When Dogs Go To Heaven

When dogs go to Heaven, they don’t need wings because God knows that dogs love running best. He gives them fields. Fields and fields and fields.                                                                                               from Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

IMG_1340On April 5th I said goodbye to my beloved dog, Chuckles. He left this world peacefully, bouyed up by all the love I could possibly give and carried as far as death allowed into that deep water of the unknown. I mourn his loss like that of a partner for he was my constant companion. 

Chuckles cheated death four times in his short life. The first time being when he was pulled from a county shelter by those human angels in animal rescue who work tirelessly to save homeless dogs from an untimely death. Great dogs who make great pets- their only “crime,” their abandonment by a human.

The dogs in Dog Heaven who had no real homes on Earth are given one in Heaven. The homes have yards and porches and there are couches to lie on and tables to sit under while angels eat their dinners. There are special bowls with the dogs’ names on them.       Dog Heaven  

When I adopted Chuckles in 2010 he was approximately three years old and healthy. Neither of us could have suspected the three life-threatening illnesses that lay ahead for him, including a brain hemorrhage and tumor in 2016. But he was one tough dog with an incredible will to live.

More remarkable even than his physical resilience was his loving and gentle spirit that endeared him to all he met. As one friend aptly said, he was “The Ambassador of Goodwill.” Chuckles was fearless. By that I mean he approached everyone, dogs and people alike, with a simplistic trust, believing that they intended only good toward him in the same way that he intended only good toward them. Imagine a world in which people approached one another without fear and with that kind of trust



If I ever had a complaint about Chuckles, it was that he really could have become anyone else’s dog at a moment’s notice, he was that agreeable. But the truth is, I felt privileged to have a dog with such a great capacity to love and to spread joy wherever he went. In his honor, I share again a video that we made together that tells the story of how he came to be mine and to promote shelter pet adoption.


Dogs in Dog Heaven have almost always belonged to somebody on Earth and, of course, the dogs remember this. Heaven is full of memories. So sometimes an angel will walk a dog back to Earth for a little visit… When he is satisfied that all is well, the dog will return to Heaven with the angel… They will be there when old friends show up. They will be there at the door. Angel Dogs.

 Dog Heaven

Goodbye for now my sweet Chuckles. Wait for me.

A Grief Observed

Soundlessly the door opened as a father and his two young sons emerged from a small side room, and into the vacuous lobby of the Animal Emergency and Trauma Center. The boys’ red blotchy cheeks, downcast eyes, and slumped shoulders telegraphed the sad story that had unfolded on the other side of that door. Their father led them over to one of the hard wooden benches that lined the walls of the waiting area where I too was sitting, and waiting. Two days earlier, my dog, Chuckles, had been admitted for a life-threatening liver infection and I was hoping to bring him home after meeting with the doctor.cristina-lavaggi-21229

The room was quiet at 7:00 o’clock in the evening, except for the television that ran incessantly like a kind of “white noise” in the background. I imagined it as a ridiculous soundtrack to all the traumas and dramas that flowed in and out of that space, like the one I was witnessing now, like my own, too. I couldn’t help but watch and listen as this father offered comfort to his sons, each in their own turn. Gently, he cradled the first boy’s face with his hands, and spoke words so softly that I could not catch them, but the sentiment could not have been more clear. With tenderness he kissed the boy on his forehead. Then to his other son he did the same.christopher-harris-57366

I sensed that he wanted to capture the significance of the moment for them, and to honor its solemnity. He did everything with such intention, as though to say, “yes, this is what grief feels like. This is how badly it hurts to lose someone you love. I cannot shield you from the pain but I can reassure you of my love. Today we are bonded by our grief, but also by our love for each other.”

roman-kraft-421410As witness to such compassion, I felt the tears welling up in my own eyes. It didn’t take much, with my own recent fear of loss so fresh and close to the surface. How tender our own grief makes us! How universal the bond! Sitting there in that waiting room, in that time, I felt a part of their story and they of mine. Just then, an attendant came around the corner and called out “Chuckles!” I jumped up to see what awaited me behind another closed-door.

Graduation Day

I just want to give everyone a quick update on Chuckles and to thank all of you for your concern and well-wishes these last few months. On September 15th Chuckles completed his 20th radiation treatment and “graduated” from the program. He was given this sportyimg_2789 red neckerchief to wear to celebrate his accomplishment.

