At the end of my sophomore year of high school, my dad finally relented and said we could get a puppy. He would prefer we get a dachshund, which was fine by me. I was ecstatic. Shortly after the blessing, however, my brother and I discovered we had wildly different preferences for the puppy we would get. He wanted a boy. I wanted a girl. He wanted smooth hair. I wanted longhaired. He wanted a standard color. I wanted something more unusual. This led to me researching and proposing to my parents that we get two puppies – one for each of us. They actually went for it, and I got to work scouring online for my puppy. I looked at shelters, rescues, and breeders. It seemed like I looked for days upon days for literally the whole day. Still, eventually, I saw a photo of one particular puppy, and I just knew that she was meant to be mine. I mean, look at that face.

In July, she was old enough to leave her litter, and we drove to Chicago to pick her up, as she was from a breeder in Louisiana. I had a few names in mind, but I knew she’d be Lola when I saw her. We drove back with her to Peoria to join Diego, the smooth-haired black and tan dachshund puppy we had gotten the week before. One interesting thing I realized once I saw her in person was that Lola had very little hair on her body – just some peach fuzz. I figured she’d grow the rest as she got older, but I was in for a surprise. She actually had alopecia and would never grow more hair than she already had. She had a soft, velvety texture and some fluffs on her legs and neck of the tan hair. She was quite the sight. Lola and Diego got along well immediately, and we got to experience all the joys (and annoyances) of puppyhood – teething, potty training, obedience training, socializing, and everything. I loved it all. We did a puppy class at Petsmart, and they both did great. I was absolutely smitten. Eventually, we gave up on crate training and let them sleep in our respective beds, and that’s what they did for years.

Skip ahead to my senior year of high school, and I decided to stick close to home and go to Bradley University. They had an amazing program in a career track I was interested in, but I could also stay living at home and not have to leave Lola behind. That wasn’t even an option in my mind. While commuting to Bradley, I realized I had a weird schedule with tons of downtime. After seeing a billboard for therapy dogs, I decided to check it out. Lola was very sweet and loved getting attention, and I knew if I were ever stuck in the hospital, a dog visit would absolutely make my entire day. We applied and tested with Therapy Dogs, Inc. to become a certified therapy dog team. Then, we went through volunteer orientation at OSF Healthcare to become one of the first-ever therapy dog teams as part of their Paws 4 Healing program. We both enjoyed volunteering and bringing a nice distraction to patients, their families, and even staff during their stay. She totally knew when she was ‘working’ and would behave extra well and extra sweet. It was quite amazing to see and experience.

I noticed that Lola was extra attentive on our visits to the oncology floor. When the opportunity to volunteer at the local cancer center opened up, I decided to give that a try. They had much more flexible hours (at the time) than OSF did, so it was easier since my schedule changed every semester. We would visit patients and their families before and during their chemotherapy. The staff also got a huge kick out of all the dogs. I truly loved volunteering as a therapy dog team. I recommend it to anybody who is interested and whose dog has the right temperament.

In the summer of 2013, I returned home one night after a concert at the HOI fair to Lola, not wanting to move, even for a treat. I knew something was wrong immediately, and we went to the emergency vet that night. They gave us some steroids and told us to wait until Monday for her regular vet to open. We should not have done this, so please learn from our ignorance. If your long-backed dog cannot use its back legs, you must act quickly and get them to a knowledgeable vet! When we finally did get in to see our regular vet, she sent us to the UofI Animal Hospital in Champaign, Illinois. They told me she had a slipped disc due to Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), and I could do surgery, but the likelihood of her regaining any function or use of her back legs was only 10%. The vet tried to talk me out of it, but I wanted to know we had tried everything and given her every chance. My parents agreed and helped pay for the procedure, leaving it entirely up to me and offering me their full support. This was one of the hardest things I ever went through. Realizing your beloved dog might be paraplegic now and require extensive care is quite scary as a college student just coming into adulthood. I had made a commitment to Lola, though, and I would do any and everything I could.

