Losing Ash

1.

I lost my big, old, sweet dog, Ash, last night.

The vet gave him a shot, and I watched him die.

It’s not the first time I’ve been through this – the loss of a pet in just this way – but it’s the first time I’ve been in the room. I understand now why they call it “being put to sleep.” It’s a euphemism I’ve never been comfortable with, but that is what it looks like, or at least that’s what it looked like with Ash. We were all on the floor with him – me, Chad, The Boy, the vet and his assistant. Ash’s head was in my palm, but as the drug took effect, his eyes closed and his head lolled away from me, dropping softly into the lap of the assistant.

That sudden distance – the terrible weightlessness of my empty, upturned palm – undid me. I felt both grief and a nearly hysterical, panicked certainty that I’d made the wrong decision.

2.

We adopted Ash in November 2010, after a friend posted his picture on Facebook. He was available for adoption through Muttville, a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to the rescue, foster, adoption, and hospice of senior dogs. (I’d never heard of them before, but now I know there’s such a thing as earthbound angels.) I fell in love with Ash’s picture, his sad, befuddled expression, and I made the case for adoption to my husband, Chad. It wasn’t much of a case. We were in no position to get a dog. We were both enormously busy on career paths that had yet to earn us an income, and we already had Lexi, who is, by any measure, a big, wild handful of a dog.

Realizing I couldn’t justify adoption logically, I resorted to playing the video clip of Ash at his foster home. His foster-mother was behind the camera calling to him, and he was looking around sweetly, seemingly uncertain of what was expected of him. Eventually he stood up and ambled over to her, running right into the camera. The adoption site’s write-up for Ash was heartbreaking. He’d been found wandering rural back roads, severely underweight, his ear badly infected, and with virtually no hair on his back half.

Chad said okay.

We went in with our eyes wide open. We knew he was old. We knew he’d been through a lot. We knew we couldn’t afford heroic medical lengths to prolong his life, but we could love him and make him safe for whatever time he had left. That’s what we said.

Within a week of bringing him home, both ears were infected, and the doctor had prescribed medication for his skin. We’d realized by then that he was deaf as well, and that his back legs didn’t always work the way they should. Also, Lexi wasn’t crazy about him. Instead of playing together as I’d envisioned, they orbited each other warily.

Truthfully, getting Ash was nothing like I’d imagined. Except the part where we loved him, bad skin, bad ears, bad legs and all.

3.

In hindsight, I can see that his downturn wasn’t as sudden as it felt when, the day after Christmas, he started falling down all the time. He’d always been prone to that, and his stumbles had become more frequent over the last few months, but this was the first time he consistently needed help getting back up. He’d been eating less and less over the past couple of weeks (though I didn’t notice at first because Lexi would sweep in and finish whatever he left), and he’d been drinking a lot more. I couldn’t keep the water bowl full.

Two days after Christmas, he started throwing up. I called the vet and made an appointment. His decline was staggeringly fast. By the time we got to the vet that evening, he wasn’t even keeping water down and he stumbled more than walked, as if he were drunk.

4.

Before Ash, and before Lexi, there was our Dalmatian, Randi. We got Randi as a puppy, right after she got her spots. She lived with us for thirteen years. During the last year of her life, Randi’s vertebrae began to fuse together. She had more and more trouble walking until finally she couldn’t control her back legs at all. For the last few months of her life, I used a towel as a sling to hold her back end up, while she walked with her front legs.

People talked to me then about the quality of her life. She’d always been very active, hiking and boating with us, and they wondered if it was fair of me to let her go on like this, confined to her big pillow, unable to go anywhere that I didn’t take her. Chad and the boys talked to me too, but I couldn’t let her go just because she was inconvenient. That’s what I said to them. That’s what I believed. I couldn’t see the truth until finally she lost control of her bowels.

On the day Chad took her to the vet to be put down, I couldn’t pull myself together. I sobbed uncontrollably the whole time he was gone. I sobbed when he came back alone. I sobbed as he told me that Randi relaxed in her final moments, that he’d felt the tension flow out of her, that it seemed to him a sweet release.

