My hands are trembling, my heart is pounding, and I've started to shiver as I begin this post. This is my body coming undone.
Last Monday, February 17 our beloved Addis Olivia passed away suddenly and without warning.
Andrew and I are shattered. The pain has been so excruciating that there were moments that I thought I would die from it. I didn't believe I was strong enough to endure the sudden loss of her and those moments have not passed...I am still uncertain I will make it through this. I have tragically lost others in my life...loss that still brings me to my knees in grief over a decade later and I do not want to take a moment from those that I loved so very deeply, but the loss of Addis has been different because she was a part of my everyday and my everything for 9.5 years. She needed me in ways that I had never experienced before - she changed my life.
I never imagined I'd be writing this post today let alone this year. I have not come up from the shock of it all but I needed to write...I needed to talk about her. This blog was born out of love - and loving her was what brought us all together. If you have never loved an animal then maybe you won't be able to connect to what I have to say because Addis was not “just a dog” - she was our child, our best friend and one of the most important souls in our lives. If you have loved an animal and if you've lost, then I want you to know that I now know too how it feels to be hollowed out and left to dry.
I have run the details of those nine days over and over and over again in my mind and I still grow so furious because we did everything right and yet, we lost. We now know It actually started on Addis's ninth birthday 3 months earlier. She went to grab her chew bone and let out a painful cry. If you've ever known a bulldog, then you know they are very stoic and that if they show any signs of pain it is serious. Andrew and I immediately looked into her mouth thinking that she might have somehow injured it but we couldn't find anything. She wouldn't touch her bone and when she went to play with Pierre, she yelped again. We immediately made an appointment with her vet that day and he diagnosed it as Masticatory Myositis (inflamed jaw). The only way to cure it is by putting the dog on Prednisone. He prescribed her a low dosage since we had caught it so early, but you have to be on it for 3 to 4 months. Addis bounced back quickly (as she always has) and I was annoyed that she had to stay on the Prednisone as she was experiencing some minor side effects from the drug and I just feel uneasy about any extended drug time, especially since she was older.
Fast forward 3 months later and it is Sunday Feb 9. Two very strange changes on/under Addis's skin appeared out of nowhere. Andrew and I noticed a rash on the inside of Addis’s back legs. It was oddly shaped and appeared out of nowhere. Bulldog's are not strangers to odd rashes but the shape of this one worried me. There was no hair loss, no flaky skin, no puss - just raised pink skin in an odd formation. It didn't bother her at all and we actually worried that it might be some kind of ringworm, as we had never experienced that before. We ran out to get some fungus cream and begin to apply it that day. Then while rubbing her neck I found a semi lumpy hard patch under her skin on the back of her neck. Again it is very strange like a piece of leather under her skin, there is no irritation and it doesn't bother her at all. I immediately panic and begin to curse the Prednisone that she's been on for the last 3 months and am certain this is some crazy side effect or even an infection since Prednisone acts as an immune suppressant.
I am very angry/worried at this point but have to wait until the morning to call our vet as it is a weekend. I get a hold of him first thing and he wasn’t too worried but his laxed attitude made me furious so I called our old vet that is further away (since we've moved) and make an appointment the same day, Feb 10. We drive Addis out there and we explain everything. The vet has all of Addis's files and tries to calm us down as I go off on the entire situation.
I have always been keenly present when it came to anything with Addis and have spent many visits in the emergency vet or her primary vet being calming down over the years. Even when it came to the Myositis diagnoses Andrew was amazed that I had noticed all the slight changes in Addis that the vet mentioned which had confirmed his diagnosis even though it was in such an early stage. This awareness that I have is no different than another mom with her child, even though mine had fur.
I began to calm down until the vet actually felt Addis's thicken skin and examined her rash. She was immediately perplexed and said they were both very strange. She mentioned Lymphoma but said they didn't look, feel or have the symptoms of Lymphoma but she was worried. So we did two scrapings on Addis's rash and thicken neck skin. The vet was sending them to the lab and would call with the results. However, she was pretty sure the results would be inconclusive and wanted to start weaning Addis off of the Prednisone in preparation for a biopsy. So we started to wean her off.
