Last night we took our dog Lulu in to the emergency room to be put down. Less than two weeks after her bone cancer diagnosis. Less than one week after her leg amputation surgery. We were told the amputation would provide immediate relief from the intense pain she was feeling from the cancer. We were told she’d bounce right back, dogs are resilient, she’d be back to loving life again in no time. All of that turned out to be wrong. She seemed horrified at her condition. She had regular bouts of screaming so intense that at one point she bit my hand hard enough to puncture the skin. She had never screamed like that, not even close, pre-amputation. She had never, ever, bit me.
Two weeks ago she pooped in the backyard and then “spazzed,” our term for how she’d take off running, doing loops around the yard, stopping short, taking off again. So happy to have relieved herself. The next day the doctor showed me a dark mass in an x-ray. My face cracked. I knew this would be hard, she said to no one. I turned around to see Lulu being brought back down from the x-ray room, so happy to see me that she jumped up, something she rarely did, something she saved for times when she was really excited.
If my dog had cancer, we were going to beat it. She was only 11. Plenty of time left. She spazzed in the backyard, for Christ’s sake! And she had to be here when our son was born. She had to.
We got Lulu November 17, 2002. A Sunday morning. Ben and I were 4 months into our already very serious relationship, and he’d gone out for bagels. When he came back he said, casually, “There’s a dog out there.” I couldn’t understand what he meant, so I went out to see for myself. There, tied up to the apartment mailboxes, was a brown dog with a nub of a tail, wiggling with excitement to see me coming toward her. She’d pooped and then wound herself around the mailboxes. Two dirty leashes fastened to a dirty collar. It began to rain, so we decided to take her inside and leave a note to whoever had left her there. No one ever showed. We put signs up all over Ben’s neighborhood, and still no one showed. Back then he lived in a place that advertised “Pet friendly!” “Dogs and cats welcome!” We assumed whoever had left her had chosen somewhere she’d likely find a home. She was ours immediately. We were hers immediately too. We named her Lulubelle.
That Christmas Lulu and I stayed the night at my mom’s. My mom came in to wake us up in the morning, me on my side and Lulu curled up between me and the wall. Lulu had only met my mom recently, she didn’t know her very well, and as my mom crept toward us Lulu growled. A warning. That protectiveness grew over the years to the point where we had to cross the street if we saw another dog coming toward us. Lulu would lunge and bark violently - but only if it was us walking her. She never did it with the dogwalker or anyone else.
Our first New Year’s, Ben was in London, so I stayed with Lulu at his apartment. It rained on New Year’s Eve, and even though she detested water, hated getting wet, Lulu came outside with me and danced in the rain at midnight. Squinted up at me, asking gently if we could go back inside.
Lulu hated cats. Hated other dogs, but loved the dogs she shared a home with. Especially Wanda, who she’d let curl up against her, jump all over her, remove her collar, eat the treat right out of her mouth. Lulu loved peanut butter, wet food, milk. On Saturday mornings, if we had cereal, she knew she’d get to lap up the rest of the milk in our bowls, and she’d sit impatiently, stabbing us with her snout. Her eyes would get so wide when we finally offered it to her.
She loved turkey most of all. Every Thanksgiving, she’d get turkey in her bowl for days. In these last weeks of her life, we gave her turkey. And roast beef. And wet food. Peanut butter and milk too. In the room where she died, the nurse held a jar of country ham and gravy baby food to her mouth. She licked it clean, and licked the next one clean too. I held that jar.
She loved getting her butt scratched. Would position herself just so, so you couldn’t reach her head and had to settle for her butt. Especially loved when Daddy (Ben) would lightly slap her belly with the top of his foot. Would stand over his leg until he did it. She slept in bed with us every night. I insisted on it. Waking up to turn over, I’d reach out to find her, pet her warm body and go back to sleep.
She had dreams often. Barking and twitching in her sleep. Really letting something have it.
She hated getting snow in her paw. Would shriek with pain and immediately start pulling on the leash toward home. She was a homebody, like her mom. Now that she’s gone, I see that the home I yearn for is her. Coming home from work or a reading to see her wiggling. She didn’t have a tail to wag, really, though the nub would move back and forth, but she mostly just wiggled when she was excited. Our Wiggly Worm. Wiggling, her head up and ready to give me the kisses I demanded. Too many, I’d jokingly tell her. But really it was never enough.
Lulu drove with us from Orlando to Chicago. We lived in an apartment two blocks from Wrigley Field. The dining room window faced toward the red line we took, and somehow she knew to start looking for us at around 5:45 every night. We’d see her brown head in the window, watching us intently, not even blinking, until we were nearly there, when she’d turn and run to wait for us at the door. It was a tough first year when we moved here. She was often home alone for 10 or 11 hours at a time. But there she’d be, that brown head, so excited to see us coming home.
She had many nicknames. The Beauty, Precious Treasure, Wiggly Worm, Mommy’s Most Beautiful, Fuzzy Face, Wuppy Wupperstein, Buppy Bupperbean, The Brown Lady, Fat Bear, My Love. Towards the end I started calling her Bop. Hey, Bop.
She could also speak English. Called Ben “Stupe.” Had a lisp so she couldn’t say s’s. “Sthtupe.” Speaking for her was a huge part of my life. She inspired me to get weird. Ben would look into her face as she talked, and I’d often laugh at what she said.
In the x-ray the doctor showed me her heart. It was enormous. As big as a horse’s, I remember thinking. Last night I begged her for kisses, something she hadn’t given me since before her surgery. I put my mouth on hers and kissed, and her warm loving tongue came out like it always had, granting me two kisses. Another came just before she passed. Thank God, I kept saying. Oh, thank God.
She kept wanting to go upstairs, to the bed in her favorite room, the room with a window that looks out on the street. All her life she has found the place with the window. Loved to bark at any passing dog. Lately she’d bark at any passing human, too, her eyes too cloudy to tell the difference.
Yesterday morning she stood on her three legs at the foot of the stairs, looking up, every now and then letting out a whimper. Ben carried her up there and she laid on the bed for a few hours until she woke up screaming.
Her surgeon kept telling us she’d stop screaming in 7-10 days. Then it became a week or two. We couldn’t come near her, couldn’t comfort her in the way we wanted, for fear she’d move wrong and start screaming again. She wouldn’t come to me, these past few days, no matter how much I called. I once offered her roast beef to come to me, and she lurched forward, and began screaming. I became afraid to be left alone with her, a fact that shames me to the point of wailing. Lulu was the constant, the brown head in the window, and I couldn’t even be there for her when it really mattered.
What I could do was give her peace. Even if, we kept saying to each other, even if she recovers from this surgery, there is still the cancer. There is still chemo on the horizon. And she is 11. She deserves peace. We made the decision yesterday afternoon, our mouths open because the cries had to get out somehow.
There is so much to remember, so much to miss. This small blog post is nothing, a fraction of what I want to say. Ten years, the best ten years of my life, all because of her. She made us a family. She is a part of me, as constant as my right arm. Now I know the pain she was feeling, having hers cut off. Now I know the urge to scream. I woke up at 2:22 this morning. A sign, I hoped. But I couldn’t make it into anything. I scrolled through photos of her on my phone, drinking in her beloved face, a face more familiar to me than my own. I just feel devastated. My Love. My Most Beautiful. I want to reach over in bed and feel her. I keep saying to Ben, We have to go get her. We have to go get her. I wail and wail. I wonder, did I give up on her too soon? Would she have miraculously recovered, lived a full life? My brain says No. My heart just screams.