Tessa entered our lives in typical fashion (at least for crazy dog people). I was browsing the Dachshund Adoption Rescue and Education, D.A.R.E., website as we had just lost our little pup, Ellie at 10 weeks, and I was hoping to find a dog for Andrew. Boys and dogs have a special relationship. I wanted him to experience that joy. Low and behold, there was a photo of a new surrender. The pup was a standard doxie and bigger than any dog I've had in my life. Such big and longing eyes looked at me; she was only 18 months old and a beauty. Two months earlier, Tessa had been the pet of an elderly woman whose caretaker could no longer care for a dog and the elderly woman. Unbelievably, the woman's family didn't want Tessa, so they asked a veterinarian to euthanize her ... at 16 mos.! The vet, having much more common sense (all too lacking these days) said he could help find a rescue for Tessa. D.A.R.E. stepped up and took-in Tessa.
We were approved to adopt Tessa and were told we could meet her at the annual D.A.R.E. Doxapaloosa event down near Lakeland, Florida. We took with us our newer Doxy, Hans to be socialized. The morning drive down to the wiener dog extravaganza was beautiful. It was a perfectly brisk autumn day in the Sunshine State. We arrived and entered the world of hot dog shaped animals and nearly immediately spotted Tessa. She was as beautiful as I had seen in the online photos and then some. But, a very "active" lady was toting her around on leash. Tessa was pacing frantically back and forth. You could see all the lady's nervous energy transferred directly to Tessa. The lady seemed to think she was going to adopt Tessa. You see, Tessa was so beautiful the lady was blind to all the anxiety she caused the pup. But, like the angel sent from red-dog heaven she is, Judy Delbene (a doxie lady par excellence) noticed we were there and introduced us to Tessa's foster mom and dad (we had first met Judy as part of our adoption of little Ellie as well as Danny). Tessa's foster parents, Judy, and our family quietly watched the "active" lady. When the hyper lady was informed that we were there to look at Tessa she proudly stated she had been there first ... but wait, n o p e!
We were already pre-approved from our online application and Judy made note of that to our sugar-pumped would be usurper adopter. I picked up Tessa and held her close and immediately felt her calm down a great deal. Cynthia was worried that Tessa might be too active. I informed her all would be just fine. Each of us took time holding Tessa. As we went around with Tessa in our arms, we changed out her collar for a harness and all of a sudden she was responding very well on a lead. It was clear that this beauty was destined to become part of our family.
Tessa already had a fan base. We will forever be grateful to her foster parents for finding the strength to give her up. You see, her foster dad was in tears over seeing her go to her new "furever" family. He loved her so much (we understand). And, the D.A.R.E. volunteer who named her stopped by to share her full name: Contessa. Historically, we had renamed dogs as they entered our lives, but Contessa was a perfect name for our newest family member. Little did I know at that point Tessa had already attached herself to me, cankles and all (a red standard long-haired dachshund looks like "sawed-off" Irish Setter).
Like many of our dogs, Contessa had a bunch of nicknames. Though her original name had been "Juju-Bee," my daughter Elizabeth often referred to her as Tweet-Tweet and Smoopie. I often called her Tess-Tess, Tessa and Tessaladon (as she was the big red dog from the Doxazoic era). She earned the name Tessa I'm-a-Dachshund Nose-Art for the smudges she left on the car windows during trips. And, much to Andrew's amazement, her feet smelled like Fritos ™(really)!
No matter what name she was called ... she was my love. Although, our initial intention was for her to be Andrew's, she was most often found somewhere in close proximity to me. Saturday morning ironing usually saw Tessa underfoot. Sit down to watch tv ... and Tessa was either at my feet or on the armchair next to me. She would sit on the step next to the shower while I bathed, a true guard dog in training, and then proceed to lick my legs and feet when I exited the shower (no need for a towel with Tess around). She would hop up on the ottoman, jump to the arm of the chair and then "back down" so her backside was on me while she faced outward, as if on watch, with her head on the arm of the overstuffed chair-and-a-half. A quick mention of her name, "Tessa," would get her to push off the arm and fall back into me, her face in mine ... usually with a great big doggie kiss.
