“Today, Nick and I lost our best friend. It seems unfair that on the first day of the year, a day to reset, a day given to all of us to mark new beginnings, we would have to mourn the loss of our sweet puppy. But knowing that everything happens for a reason, and that God has charted a path we may not understand, we will celebrate the short life of our puppy. Searching for a photo to share this news was hard. Seeing all these amazing memories…we’ve cried, laughed, hugged, smiled, cried, and just sat in silence thinking about all of the moments we shared as a family, and about how much joy Bo brought into the world. I read a quote once that said that dogs live such short lives because they’re born knowing how to love unconditionally, and that we as humans spend our entire lives learning that lesson, so we need more time. Bo-Bear loved so many so much – he knew no stranger, or how small he was, or how cute he was, or that it wasn’t normal for one dog to fly so much. He knew we were his family, his home, and I will treasure that forever. Rest in peace my sweet baby Bo. #bobearthemorkie” – January 1, 2016
I shared that photo and post via social media on the first day of the year. In the almost nine weeks since, we’ve countered grief with celebration – and we’ve changed. I wrote about love, loss, and learning for my friend Catherine’s blog not long after Bo passed. And here we are, weeks after that, and we’re still figuring out what it means to be “The Respeckis” minus one.
We lost Bo on a Friday morning and had three painful days at home to grieve together before returning to work. I’m grateful for those days now, but at the time, the reminders of him were everywhere, and we were overwhelmed. The artists in us immediately fought for memorial: “I’m going to write about him, about all of this,” I said. “I’m going to gather all of the pictures we have of him from our phones and everything. I’ll make a photobook to commemorate his short life,” Nick said. We tried. It was too hard.
Time heals, they say. “They” are right. We’re getting our land-legs back, and I figured it’s time we tell this story.
Nick and I came to DC with no expectations. Two twenty-somethings with a whole lotta drive, and a whole lotta learning to do. We were excited and ready for newness after six years of college in a small Midwestern town. We would never have admitted it, not to each other and definitely not to family and friends, but we were scared. And we were homesick. Three weeks after our big move, we came home with a puppy. After we built up the courage to tell our parents we had gotten a dog, Bo quickly became the star of our lives.
Everyone loved Bo-Bear. He had the sweet, loving demeanor of a Maltese, but the spunk, and attention demand of a Yorkie. He was a hit with our neighbors and friends (thank goodness – you can always use great puppy sitters!). He tried to impress his girly-friend Mochi, got punked on by his Frenchie friend Puck, would steal treats out of our neighbor’s pocket during playdates, and had an obsession with any green toy, ball, blanket, you name it. We quickly discovered it was easy to take him everywhere in the city. Once when Bo was a pup, I was on the phone with my mom while at Walgreens, paused and told her, “hang on – the cashier wants to give Bo a dog biscuit!” The ease of access and travel led from one thing to the next and before we knew it, Bo had been on more flights than my baby brother and sister.
Bo being a city dog of course came with some hiccups. Car rides were like torture – for him and us – and the “Thunder Shirt” anxiety jacket quickly became one of our greatest tools. He panted like a wild beast around fire and smoke (he wouldn’t get within 10 feet of a grill) and shook like a leaf during storms, and when it was cold. But no matter what was going on, life as a puppy parent was pretty damn fun and interesting.
I could go on, but I think you could do a quick Instagram search for #bobearthemorkie and see what all the fuss was about. (And to my credit, I relegated most of my 2015 sharing of Bo-Bear to snapchat so as not to anger my acquaintances and followers. You’re welcome.)
Bo was pretty healthy. Regular shots. On weight. Got plenty of exercise. Had a beautiful, non-shedding soft, coat. And had a decent diet (okay…he had Blue Buffalo on the regular but got his share of table scraps/licks of mom’s spoon). He had a number of ear infections as a puppy but nothing out of the norm. Regular heartworm, flea treatment, teeth brushing. I mean, looking back, we were probably obsessive with his care.
So we were a bit worried in early December when Bo came down with a splotchy red rash on his belly. Nick usually talks me off the ledge in those situations (I’m a full-fledged worry wort), and this was no different; we decided to wait a few days to see if Bo’s rash would subside and then visit the vet if there were no improvements. By Thursday we had decided the vet was in our near future and by Friday morning I had secured the last appointment of the day with the vet. That busy week culminated in an all-staff holiday party at my office on Friday afternoon, and I had to pass on all the post-holiday party happy hours; I remember telling every colleague that teased me for leaving the fun that I had a sick pup at home to tend to!
The vet was perplexed; Bo had a fever so they administered a fluid pack to cool him down (he looked like a cute puppy camel) and prescribed an antibiotic for the rash. Pets are tough to diagnose and therefore, vets are pretty honest about how they’re treating symptoms and not causes. The vet guessed an allergic reaction was the cause of the rash but together we were unable to pinpoint a possible environmental or ingested trigger. Home we went to snuggle and recoup.
The weeks leading up to Christmas were not very festive. Bo wasn’t himself, and it made our annual photo shoot with him for the Respecki’s Christmas card pretty rough. We made two more vet visits between that first week of December and Christmas. The second visit was back to the same vet for blood work, where they discovered a change in his rash to scaly patches. That time they prescribed a different antibiotic plus a steroid. A week later we visited his very first (more expensive) vet for a second opinion. By then he was in much better spirits, but was super itchy from the steroid. The vet switched him to an antibiotic from a different family of medicines, put him on a new allergy medication, and gave us a topical antiseptic mousse to clear up his yucky skin. She also seconded the first vet’s recommendation to visit an animal dermatologist.
