Dog Love

Leeds with Love

Laura and I met online Feb 1st of this year in a Sisters breast cancer group. In her first video, Laura smiled and told me she’s from Leeds in Yorkshire, and I left her my own introduction from Decatur, Georgia, each of us happy to connect over these first shy hellos. We soon merged with a larger online Sisters group where we all got to know each other and Laura better. We learned she’s a Kate Bush fan, art maker, teacher, friend, mother, lover, and we all loved her vibrant, passionate, beautiful, soulful self, and of course that glorious accent. All of it was ace, as Laura would say.

For now our group is seven ladies, five in the US, one in Canada, and Laura in the UK, and our ages range from early thirties to late fifties, and we are connected along this journey that is breast cancer. I’ve compared our video platform to a hop on hop off bus. When we need to get on, we hop on, and find a new experience waiting for us with new information, connection and care, or we hop off and rejoin again when we can. Depending on what stage of treatment we’re in, sometimes we show up with hair on our head, then with no hair, and then with hair again. We show up however and wherever we are and whenever we want, and we cry and we laugh, but mostly we just show up and share. 

At first, for me Laura seemed far away, far across that pond we knew was between us, but with each new video, that distance melted. As Laura began her afternoons, we would wake up to her occasional morning Marco Polo videos (polos as we call them) and find she’d already completed her writing and yoga morning routine, walked her dog Wally and moved a mountain or two long before any of us had even begun to stir. As our bonds grew some of us sent each other little gifts; I sent Laura chocolates which she loved and later mailed Wally some bacon bones, but they were returned to me in the States for some reason marked “undeliverable.” 

Our friendships have brought a positive, helpful energy as some of us are still dealing with surgeries, chemo, radiation, and other treatments still ahead. Sometimes post chemo and still with steroids in her system, Laura would fast talk through her videos, giddy and silly, and other times her lovely enormous eyes would widen and her voice dim when she was having a particularly difficult day. The ease of showing up as we are before people who understand and want to listen is a comforting reminder that we are together for all the seasons of our lives, of our years, and of our cancer.

We cry, we laugh, but mostly we just show up and share. 

This past July, my husband and I visited our son who was studying abroad in Oxford, and Laura agreed we should meet. She’d take the train from Leeds into London, and we’d set aside a day in which to play. She videoed me after she’d bought her ticket and now this fun almost fictitious online creation of ours would get to step out into the sun. We let the group know our plans and promised to send a polo. We knew it would be a ball, but couldn’t have predicted the unprecedented London heat wave with temps soaring to 103F and cancelling all trains. The rails buckle in such heat, my mechanical engineering student son told me. Laura and I were certainly disappointed as was the group, since they were excited to take the trip vicariously through us, but cheerful Laura decided it just wasn’t meant to be and besides, she’d come to the States next year and visit New York.

Fast forward several months and my husband had another trip planned—technically a necessary international mileage run if he wanted to keep his Delta SkyMiles diamond status—and this new travel itinerary could and would include London! I proposed another try at a visit to Leeds, but Laura said she’d likely still be in the middle of radiation. Drats! We kept up our chat back and forth, however, and because of our will, we found a way and a day after her radiation was complete. I suggested we not tell the group–a tad deceitful, yes, but I didn’t want there to be another disappointment and also there’s nothing quite like a good surprise, is there? Cancer patients put their lives on hold, and with so many appointments, travel is mostly nonexistent. We knew our group would enjoy a Laura/Susan Leeds redo and we’d send them a video when it happened.

On schedule, the 9:03am train arrived at London Kings Cross station Platform 5, and I found a great seat with a table in a mostly empty car across from a woman who’d scored a similar setup, also on her way to Leeds, to one of the The Ivy restaurants she oversees. As we settled in, we got to talking and each admitted noticing the palpable somberness in the air since the Queen’s passing and burial just two days earlier. I learned this lovely woman was from Italy–either Sicily or Sardinia, I don’t remember—but had lived in the UK enough years to now feel a part of it, and admitted that she deeply felt this loss of Her Majesty the Queen. She worked some and we talked some as hay bales, cows, and fields whirred by, accelerating the 2.5-hour ride. 

