I've been trying to write this story for over a week now. Last weekend was the second anniversary of Toby's death. That's what I wanted to write about. Whatever I wrote felt like I was just skimming the surface of my emotions. It was words without meaning. I didn't feel that I was doing justice to Toby's memory. And then last night, it changed. As I was writing, I remembered something about his death that has stayed in the back of my mind for two years. It came to the forefront, and I saw the importance of it.
Toby had colitis for the last year and a half of his life. He also had degenerative myelopathy during the last three months of his life. The signals from the brain don't make it down the spine to the hind legs. The condition is progressive and leads to paralysis. Toby had reached the final stage of paralysis.
A week before Labour Day, his health had declined. He was lethargic, and I had difficulty lifting him to take him outside. I made an appointment with the veterinary hospital and took him in right away. There was blood in his stool. His red blood cell count was low. His colitis had become ulcerative. His energy was low because he was anemic.
The veterinarian treated him. I took him back in on the Friday before the long weekend. His blood work had improved. The veterinarian treated him again, and I took Toby home, hoping for his recovery.
When I woke up on Sunday morning, my hope went away. I was turning Toby's body from one side to the other to prevent pressure sores, and I noticed that he had no tension in his neck. He had lost all his strength. I knew at that moment he was dying, and I accepted it.
I didn't turn him after that. I let him sleep, and when he was awake, I comforted him as best as I could. He slept for longer and longer periods of time. Over the weekend, his breathing had gradually become more and more labored. His abdomen would expand and contract with each breath. As time went on, his breathing became louder.
At 2:30 the next morning, I was awakened by the sound of his breathing. It had changed. It was louder and faster. I turned the light on and saw that his abdomen was expanding and contracting at a faster rate. This went on for hours, and he was unconscious the whole time.
I was surprised when he woke up. It was an abrupt shift from unconsciousness to being wide awake and alert. It was Toby. We made eye contact and he recognized me. I could see his body relax. I gave him water to drink and then dried him off. He was instantly unconscious again, and within minutes, he was gone.
I hadn't given much thought to his waking until last night when I was writing. I got to see him one more time. I knew he was approaching death and I accepted that he would remain unconscious until the end. His soul came back to consciousness to visit me, one last time before it journeyed home. In those few moments, I was filled with joy that I could connect with the dog I'd known for so long.
I don't know why it happened. We were given the opportunity to be fully present in the moment with each other. He, because he had regained consciousness. Me, because my attention was focused on fulfilling his needs and giving him comfort. For a few brief moments, the veil of death was pulled aside, so we could see each other and say goodbye. It was a special and precious gift. I am grateful.
When I told my students that Toby had died, one of them said, "Death is so ugly." I looked at her and said, "For me, it was beautiful." I didn't understand then why I felt that way. Now I understand.
Love ya, Tobes.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
Look at that face. Isn’t he sweet? That’s the look he gives me when I’m eating, or trying to eat, in his grace’s presence. It’s not that he was lacking food. He always had a bowl full of dry food, and he would get a teaspoon of wet food in the morning, and another in the early evening.
When I first started pet-sitting Oscar, he would keep his distance from me when I ate. As time went by, and he became more familiar and comfortable with me, his curiosity and appetite got the better of him. He would come closer and closer to me. Then he started tentatively reaching his paw toward my plate. I would push him away and say, “No.” That worked for a while.
Emboldened by his taste buds, he became more insistent. He was never aggressive or overly pushy about it. He was almost polite in his quest for my food. First, he would come near me and walk around, emitting the occasional meow. Then he would get closer. Eventually, he would sit within paw’s reach of my plate.
I usually had my stuff piled on and around the small kitchen table. There was also a towel on the table that Oscar liked to lay on, so I always ate sitting on the couch. It was the perfect location for feline food filching. Sometimes he was just bold. He would sit on the couch beside me and alternate his stare between the food on my plate and me.
