The weather forecasters were calling for a massive snow storm to move through our area. In preparation, road crews salted the roads, Durhamites rushed the grocery stores for the essentials, and finding a snow shovel or salt for home walkways and driveways was pretty much non-existent. In short, the day was shaping up to be one of those days you'd much rather stay home in front of the fire and cuddle up with the wife and the pups. I hopped in the car and began to drive about 20 minutes north of our home. The car thermometer showed a crisp 26 degrees outside, but I was bundled up in my Air Force issued cold weather parka, a hoodie, thermals, and various other layers. My wife said I looked like Ralphie from "A Christmas Story" as I left the house. I laughed as I closed the door, knowing that I'd be sweating from all the thermal layers. My solace was knowing that I'd soon be walking my favorite client Ellie through the snow and the cold. A few minutes later I arrived at my client's house, already baking from the layers upon layers of cold weather gear. As I approached the back door of my client's home, I heard the deep, foreboding bark of Ellie, a 2-year old German Shepard. Though Ellie sounded viscous, she's actually a sweetheart and is always ready for a good walk. She's young, healthy, alert, and a joy to be around. I clipped the leash on Ellie and we started our 30-minute walk around the property. Usually when I walk Ellie, I think about my to-do lists or what needs to take place in the business. As the snow fell, however, I was consumed by thoughts of how I love my life and what I do. The temperature dipped below freezing, yet, I was happy to walk next to this magnificent animal who is so in-tune with her surroundings that she noticed the birds flying, cars passing, and the neighbor pulling into his driveway. She's was with me, enjoying the walk and taking in all the sights and sounds. She knew I was there to care for her and to provide the praise and treats she desired. She never takes me for granted...she walks because it feels good to her and because it pleases me. As we walked, I forgot about the freezing cold and snow that was falling. My thoughts went to the past jobs I've held and how the jobs left me unfulfilled. As we walked together, I thought about how good it felt to be with Ellie as she walked and lived her day. I thought about how calming it was to be with a being that is so attentive and non-judgmental. I also realized how important it is be happy with what a person does for a living. I make a living spending time with animals who crave human attention. The fact that the temperature was below freezing and it was snowing was irrelevant. What is relevant is that being with such amazing animals makes me happy no matter what the temperature, weather, conditions, or circumstances. I'm a pet sitter, dog walker, and business owner...caring for animals is what I do. Today affirmed that business and life are good!
I can’t always remember little details of my life, i.e., my first birthday party, a first friend, my first crush, but I can remember when I first fell in love with our little Lulu. My wife at the time, Elizabeth burst in to the design and retail scene in St. Louis in 2001. She quickly developed a following and we were embraced by many of the local citizens of the small neighborhood in which we lived. Her store was a huge success with visitors coming from near and far to experience her keen eye for design and display. Part of the draw to the store was a furry, friendly little fawn pug named Monty. He was the cutest store greeter Elizabeth’s customers had ever seen. Monty melted many hearts and fit in perfectly with the black and beige signature theme of the store. Fast forward almost two years into the story, Elizabeth’s 40th birthday was fast approaching in December of 2003. Like any good husband, I was searching for just the right gift for a woman who was rich in family, friends, and notoriety. I knew a surprise birthday party would be the center point of the celebration, so I proceeded to schedule the party in the restaurant located next door to the store. I invited many of the friends we had grown to enjoy over the past 2 years and began to count down the days to the party. The only thing missing was the special gift I still needed to locate. I had decided several weeks in advance that the gift would be another puppy to add to our home. I decided the perfect complement to our home and the store would be a black Pug. The “ying” to Monty’s “yang. “ I scoured the internet and ads for a breeder in the St. Louis area with pugs available. I found a local breeder in the area with an 8-week old litter available and set the date to make my clandestine trip to the breeder the day of the surprise party. I arrived at the breeder’s house and was greeted at the door by the familiar yapping of pug barks. The breeder took me to her small kennel area where I was introduced to a fuzzy brood of black and fawn pugs. It was the cutest