Even with all I knew, I worried that we’d done the wrong thing. It would take months for me to believe we’d made the right decision, months before I understood that it wasn’t the letting go I was guilty of, it was the hanging on… the reduced life I’d allowed her to live.

5.

In the vet’s office, we reviewed Ash’s symptoms, each of us remembering more as we talked. The vet listened to us as his hands roamed over Ash’s belly, as he pressed his stethoscope to Ash’s chest. He pulled Ash into a standing position and pointed to his back foot, which was flipped backward so that Ash was standing on the top of it, rather than the bottom. “He can’t feel that,” the vet said, righting Ash’s foot.

We talked about the tests we could do. It was likely that the throwing up and increased thirst were unrelated to the problem with Ash’s legs. A blood test might tell us what else was going on. The vet rattled off some possibilities, varying degrees of awful.

“What about his legs? Will his legs get better?” I asked him, but I already knew the answer.

As we talked, Ash’s legs gave out from underneath him, and he slid to the floor.

6.

Last night I went to sleep telling myself it was the right decision, reminding myself of what I knew to be true about Randi, that letting go had been an act of love, of kindness.

I woke up absolutely certain that I’d done the wrong thing, that I hadn’t considered hard enough the magnitude of a life. Ash’s life.

As I write this, I don’t know which thing I believe. But I do think it has to hurt like this – exactly like this – until it doesn’t.

On my Facebook page, Judith Rich wrote:

My way of dealing with it, including the loss of beloved friends and family members as well, is to give them an ‘assignment’ from the other side. When I had to put down my beloved St. Bernard, Madam, I put her in charge of sunsets. That evening, we had the most beautiful sunset I’d ever seen! I can’t look at a sunset now without thanking her for it. She’s been gone for 23 years and she’s still on duty making sure we have beauty at sundown.

I think that’s beautiful. Driving home from the vet last night, Chad said, “That’s Ash’s moon.” I looked up and saw that the moon was big and full and impossibly white, magnificent.

I’m holding fast to Judith’s words. I love the idea of all the big full moons in my future coming courtesy of Ash.

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66 Responses to Losing Ash

  1. Eric December 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    Judy, I’m so sorry. I know how hard it is to lose a dog, and I hope you take comfort in the fact that his last two years were in a loving home.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 8:37 am #

      Thank you, Eric. xo

  2. Caroline December 28, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    This is beautiful, I’m in tears. Godspeed to Ash, and healing to all who loved him.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 8:41 am #

      Thank you, Caroline. Everyone’s words of encouragement have meant so much to me.

  3. terrepruitt December 28, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Sucks. So sorry. I don’t know what to say. I really don’t. I do love Judith’s idea. That is so magnificent. And the moon, last night . . . . well, I looked outside and I thought it was daylight. My cat was so incredibly happy with her face pressed up to the window and her tail whipping, I looked out to see why. She was so happy to be able to see the entire yard. It was so bright. Now I get it. Now I know why.

    Hugs to you and your family!

    • j December 29, 2012 at 8:38 am #

      That made me smile. Thank you, Terre.

  4. Tall Pajama Man December 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    My heart hurts for you J. I loved Ash. I wish I had words, but they escape me right now.

    Hugs.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 8:39 am #

      He loved you too, sweetie.

  5. Sherree Worrell December 28, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    Judy, I am so very sorry for your loss. You gave Ash the greatest gift by taking him home and loving him. Love Judith’s idea. May you have many moons to remember Ash by.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 8:42 am #

      Thank you Sherree. I’m so grateful for Judith’s comment. It felt like a little lifeline yesterday.

      • Dr. Judith Rich December 29, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

        Oh Judy!

        I am tearful at reading this, and so happy you wrote it. So happy to know that my sharing with you something that has been so precious to me for so many years, could make a difference for you. Thanks for letting me know.

        I’ll always think of Ash when I look at the moon now. Between Ash and Madam, we’ve got the night sky covered from sunset to moonrise. How fabulous is that?