Other times, he was so quiet. Perhaps sneaky is a better description of his behavior. I would watch television or read research articles while eating. He waited until my attention was focused, and then he crept. Truth be told, I have no idea of how he moved toward me. I didn’t see him do it. That was probably the point of his plan.
First, he would respectfully let me know he was present by appearing out of nowhere, to sit or stand on the ottoman. I was fine with that, as long as he didn’t block my view if I was watching the television. Next was his casual walk from the ottoman onto the couch cushion beside me. The ottoman was against the couch, so this was a smooth transition for him.
He would sit or lie near me, watching the movement of the fork from the plate to my mouth. His interest was keen. Sometimes, I’d move the fork around in the air, just to watch his eyes lock on to it like a heat-seeking missile. He was no fool. As soon as he realized it was empty, his gaze would snap back to the food on the plate.
When he thought he’d lulled me into submission with his cuteness, he would tentatively reach a paw toward the plate. I’d move the plate just out of his reach and push his paw away. He would not be deterred. This continued throughout the meal. The insistence of his behavior was dependent on the protein part. If it was meat or shrimp, especially shrimp, he increased and accelerated his attempts to snag a morsel from the plate.
In my forty-one years as a martial artist, Oscar is the only animal I’ve sparred with. His balance was perfect. He was fast, and he used strategy. He put combinations together. Jab, jab, jab, meow (that was his distraction technique), jab. He was a feisty and formidable foe. The worst was when his claws came out and got stuck in the sleeve of the arm I was using to block him with. If he couldn’t extricate them himself, I had to gently do it while keeping the plate of food out of his reach. It’s a wonder I didn’t starve.
One morning, I was eating my breakfast of granola, fruit, and yogurt. Oscar wasn’t putting much effort into food snatching. He seemed more interested in discovering what was in the bowl. My curiosity got the better of me. (I’m born in the year of the tiger in the Chinese horoscope system. Maybe that’s why Oscar likes me so much. He thinks I’m kin.) I saved some of the yogurt at the end of my meal. I moved the bowl towards Oscar. He reached his paw in and mashed it down into the yogurt. Then he pulled it out and started shaking it. I don’t think he expected that consistency. Then he licked his paw and breakfast was done.
I washed up the dishes and packed my bag to go to the university library to do some research. When I got to the library, I opened my laptop and stared at the keyboard for a few seconds. I was trying to figure out what was on the surface. It was a white substance in a weird pattern. And then I realized what it was. I didn’t know that blueberry yogurt turned white when it dried on a black surface, in the shape of cat paw prints.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
Ohhhh.....I love to cook. I love everything about the process. The washing, the cutting, the different textures, the different colors, the scents, and flavors. Butter, and garlic, and seasoning, and herbs. Creating something new, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. With music playing in the background, you tap into a rhythm where your movements flow with ease and grace. There’s a harmony of sensory stimulation and physical activity. I find it calming, like meditation in motion.
Cooking with a dog in the vicinity of the kitchen is not a problem. The only thing that can go wrong is if you accidentally drop a piece of food on the floor and they get to it before you do. If they’re well trained, you can give them a verbal command to leave it, giving you the few extra seconds needed to retrieve it from the floor.
On this day, I was cooking while apartment and cat-sitting for my friend. Once again, I am not familiar with the behavior of cats. Dog’s will sit or lie on the floor and wait in the hope that you accidentally drop something. They’re patient and stalwart in this. Cats, not so much. Actually, not at all. So I learned.
I was in the culinary zone. The music was playing. I was humming and dancing while prepping and cooking the food. I planned on cooking the whole bag of shrimp. I would put half into a stir fry, and the other half would go into a pasta dish. I had shelled and rinsed them. I left them in the colander to drain in the sink. I went to the stove to stir garlic into the pan of melted butter. I sauteed the garlic, and the aroma was wonderful. Now, to add the shrimp.
I turned to go to the sink and then paused. There was something different. It took me a moment to process this new visual information. You may remember the song from Sesame Street, ‘One of these things doesn’t belong here’. A cat’s butt and tail in the air on top of the counter, with its face hidden in a shrimp filled colander, is what didn’t belong!
