Mother’s Day lessons had to be learned the hard way

Lola still looking down and sad on her second day after her emergency.

Here is Lola still looking down and sad on the second day after her emergency.

As a Motherless Daughter, I dread Mother’s Day and I try to lay low and let the day pass by. However, this year, I had some lessons to learn.

I went out of town Saturday night and while away, I got a call saying my German Shepherd, who was staying with my dad, was not well. After many questions, I was reassured she would be OK until I got back. I certainly didn’t think it was something serious.

The next morning, as I and a friend traveled home, I called my dad to see how Lola was doing. The news was not good. She had been down and in the same place all night, unwilling to even lift her head, and certainly not eating or drinking.

I know some people don’t think of pets as anything but animals and they don’t see what the big deal is about having them. But Lola is my daughter in every sense of the word. I am responsible for her health and welfare, I have taught her nearly everything she knows, I spend time and money on taking care of her and making sure she’s happy and well-adjusted, and I have built some part of my life around her.

My mom was my champion, my cheerleader, my best friend and a huge part of my support system. When I was little, she was my protector and my provider. I am now all of those things to my dog. I have become a mom.

I raced home to my little girl thinking how cruel it would be if my daughter died on Mother’s Day. I was already missing my mom, who died two years ago. Could the day get any worse? Indeed, it could.

Lola’s fever was high. She couldn’t even stand to greet me. She barely lifted part of her head, just enough so one eye could meet mine, and just the tip of her tail tapped the floor twice. My dad had called two strong men to carry her 95-pound body to my SUV. They carried her in a blanket and laid her down gently. (I’ll never forget the sight of those three grown men standing at the end of the driveway crying as I pulled away.)

Road construction and traffic hampered my drive to get Lola to the emergency animal hospital as soon as possible. But although I felt like I was dying inside, I handled the crisis with clarity and some sense of calm. My mom had always done the same when, as my dad likes to say, sh*t hit the fan. She was cool under pressure, doing her best to push off her feelings until the storm passed. I now did the same during the two-hour drive to my dad’s house and another nearly hour to the hospital.

But I have to confess that as a doctor and a tech put Lola onto a cart and rushed her through the double doors that said “No unauthorized entry,” I did not think I would get to bring my daughter home again. I had been at this point three times before in my life, with a shepherd in crisis that would not get to return home. There are few things I can think of that are as terrible as heading to the vet with a sick dog, hoping they will make it better, but instead coming home with just a collar and leash.

Five days later, I am sitting in my chair with my beloved child at my feet, writing this column. Every day and night, I have kept her quiet and safe and as comfortable as possible. I have slept little, waking every three to four hours each night to make sure she has her various medicines and that she’s resting comfortably. I have eaten smartly, so I can keep my strength up and not get sick while my daughter is counting on me not to fail.

Lola has two days of mandatory bed rest to go, and she’s getting better every day. I feel relieved that we’re at this point today. I feel thankful for my mom teaching me how to do the hardest job in the world. And I think she would be proud of the mother I’ve become. Here’s to a better Mother’s Day next year!

Why do people have to suffer from cancer?

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For months, people have been talking about Joey Feek, the country singer who battled cervical cancer for a year and a half.

This includes people like me, who had never listened to the music of country duo Joey + Rory until recently. According to Rory Feek’s blog, This Life I Live, his 40-year-old wife lost her battle at 2:30 this afternoon. She had been in a deep sleep for days, her morphine dosage upped to help ease her pain.

I’ve been following the couple’s story for a couple of months. I can’t tell you why. Nor do I know why others have been so captured by it. Some people say it’s because of the strength and dignity with which the star has been handling her death. It isn’t wrong that the young mother of a just-turned-2-year-old is getting the attention, but haven’t many thousands, or even millions, of people all around the globe been doing the same thing for untold years?

Is that the key – that Joey’s story is touching the rest of our lives because we have experienced something similar on some level?

Because every time I read something about Joey, I think about my mom’s last days, spent in a hospice bed, surrounded by people who loved her, dying of more than one form of cancer. She faced it with dignity, too. I remember the last conversation we had, while she was in that bed, four days before she died. We remembered many things from the past, we said things we needed to say, but most of all we laughed laughs that needed to be laughed. We also tried to say goodbye, but it is impossible for me to judge how well we did that.

