Our Dog Maya

This story I wrote the day after Maya died.  I didn’t post it because I wasn’t sure.  I hope you enjoy it.  If not… I don’t really care.  It needed to be told.  Thank you.

Our dog died Sunday, 28 October, 2018.

She was twelve and a half.

Even though she had recently been diagnosed with heart disease and a heart murmur she was going strong until the final day. In fact, she and I had just completed our nightly walk when the pain hit her like a cannonball to the stomach. I won’t soon forget, watching her go for a drink of water as I was briefing my wife, her mother, on the details of our walk, when she nearly collapsed. I raced to her and helped her to the ground. The pain was obviously debilitating because our dog could take pain. Water on the lungs? No problem. Ruptured knee tendons? 2 in a calendar year. No problem. Battle wounds from doggy daycare? She must have had 40 stitches in her life, all from “playing” at daycare. They never bothered her or deterred her from going back. She loved her time at daycare. No, this pain she couldn’t handle and so she laid down, augured in and in true Maya fashion, she took the pain.

It only took a minute or two to realize this was serious. Lisa and I started combing the Internet for things to relieve the pain. You see, it was a Saturday night so we didn’t think we had many options. Finally, struggling to find options, we called our animal clinic and via outgoing message, I was told that if it were an emergency I could call the doctor direct, so I did. He was on his anniversary dinner so he gave me a quick remedy and told me that if we couldn’t find any emergency care call him back. Bottom line, we ended up driving to him after his meal. He took great care to find out what was ailing our baby, but after a couple tests and x-rays, he couldn’t determine anything. The look on his face said it all. He was scared and he had no idea what could cause this kind of pain this fast. He gave her a shot of pain killer that he said would “probably knock her out” and it did. We returned home only to watch her struggle with the pain. The vet had told us that if the shot didn’t relieve some of the pain to give her a huge dose of more pain meds, which we did. It was the saddest night of my life, rivaling only the last night I was with my father, but this was different because my father had been slowly dying for years and when the end came there was relief. This was sudden. Abrupt. It was horrible.

She was finally able to fall asleep so the next morning we headed to Louisville, Kentucky, determined to help her. It was not to be.

Our vet had called ahead so the team at Blue Pearl was ready. They ran a battery of tests, ranging from simple blood work to x-rays and ultrasounds. It was the ultrasound that finally revealed what had been hiding from view. Our dog Maya had tumors in her liver. Not on her liver… in her liver. One for sure and a possible second. The doctor also said she had fluid in her stomach which looked like blood so it was at this time I thought the worst and Lisa asked, “wait! Are we not going home with our dog?” The doctor suggested that her issues had been developing for some time and that something on her last walk must have triggered things to get worse. They ran a few more test to determine if there were tumors in her lungs, which they didn’t find but the damage had been done. The issue, in the end, became the blood in her stomach, potential complications of surgery and her age. Our choices came down to a final three.

One, have surgery. Open her up and try to remove the tumor but first they had to determine if the blood was old or new which would, if new, meant potential internal bleeding. If internal bleeding was present they would have to stop the bleeding before or during surgery. The doctor also said that, very often, when they open up dogs with similar symptoms it may be worse than the ultrasound showed in which case the doctor would be forced to euthanize on the operating table. It wasn’t a pleasant prognosis. Two, take her home on palliative care. Manage the pain and try to let her enjoy her final days at home but Lisa and I both thought that sounded selfish and was only benefiting our grieving while Maya suffered, so that option was quickly eliminated. As stated earlier, she already had other health issues that may have made surgery harder. We couldn’t let her suffer so we went with the final option. Three, euthanasia.

It was an easy choice but the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and I know Lisa would agree. To make matters worse, they brought her in to see us so we could say goodbye and she seemed like she might be OK. Of course, that was because of the host of drugs in her system, which you could clearly see in her eyes. She was in the room with us but she wasn’t “there”. She was like a zombie. I mean, she was all over the room and even ate a little food that had been brought in for her but her eyes were already gone. We laid her on the floor with me on one side and Lisa on the other and the doctor came in to finally relieve her pain. As the doctor injected her with the drug that would put her to sleep before stopping her heart, Maya turned and looked at me, straight in my eyes and I can only hope she was looking to reassure me that this was the right decision and that she was thanking us for getting rid of her pain. I will not forget that look as long as I live. In that instant I saw our life together. It was just a flash but I saw it all.

