Friday, December 17, 2010

Sweet dreams, dear pug. We miss you already.

DISCLAIMER: If it was in fact possible to die of a broken heart not a single human in this house would have woken up this morning. If you're an animal person, this entry is for you. If you're not --- you'll probably spend the entire time rolling your eyes.

Also, please be forgiving as you read this. I'm typing through blurry, tear filled eyes & there are bound to be countless typos.

Let's begin ...

There is a significant difference between being a pet owner & being an animal lover.

I was raised to be the latter of the two.

Sure, my animals are pets by definitition. We feed them & walk them & cuss when we have to pay a vet bill. But at the end of each day I'm still wrapped around the tiny little paws of our furry, four legged family members.

Leo is no different.

I bought Leo from a breeder in December of 2005. He was the most adorable puppy you've ever seen.

He slept in silly places ( like the back of a dump truck, for instance), was happiest when he was snuggled into the niche of your neck (or behind the bend of your knee), and could melt even the most hardened criminal with that gorgeously pathetic face of his.

Even our kitten, Franklin, had a soft spot for him. They'd wrestle & play all day & into the night.

Describing him as 'friendly' would be an understatement. He acted as though every visitor we had was his long time friend. He was never very good at posing for pictures because he was too excited to turn around and lick the faces of whoever he was posing with.

The first 7 months of our life with Leo were happy & we grew to love him tremendously in that short time. However, in retrospect, buying him was a terrible idea from the beginning. This was before Josh had come into our lives. I was a single mom. I lived on the third floor of an apartment building in the city & I worked full time. As much as we loved our little dog --- I simply could not provide him with a home that gave him the attention (and room to play) that a puppy needed.

So, with my teary eyed toddler, I walked into a pet store and put him up for adoption. Isaac couldn't understand what we were doing ... I came up with a "mommy lie". I told him Leo missed his mother & was going home to live with her.

Six hours later, in the middle of a seriously self-inflicted guilt trip/melt down, I called to buy him back. He had already been adopted. That was probably a good thing. The lady told me a family wth children had adopted him & I told myself it was for the best.

Fast forward a few months & in enters Josh into our world. By January 2007 Isaac and I were living in Luther & felt settled into our new home. Isaac had asked several times over the years if he could "go visit Leo & his mother". (See? Even "mommy lies" will come back to bite you in the arse!)

Since his birthday was just around the corner, Josh & I decided it would be a good time for him to get a new puppy.  We finally had the space for a dog & the time to devote to being responsible pet owners. (Ugh - there's that term!)

We found a few different pugs for sale in the area --- but we were having a hard time picking one.

And then - there it was - in the Billings Gazette.

"Adult male pug for sale. Black in color."

We are pug lovers --- we don't care about them being registered or having papers. We just enjoy their personalities and want to have one around. The price on this pug led us to believe he probably wasn't papered & we were fine with that. I made the call. The family lived in Laurel. They warned me he wasn't very friendly, didn't like other animals, & wasn't great with kids.

Not very promising.

But they mentioned they had been using the dog as a stud  & had pug puppies for sale. So Isaac & I  drove down to look at their babies. While we were there, I asked to see the stud dog who had been advertised.

I've never met a more loveable dog. He jumped into my lap & licked my face. He even loved on Isaac a bit.

The owners were amazed by the change in disposition. Long story short - we ended up bring "Onyx" home with us.

My assumption about him bot being papered was completely inaccurate. The break in price had nothing to do with lack of papers & everything to do with the fact that he wasn't a puppy anymore. Papers - he had them.

A few days later, when I went to register him --- something incredible happened  --- we were re-united with our sweet Leo.

It should be mentioned that the father of the family who used Onyx/Leo as a stud dog, was also a garbage man for Allied Waste. He's OUR garbage man. Every Thursday he comes to Luther & every Thursday out little dog greeted him and happily played for a few minutes. Such a beautiful twist.

He instantly loved ranch life & made our home his domain. He even remembered Frankling & learned to love our other kitty, Jezzabelle.

 Leo was The Man as far as dog's go. He picked Isaac up from the bus for as long as he's been in school. He thought of himself as a cow dog when my father in law went to feed. He loved to sit on my lap and hang his head out the window when I'd drive through town. Leo single handedly changed Josh from the guy who could take animals or leave them  into a full fledged animal lover & pug enthusiast. He was a terrible gaurd dog and the world's best listener.

Before I dive into the sad part of this story, I'd like to share some of my favorite Leo Moments with you, if you don't mind. It was hard to catch Leo in an action shot --- he was too spastic. But he could often be caught smiling for the camera. :) So here's a few shots of my pig-pug the poser dog:

I stopped working this past summer in order to go back to school full time. This semester I had all my classes online which gave me lots of time at home. I often joked that instead of "the crazy cat lady" I had become "the crazy dog lady".  I have no problem admitting that I had several conversations with Leo every single day & I will miss that goofy stare as he tried desperately to understand what I was saying. Dog, in general, may be "man's best friend". But that pug was MY best friend.

The last month of our sweet dog's life was rough on him. He spent two weeks in November fighting off a broncial infection. Once we got past the painful coughing, I actually got a kick out of babying him. I loved when he allowed me to tuck him in.

Last week he broke his leg. It was an awful experience. He slipped on the ice and busted his elbow in his front left leg. I thought I had felt the worst pet mommy guilt on the planet when I heard that little bugger cry.

