Honoring my dog, Bogey, and a life well-lived

Paws and pain: My story of finding puppy love with chronic illness

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by Marisa Zeppieri |

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Chronic illness can bring a variety of challenges and limitations into our lives that are out of our control. For me, one of those was my inability to have children of my own. That was a hard pill to swallow, and it took time for me to work through it — and I still mourn it in some ways to this day.

A small dog with black hair and a largely white muzzle and feet wears a red topcoat and ruffles.

Bogey, putting up with a costume. (Photo by Marisa Zeppieri)

So I did what I felt was the next best thing: I welcomed a fur baby into my life.

When I made this decision 17 years ago, it came at a time when my lupus diagnosis was fresh. I still didn’t have a good grasp on my disease, and most days — when I wasn’t in the hospital — I was confined to my home and bed. I envisioned a small dog who would be my snuggle buddy, curling up near the couch as I watched my favorite shows or sharing our meals together during the day.

And sure enough, I found my doggy soul mate.

Bogey was my perfect match. He was a puppy when I got him, born with a genetic grade 6 heart defect and a host of other issues and living his life in a crate at a shelter. The listing said he was only expected to live for six to 12 months. “I can give this dog constant love for the short time he has here on Earth and get him out of that cage and shelter,” I thought. And that’s exactly what I did.

A woman with black hair looks at the dog she's carrying at right. She wears a gray sweater over a black shirt with a necklace; the dog, with a largely black-haired face and what seems to be a white-haired muzzle and body, is in a sweater of green, blue, and white.

The author with her doggy soul mate, Bogey. (Courtesy of Marisa Zeppieri)

Bogey taught me more about living with chronic illness than I ever learned from a human. You see, Bogey didn’t have the ability to know he had all of these diagnoses and limitations. And even with his irregular heart, shortness of breath, wheezing, and another dozen issues I don’t have room to expand upon, this dog ran around like an absolute lunatic every day, playing with his dolls, running in the yard, barking at every car and human, and baking himself in the sun’s rays outside until sunset.

Every doctor was stumped. I took him to multiple specialists to see if a surgery existed to fix his heart, and each one gave me a variation of, “No. I’d give him about a year, so enjoy your time together.”

But Bogey was a testament to what love can do. The cure-all for his heart was love.

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For 17 years, he provided me companionship, joy, laughter, and an unconditional love that I believe is impossible for humans to fully understand or provide. He knew when I was sick and would keep guard. Since I work from home and spend the majority of my time there because of health issues, we were together daily for 17 years. He became my son.

I believe he could pick up on the clues when I was beginning to flare, or when I was having trouble going down the stairs and had to take a break halfway. He would sit there and offer up a session of kissing and snuggling.

He never left my side. Until the inevitable happened this month.

At 17 years old, it was time for Bogey to begin his new adventure over the Rainbow Bridge.

Coping with grief

Whether we lose a beloved pet or a person, grief is a turbulent time that stirs up a range of emotions and thoughts. There’s an ebb and flow in this season, and the littlest thing can throw us off balance. Add in the challenges of a chronic illness and the fine line we need to walk to prevent a flare, and it’s the perfect recipe for a disaster in the making.

A dog with a black face and white muzzle, trunk, and legs has its feet up on a table, where food lies in the left foreground. The dog is licking its lips.

Bogey, ready to eat up life. (Photo by Marisa Zeppieri)

I learned a lot about walking through grief and illness when I lost my father years ago; it threw my body off so badly that I wound up hospitalized for a flare. I’m trying my best to prevent that now while also allowing myself the space to grieve the loss of my best friend, the loss of the closest I’ve ever come to a child, and the loss of a gentle soul who lived for our days with each other.

During the holidays, grief can feel even more oppressive. There’s a stark contrast between the festive cheer around me and the heaviness and emptiness I feel within, and it’s hard to reconcile those worlds.

If you find yourself in this space, too, I encourage you to give yourself permission to step back, find a way to honor your loved one (maybe through writing, artwork, or scrapbooking), and remember that counselors can help us work through some of these complex emotions.

Through the waves of tears and pain, I find solace in the love-filled moments Bogey and I shared.

The dog who defeated the medical odds against him. The dog who showed me, despite a long list of diagnoses, that there’s so much life out there to be lived.

Bogey, you were my greatest teacher and are my forever love.

Note: Lupus News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lupus News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lupus.


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