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For the love of Dog, Chapter 6 | Pamdemonium
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For the love of Dog, Chapter 6

September 23, 2010

An anxious dog is a miserable dog. A miserable dog makes for a miserable household.

Pilgrim’s broken body was healing, slowly, but the damage to his psyche proved much trickier to treat. Three or so weeks after surgery, the whimpering began. Every two hours, 24 hours a day, Pilgrim became inconsolable.

He seemed to need to go outside, so we’d pick him up and carry him out the door and set him down. He’d take a few wobbly steps and pee. He wasn’t drinking any more water and I thought he could have developed a bladder infection. “Does a bladder infection make you pee more often or just make it hurt when you pee?” Shaun asked.

“Yes,” I answered, swallowing the urge to smack him for never having had a urinary tract infection.

A good nurse, I followed Dr. Lisa’s instructions, captured a bit of dog piddle – midstream, thank you very much — and drove the specimen to the vet clinic. The results were negative but Dr. Lisa thought he could still be developing an infection and I went home with another round of antibiotics.

Seven days and 14 pills later, Pilgrim was no better. All day, all night, he cried every two hours. At rehab, the red dog did well though he grew more and more agitated in his kennel between exercise treatments. Dr. Lisa and the staff covered the cage with towels and padded the inside so he would not hurt himself.

She prescribed acepromazine, an anti-anxiety medication that I sorely wanted to gobble myself. So confused after the first dose, Pilgrim stood up and tried to wander around the house. At this point, we had a friend in to help for a few of the overnight shifts so we could get a full night of sleep though Pilgrim, in his stupor, wanted to wander to wherever I was.

The drugs stretched the interval to about three hours and softened the volume of Pilgrim’s whimpering. My whimpering got louder.

We don’t know as much about canine psychology as we do biology. It seems that the dog brain performs this logic: Restricted movement = confinement. Confinement=kennel. Therefore, restricted movement=kennel. Pilgrim was kenneled for eight months before we adopted him, getting out twice a day, and neither Pilgrim nor Shadow do well in cages. The last time we kenneled them was a Christmas holiday vacation years back and Shadow ripped one of her paw pads off trying to get out. We get house and dog sitters.

Patience, Dr. Lisa advised. She called me from her Saturday night emergency shift one weekend and suggested it was time for tough love. I was out in the country, where the bedrooms are carpeted, and that night put Pilgrim in one bedroom and shut the door. I tried to sleep in another bedroom.

The night was long but no worse than the others. During the day, when he went outside, Pilgrim gingerly trotted around the yard, marking as many spots as he could before the well ran dry. For dogs that take walks and wander their yards, inability to mark their territory is another source of anxiety.

Sure, the drugs helped calm him down at night but we used them only at night, breaking them in half to double our brief time with Pam’s little helper. The half-dose knocked Pilgrim out for a few hours without producing the narcotic haze that only confused him.

Night by night Pilgrim lasted longer between anxiety attacks. He did come home from rehab one or two days with specks of the black on his nose rubbed off. I came home from Pilgrim’s rehab one day after spacing out and smacking into the rear-end of a car in front of me, pushing it into vehicle before it in line, an SUV. This unfolded at afternoon rush hour, on Mallory Lane in Brentwood – a very busy suburban thoroughfare – in 100-degree weather.

No people were injured though my pride certainly was. I was en route to pick the dog up, so Pilgrim, blessedly, was not in the car.

Two more installments. Chapter 7: The bottom line. Chapter 8 and final: Lessons learned.

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