Frances loved to bury her bones secretly and really wanted me to leave so she could get busy!
Starting at the end of her. . .
My baby, Frances, passed away on Monday, Jan. 26, 2009 after fighting cancer – a splenic tumor which by the time we found it had already grown as large as a cabbage and had metastasized to her liver and had probably already spread throughout her body. I still can't imagine a mass so large being so hidden in her rib cage. How did I miss that?
We only had from Friday when the vet diagnosed her to Monday when he attempted surgery to come to terms with the idea of losing her. For three days, I went back and forth, debating the options I'd been given. Do we try to remove the tumor and hope it's benign even though the chance of a benign tumor of the spleen was so small? Could I justify the price of surgery, knowing that, at best, she would only live another three months? Do we just keep her comfortable, knowing that the tumor, that cursed hidden death knell, was certain to rupture? Do we just put her down and erase her pain? And, if I did that, whose pain was I really erasing? I hated seeing her suffer even though she never gave any sign of complaint.
My baby hadn't really eaten since Wednesday. On Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, her bowl stayed full no matter how I tried to encourage her. At least she would take a little people food from my hand. She always loved a treat. Mostly though, she seemed so tired that she could barely move. She slept throughout most of her last days although she could summon plenty of energy to join our other baby, Rosie, in a chase across the yard to bark at the neighbors next door or run to the door, our ever-vigilant guard dog, when she thought Ron was an intruder. The mixed signals were so confusing. On Saturday, the vet called with the results of her blood work: good organ function, but very anemic. No wonder she was tired. Her red blood count was really low. Ron and I tried to talk it out, but we're both such wimps that we didn't want to face the real question of life or death. The one thought that kept repeating itself in my mind was, "how can I not give her a chance after all she's given me?" Then finally on Sunday night, Ron just said, "I don't think she's ready to go. She's still following you everywhere. She wags her tail. She watches your every move. She seems interested." And so the decision was final: Frances would get her surgery.
I stayed awake most of the night reading every internet article I could find about splenic tumors. The crash study was an unpleasant education. There was only a one-in-three chance it would be benign. I convinced myself that Frances would be the lucky dog, yet the next morning I dreaded getting out of bed. Ron woke me up and asked my permission – as if he needed it – to take off from work. He wanted to be with us just in case. I called the vet's office and they said to bring her on in, so we got her there around 7:45. The vet wasn't there yet, so they said he would call us as soon as he arrived. We went home, leaving my baby behind. Now I know I should have stayed and waited with her. I couldn't eat breakfast. We tried watching some movie, but I wasn't there. No call. Finally at 11:00, I called them to see what was going on. They were just starting to prep her for surgery after having taken care of their existing appointments. I understood what had happened, but I wanted to be with my pretty girl. Dr. LeBlanc told me that if he called me back before noon, it would be bad news, but if he called back later, the news would be good. The phone rang at 11:45. His words echoed and still echo inside my head, hollow clinical words that all just added up to my dog was going to die. The tumor was as large as a cabbage. A cabbage! There was a secondary tumor on her liver that was already larger than a golf ball. Removing the main tumor would give her some immediate relief, but her quality of life would not be good for long. He wasn't qualified to remove the tumor from her liver. And then he followed with the lovingly couched words I knew were coming, he recommended euthanasia. I told him we wanted to be there. I hung up the phone and just told Ron, "we have to go." The tears were instant for both of us.
Frances never woke from her operation. Her tumor stayed with her. I remember seeing her laying on the operating room table with a blanket draped over her belly. I had to lift it up to see the incision. Dr. LeBlanc had closed her beautifully. She was under full anesthesia so the spotted tongue I loved so much was hanging slack and loose from her mouth, and I thought she looked dead already. We carried Rosie with us, so I lifted her up to see her big sister. I don't believe she knew what was really going on with Frances, but she knew it was her job to make Ron and me feel better. I've never been loved on with such urgency as she frantically kissed my neck and face. Later, after we said our goodbyes and I petted my baby's head one last time, I called Dr. LeBlanc in to administer the sedative. I had my hand on her chest and felt her stop breathing even before the last of the serum was pushed into her veins. There was a final check for a heart beat, and she was gone – officially. We placed her on the floor so Rosie could see that her big sister was gone and the three of us spent a good bit of time with her. That afternoon, I buried my beautiful Frances in the woods behind the house.
