amongst two brown siblings and two others that were also all white with spotted ears. However, while her other white siblings had a spot around the eye, she was stood out from the crowd by having a dollop of brown splatted right in the middle of her head between her ears. That right there spoke to me, and she was the one I reached for. When I picked her up and she nestled into my arms like she belonged there, I knew I wasn't leaving there without her.

It turns out that I was wrong about that. While I filled out adoption papers and paid the fee, Molly had to be medically cleared at the pound and then sent to a vet to be looked over before she was free to come home with me. So I had to part company with her, but I promised her we'd meet again soon.

In the meantime, I put an obsessive amount of thought into her name. It couldn't be just any name, it had to be her name. I considered and rejected a million options and was beginning to worry she'd spend the first month of her life thinking her name was "hey, you!" Then, as I was walking along Landis Green, thinking about picking up my puppy the next day, I heard two girls talking in front of me.

"Well, that's what Molly said," one girl said to the other.

It was like there was a swell of golden light and a choir of angels started singing as that name rang out. It was my dog's name. It had just been lurking in the ether, waiting for me to discover it.

Rather than in the sky with diamonds, 
Molly did her best sparkling on my bed with teddy bears.

I couldn't wait to take her home when I went to pick her up from the vet. Unfortunately, once again, we were thwarted in our mutual desire to have her home with me. When I walked in to pick up the puppy the pound had sent to over, I found myself looking into a face featuring a big brown spot around one eye. I was forced to call shenanigans on the switch. Don't get me wrong, this other puppy was adorable, but she wasn't the one that belonged to me. So my roomies drove me with this litter mate back to the pound to exchange her for my girl. I cried the whole way there, because I felt so bad that this puppy was so excited to be with me. But she wasn't mine. We weren't meant to be, and I wanted my puppy.

When I traded her off for Molly, though, I got some comforting information. It turned out that the pound couldn't afford to treat every dog that came in unless there was an obvious need for treatment or a formal diagnosis of an illness. Because the vet had looked over Molly's sister and discovered that she had worms, she had to be treated. This was something the pound had not previously been aware of and might not have otherwise discovered until it was too late. So the mix-up saved the puppy's life, and I got to help two for the price of one!

Molly v. Flora, Danaleigh's cat

It didn't take long for me to realize that I had found the love of my life in this dog. I came home every single day and was thrilled to see her. It became my routine to burst into the house exclaiming like I didn't expect to find her there, gushing, "Oh my goodness, is there a puppy in here? What a beautiful puppy! How did you get this beautiful? Were you just born beautiful? I bet you were. I can't decide what part of you is the most beautiful. Is it your spotted ears? How about this nose? These paws are awfully cute, too! And look at this pink belly! How did you get this beautiful pink belly, huh? And this tail! Oh, I don't know, I can't choose."

Clash of the fuzzy Titans.

In the meantime, Molly would walk around in delighted circles, wriggling while I rubbed her belly and scratched the place behind her ear or under her chin, flopping down on my lap or running off to fetch one of her babies to play tug-o-war. And I would spend time chasing her around in circles pretending like I was gonna "eat her to pieces" or "get her baby tail." It always ended in kisses and hugs and effusive professions of love. 

As Molly got bigger and bigger, only other people doubted that she was still a lapdog. 
Molly and I, we knew she would always be a lapbaby.

My dog traveled far and wide with me, as I went through significant changes in my life. She helped me survive three years of college, a year of unemployment thereafter, then working for minimum wage at a bookstore and living with my dad. She also saw me through two years of teaching middle school, three years of law school, and two and a half years of practicing law before I came back up to North Florida to become a judicial clerk. She moved from Tallahassee to Jacksonville to Tallahassee to Jacksonville to Tampa to Fort Lauderdale and back to Tallahassee again with me.

And no matter where we were and what I was doing, she was always delighted to be with me. Whether it was in the rental house with the huge backyard or the tiny closet of an apartment in Fort Lauderdale or my current spacious apartment with the nice grounds to walk on, it was all the same. It wasn't how nice it was that made it home for her, it was me. And vice versa. When I was with her, she didn't have a care in the world. It was only when she was left with someone else that she became a little white Eeyore with a rain cloud over her head, not wanting to play or eat much until I was back again.

Molly around a year old. Still a lapdog, still adorable.

It wasn't until she was pushing 14 years old that she ever showed her age. Although the vet told me that she was considered geriatric at 7 years, the only concession she'd made to age even at 11 or 12 was a slight awkwardness in her movements when she squatted to pee. Up until her last two weeks of life, she ran around like a greyhound in bursts, went for long walks as many times a day as I was willing, leaped up into my spot on the couch as soon as I abandoned it, and would gallop randomly around the apartment flipping her toys in the air for her own amusement. Being pit bull and cocker spaniel, it was particularly amazing that she was as healthy as she was for so long. She was a 50-pound dog, a larger breed, and they usually only get maybe 8 or 9 years. Molly was pushing for double that.

My furry copilot on one of our many car trips.