  6. Alia December 28, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    J, I am just in tears reading your words and taking in that photo of Ash. There are no words that come close to easing the pain. I just want you to know that you’re supported and loved. Ash is so lucky to have spent his later life with you. He chose you. He knew. Embracing you and your family with lots of love.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 8:43 am #

      I like the thought that he chose us. Thank you, Alia. xo

  7. Pam December 28, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    It’s so tough to say goodbye to our furry dear ones. I’m sorry you’ve had such doubts about whether you made the right decision. It sounds to me as if you did.

    I know from my own experience that it’s difficult to get past the idea that we are not ready for the end, though what we are or are not ready for is hardly the point. I think the best we can do is to try to consider the pet’s situation in all of its facets and concentrate on what is best for their sake. Hugs to you.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 8:47 am #

      I agree with you, but in the midst of it all, the point gets hard to find and what’s best gets all tangled up in your breaking heart. Honestly, writing this post, was, I think, a final step in coming to grips with what happened with Randi all those years ago. I sometimes think clarity is rare in our human world. Thank you for the hugs, sweetie. I need them.

      • Pam December 29, 2012 at 9:21 am #

        Oh, yes, the tangling up is real–that’s why I said “try.” xo

        • j December 29, 2012 at 9:23 am #

          <3

  8. jillsalahub December 28, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    You did what you did from a place of love, and that is all that ever matters. If we can do that, and keep our hearts open, even when it’s hard, even when it hurts, it matters. And our grief is equal to our love, so it will be tough, hard and messy. Don’t let anyone tell you how should feel, how you should grieve or for how long. Grief is the shadow of love and only you know what that means.

    I will never look at the moon the same way again. Sending you so much love, along with some ease and a little comfort.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 8:49 am #

      I love that other people will think of Ash when they see a big, full moon. Thank you so much for your presence during this time, Jill. I’ve felt your support and leaned into it. xoxo

  9. Lance December 28, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    Judy, my family’s hearts are breaking with yours. We have a 95lb golden retriever named Buddy, whom we adopted/rescued in 2009 at age 3. We call him our son.

    RIP Ash. You had a great mommy and you will be missed.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 8:52 am #

      Thank you, Lance. Hug big, beautiful Buddy for me. xo

  10. cmw December 28, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    Baby, your words, especially as you closed with Judith’s quote and then mine, made me cry more tonight than yesterday. But ths time, tears of joy.

    Yes, those big beautiful moons are now Ash’s moons.

    xo

    C

    • j December 29, 2012 at 8:52 am #

      It helps, doesn’t it? xo

  11. Joy Montgomery December 28, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    Maybe ut was ot losing but releasing?

  12. Joy Montgomery December 28, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    It’s hard to tell if you hit the right keys when there are words in the way. I meant to say – Maybe it was not losing but releasing.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 8:53 am #

      I knew. Thank you, Joy.

  13. Kellie J. Walker December 28, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    My heart hurts too much for you. I can’t find words that can hold the pain. So, for now, I’m sitting in my living room envisioning myself holding you in a long, warm, tight, comforting hug. I wish I could be there to give it to you in person.

    Hugs and love, my dear friend. <3

    • j December 29, 2012 at 8:54 am #

      I wish that too, but I can feel it even from miles away. Thank you, Kellie. xox

  14. Karen Bro December 28, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    What an incredible gift you gave Ash in his last two years! Safety, love, medications — you improved his life so dramatically. He knew you and your family were there for him and that is how we are supposed to treat those entrusted to our care. Nicely done, Judy, Chad and family.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 9:00 am #

      I had this terrible thought in the vet’s office that I shouldn’t have adopted Ash, that I should have let him be adopted by people who could afford whatever medical treatments might be necessary in the future. When I posted this, I thought someone might bring that up. I’m so grateful for every comment like yours that seems to understand why we did what we did. Thank you, Karen.