I firmly commanded, “Oscar, you get out of there. Right now!” His head popped up out of the colander, and before I could take a step toward him, he had jumped down from the counter and ran past the island in the middle of the kitchen. I went to the shrimp to see how much damage he’d done. It didn’t look disturbed. Perhaps he had just gotten to it and only sniffed it when I turned around.
Then I turned to look in the direction that Oscar had run to. He stood beside the table, staring at me, with a shrimp hanging out of the side of his mouth. I said, “You are so lucky, mister.” And he was. He’d just scored a shrimp. One for the cat, one less for me.
I turned back to the sink and re-rinsed the shrimp in the colander. I decided to re-rinse and then cook the shrimp to destroy any cat cooties. And besides, as the old saying goes, “You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die.” I just googled to find how much a peck is. It’s a dry measure that equals a quarter of a bushel, or eight quarts, or nine liters. So, a couple of cat cooties were now included in my peck.
When my friend came home the next day, I told her about the shrimp incident. She said, “Oh, yes. Oscar loves shrimp. I put a plate on top of the colander until I’m ready to cook the shrimp.”
And there it was, all I needed to know when cooking in the presence of a cat. It was a simple solution to stop the stealing of the shrimp. That's not to say it put an end to the feline's attempts at food filching. I'll write about that in next week's story.
P.S. After I posted this, I learned from my friend that today is Oscar's birthday. Happy birthday, Buddy!!!
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
I've written about Cooper, the Golden Retriever, in my book, and my last blog post. Cooper belongs to my friend who used to live next door to where I worked. Cooper also has a feline family member. His name is Oscar.
Looks can be deceiving. Don't let the cute picture above fool you. He looks sweet, cuddly, and mellow. He can be at times, but not most times. He has personality plus, which is why I grudgingly like him a lot.
I'm not a cat person. (Ssshhh...don't tell Oscar. He thinks I am.) I like them, as I like all living creatures. I don't have much experience with them, and as a result, I don't understand them. Dogs, I get. Cats are a mystery to me.
After Toby died, I would occasionally apartment and pet sit for my friend on weekends. She usually took Cooper with her, so most of the time it was Oscar and me. Once he got used to me and stopped hissing at me when I first arrived, we got along quite well. He started to run to greet me at the door. In this way, he acted more like a dog which endeared him to me.
On this particular weekend, my friend was going away for a girls' weekend. She and some friends were getting together for a camping trip. She hadn't seen some of them for a while, and she was looking forward to their time together. I was looking forward to Cooper staying with me. It was going to be great going for long walks with him. Since Toby had passed away, I missed having a canine companion in my life.
I had packed so that I could go straight from work to the apartment. This meant backing my car up and moving it to the other side of the parking lot. The side door of the apartment was right next to the parking lot. I put all my stuff inside and then fed the boys, Cooper and Oscar. Then Cooper and I went for a nice, long walk.
The next day went well. Coop and I had our morning, afternoon and early evening walks. I'd cooked meals to freeze for my lunches during the workweek. And the rest of the time, I spent researching and writing, with Oscar mostly sleeping beside me on the couch, and Coop sleeping near us on the floor.
In the afternoon, I witnessed an interaction between them that I had never seen before. It was peaceful and quiet, and I happened to look up from my laptop. Cooper was sleeping soundly on the floor between the living room and kitchen. Oscar was poking Cooper's belly with his right front paw. I said, "Oscar, you're being a jerk. Leave him alone."
He slowly turned his head to look at me and stared directly into my eyes for a few seconds. Then he looked back at Cooper and poked him again. Cooper went from being in a deep, sound sleep to jumping up to a fully dazed stance. I could tell by the sleepy look on his face that he wasn't quite with it. He looked around a few times, and then looked at Oscar, who of course was staring at him. It was more like taunting him.