She was diagnosed with cancer on April 12, 2013, about two months and change before her 14th birthday. I'd had to rush her to the doctor and I was terrified, because she'd never had so much as a broken bone or ever gotten particularly sick since she was a baby. Mind, when she first came home, she'd had two kinds of worms, a respiratory infection, and was severely anemic, but after that, she'd been nothing but hardy. In fact, it used to be that she'd go into her old Tallahassee vet and they would marvel all over again that this big, robust dog was the same teeny little thing that had once been so sick.

From 2005 in Jacksonville.
Molly loved me even though I looked like an overripe tomato with red hair.

When her doctor told me the news, I asked him what her outlook was if I went through with all the chemo and the surgery he was recommending. He told me very bluntly, "Oh, it's not good. I expect this to be a progressive disease, and to spread. But there's a chance." I told him as long as there was a chance, I was going to take it. So we started chemo.

Tampa in 2009 or 2010

The first dose of chemo didn't even faze her. After having that crap injected into her veins, she still went on three 20-minute walks every day, ran laps with me around the apartment, and occasionally spazzed out throwing her toys around the room. When she was out walking, her ears perked up high, her tail swished, and she trotted like she was filled with the same old joie de vivre she'd always had. My mom and sis came to visit me during this time and remarked on it approvingly. She was herself. Nothing had changed.

She continued to astound the people at her new vet's, who hadn't expected her to respond so well to treatment. They all loved her instantly, and they were all rooting for her. She had that effect on people.

Molly and Piggy Cow: Best Friends and Mortal Enemies

It wasn't until the second dose of chemo that she began to feel poorly. I ended up take her in for an unscheduled visit one day because she was pale and withdrawn. The chemo, it seemed, had begun to attack some of the other quickly regenerating cells in her body, like her stomach lining and her platelets. It left her without much appetite or energy. By this point, I'd been carrying her up and down the stairs to go to the bathroom, and she was having a hard time going very far once she was down there. She got meds to help boost her counts back up, had some IV fluids, and I got prescription dog food that I fed her by squirting that mashed up meat paste through a big syringe into her mouth. She loved the stuff and took to devouring it. I was thrilled that she was soon she bolting across the floor to beg for turkey pepperonis and cheese again after a few days of care.

Tampa in 2010

I took her home with me that weekend to Jacksonville. She was still creaky and had trouble putting weight on all of her feet and she still needed to be fed the meat paste, but she seemed content enough to be my copilot on the journey again and to go sit in my dad's backyard and majestically observe the birds and squirrels. And my dad patted her and was kind to her, and she had always loved him dearly. It was a good trip. 

Queen of the Backyard (2012)

Then, this week, she started to get worse when I'd expected her to get better. Going outside winded her. She came back in panting and pale and couldn't eat or drink for a while. I called the emergency vet more than once, convinced that I needed to bring her in, but she always got better while I was on the phone. Still, I made an appointment to bring her in Friday morning, May 24, 2013, to make sure that she wasn't having more complications from the chemo.

Attentive, and possibly begging for cheese.

When I went in, the news was worse than I could've ever expected. Her doctor, Dr. Walker, who I regarded with respect and gratitude for his kindness through this whole ordeal, came into the exam room looking genuinely upset. He told me that he had expected to see some swelling in Molly's lymph nodes from the cancer because he'd assumed that was the culprit, but what he'd found was that her tumors were shrinking and she was beating the cancer. She had had a one in three shot of surviving it, and she was on track to be the one in three. Unfortunately, she had developed a heart condition wholly unrelated to the cancer, and it was fatal. At best, she had three to four months to live, and only by the grace of several medications. She was at a high risk of sudden death, which meant I could just come around the corner one day and find her gone. 

My "big brave baby," as I liked to call her.

I spent the rest of the day driving around town, spending the last of my savings on the expensive medications she needed, and occasionally stopping in a parking lot to sob until I was hyperventilating. I had to do all of this before I picked up the dog, because she was sensitive to my moods I would only upset her by being upset, myself. But when I came and retrieved her, she was perked up and refreshed from a day inside the oxygen tent. Her buddy, Nicole the vet tech, carried her to the car and gave me the number and address for the best emergency vet clinic in Jacksonville to make sure I knew where to go if she had trouble. And I was sure I had bought her those three or four months, and I was going to be able to take her to Jacksonville this weekend to see the family and tell them goodbye.

Ever long-suffering, Molly put up with a great many random things 
being tied to or placed on her head throughout the years. 

However, as soon as I got home to the apartment, Molly became uncomfortable. She was having diarrhea and it wouldn't stop. She was straining and fretting until she worked herself into a fit of exhaustion that was not good for her heart, and I was working myself into a fit of exhaustion carrying her up and down the stairs to try and go again. Then I put her in the bathtub to clean her up a bit and when she came out, she was white as a sheet and shivering. I wrapped her up in a blanket and rushed her back to the vet.

Snuggly sleeper in her nest

I won't go too much into this time period. I will say they never did figure out what made things start going wrong so quickly. Her back legs and belly were swollen, her throat was swollen such that she could barely swallow, and she was in so much discomfort that she was having an increasingly difficult time resting. My mom and her husband came to Tallahassee to be with me, hoping to bring us both back to Jacksonville once she stabilized. But she never did.

