Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Dog Days Aren't Over *

     My relationship with dogs as a child could best be described as "mildly traumatic."  I was given a beagle as a birthday gift when I was hardly old enough to remember it, but the pictures tell me it did happen.  The reason I don't remember Scrappers (he ate scraps from the table!) is because his all-night barking from his doghouse bothered our neighbors.  Though we lived on an acre of wooded land, my childhood home was on a main stretch of road where cars never drove slower than 55.  We couldn't let him roam, and so we gave him to a farmer who could.  My brothers and I were upset, but we hand't had much time to form a bond with him prior to his departure.  We had indoor cats, and that was fine with me.  My pet quota was met.  Particularly after I was attacked by a stray dog on the playground in fourth grade.
     The mutt came tearing at me, having somehow made it inside the playground fence, and recess suddenly became a race for a safe place instead of a leisurely game of basketball.  While I could have climbed the monkey bars or tried to run inside the building, in my panic I attempted to scale the fence.  While hanging on a few feet above the ground, the dog sunk its teeth into my leg, getting mostly my pants, but breaking the flesh a bit too.  I screamed and, in my mind, all of the people around me, including the playground supervisors, just watched.  In reality, I'm sure someone did something.  I explained the whole scenario to the principal as the school nurse treated my leg, and I later had it examined at the local doctor's office.  That about did it for me and dogs.  I was always very nervous around dogs of any size after that, but once I married my wife, who was also raised without dogs (and  only outdoor cats, since she is allergic to them) we agreed that before having children, we wanted to get a dog.

     This being our first dog and one we planned to have around once we had children, we researched breeds like we were taking the dog bar exam or something.  My childhood fears lingered enough that I wanted to get a small breed, so we narrowed our search.  Although it would have been advantageous to my health, we also ruled out dogs that liked long walks or were extremely active.   We live in a lovely neighborhood for walking, but don't have large yard.  Therefore, any animal that required a lot of exercise would become my wife's sole responsibility in times when I was not feeling up to it.  Our short list included yorkies, pommeranians, and pugs.  One read through Pugs for Dummies later and we were convinced that we'd found the type of dog for us.  

     One thing about this breed is that they can have respiratory issues, so before buying one, we asked my doctor about it.  It turned out to be a bit of a silly question, because pugs with breathing problems have them because their faces are so flat, not because they are carrying infections.  My doctor said that there was nothing about owning a dog that raised any significant concerns in regards to CF, and soon we found a breeder and brought home our 12 week old pug, Vito Corleone Green.  We tried to leave without him, but he made us an offer we couldn't refuse.
Vito doing his all-time favorite thing...

     Our first three years with Vito went by without any notable stories beyond the standard "puppy ruins item of value" fare that all new dog owners have.  But in 2009, when he got into our trash after a cook-out, we realized there was something very wrong with him, beyond the "garbage gut" he'd experienced once or twice before.  Being a dog that would eat himself to the bottom of a 40lb. bag of kibble if allowed to do so, he just couldn't stop himself from eating that corncob.  The vet showed us the x-ray and we saw that our dog's life hung in the balance.  Was there even a question of what course of action we would take?  They asked, of course, but we didn't hesitate in okaying the expensive procedure.  Thank goodness for credit cards... $3000 and one long scar later, Vito was back home with us.  It took this drastic situation for me to realize how truly close I'd come to this animal, proving to me what scientists have identified to be a unique connection between humans and dogs.  

     A few years ago, as my health was declining and I was having a difficult time getting back up to what I felt was an acceptable baseline, I asked my doctor again if my dog could have anything to do with it.  He assured me that it did not, but these are the sort of straws one grasps at when no amount of adherence to doctor's orders seems to be doing the trick.  The plus side was that Vito could still offer me all the same cuddles and affection that he always had.

     Post-transplant, I had concerns that were a little more legitimate this time.  We had him stay with friends for the first two weeks after I returned home from the surgery, since he can't help but want to lay all over me when I sit on the couch.  I didn't need a 30lb. dog on my chest a month after it'd been split open and sewn together.  Additionally, I had heard of a CFer getting kennel cough after he had a transplant.  My new pulmonologist said, in general, I'm not at risk of anything, but not to let him lick my face.  Though I never made it a habit of letting him do that, I nuzzle him much less and sanitize my hands a lot more, especially now that he's spending more time in the back yard as the weather improves.  

     What prompted me to write this entry is that Vito was lying next to me a minute ago and rolled over onto me and the laptop, covering us both with an insane amount of white fur that he's been shedding excessively for the past several weeks.  I am so glad that I moved past my fears and am raising my son with a dog.  I'm so grateful that none of my health issues have kept me from enjoying the company of man's best friend.  And I'm really excited that this keyboard looks like Santa's sink after he shaves.  The things we put up with for the animals we love... 

* Interesting side-note: the song that inspired the title of this post by Florence and the Machine happens to be from the album Lungs, which I didn't realize until it just came up on my Spotify playlist.  You can hear it here.


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