This is how I start my day. My eyes open and I decide whether I’ll roll over and try to sleep longer or commit to remaining awake. Penny, who has taken to sleeping at the foot of my bed, is the first dog to take notice of my movements and will inch forward when my arm extends in her direction for a pat on the head. After a few minutes I’ll say Pixie’s name and she’ll get up from the guest bed on the other side of the apartment. It’s then Penny’s job to bark once, jump down from my bed, run across the room to Pixie and escort her to my bed, where she’ll lie down on the floor to wait until I get up. I’ll lift up my covers and Pixie will curl into a ball beside me to spoon for a few minutes. Easily bored and curious about what may be happening outside the windows, she’ll slide out of bed sooner rather than later. Then I call, “Where’s Rex?” This tradition began because I never knew where he was sleeping. Whether it was his crate, the upstairs sofa, the downstairs sofa, the chair, the pillow under my desk, the guest bed, Becky’s massage table, or the floor here, there, and everywhere, I never knew where he’d turn up. So, from my bed, I’d call “Where’s Rex?” over and over, until he finally gave up resisting and came from wherever he finally settled down while I was sleeping. Ever since Penny came to The Compound, the downstairs sofa became his favorite sleeping spot. I’d hear him prance up the stairs and over to my bed, where he’d pick up where Pixie left off, snoozing with his head on the pillow beside me until I finally got out of bed. Then I go downstairs to feed them. Then I let them outside for awhile. Then we go back inside so I can prepare my breakfast and they can start their first of many naps that day.
Today was like any other. I woke up, scratched Penny’s head for a while, snuggled with Pixie, and called out to Rex. But Rex didn’t prance up the stairs. I cried and got out of bed. I went downstairs and fed two dogs. I cried and stared at Rex’s empty food dish. I opened the door and two dogs ran outside to greet the day, instead of three dogs. We went back inside and I prepared my breakfast. Pixie went to Rex’s empty dish and stopped short of licking it, because there was nothing leftover within. Miffed, she walked away. I understand how she feels. I thought last night was difficult, but today is simply depressing.
I went through my usual morning routine yesterday, too. That time, Rex was there, but he wouldn’t eat his breakfast. I talked him into eating two or three bites of food, which he did, obviously to appease me, but he threw it up outside in the driveway. This can’t be good, I thought. Rex’s appetite had been changing lately, but I’d chalked it up to aging. He was also gaining weight. Again, I chalked it up to aging. But today he looked absolutely bloated. He and Pixie were due for their checkups in August, so I decided to take them in a month early so Rex could be looked at. Better safe than sorry, right?
For the first time in a few months I had a weekend free, so I planned on treating myself to a night in a hotel on the beach in Galveston. My bag was packed and I was ready to go, but then Rex hurled and I wavered on my plans. In the back of my mind I knew something wasn’t right. Despite my instincts, I asked Mr. Becky if he could pick up Rex and Pixie after work, so I could still go to Galveston. He could, so I threw my stuff in the car and opened the passenger door for the dogs. Pixie dashed in and hopped in the backseat. Rex wagged his tail, got halfway into the passenger seat and gave up, sliding back onto the driveway. I caught him and helped him into the seat. He just doesn’t feel good, I thought. The vet will fix him up I dropped them off and continued on to Galveston.
Later, on the beach, I’d spread out my towel, sprayed on my sunscreen, and had just relaxed when my phone rang. It was the vet. Pixie was fine, she said, but then gently informed me she couldn’t give me good news about Rex. I sat up. I heard words like “mass” and “fluids” used in sentences with “Rex” and I couldn’t catch my breath. I gathered my things from the beach, only capable of saying, “Uh huh,” to the vet while she said “lymphoma” and “ultrasound” and “emergency clinic” in more sentences that had to do with Rex. This couldn’t be right. Could it? It was late afternoon. It finally registered what she was saying. “So I need to take him to get an ultrasound?” I said. “Yes,” she said. “You should probably do it tonight. If you need to wait until the morning, he probably won’t bleed out.” “I’ll take him to the emergency clinic. I’m on my way,” I said.
