Staying on the Ground
My original purpose for my next blog post was to write about a huge change in my life. I got a new job and was relocating back home in Houston TX and would be closer to my friends and family. While I haven’t been as regular on this blog as I have wanted, or even anticipated when I first hit publish, I wanted to write about my horse and our many adventures. I wanted to write from the end of our story to the very beginning because it was a journey I have been completely blessed to be apart of. And I have every intention to document our story. But then my dad passed, and despite my dad’s failing health for the last few years, you’re never really ready for it to come. I was still raw at losing Peps, and even my sense of identity to an extent. After all, I had always been that girl who was probably a little too obsessed with horses. You remember those girls, there seems to be one in every class. I couldn’t wrap my mind around who I was if I didn’t have horses in my life. And yet due to my budget, cost of living, and lack of access since Peps I was forced to figure that out.
By the time my dad passed I felt like I was maybe, just maybe figuring that out. I was going to document that with this blog as well. What’s that saying “you plan, and God laughs” ? THUMP! Another emotional hit! My dad passed and just when I felt like I was finally starting to get back on my feet I fell to the ground again. But what other choice did I have but to once again try and get back on my feet. Most quoted sayings I have heard is “When you fall off the horse, you have to get back on.” It’s as true in riding as its often quoted for life. My entire equestrian life has been Ok I fell off, let’s get back on. It’s the only way I know how to operate, through if I am being honest there are one or two times I should have chosen to go to the hospital instead of immediately back in the saddle.
So I do what I know I fell, I have to get back up. One month after my dad, my car died. Now I am not terribly attached to my car, it was just wildly inconvenient but I dealt with that too. I was an adult I car shopped and purchased my first car, a Jeep Wrangler. Then irony that I traded in my dad’s Wrangler for another Wrangler is not lost on me. But this one is automatic so I know how to drive it.
A tide seemed like it was turning, I got a new opportunity with a great company, and it would take my back to my hometown. I just thought ok finally refresh, things have got to change now. I wish I could say that things did, that it all fell into place and it did to an extent. But the universe wanted to get one last hit in.
Its started when I officially moved back, see my BFF, Chelsea, took my dog, Jack, home with her so I could pack up my house without having to worry about him. I went to her house once I was settled at my my mom and stepdad. A temporary plan while my house sells. Jack is older, but he doesn’t act like it. I went to Chelsea’s house to pick him up, and I noticed he was moving a little slowly. Not too unusual he tended to over exert himself and would be sore for a few days after he played too rough with her dogs. She told me she had given him the night before his anti-inflammatory meds my vet prescribed for those moments so I just wrote it off as soreness. I figured a few days at my mom’s and he’ll be good as new. But later that night he didn’t want to eat nor did he go the restroom. Which was weird, he has the nickname Poos for a reason. Looking closer I realized that his stomach seems bloated and when I felt it it felt hard. My mom was worried too and stated that she would bring him the animal clinic that was around the corner on Monday.
Since it would be my first day of work I went in, and let her take him. My day passed as first days typically do, just be introduced to different coworkers watch a few orientation videos. I kept an eye on my phone thinking my mom would call with news of Jack eventually. But the day passed with no word. Finally I called on my way home and asked after him. “Let’s talk when you get home” Yeah nope that’s definitely not good. I asked her to just tell me now. She did the vet did an exam and an X-ray. There was a tumor that was quite large, so large in fact it was taking up most of the abdominal cavity. He was going to send the images off to a radiologist to confirm, but in his experience dogs rarely survive once it gets that big.
I think it was the first time my brain went completely silent, before I had a thought of well that’s not true. All I could think of was picking Jack up and driving him to Austin to his vet there. He had just had blood work in July, it all came back normal, so how on Earth did this tumor just come out of nowhere. To hell with that, I want a second opinion. My mom agreed and said she make an appointment at an animal hospital here in Houston. I hung up and continued my drive home. Sure that yes, someone would say he’ll be ok. After all Jack never acted his age, nor did he look his age. Most people who heard he was 12 would be like ‘seriously? He doesn’t seem that old.’ Jack would be fine.
As the week went on, the animal hospital had been so busy the next appointment wouldn’t be until the following week, I watched as Jack lost his appetite completely and still had trouble going outside. What’s more is he seemed to get skinnier while his belly became more descended. By the weekend anymore then a few more steps were too much for him. He’d stop and have to lay down. Much of our walks went that way a few steps a few yards down and he’d lay down for a break and I’d sit down next to him to talk to him. Didn’t matter how long these breaks were they were the same. He seemed happy though even if he was in discomfort he seemed happy to be with everyone. Mom was pulling out all the stops for him, want chicken? Steak? If he would eat it my mom would feed it to him.