He's a stud though & figured the whole cast thing out. He was able to get around pretty well for the most part. It left him with some balance issues ... sometimes he'd fall & he'd just be stuck there until someone helped him up.

I spent the last week of his life carrying him everywhere with me. I made special little puggy beds, fed him his pills hidden in pastrami, massaged him so he wouldn't be sore from hauling that cast around .... and just loved on him every chance I got.

Something changed in him when he got hurt. He went from this vivacious, spunky little dog to a clingy mama's boy. He just sat and stared at me with that goofy grin & silently begged me to rub his belly or scratch his ears. Which, of course, I did happily. Though I was his main caretaker, even Josh & Isaac spent extra time with him. Josh took great care making sure his medications were given at the right times and catered to every comfort he thought a pug could want. Isaac spent extra time talking to him, telling him about his day, and playing the little bit his cast would allow.

I had second thoughts when I left the house yesterday. Leo hadn't been left alone since his accident. But,l I had just given him a pain pill & knew he had 2-3 hours of restful sleep ahead of him. When I left the house he was sawing logs on a cozy, warm couch.

I had a doctor's appointment at ten o clock & I pulled back into the driveway at 11:15. I stopped at the end of the driveway to get the mail. In hindsight, I remember hearing Leo bark when I got out to get the mail --- but at the time I didn't pay any attention to it. I had left my dog safe & sound in the house --- so I didn't even bother looking for him.

I pulled up to my house but I didnt get out of the car right away. We had received three Christmas cards in the mail   so I took the time to read them first. When I got out of my truck I heard it.

The saddest, faintest, most pained panting I have ever heard. Suddenly the mommy guilt I felt from the night he broke his leg was nothing --- behind me, in my tire tracks, was my dog. Laying on his side, heaving, cast and and all.

My purse and the mail hit the ground and I ran as fast as I could to get him. I knew when I looked at him that it was over, but I couldnt bring myself to own it. There was some damage to his head that left one eye out of the socket and his chest was caved in. Without thinking, I scooped him up and laid him on the front seat of my car.

On my way to town I called the vet to tell her we were on our way.

"I think I just killed my dog." Those were my exact words, though I'm sure she couldn't understand them as I screamed them through my sobs.

I knew I wouldn't be able to pick him back up when I got there. So I called Josh. "Please meet me at the clinic." Of course he agreed.

Those were the longest 15 minutes of my life. I will never forget the way his limp little body layed there. The way I could see him struggling to breathe. The way it felt to know he wanted to cry out but couldn't because his lungs had collapsed. I'll never forget the look in his eyes before they glazed over. That scared-frantic look that seemed to be beging me to help him. I'll never forget the sweet, sweaty smell that filled my car the second he finally gave way to death.

I have been going over it again & again in my head. I don't know how he got outside. I don't know how I didn't see him. The best we can figure is that someone probably stopped at our house & let him out to go to the bathroom. In the past, this has always been a welcomed favor that many of our friends & relatives have offered when we're not home. Whoever it was, they were doing it out of kindness & likely had no idea that our casted dog wasn't allowed outside alone. He likely slipped on the ice, trying to drink from the mud puddle where I found him. Unable to get up on his own he couldn't escape my truck. And I, obviously, feel like the worst person on earth for somehow not having seen him.

The whole thing is awful. Its been a traumatic experience for all of us. Isaac spend the night being awakened by nightmares. I spent the night rocking him back to sleep & trying to escape the pictures in my head. Josh spend the night trying to comfort us both, while trying to keep a stiff upper lip.

I couldn't bring myself to tell Isaac what really happened. We told him that we found Leo in the driveway & that we really don't know what happened. We did tell him that the vet checked him out & promised us that Leo felt no pain --- that he went quickly. Which isn't true, but I feel like its the least I can do for a little boy who loved that dog so much.

Having said that ... A HUGE THANK YOU goes out to the girls at Grizzly Peak Vet Clinic. They have taken remarkable care of our little guy his whole life & the last month was no exception. A very special thank you to Becky - who stayed until 10:30 pm the night Leo broke his leg - just to make sure he'd be ok. Those girls are fantastic. We highly, HIGHLY reccomend them.

Today, our home feels empty without his buggy eyes & peg leg clomping on the wood floor.  His stocking is hanging on the mantel with Franklin & Jezzabelle's ... it hurts my heart to see his name spelled out in silver glitter. I already have the items that "Santa" was bringing him ... I don't know wha makes me more sad --- filling his stocking anyway or leaving it empty.

Losing a pet isn't easy no matter how it happens. But I am having an especially hard time with this because I know it's my fault. I shouldn't have left him home alone & I should have been extra careful when I drove into the driveway. It just replays in my head like a horrible movie.

Leo was/is a treasured member of our famly & we will miss him immensly as we make our way through the upcoming holiday season. (And always.)

Our little trio of trouble makers ....

... has suddenly become two.

To our little friend, Leo:
Thank you for being such an important part of our family.
Thank you for making us laugh with your silly ways,
being there to love us when we were feeling blue,
and for being the most loyal companion a gal & her fellas
could ask for.
We love you.
N, J, & I


  1. Oh Nicole, I'm just getting caught up on your blog... I am a doggy mom myself, and my heart hurts for you guys. You took wonderful care of Leo and there's no doubt he knew that.

    My old pup is going to be 12 in January... He has been my boy for so long, it's hard to remember what life was like before him. They are family for sure.

    Love and Hugs,

  2. Thanks, Sara! It's nice to hear from other doggy mamas. Love on your dog a little extra for us today! xo