  15. Tricia December 28, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    I thought that since I heard the news on FB that your words here wouldn’t make me cry. I was wrong. If I were there I’d give you a big hug.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 9:01 am #

      Wish you were here, Tricia, but your words are the second best thing. Thank you. xo

  16. Inion N. Mathair December 28, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

    Hi again J. Hope you don’t mind, we’ve been getting to know you a little better by knocking around your blog and reading your posts. This broke me! I’m so sorry that you had to go thru that. But trust me when I say, you did the right thing. And just like Randi, in time you’ll feel better about it, in that the dog didn’t have to suffer.
    Funny enough, my mother pointed out that beautiful moon your talking about, (seriously) and said she couldn’t believe how incredible it looked. Now I know I have Ash to thank for that glorious moon. You & Chad have tender hearts. I call my husband “Dr. Doolittle” and we have four dogs, because he can’t reject one single stray. We too have a Lexi-Black Lab whose got a heart of gold. Scooter, Jack Russell (adopted hyper) Peppi, Pom/(not sure how to spell it lol whose arrogant) & Krissy (miniature Yorky sweet) who I too just lost a few years back. I had never heard of an agency that adopts out senior dogs. How beautiful to give them homes. For right now, throw your love into Lexi and hold onto the good memories, and know that you gave Ash good quality of life & most of all love, even if for a short spell. Take care~!

    • j December 29, 2012 at 9:05 am #

      I’d so love to see a picture of your motley canine crew.

      I am, absolutely, pouring my love into Lexi. She seems a little off. Though she and Ash were never close, they had developed a connection, like siblings, a reluctant sort of watchfulness over each other. I wish Lexi could tell me what she’s thinking. Instead I tell her what I’m thinking and hope that the tone of my voice is reassuring.

  17. Joanne Marie Firth December 28, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    Heartbreaking. The hardest decision we ever have to make is to let someone or something go. I lost two dogs last year, Toppy our greyhound and my beloved Kelly. The grief comes and goes. I have their pictures around the house, some tucked away where only I can see them. I look and my heart breaks all over again but I’ve accepted that that is how it is going to be. Sometimes I feel happy to have had them as long as I did and sometimes I ache all over with invisible pain.

    Judy, you are so brave to have shared your story about Ash and Randi, brave and generous with your heart and your heartbreak. I’m so very sorry for your loss and when I see a full, white moon, it will forever be Ash’s moon because Ash is now completely in charge of making beautiful, take your breath away moons.

    May you find comfort during this time of deep sadness, knowing how much difference your love for Ash made in his last years. I’m still holding your hand and I promise I won’t let go. I love you.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 9:21 am #

      Thank you, Joanne. I don’t know if it was brave so much as necessary. Yesterday, I was ping-ponging wildly. I’d be okay and then I’d be weeping; I’d feel certain I was right and then equally certain I was wrong. I wrote this post because sometimes writing is my only way through. And also because I’d shared so much with you all already, I wanted you to have everything inside me as best as I could describe it, because I truly believe we are all made stronger by the stories we share.

      I’m so grateful for your holding my hand. I’ve felt that all through this. Much love to you, my friend. xo

  18. Dave & Christie December 28, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    There is never a good time to say goodbye to a loved one. It seems we always want another day, another hour, another minute. Ash is off to a new adventure, unencumbered by physical frailty, and cloaked in the armor of love…the armor you provided. Be at peace.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 9:24 am #

      ” Ash is off to a new adventure, unencumbered by physical frailty, and cloaked in the armor of love.”

      Thank you. xo

  19. lunajune December 29, 2012 at 6:15 am #

    Even after 30 years of helping people let their beloved friends go I sit a blubbering mess
    my heart sends giant hugs to you Judy…Judith’s words are awesome… each loss is different and I know that when I had to let Walli go having a mission to send her to made it a little easier, I sent her to be with our niece who had just died, she was her Muppet. Grief finds each of us and takes us to different places, I’ve learned to just go with the flow, let the memories float up when they do, be with them, don’t hold back the tears, or the laughter and joy either. Dance with each moment.
    hugs to you <3

    • j December 29, 2012 at 9:28 am #

      I so agree with you about grief, and yet… I have these expectations of myself. We all do. Yesterday The Boy told me he feels guilty if he forgets about Ash at all, if he laughs at something or loses himself in an activity. I told him that’s part of grieving too, grappling with the fact that life keeps right on going, and so must we.