Maya was given to me, already named and a bit high strung to put it mildly. A family had found her tethered to a tree. They were a young family so when the hyper pup came home she was a bit more than they could handle. She was a jumper and a biter. Not a vicious biter, she would naw on arms as a way to determine who you were. She did it her entire life but only to those she really knew, like me and Lisa and even my brother-in-law, Josh. Anyway, the first year went fast. I had just moved into a new home and so we spent our time exploring our new neighborhood and getting to know each other. We had our fights. She was as stubborn as I was but we learned each other and a bond was formed. Things were really good. We spent all of our free time together. That second year things didn’t go so well, for me. I received the call to go to war so Maya had her world shaken again when she was forced to live with my parents, which turned out to be the best thing for her.

I say “forced” which is true but my parents’ house is a fantastic place for a dog. Ranch style home so there was only one step to climb. A big backyard with a chain-link fence for 365 degrees of sight-line. She loved that. She could see everything yet she was safe behind the wire. They also had a pool which she hated but that pool brought visitors and visitors she loved, and they loved her. It was that pool, while I was deployed, that really began the socialization of Maya. By the end, Maya was one of the most social dogs I’ve ever known. She wanted to say “hi” to everyone but then she would be on her way to the next thing. Other dogs never were of much interest. I mean, there was an initial interest, a quick sniff, but then it was on to the next thing. Maya was the perfect dog.

I eventually came home and Maya and I were back together, only now she was more relaxed, which after a deployment was amazingly soothing for me. She knew when I was anxious and she knew when I was calm. She would sleep in bed with me when I struggled but she would sleep on her own bed on the nights that I slept well. Looking back now, I hadn’t realized what she was doing. She was my compassion dog. She was my friend. She was my “everything” and she knew it before I did. We spent the next three years in relative peace and harmony, living life. The “ups” and the “downs” all the while becoming a dynamic team, although I often worried about her solitude. I’d hurry home after work. I’d stay in on the weekends. Not every night, I wasn’t a saint but I was very aware that she was home alone. Often I would send her down the street to stay with my sisters. She loved that and developed very special bonds with our nieces and nephews. They meant the world to her and I know that she would have loved to say goodbye. I’m sure of it. She loved those kids. No matter how many times she had to stay somewhere else or no matter what time I would come home at night she would be just as excited to see me as the previous time. That trait never faltered and never failed to bring a smile to my face. It’s an amazing thing, a dog. They don’t ask for anything, really. All they want is to be appreciated. They don’t hold grudges. They don’t judge. Their love is unconditional and Maya was the best at all of it. She was soon to take on her most important role.

In 2012 we met Lisa, me in November and Maya in December. That was the game changer. Maya and I went from a bachelor and his dog to a family, almost overnight. Where I had saved Maya, Maya had saved me and Lisa, she saved us all. She probably wouldn’t agree with that statement but it’s true. Maya now had another friend. Someone to go to when she wasn’t sure of my mood. Someone else to love because she had love to give and Lisa and I both needed it. Again, Maya had taken care of us before we even knew we needed it. Lisa told me when we met that she wasn’t a dog person and she still isn’t. What she will tell you is that she’s not a dog person, she’s a Maya person. I always liked that statement. Maya didn’t do anything special, she was simply herself and that was enough.

For the next 6 years we were one happy family. Well, when it came to Maya, we were one happy family. Lisa and I have been and will continue to learn how to live together but there was rarely a dispute when it was about Maya. She was central to our universe. After all, we don’t have any children so Maya was it and she loved her role as “queen”. We both spoiled her. We had to. As she aged we changed her diet several times and by the time she passed she was eating better than any dog I’ve ever heard of and better than most people. She deserved it all. During her last six years, Maya was everywhere we were. It was just assumed in our family that if you invited us to an event, we were bringing our “plus one” every time.

Maya was so good at reading us and our personalities, she knew how we felt before we did. She was integral in helping Lisa through several “events” and constantly helped me with my anxiety, without me even realizing. She just made everything better.

Last Sunday, lying on that floor with her, we couldn’t make anything better and it hurt. We felt like we had been punched in the gut. We were helpless to help her and that’s an awful feeling.

When her eyes met mine in that final moment I hope she saw our life together with the same happiness and joy that I saw when I look back now. I loved that dog. Lisa loved that dog. She helped me live life the best I could during a time of struggle. She helped my wife not only deal with me but also enjoy a part of life that she hadn’t experienced before.

