Pixel – A Remembrance

Pixel2

Pixel. April 1, 2005 – December 5, 2014

Pixel came into our lives as a continuity puppy, acquired so the household wouldn’t suffer a dogless period after then-eighteen-year-old Muffy inevitably passed. When she arrived, Pixel was a double handful of fluff and enthusiasm, a puppy with no settings between zero and top speed. She would see something she wanted and cartoonishly run in place, her legs a scratchy blur against the hardwood floor.

It’s always a mistake to anthropomorphize animals, but perhaps least so for dogs, with whom we’ve been co-evolving for thirty thousand years. Pixel was a dog it was hard to avoid anthropomorphizing. She seemed, in fact, to insist on it. She was inquisitive and intelligent, but not in the usual sense of dog intelligence–commands understood, objects recognized. Pixel’s intelligence manifested in a palpable sense that she was trying to bridge the gap; to understand us, and be understood by us. As soon as she was big and strong enough, she started using three dimensional space like a cat. She would jump up onto tiny surfaces, climb to the back of furniture. She seemed to understand, from her place on the ground, that conversations were happening over her head, and so would get as close as she could to human eye level before vocalizing her needs. At under a year old she learned she could get attention most easily by standing up on her hind legs and clapping her forelimbs at us, a behavior that persisted the rest of her life. It wasn’t anything trained, as many visitors over the years likely thought. We didn’t teach her to beg. Rather, as I always understood it, she was standing on her “feet” and using her “hands,” just as we did. “Pay attention to me,” she seemed to say, “for I am just like you.” When I think of Pixel, my first image is always of her seeing me come in the house and rushing to stand up on the back of a couch, praying her paws together, demanding affection in our common language.

Pixel 5You wouldn’t mistake Pixel’s communicated desires for anything less than a command. She was an insistent dog. This was a problem when she was a puppy, and what she insisted on doing was play. Muffy, never in her life a fan of other dogs and half a decade past playtime, hated Pixel. Hated her with an absolute, impatient purity. If, as it had seemed must be about to happen any moment, Muffy had died shortly after Pixel arrived, that wouldn’t have been a huge problem. We didn’t let Pixel bother Muffy. But as time went on and Muffy abided (she lived another two years), this became an uncomfortably constant vigilance. Pixel wanted to play with the other dog, and could not be deterred. The solution was obvious: Pixel needed a puppy. Hence, when Pixel was a year old, Carrie.

They were a vaudevillian pair from the start, Pixel and Carrie. A theatrical fusion of opposites. Pixel–scrawny, scrappy, smart as hell and damn near hyperactive–was Brains. Carrie–affectionate, timid to the point of skittishness with anyone but my mother, took a two-month vacation and came back a champion show dog–was Beauty. They were the canine equivalent of a cigar-chomping wiseass and a sequined ditz, always in character, spotlight shining. Pixel’s early treatment would have terrorized Carrie if she’d only been smart enough to understand it. Pixel, for a few years, got a real thrill out of manipulating her environment. She liked to turn lamps with floor switches on and off, and could easily operate the latch on her cage, or Carrie’s cage, if she wanted to let her out to play. Once Carrie grew to be the larger dog, Pixel figured out that she could use Carrie to open doors. She would get Carrie running, then herd her toward the door to my mother’s bedroom and let her slam into it head first. Carrie’s respectable momentum would pop the latch open, and as Carrie stumbled back in confusion, Pixel would happily saunter through to see what was up inside.

To be clear: Pixel was a brat. I found her brattiness adorable, comically diluted by the impotence of being confined to an eight pound body. But she was a brat all the same. A creature of unabashed selfishness and envy, Pixel cared far more about minimizing the affection Carrie got than maximizing her own. Or perhaps just about making sure, no matter what, that she got more. If you were lavishing attention on Pixel and, across the room, someone gave Carrie a pat on the head, Pixel would abandon your loving hands instantly to dash over and displace Carrie, make sure she got her pat. Make sure she got two. Often she’d aim little rabbit kicks at Carrie with her back leg even as she rolled her head against your palm–a behavior which infuriated my mother. My father’s frequent nickname for Pixel was “Ms. Jealous,” and for several years it was true that if you wanted Pixel to come your best strategy was to call for her sister.

Pixel6Pixel’s knee-jerk competitiveness wasn’t antagonism, though. The two dogs got along well, and liked each other. Carrie in particular clearly missed Pixel when they were separated. Carrie was broadly accepting of Pixel’s dominance, following her around, waiting to eat until Pixel was finished. And Pixel became less tyrannical once Carrie grew and could no longer be physically intimidated. The line’s location was never clear to us, but it was there, and when Pixel occasionally crossed it, Carrie let her know by simply putting a paw on her back and pushing her to the ground. We were all watching the day that Carrie finally realized she was bigger than Pixel. Pixel was at the low sill of the window near the breakfast table, keeping a zealous eye on the squirrels near the bird feeder, and Carrie was standing in the kitchen staring at her. Just still, staring, for minutes. You could almost hear the gap-toothed gears start to turn in her mind. Finally she took off, ran at Pixel and body slammed her off the windowsill and into the wall three feet to the side. Carrie trotted away, tail wagging, and Pixel sat there and stared up at us, dazed, the wounded older sibling. “You’re just going to let her do that to me?”

Of course we were, silly dog. We never protected Pixel from anything in her life, except her own body. Her take-on-the-world vitality was a medical miracle. She was born with a liver shunt, a congenital defect where a blood vessel that was supposed to go through her liver instead diverted around it, which can lead to hepatic failure. That’s usually how it’s diagnosed in puppies, their improperly filtered blood makes them sick, lethargic, stuporous. Pixel, an incisive whirlwind from day one, had her condition diagnosed through bloodwork at six months old. Our vet looked at her test results and said, “I think she has a liver shunt. You should take her to see the God of Dog Livers at Texas A&M.”

The God of Dog Livers is Dr. Mike Willard, the veterinary hepatologist who invented a surgical procedure for correcting liver shunts that was then 50% effective and is now more like 95%. Pixel was the healthiest dog with a liver shunt he’d ever seen. (She “made a ruckus” in the waiting area and had to go to “the quiet room.”) He didn’t recommend surgery for Pixel. “This is not a sick dog,” he said, “let’s try to keep her this way.” He had a medicinal protocol he wanted to try, one designed to support the liver in its present state of function. This involved multiple daily doses of several drugs. We followed his protocol religiously, and Pixel returned to A&M many times for checkups and to track her progress. Because dogs are usually so ill already when they get diagnosed, there is little data on how the condition progresses. Pixel, an unusual case and unusual creature, quickly became beloved at the veterinary clinic. Staff came in on their days off if they noticed Pixel on the schedule. For the next eight years of medicine and tests, Pixel’s liver function held steady and she remained as sprightly as ever.

PixelThat changed this past summer. Her regular blood test results showed a slip in liver function, very sharp, very sudden. Far too sudden to be the liver shunt, opined Dr. Willard. That would have been a gradual decline. Further bloodwork and imaging wasn’t able to determine a cause, though, so the decision was made for Pixel to finally get shunt surgery. But the God of Dog Livers was adamant: have the surgery, yes, but there is something else causing the decreased liver function. And, of course, he was right. While Pixel was being operated on, the surgeon found a diseased lobe of the liver, invisible on the scans, and excised it. It was metastatic bile duct cancer, a very fast and aggressive kind.

The severity of her illness was reflected in Pixel’s behavior. She slowed down, started napping all day, turned into a cuddler. The jealousy abated entirely; all she wanted was comforting. For a time she was on chemo drugs, but those made her so weak and unfocused that it soon seemed an unconscionable reduction in her quality of life. We decided instead to allow the cancer to run its course, manage her pain as long as it was manageable, and step in should she ever seem to be suffering intractably. Over the next few weeks she lost weight while her tumors grew with shocking speed. One large, non-organ mass in her abdomen was easily palpable, then visible through her skin. It pressed on the nerves controlling her back legs so it became difficult for her to jump, a heartbreaking diminishment in a dog that had always seemed able to get wherever she wanted (whether we wanted her to or not). We began lifting her up and down from from furniture. We gave her anything she seemed to want. Her abated insistence was balanced by our surging solicitousness.