Soon I would see Laura’s face and be in the company of her voice in real time—a half hour to go, then fifteen minutes more, and then I’d be there. Finally, the train pulled into the station, and I hopped off, glancing at my text from Laura on where exactly we’d meet. When I looked up, just a turnstile between us, before me was this magnificent beaming face with wide eyes full of love, and I fell into her open arms as if they were my own mother’s. So much emotion in this long-awaited embrace. I’m really here, we both kept marveling, and Laura captured this moment in that surprise video we couldn’t wait to send the group.

Laura had the entire day’s itinerary set and said she’d run it by her therapist that morning who thought everything sounded great. I love that my visit made it into her session, and that the day was equally important to her. This girl outing in some ways felt stolen and deliciously and satisfyingly selfish, one of those rare opportunities you don’t question, you take. First, Laura said she’d show me around her city, Leeds architecture and history and places she thought I’d find interesting, and then we’d have a nice lunch at a fancy place, Uber to her house, see her sons and dog Wally, and then walk to the whale rock. I was all hers until 6 o’clock, and so we began our adventure. We saw the Leeds Corn Exchange, a gorgeous building dating back to the 1860s, and the equally stunning Leeds Market and County Arcade, and Laura bought me a box of her favorite Yorkshire tea as well as a hand towel with Leeds landmarks. 

Lunch was deluxe, as Laura would say, and we got seated at a nice window table. It was a beautiful restaurant and as I was taking it all in, I noticed the lady from the train in the other corner of the room at the lunch meeting she’d been preparing for, and she recognized me too and smiled my way. Like old friends, Laura and I talked and laughed nonstop, and each time a server came by our table, it flooded us back into our reality as restaurant patrons who ought to look at the menu and order lunch. No one rushed us, however, and we enjoyed delicious soup, salad, and salmon, and the attentive staff seemed to feed off our good energy.

Afterwards, we caught a cab to Laura’s house where she left another video: “Hi everybody, I’m with Susan and we’re going into my house. She’s come all this way. Susan is still here and so am I. I’m taking her to see my yellow gate and cheeky hens and so weirdly Susan’s here! You know they (her hens) started eating their own eggs? It’s so gross.” Soon after, it was no surprise that our phones began blowing up with new videos:

-One woman from her NC home shaking her fists exclaimed: “Susan and Laura! Oh my gosh. Ahhh, that’s so exciting, what a surprise! Susan’s makin’ the rounds, she’s gonna have met all of us in the next year.” (I’d already met two ladies in May while visiting my son in NYC) 

-Another from her car while driving in Canada: “WTF that’s so cool, what a lovely surprise!”

-Another in Michigan post chemo from her pillow where she was resting: “I love seeing you two together. That’s so sweet.”

-Another, walking the streets of New York, “Oh my gosh, I was so happy to see you guys together!” 

-Another, smiling from her home on Long Island, “I loved seeing Susan and Laura together.” 

Inside I met Wally, the part shepherd all love pup we’ve seen in so many videos and who now had an edible parcel from America to open, and I didn’t hesitate to let him nibble a few. Laura’s older son was home so I met him and later on, his brother too. In past videos, Laura’s occasionally nudged her sons to say hello to our group, and they’ve politely obliged, but it was particularly special to meet them at their home in person. It was a win-win-win, traveling on my own by train to a new place, a full day with Laura, and the happy greetings we shared with our Sisters group. 

While we’d been busy around town dining and laughing, Wally, I’m certain, had been anticipating a walk. We booted up (Laura loaned me her new boots) and coated up (Laura also loaned me her waterproof coat) for the rainy walk, a light mist none of us minded, and set off toward the whale rock on meandering trails, steep inclines and through dense forests. Occasionally we’d look at the time and realizing we still had loads, the day continued unfolding just as Laura had planned. Wally occasionally went exploring off leash, but always returned when Laura called. What a good boy. The whale rock was just as I imagined, a large stone whale-shaped outcropping with an eye cut into one side. We sent the girls another video and again, those likes and hearts came rolling in. When did we plan this? How long had we known? Oh, how they all wished they could be there too, and we wished that for ourselves. For this entire day I knew just how lucky I was. 