I’ve been thinking, since she passed, does the pain I feel now make me regret any decisions I made with Maya or does the pain of her passing change anything about our time with her? Would I do it again? Would I take in a young dog who was too aggressive for the rest of the world?   Would we buy an eleven year old dog two new knees within the same calendar year? Would we pay hundreds of dollars a month to keep her healthy as she was aging? Would we walk hundreds of miles in all manner of weather just so she could get her exercise? Would we drive hundreds of miles just to ensure she wouldn’t be alone when we had to leave for a day or a month? Would we spend thousands of dollars for tests in an attempt to ease the pain?

YOU BET YOUR ASS! All of it. I would do it all again. Hopefully I would do it a little better but I would absolutely do it again. Was her last 24 hours miserable and painful to watch? Yes. I’ve cried many times over the last couple days. I can only hope that her last vision wasn’t just of me, but of all the fun times we all had together and I hope…I hope she enjoyed her time in this world. She made my life better. She made Lisa’s life better. She brought a little joy to every life she encountered along her journey. I am going to do my best to take part of her memory and wear it daily. Everything she did was to make us happy. We should all be so lucky to live that kind of life, making others happy.

In the end, she took the pain, just like she always had and she went out like she came in, fighting to survive. As a pup I was able to take her in and ease her pain, her sense of abandonment. At the end, Lisa and I were finally able to ease the pain coursing through her and send her on her final journey, to that big field in the sky.

I can see it now, a wide open field with plenty of other critters to chase, a creek to cool off in and the sun, eternally frozen just above the horizon, as it sets. I hope that every time she looks over her shoulder she sees the silhouette of a tall, goofy guy in a fedora holding the hand of a beautiful woman with a long scarf blowing in the breeze, waiting for her to come home. We love you Maya. Thanks for everything. God bless you.

Forever, your parents

Matt & Lisa

So This One Time, Part 2

The idea wasn’t mine. I swear! It was Mike’s. It was always Mike’s idea. No matter the adventure, no matter the risk, Mike was always scheming to have an adventure. Whether it be skirt chasing in Southeast Asia while doing God’s work, to protecting Moroccan virginity from the would be ravaging’s of a young ladies drunk uncle, Mike was up for a good adventure. No matter the adventure, no matter the location, if it meant a chance for fortune and glory, Mike and I were usually, all in. This night would be no different.

Mike and I were sitting at the restaurant at the Puerto Chico Marina in Fajardo. I think it was the marina. Could have been Puerto Del Rey Marina a little further down the road but I was drinking and all marina’s look the same after rum. Either way, our flip-flopped feet were propped up on the sea wall and we were kicked back, drinking rum while a beautiful local girl sang reggae tunes accompanied by her steel drum band. As we drifted away into the reggae music and Mike polished off another cigarette, a habit I was trying to quit, we began to share ideas about the big boat in the marina. The boat had no earthly place in this particular marina, or any marina along the east coast of Puerto Rico or anywhere else for that matter. It looked like a throw away boat. Something made and then left to sink to the bottom of the ocean once it was decided that it wasn’t what the builder had in mind, but there it was.

It was giant. Maybe 100 feet long and approximately 20 feet wide. The majority of the ship looked like a barge but it stood to high above the water to be a barge. It was rusted out and appeared as if it were set for demolition, perhaps to create an artificial reef off the coast. The only thing that stood out was the bow of the ship. It had been decorated in a way that would have made Robert Louis Stevenson proud (author of Treasure Island). There was a larger than life skeleton holding a spear, as if in anticipation of an attack, hanging from the bow. A figure head that was as ominous as it was enormous hung like a gargoyle from this rickety old craft. This ship made no sense. It looked like a pirate ship from the late 1700s had an affair with a salvage barge but it was strangely magnificent. Little did I know that by the end of the night, Mike and I would have quite the story to tell.

As the rum flowed the ship docked in the marina became the subject of conversation. At some point in the evening well before midnight, (I know this because the bar closed at midnight and when the story wraps up we were still able to order more rum before the bar closed. That’s how I tell time when I’ve been drinking) we had concocted a plan to get aboard that ghost ship and snap a few selfies. Why, you may be asking? Well, there is no good answer other than, we had to.

