How Could I Get It So Wrong?

May 25, 2009

Everyone has some fundamental personal values and beliefs; one of mine was that if I had a dog, I’d never abandon it, no matter what. For me, my dogs, husband, kids, and friends all fell in the same category – people I’d never turn my back on, people I’d never give up on (except perhaps in a few very, very exceptional circumstances imaginable, that might, just might, make it justifiable in my reckoning).

Life has a way of teaching you hard lessons, particularly where words like “never” and “justifiable” are concerned.

On Sunday, we took Mishti and Sandy and all the little things we had bought for them and drove them back to CUPA.

Bringing them home in the first place was one of the worst wrong decisions I have ever made. The worst part is, I knew exactly what I was getting in to. I knew house training would be required. I knew they might fall sick. I knew they would have to be walked several times a day. And of course I knew I was already quite busy with the twins. But I thought I had space in my life for a couple of dogs. I was so, so wrong.

There were reasons, of course; or excuses, maybe.

The kids didn’t take to the dogs as easily as I’d thought or hoped they would. Tara was still severely upset every time the dogs approached her. Mrini was much more adventurous and wanted to play with them, but with Tara so upset, and given the closed doors of both bedrooms, the kids ended up spending much of their time closed up in their room, not in the general living-dining area as they had been used to. They were also terribly restricted in their behaviour, venturing out of the safe areas with extreme caution and unable to run around with gay abandon, as they used to. The dogs sniffing at their feet at mealtimes was also terribly upsetting for the, especially as they were trussed up in their high chairs, unable to take quick evasive action. The dogs also had a tendency to make a grab at any toys left within reach, which the kids weren’t, of course, very happy about.

Then, the dogs messing in the house was – if not unexpected – highly frustrating. Sandy was not well enough to expect him to be able to be toilet trained, far less to be able to properly walk him, so I resigned myself to cleaning up his many, many messes (diarrhoea, remember). I hoped that when he got better, he’d learn quickly. Meanwhile, I thought, I’d focus my energies on Mishti. If she learnt, that would halve my cleaning up, and might even prompt Sandy to learn more easily.

For one week, I patiently took Mishti for a walk four or five times a day, starting at 5 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m.! No matter how long I kept her out, or how desperately she needed to “go”, she would wait determinedly till we got back home and then “oblige” (not very obliging at all, if you ask me) happily in her familiar and safe environment. Not even once did she produce any kind of business outdoors. One day, in an attempt to get her to associate “outside” with “business”, I dumped her out the front door when I saw she needed to go. She promptly avoided the newspaper kept there for her convenience, and let go on the neighbours’ doormat! Eeeeeeeeeeeeks! I cleaned it up furtively, and as they were out at the time, I think they never knew about it. But… what if they happened to be home the next time???

It slowly dawned on me that the bits of white in Mishti’s stool were not bits of mucus. This was made particularly clear when I saw one of the white bits stretch what must have been its scrawny neck and raise its ugly white head. Ugh! Worms! I was never lax about cleaning up after the dogs, but the sight of worms made me practically paranoid about it. The twins generally weren’t too keen to get up close and personal with the dogs’ outputs, but you never could tell when they’d accidentally stumble across it. That kind of complication I could do without.

Her disinclination to use the great outdoors for toilet purposes notwithstanding, Mishti was a sweet and obliging dog. She was scared and shy and eager to please. And, apart from the worms, she was healthy. Her coat was a beautiful, sleek, glossy black. But Sandy was a different story.

He would have been a sweet-natured and very playful pup, if only he’d been well. He had diarrhoea when he came to us, and once the vet started him on a course of antibiotics (for what appeared to be a skin infection; I wish now that we’d left it alone), his condition soon deteriorated. By Saturday morning, he had gone two straight days without eating a morsel. He was hardly drinking any water either. I gave up waiting for the vet to come and look and him, and took him, instead, to another vet nearby.

I spent three hours there, and it was terrible. About fifteen-odd years ago, I had seen my dog, Cassie, through an operation to remove kidney stones. I watched her go down under anaesthesia, I held her drip in place as she regained consciousness, and I watched her limp back to normal in the days that followed. A few years before that, I’d watched her get into an accident that scraped a swath of skin off her stomach and I saw her come out of that, too. I helped change her dressings and prevented her from eating her stitches. And some years later, I watched helplessly as Steffi, our cocker spaniel who loved to eat, agonisingly starved herself to death. That was over a decade ago. I haven’t forgotten the pain, the horror. I know how bad it can be.

So the three hours I spent with Sandy at the vet cannot be rated as the worst I have seen dogs come to. He still had some life in him, he still howled his protest. He was tied down on the table and a needle stuck into his foreleg. Over the next hour and a half I watched as, drop by drop, two separate drips were pumped into him. I don’t even know what they were, and can only assume they were glucose and saline. I held his legs and patted him, but I’m not sure he knew who I was. There was an attendant holding his head very firmly. After the initial fuss, he was quiet for a long time, but then the pressure on his bladder built up and eventually he leaked, and then he was miserable. They stuffed cotton wool and newspaper under him, but it wasn’t good enough. Small as he was, trussed up and with the needle in his leg, he hated getting wet with his own urine. It was so sad, so miserable, so pathetic. But it was not the worst I’ve seen.

Once he was off the drip, and he could use the garden as a toilet, he was happier. We waited while some medicines were procured. Several injections were given, I still don’t know what they were. Sandy, meanwhile, provided a stool sample and a sample of vomit. The vet looked at each and shook his head and muttered about the yellow colour indicating a liver involvement. He sent us away with a list of medicines and rehydration advice. I wasn’t sure that he really knew what he was doing – he didn’t seem to have prescribed anything to fix the problem, the medicines seemed to be only symptomatic treatment.

That evening, Sandy was a little better; but by Sunday morning, he was listless again. He refused his breakfast and vomited yellow stuff again. After the visit to the vet, I’d dared to hope he would recover soon, but now it didn’t look likely.

Perhaps more than anything it was this illness of his that took it out of me. I’d had to take him to the vet alone, leaving Amit and the kids at home. And at the vet’s I realised that I just didn’t have the strength for this. I had done this, and more, fifteen years ago, but now I just wasn’t up to it. The sight of this tiny pup, who had been mine for barely a week, lying trussed up on the table with a needle stuck in his leg reduced me almost to tears. The thought of nursing him to health through a potentially prolonged illness, of forcing medicines down his tiny and ungrateful gullet morning, noon, and night, of watching him rise and fall, of saying goodnight and not knowing what the morning would bring, of possibly losing him to some mysterious ailment that caused his hair to fall out in clumps (as it was doing)… it was more than I could handle.

On Saturday evening, I acquired a migraine. I’m not a migraine sort of person. Possibly I’ve had about two or three migraines in my entire life. This one was clearly caused by just one single thought: I can’t give these pups back. In my heart of hearts, I already wanted to. I already knew I couldn’t manage them. But I couldn’t face the thought of giving them back. It was practically treason.

I know that if only I could have waited out the difficult part, things would have got easier. I know the kids would have got used to the dogs and grown to love them and not fear them. I know the dogs would have understood about “outside” (and not on the neighbours’ doormat). I know that both kids and dogs can be given deworming. I hope Sandy would have recovered after a few days. It was just a matter of getting over the bump.

Everyone fails at some point in life. This is not the first time I’ve failed, the first time I’ve admitted defeat and walked away from a situation. But it just feels so bad, because it’s not about me, it’s about the dogs. I took them out of their home and made them mine; and then I abandoned them. That’s lousy.

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