site I’d seen since I picked out Monty 5-years earlier. There were two black pugs and four fawn pugs; all of them clambering to greet me all and inflict puppy love on me. They were all so cute, so warm, fuzzy, and so happy! I was overcome by puppy bites and puppy breath all at the same time. I was truly in heaven. Though all of the pups were absolutely beautiful, my only options were the two black pugs. One male, one female. Both were equally adorable, but since we already had one male pug at home, I chose the black female because she was so beautiful, warm, cuddly and attentive. A bundle of happiness, and puppy kisses given freely sealed the deal. I drove the little girl home, happy with the decision I made. She had huge bulging black eyes, a huge forehead and the cutest, tightest little swirled tail. I knew I made the right decision with this little girl, because she quickly came to rest on my lap as I was driving and began snoozing on the ride home. The little girl was presented on a beautiful red satin pillow at the height of the evening’s surprise party. The room went silent as the wait staff brought her in on the pillow, and the room erupted in oo’s and ah’s at the site of the little beauty. The little girl was placed on the floor and every adult human in the room quickly got on the floor and began playing with her and cooing their best puppy voices. The party and the little black pug puppy was a huge success! Through the course of events the little girl was named Lulu, after the city of St. Louis. The city and thought of naming her after her birthplace provided us much happiness. The name fit her because of her dainty stature, and because she was in fact, a lulu of a pain! She quickly grew to pester her new found brother, Monty. Monty hated the little girl with a vengeance for weeks, until he had to succumb to the reality that she wasn’t just a bad dream. Unlike her brother, Lulu was not born for retail work. She was taken to the store daily, but had to be placed in her kennel for fear of running out the door, pestering customers, or raising too much Cain. She was a very intelligent girl with lots of energy…sometimes too much energy, but she quickly won my heart and became the consummate “daddy’s girl.” Fast forward again through divorce, a move to another home, a move to Illinois, and then back to St. Louis, two more home changes, a move back to Texas, a new apartment, dating a wonderful woman name Liz, moving to Durham to be with Liz, marrying Liz, a new kitty brother named Nico and a new home, and countless memories, experiences, challenges, and losses in between, Lulu grew into a beautiful and vibrant pup. When we arrived Durham, Lulu was a mature 7-years old. Still a character and bundle of energy, Lulu grew to be the alpha in the home and still had daddy wrapped around her paw. Lulu aged gracefully and maintained all of the character I fell in love with when I picked her out of the litter. Her beautiful black eyes, bright with wisdom and adventure; her beautiful black coat shiny and peppered with grey; and her love for her brother, Monty and step-brother Nico evident in her daily interactions with them. Her daily routine included greeting daddy in bed by bursting through the bedroom door to announce it was time to eat breakfast, keeping a keen eye out on Liz as she sliced strawberries for breakfast, leading her now blind and aging brother through the yard to “do their business”, and waiting for daddy to return home from work. All of which Lulu excelled at as she aimed to live her life to the fullest. On September 9, 2013 Monty finally decided to leave us. His 15-year old body had finally had enough and decided it was time to rest. Lulu was by his side when Liz and I were saying goodbye to our faithful pup. Lulu knew her brother was no longer with her. She roamed through the house with little enthusiasm and direction. Nico felt the pain as well meowing through the house as to look for the ever present Monty. A week after Monty left us, Liz and I took a planned trip (Monty was going to join us) to the NC coast to enjoy the last of the summer weather. Lulu still seemed to be in a funk, but we made the best of a hard time, and she enjoyed her first trip to the beach. She played in the sand, I carried her into the surf (she didn’t like it), and took a beautiful 3-mile walk on the beach. She walked the entire 3-miles without effort, enjoying the cool sand and water on her paws. Liz, Lulu and I returned home two days later and continued on with our normal routine. Shortly before Monty left us, Lulu’s eating habits changed. Some vomiting and lack of appetite, and a little lethargy, which we had originally attributed to nerves and after Monty’s passing, depression about his loss. Blood tests showed a slight decrease in albumen protein levels, and her vet and I chose to take a conservative approach and change her diet to rule out food allergies, etc. Over the course of two months we changed her diet twice, with albumen levels increasing