By lex, on September 21st, 2007
So, I’m leaving the base yesterday afternoon when the Hobbit called, a tremor in her voice: “Lady’s bleeding,” she said.
Now Lady, as long time readers know, is the Venerable Bird Dog. She’s been with us for eleven years and a bit. Since Eldest Daughter was 5 and Youngest Daughter 2. She’s never been terribly bright – they breed that out of setters, I think – but for unalloyed sweetness, love and loyalty you could do no better. She’s the kind of dog that’s always happy to see family, always keen to make friends. She loved nothing better than going on a hunt, even though she wasn’t particularly talented that way. She’d start to groan with anticipation when the guns came out of the locker, and moan all the way to the field, checking into an immediate “kennel point” once she finally escaped the car.
Too goofy though, and would run on and on with all the wild smells in her nose, and all the open spaces to race through and the joyous sound of the wind in her ears that must have blocked out the shouts and curses from those she’d left behind. We haven’t taken her out in the last couple of years. She isn’t young anymore and she’s carrying around a few more pounds than she ought to (are not we all?) but she, at least, doesn’t know it. Refuses to acknowledge it. An eleven year old puppy that’d run with delight until her heart broke.
Always happy to see you at the door, the kind of tale wag that made her whole body writhe in delight, even if you only just left the house and immediately returned, having forgotten your car keys. Dogs have no sense of time passing. No sense of mortality.
Even walking by her in her sleep at 4 AM you’d get a tale thump or two on the deck. Glad to see you. Against her best canine instincts she even tolerates the intolerable, if only because she knows that’s what the rest of us would want.
And she was very, very sick. How sick I couldn’t know, they don’t allow you to use cell phones in the clinic. But she’d been lethargic lately, hadn’t been eating much and had coughed up much of what she did get down the last day or so. We agreed in that “maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after” kind of way that we should probably run her by the vet if things didn’t get better. And now she was bleeding. And at eleven years and a bit, that couldn’t be a good thing.
Wife and Eldest Daughter were already at the vet’s clinic as your correspondent sat steaming, bashing his forearm on the wheel in soul destroying, afternoon rush hour traffic on the way to pick up the Kat, herself being then at the barn. I’d called her on the phone, told her what was going on, asked her if someone might take her home or did she want to go with me to the vet’s? In case we had to say goodbye. Would she want to come for that?
“It’s OK,” she replied, which of course doesn’t mean anything. It’s just the kind of thing a 13-year old kid says when she’s just received an unexpected blow to the solar plexus. One of those little temblors that warn of a change in the time line, a change in the way things have always been. They way things have been expected always to be. I understood, and waited. It was only a few seconds later when she told me in a firm, brooks no argument tone, “Pick me up. I want to go. I want to see her.” Proud of that kid.
She jumped in the car with a smile on her face when I got to the barn, strapped on her seatbelt and immediately broke into tears, sobbing. “We don’t know, kiddo. Maybe she’ll be fine,” I said.
“I know,” shuddering.
So we talked of horses for a while instead, and those happy thoughts passed the time until we got to the clinic. Found the Hobbit looking up at us with her eyes red, the Biscuit at her shoulder in support. A welcome sight, even in unwelcome circumstances. It’s been loggerheads of late, when it hasn’t been hammer and tongs. Teen aged girls and mothers. But family pulls together.
The Biscuit called the Kat over to sit in her lap in the little room. Lady was in the back somewhere, out of sight. I knelt down by my wife who was still trembling – she cries when the dry cleaning goes out – and told her it was nobody’s fault. Things get old, they wind down. It’d be OK. We’d know soon. She managed to somehow nod and shake her head at the same time. For a woman that experience and necessity have made strong, she can be such a soft thing at times. She takes too much on her shoulders.
“Pyometra,” the kindly veterinarian said after walking into the waiting room. An infection of the uterus. Quite common in unspayed females, especially those of a certain age. Quite dangerous also: Inevitably fatal if not discovered in time. Lady would require surgery, that very day. Bit of heart murmur too, but there would be time to talk about that afterwards. So long as everything, you know: Went well. I looked over in the corner where the girls sat together. Saw them looking back at me, two pairs of identical, teary, unblinking eyes. Dark brown “see through you” eyes.
The vet walked out, promising to send an assistant in with the cost estimate. Major surgery for pyometra. In with the big sticks, everything comes out. High risk. And, as it turned out, damned expensive. I couldn’t help but sigh a bit when I saw the bottom line. It’s always something. Sometimes you feel like you can’t get a break. Felt more than saw those eyes looking at me from the corner, didn’t have to look. Dark eyes, unblinking. Waiting. Felt the moment stretch, felt the Hobbit touch my arm. Known her almost 30 years. I know what she’s thinking.
“I know she’s an older dog,” the assistant asks, hesitating. “Do you need some time to talk about it?” Thought about having that conversation in front of the girls.
“No, no.” I replied. “Where do we sign?” Felt something in the room… break. But this was a no-brainer. She might be only a dog. But Lady’s family.
Got a call from the vet late last night. She’d done well, the sweet thing. High hopes. Take her home tomorrow maybe. Need some observation time of course. Resting well, sedated. IVs to replenish the fluids, and antibiotics of course. A good girl, but a close call.
So thanks for small blessings.
So. Do you have a female dog of your own? Unspayed? Think hard on taking her in for a spaying – an inexpensive and routine bit of veterinary surgery – unless you’re set on having puppies.
Don’t worry if she’s getting older. It’s the one sure way to prevent a possibly fatal presentation of a pyometra – a very common illness for older females as it turns out. It might save you more than stress in the long run. After all. They do become like family.