Oscar turned his head to look at me again and stared into my eyes. Then he turned and casually walked into the kitchen with cattitude. I said, "Oscar, I stand corrected. You are the king of the jerks." The little bully was a fraction of the size of the dog. I learned it's true, that cats rule and dogs drool.
At seven o'clock at night, I remembered that I had forgotten to bring some things in from the car. I had them in two shopping bags. I opened the door, came in with a bag in each hand, and saw Oscar running toward the door. He had never done this before. I used my right foot to block him. He paused for a second, crouched down, and jumped. I raised my foot higher to block him, but he sailed over top and out the door.
I was shocked. I didn't know he could jump that high. (I just did a google search and found a National Geographic video, from the Science of Stupid, about cats versus gravity. They can jump six times their height. I wish I'd known about that video before the escape.) I stood there for a second, with my foot in the air and a bag in each hand. Then my brain kicked in. I dropped the bags and ran out the door, yelling, "Oscar, get back here!" A few steps out the door, I had the presence of mind to go back and close the door so the dog didn't get out, too.
I ran to the backyard because that was the direction that Oscar had headed to. I looked everywhere, calling his name. There was no sign of him. He had high-tailed it out of there. No pausing to sniff things, no rolling around on the grass, no coming to me when I called his name. This cat was so not like a dog.
Then I had an idea. I thought that maybe Oscar and Cooper were a bonded pair, so I put the leash on Cooper and took him to the backyard. I was hoping that the sight and scent of him would attract Oscar back to us. Nothing. No sign of the cat. And then my mind flashed back to the king of the jerks incident. They were not a bonded pair. Cooper wasn't even looking for Oscar. He was too busy rolling on his back on the grass.
Finally, I took the dog back into the apartment. He had no interest in my search and rescue mission. He didn't seem to be concerned in the least about Oscar's absence. I had the feeling Cooper was a little relieved and more relaxed. He put himself to bed early and slept soundly through the night.
I didn't know what to do. My friend had told me that in the twelve years she had Oscar, he had only escaped one other time, and that was when she first moved into the apartment. He was gone for a night and came back. I was hoping the same was true this time.
I was beside myself with worry. He was not an outside cat. Could he fend for himself? He had his claws, so he might fare well if he was in a scrap with another cat. I thought about the coyotes I had heard the locals talk about. I hoped he didn't run into them.
I wasn't sure if I should let my friend know then that Oscar had escaped, or wait until the next morning before she came home. I decided to go with the adage, no new is good news. I didn't want to ruin the rest of her weekend with bad news. This way, only one of us had to worry.
And it was a long, worry-filled night. Periodically, I would go to the back yard to see if he was there. After it got dark, I used the flashlight on my cell phone to look for him. Through the night, I kept getting up. I would turn on the outside lights and check at both doors, in the hope that Oscar was there.
I got up at five o'clock in the morning, after a sleepless night. I decided to go outside, in the faint hope that Oscar came back. I closed the door, took a few steps, and stopped dead in my tracks. Mr. Oscar had sauntered around the corner from the back yard, looked at me, meowed, and walked towards the door.
I opened the door, he walked inside, and I closed the door. Then he wouldn't stop meowing, loudly, over and over. He was either annoyed at me for not letting him in at the precise moment he decided to return home, or he was telling me about all of his adventures over the past ten hours. Perhaps it was a combination of the two. I gave him some wet cat food to make him stop talking. After that, he was quite affectionate, and then went to bed.
Thank goodness, the cat came back. My friend thanked me for not telling her the night before. And the dog seemed to have had the best night's sleep of his life. All's well that ends well.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
Cooper is the ninety-pound Golden Retriever who used to live next door to where I worked. He brought his owner and me together in friendship. He would always look for my car in the morning, when his owner would walk him across the parking lot, to have his morning walk in the park.
The mornings when I arrived early and could see they hadn’t finished their walk, I would wait beside my car for him. When he saw me, he would start pulling on the leash, dragging his owner. She would release the clasp of the leash from his collar. I would squat down to dog level, with my arms outstretched to welcome him.
