Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Paw Prints on Our Hearts

Today we said goodbye to our Princess. She was about nineteen years old. I know! Everybody reacts the same way.

Eight years ago a very dear friend and surrogate grandparent, Mr. Gene, passed away. His sweet wife was admitted to an assisted living facility. Their family had to find a place for the family dog.

She was to be a lap dog who could scare off intruders. Gene and Effie came home to a mess one day. Someone broke in and ransacked the place. So their daughter found a Lhasa Apso and named her Princess.

Any of the friends who routinely stopped to visit Gene and Effie were surprised they had a dog and how she came to run the house. We wondered how they all survived as Gene and Effie got older and more frail. He would yell at her a dozen times in a visit, but she was still their girl.

Gene and Effie spoiled Jarred and me as kids. God truly brought them into our lives. Our dad was junior pastor at Olive Street Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. We had relationships with several dear families in that church, but this was a special couple. They came to Jarred's Little League games, watched us when our parents were away, and gave us gifts. They always had ice cream sandwiches and Coke for us to snack on. She would even make us lemon ice box pies. They loved us and we loved them.

When my dad learned Princess needed a home he let their daughter, Jane, know we would take her. At the time we weren't sure how that might work out. I was single, living in east Texas near my parents. We didn't have indoor pets growing up and we didn't know how this would work out, but I remembered the love Gene and Effie showed us and pledged to do the same for Princess as long as she lived.
We took a while getting used to each other. Princess became part of the Ritter family. Mom would groom her or take her to the "beauty shop". To the end, Princess would prance around after her haircut. My home health care providers and friends also took care of Princess. They would run her out, feed and bathe her. Some brought their pets over to play.

Princess and I spent a lot of time outside our Texas apartment. She was ever curious, wandering around at a slow pace sniffing everything. If she found something stinky she would roll around in it. She ran after squirrels with a cute hop that showed them she was boss. She made me push my wheelchair in places I never would have tried most days I would rather just sit around the house.
When I was courting Dana, Princess made her mark. All too often, our calls were interrupted when Princess wandered off. I spent half of the call yelling at the dog. And she usually ignored me and I chased downhill after her. You might imagine how Dana felt about my furry friend.
When I traveled Princess stayed with my parents or friends. When Dana and I married, she came with me. We settled in together: Dana, myself, and our pets. We were nervous how the dogs (Brokaw and Princess) would get along. She wasn't fond of other dogs and he was rambunctious. When he took her toys I worried if they would manage. One day he took her treat and she attacked him, biting near his eye. He understood she had her limits. They had a few more skirmishes over the years, but worked out their relationship, even to the point of chasing each other around the house.
We found our dogs reflected our personalities and still stuck with each of us: Brokaw full of energy and going full-throttle and Princess curious and taking her time to explore. Nowhere was this more visible than our walks. Brokaw will pull ahead chasing everything and Princess drag behind sniffing each nook. They helped us understand each other and ourselves, becoming part of our little family.

Our pups became part of our community too. The kids loved walking both Brokaw and Princess. They would be out for hours. Sometimes their friends would even come over and play.
My mom and I did the math last year, realizing how old Princess was. Dana and I joked she would outlive us. About two months ago Princess had some type of seizure. That night she was limping, favoring her right side. I realized it was likely she had a stroke. Over the next few days she recovered well. Still exhibiting a tilt to the right and some sluggishness, she was remarkably better.
We moved last week to Virginia Beach and our new home is wonderful. In all of the moving we have all had to adjust. Yesterday Princess was acting strange. She was clingy and slow. Dana put her on my lap and I held her a long while. We debated calling a vet, then she had another seizure. We called and went to Acredale Animal Hospital. Dr. Meador took good care of us, giving us the prognosis: Princess probably had a stroke or maybe a brain tumor which may or may not heal.
We came home hopeful Princess would recover again, but as the night went on things got worse. She had more seizures and lost all mobility over time. Dana and I kept vigil all night as her breathing grew more labored and she had more seizures, hoping for recovery or that she would pass away gently. We napped a few hours so we could face the day ahead.

This morning Dana arranged for us to make our final visit with Princess to the veterinarian. She got me ready. Poor Princess was just hanging on. Both Dana and I were sobbing as we drove to the vet with Princess bundled in my lap and Brokaw riding in back. The staff took us to an exam room where we waited to see the vet, consoling and saying goodbye to Princess. Dr. Meador advised us how the euthanasia would go and we discussed how things had turned so quickly.

Dana and I talked and held our hands on Princess' head as the veterinarian administered a syringe of anesthesia. She slipped quietly away in a few minutes. We continued to cry and talk all the way home. As we told family and friends all were generously sympathetic. Arriving home we sobbed, recognizing the reality of life without our Princess.

As we said our final goodbyes our vet asked whether we wanted a paw print. I thought about it. Then, with tears in my eyes, replied, "she has left paw prints on our hearts." And now I share her story with you.


Robby, Tonja, Caitlin and Marissa said...

I am so sorry about Princess Mike. Your post made me cry. I know how hard it was for you to let her go. It was so hard on us when we had to say our final goodbyes to McGregor. It always amazes me how quickly our pets go from being just a dog to our family. Hugs to you, Dana, and Brokaw.

Bobby McDaniel said...

Heartbroken, I know what you're going through. Sending good thoughts your way. :*

Cheri said...

This makes me so sad, I have had to put down 2 of my beloved dogs and they are such a part of your heart.

Unknown said...

Just tears ...

LaDonna Ritter said...

Oh, how my heart hurts :( We always knew this would be a very painful day. But I will say this over and over...I am so proud of how you have both loved Princess! What an example of unselfish devotion! But she loved so deeply, too! She loved her Michael, especially! We will never forget! More hugs to you, Dana, and Brokaw!

Kathy Ramirez said...

I am sorry for your loss. You had me in tears reading about your family member. Remember all those good times.

EyesofBlue said...

So sorry for your loss! We too are pet lovers and it is so hard to lose a member of the family:(

Derek McConnell said...

Brokaw is such a superstar I didn't even know about Princess. I am sorry about your loss after 19 years that is no longer a dog, it's a family member.

Unknown said...

Mike & Dana,

My heart is sad for you both..Ben and I have experienced this and it's just awful. Princess will surely be missed by you and by Brokaw. If you get a chance, Google the Rainbow Bridge poem, it is a very comforting poem about losing a pet~


Kate Rigby said...

I'm catching up on my blog reading and came across this post. Bless Princess, I had tears in my eyes reading this. It's so sad. I have lost dogs before although I really dread the day anything happens to my dog now as he's more like my baby then my dog. They really do leave paw prints on our hearts don't they.


Carolyn Cummings said...

Imagine how our pets have been helping us in our everyday life. Also I realize how they make me me relax whenever I go home, that's why in turn, I'm bringing my two dogs in kennels Long Island to let them feel how it feels like to be pampered as well.

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