Shepherds are discerning. That is one way to look at her refusal to partake of the mornings offerings. Another would be that she simply finds my culinary skills lacking. That would not surprise me. She is that dog. Assuming that she is playing the odds that I will up the ante on this particular hand, I grab a can of Wingaling and whip it into her bowl of kibble. The metallic pop of the can opening is followed by the odor of baked roadkill stew. It quickly permeates the kitchen with an “aroma” that would usually cause my dog to walk through fire for a mere sniff of the remnants in the bowl after the Lab has eaten his fill. She does not stir. It’s official, I am now freaking out. This is simply not normal.
I attempt to coax her outside for her morning walk. No dice. I try treats, toys, and a smorgasbord of goodies from the refrigerator. No response. I pick up the phone and feel a lump begin to form in my throat. I dial her vet. I am ready to plead for even a thirty-second appointment if they will allow us to squeeze her in. I ask when he can see her today. What does she mean he’s not “in” today? That’s not even possible. Today is the day that my dog needs him. It never occurred to me that this man who I have relied on for everything for the last eleven years just might have a life outside of the veterinary hospital. This was not even a possibility that I considered. “Would you like to see someone else?” the assistant asked again pulling me from the fog of my personal emotional meltdown. No one else could possibly take care of my girl as HER vet always has. This is exactly why we establish these relationships. For emergencies. Now I have an emergency. She cannot stand and will not even eat. Introduce her to a complete stranger today; I cannot do this to her now. “I’m sorry,” I manage to stutter, “No thank you.” I hang up the phone. Now what? In the middle of my personal semi-existential crisis, I failed to take into account that my inability to trust anyone except her vet has left me in somewhat of a conundrum.
I look at my dog who is still lying in the same spot that I found her in this morning. She still has not moved or eaten. I decide I cannot allow this to continue. She is clearly in pain. I can feel it. I am not sure how I will explain this to anyone other than “her vet,” but I have to try. I place a call to Sharon, a colleague and dear friend with whom I have worked closely with at the shelter for the last few years, to see if she is available. My heart soars when she makes room in her schedule for my dog, an animal she has never seen before, for what is not, by any true sense of the word an emergency.
I finally convince my old girl to stand up. It is clear that she is in pain. I cannot tell where she hurts or what she did, but looking at her breaks my heart. She walks gingerly, seeming to favor her rear legs or hips. Perhaps she has injured her spine, as her entire rear end has stiffened. Her movements are strained and lack fluidity. Although 11 years old in June, no one would know that watching her on any other day. She plays like a typical six-year old dog, chasing the Lab through the yard for hours.
I lift her into the backseat of my SUV. Typically, she would leap into the car the moment the door opened at the chance to go for a drive (any drive), but today, she just stood in the open door of the car and whimpered. Her eyes wanted to go, but her body refused to cooperate. We head out. I am driving carefully so that I do not jostle her too much on the way. It is rare that my magnificent dog worries me like this, but today, she has. In the rearview, I catch glimpses of her lying on the backseat. Generally, she would be standing on the armrest between the seats scanning the road like any good co-pilot. The worry gnaws at the pit of my stomach. I cannot understand why she is so hurt or how this could have happened without me knowing about it. I am quite possibly the world’s most anal dog owner. I irritate my entire family with overly technical commands about how to properly care for my dogs, and how not to. They would likely tell anyone who asks I am an overbearing, controlling, Type A freak about the dogs. They might be right. Thank God nobody has asked them.
We finally arrive at Hilltowns Veterinary Clinic, and like when she was only eight weeks old, I have to pick up my dog and lift her out of the car because she cannot or will not jump down. That’s the second time today girl… not cool I think. We shuffle up the walk into the office. Once inside a new place, she starts to relax and starts acting like the girl I know and love, albeit the stiff, elderly version of her. She greats a Chihuahua and her elderly housemate and then acts as if she is the personal welcome wagon for a man coming in to pick up his dog. She has always been the sweetest, most amazingly loveable dog that I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I watch her interact with all of these people and animals and I am in awe of this amazing creature. I love her so much and I have spent the entire day worrying about the mind-numbingly insane number of ridiculous possible ailments my mind has created that could be afflicting my dog.
Sharon calls us in and quickly determines that my dear dog’s puppy like antics are the likely cause of her sudden onset injury. After ruling out Lyme (which we suspected was unlikely, but not impossible, with her vaccine and preventative), a quick laser treatment was given and some anti-inflammatory and pain relieving medication as well as a “Labrador Retriever” restriction were prescribed. My dog not only walked out, but she was much more comfortable than when she walked in, and was even able to climb into the car with some help. Within only three days, she was even trying to tackle the Lab again. Moreover, she is back to walking through fire for anything that smells like roadkill.
Thank you Sharon for being for my baby. Oh, and for keeping me sane at the same time.
Krista Wroldson Miller
Sonsini Animal Shelter