Reggie, my heart therapy

Boys and dog
December, 2005, Sam, Joey & Reggie

He sees me

June 27, 2014. He loves a freshly cut lawn. He does a down-dog-stretch before squeezing through the rectangular flap of a door. Outside. Sniffing a path, he finds a patch of sun and flops onto his side. Lying still for a minute, he soaks up the warmth then rolls onto his stomach. Sphinx-like, his front legs out, chest high, ears alert, nose twitching, reading the air. He starts when a dragonfly skips by him, and I laugh. I’ve been watching him from the patio, learning from him how to be in the moment. He sees me and stands up, tail wagging. Making his way back through his magnetic door, he prances over to me and presents himself for a back rub.

I knead him from ear to tail. How’re you feeling today, Reggie? He is entranced. When I stop, he licks my hand. More, please. So I continue, and he seems to smile. I check beneath his fur. The infected lesions are healed, but the scabs can still be felt along the length of his spine.

I took him to the vet in May, a few weeks after I posted this:

I got my coffee and noticed then, that my dog was staring up at me with big apologetic eyes. Not for the death of my fridge, I’m pretty sure. Although he does sense when I’m sad or stressed. No, he was apologizing for the big, messy, grassy, puddle of puke on the carpet.

“Aww, Reggie. It’s okay,” I told him. How could I be angry at that face? Meditating and writing were moving to the bottom of my list. Deep breath.

He’d been vomiting, lethargic, and feverish (warm, dry nose). He had no appetite, and could hardly lift his head. Lying on his side for days, he’d taken only tiny licks of yogurt from a spoon.

The vet suspected the groomer’s shampoo might have been the cause. An allergic reaction, she said. He’ll need antibiotics and an antihistamine. I would give him steroids but…because of his age, and his heart, we want to be careful. If he’s not up eating by tomorrow, bring him back in.

Reggie sunlight
June, 2014

He has absorbed so much…

Reggie’s almost eleven now. Though his fur is graying, he’s relatively healthy and playful. He has a shaky nervous system, as most Chihuahuas do, and also a seizure disorder. The episodes are far and few between, and don’t seem to affect his general health.

Years ago, before I knew what a seizure looked like, I’d rushed him to the vet. Thinking he’d broken his back. I laid him down on the car floor and instructed the boys to hurry and buckle up. The dog’s very sick and we have to go now!

Sam was on the verge of tears. What’s wrong with him, Mommy? He looks scared. Is he gonna die?

The vet, a gentle young woman with big blue eyes, combed Reggie’s body with her stethoscope, listening, while I described his contorted posture, distant stare, and stiffness—all of which had receded on the car ride over.

He’s fine now. But he might have had a seizure, she said. And, I hear a murmur in his heart, she went on. We might want to do an echocardiogram to see what’s causing it.

What? An echo? There I was…standing before a doctor…hearing those words…in his heart…again. Now, my third child (the furry one), too, had a heart murmur. Only a few years earlier, a young and smart-looking pediatrician had said he’d heard a very unusual murmur in Sam’s heart. It’s probably nothing. But he should be checked by a cardiologist.

And now…the dog? Okay, we love him, but… No, I told the doe-eyed vet. He’s not symptomatic now, so we’ll just watch him. I directed, as if I were the cardiologist.

She didn’t know what I knew. That my asymptomatic son had a heart murmur, and that knowing the cause of it—or the outcome—is sometimes impossible. I can do everything, know everything, and yet…

He’s a dog. He’s happy. And he has a great life. If he develops symptoms, we’ll address it then, I said with authority. The doctor looked puzzled, but agreed with me.

On the drive home, I couldn’t help but think: Maybe Reggie’s heart is just a little overworked. A little broken. It has absorbed so much…

For all his happy dog years, he has also breathed the scents of worry, dread, fear, sadness, and grief. He has absorbed so much…

Sam Reggie
February, 2004

He chose Sam

December 10, 2003. He chose Sam.

There was an ad in the paper. Puppies for sale. The neighborhood was nearby, so we went to see the litter. Just for kicks. I didn’t tell Sam we were at this nice lady’s house to choose a puppy. Just that we were looking at them, thinking about, one day, maybe…getting one. Which one…if you could choose one…would you want to take home? I said.

Sam was beaming, but tentative.

There are nine puppies to choose from, the nice lady pointed out.

