Levee- My Dog, My Joy, My Remedy

Everyday was sunshine with Levee in it. Photo credit: Anna Marie Panlilio

Everyday was sunshine with Levee in it.
Photo credit: Anna Marie Panlilio

Levee- My Dog, My Joy, My Remedy

I've sat in front of my computer for days trying to think of words to best describe the sheer joy and love that I felt for my dog, Levee, who passed away suddenly in my arms last week. I'm coming up short in properly describing what she meant to me (and my husband). Quite simply, she was the sun and the moon to us. 

I won't delve far into how we rescued her as a rambunctious, skinny pup who survived the wrath of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast, or how with a lot of patience and love on both of our ends, she evolved into the most perfect animal we could've ever dreamed for ourselves. We always tried to honor her as a dog- sharing many walks through the woods, splashing at the beach, car rides through farm land, exploring cafes in cities with dog friendly patios, trips to local, state and national parks, and even two trips across the country. She was ALWAYS up for an adventure and my husband and I were always up to share one with her.

In her prime, I found a small lump on the back of Levee's hind leg. I casually mentioned it to my vet during one of Levee's checkups. When she examined it, I saw her face drop from a beaming smile into a look of concern. My stomach flipped. In short, Levee endured surgery twice over a span of 8 months to remove two separate mast cell tumors. It pained my heart to see her in any pain- her strong body cut up and stitched back together, like Frankendog. Gratefully, she recovered quickly from both surgeries, and got right back to running and taking on the world as soon as we had clearance from the surgeon. My courageous mastiff had become a Cancer Grad with a Masters degree. 

Several years later, in 2015, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Levee provided unlimited amounts of comfort, healing and structure during an incredibly chaotic and terrifying time. Even when I was reeling from the onslaught of chemo, she still needed to get outside to walk. Often, I found myself leaning on the memory of Levee's unique way of dealing with her own cancer. She never let cancer or surgery stop her from participating fully in life- it gave me strength when I felt like I didn't have it in me to deal. Somedays, she was the sole reason that I got out of bed. She'd take me on walks, always curious about the nature surrounding us, and force me to be present and engaged, giving my mind breaks from extreme anxiety. Her furry neck captured so many of my tears, and her ears and deep stare made me feel like she understood the anguish of my own diagnosis. She was stoic and regal and understood when I needed her to be my rock, while other days she was goofy and playful and made me fall apart laughing with her antics. She always seemed to know what I needed. 

Enjoying the summer breeze with Levee

Enjoying the summer breeze with Levee

Early last Tuesday morning, my husband and I stepped into the moment that every pet owner dreads. We had taken Levee out on a routine "family walk" in the evening. She was her usual self- smelling the sweet honeysuckles in the air, greeting neighbors with her wiggle, and then capping off the evening standing in our kitchen, begging for treats. The three of us settled in for the night, and eventually headed to bed. Several hours later, we awoke to Levee struggling to stand up, and then collapsing onto the floor. My husband and I shot out of bed to rush to her side, lifted all 95lbs of her into the backseat of our car, and then raced to the local 24 hour emergency vet.

An ultrasound confirmed the vet's suspicion that she had a tumor on her spleen that had burst and Levee was bleeding internally. The prognosis was grim. She had never showed any signs that she was sick or suffering, until the final hours, when we found her in her stressed state. It was agony knowing that we had no choice other than to put her to sleep, and only 2 hours after we found her collapsed, my dog passed away in my arms, looking me straight in the eye.

Fucking cancer, man.

Immediately after her passing, through mutual choked sobs, my husband confessed that if it weren't for Levee, he didn't think he could've gotten through my cancer diagnosis. I knew this all along. Honestly, I don't know if I would have been able to either. Right now, we are grieving the loss of a cherished, beloved family member- our house feels extra quiet and I keep expecting to see my favorite buddy following me around every corner. When I walk through the front door, instead of being met with a wagging, wiggling butt and slobbery dog kisses, I'm met with silence. I keep expecting to hear her signature ear flap that always signified that she was getting up from her bed, or her deep, contented sighs. I even miss her room clearing farts and trout breath.

At some point, we'll decide that we are ready to rescue another dog which will help mend our hearts from the absence of Levee, and we'll walk straight into setting ourselves up for the ultimate heartache again. And it will all be worth it. But right now, my husband and I are feeling the loss hard and I need to respect the grieving process so that I can eventually find joy in the simple things that Levee so naturally brought into our lives. 

Levee was a once in a lifetime dog. She was my protector, my trainer, my therapist and best friend. Her spirit is forever in my heart. She has left this world to study abroad, and I so hope that she finds me again to teach me even more about living the good life.

RIP, Levee. You are so loved and so missed.