Meanwhile over the next two days Addis was behaving exactly as she always had, there were no changes. We even noticed that the thickened skin on her neck was decreasing and felt relief as this might really just be a freak episode. I hated when the vet had mentioned Lymphoma and googled the crap out of it, cried my heart out to Andrew as he told me to not worry - look at Addis he exclaimed, she's fantastic! I didn't want to even consider that it could be cancer but I had a firm talking with myself that we'd fight the hell out of it, if it was.
Thursday Feb 13, our primary vet calls and says the white blood cell count isn't that high and that it appears to be an irritation but that the results are not conclusive, that she is still worried and wants to move forward with a biopsy. We schedule the appointment for the following week.
Everything is great until Sunday morning Feb 16 - Addis wakes up bright and early demanding her breakfast as always. Andrew feeds the bullies and goes back to bed. All is well. I come downstairs an hour later to have breakfast and give my bullies some kisses. I notice that Addis is panting heavy and I go over, give her some kisses and wonder if she might be a bit overheated. She doesn't quite seem like herself and I can tell she's uncomfortable. She seems bloated and I start to worry that this might be a result of us weaning her off of the Prednisone. I watch her for a bit and Andrew comes down to see her too. He isn't too worried as she was totally fine at breakfast, but the panting bothers me and it doesn't seem to be stopping. She doesn't want to lay in her bed either and keeps standing around. I figured her bloated belly is making her uncomfortable and that is why she won't lay down. I decided to call the emergency vet and explain her symptoms and ask if this sounds like a side effect of weaning off of Prednisone. They tell me they can't help me and if I am worried I should bring her in.
I google “labored breathing in dogs” and watched videos to see if that was what Addis was doing and she was nowhere close. Andrew and I talk about it because we have overreacted in the past and have been made to feel foolish and didn't want to jump too fast...but we're no good at that and soon we're on the road. The entire time I am preparing for the vet to tell us that we've once again overreacted, that Addis is totally fine and that she'll calm down. I am even expecting Addis to be completely fine as soon as we arrive, as has happened before. We arrive at the emergency vet and I go inside to add her to the list. It is very busy and there are some really ill animals and I immediately feel foolish but proceed with the paperwork.
It doesn't take too long and they are ready to see Addis. I had Andrew and her wait in the car as I didn't want her to have to be at the vet longer then she needed to. She has always been so good at the vet but she doesn't like to be there. Andrew brings her in and we go into the room and describe to the vet tech her symptoms. The vet tech agrees with us and takes Addis to the back. We wait for the emergency vet doctor to come and after while she does. She tells us that Addis's oxygen levels are very low and she is now in an oxygen box. That she has taken X-rays of Addis and that there is fluid all around her lungs and that is why she is breathing heavy and the bloating is just from the air she has sucked in. She asks if Addis has gotten into rat poisoning and we shake our heads no...we're sitting there shocked at everything she is saying. She then lowers her voice and says, then it is probably heart disease or cancer. I burst into tears. She tells us that she is going to drain the fluid, X-ray Addis again and will call us that evening to let us know what she finds. The vet is nice but I can tell my crying has made her uncomfortable and she tries to encourage me but leaves almost as fast as she came.
We are still in shock and I am still crying when the vet tech comes in and hands us a $2,500** estimate to sign. The vet tech isn't helpful as we try to understand what all these items are on the estimate so that we know what our sweetest Addis bear will be going through that evening. I finally get the words out, can I please see her before we leave? The vet tech tells me I can and leads me to Addis. She is sitting and still panting in the oxygen box. I pull myself together because I didn't want to upset her. I rub her head, ears and give her kisses. She pulls slightly away as if to tell me that she is fine and to stop embarrassing her. Addis never liked to be babied when she was ill - I don't know too many bulldogs that do. We tell her a few more encouraging words and the vet tech starts to get uneasy, so we know it's time to go. We walk away slowly, still in shock and I begin to cry again.
Sunday night we pace our house and wait for the call. The vet doesn't call when she said she would, so we call the ER but they tell us that it's very busy and we'll hear from the vet when she's available. Finally...after what feels like days she calls. She tells us that they took a liter of fluid off of Addis, that she looked at some and it appears to not be cancerous, that the X-rays came back and there's no sign of any masses, and so now she is worried that it could be heart disease and we need to prepare ourselves for them to have to look at her heart. She said that she isn't positive but this is what she thinks and the specialist will be arriving in the morning, will review everything and call us then. She tells us Addis is recovering well but that they returned her to the oxygen box to aide in the recovery.
