Monday, February 17, 2014

Now what?

My intrepid sailors lounging on the dock at
Palm Beach Gardens back in December
Junie's back is much better and improving. While the surgery was not the miracle cure that some people have described, she has seen significant progress. She has to remind herself that two weeks ago she could not stand up straight. She was sort of stooped over like an old woman. We had to use a wheel chair to take her into the hospital. After surgery, she regained her posture and could, immediately, walk upright! Yesterday, we went for two fairly long walks. She still has an occasional sharp pain but seems to be trending towards better every day. Apparently, both she and Roux were determined to make it to the Exumas before allowing their conditions to overcome their capabilities. Junie needs to recuperate for a few more days before we move on.

Although, moving on is difficult. We are sort of lost at the moment. It is cold. We miss our dog. Our boat is in Florida. We are sitting here in Kill Devil Hills in February - the very month, and the very weather, that we planned to avoid by sailing away to the Bahamas.

We miss our dog. I know I said that already. Roux had, as our neighbor Marcia says, a big personality. Suddenly, our house seems too big. I am sure the boat will, too. We always spent a lot of time with Roux. He didn't like being alone. Especially after our big adventure to the Bahamas, we were all closely attached to each other. We were together almost all of the time, 24x7, through stress and calm.

We also had taken on the role of 'care-giver'. Roux needed a lot of help on a daily basis. Partly, of course, because we chose to take him on a sailing adventure. But also because of his age and health. Every day required routines, medications, patience and effort from all of us. Turns out, I had an underlying exercise routine of lifting, moving, walking, bending and stretching entirely based on managing Roux.

I realize that not everybody grieves like this for a dog. On the other hand, we have evidence that neither are we unique in this aspect. After I posted 'The Life of Roux' the other day, Junie shared the link on Facebook. Several other people re-shared the link. We got hundreds of visitors to this blog and countless condolences from folks who, clearly, shared our hurt. Thanks so much.

Bahamas trip. We have logged over 1500 nautical miles
including 6 overnight ocean passages. Given that, I think
even Roux may qualify for certification as a Coastal Cruiser.
So, now what? We head back to the boat early next week. There will be another round of tears over Roux as we face another set of daily routines that were 'exorcised without our permission', as one writer described it. Junie still needs to take it easy but we will get back aboard change oils, clean filters, scrub decks and re-provision.

Then, a road trip to Louisiana! We are looking forward to Jeffrey and Alyssa's wedding in March. We could use some good times, good Cajun food and reconnecting with family. Hey, Louisiana during Mardi Gras season. Who can complain about that?

And then? Well, we aren't sure. We are struggling with the concept of being SWODs (Sailors With Out Dog). We have to come home eventually, I suppose. We could just head back north. But we do have enough time left in the season, and on our Bahamas cruising permit, to go back to the islands. I am sure Roux would approve. Just in case, we have started looking at the charts of the Abacos...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Life of Roux

Roux is gone. The long legs and strong body that carried him for so long finally just quit. His mind was still sharp, his appetite never wavered. But, the Roux that we knew - that he knew - was not here anymore. He was clearly frustrated, saddened and humiliated by, what had become, such useless appendages. In the end, with the compassionate help of vet Dr. Jay Taylor, and with Junie and me, and Emily and Tyler to keep him company, he passed away quietly as the sun set on a cold, grey Outer Banks February day. He had elected to be out on the screen porch overlooking the canal that he had spent countless hours jumping into, swimming around and repeating until exhaustion or the 'shower bell' ended his fun for the day.

He leaves a gaping hole in our lives. At the same time, he has been so intertwined with our lives that all of the threads will never be unraveled. We spoiled him. Everybody knew it. Eleven years ago, when he picked us out, we signed up to take care of him for the rest of his life. We had just lost our beautiful yellow Lab, Ginny. She never got the benefit of spoiling. We always said that Ginny was raised like a child - with rules, consequences, tough love - how incredibly stupid. If ever we got another dog, we said, it will be a grandchild - all cookies, and 'That's OK I didn't like that knick-knack', and 'Hold on, I have to take care of my dog'. That was Roux's life.