As I write this, it's been a little less than a week since Frances died. Many friends and family members have written to express their condolences and reading each note has been a blessing, yet I miss my "tail wagger," my "pretty girl," my "big red dog," my "wiggle butt," my "shrub dog," my sweet Frances all the same. For days, I caught myself automatically checking her bowl to make sure she'd eaten, or looking out the window to see where she was napping, or actually hearing her steps as she walked across the kitchen tile. Rosie seems to be coming to terms with being alone now. Initially, she wouldn't leave the patio when I put her out. Now she does her business, but wants back in instantly. I imagine we are poor substitutes for the alpha leader of her pack. Ron's had the hardest time. He cries crocodile tears at the drop of a hat. I soldier on, stoic in grief, except late a night when her absence seems more intense, and now as I write this memorial to a dog who chose me, loved me, stayed with me, and gave me incredible joy for more than a third of my life. No one, not even my parents as wonderfully as they love me, has ever committed themselves to me so fully, faithfully, blindly and without judgement as that beautiful dog.
I love you, Frances. You taught me so much about life, love, loyalty, faithfulness, friendship, the pure joy of simple things, and now about death that I'll always be in your debt. I'll never know what I did to deserve a dog like you. All I can say is that I'm one lucky man to have shared your life.
I loved to get in the floor with my baby. She wasn't allowed on the furniture.
And now the good stuff. . .
I never chose Frances as my dog. She picked me – and rather forcefully, I might add.
I moved into my old house in the Crestwood neighborhood of Birmingham, AL in March of 1994 after many years of apartment living. A dog was out of the question before, but now I had a home with a yard that needed a dog and no landlords to tell me different. About a year and a half later in October 1995, I noticed a pack of four dogs running free in the neighborhood. My house was on a corner lot, and across the side street was a Girls' Club (sited on an old school property with large lawns and wooded areas) and across the main road was a large neighborhood park with ball fields and tennis courts. It was the perfect doggie haven. Once they caught my eye running back and forth between those two playgrounds, I realized I was seeing a mama dog and her three puppies. They were homeless. After nearly a week, I finally decided to take one of them as my pet, so I tried to make friends, but the mama was very protective of her babies and equally wary of me. Finally, on a Friday afternoon, I managed to catch the puppy I thought was the cutest. I took him home, put him in the back yard and got him a bowl of water. After a quick trip to the store, he had a bowl of Puppy Chow, too, which he ate hungrily. The mama was still nursing her babies even though they were obviously too big for that.
I probably went to bed that night feeling pretty good about myself. I'd rescued a homeless dog and given it a home. But around 1:00 am, I was woken up by the most horrible crying I'd ever heard. The puppy I'd stolen from his mama was huddled next to the back gate with his mother and two siblings huddled on the other side – all of them wailing at the top of their lungs. I was heartbroken. I wasn't a rescuer; I was a home wrecker! So I propped the gate open and went back to bed thinking that in the morning, I would wake to either no dogs or four dogs.
I had four dogs.
Over the next several days I came to realize that the puppy I'd chosen wasn't really meant to be mine. Every time I'd try to play with him, the mother would get in the way. She had this incredibly cute way of insinuating herself between us by forcefully bumping my hand with her nose. I had to pet her first and longest. She wouldn't have it any other way! The more time I spent with her, the more I began to think that she had been put out by someone else who probably didn't appreciate that she'd had a illigitimate litter of puppies. Her coat was in good shape. She was sweet toward me. I thought she might even be housebroken (which she was). It didn't take long to catch on that this dog was inviting herself to stay. The puppies were instantly weened to solid food. They were so cute and adorable that I figured they would be adopted out of the animal shelter without any problems, so I carried them off for adoption (and didn't I feel like a home wrecker for real that day!) and kept the mother who I eventually came to call Frances.