A while later I picked up Rex and Becky went with us to VERGI. They examined Rex and the x-rays his vet sent with us and confirmed what my vet has said: Rex had a considerable mass in his abdomen, but they didn’t know on which organ or organs it was attached or the extent of his condition. They would have to call in an ultrasound technician to better know what we were dealing with. I consented, so we went home to have dinner while the technician was called. While we ate we hoped it was a tumor on his spleen, which could be easily removed. While Becky and Tom hoped aloud for the best outcome, I couldn’t shake my earlier feeling that things weren’t good. Before we took him to VERGI I carried him to my bed and called Pixie and Penny over. We all sat together and I explained that Rex needed to be examined by professionals and there was a chance he might not be coming home again. I didn’t want to say it, but I had a feeling it needed to be said. Pixie rolled over against Rex and looked cute, as is her way. Penny licked Rex’s nose and he let her. I hugged them all together, until Penny freaked out and wriggled away from the closeness, as is her way.
We were told that someone would call us when the ultrasound was completed, but time ticked by without my phone making a sound. Finally, I texted Becky and said, Should we just go back and wait? She replied, Yes. So the three of us went back to VERGI to wait. It was busy, as any emergency clinic is after dark, and after an hour or so we were finally called into a room to talk with a doctor. Unfortunately, the news was bleak. The mass was attached to his spleen and had spread to his liver. Odds were very high that it had spread elsewhere, most likely to his heart, as well as his lymphatic system. The mass was bleeding and leaking fluid into his abdomen. It was obvious that any operations or treatments would buy us days rather than weeks with Rex. Doing nothing and letting him suffer for our own enjoyment was simply not an option. Which meant I had to agree to say goodbye to Rex then and there and help ease him onward to…whatever’s next. Maybe he’ll come back one day and tell me.
I got to spend some time with Rex alone. I used that time to tell him about all the people and dogs who loved and appreciated him. I told him about our friends and their dogs, and reminded him about how much he loved to jump on them and how much they loved that. I reminded him that he’s probably the only dog with his own attorney, who loved him. I told him about all the friends and family who came from all over the country and even Canada just to see him and be jumped on by their pal, Rex. I reminded him that he’s an Internet personality and that people the world over more than appreciated Rex Tuesday every week. Lastly, I thanked him for sharing everything he knows about being a good dog with all of the Scouts Honor Rescue foster dogs who have spent time with him at The Compound.
Becky and Tom came back to say goodbye to Rex. Then the doctor began to administer the injections. I wrapped my arms around Rex to comfort him. Or, maybe it was to comfort myself. I wasn’t sure. Rex’s last word was a growl and a turn of his head, a feeble attempt to bite me one last time. I didn’t mind. Maybe I deserved it. Maybe I was betraying him. Maybe it was his way of saying, I’ll defy you to the end. I win! Maybe it was a love bite.
Whatever it was, I reminded him of the other thing we talked about when we were alone. Rex and I have always had a contentious relationship. He came to us after River died and it was too soon. I wasn’t sure I wanted another dog so soon, but nobody would take him, which broke my already fragile heart, so I agreed to take him on a trial basis. He was a fence jumper and would run away, among other rambunctious activities. After he came to live with us, Becky would often ask, “Are you going to keep Rex?” I would answer, “We’ll see.” It became a running gag. Months, years would go by and Becky and Tom would ask, “Are you going to keep Rex?” And I’d say, “We’ll see. Come on, Rex. Let’s go home.” Just before Rex jumped the fence from this reality and into the next, I said to him, “I’m going to keep you, Rex. I’m keeping you here,” I said, pointing to my head. I pointed to my heart and said, “And here. You’re a good boy.”