In 2000 a stray dog showed up to my door. He was in terrible shape, covered in mud and his ears so full of ticks that he couldn't hear. He was tender to the touch and very hungry. He wasn't the youngest thing on the block, either. But I took him in and have loved him since. He is now probably 15-20 pounds heavier...my tubby old puppy. That is your backstory. Now to today.
I came home and sat down to check my email, and thought "I really ought to go say hello to my dog." I was sick and slept most of the day yesterday, so I didn't get to see him (that I can remember) except through the window. I was told that he was fine, though, and had been fed. I think I faintly remember going outside in the middle of the night to check on him and pet him, but again I felt horrible yesterday and most of it is a blur. I go to work today and am the first one home. I step outside, and I see no wagging tail. I look across the deck, and there lays a hairy, muddy mess. I call for him. He doesn't move. He is breathing very hard, though. His leash is wrapped around something white. Somehow, the cable has come loose from the house and he has managed to get his leash tangled in it completely. I still haven't figured out how he managed this feat. His water bowl (one of many, but this happens to be The Favorite) was sitting on the steps. I don't normally put one on the steps. I put one at the top of the steps. No one knows how it got there. I try tipping the bowl to him and he drinks at it the best that he can. I notice that he has dug a hold in the ground. He isn't usually much of a digger.
SIDEBAR: Now, why is my dog on a leash? He has always been an outside dog (except when it is especially hot or cold. I bring him in.) In his old age, his bladder control is less than skillful and he gets antsy when he is inside. He is a hunting dog at heart, and outside is where he lays. He doesn't leave the porch deck much, so we have rigged him a setup on the porch so he can leave the porch to use the bathroom in the yard, and then return. He has a bowl of water on each side of the porch, a baby pool full of (now dirty) water so he has something to cool him off, a fan (which wasn't on today because it has been sprinkling and I worry about electrocution, and it wasn't overly hot today), and a setup so I can make him a shade canopy. He also has the dog house to beat all dog houses...an elevated cedar getup big enough for a saint bernard, that is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I take care of my dog. However, we moved to a place with no fence around the yard. We tried indoors for a while, but he was more unhappy and we were unhappy. So, seeing as he loves the deck, we configured the aforementioned setup, gave him about 20 foot radius of running room, outfitted the end with a soft leash so that if he lays on his leash, he would be comfortable, and happily my tubby dog has lived outside since.
Back to the story. Now my dog can't stand up, so I pick him up, see that he was laying in feces and puke (all fresh) and I carry him inside, all the while getting covered in the mess. I pack him upstairs and lay him in the tub and turn on the cold water and begin covering him in cold, wet towels. Even though it wasn't terribly hot (just humid), I worry that he might have overheated or something. His nose is warm. He drinks at the water. He still can't stand up. He shakes and falls over. He is already looking better, though. I call Petsmart and they refer me to an emergency clinic. I look in the bathroom and he has puked up all of the water I have given him. He doesn't look in pain, just in shock. I grab all of his paperwork, bundle him in a towel, and run him to the clinic. They take him to the back. They won't let me follow. This is contrary to what I am used to. They ask, "Who is his usual vet?" I tell them that we haven't picked one since moving here, but he had a regular veterinarian back home who saw him last on January 31st, and I have his health certificate from that date. They look at me almost accusingly. I hadn't picked a new vet yet because my dog isn't due for shots for six months, and he was recently (in January) given a clean bill of health. I suppose people take their dogs in for checkups more than once a year? I don't see the doctor that often. I had a good old country vet who would deem constant checkups and pet insurance as nonsense. My most expensive bill, when the dog was knocking on death's door, had to be treated and medicated, and had tests run, was $109. When my dog's leg was sprained? Cost even less. My wonderful vet warned me that my fortune would change when I moved away. They don't make vets like him anymore. He was right...It cost nearly that just for me to carry my dog through the door. The way that they approached me was certainly different as well. And they didn't have the same diagnosis-on-sight connection that my aged, wonderful, country vet had with his patients. They didn't care about his history. What was I to do? I was losing it. I normally don't lose it over things, but the tears were starting to come. This is my tubby old dog...Fix him! Please!
"How old is he?" About 14-16. I explain that we aren't sure because I acquired him as a stray who was in very bad shape, including his teeth which is one way they tell an animal's age. The best the vet could do at the time was estimate the dog at 10 years of age. "Why was he on a line?" they ask. I explained the above. "Why is he outside at all?" Because he is an outside dog. "By your choice or his?" Well, to be honest, it is probably more by my choice; he is not unhappy outside and when he is inside he tends to ask to go outside every hour or so, even at 3 am, 4 am, 5 am...you get the idea. In his old age, he is progressing to where sometimes he just simply goes to the bathroom...even if it means on his own bed when he sleeps. He isn't walking around losing his bladder. He just has a short tolerance time between feeling the need and going, and in his sleep he just sometimes pees. He just rolls with it. But this made me unhappy, and thus him unhappy as well. So he gets antsy. Plus, the flooring isn't his favorite thing to walk on. So, he ends up laying in the corner when he is inside, and he sleeps. He can do the same thing on his porch where he can see what the neighbor dog is up to, what the birds are talking about, etc. It's a happy solution for both of us. I just have to be diligent about giving him attention.