So now for the real point of the story: It wasn't even a week into our relationship that some stray dog literally climbed the fence to get to my baby. I stepped outside and caught them red-pawed in the act before I had a chance to get Frances spayed. This sent us to the vet that very same day, and that's when I learned Frances was most likely about a year and a half old at the time.
A year and a half after I was able to care for a dog, a year-and-a-half old dog cameto live with me. Coincidence? I don't think so. I'm convinced Frances was born just as I moved into that house – just for me. Ok, it's sappy, I know, but I also believe it. God made that dog especially for me. It just took a little strong-armed convincing from a very determined red head for me to catch on that she loved me first – and best.
Frances, look! The camera's that way!
Ron's remembrances go here. . .
Silly dog! That can't be comfortable.
She made us laugh so much
(Our favorite stories).
"Don't go flat!"
Whenever Frances didn't want to be messed with or picked up, she would just go flat. She'd drop to the floor and go totally limp so it would be hard to pick her up. Usually it worked just fine for her, but not always. Not too long after we moved into our Pelham home, Ron and I took both the dogs for a nice walk on the road below the house. Not far into it, it started to sprinkle so we decided to take a short cut up to our road through a cut in the woods still fresh from the construction process. The grass and underbrush hadn't started to grow back yet, so the climb was steep and messy, but fairly easy. France's arthritis had already started to slow her down a little, but she was still handling the climb pretty well until sprinkles turned into a downpour and we were being soaked. I decided it would be faster (and cleaner) if I carried my baby the rest of the way up the hill, but she was having nothing to do with it. I started yelling, "Don't go flat! Don't go flat!" just as she took a nosedive into the mud. I picked her up, slimed by the mud and laughing my ass off, and hauled her up the hill where we caught up with Ron and Rosie and ran back to the house for a now-necessary bath for both of us.
We laughed about that story and shared it with a lot of people including our vet just after he put her down. True to the end, it turns out Frances had gone flat for him just before her surgery. He said they went to get her out of her kennel and she went flat so they couldn't pull her out. A few minutes later though, after everyone had left the room, she got up and walked out on her own. Always the alpha. Always in charge – even to the end.
"Where's my chicken?"
I didn't have a lot of money when Frances first came to me, so you can imagine how tickled I was one evening when the the deli lady at the grocery loaded up my to-go box with double portions of everything, including two delicious roasted chicken breasts. (I was her last customer that night. She wanted to get rid of everything, I suppose.) Once I got home, I made a nice plate for myself, carried it to the living room coffee table and went back to the kitchen for something to drink, thinking the whole time how happy I was to have plenty left over for lunch the next day. When I went back to eat, something looked wrong with the plate. The chicken was gone! Frances had never once tried to steal my food (or maybe I'd never made it so available before), but there she was laying on her bed a few steps away with a chicken breast next to her nose. She hadn't taken the first bite. It was just laying there and she had the most guilty expression on her face I'd ever seen. She knew she'd done wrong. I was dying inside. Sure, I was mad that she'd ruined my "free" meal, but mostly I had to fight to keep myself from busting out laughing. In the end, she got a scolding and was put outside. I trashed her chicken and ate the other piece, but not before enjoying a good laugh that stays with me still.
"Never vacuum the dog."
Frances was a shedding machine. I NEVER understood why she wasn't just bald from shedding so much. In fact, I always intended to make a picture frame that said, "Born to shed" on it, but never got around to it. When I first got her, I was thrilled that she was already house broken. She never once had an "accident" in all the years I had her – except for the day I decided to vacuum her coat. I thought it would be a good idea. The barber always vacuumed my head when I was kid. Why should Frances be any different? That dog lost her mind. We were in the floor near one of the sofas when I started, and for the only time in her life, Frances tried to climb up onto the furniture to get away from the vacuum hose. I was holding her back, laughing like always, until I felt something wet on my leg. I'd scared that baby so badly that she lost control. For years afterwards, Frances left the room whenever the vacuum came out. I don't think she ever forgave me for that.
She was really checking me out!
There are so many thoughts that keep coming to mind about my baby. These are not really stories, just random things that happened with her that I never want to forget.