Those days were gut-wrenching, and so have been these days, watching and waiting for Joey to win or lose her battle. These days also have me asking questions.

Why can’t we solve the puzzle and cure cancer? Especially in the United States, where we have people who have millions of dollars, why can’t we get this mission accomplished? Companies spend millions, maybe even billions, of dollars, on testing makeup on animals (which is so wrong), but we could be using that money to find the cure for a disease that is killing in ever-more-increasing numbers.

And why do people have to spend their last days in waste and pain? We allow our animals to go with dignity, but we mostly won’t allow it for our people. Judging by how many people treat animals, I wouldn’t say the majority of people love them more than people, would you?

But we do allow our animals to go when it’s time. And it appears to be peaceful. I have had three German Shepherds who needed to be put to sleep when their illnesses (cancer for each of them, how ironic is that?) became unbearable. And I held each of them while they appeared to fall asleep and then their hearts stopped beating.

I was also holding my mom when she left this world, but those last four days were filled with constant worrying about and monitoring of her pain, and her crying out here and there when the medicine wasn’t working so well. Why, when there is absolutely no hope, can we not do the same thing for people, end their suffering?

I certainly think it could be a slippery slope from OKing death to sanctioning killing. But when we have the capability to do for people what we can do for animals, why the double standard?

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If animals don’t go to heaven, no one should

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I still recall the day many years ago that my mom called me, sobbing, because her pastor had announced in church that animals don’t have a soul and, therefore, they don’t go to heaven.

My mom was the most animal-loving person I have ever known. We owned a pet and fish store when I was a preteen and she later became a conservation officer assistant who saved hundreds of wild animals. In my growing-up years, we had all varieties of animals in our home. They included a pig, owls, ferrets, foxes, coyotes, possums, badgers, snakes, lizards of all types (including a Gila monster), parrots and a monkey. We also had many dogs and cats.

After I became an adult with a place to live where I could have a pet, I got my own assortment of pets. First, it was a fish tank, and then a cat. And then there was a larger fish tank, and then a dog. And then some rats (which are wonderful pets). I’ve had two cats. I’m now on my fifth dog. I loved each and every one of my animals as much as my mom loved each of hers. I think some things are imprinted on you when you’re young.

There is a famous writing called “The Rainbow Bridge,” which comforts many animal people when they read it. If you’re not familiar with it, it talks about our animals going to a place to wait for us to join them.

I could delve here into Bible verses about animals and how much God loves them, but people who love animals already know that, Bible verses or not. So, you can look those up on your own if you want to read them.

Do animals have a soul? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that they are wonderful beings that give us their all. They forgive far beyond what any human ever has, and they love us unconditionally. And they deserve our love and respect in return.

The death of my first German shepherd wounded me far deeper than any death ever had, including those of people I had been close to. I remember sobbing and asking a friend of mine why dogs only live 10 or so years, instead of 50 or 60. At that time, I could’ve lived my whole life with Pasha and been completely happy to do so. This wise friend replied, “Think about all the animals we kill every year because no one loves them. People can’t even keep a five- or 10-year commitment. Think about how many more animals would die because people would not give them a lifetime.”

I remember when Pasha was getting old, I swore I would never have another dog after her. And then, I had to come home to a home with no dog. And it turns out that isn’t who I am. I am a girl with a dog. Twenty-nine days after Pasha’s death, I rescued my second shepherd. And 28 days after Ellie’s death four years later, I rescued another shepherd. When Sarah died just five years later, I rescued two shepherds, a mother/daughter pair, Lily and Lola, just 26 days after Sarah’s passing. Sadly, Lily died just four months and 11 days after she came to live with me. (But that is a story for another time.)

Losing each of my animals has been incredibly painful. But at some point, I realized that if any of them had not left, I would not have been able to be there for the others. And with that realization has come some kind of acceptance about the brevity of animals’ lives, although I still wonder why they have to go so soon.

I believe I will see all of my animals again. I’ll have a huge fish tank, a half-dozen rats, two cats and a small stable of German shepherds. My mom, who passed away herself two years ago, now likely has the largest assortment of pets anyone has ever had in heaven. One definition of heaven is this: “a place or state of supreme happiness.” If animals don’t go there with us, I don’t know that I want to go there myself.

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