Column: Dog days

Two weeks shy of his first birthday, our yellow Lab, Jack, almost killed himself. He’s got a good life: a nice fenced-in backyard in which to roam, plenty of food and water, lots of attention from four kids ready to pet him and sneak him table scraps when I’m not looking. Heck, he even has next-door dog friends that he runs the fence with any chance he can get. So I didn’t understand why he was suddenly giving up the will to live. Frankly, neither did he.

“Jack’s not eating his biscuit,” said one of my children. The kids were gathered round him in a vigil, gently stroking his beautiful fur while the treat lay adjacent to his mouth. For a dog that lived and died for such biscuits, something was definitely wrong.

“He’s got an obstruction in his abdomen,” said the veterinarian at the animal hospital. “It has made him extremely dehydrated. We need to do exploratory surgery immediately.” Jack would need to stay in the hospital for three days on an IV.


Don’t get me wrong. I love our dog. Love. And my family loves our dog. But exploratory dog surgery and recovery costs haven’t been factored into the family budget. Nevertheless, I get a feeling that few people bring their dogs to a vet, find out the results are complicated and expensive, then—unlike in decades past—come back with “Nah, doc, we’re good. Just let the dog go. Kids will have to deal with it. Learn about life the hard way.”

No, this is the modern age. Animals are beloved. Sometimes loved more than family members. Completely normal-looking people are carrying petite dogs around in purses or pushing dog-friendly strollers. The pups are primped and pampered. Dog parks give them a chance to run. Have a doggy “play date” if you will. Canines are rescued, cleaned and adopted. Dogs can have knee replacement surgery, cancer treatment, and—I’m just speculating—dog therapy if they are feeling down. In Baton Rouge, they have their own parade, for crying out loud. So it was a no-brainer. Jack was going under the knife.

The culprit was a plastic ball, about the size of a golf ball, lodged into his intestines. It was removed, he stayed in the hospital over the weekend, and then he developed an infection on the outer incision site. On day four, the vet had to reopen Jack, put a drainage tube in, and then keep him an additional four days and nights for observation.

The bill? Don’t ask.

The family was miserable. We missed him so much. And when he got home, we had to coddle him because his incision was compared to that of a woman recovering from a C-section. Let me be frank: I recovered from a C-section. In the week following my procedure, I didn’t try to sprint across the backyard or pick my stitches out with my teeth. It’s hard work trying to keep a young dog down.

But Jack made a full recovery, and he’s back to his old ways. Which means he’s gnawing and chewing everything in sight. He has ripped up pillows to my outdoor furniture, chewed pencils left on the table after homework and, according to my 8-year-old, eaten the remainder of a fried chicken dinner put next to the sink for disposal. “I heard him crunching the bones,” my son said. Great. I’m waiting for the results of that one.

Until then, I’m trying to keep small objects out of reach, and I’m stocking up on dog-friendly chew bones. For the long-term, I’m opening a doggie savings account with Jack’s name on it.