I ask what is going on, and am getting no answers. Later, they bring me paperwork to authorize emergency treatment. I demand to know what is going on. They finally tell me a bit. More satisfied, I sign that I am willing to drop a substantial amount of money on my dog. They give him oxygen and apparently start an IV. After an hour or so of sitting there, they bring me into a room. The lady is nice but I have to go over everything again with her. I am in tears. As soon as I say that both of my dogs are outside dogs (I am NOT against inside dogs and have had one...but it was an inside dog and these are not), she gives me a look. She starts asking about my other dog and its living arrangments. Wait, we're talking about my sick dog. Why are we talking about my happy, healthy dog's arrangements? It almost seems accusatory. What are these people getting at? She turns nice again, and we start going over his test results...she doesn't know what is wrong with him, but he has some issues. She rings a few bells with some symptoms he has had and has been successfully treated for in the past. I try to tell them to her...but she talks over me and isn't listening. He is highly dehydrated, and that is his major new problem, but the rest seem familiar. He was successfully treated for this in the past! It was... But the vet gave him... No one listens.
Then the new revelation. Sometime in the distant past, my beloved stray was shot. No one knows how it happened or when (not recently, though), but he has a hunk of metal in his shoulder. He also has a smaller than normal liver and heart. Who knew. But my worries (his liver and his kidneys) test just fine. The other issues (small organs, hunk of metal) seem to be non-issues, mostly. But...shot? SHOT? What other stories do you have behind those big brown eyes, old friend?
She hands the bill estimate across to me. Add up all of my dog's previous vet bills in the years that I have owned him, and I don't think it would touch this number. Still, it was within the threshold of not thinking twice. I was going to get a new computer, but I would rather have my fat dog. A few more years of his love is worth so much more. (Did I mention that my animals tend to live long lives? My last dog, which I had euthanized due to liver failure, was eighteen.) I sign the papers and break out the checkbook. They may have to keep him on IV and observe him for 24-48 hours. 24 hours, and I get the low estimate. 48, and I have to dish out the high.
They let me see him finally. He still can't stand. While there, one of the machines starts beeping an alert. The vet techs just stand there, talking. I look at them, waiting for them to do something. Nothing. I point it out. Oh! One of them comes and looks. Oh, it is alright; shifting just caused something to pull and set off the alarm. Whew.
I leave. I called them later during the night to check up on him. They hadn't fed him yet, but they had tried giving him water. He puked it up, and the puke had blood in it. Apparently he had some potential respiratory damage and maybe something abdominally, but nothing to get too worked up about at the moment. Of course, the doctor seized upon that opportunity to mention that these problems will get worse if he is an outside dog. Apparently my frail outside hunting dog should have been and should in the future live inside. Again, the tone. Why is it so horrible to have an outside-loving dog (to whom you give attention and walks and ground turkey and chew bones and love) that is just...an outside dog? It's not just because he is sick. When I told you the big cow-chasing, tractor-pulling (okay, not quite. but almost!) dog was a healthy, happy outside dog, you gave me that same look. Alright, I say. No sense in arguing about that now. If it is medically necessary for him to be inside, then inside he shall be. But I have my doubts that he will need to be confined inside for the rest of his days. But wait--let's go back for a second. Abdominal problems? I told her that I had details about his previous problems...abdominal problems...which left him in a much worse state than now, and for which he was treated and recovered. No interest. *sigh*
Good news, though. He was sitting up. And standing. And wagging his tail. He couldn't do it earlier. I was told to call back tomorrow at 1. Its too early to tell what the night may bring, but they say he looks tons better. I figured he would. Put IV fluids in a sick animal, and its amazing what it does. Here's hoping that I can bring him home tomorrow. Despite it all, if he gets better, I will give them a huge hug regardless of the accusatory tone. I guess this is what parents feel like when their friends give opinions about how they should raise their own children. Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree.
These folks were overall very nice, especially the desk lady. They dealt with my break down over the hours.
However, my biggest complaint that I have with my own physicians remains the same with my pets' new caregivers: An open ear makes a huge difference on customer happiness. They are nice. They are helping my dog. But they aren't listening. And that is upsetting. I have paid a lot of money, and should have the benefit of an interested ear. Frankly, had I paid nothing, should I not deserve the same courtesy?
And my other complaint? The accusing tone. Not every dog is a couch dog. Some dogs like grass over berber carpets, wood decks over hardwood floors, and birds to the television.
But if my fat dog comes home wagging his tail tomorrow, you bet I will be forever grateful. And its okay that some people think I am crazy for trading my new computer for a 15 year old dog. But my old buddy, as long as he is kicking and not in pain, deserves a few more walks and rabbit chases before his final day. I know he is looking forward to the turkey burgers I am planning to make. I can't wait to bring him home. But if I have to make that Difficult Decision, he is not the first good buddy that I have seen pass into that good night.
I know he is "just a dog," but if you could keep good thoughts for him, it would mean the world to me.
And thanks for reading this.