Written by Randy Hale. Originally posted in December 2013.
Our Dog Stops Eating the Day Before Thanksgiving
The day before Thanksgiving I wake up late. Deliciously late. I have nothing to do today. I’m on vacation.
We arrived on Orcas Island the day before, in time to unpack the car and take the dogs for a hike before dark. We did the usual – around the lake, and across the field.
Miguel ran ahead, all business, scouting the trail for us, while Dylan trotted along, dropping his ball at our feet every few yards, elated, grinning, eyes shining, tail wagging, begging us to please just “throw it!”
The lake was icing up so Dylan skipped his usual swim, but he still did his joyful dance, bobbing and weaving, faking and laughing, celebrating having all his favorite things in one place: mom, dad, Miguel, ball, Orcas Island.
The next day I get up, get my coffee, and amble in to see Robert in his usual spot with his computer on the couch, Dylan at his side. As I bend down to kiss him good morning the day goes bad.
“There’s something wrong with Dylan,” he says, but it doesn’t register. A joke? Not funny — at all. Then he says, “Dylan didn’t eat.”
My heart stops.
Dylan is a lab. Never in his entire life has he not eaten. Not even after surgery.
Dylan gives me a feeble wag. His nose is a faucet — big drops hit the floor — his cough is deep and wet. Robert says he hasn’t been off the couch – no morning greeting, no eating, no peeing.
He’s 12 years old. A decent run for a lab, I know. But not nearly long enough for me.
My heart is breaking.
He is my joy, my boy, my baby. I bury my face in his neck and chant our love song, “brown dog, brown dog, brown dog.”
We agree that we need to get him to the vet ASAP. I long for home, not this island vet we’ve seen once in 10 years.
I call. Nothing till 2pm, and they’re worried about him being contagious. I try to keep my voice level as I tell them he lives with another dog who is fine – I don’t think it’s a problem. 2:00 is the soonest. Fine. We’ll be there.
The day is long. We never leave Dylan alone. Miguel gets walked, but he doesn’t eat.
Solidarity? Fear? I don’t know, but I comfort him. I sneak away and cry alone. Robert and I are careful with each other. Afraid we’ll break.
At 1:30 we move toward the car. Miguel comes too, so he won’t worry, alone in the house. As I lock up I glance outside and see Robert, carrying Dylan, limp and docile, cradled in both arms — our 75 pound lab held before him like an offering — down the path to the car, Miguel walking quietly at his side.
I stand frozen, and then, leaving the lights blazing, I slam the door, and race for the car.
At the vet, I run interference to make sure a room is ready to spare Dylan having to be carried to the waiting room and then picked up again to go to an exam room. I don’t know if he’s in pain, but he won’t be if I can help it.
The people are nice. They work hard to contact Seattle for Dylan’s records. The vet enters, smiles kindly at us and greets Dylan with, “Hello, old dog”, as he lifts his chin gently in his hand.
They look into each others eyes and Dylan seems to agree to allow this man to examine him.
His temperature is 104. I foolishly ask and the vet answers that normal dog temperature is 101 – 102.
“We don’t see many at 104,” he says. I ignore the remark, thinking, “Well, you’ve got one now. Fix him.”
I always go to the snarky side when I’m afraid. And I surely am now.
Medicine for a Brown Dog
He gives Dylan a shot in the hip – big medicine for a brown dog. Dylan barely turns to look. And then pills – antibiotics to fight infection.
Plus some extra yummy, high calorie food, to make him want to eat, or at least to take his pills.
We decide not to do a blood test since the next day was Thanksgiving and the results wouldn’t be in till Friday, and it will probably only showing elevated white cells due to the fever. And why stick the poor dog anymore?
The vet makes sure to tell us he’s on call tomorrow, and they are open again on Friday. I am simultaneously thankful for the information and terrified that he feels the need to tell us so explicitly.
We reverse our trip, Robert again carrying Dylan. Miguel has waited patiently in the car – not his usual MO, but much appreciated. I pet him.
I don’t know who to comfort first – Dylan, Miguel, Robert, or me.
Home again. Robert gently lifts Dylan back onto his place on the couch. We try to entice him with the smelly good food.
We wrap a pill in his favorite – the coveted cheese ball.
Nothing. His jaws remain firmly clamped shut.
Robert finally forces his mouth open and we toss the cheese pill deep into his throat, massaging till it goes down, holding his mouth closed, all the while feeling mean and torturous.
We sigh with relief.
The ordeal over, we pet him and cover him with kisses. He succumbs, but I can tell he just wants to sleep. I reluctantly slink away and turn to mush.
Mercifully, we have a house guest who is understanding and supportive. It’s a relief to focus on someone else for a while. I drink red wine with dinner and relax a bit.
Robert puts a picture of Dylan on Facebook with a notation saying, “ I have a sick, old dog. Please keep him in your thoughts.”
And people do.
The response is enormous – hundreds of “likes” and comments wishing Dylan good health, love, long life, and prayers come through the internet. And though I am a face to face kind of person, reading them makes me feel better.
I am touched beyond belief.
Robert sleeps on the couch downstairs so in case Dylan needs us he’s right there. I worry upstairs that he won’t wake up, but Miguel, sleeping in his bed on the floor next to me, wakes up 3 times and goes downstairs – and each time I follow.
Twice Robert is awake and with Dylan. Once he’s snoring as I pass silently and snuggle Dylan myself. Miguel and I go back upstairs where I cry into my pillow.
In the morning — a Thanksgiving miracle: Dylan stumbles outside on shaky legs, but under his own power. He eats, slower than usual, but still, he eats!
He spends the day on the couch, but his cough is less labored and his nose has stopped running. And he improves almost hourly and I fawn all over him and talk about him incessantly.
He also began to hang out in the kitchen and eat carrots, one of his favorite treats:
That night I sleep downstairs on the couch and only wake up twice to pet my boy as he sleepily acknowledges me.
We return to Seattle and immediately see our own vet who knows Dylan well. By now Dylan is walking on his own, eating voraciously again, but still coughing with any activity.
They ask me to wait about an hour while he has x-rays and blood drawn. I go for coffee nearby, walk around a bit, but ultimately end up sitting in the vet’s office.
I feel better there.
Preliminary results are cause for celebration: uncomplicated pneumonia, treatable with antibiotics. The vet, who has an old brown lab himself, and who once put my favorite cat to sleep, hugs me, beaming as he delivers the news.
Back in the car, I hug Dylan and give him a treat. I feel like I’ve just gotten a reprieve.
And I give thanks.
Randy Hale lives in Seattle with her husband, two dogs, and two cats. She has a rich and varied resume that includes hotels, computers, oncology social work, merchandising, sales, acting, and writing.