Days before our walks came with breaks, he started to struggle with the stairs. As I slept upstairs it’s where he slept. So every night I would pick up all 68lbs of him and carry him upstairs for bedtime. It wasn’t hard to laugh at the memories of doing this when he was a puppy. When I got Jack he was 3 months old and had never been introduced to stairs. I lived in my first apartment, on the 3rd floor no elevators. When he was small and cute it was no issue to just pick him up and carry him up and down the stairs to take him outside multiple times a day. Pretty sure it was how I’d lost about 15lbs in my early 20s. But as he got bigger, it became harder to carry him. So time to learn stairs, except Jack had learned to he was to be carried up and down and he saw no reason to change this regardless of his recent growth spurt. He’d get away with it too, Mom always picked him up and carried him, sometimes I was too much in a hurry to deal with his puppy temper tantrum at making him go up and down stairs. It was a long summer of stair training, but by Fall, and when we were moving to a 2nd story apartment, he was running up and down the stairs like a champion. Now here we were 12 years later, him 30-40lbs heavier not to mention my own weight gain, carrying him up and down stairs once more. He played the long game.
By the weekend, I was coming to terms that the second opinion vet might have the same opinion and I would need to say goodbye once more to someone important to me. So I took him to my BFF, Chelsea’s house, see her dog Zoey, affectionately referred to as Buggy ,was Jack’s BFF. It only felt right to bring him over for one more play date. Chelsea took it harder, I had watched him decline all week, she saw him go from normal to suddenly having the most simple things be a struggle. “I wasn’t expecting to cry tonight” She said as she watched him slowly sniff around the back yard. I just nodded, tears had pretty much been a constant for me of late. The night was great though, @chubbygirlclimbing (go read her posts on the @thedihedral she’s hilarious) came over and we spend the majority of the evening talking and laughing and one memorable video of us singing N*SYNC and the Backstreet Boys to Jack. (Yes, alcohol was involved. How’d you guess?). It was a wonderful evening filled with friends both human and four legged, and I think Jack was happy to be around us, even if he looks super judgemental in the video.
By Sunday evening, I came to the decision it was time to say goodbye. He was struggling to even get up and stay up let alone walk. Mom agreed, we had two more full days until the vet appointment with the specialist and at this rate we both felt that he wouldn’t make it. “I’ll call the vet that diagnosed him tomorrow morning, first thing” I nodded and decided to let my new job that I would be unable to make it tomorrow. I had already let them know the situation and they were wonderfully understanding. Jack was not what you’d call a lapdog, when he was a puppy he loved to cuddle. But as an adult he never would, the closest you could get was him laying next to you. Sometimes if you sat down next to he’d get up and move which was incredibly rude. Honestly sometimes he was more cat than dog. But that night he laid in my lap like he was a puppy again and I decided to just sit with him like this all night if that’s what he wanted.
By 3am he got up and curled up in his bed and I decided I would get some sleep in mine. I only got a few hours before I awoke quite violently. I looked around the still dark room and couldn’t find Jack. I had placed a little barrier at the top of the stairs to avoid him getting hurt and stumbling down the stairs. I noticed the barrier was knocked over and I hurried to the stairs. Flipping on the lights, there at the bottom of the stairway was Jack laying in his own filth. He whined and had the nervous look of a dog who knew they did something bad. “Oh Jack” I whispered “your a good boy, let’s get you cleaned up” I let him in the back yard and I set to work cleaning his fur and his face in which he had somehow gotten messed too. My heartbreaking a little bit more. But I focused on cleaning Jack, and then cleaning up the floor. It wasn’t too long before my mom came out. I told her what happened and see stated she’d call the Vet.
By 8am, we were waiting for a call from the vet on call. By 9am we were on the way to the vet’s office. Everyone was somber, “right this way” the vet tech lead us straight into a room already set up. 3 injections later, and the Vet said he was gone. ‘How can that be’ I thought ‘I still feel his breath’. The first injection was a sedation so he’d be sleepy, he’d laid down when his head in my lap one paw curled around my leg. The vet and vet tech left first, my mom second to give me time alone she said as she left. ‘Got all day?’ I thought because I would stay here all day. But I knew I couldn’t not really. Eventually they would come to pick up his body and take him to the pet crematorium and I would have to reorganize a book shelf to add yet another urn to it. My own little morbid collection. I unclipped his collar and leaned down and give him a kiss “say hi to Pepsi for me, tell him I said to be nice to you. But don’t try to eat his hay again, that’s why he charged at you that time” I smiled at the memory but that was a story for another day. “Love you, you were the best dog. Thank you for being mine.”
There is something very surreal about walking into a vet office with an animal, and walking out without one knowing that you’re not coming back to pick them up later. At least not in the traditional sense. I knew from my experience with Pepsi’s passing I would be back to collect an Urn full of ashes. So on a beautiful September day I fell again, but this time I wouldn’t rush getting back up. Even if it was just for a day I would stay down and take stock of my ‘injuries”. I went to a metaphorical hospital and hid out at Chelsea’s house watching movies, letting Buggy curl up into my side I knew she knew. Tomorrow I will get back up, get on my feet and start another new normal. Sometimes it’s not always get immediately back on the horse after a fall, sometimes you just need to stop and take a pause, assess the situation, and take care of your injuries. The saddle can wait, right now I just want the ground.