The first time I did this, I had a moment where I thought, “I wonder if this is a good idea?” Ninety pounds of dog was running directly at me, full speed. Cooper was more stocky and muscular than most Retrievers. He reminded me of a Sherman tank. I braced for the impact. He stopped just as he got to me and gently touched his nose to my face. This became our new morning routine.
I kept a box of treats in the office for Cooper. He would get three treats, broken in half. And as dog owners know, dogs can count. I would give him six pieces of treats. No more, no less. If I tried giving him less, he would stare at my hands until I’d given up the last one.
After the giving of the treats, his owner and I would have a conversation. Cooper didn’t like being ignored during our talk. He would keep nuzzling my legs or hands, trying to get my attention. I found it easiest to squat down and pet him while talking. Then he would bend his head down and move toward me to rest the top of his head against my chest. He would stand like that as long as I let him. I’d never had a dog do that before. It felt like a sign of trust and affection. I’ve never seen him do it with anyone else.
There was a severe ice storm a few winters ago. It covered every surface in a thick layer of ice. It was treacherous to walk anywhere. I wore ice cleats on the bottom of my boots to get from the house, down the driveway to my car. I removed them while driving, and then put them on again to get from my car, across the parking lot to the front door at work.
That morning, Cooper’s owner called and asked if I would take him out during my lunch. With all the ice, he hadn’t been able to stand long enough to squat. She was concerned because he hadn’t been able to relieve himself in the morning and she had to leave for work. I told her I would take him out.
Well, the ice had gone nowhere in the few hours since I’d agreed to take Cooper out. For some reason, I didn’t think to put the ice cleats on my boots. First I took him into the back yard, but his feet kept sliding, so he couldn’t stand long enough to do his business. I tried stomping on the crust of ice covering the snow, in the hopes that I could break through to give him a non-slippery surface to stand on. The ice was too thick for me to break through it.
Next, sans ice cleats, I gingerly walked him across the parking lot to the park. He made a valiant effort, but once again, he couldn’t squat long enough to do anything. His feet kept sliding apart. Also, he fell twice while we were walking. I was concerned because he was a rescue dog and his new veterinarian determined that his one front leg had been broken at some point. I didn’t want him falling and re-breaking it. I decided to take him back home for both our safety.
Cooper must have had a lot of pent up energy. It was as though he couldn’t control his sudden outburst. Without warning, he started running across the parking lot. Ninety pounds of dog, running across an icy parking lot with me attached to him by a leash. Once he started running, I knew he wouldn’t stop and there was nothing I could say or do to make him change his mind.
It was like dog zoomies on ice. I had no traction, so I had no control over his movements or my own. I did the only thing I could think to do, to prevent myself from falling and probably getting injured. I squatted down to lower my center of gravity, relaxed my body, and went along for the ride.
And what a ride it was! At one point, mid-ride, I thought to myself, “This must be what it feels like to wind sail. And I’m doing it on ice!” (Later, this led to a Google search where I learned that wind sailing on ice is a real thing. Hmmm...who knew?)
And then he came to an abrupt stop. I still don’t know how he did that on a slippery surface. Wonders never cease to amaze. I paused for a second, still crouched in my low position. I took stock of our situation and breathed a sigh of relief. We were both safe after our mini-adventure.
Cooper had done us both a favor. His wild run across the ice brought us close to the door of his home. We still had to gingerly walk across icy surfaces to get the door. We did and I took him inside. He still hadn’t done his business. I felt bad for him, but not bad enough to risk taking him out again. When his owner got home from work, she took him out and he was finally able to relieve himself! Yay!
Forgetting to put the ice cleats on turned out to be the best non-decision I’d ever made.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
I got up early to take Toby out through the back door of the garage. Early, meaning while it was still dark outside and before the neighbor's dog was let out. My goal was to walk Toby around until he did his business, in peace and quiet, without waking my parents and the neighbors. So much for that plan.