As a water dog, he pretty much had it made. He swam in the ocean, dived into the canal, went fishing in the Atlantic, sailed the high seas and cruised the beaches of the Bahamas. Prophetically, at our last stop on our trip in the Bahamas, on the last evening walk, he plopped himself down to look out at the water. He looked at me, I thought at the time, somewhat imploringly to just chill for a while. I am glad we did.

He has defined us for along time. In our neighborhood back in Virginia, strangers would know we were Roux's parents. Our SeaClearly boat card lists the crew as 'Duane and June Ruby and Roux'. Our neighbors here in Colington have been entertained for hours by 'that dog that swims off the dock all the time'. We are not sure who we will be without him. Just another retired couple on a sailboat, I guess.

People everywhere have commented that he is the biggest Lab they ever saw. He was, indeed, a big, substantial dog that you could hug, thump and wrestle. Sometimes it was questioned whether he was a purebred Lab. I beg your pardon! Absolutely! AKC Registered. His full name - Cocoa's Perfect Roux. His father was, until then, one of the biggest Labs I had ever seen.

Ultimately, that big body was part of Roux's undoing. A vet in Florida declared him to be about one hundred years old in Lab years because he was so big. It got pretty hard to move him around in the last days but, as I said repeatedly, I helped him all the way to the Bahamas and back so I could carry him a little further.

But, also eleven years ago, we made a commitment to ourselves, and to Roux, that when the time came, we would make that hard decision to let him go peacefully. No fear, no pain. That time came on Monday, February 10, 2014. And it was a very hard decision.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Junie - OK, Roux - not so much

I am a firm believer in the 'Everything happens for a reason' philosophy. We wrapped up our Bahamas tour and headed back to the US in order to get Junie's back surgery. She had pushed herself far further than she should. She has tolerated more than most people could stand just to keep from canceling this trip. We had an amazing trip. She has, now, had the surgery. It was not the miracle cure that we hoped for but, with some more time, it should alleviate the pain and fix her up.

Now, the other event. Roux, our big, old Chocolate Lab who has been our third crew member throughout the trip, has gone into decline. We knew this could happen at any point in the trip. I don't think it is a coincidence that he waited until we were back in Florida, and really all the way back home, before he started to fail. I think we were meant to come home for Junie's back so Roux could be home, too. His legs just don't have the strength to hold him up anymore. We had to leave him at the vet's office for a few days while Junie went for surgery. He required 'intensive care' which, in boarding terms, means that it took two people to help him up and out for daily business.

When I went back to pick him up, I had a talk with the vet. Typically, you can expect that they will take a passive role in the decision to end your pets' suffering. When I mentioned that we were considering that it might be time, he quickly agreed. Not a good sign. We took Roux home because he deserves that. We will have to make arrangements to have someone come to our house when it is time.

This is really tough. Roux is still alert - sometimes. He likes to eat - but you have to bring the food to him and he eats lying down. He still poops and pees - but only with help to hold him up. He can't climb stairs, up or down. I am using a firewood sling to carry him - and he is not light, although he is down to 95 lbs. We are having trouble letting go. If he was in imminent danger, pain or suffering, it would be much easier. As it is, he sleeps a lot, is somewhat humiliated by his weakness but has us to help him. Looking into those eyes when they are smart and active makes it seem unthinkable.

We are all glad to be home for a while. While Junie recuperates, we are holding on to Roux. For Junie, obviously, it is considerably easier being at home than getting around the boat. For Roux, there are familiar surroundings, smells and sights. No long docks, ramps or dinghies to deal with - none of which he could do now. He seems to drift into that sort of half sleep that old people finally reach toward the end. Hopefully, he dreams of the beaches while he is resting.