“I don’t think I am going to get any more dogs,” I stated one day.
It wasn’t out of anger. It was more a statement born out of the anticipation of future pain and heartache.
The last time I had just one dog was when I had Pepper, the evil beagle and my steadfast partner in crime for 14 years.
Pepper was a keen judge of character, loving certain friends immediately and bearing every tooth in her head at others.
Pepper, all 10-inches of her, had been a pistol of a personality.
When Lamar and I married, he had three German Shepherds, one of which I fell in love with before I ever met him.
I have said and still affirm that’s the reason I married him. I wanted Venus to be mine.
For one brief moment, we had five dogs – Venus, Roubaix, Pepper, Pumpkin, and the then-parking lot puppy, Doodle.
Three of the pack passed away within a month’s time and all we had were Punk and Doodle.
It was lonely.
Those two kept us company and soothed our grief-heavy souls.
Then, we heard about Ava on a Facebook post and drove home to pick her up two days later.
“What’s wrong with her?” Mama asked.
“Nothing,” I said defensively.
“Someone gave away a full-blooded German Shepherd with her AKC papers to register her -- for free – and there’s nothing wrong with her?”
“She’s fine,” I said.
Truthfully, Ava was just big and gawky, like a small pony trying to find her feet. She had been cooped up in a crate for over 20 hours a day, so she wasn’t the most graceful. I was used to Roubaix’s strong, controlled strides. Ava tripped over her own feet and bounced into furniture.
Her former owner fully disclosed she had an umbilical hernia, something we weren’t troubled by.
When we started calling around to see how much it would be to get fixed, we suddenly understood her former owner’s alarm.
“Eighteen hundred dollars!” Lamar said.
Yikes. And that was just for a big belly button protrusion.
We finally found a vet that was much more affordable and had it repaired when we had her spayed.
About two years later, she started breaking out in raw patches all over. She would lose fur on her haunches and we’d catch her biting or licking herself constantly.
Someone mentioned their German Shepherd had an allergy to wheat, so we switched her food, going through several, trying to find one she’d eat and that would help her.
At one point, I even made her meals for her, prepping canned salmon and rice daily. The other two had to get the same thing, too, since they think they are a bunch of toddlers and get jealous when one gets a piece of kibble more than they do.
Then about three years ago, her condition worsened and nothing we tried helped.
We thought it may have been a flea allergy (even though, trust me, there were no fleas anywhere – we treat those little pests like public enemy number one here) or the fact she snuck into the cat food and ate half a bag before she was busted.
She got a steroid shot to calm the reaction, followed by a round of steroids, and some Nexgard. It helped for a few months, but the problem was chronic and persistent, so she was back at the vet a few months later.
Knowing how bad steroids can be, we requested a more holistic approach, which did absolutely nothing.
“We were trying to avoid steroids,” I said discouraged. “They can shorten her life span considerably.”
The vet nodded. “They can, but this is no quality of life for her.”
She was chewing herself raw and couldn’t even lie down because of the raw spots. She wouldn’t eat because she was so miserable and lost ten pounds in a little over a month. Ava’s naturally an extra-large girl and weighs around 125 pounds, so that was significant.
The diagnosis -- lupus.
And that means she’s on steroids for lifetime maintenance.
The steroids I didn’t want her to have to be on because I know the side effects and consequences of long-term use.
They helped though. Within a week, she was showing improvement and getting back to her normal self.
But then about a few weeks ago, she started having accidents in the house. Daily accidents, sometimes several times a day.
“Should she stay outside?” Mama suggested, even though she didn’t mean it.
My heart sank. I swore when I got Pepper, I would never have another outside dog again. They would be inside like family – or I wouldn’t get one. And it would kill Ava if she was outside. She likes to lie on the couch and watch The Office like everyone else.
“That’s just not an option,” I said. “She can’t help it, and it embarrasses her so horribly when it happens. We would not even think about doing that to her.”
Venus started having accidents when she was 13.
Ava’s only seven, but this is behavior of a much older dog. I didn’t even want to think about it.
Mama understood. “I think that lady that gave her to y’all knew Ava had these problems. She didn’t want to deal with it.”
“She may have, Mama. I don’t care if she did. Ava’s got some health issues but I’d rather it be us dealing with it than someone that would mistreat her,” I said, and I meant it. Ava is a great dog; she deserves to be loved no matter how many accidents she has.
“Is there anything you can do?”
There really wasn’t.
“So, what will you do then?” Mama asked.
“Just love her,” I said. “We’re just going to love her, be good to her, and take care of her.”
Because that’s what a dog would do for us if the roles were reversed.