I turned on the outside light. (I should have looked out the window first. Lesson learned.) As soon as I opened the back door, Toby lunged while snarling and growling. He dragged me a little way out with him. I rooted myself and held on to the leash with all my strength. I saw two, young raccoons on the back hill. They quickly ran to and climbed up a tree. By this point, Toby was barking a blue streak.
I was able to pull him back enough so that I was just inside the garage. With my left foot on the ground, I raised my right foot and braced it against the inside of the door frame. This gave me some extra strength since my legs are stronger than my arms.
At first, I just held him in place, hoping that his collar and the leash wouldn't break. I kept telling him to stop and come inside, but he was too focused on the raccoons to listen to anything I said.
I was using brute force to hold him in place, and I was at a disadvantage. The element of surprise, combined with his momentum, worked against me. I wouldn't be able to hold him for long, and he wasn't about to stop with the raccoons in his sight.
Then my martial arts brain kicked in. I needed to use strategy to solve this problem, not physical strength. Proper technique is more effective than physical strength. So, I ignored Toby's barking and watched his body language. I waited until I saw a pattern in his movements. He would lunge and bark, but when he needed to take a breath, he eased off a bit and stopped pulling. I waited for his next breath and that was when I pulled the leash toward me and told him to come to me. It worked. I finally got him inside the garage and closed the door.
So, now I needed a new plan because he still hadn't done his business. I took him into the porch and out the door to the front. I walked Toby around for a while because he was nervous and on edge with the surge of adrenaline he'd experienced. Eventually, he calmed down and did his business. We went back inside. And yes, his barking woke everyone in the house. I'm sure it woke the neighbors, too. Even the best-made plans can go awry.
And the two raccoons stayed up in the tree all that day and into the evening. They made it down and got away by the next morning. Now I added a visual check of the surroundings to our morning routine, before taking Toby outside.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
Toby did not react well to bee stings. And then again, who does? I saw this reaction twice when he was a young dog. As he was walking on the grass, he would come to a complete stop, his whole body would tense, and he would fall over on his side. It looked as though his body was in full rigor mortis, with his four legs sticking straight out. It was one of the oddest things I've ever seen. He looked like a mannequin of a dog.
I would go over to him to see if he was okay. He would quickly recover and then get back up. I thought his response was just an odd, quirky reaction to the pain of the bee sting. It wasn't until an incident several years later when I realized it was much more than that.
A year before Toby died, I had a different experience with him and a bee sting. We were walking around an industrial area. I was always visually searching the ground for sharp objects (broken glass) and any food that people may have thrown on the ground. Food was a concern because of Toby's colitis. This day, I missed the food item.
Someone had thrown a piece of bread, or other baked good under a bush. It was in the fall when yellow jackets (wasps) are looking for sugary food sources. Unfortunately, the wasp was eating from the baked good first. I saw the wasp on it just as Toby picked up the food in his mouth. I can't remember if he spat it out or not. He must have, or I would have put my hand into his mouth to remove it. It didn't matter; the damage was done. The wasp had stung the inside of his mouth.
Toby immediately laid down on his side on the grass and closed his eyes. He was breathing, but he was unresponsive. I called his name, raising my voice. Nothing, no response from him. I touched him gently and then shook him slightly. Again, nothing.
I didn't know what to do. It was a Sunday afternoon, so the veterinary hospital was closed. At that time, I didn't know the location of an emergency clinic. Also, I had the feeling that even if I tried to take him somewhere for medical help, I wouldn't get him there in time to save him.
My car was at the far end of the complex. I moved Toby's body closer to a post and tied his leash to it. I did that to keep him safe, in case he regained consciousness while I was gone. I ran as fast as I could to my car. I drove and then parked it as close to Toby as I could. I got out of the car and sat on the grass beside him. He was still unresponsive.
I knew I didn't have the strength to lift him into the back seat of my car while he was unconscious. I couldn't lift sixty pounds of dead weight. So, I continued sitting beside him while I pet him. I kept saying, "Toby, don't die. Not here, not today. Please don't die." I had dread in my heart as I sat there with him. I made the conscious decision to live in that moment with him. I would stay with Toby, regardless of the outcome.