Over the course of this day, all the bits of videos Laura had previously shared with us on her walks unfolded before us. We passed the sweet foal who’d grown up quickly, and I stopped for a photo. We picked red and black currants, the black ones tasting the sweetest and the red ones uncomfortably tart in my mouth. (Did you know? Great Britain grows more black currants than anywhere else.) Even the acorns seemed special, and I grabbed one which I still have, because it’s not every day you get your hands on a Leeds acorn, is it? We passed apple trees, too, full of sweet tiny fruit and we each picked and pocketed one. Walking and talking together and surrounded by the beginnings of Fall, we’d unlocked a big ball of wonder which followed us around like a happy summer cloud.  

Back home, still cloaked in the misty day, we unpeeled our layers and left them inside by the back door. We checked the time again and we still had more time, so Laura suggested we have cake and tea. Her friend had made a lovely apple flan, gorgeous custardy goodness inside, flavorful thinly sliced apples outside and bits of almond all bound together in a brilliant tart, something I’d never had or made but am going to try. We took our tea and cake upstairs to Laura’s room and sat on the bed to enjoy it all. Like 8th grader BFFs we talked nonstop, and Laura pulled things off her shelves to show me–books she liked including one by an author she loved and knew I would too that she insisted I keep and read, a lovely plate she’d made—with all her other artistic talents it seems she’s also a potter—and the inset of a record album she and several friends had created, all gifts for me. As we ate pie, drank tea, and laughed, we posted another video for our friends, and Laura joked about my American accent which her friend earlier noticed and kidded that in these few hours together, Laura’s voice had taken on a similar American lilt. 

“Do you want to see my scars?” Laura asked earlier but we were too busy eating apple flan and exploring her room to switch gears back to breast cancer, the reason we met in the first place. But when she asked again, I said, “Sure.” We got up and went to her bathroom and she lifted her shirt, and I was at first struck (and a little jealous, actually) by her firm belly (which clearly didn’t make a habit of apple flan) and then I saw the beautiful blank slate in the space her breasts once held. It was the innocent chest of a sweet little girl, a post mastectomy canvas lovingly cleared of unwanted intruders and wiped clean to begin again, leaving behind two whisper thin scars each in the shape of a smile. She thought her surgeon did a remarkable job and I agreed. I showed her my own scars, two thin lines from two lumpectomy incisions plus two small divots from subsequent biopsies, which Laura said looked like dimples. Her smiles and my dimples. How cute are we?

It was getting to be that time, so Laura helped me pack up my many gifts and we said our goodbyes to her two sons and to Wally. At this time, Leeds was in the middle of its rush hour and as her car slowly inched along, time suddenly sped up. We agreed if I were to make my train, I’d need to walk the short distance, so we said a quick goodbye and I set off on foot. Laura kept her eye on me, and I turned to see her car advancing in traffic before I waved one last time and crossed the street, disappearing into the station. It was an extraordinary day full of flan and fun, and I sunk into my seat on the crowded train as it made its way toward London realizing you’re never too old to make new friends and you never run out of love.

Dog Love, pets

All Dogs Go To Heaven

We had a dentist growing up I couldn’t stand. From upstairs, my sister Anne and I could hear our mom scheduling the appointment for this twice a year misery, and the weeks leading up to it were tinged with dread. We could be having a perfectly lovely summer day and one of us – maybe as a joke to freak the other out, I don’t know – would throw out those two words, “Dr. Pike”, and instantly fun turned to fear. 

Dr. Pike didn’t wiggle the inside of our cheek when he gave us Novocain like my dentist does now, so it hurt more than it needed to. He didn’t wait long enough for our mouths to get numb either before he filled our cavities. His one room two-chair office had a strange smell, a foul cocktail of toothpaste, that burnt metallic drill smell and the sour cup of liquid fluoride he’d sloppily smear across our teeth with a Q-tip. 

One time I shared an appointment with a boy around my age – we were maybe 12 at the time. Dr. Pike asked him if he had a girlfriend and, sheepishly, he shook his head no. Then Dr. Pike asked me and got another no. He wrapped up his taunt with the proposition that maybe we could be boyfriend and girlfriend, and did we each want that? Mortified and blushing so badly my face burned, I had nowhere to go in that one open room that I had decided surely was hell.

