The World According . . . to a broken heart

Normally, regular readers read the thoughts of Rico, the little Keeshond puppy living in York.

Today, you are just going to hear from his mommy, who has a broken heart.

If you followed the column, “The World According to Rico,” over the last eight months, you heard his thoughts about life and love.

Today, you will just hear about mine.

Since last June, once a week, Rico has written about his experiences as a little puppy in a big world.

Today, I’m writing as a mommy about a puppy whose life was so special and his contributions to mine were immense.

In all his special words, he and I never really spelled out the truth about Rico’s physicality to everyone because we only wanted you to see how fun and exciting his life was. We wanted other animal lovers to relate to the sweet contentment of having such a great love. He was so smart and wonderful and gentle and trusting and affectionate.

We had grand adventures – he, me, my husband and our circle of very special people who cared so deeply about him. We wanted to focus on the beautiful part of Rico and not talk about his struggles.

About a month after we brought our sweet little baby home – our first dog in many years after being so heartbroken over losing his Great-Uncle Bono – we started to see strange signs that maybe something was wrong. There was his incessant drinking and constant urinating. Then we saw periods of “checking out” when he felt overwhelmed by other animals or people or even riding in a car. Soon after, the strange and horrible “wall walking” started. Then came the seizures.

Medical professionals suspected a rare birth defect. There were many recommendations regarding medications, food, the possibility of a risky surgery that could only be performed in another state with likely no good results . . . and putting him down.

We did extensive research into what we were dealing with and found there were no real concrete answers. A lot of information said dogs like this typically only live between 10 months to two years – but there were positive stories about some who lived to the grand age of eight, even 10, years.

His dad started experimenting with food, working with chicken, eggs, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, broccoli, green beans, pork chops and more. Jerry even found a way to include vanilla ice cream at night, just a little, as a special treat. Over time, we found just the right balance and miraculously, Rico started gaining weight again. His hair was lustrous, shiny and maybe even a little glamourous, as a Keeshond’s should be. Three times a day, Jerry gave him just the right balance of finely-tuned ingredients. And it was working.

We used vitamins, homeopathics, proteins and avoided anything with seasoning or salt. Rico adored MilkBones – but only if they were given to him by the kind folks from Kopcho’s Sanitation on Tuesday mornings and a special man who delivered our mail.

We recognized his triggers and avoided them at all costs. Eventually, we gradually introduced him to situations involving other animals, kids and experiences. He relished his long walks, his regularly scheduled excursions every day. Eventually we graduated from walking alone in Foster Park to actually going to the dog park where he learned to make friends and not be overwhelmed.

Rico went on rides in a vehicle, without having strange reactions. He even started to enjoy it and looked forward to little trips.

We learned how to hold him during episodes and coach him out of trances when the mysterious switch would be flipped.

Every day was Ground Hog Day because we recognized his need for structure. Something about it kept him on track. Some people may have thought he was spoiled, but this was our necessary way of life, in order for Rico to have a life.

Looking back, I guess we were slaves to the intent. But we were willing slaves because of the reward he brought back to us. That little shit filled a void in our lives I don’t think we even knew existed, until he plugged the hole and stopped the leaks from our souls.

Eventually, the every-72-hour seizure/situation went to monthly and then non-existent. We told each other he was growing out of his medical condition. That we truly believed.

So along the way, we cherished our early morning cuddle sessions starting about 5:30 a.m., usually after a night filled with going outside three to four times and non-stop filling of the water dish. Those early morning hours were the greatest part of the day, as the three of us would quietly lay in the dark, usually with Rico’s back nestled up against me, with his face in Jerry’s while they shared each other’s morning breath. I’d scratch little Rico’s armpits while his Dad softly stroked his soft hair.

Oh, the joy in his eyes, when he would pretend to hide from me behind a tree, only to jump out and run at me with full speed while I pretended to be surprised.

He loved to sit outside and play with the neighborhood kids on their way to and from the bus stop. We had regular visitors – otherwise strangers who became friends – as they would knock on the door and ask if they could play with Rico.

He was overjoyed by the sight of his Aunt Leenie when she came to visit – he was addicted to her presence as she was an early participant in his care. They say it takes a village – we were so fortunate to be part of a little village of our own who were there for us, including Janelle, Jackie and Jesse, Mack and her kids . . .

With me working from home, he would often spend his mid-mornings asleep by my feet, content with the sound of my fingers tapping on the computer keys and the feel of my feet under his little head. When he awoke, he’d remind me he was “my little baby butt” as he stretched out his legs and begged for more armpit scratching.

Afternoons were spent as a wild animal, ravaging his Lammy, Reindeer, Monkey, Ferret and a variety of shoes he somehow had claimed as his own. All that play culminated in the mandatory trip to the park – he knew exactly when it was time to go as the silent alarm would alert us both.

Evenings consisted of him playing with his sad, depleted but beloved blue ball, in the lot next door, with his dad. When it got dark, Dad would put on Rico his glow-in-the-dark collar so he would see his best friend bounding through the grass and eventually the snow.

Rico loved the sound of garbage trucks and hated the sound of me putting a bag in the garbage can. He didn’t care a bit about squirrels but was curious about the gophers who darted in and out of their holes in his world of play. He was intrigued by the toll of the bell music coming from Cornerstone Bank in downtown York and actually relished getting a bath which always ended with him going to sleep in a bath towel while his dad held him at the dining room table.

He grew by dozens of pounds, reaching about 35; yet, he preferred to lay in his little baby bed which seemed comforting to him even though he had a big boy bed ready and available. And he loved to lay by the front door, on the cold floor, with all four legs in the air.

Rico eventually got his big boy bark and loved the sound of his own voice. He also developed a way of talking to us, playful and cheerful with so much to say.

When the world outside seemed overwhelming, his mere presence would wash over us as a comfort and source of happiness and recognition there are beautiful aspects of this thing we call life.

This week, we lost our little Rico. I guess it was inevitable – that’s what we try to tell ourselves as we struggle to deal with our new reality. But it doesn’t keep the sobs from emitting from my body or the heavy ache of longing for the life we had found through his.

Our regiment of care and love has ended and we are left with nothing but grief. I understand some may say this was just an animal – but those of us who have experienced this type of relationship know otherwise.

I try to picture him, Bono and Aunt Leenie’s little Tater, running through lush grass on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. I hope our loved ones who have passed are there with them, scratching arm pits and relishing kisses from their wet little lips.

I know we won’t be devastated forever; but for now, forgive me for reeling in my awful feelings of loss.

Thankfully, we have those beautiful memories of a soul God brought to us, with all his confusing problems, intricate needs, painful bodily realities, incredible sense of humor, unending affection and unconditional love. That we will cherish forever and certainly never, ever forget.


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