      “Dance with each moment” may be the best advice of all.

  20. Lynne December 29, 2012 at 7:40 am #

    May moonbeams and good memories lighten your grief and reassure you that letting Ash go on was the last loving thing you could do for him. Much love.

    • j December 29, 2012 at 9:28 am #

      This is beautiful. Thank you, Lynne.

  21. Tina Lee December 29, 2012 at 8:43 am #

    Judy, I am so very sorry for your loss. I, too, noticed the big beautiful moon while I was out walking my two chihuahua mutts last night. I’m happy to know it was from Ash! It was so beautiful for you to take him in and bless the last years of his life, and it is quite apparent that his life blessed your family. I am absolutely certain you did the right thing. It was just his time. May you find peace and comfort in the memories you have of him, and looking forward to his next full moon! Lots of love, Tina

    • j December 29, 2012 at 9:31 am #

      I don’t know why I’m comforted by the fact that we all looked up at the same moon, that in our hearts that moon (and future moons) will forever be linked to Ash, but I am. Enormously. Thank you for being here, Tina. Lots of love back to you (and your two chihuahua muts).

  22. juliafehrenbacher December 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    Oh. Sweet, sweet J. I’m so very sorry. I am sobbing big, puddly tears right now. I am holding you ever so close and will forever think of Ash when I look at the beautiful, luminous full moon.

    I love that precious, angel, moon-doggy–I love you.

    • j December 30, 2012 at 9:12 am #

      Thank you, Julia. I love you back.

  23. Meg December 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    Judy. So sorry to hear about losing Ash. I am just thinking about how fun it was for Ash to be a part of your family all the way until the end of his life. He was a lucky dog. My thoughts are with you.

    • j December 30, 2012 at 9:12 am #

      Thank you, Meg. I keep trying to focus on that too – the brightness of his presence while he was with us.

  24. Nichole Bernier December 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    Oh, Judy. Nothing I can say will be original because responses rarely are, in comparison to the pain of losing an original animal soul.

    I’ve done the tough thing twice, too. We agonized, we wondered which was the more selfish course, and we tried to define selfish. In the end all we knew is that it wasn’t fair or dignified to allow their lives to continue in that way and to worsen, and that it was our duty to see them out of this life as they’d seen us through it.

    Comfort to you, J.

    • j December 30, 2012 at 9:15 am #

      It has truly amazed me how comforting the responses have been. I understand better now than ever the value of reaching out to someone who’s hurting even if you sure you have nothing original to say.

      This: “It was our duty to see them out of this life as they’d seen us through it,” is exactly what I need to hear and believe. Thank you.

  25. Jules Dolly December 30, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    Judy I really feel everything you wrote – we had to go through the same thing in September with my beloved 14 year old Jack Russell, Lucy, who declined in 1 week…

    Heart wrenching and Heart Sore. Still
    I miss her dearly every day – we have been together since she was 7 weeks old.

    Sending you comfort (even though we don’t know each other!)

    Julia

    • j December 30, 2012 at 9:16 am #

      Big hugs to you, Jules. In some critical, heartbroken way, I feel we do know each other. Thank you so much for writing to me. <3

  26. Karin December 30, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    Once upon a time, I had a Dalmatian as well. Her name was Delilah. I’ve lost a lot of dogs over the years (my most disheartening being a puppy named Scooter), but. I watched Delilah as we put her to sleep. It is quite a fitting phrase, though it wasn’t so much the worry of her life as to the pain of the situation. She lived a good 11 years, had two litters of puppies a few years prior (much to our surprise) ,& I had basically grown up with her (had her since 4th grade). She collapsed the night before my birthday, & the vet told us she had stomach cancer. We had just thought she had gotten fat.
    The guilt I felt was mostly from not knowing something was seriously wrong. It was all so sudden, and that same night we put her down.
    Having lost sone precious pets, I understand completely. I still tear up when I think of mine, but I’m betting they’re all in a special place now. Perhaps your Ash has met my Samson, Delilah,Dynamite, Precious, and Scooter. And if I know Scooter at all, she’ll play with anyone she meets. <3