My mother, as she had nine years earlier when we had a dog that seemed near the end of her life, decided to purchase a continuity puppy, and so in October Pixel and Carrie were joined by Mischief. Pixel’s first interaction with Mischief was to eat her dinner and snap at her when she tried to complain, an assertiveness that, given her weakness, we all found delightful. But unlike Muffy, Pixel came to enjoy the newcomer. She and Mischief would curl up together, and even play to the extent Pixel was able. My parents believe that Mischief, the last thing she ever seriously engaged with, extended Pixel’s life. Pixel7But sadly her engagement didn’t last for very long. By December Pixel was skeletal, on multiple pain medications, unable to keep down food even on anti-emetics. She lacked the strength in her back legs to easily climb a step, or balance sitting up to wave her paws at us. No longer able to clap for our attention, it was like she lost her voice. The obvious next step in her disease progression would be full loss of mobility, then a slow death. We spent a whole day discussing it and decided she had finally reached the point at which euthanasia was the humane choice.

I met my parents on a bleary morning in San Marcos, and from there we drove the two hours to Texas A&M, as we had decided to donate Pixel’s body to the veterinary team who kept her alive for so long. Pixel was on a pink towel in my mother’s lap, and later mine. She had occasional moments of alertness, sitting up and looking around, but never for more than a minute or two. The the Small Animal Clinic staff were expecting us, and directed us to a reserved sitting room in the back as soon as we walked in the door. Dr. Willard, now semi-retired from his dog deity position, came in for the occasion. It was my first time meeting him, and he had thoughtful things to say on the ethics of euthanasia, such as the need to draw a distinction between acts that prolong life and acts that prolong death. When it was time, we signed the papers donating her body for research, and he administered the injections himself.

“It’s so unfair,” my mother said as we left College Station. “She was running three steps ahead of death her whole life. We thought she could do it forever.” But then, the death she was running from never did catch her. It is unfair that a dog should die so young, but fortunate that one with a liver shunt should live so long, and with such verve. Pixel was a delightful animal: curious, histrionic, surprising, and more fully a member of the family than any other dog we’ve had. I’ll miss her.

PixelTag

10 Comments

Add yours →

  1. So sorry for your loss. We’ve lost 3 4-legged Bichon children. Each so different, yet so alike. Treasures that still remain in my heart. Presently have 2 fur babies, 13 and 8, and thinking about getting a puppy. Our 13 yr. old, Abby, has a slow progressing cancer and is blind and our 8 yr. old, Buddy, ( he also sits on his butt and waves his paws to get attention) will be devastated if something happens to his “mommy”. Asked Santa for a Bichon puppy, so hoping I’ve been good enough to be so gifted. God bless and I hope your sorrow lessens over the coming days. Becky

  2. Marilyn Lewis-Taylor

    December 5, 2014 — 7:39 pm

    When tomorrow starts without me,
    And I’m not there to see;
    The sun will rise and find your eyes
    All filled with tears for me.
    I wish so much you wouldn’t cry
    The way you did today,
    Remembering how I’d lay my head
    In your lap that special way.
    I know how much you love me,
    As much as I love you,
    And each time that you think of me,
    I know you’ll miss me too.

    But when tomorrow starts without me.
    Please try to understand,
    That an angel came and called my name
    And petted me with her hand.
    She said my place was ready,
    In Heaven far above,
    And that I’d have to leave behind
    All those I dearly love.

    But, as I turned to heel away,
    A tear fell from my eye,
    For all my life I never thought
    That I would have to die.
    I had so much to live for,
    So many sits and downs to do,
    It seemed almost impossible,
    That I was leaving you.

    I thought about our lives together,
    I know you must be sad,
    I thought of all the love we shared,
    And all the fun we had.

    If I could relive yesterday,
    Just even for awhile,
    I’d wag my tail and kiss you,
    Just so I could see you smile.

    But, then I fully realized,
    That this could never be;
    For emptiness and memories
    Will take the place of me.
    And when I thought of treats and toys,
    I might miss come tomorrow,
    I thought of you and when I did,
    My dog-heart filled with sorrow.

