As could have been predicted when the puppy arrived, life has become incrementally more challenging.
There is the matter of getting her through the weeks until she will be able to attend doggy day care; there are the culinary controversies over whether I should purchase an “evolutionary” puppy kibble mix, which is non-gluten and features a wolf cub prominently on the bag (while the food itself smells like a horse stall, encouraging bad eating habits that are hard enough to control in goldens); and there is the growing problem of her rapidly increasing size and weight, which makes it more and more treacherous to carry her downstairs on my candlepin knee joints.
She is old enough now – at 14 weeks – to tackle the descent down the stairs, but as Hannibal learned with his elephants during the Second Punic War, it is often easier for an animal to conquer a sharp, even mountainous, incline than accomplish a slippery descent.
And then the puppy broke her foot.
I have no idea how it happened. She simply woke up one Monday morning, hobbling about on three legs. The limping involved in a break – which I have seen before – looks quite different from a pulled muscle: Nothing tentative about even a hairline fracture. No weight at all is put on the limb.
So we were off to the vet almost immediately, after I contacted a colleague who raises Labrador retriever puppies for Guiding Eyes for the Blind in upstate New York. One retriever is much like another in all the important ways, I figure: block-headedness, loyalty, strength and, generally speaking, eagerness to please. So I felt the best recommendation would come from someone who loved these charming, bull-in-a-china-shop canines, too.
I got a recommendation to Edgewood Animal Hospital in Gorham, where veterinarian Jeffrey Milburn fit the puppy into a tight schedule, got her right in for an examination, X-ray and ultimately a splint.
The foot – and leg – will have to be resplinted every seven days for four to six weeks to make sure her digit heals properly, and she is able to walk and run without impediment for the rest of her life.
Within 12 hours the dog had already decided that the splint was a sword or some kind of ancient weapon with which she had been outfitted to bolster her confidence, which was, in fact, enhanced in all matters except tackling stair descent. She tooled around the yard, using her splinted leg like a feeble battering ram, but she clearly had concluded that she was now the bravest dog in the neighborhood.
By Week 2, she had outgrown the first splint, and though an attempt was made to recycle it, the length wasn’t quite right, and it left her feeling uncomfortable enough to spend all night long circling the mattress, throwing herself into a heap, with a sigh, against my side, and finally, standing on my chest and staring at me. At 4 a.m. I patted her head, and said, “C’mon, let’s just get up and get ready to be at the vet’s at 8.” For the few hours until the appointment, she wheeled around clumsily, her fractured foot and splint spinning to the side of her body like a baseball card stuck in the back wheel of a speeding bike.
And then she got it fixed and her world was back on track.
Such unexpected changes in the routine schedule of my life were all a part of the bargain of bringing a puppy into the scheme of things. I’m obviously not getting quite as much sleep, but the rest that comes is attended by the peaceful joy of gazing into the sleepy face of a blissful, innocent little dog. We’ve had our unforeseen tricky moments, like the two occasions when a particularly sentimental Josh Groban song came on the radio, reminding me of the dog I had to have put down this summer, and I burst into tears. The first time the pup sat very still, studying me; the second time she licked my face until I ceased my maudlin ways.
“I wonder if this empty, loneliness of her loss will ever go away?” I thought, missing my old dog and astonished at the raw pain that lingered there, just beneath the surface, right next to the feeling of falling in love with the new, sweet, slightly needy (always a trap) pup in my lap. It occurred to me that my continuing grief, besides being utterly genuine, was a kind of loyalty for me, a way to hold onto the bond with the dog whose physical presence had now departed.
I have concluded that the mourning might ebb a little, but it will not abate completely. It will become a sort of pentimento, memories overlaid by experiences with the new, wonderful dog who has learned how to tear up all the weekly circulars that come in the mail, has discovered that toilet paper and Brawny towels double as banners to be strung through the house, has found her sharp baby teeth are very effective needles, or paring knives – whatever is needed.
As for me, I get to see the world through her eyes, a kind of cross-species empathy that makes every day good news for a change.
I wouldn’t trade that feeling for any other.
North Cairn can be reached at 791-6325 or: