My boss has some amazing stories to share. My favorite story that I love begins when he first started working for the company. He was staying in a hotel and was watching a program on the Discovery Channel about snakes. The snake guru was demonstrating that you could pick up most snakes by the tail and the snake could not climb back on itself to bite you. My boss was dazzled by the idea and soon an opportunity arose at home where he could proudly show off his newly discovered skill.
One evening, his daughters and wife discovered a snake in the garage and began screaming. My boss rushed to the rescue. One daughter was concerned for the snake’s well being and didn’t want it to be harmed. My boss confidently informed his family that you could pick a snake up by the tail and it couldn't bite you. He crouched down and picked the snake up by the tail. It promptly bit him. He threw the snake and with blood dripping down his hand, his wife drove him to the emergency room. I suppose he missed the "don't try this at home" message in the programming.
My pets have individual names and then they have group names. They are smart enough to know the difference. With a multiple pet family, it’s a lot to yell out each of their names when you require the presence of all of them. The dogs, respond to each of their names however, if they are outside and I need them to return to the house, I simply call out, “DOGS!” The chickens have a group name, too. “CHICKENS!” brings about frenzy near the gate as they cluck and pace to see what sort of treat I have for them. I’m not sure if they know their individual names of Raven, Buffy, Angel and Nancy Drew but they do respond to the group name. The ducks have diminished down to one lonely drake named Richard and I still call him by the group name. Calling out “DUCKS!” from my deck at any hour will bring a series of quacks in response.
George has cancer. We first became concerned with the weight loss that was noticeable after the groomer shaved him for the summer. His appetite had diminished and he also seemed crankier with the other dogs. A vet visit was scheduled and blood work was taken. We were told he didn’t have diabetes or cancer. Further testing for other possible weight loss explanations was also negative. The vet’s assistant was unsuccessful in retrieving a urine sample. The Englishman and I tried on a fifteen minute walk, but George was stubborn.
There have been numerous occasions where we have been given this impossible task with each of our four dogs. First, it is required to sneak behind your already suspicious dog and then quickly slip a pan beneath his leg as soon as it appears he is about to lift it. Any trickle that may have started flowing immediately stops, the leg returns to the ground and the dog glares angrily at the interruption. In spite of numerous demonstrations by our vet and her assistants, we cannot master the technique. We finally left with a diagnosis of arthritis in George’s back legs and a bottle of pain pills.
We changed George’s food to a softer variety. We added canned food to his meals. He appeared to have a slight gain in weight. Six weeks later we returned to the vet for another checkup. George’s weight was now at 19 pounds. His ideal weight is 28 pounds. A tiny bit of urine that was collected was dark with hints of blood. He was given an antibiotic and we were given options to discuss which included an MRI to confirm cancer followed by surgery and chemotherapy. There was also an alternative medication that involved a derivative of blood root.
When we returned to the vet’s a few days later, what she suspected was a mass in his back pelvic region had grown in size. Surgery was no longer a viable option due to the invasiveness and the uncertainty of surviving the anesthesia. The alternative treatment was also not an option because it could do George more harm than good at this point. I had also researched it extensively and was still not comfortable with it as a treatment.
George is eleven years old. He is happy at home and is comfortable with his pain medication regimen. He still interacts with his four-pack, riling them all in a nightly chorus of howls when he detects a siren in the distance. We pause and smile and I wonder if the other dogs will continue the howling tradition without him. As annoying as it can be at times, the thought of silence makes me sad. So we watch him for signs, for changes and discomfort. He sleeps in our bedroom each night so we can hear him if he needs us. And we cherish these moments that we have remaining because he is a part of our four-pack and a part of our family.
In his medical folder, I have a full body X-ray of Chase when he was several months old. Puppies get under your feet. They get in the way. They get stepped on. This was the case when Chase somehow got his paw stuck in the front door on a Saturday afternoon. Chase cried, he limped, and he held his quivering right front paw several inches above the ground. I cried. I was a bad person. I didn't deserve him. I scooped him up, placed him in the car and raced to the animal emergency hospital. I carried him in, paid the three hundred dollar entrance fee and was ushered into an examination room. The vet rushed in, Chase wriggled from my grasp and promptly forgot about his injury. When he remembered he had hurt his paw, he seemed to forget which one it was and tried the hurt paw pose on his left paw and then his right. Since we were already there, I agreed to an X-ray of his paw but because Chase was still so small, his entire body was scanned. No fractures, no injuries…I felt betrayed.
I firmly believe that dogs prefer to injure themselves on weekends or after regular veterinary hours in order to incur costly bills to their human companions. My pet companions have proven this theory many times over the years. I have also realized that Chase is a bit dramatic when it comes to his wounds. I was reminded of this a few nights ago when his friend Marty, a tough little dog from three doors down came by to play. Chase and Marty romped through the back yard doing dog things until Marty was called home. Chase raced up the deck stairs but tripped on the top step. He circled me a few times visibly limping. Concerned, I followed him into the house where he was balancing on three legs with his right paw lifted in the air. I examined his paw carefully. It wasn't swollen; his recently trimmed nails were fine and there were no splinters or blood. I released the paw and it began to tremble. Chase limped to his crate and I attempted to apply an ice pack. This proved to be an impossible task so I decided to leave him alone.
An hour later I checked on him. Chase’s left paw was bent at a strange angle and I couldn't see his other paw. I had forgotten which paw he had hurt. I touched the left paw. Chase pulled his right paw out from beneath him. The paw started to tremble. I brought him some water since he was apparently too injured to move. He lapped it vigorously. I left him alone again and returned to the kitchen where I offered the other three dogs a treat. Suddenly, I noticed Chase was dancing around my legs, demanding his treat, too. No more paw trembles. All four legs firmly on the floor. Chase… my heart, my mini-me, my drama dog.
The Four-Pack was confused. In January, the Englishman and I embarked on the daunting task of renovating the kitchen. Within hours, we added the laundry room, sun porch, dining room and living room to our renovation project. Dry wall dust covered every surface, including the dogs, white primer streaks added new coloring to their fur while leaving odd, feathering patterns on the walls and the Four-Pack took every opportunity possible to walk directly into piles of sawdust.
We walled in doors because they weren't needed, added doors where there weren't any and completely turned their home upside down. The dogs would see the construction, watch a door disappear, yet still run toward it later, sliding into the wall looking absolutely befuddled. They delighted in the new doors that emerged and spent their time testing it out. The "piece de resistance" was a small, fancy dog door inserted directly next to the new French doors in the kitchen. A door of their own. The Four-Pack was very excited when they discovered this door (discovered because I pushed each of them through it). They practiced jumping in and out of it, tasting a bit of independence. Tails wagging, paws dancing on the kitchen floor, they gained expert precision with each trial run. Sometimes the best things in life really are small.
At the beginning of December, the ducks finally noticed the pond in the back yard. Not the turtle pool that I had been filling twice a day for their bathing pleasure, not the small Koi pond the Englishman and I had been digging just for them…the big pond. The pond with a dock and a row boat and their fancy floating duck house. The real pond with room to forage along the banks and tasty bits to pluck from the surface.
A couple of months earlier, I tried to introduce them to the pond. I herded the ducks to the dock and managed to catch two. With a duck under each arm, I trekked to the end of the wooden dock and tossed them unceremoniously into the inky surface. They acted like I had tossed them into acid, flapping their wings and practically flying to the safety of the grass.
Now, the ducks marveled at the wonders the pond had to offer. They swam, they dove, they dunked each other below the surface and they foraged among the lily pads. They would only return to the main house if they were hungry and they avoided the shelter of their own little house I dubbed “Puddle Duck Pub”. Each morning when I let the dogs out, I would call to them with my own version of a duck call. “Ducks!” I would yell and they would quack back to me from their hidden spot in the pond. At night, I would walk down to the pond with my flashlight and play tag with them. I would shine my light to the left and they would swim furiously in a pack to the right. I’m not entirely sure they enjoyed this game as much as I did.
The mild temperatures of our southern winter finally gave way to the bitter, blustery winds of the New Year and the Englishman and I arrived home after work to find the ducks in a small pile of feathers near our driveway. It looked like they couldn’t remember where their house was after weeks of frolicking on the pond. We each grabbed a flashlight and guided them to the warmth of Puddle Duck Pub. I closed the door and listened to their chatter before retreating to the warmth of my own house. I was amused that, even with all those feathers, pampered ducks still get cold and could (partially) navigate their way back home.