Hi Dear Friends,
I’ve loved animals from the time I was little. In fact, I had more animal friends than kid friends. They just understood me better and I, them. Much to my Mom’s dismay, I was always rescuing someone. Frogs, cats, inch worms—everyone was welcome in my home. I even made little outfits for them by cutting holes in my baby clothes—another thing she wasn’t too keen on.
My beloved pets helped me through college, heart-breaks, job changes and moves. For me, life just isn’t the same without furry friends. Cut to today. We live on 17 stunning acres in beautiful Woodstock, NY—my sanctuary. When we moved here, I dreamed of rescuing lots of animals. I also dreamed of expanding our human family—but that wasn’t in the cards for us.
Living with a rare, slow-growing stage IV cancer, with no cure or proven treatment options, has had some consequences. But the hardest one has been having to potentially choose between my life and having children.
My oncologist described it like this: “Picture your disease like a rock balancing on top of a mountain. Right now, that rock is stable, not causing you any harm. If something (like pregnancy) were to change that, your rock may start tumbling down the mountain. If that happens, there’s a chance we can catch it. We just don’t know if we can put it back on top of the mountain—where you’re safe. There are just too many unknowns, so think hard before you potentially wake the sleeping giant inside you.”
Now I’m a risk taker but this was too big of a risk for me. And sure, there was adoption, but it’s a lot harder for a stage IV cancer patient like me to qualify as a candidate. Plus to be honest, we just weren’t up for the journey at the time.
So my rock-solid husband and I made the tough decision not to have children. We vowed to live big, fully and out loud to squeeze the most out of the life we did have. Though our decision was right for us and even healing, it was also the only time I’ve ever felt broken. Fuck you, cancer.
Now as I was processing all this soul-growing stuff, I decided it was the perfect time for a second dog! I was a mama to our gal, Lola, and my aching heart wanted more unconditional love and sloppy kisses. So, I started to petition my man. Though he shares my love for animals, he didn’t exactly have more fur-babies on the brain. In his mind, I traveled too much for work and life was too complicated—bad timing. “It’s not a no, it’s just not a yes right now,” he said.
But I grew up with parents who used that kind of mumbo jumbo on me, and I do not give up easily. So my petition turned into an all-out marketing campaign for our next pooch. A week didn’t go by where I wouldn’t pitch my “top 3 reasons why our new dog would transform our lives”. Complete with infographics, pie charts and analytics.
Finally he relented. Praise God! It felt like Christmas, my birthday and the time the Easter Bunny gave me a training bra in my basket—monumental. We celebrated our glorious decision (AKA my hard-fought win) by going on a long hike on our favorite mountain trail. Naturally, I couldn’t contain my joy, and I expressed it with each strenuous step.
Then the miracle happened.
We rounded a corner and there he was. Our miracle boy. Our Buddy dog. He was emaciated, matted and covered in filth—we fell in love instantly. Through the kindness of strangers, a group of people helped us slowly get Buddy down the mountain. Someone offered a blanket and a nice man gave him part of his sandwich for strength. Brian took off his belt and made a collar and leash and, when that wasn’t enough, he carried him. From that moment forward, it was a collective #gobuddygo rescue effort.
As we quickly learned, Buddy was in bad shape, days away from dying. The vet informed us that he was about 50 pounds underweight and very lucky to be alive. Due to certain clues, we think he either ran away from an abusive situation or was dumped. I scoured the local papers, Facebook posts and lost pet registries, but no one was looking for him. We even went town to town looking for posters and fliers—nothing. (Thank God! We didn’t want to give him back to anyone.)
As we were trying to understand what happened, we learned that Buddy’s breed is often used for hunting and our gentle fella probably wasn’t very skilled. Sadly, it isn’t uncommon for hunters to abandon animals that don’t perform. This isn’t always the case, there are many hunters who love and care for their dogs. It’s just more of an issue with Buddy’s breed than we knew, so we couldn’t rule that out. Especially because he hated guns, thunder and raised voices. Think more Turner Classics and less NRA.