  27. j December 30, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    I’ve felt that too, the reality that I missed something critical. Many years ago, we lost our cat, Abbey in very much the same way that you lost Delilah. I feel it with Ash as well, that there was more going on than his back legs, that I didn’t notice the signs of decline until they were impossible to miss…

    I imagine there is no way that this happens that ever makes it feel right, certainly no way that makes it feel easy. I keep telling myself that part of loving our pets is accepting there will come a day when we have to let them go… but that only helps me sometimes. You all have helped me much, much more.

    I’m surprised at how comforting I find the idea of Ash playing with Samson, Delilah,Dynamite, Precious, and Scooter and all the pets that have gone before him. Thank you for that image.

  28. Marcie December 30, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    Sitting here with tears rolling down my cheeks. It brought me right back to 5 years ago – when we put our dog down. He was such an integral part of my kids and theirs/our childhood lives. The tragedy of the whole thing is that we do outlive them…
    And my antidote was to – within a month – get myself a new pup…who is my now-constant companion and love.
    So..so..so sorry for your loss!! And – to you and yours – best wishes for this up and coming new year!

    • j December 31, 2012 at 8:59 am #

      I think I understand completely the decision to get a new puppy. After Randi was gone, I kept seeing her, out of the corner of my eye. I’d see her, turn, and find nothing, of course. It would break my heart all over again. That’s been happening now too, but when I turn, it’s Lexi and I’m so incredibly grateful she’s here.

      Thank you for sharing your story, Marcie. The sharing has been so very helpful to me. <3

  29. Chris Edgar January 1, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    Hi J — I liked how in the opening paragraphs you were willing to face the truth of what occurred without euphemisms like “he passed away.” I get the sense that this is in keeping with your approach to blogging these days and I think that’s great.

    • j January 2, 2013 at 9:38 am #

      There was this terrible moment after we got home from the vet. I logged onto Facebook and there were so many people wishing the best for me and Ash and the boys, holding us all in their hearts. I closed the the computer immediately. The boy asked if I was okay, and I said I was. I said there were a lot of people sending love. I didn’t say the end of that thought aloud, but in my head it went like this: There are a lot of people sending love because they don’t know I just killed Ash.

      So, in a way, although I wanted to be as naked as I could here, I did tone down this post. I expressed the guilt, but I left out how ugly it is sometimes, processing grief. Our inner voices rarely bother with euphemisms, right?

      Thank you for coming over to comment. Big hugs to you.

  30. Josh January 1, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    Sending lots of love and comforting prayers your way…

    • j January 2, 2013 at 9:40 am #

      Thank you, Josh. Love and prayers received. Gratefully. xo

  31. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) January 2, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    I’m so sorry, J.

    • j January 2, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

      Thank you, Annie.

  32. Terri January 5, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    Judy,

    I grieve with you. We had to do the same with our beloved mutt some weeks ago. I still feel the way her head lolled in my palm. I’m comforted that the last she saw of this realm was my husband, our daughter, and me … we were looking right at each other. Ash had/has such a kind, sweet face! I’m sure he will excel at his job on the other side. I also blogged about losing Calli and received words of comfort..

    http://workinwithwhativegot.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/callis-last-ride/

    • j January 7, 2013 at 11:48 am #

      Thank you, Terri. I’ve drawn such comfort from the stories that have been shared with me. I’ll go over now and read yours. xo

  33. Erin January 24, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    My dog was “put to sleep” just last week. He was an English Labrador his name was Riley. He was an angel. I miss him very much. I just came across your writing about your dog and I am going to send it to my mother. She will appreciate it very much.

    • j January 24, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

      Erin, I’m so sorry for your loss. I love the name Riley. Sending you love and hugs. xoxo

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