    But then I walked through Heaven’s gate,
    And felt so much at home;
    As God looked down and smiled at me,
    From His beautiful golden throne.
    He said, “This is eternity,
    And now we welcome you,
    Today your life on earth is past,
    But here it starts anew.

    I promise no tomorrow,
    But today will always last;
    For you see, each days’s the same day,
    There’s no longing for the past.
    Now you have been so faithful,
    So trusting, loyal and true;
    Though there were times you did things,
    You knew you shouldn’t do.

    But good dogs are forgiven,
    And now at last you’re free;
    So won’t you sit here by my side,
    And wait right here with me?”
    So when tomorrow starts without me,
    Don’t think we’re far apart.
    For every time you think of me,
    I’m right there, in your heart.

    Beautiful tribute…Sending much love and light to you and yours…

  3. What a beautiful remembrance of Pixel. I am so sorry for your loss. I am supposed to be preparing myself, but I am in denial. I assumed she would be with me maybe unil at least 18, seeing the ages of fluffs on WWBF. But no, just like my mother, hardly ever sick in her life, she got breast cancer at 54. Josie has lymphoma at 13. Losing Josie will be pretty hard on me, as she is the first dog I have had since I was a little kid. She came to me from Ft. Lauderdale and I fell in love when I saw her face in he crate on the conveyor belt. We got transferred to TX, Humble is where we live. Our dentist takes his boxer to TX A&M for his heart. I do t think I will get another one. I had never heard of a Bichon before, but I am glad I did, she has been my constant in everything, never knew I could love a dog so much. I know losing Pixel is difficult, but now those other babies are there for you. I hope they help you in you healing.

  4. Caroline Bengtson

    December 5, 2014 — 8:25 pm

    Just sobbing at your amazing tribute to delightful Pixel and remembering the loss of my two bichons in the past four years. Our furbabies truly are human in all the important pathways to our hearts and although its been four years since the loss of my beloved Mili, the emptiness remains. Praying for you, your family and darlings Carrie and Mischief as you honor and remember Pixel’s and her spirit of joy.

  5. Ong I cry reading that beautiful remembrance of your sweet Pixel . So sorry for your loss my heart go’s out to you. Bless you and your family .

  6. Emily, my 16 year old Bichon, has lost her eye sight. It appears that she can still see light and dark, but she gets lost in corners. We lost her litter mate, Julie, 2 1/2 years ago to liver cancer. When I got these two little girls, I thought I would have them for at least 18 years. I’ve done research on food and inoculations, and have keep their immunizations to a minimum by having titters every 2 or 3 years and feeding a raw diet and homemade treats. I chose a holistic approach for their lives. My heart broke when Julie died, and now I watch Emily when shes sleeping to make sure she is still breathing. I have 5 other dogs, all rescues, but Emily and Julie were my introduction to the world of Bichons. They are a truly remarkable breed. When they were in the yard and I would drive up to see all these beautiful white pups, my heart felt full of love . I was filled with awe at the sight of 5 or 6 white fluffs running around the yard, so anxious to great me. I’ve had dogs all my life, but nothing has ever hit my heart the way my Bichons have. I will never be without at least 2 Bichons. As I get older, I will adopt a bonded pair who someone has given up. It would be unfair to get puppies if I won’t be around to care for them their entire life. I thank G_d for creating the Bichon.

  7. Pixel came to life as I read your beautiful tribute. It was a joy to read your beautifully written account of the shenanigans and imperfect behavior that defined Pixel. Thank you for the journey as you told Pixels story. I am particularly fond of bratty (

  8. Lest you think I was being critical, what I said was that I loved bratty(

  9. Tears are falling here too – firstly so many of your comments about Pixel ring true for me too. Arent Bichons delightfully wonderful! Molly and Meg are my absolute world and I am so sad seeing them deteriorate at 13. I think that decisions may be necessary. We also have 4 year old Daisy who is a different entity altogether. She is a totally spoilt brat. Thankfully extremely pretty and dinky. Molly and Meg though well theyve been through quite a lot of stresses with me and they are totally wonderful.

  10. Touching. Made me feel for Pixel’s loss even though we never had the pleasure.

Leave a Reply