We feel some relief at hearing that there are no tumors or signs of cancer in the fluid but fearful of the possibility of heart disease. I stay up late doing lots of research on heart disease in dogs and find many promising outcomes with certain medications. At this time I am still praying desperately for it to just be an infection (as the vet did mention that was still a possibility).
Monday, February 17
We wake up very early to pace the house again, this time waiting for the specialist to call. She doesn’t call for several hours, so we call the emergency vet again. They tell us the specialist will call soon but they are busy. At 11 am she finally calls. Expecting to hear exactly what we heard last night - she tells us the complete opposite. She tell us that there does appear to be cancerous cells in Addis’s fluid and that she wants to send it off to a lab for it to be confirmed and that after reviewing the X-rays she believes there’s a mass over Addis’s chest and will need to perform an ultrasound to confirm this. My voice begins to shake as I explain what the vet told us last night. She replies yes…but I don’t think it is. She isn’t friendly and instead makes me feel very uncomfortable. I ask how Addis is doing and she tells me that Addis is good but she is still needing the aide of the oxygen box, she isn’t able to be out of it for more than a few hours. That immediately worries me and I ask more questions and she tells me that they will be able to figure out what to do next once she has done the ultrasound and even more so, when the fluid results come back which typically take 24 hours. She is concerned about the oxygen but makes us feel that there is a reason this is happening and there will be a plan of attack once they know why and we'll be taking Addis home soon. She tells us they will call with the estimate and quickly gets off the phone.
They call with another $2000** estimate and we agree and ask if we can make an appointment to see Addis as I am feeling desperate for her. They tell us 1:30 and we get ready to leave. At this point I am feeling weak and ask my parents to come with Andrew and I. I tell them that I am scared and I need their calming support as I face my sweet baby bully because I want to be brave for her as we’ve been told so many different things at this point and my nerves are shot. They happily agree and we all arrive together.
We arrive in good spirits and head into the emergency vet. They tell us to go in a room and they will bring Addis to us. Andrew and I are surprised by this as we assumed we’d have to see her in the oxygen box again. That lifts our spirits slightly because that must mean she is doing better and we start trying to ease the tension with some small talk about our baby girl. Soon the vet techs open the door carrying Addis. We are a bit shocked, as seeing your loved one after surgery always is but we instantly start talking to her. Addis turns her head to look at us and the vet tech moves to place her on the table. I go to reach for her but notice that her tongue is not right. The other vet tech who must have noticed as soon as I did exclaims some thing is wrong and they snatch her up and run through the doors as the other vet tech stays behind and yells she’s coding, do you want us to resuscitate? I fall to my knees sobbing while Andrew responds a broken yes.
I don’t need to describe the room for all we could do was wail. I kept asking my Dad over and over what was happening because he is a nurse. The specialist appeared and explained that Addis was not responding and since it had been 5 minutes it was unlikely she would. She asked us if they should keep trying and my Dad told them no. I couldn’t say the words as I buried into my mothers arms. I ask the vet what has happened and she defensively says, well she had a mass over her heart. Basically, they were as shocked as we were and they didn’t have an answer.
I don’t want to write about when they brought her to us because that private moment will stay with us but you should know, she was beautiful.
I had to be helped out of the vet because I didn't want to leave her. My parents helped me to the car and Andrew and I headed home. I screamed the whole way home. I pounded my fist against the doors and the dashboard and yelled to God. Tears streamed down Andrew’s face as I pleaded with him to go back, that I needed to be with her again. That this was all a nightmare and that it was a mistake. She was fine, she was fine how had this happened. No one had acted stressed to us about what was happening. There was concern but never life or death. We were the ones that worried and they kept saying that once they knew more, there’d be a plan.
Somewhere mentally I know we'd had a sober moment that this could be really bad news and we’d have to prepare ourselves for the possible diagnoses of months…or even weeks…but never hours. We never ever imagined hours.
