My dog is crippled.
Not even six, healthy, strong, full of life; he woke up Monday morning and couldn’t walk. Blown disc. No trauma had occurred, his disc just gave out for reasons unknown leaving him paralyzed. What a stunning way to start the week.
I’m not a dog person. Just ask Tina. Oh, I love dogs, I certainly love my dog, but I’m not one of those gushing “I love all dogs!” kind of people. Same with babies. I don’t love all babies either. Babies and dogs to me are just like adults; some you love, some you want to go away and stop licking you.
Truth be told, I’m more of a cat person. Easier to manage and I appreciate their independence. Dogs can remind me of dopey boyfriends; cats are more like those cool girls who’d be your friend but never invite you to the slumber parties. There’s something refreshingly unencumbered about that kind of detachment. It’s also annoying but that’s the trade-off with cats. Of course, my cat, Perry, was less a cool girl and more a pissy old uncle, but that was his way. He was a cat who played fetch, talked vociferously, and was clearly smarter than most – all – of my dopey boyfriends. I miss him to this day.
The whole pet thing has eluded me throughout most of my life. This is due to the fact that I had a pet-less childhood. With a small house and eleven children, my parents were understandably averse to adding more bodies to the mix, particularly hairy, peeing ones (my brothers amply fulfilled that role). But even beyond spatial limitations, my father had a sort of pathological disdain of “pet culture.” He seemed to view it as a money-wasting self-indulgence and, being a bit of an iconoclast, sneered at the compulsion of most to have one. A pet, that is. Damned if he would and damned if his kids would.
He did concede to a turtle, however. Not sure how a turtle passed muster; regardless of its hairless, non-peeing (that we were aware) status, it was a pet. But a turtle was the extent of it and we were happy to have it. For the time we did. While I believe we might’ve had more than one during the tenure of my childhood, I’m aware that I was responsible for losing our first, Turk, while playing in the apparently too-long grass in our front yard. How I managed to lose a very slow-moving turtle in a flat midwestern lawn is beyond me, but I did and I have no subsequent memory of grief from my presumably bereft siblings; which meant either Turk’s disappearance was a non-issue in my pet-neutral family, or everyone was so horrified I went into a dissociative state to escape their wrath. Bottom line, I killed my first pet and that was the canvas upon which my pet-philosophy sprang going into adulthood.
The first dog that came into my life was an adopted 2-year-old Golden named Charlie, who was the same age as my son at the time and immediately became a part of the family in that warm, fuzzy way Goldens do. Being uninitiated in the world of dog ownership, there were times when the noise, hair, peeing, pooping and general neediness between the two of them at their shared and tender age ratcheted up my frazzled quotient in ways that reminded me why I liked cats and only had one child. But I loved that dog; not as much as I loved my boy (and if you know my boy you know he inspires pinnacles of love), but I loved that dog like crazy and when he grew old and developed kidney failure and had to be put down, it was a true tragedy for our entire family, particularly my husband who is a dog person and who’d suffered a terrible trauma (hit by a car as a pedestrian) and found Charlie a comforting and healing companion. At that painful juncture I wasn’t sure I could ever endure having another dog; not when it came with such a short life-span and an end as agonizing as any loved one’s.
Then came Bowie. I’d never had a puppy and after my husband had the unimaginable misfortune of a second car accident, this one resulting in brain damage, it seemed time to bring another sweet, healing Golden into our midst. I picked him from the litter. We’d gone to the home of a family who home schooled their kids and had made the breeding of their dog a lesson plan of the semester. There were about 11 puppies, as I recall, and after sitting with a few squirmers, I picked up Bowie and he curled into my lap as if he belonged there. And so he did.
