12/12/06 - edited to add photo.
I got a frantic call from Annie at about 4:30 on Thursday afternoon. I could barely understand what she was saying over the sobs and the tears, but something bad had happened to an animal, and she was on her way to the vet.
I dropped everything at the office and raced out the door. I called the vet on the way, unsure if Annie had been able to contact them, or if they'd understood what was going on. They sounded confused, but at least they were aware she was on her way.
Several illegally crossed red lights and thirty minutes later, I careened into the parking lot and found Annie huddled with our friend Jayne, crying in a corner. Our Australian shepherd puppy, Scout, had been found lying unconscious, tongue hanging out and eyes rolled back in his head. He'd been a little out of sorts that morning, but nothing too bad seemed to be wrong with him. Annie gave him some Maalox, checked up on him a few times, then went into town to do some shopping around noon. Some time in the next four hours, poor Scout got very, very sick, and she found him almost dead when she got back home.
It's difficult to explain to people without pets what having an animal get sick is like. You feel guilty comparing it to an ill child, but that's what the feeling is closest to. Something you love, a living creature you have ultimate responsibility for, another being whom you've had in your life and given your heart to, is hurting and all you want to do is to make it better. At least with a sick child (older ones, anyway), they can talk and tell you what hurts. Animals don't have that luxury. You have to guess at what they're feeling, and try to infer what the best thing to do is.
Ultimately I sent Annie back to the ranch to take care of the other animals and I stayed at the vet's office. They were closing, so they got Scout's vital signs as healthy as they could, then bundled him up for me to go to the emergency clinic in Round Rock. I cranked up the heat in the truck since his body temperature had been so low, and petted him for the whole thirty minutes. I've rarely made the trip so quickly before, but at the same time it seemed I was driving in some kind of eternal dreamscape ... there was a light fog on the highway, and the moon gave everything an ethereal kind of glow. I kept the radio off, thinking the quiet would be better for Scout. When I'd pet his head, he'd sigh and that was the only way I knew he'd not already passed away, something the vet warned me was a real possibility.
He was a very, very sick little dog.
I finally got to the emergency clinic and got Scout checked in. The new vet, like our own, was not optimistic. She estimated Scout had a very small chance of making it; dogs who get that sick that fast rarely pull through. But I was convinced he had to have a chance to fight, I had a feeling he was going to pull through and be all right. I signed the papers authorizing treatment up to a certain dollar amount, but because no one knew what exactly was wrong with him, there was no good way to plan. The vet was just guessing, and admitted as much.
I got back in the truck and left for home, exhausted and lonely and heart broken for Scout and Annie both.
I walked in the door around ten o'clock, and Annie was crashed on the bed. Not asleep, but in that numb state you achieve when all the tears your body can hold have been shed and your brain is locked into an endless cycle of recrimination and guilt. "Did we do enough?" "What if we hadn't left that afternoon?" "Was it something we did, did we cause this?" "Could I have done more, tried something different, been home earlier?"
I think humans have the necessary delusion that we are somehow in control of nature, that we can dominate it and bend it to our will. We need to believe that we have power over life and death, that somehow everything is in our grasp to change, to affect, to dominate. We think if we had just known more, done more, tried more, disaster and tragedy could have been averted.
But we're just kidding ourselves, and eventually a Hurricane Katrina or an earthquake or a heart attack or a deathly ill, powerless little puppy in your care slaps us back out of our denial.
And to our heartbreak, that's what happened to Scout. By the time I got home, the emergency vet had called to say he'd gotten even worse in just the half hour I'd been driving, and we had to face the agonizing decision to have him put down. I talked to the vet myself, and she said she wanted to do a necropsy (like an autopsy, but for animals) to try and figure out just what had happened to Scout. No one likes a mystery when death is involved, and we were all frustrated that we didn't know what had taken that little puppy's life. I could hear the tears in her voice when she talked to me -- I imagine vets, like doctors, take this kind of thing very personally. Annie and I talked and held each other until we finally fell asleep, exhausted and lost.
The next day I had a lunch date planned with my father-in-law George in town, so I went ahead to work. I probably should have stayed with Annie to keep her company, but I'm a guy, and guys aren't supposed to be affected by this kind of thing.
I held the lie together pretty well until I mistook north for south on the map to get to the restaurant, and spent 45 minutes driving around trying to find George. I got so frustrated at one point I was literally pounding my steering wheel with my fists, raging at my idiocy. I felt powerless and incompetent, knowing George was waiting for me and not being able to fix it. Just like with Scout. Someone I loved needed me, and I was failing them.
It's silly, of course. I can't control death any more than I can my sense of direction. But logic and reason have no place in the land of emotions. I eventually found the restaurant and had a nice lunch with George. The vet called on my way home and told me they still didn't know what exactly had killed Scout, but that it wasn't a blockage (something stuck in his digestive system) or anti-freeze or Parvo (a deadly dog disease). Their best guess is that he either had a hyper-sensitive immune system and ate something that is completely harmless to most other animals except him (and his litter-mates -- they all have gotten sick from eating random crap too) or that he got a Parvo-like, unidentified virus.
In any event, she said, there was absolutely nothing anyone could have done for him. His red blood cells had attacked his organs and veins, resulting in massive internal bruising. Nothing anyone could have done would have saved him once he got sick.
In a way that helps, at least with the guilt. But it won't bring him back, and it doesn't help the feeling -- devoid of all reason or logic -- that we should have done something anyway. He counted on us, and at some level we let him down. That we were powerless to prevent it matters not a whit.
This is what it means to be a human, cursed with the ability to see the future, but powerless to change it. At least Scout, like all animals, lived solely in the present. Guilt is not their nature.
That sin, thankfully, is ours alone to carry.
Rest in peace, Scout. We're sorry we couldn't do more, but we promise -- you will be missed.
Monday, December 11, 2006
12/12/06 - edited to add photo.