She was a dog that loved "face time." Most evenings before sleep, we'd head to the bed and she'd lie on my stomach as I rubbed her belly. It was quite regular that she would just open that big maw of hers and scrape her teeth across my nose ... with the occasional gentle nibble. Even towards the end in all but her weakest moments she'd try and push against my face with hers. I made it a point to lay down with her on the rug at the base of the bed and spend some time even when she could no longer safely come up on the bed with us. Tessa was also a center of enjoyment for her furry siblings. She loved to lie on the family room floor on her back with both Hans and Dezzie tugging on her ears. The tussle and bustle was often very nosey with each dog grunting and growling with glee.
Feeding time was always fun. Doxies don't have the gene that tells most dogs to stop eating. Tessa was no exception. Each mealtime, two small meals a day, she would monitor the food preparation at my feet ... just in case a kibble would drop (and they often did, clumsy me). Then when I would take the food bowls to those dogs being fed in their crates, Tessa would let out several reports of her sharp hound bark in great excitement as if to say, "come and get it," to the rest of her pack. Though last fed, Tessa always raced through her food to see which dog would finish first. Hans and Tessa would often check each others' bowls just in case something was missed (it never was). I made sure to keep the pantry doors shut, as that's where we keep a half-sized trashcan for the dog food. If left open, Tessa was the only dog tall enough to just put her head over the rim and engage in a feeding frenzy.
Tessa was such a beauty. We socialized her as we could. She attended a Doxy Day in Lake City where we met our Doxy friends in costume. Tessa was so curious. We also took her to several of the famous Delbene-Doxy-Days. Those are great memories of happy and playful times. Tessa slowly learned to trust Andrew; it took years. Near the end Andrew was able to spend time with Tessa on the couch. Tessa would even enjoy a belly-rub from him.
There are countless priceless moments that I will keep forever. She was the other half of my soul according to Cynthia (very generous of my wife to notice that). The saying, "This is my human, there are many like him, but this one is mine," was often quoted in our house to describe the looks Tessa would give to me. Judy Delbene called her a "heart dog." It's true; she was my heart.
Tessa passed at about 4:45p on Friday, October 4, 2013 at 4.5 years of age. Andrew, Cynthia and I were present to make sure the last thing she had around her were her loved ones. We had called Elizabeth earlier that day to make sure Elizabeth was aware of our decision. She understood, as Tessa was a very sick dog.
She had stopped eating 7 1/2 weeks prior to that Friday, October 4th. We initially took her to our trusted vet Gene Stine. The wonderful, caring staff at Countryside Animal hospital did what they could for her. Dr. Stine spent endless hours consulting and researching her illness. I stopped by to visit her after her first overnight stay in the hospital and in preparation for a blood transfusion. I missed her more than words can express and needed to see her. Later that night Dr. Stine called to ask if I had visited her. You see, Tessa's blood numbers had unexpectedly risen. It was attributed to our emotional bond. During her nearly 8 days in either Dr. Stine's clinic or at the UF Vet School, I never missed seeing Tessa one day.
Tessa received her blood transfusion and we were hopeful that she was on the road to recovery. We thought she might have contracted a tick borne illness, as the ticks were really bad at our North Carolina cabin this past summer. She had many ticks, so many it was a nightly event to go through her long hair each night. Blood was taken and more tests run. It was not clear what had caused her illness. She was given vitamin K in case she had gotten into poison, antibiotics, and large doses of Prednisone along with a Pepcid type medicine to calm her stomach.
I started communicating with Dan Pearson's wife, Molly, who is a vet. Her phone conversation diagnosis and support proved a great comfort. Soon after coming home she started to decline again. We ended up taking her to the UF Vet School where she spent more time in the hospital. The emergency vet consulted with Dr. Stine. Tessa's blood was sent off to NC State and more test were run to determine if it was a tick borne illness, but it was beginning to become clear that it was likely not. Tessa's body was destroying her red blood cells. She was not producing large amounts of white blood cells. Her body was producing the platelets that should become red blood cells, but they could not form. Her illness was beginning to look like an idiopathic IMHA autoimmune disorder. She had the intervascular type which is much more difficult to cure.