For months, we poured our hearts into helping our new boy heal. I often joked that his angels instructed him to be at that location on that very day. To look for a yammering blonde and her patient hubby. “She will know what to do. He will do whatever it takes.”
We researched the best diet, supplements and holistic remedies. We even brought in an acupuncturist (until Buddy signaled that needles weren’t his thing by trying to bite the nice man who was thankfully very understanding!).
When the weight wasn’t coming on fast enough for his recovery, we added softball-sized servings of raw ground beef to the mix. Twice weekly, this vegan would head to the butcher in a baseball hat and sunglasses. I even ran into Elizabeth Lesser there once. “Of all the places to bump into you!”. Yeah, tell me about it.
Over time Buddy went from looking downtrodden to totally radiant. It was amazing to watch his spark come back. His matted coat became shiny and his body functions normalized. But as he was healing, his energy was introverted and cocoon-like. He didn’t like to be touched too much or handled in an unconscious way.
Once, I plopped down on the sofa he was sitting on and unintentionally startled him awake. Well, he snapped at the air like a Great White Shark leaping for a seal. Buddy’s message was clear: “Be mindful around me, especially when I’m in a vulnerable state.”
I can only imagine how scared and alone he felt while starving in the woods. Were there predators? What about all the rain and thunder? Did he think he was going to die? It was traumatic so, naturally, any sudden movement when his defenses were down wasn’t gonna fly. “Got it. Sorry, Buds.”
After a long (mindful!) winter, Buddy totally recovered and then blossomed. His personality slowly emerged and we were delighted to meet the real, funny him. A gentle, goofy giant, who went from being frightened of touch, to moaning for ear noogies and full-body hugs.
When he wasn’t holding court and welcoming visitors as the mayor of the porch, he was on patrol checking the perimeter. Thankfully, six of our acres are fenced and dog-friendly. It was my guess that his nightly missions made us safer (or so he believed).
And boy, could our fella move! We called him a shape-shifter. One minute we were on one side of our football field-sized lawn, the other minute he was on the opposite—until you said the word “cookie”. Then the woods would shake as he suddenly appeared, galloping full-speed toward his treat.
Buddy fell in love with everyone, especially butterflies and small dogs and gentle winds that brought worlds of information to his gigantic schnoz. He even loved his little sister, though it took her a while to return the feelings. I swear that boy taught me more about kindness and resilience than some of the greatest teachers on this planet.
Especially after what came next.
For a while, we thought his gait was weird due to an accident or perhaps an issue from birth. His left leg made these goofy little half-moon circles when he walked, and he often stood like a ballerina (with his back legs in second position). Odd. Hmmm… Though we didn’t think too much of it, we thought we should get it checked out. So we took him to a specialist, and that’s when we learned that Buddy had Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), a disease that’s similar to ALS in people.
Like ALS, there’s no cure and the end isn’t easy. Paralysis would work its way through Buddy’s body until he couldn’t move or breathe and there was nothing we could do about it. Maybe he has 6 months to live, at best. Fuck you, DM!
Then I really knew why he chose us as parents. His angels said, “That one. See her? She’s your new mom and she has a chronic disease, too. She and your new dad will know what to do and they’ll give you the best, longest life possible.”
And that’s exactly what we did.
As Buddy’s disease progressed, he started to lose his ability to fully use his back legs. So we bought a harness and held him up as he walked. At first, he only needed us to stabilize him but over time his backend got heavier and heavier. When we could no longer be his legs for him, we had Buddy fitted for a wheelie cart—which he loved and zoomed around in—often flipping it while chasing squirrels or his little sister.
When his front legs started to go, we got him a super-Cadillac cart that supported both his front and rear (Thank you, Eddie’s Wheels!). Around this time he stopped being able to relieve himself without assistance, so we learned how to express his bladder and his bowels. To say I’d be a good proctologist is an understatement.
We didn’t think it was gross (ok, sometimes we thought it was really gross!) and neither did he. Right before each bowel expression, I’d sing “someone’s knocking on the door, let me in, let me in”. He’d dance. I’d get a poop out. Sorry, I know this is really graphic, describing how I put my gloved finger in our dog’s ass to stimulate a bowel movement, but it’s the truth. And you thought my life was glamorous!