She had her back surgery and was kept at UofI for several weeks for intensive physical therapy. We would visit on the weekends and get updates from the team throughout the week. While at my internship at the local radio station, I got a call with the best news ever: Lola was showing signs of feeling in her back legs and even wagged her tail. I sobbed in happiness after receiving this call. She truly beat the odds, and even this was a miracle. After the in-patient physical therapy was complete, we took her weekly to a local vet to do therapy on the water treadmill and to a different vet to receive electro-acupuncture therapy to stimulate nerve regeneration. I would do exercises with her at home and even got a kiddie pool so she could ‘play fetch’ and get more physical therapy in. We did this for months and the acupuncture for a couple of years before she finally plateaued. 

She never regained 100% mobility but got about 75% there. I described it as a drunken walk. Throughout this time, she never lost her personality or let it slow her down. She remained spunky, sweet, and playful the entire time. I decided a dog wheelchair would help her be more active for going on walks and at the dog park. She never wore it at home and would scoot or slowly walk around, but if she got too excited, she’d drag herself over concrete and scrape herself up. She took to the wheelchair (which was pink, that was her color) immediately, and people always got a kick seeing her in it, too. After a few years of hiatus from therapy dog work, I decided to get back to it, and we got recertified with her in her wheelchair. When we returned to the cancer center on the first visit, a nurse said, “Oh my god, is that Lola?!” as we came in. Seeing how much she had impacted people while we were volunteering was incredible. We made our way back to OSF once I got a full-time job, as the cancer center was only open Monday – Friday, 8am – 5pm.

We made it a point to visit floors that hadn’t been visited in a long time. This often seemed to be the neuro, oncology, and rehab floors. I also always made it a point to stop into the ICU waiting room, as I know from firsthand experience how terrible it is sitting in that room. One memorable visit was on the rehabilitation floor. A young boy who required the use of a wheelchair was doing his physical therapy with the staff but wasn’t motivated or genuinely giving it a good try. He was nonverbal but lit up when Lola came in with her wheelchair. We visited with him and his mom for a bit, and he immediately had a noticeable change in his demeanor. His mom took me aside with tears in her eyes to thank me because he hadn’t been cooperating for a few weeks at this point, and this was a huge help. We had many touching moments while volunteering, but this one was truly special. 

Lola was sassy and loved chew toys. She would ‘destuff’ any plush toys, so those were an every-one-in-a-while treat for her. She had many toy bones, chew toys, and bones at her disposal. Her wardrobe was quite extensive, as well. She was essentially hairless, so she needed shirts not only for warmth but also to protect her from sunburn in the summer. So, she almost always had some sort of shirt on. It was fun playing dress-up while volunteering, too. Her favorite trick was ‘paw,’ and she was quite good at it. She’d often roll around and make funny noises on rugs and in her dog beds, which became her going into ‘gremlin mode.’ 

As she became older, she slowed down and became hard of hearing. It was difficult to determine if it was genuinely hearing loss or just selective hearing, but she did eventually lose her hearing. Eventually, she started showing signs of dementia. The symptoms crept up very slowly and gradually, so it wasn’t super noticeable at the time and only in hindsight. Over the course of about a year and a half, she stopped exhibiting her little quirks and habits that made up her personality. It was hard seeing her mentally decline while otherwise physically okay. I made sure she still seemed happy and comfortable. She had begun being very restless at night, or sundowning as it’s called, and I had an appointment with the vet to discuss medication options. Two days before that appointment, I woke up to find Lola extremely lethargic and uninterested in her breakfast. I had always said that’s how I would know… if she didn’t want food because she absolutely LOVED food, and I had yet to find a food she wouldn’t eat. I rushed her to the vet, and some of her counts were extremely low. To figure out why, I would have to send her to the emergency vet for further testing, and all the options for what could be causing it require surgery, which I would not put her through at her age. 

I made the tough decision not to put her through any unnecessary pain and not to risk losing her while she was alone in a metal cage at the emergency vet. I got to hold her in a soft, comfy dog bed and say goodbye as she crossed the rainbow bridge while petting her. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I’ve been dreading it since the day I got her 16.5 years prior. She was with me for half of my life, and I will be forever grateful that I had her. 

She was a small dog with a big personality who made a huge impact on my life and others. She was my soul dog, and she will be missed forever. I love you, Lola. 4/22/2007 – 12/4/2023

IG: @LilMissLolaDoxie