We drove the 11+ hours to Nick’s hometown in Michigan for Christmas with a stinky, sick pup riding in the backseat – backseat rides were a rare experience for Bo on our road trips. Bo adores opening Christmas gifts, because well, he loooooved paper. This Christmas, he sniffed some gifts with disinterest, briefly chewed on a tiny corner of the giant bone Nick’s brother got him, and ended his lame gift-opening extravaganza by plopping himself on top of Nick’s newly unwrapped North Face coat. Nick’s mom, who is a nurse, was definitely worried about Bo. Her instinct was telling her he definitely had some sort of internal systemic infection, fully affecting his tiny body, from nose to tail tip.
We made it back home on the 27th of December and Nick and I worked a few days in the office leading up to the new year. We spent New Year’s Eve cleaning our carpets (what can I say, we’re clean freaks). At that point Bo’s health seemed stable, but frustratingly, we couldn’t see any real progress or improvement. I called the vet to check in, maybe see if a new round of blood work was due. I ended up playing phone tag with her. I literally missed her return call by milli-seconds because I was in the shower, and by the time I called back, it was moments before their noon closer for NYE. She emailed me later that day to check in and we thought, oh good, she’s thinking of Bo, and decided we’d check back in when they opened back up on Saturday, January 2nd. In the meantime, I called the veterinary dermatologist, one of about 150 in the country, to make an appointment – January 25th was the earliest appointment we could get. We topped NYE off with an antiseptic shampoo bath (Nick drove around to 6 places to find it) and a rather painful hair-drying for Bo. His appetite had faded, so I made him some chicken breasts and rice to see if we could peak his interest in some food. He gobbled it up. We popped open a bottle of champaign, symbolically, and Bo spent his NYE relaxed next to us in the leather chair…a very rare treat for him, being allowed on that leather chair.
While Bo was sick, his body was sort of sticky and stinky from what had rapidly become a full-body yeast infection, being treated with that topical mouse and antiseptic shampooing. For such a handsome dog, this was tragic in and of itself. He was spending his nights in our bed, but he had been stationed at the foot of the bed with his dog bed and a sheet underneath to keep him cool, and our bedding clean (I told you, we’re clean freaks). Twice in the middle of the night on what was at that point January 1, 2016, I remember Bo moving up to the head of the bed, trying to snuggle up between us. Both times, I scolded him, probably said, “Bo! No, you still stink! Lay back down here” and plopped him back at the foot of the bed. It’s painful now to remember that as our last night with our sweet puppy.
The morning of January 1, we awoke and Nick took Bo out for his morning walk. On his way back to the apartment, he opened the door, laughed, and called me to come watch. He had taken off Bo’s leash to let him walk down the hall on his own, which we did frequently. I came to watch and there was teensy Bo, walking as if he were drunk, barely able to open his eyes. We got a good chuckle in, probably said something uplifting to one another, like, “he’ll be better soon, the poor little guy,!” and then got him snuggled back up on that leather chair. When we went to give him medicine that morning, we noticed something was off. His tongue was nearly white, and his body was becoming almost cold to the touch. After some googling we began to get pretty worried (read: none of the symptoms were good signs). Nick warmed up a heating pad, and I sat with Bo snuggled in my arms, trying to raise his body temperature with the heating pad and blankets. We took turns holding him, and debating what to do given the holiday and knowing the vet’s offices were all closed. I finally called the emergency vet, and given his symptoms, was instructed to bring him right in as soon as we could. We took turns quickly getting ready to leave the house, and holding our sweet Bo tight.
I’ll spare you some of the brutal details, but the several hours of our lives from waking that morning, to the time we officially said goodbye to our Bo-Bear at the emergency vet clinic, were some of the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking hours I can remember. When we arrived at the vet, they rushed him from my arms, confirmed that we were willing to pay for life-saving procedures if needed, and took us to a private room to wait. Just minutes later, the vet had arrived to offer condolences and tell us our sweet fur baby was gone. If it was any comfort, the vet team said, he had likely passed when the three of us were still at home together.
I want to tell people about all the weird moments no one talks about when you lose a pet. About how Nick kept telling me Bo was going to be fine, that me crying wasn’t helping, to stay calm…when all the while I was holding on tight to what we now known was our puppy’s lifeless body. Or about how heartbreaking it is to realize that when you live in a city, you don’t get to take your pup home to be buried in the backyard – instead his tiny body gets sent to the pet crematorium, ashes to be returned to you later. Or about how angry I am that our freshest memories of Bo are of him absolutely miserable, on the verge of death, and here we were, oblivious, holding on to hope. But I’ve fought hard to push those thoughts and feelings out of my mind, because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I can’t – we can’t – carry around any regrets.
This is a lot, and I’m wondering as I type, what good this much information could possibly be, and who in their right mind will read all of this. I know my grandmother will read to the end, so grandma this is for you: there’s always a plan. So much of our lives are out of control, and Nick and I, of all people, were probably due a reminder. Bo came into our lives just when we needed him, and he left, just when it was time. I won’t ever understand, neither will Nick. And that’s becoming okay. I didn’t wake up on January 3rd and know that, or feel that. But slowly, I see. And finally after all of these weeks, these memories of our first baby, the sweet, curious, demanding, snuggly pup that was loved by so many, are what I’m holding on to.