and then decreasing at her last blood test. We decided to run an ultrasound of her abdomen to see if protein levels were being lost via bleeding. Unfortunately, the results were more serious and horrific than expected. Lulu was diagnosed with lymphoma of the colon only a month after Monty’s passing. Lymphoma of the colon is a scourge found in only 17% of all dog cancer cases. Colon lymphoma is a rare and typically fatal form of cancer that is persistent and fast moving. Left untreated, a dog usually succumbs to the cancer 2-weeks to 2-months after diagnosis. Though unsure of the timetable we were dealing with, we immediately set an appointment with the oncologist at the local pet specialty clinic. The oncologist met with Lulu two days later and went through options available to us in battling the cancer. We started chemotherapy on Lulu the same day. Three weeks passed since her first chemo session. It’s been an emotional time with many peaks and valleys for all of us. Although, even with the chemo, most days have been good. We pinpointed her typical bad days as Wednesdays and Thursdays. By the weekend Lulu would be happy, energetic, and she would have a voracious appetite. Liz and I took these all to be signs of great hope and promise of recovery. Lulu accompanied me to work on Friday, October 25, 19-days into her chemo. Since chemo, Lulu’s mornings would start off pretty slowly, but then she would bounce back and be closer to normal. This day, she was not bouncing back. She was very lethargic and did not want to move from the spot she usually lays when she’s with me at work. I called the oncologist and they advised me to bring her in for a blood test, since anemia is a concern due to disruption of cell production from bone marrow compromise. As suspected, Lulu’s red blood cell count had dropped from 14% to 8% in the course of one week. Lulu was critically anemic, with the only hope of raising the levels being a red blood cell transfusion. I made the decision to administer sub-cutaneous fluids and an anti-nausea, in order to take Lulu home to be comfortable. She had been through enough already. When we arrived home, Liz and I made the decision to make Lulu as comfortable as possible. We started by feeding her steak; a treat she has never enjoyed in her entire life! We also discussed feeding her liver, kale, and black strap molasses, all of which are high in iron in the attempt to raiser her red blood cell count. Friday evening we watched with great hope as Lulu ate her entire steak dinner. She was alert, walking in the house, though she was visibly weak. Saturday morning, she ate her remaining steak and again was alert and walking in the house. She weakened throughout the day, and we continued to make her comfortable. We wrapped her in our pets’ favorite blanket and loaded her into our pet/garden wagon and took her on a walk of the neighborhood. She laid in the wagon and seemed to enjoy the bright sunshine, breeze, and crisp fall air. We stopped several times to allow Lulu to do her business and also found a nice patch of green grass to lay in and take pictures with our girl. It was a wonderful time to walk her…Lulu truly seemed happy and content. Saturday evening Lulu was still very weak. She laid in her bed in the kitchen and watched intently as I made dinner. She knew that the kitchen equals goodness and she was bright-eyed and alert as I fed her bits of liver we had cooked for her earlier. She joined us wrapped in her favorite blanket in the living room as we had our dinner. Again, knowing that she should be with us waiting for any morsel to fall on the ground. She happily spent her last evening in our presence, in the home she loved, with the people who loved her. As I laid on the floor with her that night, Lulu weakened to the point where she was struggling for air. Her red blood cells were not providing the necessary oxygen to her lungs and brain to recover. She woke me with a poor cry to tell me she was ready to be relieved from her misery. We called her vet, Amy from Carver Street Animal Hospital at 4:30 a.m. who came to help Lulu rest comfortably. Liz and I laid on the floor with Lulu as Amy prepared to administer the medication. As I held Lulu tightly in my arms and the medication was traveling through her frail body, Lulu looked at me and began licking my nose…a final gesture of love and respect for her best friend of ten years. Within seconds, Lulu stopped breathing and her little heart went still…21-days into her chemotherapy. This is in memoriam of Lulu. A tiny and beautiful little pug who knew her place in the world. She loved everyone who she came in contact with and trusted without question. She was a brave girl who was challenged many times in her life, but always faced her days with vigor and positive attitude. Like all cancer patients, whether human or animal, Lulu did not deserve her fate, but she trusted in us to at least try to make her whole. And then trusted in us again to take her pain from her. Lulu will always be my special girl. She will be missed every minute of the day and will continue to be my most special and trusted companion. Peace to you dear Lulu, until we meet again and we can run and play together in the Kingdom of Our Father.
