Victoria is everywhere for me. Her picture is the screensaver on my phone and computer. There are framed photographs of her beside my bed and in my office. She is reflected in the decor and accessories filling my home and office. If I can get a pug-themed blanket, mouse pad, PJ set, or key holder, I will have it! While I always had a special relationship with my fur baby (I will qualify this description in a second), this bond strengthened as the two of us fought chronic health issues side-by-side.

Before I begin bragging about just how amazing, gifted, talented, and strong Victoria was, I feel obligated to clarify that she was technically not my fur baby. Victoria was the fur baby I pug sat for, for years. Even though she did not live in my house full-time, she was a constant source of comfort, love, and entertainment.

One of my favorite things about Victoria was her tough-girl act. She did not accept excuses. Before I got sick and again when I was in remission, she tended to wake me up at the crack of dawn (or the middle of the night) for breakfast or fresh water. She did not accept my pleas for five more minutes of sleep. I was not going to have a lazy morning on her watch! She was also outspoken about her desires. If she did not want to go on a walk, she would sit down in the middle of the sidewalk. She was always the boss and she knew it!

Despite her external performance as a tough customer, Victoria was a softy (I hope this does not offend you, Victoria). I vividly remember her change in temperament when I was caring for her during one of my severe flares. My first two nights of constant bathroom runs were met with sighs of disapproval from Victoria’s bed. I was disturbing her beauty sleep! By the third night, however, Victoria realized I was not playing a game. She followed me into the bathroom multiple times with a concerned expression and repositioned herself to face me while sleeping. She stopped waking me up in the morning and patiently waited as I prepared each of her meals (as opposed to barking for me to ‘hurry up!’). Her behavior change forced me to confront the severity of my situation, leading me to accept a hospital admission for TPN.

While I was undergoing a series of colon surgeries, Victoria was diagnosed with colon cancer and colitis. I was devastated and petrified for her. She was fourteen-years-old and the doctor gave her less than a year to live. But, Victoria took on her surgery with a level of determination I could never muster. She was up and about bossing around the vet assistants within a few hours of the major procedure. She did not accept the confines of a cage or the cheap food at the animal hospital. My fur baby put up such a fuss that the vet called her mom to take her home a few days early! The vet knew Victoria well enough to realize that she would not recover in an environment that did not meet her high standards.

Upon returning home, Victoria shocked everyone by recovering in record time. Within two weeks, she was on vacation at my house telling me what to do and when to do it (I had recovered enough to wait on her and she knew it!).

Over the next two years, the already strong bond between us tightened. We both faced health scares and surgeries. While I took recovery with caution, Victoria always jumped right back into the game. Her periods of recovery were characterized by a spunk I have learned to emulate.

Victoria passed away at age 16 this past August. There is not a day that goes by when I do not miss my littlesidekick and fighter (actually, I was probably the sidekick). I have wanted to write a blog as a tribute to her for the past five months, but have had no idea where and how to start. Victoria is part of my family. I miss her dearly, but am beyond grateful for the time we shared.

Pets are one of life’s greatest joys. They provide companionship, unconditional love, cuddles, and plenty of humor. While this is true for everyone, pets often provide a special comfort in the lives of those of us with chronic illnesses. They keep us company during long, lonely days in bed and listen to us without judgment. While I do not have a pet at the moment (something I hope to change), I am grateful for all of the furry friends who have been there for me in times of need.

• About The Author
Kate Shannon holds an MA in American Studies and a BA in History and American Studies. She is currently working as a high school special education teaching assistant while taking classes towards an MS in Student Disability Services in Higher Education. When she is not working, Kate loves reading, visiting history museums, practicing the clarinet (a new hobby she picked up after her diagnosis), volunteering with children and animals, and doing yoga. Kate was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2018 and had her colon removed in 2019. She is a j-pouch patient who is extremely grateful for the new life her surgeries gave her.
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