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Dog Whispering

Just in the midst of a lumber through the living room, Lillian gets sugar-foot. Some sort of ticklish delight grazes the bottom of her paws and her shuffle becomes a prance which bounces her to the window to look out or to the front door where she sits, bright-eyed, wagging and waiting. She is a 96-pound version of Snoopy doing his happy dance. These inexplicably joyous outbursts last a few seconds or a few minutes, entertaining yet puzzling me. What is it that sweeps her, in the middle of a regular ol’ dog day, into a “raindrops on roses” musical moment? I have come to believe it is the spirit of her sister.

Six months ago Delilah died.

Two months ago we almost lost Lillian.

It was a Sunday evening and Jon and I were watching bits of Saturday Night Live and Bowen Yang was being uncharacteristically unfunny. I’d just fed Lilly and she was snuggled between us but couldn’t seem to get comfortable. She got up then down then paced and whined. I walked outside with her and she crawled under bushes, roamed, and tried to vomit. I felt her belly. It was hard and distended. As a big dog mom for many years, I had always been vigilant. I had a notion of what was happening and it was about to accelerate. We had an hour, maybe two. Lillian and I crawled into the back of the Explorer with a blanket and her bed. Jon took the wheel and careened the car toward the Anne Arundel Emergency Veterinary Clinic. I tried to clutch Lilly in the dark while explaining her symptoms into the glow of my phone. She was in so much pain. The car lurched and rocked as Jon challenged proper speed limits to shave some time of the 45-minute drive. The vet tech said, in a much-too-calm tone to match my own, that he’d meet us in the parking lot. In the front of my brain, I wanted to scream to Jon, “Stop the swerving! Stop the bouncing!” I also wanted to scream, “Go faster!” In the back of my brain, I was thinking I’m not ready. Delilah, you may not have her yet.

We pull into the lot like Doc driving the DeLorean Time Machine back from the future. We gently lift Lilly out of the back. The tech took her immediately through wide wooden double doors – and she was gone.

It wasn’t long before the veterinarian confirmed my grim diagnosis: she had gastric dilatation-volvulus. Her stomach, due to gas or food or fluid, had twisted, cutting off the blood supply to other organs. There were two options—immediate euthanasia or surgery, with no certainty of success. Even if the vet could untwist her insides, her heart could give out in the process. We opted for the intervention.

Around midnight the attending vet appeared nearly giddy with good news. She’d had the best outcome possible. Lillian’s stomach had righted itself as soon as the gas was dispelled. There would be recovery time, but she’d be released in a day or two, good as new. We went home buoyed. I swirled into bed like I was being sucked down a drain.

But the next morning the vet called to say she’d developed an arrythmia, was attached to an EKG and had to be kept still. She wouldn’t eat. We couldn’t visit for fear of dangerously raising her heart rate.

I pondered a dogless life. That horrible silence.

Lillian, wearing the latest in fashionable heart monitoring paraphernalia.

Two days passed before the arrhythmia disappeared. She was cleared to come home. For a couple of days she slept, conked out on codeine, occasionally nibbling soft bits of food. It only took a few days for her to show noticeable signs of recovery. But then she seemed to backslide. The codeine was causing her to lose control of her bladder, which in turn caused a UTI, severe enough to again wreck her appetite. She lost whatever energy she’d begun to regain. Our regular vet was out of town. There would be a 16-18 hour wait at AAEVC. Jon and I hunkered down in sleeping bags in the living room for what would be a very long night.

Showing off her shaved and bruised belly

At 7:30 the next morning the three of us were standing in the lobby of another so-called emergency vet clinic, this one in Calvert County. I stood, leash and urine sample in hand, gaping, as the receptionist told me it would be a week before anyone there could tend to my very sick, bruised, stitched and suffering dog.

I’ll spare you the details of my very bad, somewhat hysterical reaction. Jon managed a calmer head and while I sat in the car sobbing, he talked the vet into a test and an antibiotic. We headed home.

It was Superbowl Sunday. Lilly and I curled up in front of the television, she comatose while I stared catatonically at the puppy bowl. We all licked our wounds for a few days and slowly, she came around. About two weeks later we began easing back into our regular two-mile dog walks. But Lillian struggled to finish. I resolved that my forever puppy had finally aged. It all, as my Bostonian friend, Joanne says, “took the stuffing out of her.” She would be my “old girl.” I was just grateful she’d lived.

Then one bright morning, sugar feet struck. Lillian raced to the front door, then to the back, up the stairs and down. She was young again, silly, smiling at the sunshine, batting at the air, the atmosphere, the cosmos.

Ah, Delilah. She’d let me win. But she’s never leaving her sister alone.

Keeping an ear to the ground, awaiting signs of her sister.

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