The plan was simple. Wade into the waters of the marina and commandeer another vessel to take us out to the ship, scurry up the rope ladder (yup, it had a rope ladder hanging off the side) and snap a couple of photos to include the always impressive, Leonardo and Kate, “I’m King of the world” scene from the movie Titanic. It wasn’t the best plan but it was simple and easy to remember. We did not, however, take into account any other variables that might disrupt our adventure and why should we? We were drunk, young and invincible. The fact that the ship was privately owned, didn’t matter. The fact that the anchor chain wasn’t properly fastened to the ship, didn’t matter and the fact that the current was attempting to pull the old ship out into the Caribbean, didn’t matter. It should have. IT ALL SHOULD HAVE. In our head the only thing that mattered was getting proof that we were on that ship. It would all fall on the success of phase one of our operation, boost a vessel (Boost in the slang dictionary means to steal). Without a way out to the ship the story couldn’t even start.

Mike was the first to make a move as he tossed his most recent cig into the water and set off down the beach. I quickly slammed my rum and followed him down the beach. After a few hundred feet we headed out to sea, and by “headed out to sea” I mean walk about twenty feet into waist deep water and board the first boat we can reach. Of course, the first boat we came to was a million years old and it appeared it had been used for fishing. It was about 20 feet long with a closed bow and covered, open stern. It was painted, many, many years ago in a very Caribbean yellow but had been worn by the sands of time. As Mike approached the steering wheel he slowly turned and looked over his shoulder with the grin I’ve seen several times and says, “Easier than I thought. Keys are in it.”

I reply, “The first part always works in our favor. It’s the second and third part that usually backfire and we end up trying to talk out way outta shit.”

And as slyly as his initial response was he retorts, “Hey! We’re off to a good start. Cut it out with those negative waves. Quick pull the anchor and get ready to make way.”

There was no way I was going to let that comment go, “Ready to make way? Calm down there Jack Sparrow. Twenty feet into the Caribbean and all of a sudden you’re a seasoned pirate of the high seas?”

To which he smiles, his crooked smile and simply responds, “Savvy?”

Mike can always make me laugh. He has been a friend since the turn of the century and while it’s been a bumpy friendship it has always been a good friendship. The story of Mike will be the next part of my story. I promise that it won’t take away from this story. It will only add to the humor and the almost mythological adventure that we have been thru during our time as friends.

So for now and until next time, we leave you, drunk on a random little fishing boat in a small marina on the east coast of Puerto Rico, planning the next step but at least, hey! The “keys are in it.”

So This One Time, Part One

My friend moved to Puerto Rico several years ago…fast forward all those years until present day (by present day I mean summer of 2013).  Him moving to Puerto Rico opened the doors to a world of Caribbean adventure.  I visited him often, well as often as I could which was about twice a year and on this particular trip the adventure came to us.

My friend, God love him, lives a bit of a pirates life.  He scrapes by on what he can, hustles a little here and there, drinks a little to much rum and chases the booty like a good pirate (pun intended).  He looks just like Matthew McConaughey, if Matthew never worked out, smoked way to much and hadn’t the slightest hint of health care.  No matter, he’s my friend and he’s never met a stranger.  He’d give you the shirt off his back and the flip-flops off his feet.

Everytime I journeyed to the island there was another story.  Another memory collected.  After all, that’s what life is; a collection of memories.   On this trip, like I stated above, the adventure came to us, which makes it much easier to talk yourself into.  You see, we were sitting in our favorite watering hole.  I should probably mention that my friend didn’t live any where near the tourist trap that is San Juan.  No, he lived about an hour East in a little town called Luquillo which wasn’t to far from Fahardo which is where our story takes place.  IF it helps, Fahardo is the real life town where the movie Captain Ron, starring Kurt Russell, was filmed back in 1992.

The evening in question was a non-descript, hot, Caribbean night and we were well sauced, as it were (Drunk. We were drunk).  Our bar was nesteled near a marina where several boats moored for the evening and on this particular evening a “prop” from a movie, being shot nearby, was anchored there too.  The “prop” in question was a pirate ship from the most recent installment of Pirates Of The Caribbean and it wasn’t a ship at all.  It was the top half of a century’s old pirate ship sitting on a barge, complete with rigging to accomodate several cameras and it was sitting only a stones throw away.  Of course we noticed it the moment we arrived and thought nothing of it but after several rum drinks we decided it would be a good idea to climb aboard that pirate ship and take some photos.  At the time it was the best idea ever and so simple.  What could possibly go wrong.

Join us next time as the tale of two idiots, a whole lot of rum and pirate ship continues.


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