This week brought traces of Dr. Pike dread, but this time I’m the mom making the appointment – not for a dental, but instead for a loving goodbye. I set it up from my car in our driveway, not that Lucie can even hear me since her hearing went a few years ago, but she needn’t be saddled with that same dread. She still tracks me with her sweet eyes from across the room, still gorgeous and eating well and smiling when she can, but she is painfully uncomfortable moving around, especially sitting down. I see her struggle more each day, yet I have to move past my own pain with this decision as I know it’s the right thing and the right time. She will be comfortable and at home with all her family near and with her dignity, and without a trace of shame or fear or pain. Of course, I want her to live with me forever, but if you love someone, sometimes you have to let them go. 

Lucie and I are so in tune I sometimes forget she’s an entirely different species, one that I knew intellectually going in would have a shorter lifespan. Yet now, despite an impressive 14 ½ years together, it still seems too short. In our house growing up, our pets got such royal treatment and my mom always said that in her next life she’d like to return as a pet in our household. On hearing this and knowing how close she and I were, my boys used to suggest that maybe Lucie is my late mom who’s returned as our husky/shepherd? Each time I offered Lucie a lamb bone and she’d happily whittle it down as effortlessly as if it were a flaky croissant, they’d ask, “Did your mom like lamb?” “Why yes! Yes, in fact she did!” I’d exclaim. This happened with countless other foods and we’d smile and laugh knowingly at each other and Lucie, happy we’d found a way for the kids to meet my mom.

I could have easily named her Grace for her beauty and elegance and the way she soared like a gazelle over the ravine at the dog park, and also how she tenderly sniffed and snuggled the cats. She never showed any food aggression and I could be on the floor with my face in her bowl and she would have gladly shared her kibble with me. Same with hand feeding her scraps which she gingerly took from my hand, never once biting; she knew I’d keep my fingers outstretched until she got it all.

People moving around unpredictably made her nervous, and the few times she nipped friends and family at our house, it was so sudden and secretive and upsetting. Her DNA test came up as half Husky, half German Shepherd, with trace amounts of Australian Shepherd, so it made sense that she was a herder. After learning that,  we secured her when company came over.

She sometimes lifted her leg to pee, odd behavior for this gorgeous girly girl who was still all dog rolling outside in stinky things, sniffing cats’ butts and other dogs’ too. Dogs smell for the same reasons we read – to gather information or get caught up in a story – and Lucie was a voracious reader, often rereading her favorites, stopping to sniff a familiar tree or shove her snout down the same chipmunk hole. 

The Siberian Husky in her loved when it snowed, and her little paws left the cutest imprints in the pristine sparkling blanket outside. A few times we connected her leash to the sled and the kids shouted “mush!” curious if she’d instinctively take off pulling them. Instead, Lucie just stood there and smiled, clueless, lapping up the incredible white wonderland. Car rides were another favorite and keys jangling would find her at the door, hopeful, patiently waiting. I taught her to shake, lie down, roll over, and kiss. Her kisses were licks on our arms and faces or we’d get the snout bump, nose bumping against our mouth, getting it done and more importantly, getting the treat.

She loved her walks but her Husky “I’ll do what I want” attitude made training a challenge, and often she pulled. One night after dark on their first walk together, she broke Joe in when she happened on a dead squirrel, and he got the pleasure of plucking it from her jaws. Her wanderlust kept her mostly leashed except during the occasional tennis ball toss in the yard. If the ball went deep, she’d take off running for a catch me if you can game toward the street behind us, terrifying me each time.

We walked a lot around our little town and its surrounding neighborhoods. She’d go where I wanted, the leash a tiller I could adjust ever so slightly for a change in direction. Some shop keepers knew her and invited her in and gave her treats. Her beauty – that striking white wolf face with perfectly applied eyeliner and a plush creamy apricot coat – was extraordinary, and people wanted to get near her. In the first weeks I had her, walking downtown near the subway station, we came upon an elderly woman who ambled over to us, stopped for a moment, hands on hips, and proclaimed, “That dog is pretty as shit.” That was all and she walked away, satisfied she’d told us what was on her mind.

