Three years. Three years since Lexi lost her battle and I was forced to let her go. I can’t lie. It wasn’t pretty. I waited too long? She had seizures all night and was mostly gone by the time the needle went into her vein. Don’t we always feel guilt, thinking we either acted too soon or waited too long. I’m one of those waited too long people. I kept asking her if she was ready, and I never got a yes. At least I never understood her if it was ever a yes. Lexi stayed with me for my sake for as long as she could. In the end, neither one of us could stop it with a simple no.
Lexi was my heart dog, and so much more. She was my partner, my inspiration. I clearly remember the evening at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre when I felt God tell me that He had given Lexi to me to bring joy to others. And she did. That’s how she lived her life. She brought happiness and laughter – even if it was only for one night – to 7,000 people during her six week, 24 performance run as Toto.
She went on to become a therapy dog, where she continued to bring joy to folks, this time one-on-one. There was the hospital worker – an elderly black gentleman who was also an ordained preacher – who never touched the therapy dogs at the physical rehab hospital. He was a bit afraid of them. When he saw Lexi, he smiled, reached out to pet her, and said, “This dog is something special. God has blessed her.” During the same visit she sat in the lap of a young man in a wheelchair while his therapist chatted with me and another worker. I always kept an eye on what was happening with her when we were doing therapy, or “therapizing” as she and I called it. Every time the young man stopped petting Lexi, she nudged his hand and he would start petting her again. This went on for about 15 minutes, quite a long visit compared to most. As we were walking away, I heard his therapist say, “That was great! You actually lifted your hand.”
Lexi especially loved going to the Children’s Hospital, which she did faithfully every month for 10 years.
Even before I had this revelation about Lexi’s mission in life, she was busy bringing joy to people. For three years Lexi rode for an hour every week with me and Jeff to help teach ballroom dance to a group of home schooled teens. She even knew the halfway point where we pulled off the highway to get dinner at Mickey D’s. She was a Mickey D’s type of girl. Lexi would stand up and stare out the window when we would be getting close to the exit. Of course, she always got the fries. Back to teaching dance. How can a dog teach dance, you might ask. Here’s how: The kids would be lined up with their partner, trying out the dance step we had just taught them. Lexi would walk along the line of students, watching each one. She would stop in front of a dancing couple and bark. By then, everyone knew what that meant, and the other students would laugh while the “chosen” ones would hang their heads. I would go over and ask them to show me what they were doing, and there was always something wrong with it. Somehow, Lexi knew. Then we would put on the music for them to practice, but before they could practice, Lexi would come to me and stand on her hind legs for me to take her front paws so she could “show them” how they were supposed to do the step. OK, so maybe she couldn’t exactly do the step correctly, but in her mind she sure was. That done, she left everyone in peace to practice. By the way, rumba was her favorite.
When Lexi was just one year old, my elderly mother moved from Pennsylvania to be near me, and started out in an apartment within a block of where I lived. Mom loved dogs and kept Lexi every day while I was at work. It was a good arrangement for them both. On one occasion, when I came to pick up Lexi, Mom declared that Lexi was a “kind” dog. She said she had felt so sick all day and Lexi just laid her paw gently on her leg to comfort her. Eventually, Mom broke her hip and the rehab didn’t help, so she ended up in a nursing home. When we would go to visit, Lexi wouldn’t stop to see any of the other patients until after her visit with her Grandma. On the way out, however, she would “therapize” anyone who needed her. One time we thought Mom was dying after aspirating her chewing gum. Jeff, my son, and I were sitting vigil around her bed, with Lexi sitting on the bottom of the bed, never taking her eyes off her for an hour. Suddenly Mom opened her eyes, lifted herself up and cried, “Lexi!” with a great big smile on her face. I must admit, that was the only time I ever felt jealous of my dog.
Jeff and I had planned our backyard wedding for October 16, and my Mom passed suddenly on my birthday, exactly one month before that. Because Mom loved Jeff so much we decided to go ahead with the wedding. Of course, Lexi was in attendance and hoping for a big slice of wedding cake. We felt like Mom was also there, smiling at us.
Did I mention that Mickey D’s was Lexi’s favorite food? During the last year of her life, she was shopping with me at the local Ace Hardware store. I checked out and was ready to leave, but Lexi had other plans. The cashier had not given her a treat – you know, like you get at the pet store or the bank drive through. So she refused to leave, and just stood there staring at the cashier, as if by sheer force of will she would make her give her a treat. The cashier kept apologizing that she didn’t have anything to give to Lexi, and I finally got her to at least step back so other people could pay for their purchases. Normally, I would have picked her up and carried her to the car, but my arms were full of what I had bought. After a very long five minutes, it dawned on me that there was a McDonald’s across the street. I said, “Lexi, do you want to go to McDonald’s?” She looked at me and headed for the door in consent. Of course, we went to Mickey D’s and she got an ice cream.
Lexi also got Mickey D’s on most of her birthdays.
So, even though I try to eat healthy, and even though I mostly eschew sugar, tonight, for supper, I honored Lexi. While Jeff’s gluten-free pizza was in the oven, I drove the mile down the road to Mickey D’s and bought a hamburger, small fry and hot fudge sundae. And since they were on special for only $1, I added a large Dr. Pepper. I ate it all, and it was good. So now I sit here, wired up on sugar, unable to sleep, thinking about my girl. Lexi. I hope, wherever she is, there is a Mickey D’s.