In July 1998, I was completing my last few months on a 14-year term with the US Air Force. My 9-year-old bulldog, Winston's health was beginning to decline, and I made the decision to bring home a new addition to the family. After much searching, I found a breeder in town who specialized in AKC pugs. I made the appointment to meet with the breeder and visit with his most recent litter of 8-week old balls of fur. I was greeted at the back gate by a gaggle of yapping and rambunctious little furry pugs that were so cute, I nearly bought them all! I quickly got on my knees and was overrun by the little guys and was quickly enveloped by the youthful smell of puppy breath. Licking, nipping, playing, the eight little pups were all so cute. One in particular caught my eye because he was the most inquisitive, attentive, and playful. His coat was fawn color and he had a beautiful black mask and curly little tail. He quickly melted my heart and I knew he would come home with me. On the way home, the little guy sat in a box in the passenger seat of the car. He kept trying to get out of the box, and I took him out and held him against my chest. He quickly crept up to my shoulder and began nibbling at my ear. It was the sweetest feeling! He immediately settled onto my shoulder and began snoozing all the way home. I introduced him to the family that day, and he immediately became a part of the clan. My bulldog, Winston was curious and ultimately took on the role of "big brother" to the little guy. We settled on the name, Monty. Short for Montgomery, as in Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, in keeping with the British name theme in the house, i.e., Winston (Churchill). Monty quickly became the terror of the house! He was fast, wild, and unstoppable. If he wasn't into trouble, Monty was pestering Winston relentlessly. Winston was patient, yet stern with the little guy. Winston taught Monty the finer points of being a good little brother. From going outside when needed to killing balloons, to eating tomatoes, bananas, and strawberries. Monty picked up all the lessons and internalized them quickly. Winston left us three short years later, but Monty was by his brother's side mourning him and placing his head on his brother's motionless haunch. A few weeks later, a group of faceless terrorists hijacked four airplanes and turned our country up-side-down and forced even further mourning on our family. Twelve years have passed since Monty lost his brother. There were many moves, a divorce, changes in addresses, a new sister (a pug name Lulu), more moves, a new love for daddy, another move, a marriage resulting in a new mother, a new kitty brother (Nico), and the ailments of an aging body. Monty spent the last 2-years of his life living, eating, sleeping, and enjoying the tranquility of the family that loved him. Monty never ceased to amaze us. Even through the aches, pains, and age, he always found the strength to find his way to the kitchen and wait for mom's strawberry, banana, or tomato treats. He always knew where to find us. Even with the blindness and lack of hearing, Monty always had the sense to know where we were. He loved his brother, sister, his mom and dad to the end. He left us on a Monday morning. I discovered him as I was getting ready for my workday. Monty was laying in his bed, and he appeared to be sleeping when I walked in. I shook him to wake him up, but he was already gone. I carried him upstairs to be with my wife and we laid him on the floor and mourned our Boy's lifeless body. Lulu joined us and watched from a distance unsure what to do. Nico began meowing and the morning became very quiet in our home. Monty was returned to us in a decorative wooden box. His ashes a reminder of a life fulfilled and never to be forgotten. Most research shows that Lulu and Nico can mourn the loss of their brother. In our house, the research is supported by Lulu constantly following me and aware of something missing in her life. Nico roams the house meowing as if asking where he can find his lost companion. My wife prepares breakfast in the morning under the watchful eye of only Lulu. She wells up at the thought of the quiet and lack of Monty's presence. I think back to the loss of my other boy, Winston, and try to remember how long it took me to stop mourning. For now, I live my days with Monty on my mind: his eyes, his soft fur, his velvet like ears, and his sweet, sweet disposition. Such a faithful companion, with nothing but love and honesty to give. Again, I wonder how long my mourning will last. This is in Memoriam of Monty. We miss him every day. We'll love him to the end of time. A sweet little pug who touched the lives of many and opened our hearts and minds to unconditional love and dedication.