Sam sat down in the middle of the kitchen floor, surrounded by eight little nippers jumping and vying for attention. Number nine sat on the periphery watching. Waiting. Finally, he stood and put his paw on Sam’s knee. Pick me, please.

Sam noticed. Him, he pointed. That’s the one I would pick. That’s the one I would take home.

I made a note of the puppy’s color and markings: the only gold one with four white paws. His timid and gentle nature, and his intelligent eyes. That’s the one I would’ve picked too, Sammy.

Out of the blue, the nice woman proceeded to tell me about her childhood illness (asthma), and her first dog. I lived in and out of hospitals. And when my mother put that puppy in bed with me, it saved my life, she explained.

Okay. Maybe it was a pitch? Whatever. I was trying to save my little boy’s life. And she didn’t know me, or that my little boy had a mysterious mass in the center of his heart. Maybe it was a sign? Anyway, I was sold. That shy little dog would be Sam’s medicine. And maybe one day Sam would tell the same story. And when my mother put that puppy in bed with me, it saved my life. 

February, 2004

Heart therapy

December 24, 2003. Sammy’s gift, the gold puppy with the white paws, was caged in the kitchen howling like a small wolf. It was his first night alone and away from his litter-mates.

Every boy should have one, I had begged David. Besides, pets are medicinal. A dog will be heart therapy. That’s how I sold the idea to him. A dog will look out for him, comfort him, listen to him, love him, and make him laugh…

The tiny dog howled into the night. David regretted the purchase. Great, he’ll cry all night, every night, I know it. Then he’ll start barking. This was a huge mistake.

We lay in bed listening to the four pound werewolf cry, cursing the gift we, or I, had chosen. When Sam ran into our room in a panic, his eyes huge with fear. (So far the dog was not helping his heart).

He jumped in our bed. Daddy! There’s a wolf in the house! Don’t you hear it? Listen.

Tiny howls came from the other end of the house. We told him everything was okay.

But, the wolf! You hear it? Listen, he insisted.

The surprise was blown. Come with us, we’ll show you what the noise is, I said. It’s not a wolf, so don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

We held hands and walked to the kitchen. The sounds grew louder but less scary, then stopped. Our voices hushed the tiny beast.

What is it?! Sam asked. On his knees, he looked into the crate at the small brown eyes staring back. Is it a puppy? He was unsure.

Your puppy Sammy. He’s for you, he’s your Christmas present, I explained.

Sam’s fright turned into exhilaration in an instant. Is he mine? He’s mine? Really? I can keep him!?

He’s yours, David confirmed. Defeated. But you have to go back to bed and sleep, or Santa won’t come.

You want him to sleep in your bed? I asked.

Sam’s answer squealed out of him. Yes! Right. He needs to sleep in my bed. With me. In my bed, okay? I’ll take care of him! He clapped his hands and hopped all the way down the hall back to his room.

I carried the puppy in what looked like a breadbox with holes. I’ll put him in bed with you, but he stays in his crate. Okay?

Sam jumped into bed. Yes! Okay! Here! Put him right here—next to my pillow, he directed. The puppy poked his nose through the cage door and Sam lay his head an inch from it. The two slept nose to nose. There was no more howling from that day on. Both dog and boy were so completely satisfied, and safe. Together, comforted by each other’s breath and warmth. Heart therapy.

Sam & Reggie
December, 2003

His master was a boy

Reggie was a working dog. Maybe not a police dog, or the type that finds drugs, or bombs, but he could stand on his hind legs and dance with his master, a little boy. You’re king of the mountain, Reggie Jackson Little-Dude!

Now, he is a wise old man.

Quiet, submissive, cautious and fearful—particularly of adults. He prefers children to grownups; his master was a boy, after all.

He is very cat-like—curious, independent, and at times, aloof. And spends his days lazing by the front window in his day bed (there is also a night bed), watching the world go by.

This hyper-sensitive little character named Reggie is an important part of Sam’s story. He is a family dog, but he was Sam’s dog. He made Sam very happy.

And now, he is a living, breathing, snoring, tail-wagging connection to Sam. I can touch him, hold him, play with him, take care of him, and smooth his furrowed brow. As he faithfully absorbs my grief without complaint. He is my heart therapy.

Sam Regg Bball
August, 2006

By Deanna

Rewriting life after the loss of a child.


  1. I love Reggie, Sam, Joey, Deanna and David. My heart aches everyday, but it is still so full of love for Sam; because I am his Nana Betty… He is so alive in my heart and soul.

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