Andrew called our primary vet the next morning and she did her best to explain how this had happened. How mass tumors over the chest rarely give any indication there’s an issue until the final stage. She explained she had a dog in there that same week who had hurt his foot and it was only because he had hurt his foot that they X-rayed him and found the same mass. He only lived 4 more weeks.
We still didn’t have closure though. No one was really sure what kind of mass it was. Then the specialist called which really surprised me because I didn’t expect to ever hear from her again. She had been so unhelpful and couldn’t get out of the room fast enough that we assumed that was it, but she surprised me again by saying, she had wanted to know what had happened to Addis. Even though Addis had passed before they had sent the fluid out she had decided to pay for it to be tested and she was calling us with the results.
Addis was diagnosed with Lymphoma. The reason she hadn’t shown any signs was that vets use Prednisone to treat Lymphoma and (as you now know) 3 months earlier Addis had been given Prednisone for Masticatory Myositis and it had masked the problems until the cancer was too aggressive for it to work any longer. When I hung up the phone with her, I didn’t feel any better. I was grateful that they had gotten the results but angry that the Masticatory Myositis diagnoses had kept Addis from showing symptoms and that we could have possibly extended her life. I felt so cheated.
However, the more I read about Lymphoma in dogs the more I realized that no matter what, it is a death sentence. Sometimes their lives can be extended but the cancer is never cured for good and even the extended life is a huge decision to make as it can be very hard on a dogs body. It also depends heavily on what stage the Lymphoma is in and Addis’s was clearly aggressive.
Our grieving has been intense as Addis was a member of our family…I have barely eaten or slept. Everything has become blurry for me and I can’t remember anything but the day we took her in and the day we lost her. I started grilling Andrew about our 9.5 years with her - I started grilling him about the week of her passing. I felt like I was losing everything.
I turned on myself and was furious with myself because the week of her passing had been busy. Andrew had left midweek on a business trip, I had an extra amount of work and an epic snowstorm of 24 inches had fallen. It was an overwhelming week that had started off with her sudden rash and thicken skin around her neck — so I was also focused on getting the results back and planning the next move.
My guilt infuriated Andrew as I was losing sight of the loss and torturing myself. He truly believes that Addis had the most incredible life thanks to me and he couldn’t stand to hear me run myself into the ground because the week had been busy and I couldn’t remember how many hugs and kisses I had given her.
Most of that week is still a blur for me except there are a few moments that I am clinging to as I did not get the goodbye with Addis I had so desperately hoped to.
On Monday after her first vet appointment - I suggested we stop at a local ice cream shop to get a bowl of soft serve and three spoons. She had been through it at the vet with those scrapings and had behaved gorgeously (as usual) and it was just the three of us in the car which rarely happened anymore since adding sweet Pierre to our family. It felt like old times again and all those road trips we had taken together in the past - that I wanted to celebrate her. Each of us had our share and it was truly a terrific moment.
On Wednesday Andrew had left for his work trip and I don’t like sleeping alone, so I kept them on the couch later with me than what usually happens as Andrew and I eventually head to bed. We cuddled until the wee hours and then they wanted to go to their beds as they are both couch hogs and were feeling uncomfortable. I am so glad I had that extra time with her and I even snapped a picture of them…it was the last picture I’ll ever take of her and as much as that kills me - I am so grateful I did.
On Sunday morning when her heavy panting had started she had laid on her side and I rubbed her belly and kissed her cheeks for a while. On the car ride into the vet I rubbed her arm and ears as she looked out the window and braced her body as I always had when Andrew slowed down at a light (even with her seat belt on I always worried about her falling forward). Even getting to give her kisses and encouraging words at the oxygen box has given me some comfort, though I have to admit, that having to leave her there and not being with her in her final hours is something I am greatly struggling with.
I am doing my best as I venture through the pain and the guilt I feel. Andrew is helping me through the guilt the most as I repeat my questions to him over and over again about our life together. This was such a shocking experience, so unexpected that I am still grasping for air. We are still in such disbelief.
It has barely been a week since Addis passed, so I am still working all of this out. Everyday I have a moment of clarity followed by deep despair. It will take a long time for this to come together in my mind or for me to really find a kind of peace in it all.