When I first took her in, I wasn't sure Frances was housebroken, plus I didn't think I wanted her roaming around the house at night, so I decided to block her into the kitchen by placing an old 1940s Coca-Cola sign I've collected across the door. She had her bed and her water bowl in there. I figured she'd be OK. But sometime in the night, she knocked that tin sign down and went looking for me. I about had a heart attack! That 6' x 3' sign sounds like thunder when it moves! We went back and forth on this for several nights before I decided it wasn't worth the fight – or the lost sleep!
Later, when I moved in with Ron in Montgomery, he wanted to do the same thing – block Frances, and now Rosie too, in the kitchen at night. He bought a child's gate for the purpose, but she wasn't having anything to do with it. The gate came down almost every night. It wasn't nearly as loud, but it would still startle you out of your sleep. I'd already come to realize that Frances wasn't going to be contained, but Ron was still up for the battle for a good long while. Out of respect for him, I tried to be serious – scolded my baby for show – but you know I was really laughing about it.
At night, she always slept near my bedroom door. I'm technically allergic to dogs – especially long haired dogs like Frances – so I thought it was best to ban her from the bedrooms. That's a rule she usually accepted. Still, she always wanted to be close to me, so most mornings I would wake up to find her laying either across the doorway, or right near it.
Speaking of keeping her out of the bedroom, there was one exception I could never fight her about. Frances was TERRIFIED of thunder and lightning. I think it was because of her time as a stray and having no choice but to live through it with her pups. She would shake and shiver like a vibrating machine, pant uncontrollably and always look for a tight enclosed place for "extra" shelter. At night, that usually meant my bedroom closet. I'm usually a heavy sleeper, so storms don't normally wake me, but sometimes I'd hear Frances bump my bedroom door and sneak in at night. At first I tried to get her to go back out, but once she discovered my closet, it was over. The Crestwood house was old so the standard closet was double hung with clothes nearly scraping the floor and shoes all over the place. Frances didn't care. She just shoved everything aside and burrowed deep into the closet corner safe from the flashing light and rolling thunder. Sometimes I didn't hear the storm or France's entry. I'd just wake up in the morning and when I didn't find her in the hallway, I knew to check the closet where she'd still be hiding. Later when we moved to Montgomery, Tuscaloosa and then here to Pelham, she took to a new hiding place: the bathroom tub! Don't tell me my dog wasn't smart. Somehow she knew instinctively where the safest place in the whole house was.
At least my closet and the tub were easy to figure out. A couple of times I came home during a storm and couldn't find Frances anywhere outside. She had a dog house on a covered back porch, so she had plenty of cover available, but a terrified dog, out of her mind with fear, doesn't always think logically. Or maybe thunder sounds worse inside a Dogloo. Who knows? Usually I'd find her soaked to the bone, huddled up next to an azalea but every now and then, she would be missing. The old house was built with a ground level utility room you accessed through a second door on the back porch, and like I mentioned before, the house was old. In this case, that meant the door wouldn't latch. It never bothered me because I just locked the door with a padlock – usually. Frances learned that she could just push the door open if it wasn't padlocked, and from there she had access to the house's crawl space. Can I just say that getting a terrified dog to backtrack her steps around duct work and plumping isn't easy? It always ended up with me on my belly, crawling to her hiding place and leading her back out.
It's time for a walk! Let's go!
The whole time I lived in the Crestwood house, I took Frances for several walks a day. The yard was big enough to play in, but she had sooooooooo much energy that I felt like I owed it to her. In time, she came to agree! I would be laying on the sofa, watching TV or working in my office and she would start her "Timmy's in the well" routine, barking and looking toward the back door while using her nose to point as if to say, "look here, Daddy, look!" She was always so serious about it. What an actress!
We would walk forever. The whole neighborhood is made for walking with sidewalks and big old shade trees, so we'd run into people pushing strollers, people walking other dogs, people mowing their lawns or neighbors just out chatting with each other, and she would politely wait while I said hello or spoke for a few minutes, but it wasn't long before it was time to go again. My baby liked to explore.
