From the moment I saw him in the palm of her hand, resting against her chest and nibbling on her necklace, I knew he would be mine. My daughter Monica was with me the day I fell in love. He looked like a toy any child would have chosen as their favorite stuffed animal. His eyes were big, black and round, like saucers. His bottom teeth protruded beyond his upper lip, typical of a Pekingese. His white coat gave him the distinction of deserving the title of an Imperial Pekingese. There are no words that could adequately describe how lovable he looked and none that could express my feelings when I held him for the first time.
I named him Motek Shallee, the Hebrew words meaning my sweetie. His temperament transcended his good looks and joy filled my home and life. Everyone who owned a dog in the neighborhood knew him. We walked together three-four times a day, sharing morning and evening greetings as neighbors and dogs passed us by. No one could pronounce his name correctly so he was called everything imaginable including, Mush Mush, Schmutz, Motsie or anything that sounded close to Motek. He never seemed to mind, as no one could pass us without petting him or babbling baby talk. Motek soaked it all in, swaying his hips back and forth gyrating along with my sorrowful sounds of The Mexican Hat Dance. He boogied to every blade of grass he marked and thrusted a few steps to every dropping he graced along the way. I nicknamed him Fred Astaire.
From the get-go, there were issues. He was the product of a puppy mill, waiting in the “orphanage” until purchased. Sadly, the puppies were bred without concern for what was in their best interest. At the time, I had no knowledge of these mills. When I took him home, along came his inherited problems. The first to appear were his skin lesions, never to be cured. I traveled from one Veterinarian Dermatologist to another over 12 plus years, with consuming costs. The meds never helped. One actually compromised his immune system by the time he was nine years old, resulting in pneumonia. After the Atopica, (beware if you are using it on your dog for skin lesions), it was all trial and error. Nothing worked, not even the monthly allergy shots. The costs were unconscionable, as were the treatments. He was bathed weekly, having to soak for 15 minutes in expensive medicated shampoo, then doused in mousse. When that failed, Nu-Stock, an inexpensive remedy also failed. To add insult to injury, it smelled up the house due to its base being Sulphur. When that flopped, amber Listerine was suggested and applied to each lesion with no positive results.
When Motek was about six years old he developed a herniated disc in his neck, causing him to yelp and hide. Frantically, I rushed him to our vet who scared the living day lights out of me. “If you want to save your dog, you need to take him to a neuro-surgeon now!” he shouted. After about a 50 minute drive that seemed like 50 hours, with Monica at the wheel while Motek sat in my lap, we learned that he needed surgery. After this event, some four years later, there was a repeat performance. This time, instead for surgery, I went the conservative route. He spent a month in the neuro-surgeon’s hospital and two more months in a crate in my bedroom. The costs of both these events were more than $14,000. This second crisis was the cause of our first separation—a month in the hospital relegating him to the floor instead of sharing my bed, fearful that it would cause another ruptured disc by jumping off the bed as he often did. This produced a separation anxiety. He would whimper each morning which I understood as his need to be close to me. I would toss my pillow on the rug and lie down with him for 20 minutes while he licked my face until it was soaked with his saliva. I didn’t mind. He needed to be loved, and I loved loving him.
In spite of various other medical and emotional issues Motek continued to bestow unconditional love, something no one in my life had ever graced upon me. We grew closer over time, each developing what others may determine to be a neurotic codependency. We traveled together to my home in North Carolina and occasionally, I would bring him to my office so he wouldn’t feel lonely. I worked many hours, five days a week as a psychotherapist, and towards the last few years of his life, I felt that I worked primarily to support him both emotionally and financially. It didn’t matter. He was my
fur baby and there was nothing I wouldn’t do for him.
I thought perhaps getting another dog might help, so I brought him home a sister who he hated upon first sight and ignored. He was not used to sharing me with another sibling. Consequently, we both became the target of his displeasure and he snubbed both of us. To make matters worse, a stray cat began to hang out in my courtyard, claiming it as his home. So now Motek had to accommodate a new puppy and cat with seven toes on each paw who took ownership of his new domain, demoting Motek as a stepchild and feeling displaced. Motek went into shock and never fully recovered. Minnie bonded with the cat and enjoyed the relationship she never developed with Motek. I fostered Hemmingway, a name I gave him due to his excess toes for a year and a half. By the time I found him a new home, the damage had been done and there was no forgiveness. The puppy, Minnie, having lost her playmate, went into depression, while Motek remained disenchanted with both of us.
As time passed, Motek developed more medical problems. He had ear infections, dry eyes and even a hole in his right eye he incurred while pursuing the exact leaf he chose as his target to lift his leg and pee. It turned out this leaf was accompanied by a thorn that poked him in the eye, leaving a hole that needed attention for the rest of his life.
