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When the Vet Saved Our Dog, He Saved Our Family, Too

I know one day we will have to say goodbye to Jake. And I don't know how I’ll bear it. But right now, I'm just grateful I've been given more time.

 |  Aug 26th 2013  |   19 Contributions


My husband, Brian, and I adopted Jake, a Lab/Pit Bull mix from the Humane Society of Broward County in 2002 when I was two months pregnant with twins. Obsessed dog lovers, we wanted our children to grow up with a dog and we wanted the dog to be settled into our household well before the baby (or, in our case, babies) arrived.

I’ll never forget the day we went to the shelter. Jake was in the first cage in the second kennel. His cage card said he was about nine months old. He sat quietly towards the front of his run, watching me as I walked back and forth. The other dogs were yelping and barking, but not Jake. He just sat there, still. There was a quiet pleading in his brown eyes. I went to every kennel and looked at every dog (of course wanting to take them all home) but I kept coming back to Jake’s cage.

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That day at the shelter, Jake jumped into my husband's lap. We knew he was our dog.

I had volunteered and worked at the shelter years prior and knew that black dogs stood little chance of getting adopted. Pit mixes even less so. I liked the white line on his face, the white patch on his chest, and the white dipped tips of his hind toes.

A volunteer led him into the get-to-know-you room where we were waiting. Jake immediately jumped into my husbands’ lap, wrapped his paws around his neck, and rested his head on my husbands’ shoulders. It was a hug, in every sense of that word. Jake was holding on for dear life, literally.

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Jake's first day at home. We were so thrilled to have him.

“He’s our dog,” I remember saying to my husband definitively. There was no further discussion needed. After just a few days, it was hard to remember life without him. Even though he was a puppy, Jake was calm. Easygoing. He seemed eager to please. Grateful even, although I hate to anthropomorphize. But from the day he came home, he always looked at me with such love and appreciation in his eyes. It was as if we had a silent understanding between us -- you took me out of that shelter and I will be forever loyal.

When our daughters Sydney and Alexandria were born two months premature and were hospitalized for five weeks, Jake’s shoulder was often the one I cried on. He literally licked my tears away. He was the one solid thing during that chaotic time in our lives. His steadfast loyalty never wavered.

The girls finally came home and Jake appointed himself as their guardian. He posted himself across the threshold of their bedroom door, faithfully watching over them. Like a big burly bouncer, he decided who was granted access.

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Jake hangs out under Sydney's high chair in 2002, optimistic about snacks.

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Lexi gets ready to pet or feed Jake. He has always stayed close.

Jake has been there for all of our family milestones over the years. He was witness as my husband and I stumbled our way through being first-time, nervous parents to two babies. He watched as our daughters started pre-school. One of the first words for each of them was “Jakey” and then “Good boy, Jakey.” He’s been there for job losses and career successes. The celebration of our 12th wedding anniversary. Our daughters getting braces. For better or worse, richer or poorer, Jake has been there for it all. My daughters have never known life without him.

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Lexi and Sydney have never known life without Jake.

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Vacation with our dogs? No problem!

Over the years, he has grown into his lanky puppy body with gangly legs. Now a solid 60 pounds, his beefy, barrel-shaped body has always reminded me of a little bull or wart hog. I know when people see him their first instinct is to wonder if they should be afraid of him.

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With the twins in 2006.

It's been 11 years since Jake joined our family. A few weeks ago, Jake started limping. He's inching up on 12 years old, now so I figured he was just slowing down, but when he started dragging his right paw, I knew something was very wrong. My husband travels extensively for business so I started carrying Jake up the stairs from my living room to my front door and down the stairs outside my front door. It’s amazing what you can do when you love someone.

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Jake's MRI shows a slipped disk compressing his spinal cord.

Multiple trips to my vet for X-rays of his back and chest did not reveal the source of Jake’s problem. My vet wrote prescriptions for Tramadol and Rimadol but neither seemed to help him. One day I came home and found him under the table, shaking in pain. Another frantic trip to the vet (in the pouring rain) for an injection of Dexamethasone and a prescription for steroids gave him temporary relief, but I needed to find the source of his pain.

Not now GD, I’d say each night when I would lie down next to him in the dark and try to sleep, consumed with worry. Don’t take him from me now. The thought that we might have to say goodbye to Jake made me weep. 

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Sydney and Jake in 2011.

Jake has given me 11 years of unconditional love. I've worked in rescue for the last 30 years; now my own dog needed help. I refused to give up on him.

Thankfully, I found Dr. Michael Wong, a brilliant veterinary neurologist in Miami. Dr. Wong is an expert in the treatment of several neurological issues including seizures, balance disorders, disc issues, and spinal and brain complications. He’s the guy you want when your dog needs surgery. I trust him so much I’d let him operate on me.

An MRI finally revealed the problem; Jake had a slipped disc in his neck. The following Monday, Dr. Wong performed surgery. On Wednesday, Jake walked out of the hospital and is now home with us, recovering. 

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Dr. Wong using the operating microscope.

I’ve been sleeping on the floor with him in the play yard he is required to be confined to for the next two weeks. I’m making him a scrambled egg each morning. And I’ve been so worried that I’ve not been able to eat.

Now, two weeks after surgery, Jake is no longer limping and seems to have better range of motion in his neck. Dr. Wong is pleased with his recovery so far. And I’m starting to breathe again.

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Me with our beloved rescue dog, Jake. (Photo by Paola Paladini.)

I know one day the time will come when we will have to say goodbye to Jake. And I won’t know how I’ll bear it. I’ve had to say goodbye to other dogs in my life and it is always terrible. Beyond terrible. I’ve found nothing that can take away that heartache.

As a rescue volunteer, I’ve seen far too many old dogs surrendered to the shelter, their families abandoning them there when they are no longer playful puppies. To me, to all dog lovers, the thought of that is beyond heartbreaking.

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Our happy family on a Walk for the Animals in 2005.

That is the dogs’ only flaw. That they don’t live forever. But for now, I am so grateful there is more time. More time for rides in the car as I shuttle my daughters for their last year of elementary school. More time for slower-paced walks. More time for sniffing. More celebrations with brisket. More time to see Jake’s thumping tail every morning, greeting me.

I’m just so thankful there is more time with Jake.

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