After her improvement with my visit during her last hospital stay it became our priority to have her at home as much as possible. Her overnight stay at the UF Vet School Emergency Room ended and she returned home. The following Monday she was laying at my feet. She was so still that we thought she had died. She soon developed a marked head tilt to the right that was likely the extension of either a stroke or a neurological problem that first showed up after her first night at Dr. Stine's clinic. She had a re-check scheduled at the Vet School, but we moved up the date (this became the norm). The new vet, Dr. Duffy, was as kind, passionate, and committed to Tessa's recovery as Dr. Stine. Over the next weeks we would get to know Zach, the tech, and several Vet School 2nd year students Christopher, Andrew and Michael.
Tessa's fan base expanded. At each place, Countryside and the UF Vet School, the staff soon got to know her, and love her. She loved them as well. The anxious pup we had adopted a few short years earlier had grown to trust. She would follow them back to get her blood drawn. Even trusted them to carry her when she could no longer walk.
The last appointment with Dr. Duffy on October 3rd, earlier than our anticipated visit, was heartbreaking. Cynthia broke down in tears as Dr. Duffy reassured us that we had done everything possible for Tessa. Her condition was so deteriorated. She had lost all of the muscle mass in her head. The muscle atrophy from the Prednisone was significant. She was so weak she could no longer walk or go to the bathroom without falling. She was ever valiant to the end, trying to walk, trying to show her love for us. After the appointment we took her home and knew we had to make a decision. She really hadn't improved, even with all the IV fluids and medications the staff at the UF Vet School gave her. I was willing to go the distance if she had any fight left.
Friday morning Tessa made the decision for me. She looked at me and told me it was time. I am crying as I write this. I called Cynthia and she came home early so she could go with Andrew and I to Dr. Stine's. The staff thoughtfully put us in the "comfort room." This was the same room where we had started so many of our beloved dogs on their trip over the Rainbow Bridge. But this was different. We had already put down Laddie, Winnie, Bessie and Hilde. Camilla had passed in my arms in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. We lost our sweet puppy Ellie so tragically in only hours of her aneurism. But this was harder. We love all of our dogs, both past and present. It is impossible to express the depth of my love for Tessa. We entrusted Dr. Stine to perform the necessary procedure. He did it with is usual care and love, not only for our beloved dog, but for us. Andrew, Cynthia and I had our hands on Tessa. I felt her last heart beat. Andrew and Cynthia sobbed openly. I knew my time to grieve would be loud and painful so I kept it in until we reached the truck. The pain of losing this dog was so intense; I have renewed empathy for those who lose children.
It was later that evening as we wandered about in a numb haze, that a former student noticed that Smoopie passed on the Feast Day of St. Francis. That was a miracle. Tessa sent me the sign I needed to know that she would was fine. Also, that evening Andrew saw a red star in the sky while at his high school football game. It appeared briefly and then disappeared. He knew that Tessa was all right as well.
Tessa loved to go on walks with me when we were at our cabin in the summer. Sometimes she'd wait until we had gone all the way down to the lodge and back before doing her business. The walk would be even better if she found a squashed, dead old toad to sniff. Ah, the aromas of a remote mountain gravel road.
Today I got the phone call that Contessa's cremated remains were available for pickup at our vet's office. I'll go there to pick them up (and at the same time getting Han's nails trimmed - the job of a crazy dog person is never done). This coming December we'll take Tessa's ashes up to the cabin in NC to be scattered on our property (what my sister is now calling our "homestead"). That way Tessa always be there on my walks to the lodge and back. She loved those walks nearly as much as did I. Judy Delbene referred to Tessa as my "heart" dog. That is for sure. She will forever be my pup and I am still her human. The loss will always be there. But, I to pray with time that I can once again focus on the love that Tessa gave to each person she met. And, most of all, to me.