It took some time before he came to. He opened his eyes and made eye contact with me, but he wasn't moving. He just laid there. I gave him time to recover and regain some of his bearings. When he was ready, I lifted him onto the back seat of the car. It was difficult because he couldn't do much on his own. After a bit of a struggle, I got him in.
After I made him comfortable and securely tethered his harness, I got into the driver's seat and drove to the closest parking lot. I parked the car, got out, and then sat in the back seat with him. I didn't want to drive right away yet, in case he lost consciousness again. We stayed there for half an hour or so until I felt it was safe to drive him home. He was conscious but groggy. He could move on his own, but seemed to want to sleep.
When we got home, it was easier getting him out of the car and into the house. I kept an eye on him for the rest of the day and evening. I realized that what I had previously thought of as his quirky reaction to the pain of a bee sting, was an allergic reaction. After that, I added bees and wasps to my visual searching on our walks.
There were no more bee stings after that. And I was fortunate and blessed to share another year of my life with Toby.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
Farley was always off leash in the backyard, day or night. There had never been a problem until the one night when his prey drive kicked in. As soon as he was let out for his last pee of the night, he quickly ran around the back of the house, out of sight and out of the light by the back door. He didn't bark or growl or make any sound. He just took off like a rocket. We couldn't see him in the dark, and he wasn't responding to a recall. When he finally came back around the corner, and into view, his face was full of porcupine quills.
Ahhhh, geez! It looked awful, and it must have been so painful. We brought him inside and tried to decide what to do with him. We'd never had a dog go after a porcupine before. Our two previous dogs, Blackie and Jake, were outside dogs, and just seemed to know not to bother wild animals.
Farley was whining and whimpering. He kept pawing at his face, trying to dislodge the quills. The veterinary hospital was closed. I don't know if there were twenty-four-hour emergency veterinary clinics back then. If so, we weren't aware of them. We would have to wait until the morning to take him to the veterinary hospital.
I wanted to help him and ease his pain in some way. I remembered hearing or reading that you should cut the tips of the quills to release the air and deflate them. Supposedly, this would lessen the pain for the animal. DO NOT DO THIS! Ignorance is not bliss. Not only does this make removing the quills more difficult, but it can also cause them to splinter. Cutting the quills can cause more harm than good.
Unfortunately, I didn't know any better at the time. Poor Farley. He reluctantly let me do it. For the second and last time in his life, he growled at me. At that point, I stopped. I decided to let him be. He'd just told me that he'd had enough.
It was a long night. He cried and whimpered throughout it. The next morning, we called the veterinary hospital and made an early appointment to have the quills removed.
My sister drove, and I sat in the front passenger seat. Farley was sitting in his regular car dog position, with his rear end on the back seat, front paws on the floor, and his upper body wedged between the two front bucket seats. Finally, we were on our way to end his pain and suffering.
I guess all pet owners have a phrase they say to comfort or allay the fears of their pet(s). My phrase has always been, "It's okay." I use it to help calm or reassure them. Most times, it's helpful. I should have thought about the context I was using it in. Farley had a high level of intelligence, and a distinctive personality that showed in his facial expressions.
In my attempt to comfort Farley during the car ride, I said, "It's okay, Far." As he quickly turned his head to look at me, his eyes flew wide open. If looks could kill, I would have been dead on the spot. The expression on his face was a mixture of shock, dismay, and disbelief. If he could have spoken words, I imagine he would have said something to the effect of, "Are you #@%#ing, kidding me? Do you see these THINGS sticking out of my face!!!" He was right, I shouldn't have said that.
I carefully watched my words after that. I comforted him as best as I could by putting my left arm around his shoulders and fought the urge to use my 'phrase'. The veterinarian sedated Far and removed the quills. Some had gone inside his mouth. Fortunately, none had gone into his eyes. All in all, he fared well after his misadventure.