1) I have been very angry since receiving the diagnoses because I feel so cheated. I miss Addis so desperately that the idea that I could have had her longer aches throughout my body. Why did the Masticatory Myositis diagnoses have to happen and keep us from knowing? There could have been a plan of action - I could have had the goodbye with her that we were suppose to have much later. I have gone over all of this again and again and again. I have researched and looked for others that have gone through what I have. I have read their experiences and compared them to my own. I have felt angry at those whose dogs were older and even angrier at those whose dogs were given more time.
2) I am angry that I didn’t even consider Addis as old. An English Bulldog’s life expectancy is 8-10 years. Addis was 9.5 but she never showed it, she was so gorgeously young at heart. I felt as though she was an extension of myself and through out, I had fooled myself into believing she was going to be with me forever. We were also fooled into believing that Addis would be like my parent’s English Bulldog who is currently 13 years old but that is an exception and though I am so grateful Aggie is still with us, to lose Addis before her, has been very hard.
3) I am angry at the vets and how they talked at us but said so little as to not be held responsible. That they never acted like it was as serious as it was, even though I was begging for my questions to be answered.
**I mention the cost of everything only to show you how cold it all was and how long the estimates were and yet we’d only get minor explanations as to what was about to happen - no one took the time to explain the process to us.
4) I am just so deeply angry that I didn’t have more time and that my gorgeous bear is gone.
I am a believer in God and when my heart isn’t consumed by pain…there have been moments of clarity like I spoke about above.
There were many signs that God was there throughout this entire experience and that day. If you are not a believer in God, then I hope you can at least see the peace in the circumstances surrounding our loss.
1) When it comes to not knowing Addis was sick...I have to be honest with myself - I am not sure I could have survived being told Addis only had months to live or have been able to make the decision to put her to sleep when the time came that she was too ill to live. I would have gone crazy worrying about her and watching her and thinking every little thing was the end. There would have been no rest for either her or I.
Instead not knowing, allowed us all to spend our last few months with Addis as we always had. There were no worries, there was just love and the every days she had always had.
2) Andrew was suppose to be in India the entire time this all took place but his trip got canceled at the last minute and instead they moved the trip only 2 hours away which has never happened the 7 years he's been there.
3) I almost didn’t ask my parents to come, after all, Andrew and I believed we were just going for a visit and that Addis would be coming home the next day. My Dad had the day off and I wanted them to be able to enjoy it, but I felt an intense pressure to call them and ask them to come. They loved Addis very much and we are all so glad we were there together - they would have never forgiven themselves if they hadn't been and I am so grateful for that.
4) Addis passed exactly when we arrived. My father truly believes that Addis was waiting to see Andrew and I before she passed and upon seeing us, she let go. Had we been earlier or later in the day we would have missed her passing and saying goodbye to her would have been even more horrific than it already was.
This idea does bring me great comfort but I am still not there yet to where I can rest in it. My heart is still too torn to feel it entirely, but I hope so very much that it is true.
Andrew & Pierre
I wanted to take a moment to talk about Andrew. Andrew and I have never experienced a loss together. We have talked about our own losses many times over the years, but this was our first as a couple.
We have become even closer than before through this tragedy. We both took a week off and have spent most of it in bed holding each other as we’ve wept. Andrew is not a very emotional man but he has come undone with the loss of Addis and has shared all the pain he is going through and it touches me so deeply to see how very much he loved her. We have been reading books on the loss of a pet together and have spent hours just talking about our life with her.
Addis had been my decision alone. I had brought her home and until we were married, I had raised her. I think because of that, I had always seen her as my responsibility. Andrew had never been a big animal person but Addis changed that in him. He was as devoted to her as I was and he made all the sacrifices I did for her. She changed him and now like me, we both feel empty without her.
We are both so grateful to have Pierre. He has been our saving grace in all of this - laying on our chests and giving us kisses. Watching him mourn has been terrible but he is still young and that youthful spirit keeps us distracted as we push forward for him.