How she loved to RUN! Faster, Daddy! Chase me now!
When I first got Frances, the idea of a walk was a little foreign to her. In her mind, any chance to get out of the fence was a chance to RUN. Back then, it was always now, now, now with her and she took such an amazing joy out of running in the moment. I didn't know much about training a dog back then, either, so I just ran with her at a full sprint until one of us (usually it was me) got too tired and we had to slow down. She galloped like a horse and flew so fast that the wind would flow through her coat, making it wave and undulate in the breeze. With her tail held straight out behind her, nose to the wind, and ears flat to her head, she was as streamlined as a furry dog can be. And on a sunny day with the sun shining bright on her glistening coat, God, she was beautiful!
There were several times when my little escape artist would get loose and tear off down the street at full speed. I used to think she wanted to run away, but she never went so far that I wasn't in her sight. It didn't take long to catch on that she was really playing a game of "Chase Me!" She would run as long as I chased, and as soon as I stopped, she stopped, too. After a while of exploring the neighbor's bushes, she'd come back and want to be put on her leash. She always got a scolding for running off, but whatever punishment she had to endure must have seemed a small price to pay in exchange for the shear joy and freedom of running free and having her daddy chasing along behind her, yelling "Stop Frances, stop!" the whole way. LOL
Just checkin' out the house.
Whether she was changing a nice walk into a game of "chase me" or convincing me that she was the dog I should choose, Frances was always determined to get what she wanted, the way she wanted it. She obeyed me when it was important and was always a good dog, but there were PLENTY of times when she could be just a stubborn old woman. She was never mean about it, but this business about a dog just being a subservient pleaser meant nothing to my baby. When she needed loving, she bumped my hand. When she wanted out, she let me know. And when she was perfectly satisfied to be inside, she let me know that, too!
Her independent streak even showed itself in her playtime. Frances was NOT a dog who played with toys. I as well as my friends and family gave her plenty over the years, but they all just laid around the house. She wouldn't play tug of war. Squeaky toys just annoyed her. Stuffed animals? What was the point! The only thing she seemed to like was a good tennis ball. Not that she would play fetch, of course. That was for other dogs. In her mind, throwing the ball was just a chance for her to chase it and then play with it on her own. I tried to get her to play by my rules for a long time, but eventually it became even more fun to watch her throw her tennis ball up in the air, catch it, romp around the yard and do it again over and over until she finally tired of it. Then it was on to stage two: de-flocking the ball. Once she got tired of playing, she would lay down with the ball between her front paws and begin pulling on the flocking with her teeth. Eventually, she would have it all off and I'd just find a naked rubber ball, sometimes in pieces, laying in the yard with random bits of yarn all over the place. Her concentration level was intense. She would get so single minded in this that when Rosie later came into the picture, Frances would growl, guard the ball and refuse to share, keeping all the fun to herself. I think it was her doggie version of a crossword puzzle – a thing to figure out on your own. As she got older, she gradually quit tossing the ball for herself, but she loved to rip the flocking off a tennis ball nearly to the end. When it came time to bury her, I wanted her to have something of this world with her to remind her of all the fun she'd had, so there are three brand-spankin'-new tennis balls with their flocking all fresh and fuzzy laying at her feet. She can't play with them now, but they're there just the same.
We always got a Christmas picture at the tree – no matter how much she wiggled!
Another thing I'll always remember about her was her compassion and concern for people. Frances was quite the guard dog. She barked at every stranger who came into the yard, especially when she was younger. It took a while for her to accept that I was actually inviting guests into "her" house, but once she got used to it, she relented and started to treat them as well as she treated me. So, when Mom had her heart troubles and had to come live with me for a month or so, Frances immediately took to her. Mom had never liked the idea of dogs in the house, but Frances won her over, gently nuzzling her, asking for petting, sitting patiently by her side while she rested. By the time Mom was able to go back home, she and Frances were fast friends. Later when Mom finally passed away, Frances was there for me, too. Somehow she just knew exactly what to do to make you feel better.
I liked holding her on my chest, but she never really got into it.
It took her weeks to try out her first bed, but eventually it became her favorite spot.
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