A Love Note to My Suddenly Disabled Dog

 Originally Posted on July 26th, 2010

Dear Daphne (A.K.A. Scup, Scuppy Pup, Scuppy Puppy, Pooch MaGoo, MaGoodie, Oodie, Oodie DeeDee, Daffy Dog, Oodie DeeDee-My Daffy Dog),

I know you won’t be able to read this, but that’s not stopping me.  I have something to tell you and I want to shout from the rooftops.As a kid, I dreamt of getting a dog just like you, but you didn’t arrive until I was a married thirty-year old homeowner. Pre-kids, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. You kicked off our family, giving us someone to love, care for, and yes, dote on, besides each other.

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but I fell in love with you even before we met.  I had seen a face much like yours — fuzzy, tan and white, with bright brown eyes, a black gum drop nose, a little canine smile, ears with personality to burn… one glance and I knew I was a goner.

When we finally met in person, we bonded instantly. Your coat was still wiry in texture and you scampered around the room on our first date like any other nine month-old puppy drunk with a taste of freedom.

On the ride home that first day, Nick (who would later coin all of your affectionate and highly creative nicknames) and I decided to name you “Daphne.”  Your birth name was “Madame,” but you didn’t look like a Madame to us (besides, with a name like that, I would always be looking over my shoulder for Wayland Flowers)

Like any new parent, I obsessed over every detail.  I bought all the books and the latest equipment.  You looked so smart in your new red collar.

You were home for three weeks before you barked for the first time.  In fact, I was starting to worry that you didn’t know how to bark.  It turns out you were saving your bark for other passing dogs… and that was about it.  You have never barked — not once — when someone has come to the door.

Daphne, you have completely spoiled us in this way.  You have also never cried or whined (unless someone accidentally stepped on you because you insisted on being underfoot when there was a chance that food could hit the floor, which is how you earned another nickname, “Little Miss Underfoot”).  You also, as it turned out, didn’t shed. This was very considerate of you. Not a must, but a plus we have come to appreciate.

Remember on our neighborhood walks how people would always stop us to ask what kind of dog you are?  “Wire hair fox terrier,” I would reply with a smile.  One time, a fellow passing us on the street took one look at you and exclaimed, “Asta!” He was of course referring to the famous fox terrier from one of our favorite old movies, The Thin Man.

Like any great relationship, we have had our moments: occasional accidents in the house, bolting outside in a thunderstorm (much to our terror), but nobody’s perfect.  You’ve been great with the kids, though a little slow to admit they’re not your litter mates at times.  In the big picture, you have been a fantastic dog.  Daph, we began as a trio and now we’re a quad.  This quartet loves you like no other.

That is why it is so hard to think that our time together is starting to run out.  You are twelve and change now, which is still kind of low-milage for your breed.  I thought we’d have a few more good years.

As I sit here and write to you, you are lying cozily on your bed next to me.  You are snoozing away.  Looking at you in this setting, you wouldn’t know that you are now disabled.  Around Christmas, you back legs start to slip out from under you.  It was subtle at first and was easy to mistake for the slippery new floors in our new house.  By Easter, you were still getting around, but your hips were lower than they used to be.  By May, we were ordering you a wheel chair.

Having run every test, we have learned that you are in great health, except that your brain is no longer communicating with your back-end.  You are not in pain, you are just weak.  Looking for more answers, the new vet has helped you tremendously with a diet makeover, supplements, Chinese herbs, and acupuncture treatments. You have put wieght back on and have perked up.

As if we didn’t have enough challenges, the conversation with the woman from the canine wheelchair company who called to get my credit card number, floored me.

Yes, she completely flabbergasted me by taking it upon herself to tell me that you have a fatal condition, not unlike the human ALS.  When I tried to tell her that neither of your doctors had mentioned this as a potential diagnosis, she replied expertly, “they don’t always know.  Doctors make mistakes.”

She continued, “I’m just telling you so that you can prepare yourself emotionally,” as if she were my father’s oncologist, instead of a custom dog-wheelchair purveyor.  “I’ve seen this disease in a lot of wire hair fox terriers in the last couple of years,”  she persisted.  Wow. Nothing I said from our side made a difference to her.  She’s convinced this is what’s wrong with you and there was no talking her out of it.  She was as tenacious as a terrier herself.

This, needless to say, threw me for a loop.  I didn’t think that this leg weakness development could or would kill you.  I just thought you were entering your “Senior” phase with a bang.
For the record, neither the vet nor I accept this unsolicited phone diagnosis as gospel (though it is a boogeyman in my head at times).

With all of this drama swirling around you, the great news is that you seem blissfully unaware to your new limitations.  You still love to give kisses and get your snowy white tummy rubbed.  You still get excited for meals.  You still love to sniff the morning breeze.  You are yourself in every way, except that you can’t walk. I am so happy that you are small enough that I can pick you up and take you out with ease (we’d be in big trouble otherwise). We have had to build a new routine with your more complicated care. You have been a total trouper throughout.

Daphne, I admire the way you are perfectly fixed in the present moment. You inhabit only now in your canine-time-stasis.  It’s me who is a part-time mess.  I try to stay present, because I think this is what you may be trying to teach me, by example, or should I say “Ood-xample?”

But my heart is breaking at the thought of loosing you, my little pup.

I have philosophical blips where I tell myself that this is part of life, that we have given you an loving home and that nothing and no one lives forever.  Then I have moments where I felt powerless and even a little hopeless.

Then I rally… hope returns.  “Who knows?” I think to myself.  “You may continue on in this condition just for quite some time and be fine.”  Wheelchair woman be damned!

I just needed to verbally declare, Daphne, that no matter what the future holds for us — for it is a mystery — you are a huge part of our hearts, now and forever.

You, Oodie-Dee-Dee-Scuppy-Pup-Pooch-Magoo-Miss-Daffy-Doggie, have been the delightful dog of our dreams.

Love Always,

Daphne in repose with Nooble, the teddy bear.



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