Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Back-Up Dog

Baxter is sick.

It is probably not his intention to cause me worry and heartache, but I’m worried. I’m heart-ached.

Last week we spent three days in Santa Rosa with my sis, her husband, and the lovely Sabine. Baxter survived the drive – he was eerily quiet in the car, actually; so much so that occasionally Will and I muted the radio to listen for his breathing. He even survived our ill-planned stop in Richmond for sustenance, although he was plainly eager to be on the road again.

While Will and I chatted up my sister and cooed over Sabine, Baxter inspected every inch of their backyard. He burrowed under hedges, rooted through ivy, stared curiously at the goldfish, and then proceeded to drag all of Sabine’s belongings from the deck to the yard. In short, he made a happy fool of himself. It wasn’t until late that night, the adults in bed after laughing ourselves into exhaustion with the New Yorker caption contest game, that he finally relaxed.

Day two included long walks through a hilly Santa Rosa neighborhood, a few sunny hours at Doran Beach and then a lazy afternoon nap. That night I pronounced that Baxter was finally acting like a “real” dog – he wasn’t frantically sniffing or insisting on our attention. He even ignored the allure of Sabine’s diaper and cuddled up, real-dog like, at our feet.

On day three, he wouldn’t eat. This was unusual for Baxter because he’s a beagle, and beagles will eat anything and everything, whenever the opportunity presents itself. Occasionally this means non-edible things like food packaging, but it absolutely means his dog food, served in his doggy dish, at six a.m. sharp. When he finally ate later that day, I chalked it up to the general excitement of new people, the break in routine…

And then on Sunday, back home, he ignored his healthy serving of Beneful. He ate grass instead and threw up, before finally turning to his food. He slept as if were catching up for a lifetime of lost hours. On Monday he seemed fine, if lethargic. On Tuesday, he wouldn’t eat again. “No walk until you eat,” I told him, exhibiting my fine parenting skills. He ate, and once on a leash he went right for the grass again, so he could vomit the food his cruel mother had force fed him.

It was time to call the professionals.

I dropped off Baxter at the vet at nine o’clock, which gave me about forty minutes to make a fifty minute drive in another direction for class. I couldn’t linger for anything more than a “Bye, buddy” – and I was off. I mourned him the whole way. Later that day I was back home with no one to greet me (we have two cats, yes, but for the purpose of this blog there was no one to greet me). I called the vet for a check-up – probably your basic gastroenteritis, but they wanted to keep him over night. I did a load of laundry without worrying that Baxter would snag a sock and run under the bed. There were no toenails clicking on the hardwood, following me from room to room. It was empty-nest syndrome.

“I miss Baxter,” I said, getting in to bed next to Will. I hated to think of him in a cage, too keyed up by the presence of other dogs to get any sleep. I could picture him doped up on anti-nausea medication, pumped full of fluids for his dehydration, letting out the occasional whimper. The evening had assumed a surreal quality – there was no hike through backyard darkness while Baxter gave his last pee of the night. It was too quiet in our room without Baxter settling onto the old quilt and performing his ritual of grunts, moans and snorts. This, then, was what it was like to be dog-less.

Earlier in the week I had been joking about the “heir and a spare” concept – it generally worked for the royals, as it does for most parents today. And apparently it worked for pet-owners – just think of all the happy people who walk more than one dog each night. That’s what I needed just then, a back-up dog.

“You’re not crying, are you?” Will laughed.

“Nnnnhommm,” I mumbled.

“You know he’ll be back tomorrow, right?”

I sighed. It would be a long night until then. “I know.”

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