(I was hoping they would give me one of their “My Dog Goes to N.C. State” proud parent t-shirts but no such luck.) img_2785

We have been home a week now and trying to settle back into a daily routine and to pick up where we left off before July 19th when all this started. The doctors have told me that the next 5 months are the most critical as the brain tumor will continue to die. After this period, Chuckles’s prognosis is quite good and statistically there is hope for a long and healthy life.

I can’t say enough good things about the doctors, technicians and staff at the NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine. The care and compassion they give their patients is unsurpassed. I hope they will treat me if I ever become critically ill! img_2779Before we left I gave all of his care givers a sweet reminder of Chuckles. Do you remember this candy? 

One side note….. while in Raleigh during this crazy time I continued to work toward completing my CD which will be released next month. Watch for an update and sneak peak very soon!




Chuckles Check Up

Okay, so Chuckles has now received 12 radiation treatments at the NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine and he is doing great. Only 8 more to go! Which is a good thing because I am going crazy living at the Ramada Inn. I am making the best of the situation though. I have been able to visit with old friends and still manage to get some of my writing done.


Chuckles with his Oncologist, Dr. Tracy Gieger

Speaking of writing…..I have been busy this week compiling all of my song lyrics, notes, credits, and thanks for my cd. Tomorrow I will meet with FJ to begin work on the cd packaging design. Still hoping to have product in hand by the end of October….I’ll keep you posted on my progress. What I have heard of the final mixes sounds great!

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

IMG_2753There is something weird about booking a hotel in your hometown. It’s like going on vacation where you once lived. That’s how I’m feeling about staying at the Ramada Inn, my home away from home for the next month. Frumpy, even when it was newly built in 1986, the Ramada’s decor and design feel tired and sad after 30 years of wear and tear. So I felt a bit depressed when I arrived last Monday evening and opened the door to my musty room.


Teresa from the front desk brings Chuckles treats

But I am grateful for the Ramada. The hotel is located within walking distance to the NCSU vet school where Chuckles is receiving his radiation treatments. They also let your dog stay with you at a discounted room rate. All the staff are very friendly and seem to love dogs, another plus.

While unloading the car I met some fellow guests, Jeff and Laura, and their dog Cayden, an adorable Welsh Corgi. It was Cayden’s last week of his 4 week radiation protocol, the same treatment that Chuckles will be receiving. He looked great and Jeff and Laura said that he had tolerated the radiation quite well with no major side effects. Our conversation left me feeling encouraged for what lies ahead for me and Chuckles.


Laura and Jeff from Tennessee with their dog Cayden

On Tuesday morning we arrived at the Oncology Department for Chuckles’s MRI and CT scan. The very first person I saw when we walked in was Patti, a volunteer at the vet school who I’d met 4 years ago when Chuckles was a patient there for a different medical problem. Patti recognized us immediately and we had a sweet reunion.


Patti in her red volunteer jacket chats with a cat owner

As a volunteer, Patti walks the hallways of the hospital chatting with waiting and anxious pet owners, consoling and helping wherever she can. She is a calm and comforting presence who has herself been a client and can relate with the emotional train wreck of having a beloved pet who is very sick.

Good news with the MRI showed that the blood surrounding Chuckles’s tumor had all been reabsorbed. He received his first dose of radiation on Thursday and a second dose on Friday without incident. Unfortunately he must be anesthetized each time, as a dog cannot remain perfectly still for the radiation. To save  time, an IV port for the anesthesia was put in his back leg for subsequent treatments.


Chuckles outside Oncology

All of the doctors and technicians are very kind and compassionate, not to mention board certified in their fields of medicine. I know that Chuckles is in the best of hands receiving the best of care.


Just a few of the portraits

The walls of the waiting area and back hallways of the Oncology ward are lined with portraits of cats and dogs who have been successfully treated as cancer patients there. The hope is that they will encourage others to not lose hope. Their sweet faces are testimony to their resilience and to the love and dedication of their owners. A love that never dies.



When You Just Can’t Do Nothing

Chuckles is going to receive radiation treatments for his brain tumor. On Tuesday of next week, he will have another MRI and a CT scan to map the tumor for the radiation. If all goes well, they will begin treatment within 2 days. The protocol is for a total of 20 treatments,  given once daily, Monday through Friday for 4 weeks. Each one hits the tumor with a small dose of radiation. 

