This morning, I felt the urge to read my beaglebuddies mailing list for the first time in a long time and found that one of the elder statesman beagles had recently died. Out of that, came this.
Years ago, when I was a different person entirely, I was very much a part of this list. This wonderful group of people, many of whom I'm thrilled to say I know in person as well as through emails, became a lifeline for me over the years. I just happened to read the digest today and saw Susan's horrible news about losing Murf. I wanted to share how grief has been for me, Susan, and give thanks for the support I've found in this group over the years.
First, we struggled with my mom's beagle, Buddy, being diagnosed with incurable cancer (he went on to beat that incarnation of the disease, our miracle man, then succumb to lung cancer just last summer, 4 years after he should have left us) then with the hard but sweet choice to adopt and love an ailing 13+ year old beagle named Ellie, who we had 6 months, 8 days with and finally, but not least, my Alice.
Alice was the beagle to end all beagles. Smart, funny, desperate for a treat, she was my soul mate the moment I became her mom in May of 1999. She was 9 years old but I naively beleived that my skills as a devoted pet mom would make Al beat the odds and live forever. Or at least until she was 20. She and I were the best of friends.
But Alice had another true love: food. This love of hers caused us all kinds of problems. We didn't know what she got into, though it was always food in some sense of the word, we never knew if it was fish food, cheese, chocolate, pizza dough, hard candy or an entire bag of M & M's. Okay, the M & M's, we knew since we caught her, tail wagging, with the empty bag at her feet.
If you asked her who was "Number 1" she'd lift up her paw to tell you who was boss. But we knew that.
Please don't think for a moment that we left any of these things laying around for her to get into. She could push a chair across a carpeted room over to the table, climb on it then leap onto the table to get what she wanted. Sealed boxes were no challenge for Al. Same goes for trash cans. Because of her repeated adventures with unknown food, we had to force her to vomit one too many times and she eventually battled peumonia for over a year. Three different times that year, we almost lost her and three different times, we didn't. The last one was the worst, she spent the weekend at the emergency vet, racking up a $1200 bill that many of our non-dog friends questioned the wisdom of paying. But our Beagle Buddies didn't question that. The group understood why we'd pay it, if it meant Alice would be okay.
The night she came home from that weekend stay, she was so tired, I woke up, touched her and thought she was dead. After that, I didn't sleep a full night until she died later that fall, waking up two and three times to check if she was breathing. At some point, she seemed to get that pinched nerve in her neck that so many beagles get. It was causing her a lot of pain and eventually, it became a slipped disc that turned her head to the side permanently. It seemed a miracle when a neck x-ray showed her lungs being clear for the first time in almost a year.
Within the span of a week, her neck became worse and worse, until the last day, she woke up screaming in pain. She ate on our bed, leaving a single piece of kibble behind. As far as I know, that's the only meal Alice didn't finish. I rushed her to the vet for the third time that week, practically screaming at the receptionist "THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH ALICE" knowing in my heart that it couldn't be fixed. Hoping I was wrong.
Our vet arranged for a specialist to do the surgery on her neck and a vet tech volunteered to drive Alice there (why I didn't take Alice myself, I'm still not sure.) When I put her in the car, she screamed again and I started crying, a sinking feeling in my heart. I walked away and went to work, where I waited by the phone for any news (and consenting to pay up to $6000 for the surgery) at all. That afternoon, I got the worst phone call ever. This strange doctor telling me that Alice had come through the neck surgery just fine, but wasn't waking up. Did I want them to stop CPR. No, you idiots, don't ever stop. But I didn't say that. I told my co-workers I had to go, that she was gone and I had to say good-bye. I drove 90 miles an hour in the carpool lane to get there where her still-warm body was waiting for me. Later, we heard that she had GME, a rare brain infection that would have killed her soon after the surgery did.
It's been almost three years since that day and this is the first time I've ever put it all together. I still cry if you say her name, I wear her picture on the back of my hockey helmet (printing a new one every time the ice gets on it and blurs it) and right after she died, I started wearing jersey #1 when I play. Usually, I don't tell people why that's my number. It's between me and Al.
I miss her every day and though the pain isn't always as gut-wrenching as it was that long winter of 2001, it's still there, ready to come to the surface. I think it may always be. You just can't love like that without grief like this.
Since her death, I've been away from that list. For a long time, seeing the posts from people who had known Alice in real life (and boy, did she get around!)was just too hard. Eventually, I just stopped reading but still subscribed. Today, I felt the urge to read and was saddened to see that Murf had died.
Murf, too, shared a deep love for food and a knack for stealing hearts with Al. They had a stand-offish kind of friendship in real life (Al was like that with most dogs) and I can only trust that Alice has already welcomed Murf and shown him around her personal buffet, introducing him to her best friend, the Baron of Beef.
About six months after she died, I had a dream where she was free from her food needs, and she was happy. Relieved to be free of that driving obsession, free to just love me and run around. I hope that's the truth, that she's having a blast at the Bridge. And of course, that she's waiting there for me.
We still have one beagle, Zeus, who is about 11 now and in perfect health. We joke that he'll outlive all of us but it's probably true. He'll be the world's oldest beagle, there to ring in the next century. We also have a sweet 12 ish year old pointer mix, Gus and two sweet, funny, obnoxious basset hound siblings who are 3 and 1/2, Rainie and Patrick. I love them all very much but I just don't see how anything could compare to what Alice and I had. I think you only get that once in a lifetime.