Addis changed Pierre’s life too - even though there was an air to her that seemed to assume Pierre was her own pet, she was so loving and playful with him. They were best friends who we often found sleeping together in the same bed Addis’s arm around him. She use to take the toy he was playing with, walk away and then drop it on the floor to prove she was still the boss. She’d encourage him to be naughty and they’d gang up on us with toilet paper missions from time to time. Pierre howls like he’s having his toes cut off and Addis’s whine was like a deranged baby and when they’d get going together it was the most hilarious thing. There are many things he does that are because of Addis and through him, we feel like we still have a piece of her here.
I could have had Addis for a lifetime and it still wouldn’t have been enough time. There is never enough time for those we love. Everything has changed now, nothing matters as it did before. Our old home feels painfully empty and there are memories of her everywhere. We are in a constant state of being reminded that she is gone, that we will never see her again and the disbelief of that has not lifted from our foggy minds. Each day we move forward without her the pain intensifies.
Addis was a part of our major growing pains as we faced the world as adults for the first time. She was there through the last bits of college, 3 years of dating, 7 years of marriage, 4 moves, 9 jobs, 3 businesses and 1 Pierre. She was an intricate part to our happiness through it all. She made every disappointment better and every success even greater.
I haven’t shared that many pictures of Addis or Pierre on this 2 year old blog, but our photo catalog is overflowing, we have more pictures of them then anything else and I am so grateful for that now. I also wrote about Addis on her last two birthdays here and here. And the tag Bulldog Drama links to all the posts they were mentioned in.
I brought Addis home on my 22'nd birthday because I was severely depressed and ready to drop out of college. She was a puppy mill rescue with poop all over her and a serious case of kennel cough that had relapsed three times already. Her ear was tattooed with the number 2 as they do at puppy mills and I knew she needed me as much as I needed her.
My life immediately changed the moment I brought her home. Those early months were spent in and out of vets getting her better. Though I was working nearly 40 hours a week to put myself through college with a full credit load - I made her my priority and I’d even sneak her into my labs at night where I’d edit my documentary film projects while she slept on my lap.
She was the most difficult puppy who growled when she was caught being naughty and after a stern talking to would vindictively get back at you for even thinking it was okay to reprimand her. I was once in the middle of scolding her for chewing on something when she turned, gave me a sassy side look and peed on the rug. She was impossible but I loved her for it.
Addis demanded that you love her. She filled every ounce of space and there was nothing left for anyone else. She made room for Pierre but made sure she was still number one. She would often prance about our house like a show pony and was incredibly smart. She would hit her paw on her water dish demanding fresh water though we had only just refilled it that morning. She liked to be wrapped like a burrito in her blanket every night before bed and she would come charging into the kitchen blanket still draped over her entire body because she had heard the fridge door open and we’d exclaim, Lazarus go back to bed!
Addis loved the snow and would hit it like a lawnmower filling her cheeks with as much of it as she could. She loved for me to sing silly songs to her and we’d often do great renditions of Les Mis. I had used a voice for her for so long that she knew it belonged to her and would wag her tail anytime I did it. She was prone to mischief and even at 9.5 years we were still having to stay two steps ahead. She hated to have her picture taken and we had a terrible time getting a picture of her where it wasn't just a white blur running at the camera.
She even taught Andrew and I how to argue. She would get very upset when we would argue and would charge us barking loudly. We’d quickly calm our voices as to not upset her and because of that, we’d reach a resolution much faster.
I spent hundreds of moments with my face buried in the large heavy flap of skin around her neck. She had kept it from her puppy years and I loved to hug her tightly. She’d place her paw on my shoulder and we’d lay there as I inhaled her scent. Not all of her scents were pleasant but I so did love the smell of her neck.
Every day I have found myself going to her now empty bed wrapping it in my arms and smelling it as deeply as I can. I miss her so terribly much. I miss every single thing about her. There are too many memories and moments to count and not enough words to describe what an incredible soul Addis was. There will never be another being like her and that is okay, there doesn’t need to be. Andrew and I plan to write every memory down that comes to us as we are forced to carry on, we don't want to forget anything.
Addis loved life and she lived for us as much as we lived for her. She taught us to love in ways that we are experiencing so deeply now. Those last moments were tragic and so very difficult to understand, but we choose to remember her sun bathing as she loved to lay in the sun. We'd eventually have to force her inside for fear her white coat would burn.
She was the love of our lives and we will never forget what it felt like to love her and be loved by her.