As the months went on, caring for Buddy became a nearly full-time job. And to be honest, sometimes it was really frustrating, especially in the snow and rain. But it taught us lessons in patience and the values of showing up every day. I stopped traveling for work, cut back on speaking engagements and socialized less (sorry we missed your wedding Kate and Mike, and sorry to so many other friends). But as many of you with pets who are like your children know, there’s no difference between our love for them and other family members. It’s unconditional.
So we carried on. But we also looked for signs from Buddy. Was this the life he wanted to live? The shitty thing about DM is that animals who have it are often still fully themselves, even as their bodies are dying. Even though he was bed-bound, he still took his job as mayor of the porch very seriously. He was still full of life and love and so much personality and possibility—a gentle ambassador for rescues and disabled animals—but his body was failing and his time with us was slowly coming to an end.
I talked to him about dying, and I asked him to signal us when he was ready. I also prayed to God to help us know when it was time. We didn’t want him to suffer or be unhappy. He deserved peace.
I also asked God to let me know if we were being selfish. Were we keeping him around because we couldn’t bear to lose him? Or were we doing what was right and giving him the best life?
I talked to our vet and he said we were doing the right thing and praised our efforts and love. I even invited our dear friend, Kathy, over for her professional opinion. Kathy is the founder of the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and I knew she’d tell me the hard truth. This tough and wonderful broad has rescued thousands of animals and she’s also had to compassionately put some of them down when they were suffering. No one knows this journey better than Kathy.
“Girrrrrl, this fella still has a lot of life in him! Keep going, he’s not ready.” Oh what a relief! More days… More months… More precious time with our precious miracle boy…
And then, one day, he was ready.
Though we had some damn good times in those last months, Buddy’s symptoms progressed and he started letting go. I watched as he retreated back to that internal cocoon-like state. Though he still loved our attention and cuddles, his spark was fading. It was time.
On the day Buddy died, I told him that he was about to meet my grandma, grandpa and favorite cat, Crystal. That he’d see Brian’s dad and my biological father, who both loved dogs. Plus, he’d be embraced by so many other angels too, including my Aunt Maria, who jingled when she walked and was a fabulous Flamenco dancer.
I let Buddy know that I’d follow him one day, just not right now. And until we saw each other again, he should run in fields, play like a pup, smell flowers, eat way too many cookies and cuddle with the stars.
That afternoon we made a love fort in the middle of the living room. Our vet came over and so did Buddy’s best friend, Michelle (the therapist who lovingly got into a tank with him several times a week to give him the hydrotherapy treatments that extended his life).
We held Buddy in our arms and told him how much we loved him and right before he passed, he popped his head up and looked straight into my eyes. In that profound moment, I felt his love, gratitude and presence.
Then he peacefully left his body.
Buddy truly was a miracle, our miracle boy. He lived a year and a half longer than the doctors expected, a year and a half more of joy, life lessons and bringing beauty to the world.
We miss him deeply but feel so blessed for the time we had together. I think our bond grew especially strong because he was so dependent on us. But what I hope he knew is that we were dependent on him, too. He helped me heal a grieving heart. He showed me a greater capacity for love. And he reminded me that life is very precious and all beings deserve a chance to live it.
Miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Little bundles of joy and big, furry hound dogs. Our job is to notice and thank them. The more we do, the more blessings we receive—they just may not always come in the exact form we intended. In the end, loving Buddy was some of the best loving I’ve ever experienced. Yet another blessing.
Thank you to everyone who cheered him on. Thank you for following our #gobuddygo posts on social media and for loving him from afar. Buddy warmed and brightened countless hearts around the world and I know many of you were deeply touched by him. Bless you.
If you’re ready to bring a pet into your life—go for it. And send me pictures! I’d love to see your fur-children. But please rescue. Adopt, don’t shop. And don’t forget the old ones, the banged up ones, the misfits and the rebels—the ones who are often overlooked—they’re the angel babies who will love you the most.
We love you, sweet Buddy boy.