After the 2 hour consult on Monday with his radiation oncologist, I left feeling overwhelmed. So much to absorb and consider.  But by Wednesday I made the decision to go forward with treatment. When I looked at him lying in his bed, subdued but still so full of life, I knew that I could not do nothing. I realized that while there is risk, there is also a chance that he could have a good outcome. If I do nothing, there is no chance at all.

Chuckles at C.F.'s House

Who could say no to that face?

Even though it was a big relief just to make the decision, we’ve got a long way to go yet. The radiation could make the tumor bleed again. He could have a seisure. Each treatment requires him to be anesthetized, which is a risk in and of itself. But it’s like reading the side effects of your medication. If you worry about each one you’ll probably never take it! Once I stopped focusing on what could go wrong and started focusing on what could go right, the way became clear.

Then too, I know myself, and I know that I would regret not doing all that I could within reason. Living with regret is a lot tougher, and lingers longer, than accepting a loss. All of my friends have been so supportive of my decision and tell me that I am doing the right thing. And in my heart I know it’s true. IMG_2486



“Life Has a Funny Way of Sneaking Up On You When You Think Everything’s Okay”– Alanis Morissette

One of the neat things about keeping a journal is the ability to go back in time and check in with how you were feeling at a previous point in time as recorded in your own words. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised to recall people and happy events that I have forgotten. Sometimes I can’t believe how silly and childish my reactions sound in hindsight. And sometimes I am forced to re-live excruciatingly painful memories of heartbreak, loneliness and despair.

DSCN1147A few weeks ago I was revisiting my life in July of 2015. It was a particularly awful summer full of sadness and broken dreams. One I wish I could forget. I don’t need a journal entry to remember how I was feeling back then. But I wanted to read about those experiences simply to celebrate the fact that I had survived them. I lived through all that bad stuff and made it to the other side. I didn’t do it alone. I had the help of friends and family and through it all my one constant companion, Chuckles.

No sooner had I recorded in my journal my gratefulness and relief at having that terrible summer behind me when….. I learned on July 21st that Chuckles has a brain tumor. The symptoms that led to his diagnosis began suddenly and acutely on the 19th. I went into crisis mode that evening with 3 trips to the vet in 12 hours, including one at midnight, followed by an excruciating 3 hour drive to the NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine the next day.


My Handsome Boy

What began as his moaning in the night escalated into an unrelenting shrill bark that I interpreted as pain. Fearful that he was not stable enough to make it to Raleigh a friend helped me find a veterinary office along Interstate 40 in one of the most rural counties in N.C. where he was examined again. I was told to keep going, but sedation for Chuckles was not possible.

After 2 hours of waiting in admissions where I could still hear Chuckles’s distressing bark coming from the ER, a trauma doctor came out and told me that Chuckles most likely had a neurological problem and they were going to have him examined by a Neurologist. This next consult confirmed the trauma team’s suspicion that the barking, pacing, panting and Chuckles’s “fish eyed” gaze were all stemming from his disorientation, a distortion in his brain. An MRI was scheduled for the next morning.


Happier times outside NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine

The imaging revealed a tumor on Chuckles’s pituitary gland, a gland that sits at the base of the brain. For some unknown reason it had begun to bleed which caused the sudden onset of his symptoms. The hematoma around the tumor caused swelling that was putting pressure on his brain. Pressure on the pituitary also created a very rare condition called Diabetes Insipidus. He was treated with steroids for the inflammation and a synthetic hormone for the diabetes. After 4 nights in ICU Chuckles was stable enough to return home with me.

The first few days back home were rough. He was extremely disoriented outside, like an Alzheimer’s patient. Gradually he has become more like himself but still I see the evidence of something wrong. He does not want to go for walks, he has some weakness in his back legs and is losing muscle mass. Overall Chuckles just seems “dull.” 

On Monday, I will take him back to the Vet School for a consult with Radiation Oncology to learn their recommendations for treatment. I am told that dogs tolerate radiation well and that the treatment yields good success rates. They will discuss with me the various options for administering radiation, and of course, discuss his prognosis with and without treatment.


Chuckles’s fan club in the NCSU Vet School Pharmacytreatment.

Ever since I got home I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything including my cd project. It has been difficult to pick up where I left off on the afternoon of July 19th. Now that the shock and the immediate stress have passed I’m entering into the grief process. But I’m learning to be kind and patient with myself knowing that my enthusiasm for my writing and my music will return given time.

Thanks to everyone who has helped me through this difficult time.