Smart, feisty, more courageous and less anxious than Charlie, he became an adored family member and a companion on all adventures, whether weekend beach forays or longer road trips…as my husband would always say, “you made the traveling squad, Bowie.” He tended toward some of his own extremes of bad luck: his first summer he was poisoned both by rat poisoning left at a vacation house and poison mushrooms snuffed on a long forest walk, requiring a sort of Hannibal Lecter face mask until he learned to not eat everything in sight. He was born with a rare skin condition that is not uncomfortable but leaves him uber flakey. He’s had congenital arthritis from birth which limits his ability to run like the crazy dog he wants to be. But despite these misfortunes, he was – is – a most exuberant and playful fellow who is deeply attached to us all. When the ramifications of my husband’s brain injury worsened at some point in early 2010, it was Bowie who kept him company when he took time away to heal and find himself again. From that point on, Bowie was my husband’s talisman; a warm, non-verbal partner (unlike his very verbal wife), a conduit for much-needed stress-release, and a companion for slow walks taken when a lessening of pain allowed it. When they came home it was noticeable how close they’d become and how foreign I and the boy seemed to our dog…which was its own little sorrow.
But it all came back. Even in the midst of their growing connection, Bowie and I found our own (as did my son). My regular power walks kept him on his toes and though he might have preferred the slower, tree sniffing meanders with my husband, he kept pace – most of the time – and built his stamina as I did mine. The day before that strange morning, we’d done some ball throwing, a good neighborhood run, and a crazy little game of tag in the front yard.
Then he stopped walking. Perfectly mobile on Sunday, Monday brought total paralysis. X-rays were clear, the myleogram was inconclusive, but an MRI revealed the blown disc. We got a full debrief of possibilities: he might walk again, he might not. If he does it might take a while – weeks, months; or, as they repeated, he might not walk again…ever. But whatever the result, the only possible fix was surgery. Big, messy, very expensive surgery.
If money is no issue, the prospect of surgery for a a relatively young dog in otherwise good health is a given. If money is an issue, as it is with us, there are other questions to consider: can we afford to spend thousands on a dog when we have a son in college, a wife who’s a freelance writer, and a husband who’s a private practicing attorney suffering with recurring symptoms of a brain injury? Can we afford money for a surgery that might not even result in a functioning dog? And what happens if we do end up with a non-functioning dog? Could we consign him to a life of immobility? Are we willing to take that on? Or would we make the decision after such an ordeal to put a crippled dog down? If so, how would that be reconcilable after the fact?
I was overwhelmed and questioning, but my husband was adamant. “I want to give him every possible chance,” and the decision was made to move forward. After immediate surgery and four days of post-op recovery, Bowie is now home.
He cannot walk but he’s beginning to move his legs. Getting him wrangled into proper position to do his business is a challenge; he’s a big dog and his legs don’t work…I guess that’s something we’ll have to sort out…quickly. He’s laying in a comfortable area created at the foot of our bed in a room where he and my husband will, once again, spend time together healing.
Me? I’ve retreated to my son’s room for the time-being, willing to give them their space and companionship. After years of my husband’s journey with brain injury this drill is a familiar one. I’ve learned to accept my solitude, keep my own counsel. I enjoy the work I do (even if the “virtual office” would be loads more fun with an office kitchen, hot coffee and Costco muffins!), so that is a boon. I have good, strong friends and family nearby who are there when I need them but don’t expect attention when there’s no mental energy to engage. I live near the beach and get to look out at the glorious ocean every day, and my own health is solid. I walk fast and often and though I miss my walking companion, I’m holding out hope he’ll rejoin me soon.
And how does someone who’s not a dog person feel about all this? Two nights before Bowie came home I went to the hospital by myself and found him laying quietly in the crate where he was kept. He brightened immediately when I approached, enjoyed the biscuit I brought, and licked my hand so many times I’m sure his mouth tasted like Euphoria. I even allowed him to lick my chin – which I never do – but just once, ’cause I’m not a dog person who likes dogs licking my face. But when I got up to leave, assuring him he’d be home soon and we’d be back to visit the next day, he did something I’d never heard him do. He cried. He made sounds that were pained and full of anguish and even as I stepped out of his view and stood with tears running down my face, he continued, crying and crying. The doctor assured me “it’s just because you’re leaving and he wants to go with you. Go, he’ll be OK.” So while Bowie cried, laying there with legs that couldn’t walk, I walked out and felt my heart breaking in all the ways you’d expect from a… huh, I guess maybe I am just a little bit of a dog person.
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