Lucie was a great car rider and we took her on short trips – to parks and to the mountains and once to the beach near Charleston. We had never taken her swimming before and were delighted to see what fun she had dog paddling in the surf, and watching her soaked little wet chicken legs trotting down the beach. She was game for most anything, walking when I wanted to, resting when I rested, and one morning waking up in the dark with Ben and me to watch the sun come up. I felt safe with her by my side and honored to introduce her to the majesty of a sunrise over the ocean.

She used to follow us room to room and upstairs in the evenings to sleep on the floor beside me. These days, she watches me in the kitchen from her corner spot on the floor, and now with severe arthritis, only gets up to eat or go outside. This has been our little world together for weeks now. 

She’s grown bored with her usual fare and she’s all over the new change in menu. Sometimes sweet potatoes and broccoli mix in with her kibble and a little bone broth to bind it, or even better, crumbled ground beef. The other night it was Costco seared tuna – a huge hit. I wrap her medicines in deli meat, which goes down easy. She still loves rice and I always let her lick the pot, and cut up fruits too – watermelon, strawberries, bananas. Good food and big bowls of ice water, rest and medicine fill her days, and while she’s never been a hugger, she’s allowing it. Oh, how I’ll miss her!

Mornings are sweet. I come downstairs and wipe her face with a hot cloth, cleaning her crusty eyes and wiping down her forehead, snout and cheeks. I often whisper, “How was your flight?” as these gentle towels take me back to my first trip to Europe flying Lufthansa. In that quiet cabin at the beginning of dawn, the nicest flight attendant handed me a hot towel, whispering, “I hope you slept well.” I felt so loved and cared for waking up in this way, and Lucie is getting that same sweet care.

I know our situation is not unique and so many go through this but still, it’s tough. You’re in that no man’s land between feeling guilty and all the while seeing your baby struggle. You have to grow up, be the adult and make hard choices. These days, these 14½ years, this life with Lucie has been wonderful, and I’m doing all I can to keep it together and honor her with a dignified loving sendoff. I’ve recorded a hymn for her, Amazing Grace, which seems right for this moment. I’ve added in some of my favorite photos too. 

She’s going to a place where there will be spectacular sunrises and sunsets, car rides with the windows rolled down, fluffy mashed potatoes and turkey that’s juicy for a change, tennis balls to run after where you don’t have to bring them back, endless meadows of monkey grass to wade through, walks in the rain and magical snowfalls. She will be free to roam untethered. I love her to pieces and am lucky to have found her and she me. Lightness and love, my sweet girl, fly high.

Arthritis, Dog Love, pets

My Best Girl 🐾

Today wasn’t a good day. I feel this cloud hanging low over me and I can’t get out from under it. There will be little high notes sometimes, but then that dang cloud covers me again. I’ve been holding my breath again too and I’ll catch myself and take deep deliberate breaths instead, hoping to make up for all that breath holding of late.

I’ve been busy. My dog is in deep decline. She’s on several different meds and takes 17 pills a day. We’ve been at this routine a while and it’s kept her comfortable and ambulatory and smiling. However twice over this last week I’ve called the sweet folks at Lap of Love and talked through my options. I know how it will end and I know it will be soon – they will come over and we will all crowd around Lucie and hold her as she goes peacefully. I’ve watched videos on their website and one of them talked of not only your dog’s pain but also her anxiety, and we should watch for symptoms like whining at night and panting, both things she’s been doing lately. I got the bright idea to call my vet yesterday and ask if there’s something we could give her for anxiety. In fact there is, another pill, which I picked up today. Dosing said give her 1, 1.5 or 2, so I went for the highest dose, realizing she will likely be even more somnolent than what her current regimen brings, but hoping her anxiety will lessen. 

That good anti-anxious mood I thought I’d see instead turned into a dopey sleepy Lucie who several hours in no longer could even stand. I tried helping her up but she wasn’t having it so, frustrated, she just put her head down in a who cares? sort of way. I am in the kitchen with her so often so instead I decided to take a break and step away while she rested. I gave Evan the task of taking her out after he returned from work. In that calm quiet voice he gets when something is wrong, he called me downstairs. The poor girl was on her side and had defecated underneath herself. Cleanable and not too much of a problem, but you could feel her humiliation as I went about toweling her off, and the rug, and the floor. I knew she still needed to go pee, so we tried ushering her outside, her ability to stand from today’s added pill barely improved. Evan carried her out to go and carried her back in. 