His chronic skin allergies coupled with his fragile cervical spine, pneumonia, eye and ear issues finally climaxed into congestive heart failure. While taking our walk one afternoon, I noticed a persistent cough. He labored with his walk, stopping many times. He was listless. I picked him up and drove directly to the closest vet, who missed the murmur in his heart thinking he had a cold and prescribed an anti-biotic and steroids. Motek intuitively knew to refuse the meds, which if he hadn’t, would have killed him on the spot as the vet misdiagnosed him. Taking him out a few hours later, he suddenly collapsed. I scooped him up and drove him to his usual hospital where he was placed in an oxygen tank until the doctor could determine a diagnosis. Three hours later Dr. Shapiro came into the examining room where both Monica and I were anxiously waiting.
The doctor told us he had congestive heart failure and although he was responsive to the oxygen, his prognosis was poor. He gave him six months to a year to live with two medications administered twice a day, one of which caused him to be incontinent. Trying to get the meds down him was like teaching a cat how to swim. It required the help of my neighbor, Adele who figured out different applications including smashing the meds into a pill crusher and filling a syringe with water and the contents of the crushed pill. That required two of us struggling to get it down his throat. While one of us held him, the other plunged the syringe, half spilling out over the counter, floor and too often onto our clothes. Pill pockets never worked, nor did concealing it in his food. I tried tricking him with hamburger meat, liverwurst, ham, hot dogs, sardines or salmon. Finally, rolling it in shaved roast beef did the trick. The trials and tribulations of reaching this solution nearly caused me a nervous breakdown. I dreaded each morning and evening med times. I was grateful we found a solution so I didn’t have to bother Adele to support this laborious effort. We both had a sigh of relief.
Soon after the congestive heart failure diagnosis, Motek developed a scream that sounded like a wounded animal. This gave rise to early morning wake-ups and eventually anytime he felt fear or confusion. He seemed to be losing his hearing along with developing some dementia, although he never lost his appetite or joy in his walks. His health seemed to be failing as the projected one-year mark approached. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I had to face the day when I would have to send him on his final journey to the Rainbow Bridge– something every dog mom or dad dreads. The thought is heartbreaking. I didn’t want him to suffer. I didn’t want to be selfish and keep him around for my benefit. It’s funny how we know when it’s their time to leave us.
Motek beat the odds by a few days. He had another relapse one day after the year mark. Looking back over the last year, although his life was somewhat compromised after I to put him in diapers and had to carry him up and down the stairs so he could sleep in my room, he sustained another year of life. His appetite was still good and he enjoyed his walks, still shaking his hips as he danced along with every pee stop. He was still finding joy in every whiff of air and meeting and greeting his canine friends along the way.
Motek and I had some wonderful times together in spite of all his ails and my frustrations. We spent time watching TV, taking long walks in our neighborhood. Once I took him to the beach and put him on the sand. He stood frozen like Lot’s wife in fear, not knowing what to make of the ocean, something so foreign to him. I tried to frolic with him on the beach, but nothing would make him budge. He didn’t mind being pushed in his stroller on the Hollywood broadwalk, but sitting on the sand freaked him out.
I think what he loved most was company. He was a very social “Little Man”, as I affectionately called him. He loved my visiting grandchildren. Jackie, my eldest grandchild would devour him with love and affection. She would sit with him on my bed for hours, tumbling, talking, cuddling, cooing, making faces and taking dozens of photos of both of them. Not having her own pet, she showered all her affection onto Motek and he responded alike. Perhaps one of his most favorite past times was licking feet. He could lick feet like a child would lick an ice cream cone, relentlessly until he decided he had enough.
After my lung surgery in 2009, he never left my side. He stood guard over me 24 hours a day. The love he bequeathed upon my soul healed my body and spirit perhaps faster than the after-care I received from home health. He was my warrior, my hero and my healer.
The day my fur baby died, was the day part of me died with him. I no longer hear his screams or screeching. With the relief knowing he was finally at peace, also came the sadness. The tears stopped with his last breath, but only for a day, and then resumed. After a few days of mourning with family and friends, including Facebook friends sending me their condolences, I had to find a way to discharge my pain, so I wrote a blog, “A LOVE STORY: My Life As a Dog”, to be followed two weeks later by this blog, “A LOVE STORY: My Life As the Mother of a Dog”.
Minnie, the now nearly four year old once puppy, has been a source of comfort and love to me. Although Motek and she never really bonded the way I had hoped, she misses him as much as I do. The love we shared will always remain in our hearts. In a few days, I will pick up the remains of my beloved Motek. When it’s time to meet my Maker, he will be buried along with me. Although life is a constant change, some things remain forever.