A Life Well Lived: The Bruiser Bear
Earlier this week I heard the news there would be a Legally Blonde 3. I smirked, looked at Bruiser and thought about how lucky we both were that my 10-year-old self was obsessed with that movie.
I had never known anyone who had a chihuahua before I got Bruiser. I never had my own dog before Bruiser. And – I never expected that it was possible to have that close of relationship with a dog. I think Magica said it best when after his fall this week – where it looked like he was going to be OK– she said "he is legitimately your guardian angel!" and although its more literal now, she hit the nail on the head even then.
In late fall of 2002, ML (my mom), Claudia (my sister), Grandma Lou, and my Aunt Judy went to pick him up as a Christmas gift for me in Illinois. Judy agreed to take care of him until the big day (which I can't believe with my horrible memory I still remember so vividly with Lyndsey bringing him into family Christmas in a small blue kennel).
For nearly 12 years, he ached, hurt, cried, shed like crazy, and had such high anxiety and stress–it wasn't until he went through 2 rounds of having intense seizures that his vet finally figured out that beyond a heart murmur, heart disease, lung disease, a collapsing trachea, arthritis, and tooth decay – he had Abnormal Addison's Disease a direct cause of all of these symptoms he had so many years – especially the anxiety and stress which I believe was one of the reasons he was always so partial to me – he knew he could trust me and I think that calmed his anxiety but made him extra scared and mean towards other people.
But once he got on the correct medicine, he lived his best life. These last few years he was happier and less achey than he had ever been, and although his sight started to go along with other little things, he seemed so absolutely happy. He found comfort in Opie, a dog that somehow ended up in our lives by total chance. Claudia found him on a busy road in Las Vegas, scooping him up for fear of him getting hit. She searched and searched for where he belonged but was assured by animal shelters that he was most likely a part of a "Chihuahua gang". This is no joke, google "chihuahua gang las vegas" and you'll see articles about these packs of Chihuahuas in multiple areas out west.
It's karma in my opinion. Bruiser spent most of his life "guarding" and protecting me that in his old age Opie was put into his life to be his own guardian. It was amazing to us how in tune Opie and Bruiser were. Bruiser had never taken to another animal like Opie and Opie just seemed to instantly know Bruiser needed him and acted like it was his duty to protect him from all things. When a big dog would approach, Opie would run and growl and bite the other dog and put himself in between Bruiser and that dog; when Bruiser made a noise Opie wasn't sure of he'd immediately run over to Bruiser to sniff and inspect him and make sure he was alright; when Bruiser was outside trying to potty, Opie would stay right next to him as if he was his own seeing eye dog.
It's interesting to me how full circle his life had come. When he fell, Judy's grandson was there with us (and her in spirit, I'm sure) just like when he first came into our lives she was there with him and took care of him those first couple of months. Bruiser and I first met in my grandma's house, and although she has since moved into a different house, he also died in her house.
And it just so happened that another one of my loving, comforting aunts just happened to take a half day on Friday and when he had a bad reaction to his medicine she was able to be there with me in his final moments. She was doing everything she could think of to make him feel comfortable. "His mouth must feel so dry with his breathing out of his mouth like that. I'm going to wet a wash cloth and drip some water into his mouth." I don't think there has ever been a more compassionate, empathetic soul than my Aunt Laurie. In hindsight, it's all very comforting.
The whole thing was such a testament to just how tough of a guy he really was. He fell 12-15 feet off a balcony and we thought for sure he broke something right then and there. The drive to the veterinarian was painful for all of us; but he seemed pretty peaceful. Still, I was anxious to get him checked out. Shockingly, he had no broken bones, no internal bleeding—just soreness and bruising. And I thought to myself, he’s going to make it. I have more time with him. I can breathe.
That night and the next day he was so relaxed, so back to normal, it filled me with absolute relief and excitement for all of the things we could do together still. All of the time we still had.
But it happened nonetheless. A sleepless night that saw us back in the vet hospital. They pumped him with fluid medicine, rechecked everything, and we were on our way back he just had such a hard time. I called his vet and she said he was probably hallucinating from the morphine and that it was to be expected. We tried our hardest to comfort him through it as we thought if he could just relax and make it through to the medicine wearing off he would feel a lot better. But it didn't happen. His breathing got better for awhile, then it just got so much worse...
This was his 3rd near death experience and I feel so lucky he made it through the first two and ended up living an even better quality of life than before. To be nearly 16 years old and have abnormal Addison's disease, heart disease, lung disease, a collapsing trachea, blindness, arthritis, and then a big fall – I just think his little body couldn't take it.
This post really isn't for anyone but me. It's a way to cope and a way to remember him. But it's also a reminder that coping and grief is all about you and your process. People love to tell you to focus on the positive, pray, or anything of the like but I think it's really about finding what works best for you. For me, only 2 days in, I remind myself that it doesn't matter that "he was just a dog" – it matters how I feel and how it feels best for me to grieve and move on in a positive way. I don't think I will ever not miss "my guardian angel" but I will take comfort in the time I did have with him.