I know it’s time, or soon it will be. I know this is the right thing, but damn I’m a teary mess over my girl. On top of her breakfast and dinner she scarfed down, I made her a sweet potato yesterday and she ate little bites I doled out and looked up and beamed at me after each one, an enormous, thank you! how did you know? Oh, I know. I know what my girl loves. 

I hate when a book I’m loving ends. I mourn it a little each time. That last chapter, you savor every word, every nuance and then… that’s it. It’s become past tense. She’s much more than a book, but I feel the story is wrapping up, and I hate that. 

I remember when my sweet cat, Kitty, passed on. Obviously, I missed her but also she spanned 18 years of my life, years back when my mom was alive. Kitty knew my mom. How many people now in my world can say that? There’s power there. There’s life and memories and conversations from times long ago that are no longer. 

I searched for Lucie for a long time. Went to shelters, to private homes with dogs up for adoption, and online to various rescues. We ended up finding a dog on and after meeting the dog we returned home to mull it over. I emailed the owner and she said if I wanted the dog, I needed to send her my payment, which I did. Funny thing I’ve since learned about prepaying for a dog, often it’s a one-way exchange. You pay, yet you’re still dogless. After I took it up with American Express and froze my payment, this crazy lady changed her website to position her “organization” as some benevolent rescue and any money they bring in is for the welfare of their shelter and upkeep of their dogs. They do not adopt dogs but only for the loving kindness of their community do they accept payments. Can you say Capital “B”, Capital “S”? We know how this ends. I’m out $250 and back on the dog hunt.

Then there was that day soon after back in 2008 when I was doing my usual dog search all around the Internet and weeks earlier had even added Craigslist to the mix. And there she was, “Bailey”, a sweet 9-month-old husky/shepherd staring into her mama’s camera right there in front of me on Craigslist. She had a look that I couldn’t turn away. She was hauntingly beautiful but also there was a sweetness in her eyes, and I had to meet her. I quickly responded and was glad to see her cautious owner vetting me in great detail. I made the cut and we had a meeting a few days later. Bailey’s human realized she couldn’t keep a dog with her busy job. She’d been crating the pup for hours on end, and to her credit, Bailey could hold her bladder that long. Except this particular day when her mama worked longer than usual. Rushing to get to our house, her mama brought Bailey “as is” to meet me. My poor girl reeked of dried doggie pee, but did her best to stand tall and get through the interview. 


She was other worldly soft and sweet and she met three criteria I needed her to: 1) She was respectful of and didn’t intimidate our cats who came around to sniff our visitor 2) she didn’t bury her snout in our crotches as some dogs do to say hi 3) And other than the pee scent, she didn’t smell of dog – you know that dirty sock smell some dogs have and when you visit a house you just know there’s a dog?

So Bailey moved in with us soon after we named her Lucie, and the rest has been a most fantastic run… nearly 14 years now. So many memories which I know I’ll release when the flood gates open and I’ll be instead looking back. 

But for now life is in slow motion. I moved upstairs just now as I couldn’t sit in the kitchen anymore and lock eyes with her. She wants to move but she can’t easily and instead watches us all – cats included – buzz around the kitchen doing this and that while she’s resigned to the floor, limbs akimbo sometimes underneath her at odd angles. Evan and I straighten her out and help her outside and back in, but mostly her life these last several days is about eating and drinking and relieving herself. She still smiles – or did this morning before I gave her that dang pill – but she’s also a tad demented, along with her deafness, so maybe the smile is a far-off lunacy which has ended up on her face masked as joy. I still see her though and tell her every day that I love her. She can’t hear but she hears me. And did I mention her ears? A perfect pair of caramel colored velvet triangles. 

Tomorrow I will see if she can walk or if the pill I introduced today propelled her into a deeper decline. I am going to do right by my girl. She will not remain floor bound only to watch us all live our lives moving in and out of her room, our kitchen. She will sail on and ride the calm sea and fly into the heavens light as a cloud. While bodies fail, love stories are forever. 

I saw this ad soon after I got Lucie and found her resemblance to this wolf incredible.