Ultimately, after Molly had spent a night and a day at the emergency vet, with an air of utter defeat the doctor told me about consulting with Dr. Walker and that they had some things they could try to restore her to some semblance of comfort. But they couldn't really treat the underlying problems, and they couldn't promise what they proposed to help one problem wouldn't exacerbate some of the others. And the condition that was causing her the most pain, they didn't seem to know how to treat. So after spending hours talking to her and petting her and taking her outside to sit in the grass, I finally made the call to let it all stop.

Couch sleeper. Not to sound like Sheldon, 
but she was in my spot.

They did it outside in a patch of grass she'd come to prefer, under the light of a full moon with my mom and Ben and I gathered around her. I talked to her and petted her until the last. It was one o'clock in the morning when my girl left me on May 26, 2013. And all that night, and every night since, I've had a lyric from one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs playing through my head over and over again.

"Lightning strikes maybe once, maybe twice."

Funny face.

I was so lucky to have her. There was never a moment in my life where I was unaware of that. My girl was housebroken within days of coming home, was never much of a barker, loved every human being she ever came into contact with, and was instinctively gentle with children no matter how rough they were with her. She wasn't a huge fan of other dogs, but she didn't even pay them any mind when they barked or growled at her. She minded her own business and trusted to them to mind theirs. And no matter how uncomfortable she was and how she was being prodded at the vet, she never growled, never murmured, she just endured it all with endless patience because her mommy said it was all right. The emergency vets said she was one of the easiest dogs she'd ever had to deal with.

Baby supermodel in 2013

But it was more than that. She loved me. I knew she loved me, that I was the center of her world and she was the center of mine. I was never lonely when she was near, and even if I was sad, I couldn't stay that way with her tenderly licking my knee or cheek, or just lying against my leg lending silent support. She couldn't stand to see me upset, and she picked up on my joy when I was happy. She really was my best friend. She listened to me talk to her constantly and, though she didn't know what I was saying all the time, she was attentive and pleased to have my attention. When I sang to her, it made her happy or calm, and she actually would prance like a little show pony when I sang her "theme song." (This was to the tune of the Spider-Man theme, and went a little something like this: "Molly Bear, Molly Bear, She jumps here and there and everywhere. Hear the clicking of her nails. See her wagging baby tail. WATCH OUT! Here comes the Molly Bear!")

Prancing Molls, Hidden Manda

We really did share a life together. She wasn't just a pet who lived in my apartment or my backyard, she slept in my bed for most of her life (until my thrashing started to bug her in the old age, and then she slept in her own plush bed). We shared food and travel and exercise. I kept up a constant stream of chatter, and I told her as many times a day as possible that I loved her and she was wonderful and beautiful and magical. And she told me as much back by being so dazzlingly excited to have me near, often watching for me to come home in the evenings from my apartment window.

And I will never forget all the little things about her that made my heart warm with love, like how zen she looked when I rubbed the spot between her eyes or how she pressed her cheek against my lips and make little whistling sounds through her nose when I kissed her. I never want to forget those silken ears beneath my fingers or the heart-sharped birthmark on her belly or how much she liked it when I scratched her "itchy butt." I will forever smile when I see a school of tiny fish skimming through the shallows, remembering the time at the beach where she was tempted into pouncing on some and then realized in abject horror that those idiots were IN THE WATER! And I will always like to picture her out in the grass in a patch of sunlight, sunbathing like she loved to do, grinning with her tongue lolled out of her mouth and her ears perked to attention.

I will miss her every single day that goes by, but I will always, always know what a wonderful creature she was. She made this world a beautiful place to live in, and it will never be as beautiful without her in it. But I'm just going to keep reminding myself that I got to have her. I was so, so lucky to have her in my life for even a minute, let alone nearly 14 years. 

She will always be my baby Molly. She will always be my princess and my love, and I will never forget her.

"Gypsy" by Fleetwood Mac
"Lightning strikes... Maybe once, maybe twice."

NOTE: I'd also like to add that one of Molly's parting gifts to me was to show me that we are both so well-loved, not just by each other, but by our family and friends. The outpouring of support at work, on facebook and Twitter, through phone calls and texts has made what should've been unbearable bearable. Even when I couldn't bring myself to keep responding to all the kind words that came flooding through social media, it made me so grateful to have so many kind, wonderful people in my life. 

And my family has absolutely dazzled me. The way my mom dropped everything to run to me when things got bad, and stayed with me, lying on the floor with my dog in the emergency vet for hours keeping Molly and me company was beyond amazing. Her husband was also supportive and understanding, and so gentle with my pup. 

And when my girl passed and I went to see my family in Jacksonville for my niece's christening, not only did my nieces and nephew manage to push all of the sadness from my heart for a while, all of the hugs and condolences and kindness came in from the folks in attendance in just the quantity to lift my spirits without making me break down. 

I can never thank all of you guys enough. You are the miracles in my life my dog reminded me of, which is just one more thing I have to be grateful to her for.