After that incident, a new prevention policy was put into place. After dark, Farley was on a leash and kept in the light for his nightly excursions. Although his movements were more limited, he was safe. It was a necessary part of living in a rural area.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
It was a regular visit to the veterinarian hospital. I can't remember if it was for a checkup or a follow-up visit. When the veterinarian had finished with Toby, I mentioned that he had a lump behind his left ear. The veterinarian determined that the lump was inflamed. I told him that a few weeks before that, Toby had scratched behind his ear and the engorged body of a tick had dropped on the floor. Apparently the head of the tick was under his skin and was the cause of the inflammation.
The veterinarian told me I had two choices. One, I could make an appointment to bring Toby back to have it removed. In that case, Toby would be sedated for surgery. The second choice was that it could be removed right then if I went back and helped to hold Toby. I've learned from my research that sedation is a form of restraint (for people and animals). My holding Toby still during the surgery would take the place of him being sedated. The decision was easy. I said, "We're already here. We might as well do it now."
Everything was going well. Toby was lying on his right side on the table. I was holding his body still, and the veterinary technician was holding his head still. The veterinarian injected something to numb the area and then was using a scalpel to remove the inflamed tissue. Everything was going well, that is, until I started to feel overheated, nauseous and light-headed.
I always walked Toby before visits to the veterinary hospital to make sure he'd emptied his bladder and bowels, and to burn off any excess energy to calm him. It was an overcast day with drizzling rain. The raincoat I was wearing was water-proof. No matter how much it rained, water would not penetrate that coat. It was great for walking outdoors in inclement weather. It wasn't so great indoors, while holding a dog on a table during minor surgery.
In addition to keeping water out, it kept body heat in. It was well insulated. Unfortunately, I hadn't thought to take the raincoat off before the procedure. While the veterinarian was using the scalpel to remove the lump, my body became over-heated. I couldn't let go of Toby to unzip the coat to let the heat out. I felt like I was going to pass out, so I knelt down on one knee, all the while still holding onto Toby. The veterinarian sternly said several times, "Debbie. Don't let go of Toby." I replied that I was not letting go of him.
And I didn't let go of him, the two or three times I knelt down. At one point, the veterinary technician held Toby's head with her right hand, while trying to unzip and take off my raincoat with her left hand. She could only take is so far off my shoulders, since I couldn't move my arms while holding Toby's body on the table. So, partially uncoated, I held Toby in place for the duration of the procedure.
Toby was so good through all of it. He didn't move a muscle or flinch. For being a nervous wreck in some areas of his life, he was always well behaved at the veterinary hospital. It was one of the few places where he completely relaxed and trusted everyone. After that, Toby was on anti-tick medication for the parts of the year when ticks were active.
I researched ticks and their behavior. They are interesting little arachnids (eight legs and no antennae). They climb tall grass, or plant stems, and then wave their front legs like an orchestra conductor. This is called 'questing'. With their front legs, they can detect scents, movement, and even a change in temperature. As you or your dog walk close enough to them, they grab onto the clothing or fur. Then they move to an area of your body that has soft skin (groin, behind the knee) or where the skin is thinner (ear).
You don't feel when they bite into you because their saliva contains anesthetic properties. And you don't have the usual red, itchy swelling of a bug bite because their saliva also contains immunosuppressants that prevent this reaction. It's amazing how they have evolved or adapted to survive.
I have nothing against ticks. I abide by the Japanese Buddhist proverb that a one inch worm has a half inch soul. This means that all living things have a right to live. I would prefer they not live a part of their life on me, or the dog in my life.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
The writing of my first book was a whirlwind experience. Having a deadline of one month to submit a manuscript while dealing with cognitive deficits was a bad combination. I ended up writing the entire book during the last two weeks before the deadline. As a result, there was so much more that I wanted to include, stories about Farley and Toby, and so many things I learned about dogs from them.
When I read the galley (my free copy) of my book, I couldn't believe how much information I had put into a little book. And yet, there was so much more I wanted to write. I'll be using this blog to share more stories about Farley and Toby, other animals in my life, and grieving the loss of pets.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.