A week after my trip to Auburn University’s Small Animal Hospital with my Border Collie, Tommie, I was again on Interstate 65 heading north. This time my three dogs and I spent Valentine’s day getting a diagnosis for Bodie and his continuing problem with blood flowing out of his urine. As I drove near the University I saw two pastures filled with ponies, all under 15.2 hands, a very unusual sight but it put me at ease.
This time my dog was seen by the Internal Medicine department’s vet and student vets. Bodie’s ailment had stumped two vets in the Pensacola area, even after blood work, urinalysis’, x-rays and ultrasounds. Bodie went downhill, he sprang back to life, he ran on my two acres, he jumped over my obedience jumps with joy and energy. Yet he continued to bleed. The Auburn vets and I discussed every option, every possibility. Again, the protocol is to take the dog in the back room for the students and vet to discuss and examine. Then they would call me back for a game plan and the ultimate cost, the bottom line. I didn’t drive up there to flinch at the cost. Without putting on my glasses, I signed the paperwork for tests, tests and more tests. They would need five hours though to review everything and hopefully find the reason for Bodie’s problem.
What would I do for five hours on a beautiful day? It was becoming too warm to leave my two dogs in the van. Tommie was on crate rest still so she couldn’t be walked. However, Razzie was full of energy. It was still cool enough to walk Razz briefly around the University grounds.
As she and I walked behind main building we passed a long row of kennels filled with mature black labs and a few yellow labs, all of whom appeared healthy. What was their story, I wondered?
Eventually we came to the horse and cattle barns. Would someone yell at me for walking a dog near those barns? But the employees were all very nice and happy to see my dog. Every area I saw was immaculate. I counted three old, small pieces of manure on the entire walk. The barns were open, the floors still wet from being hosed and cleaned. I passed one cow barn and noticed the back gates to each individual paddock are metal and then there is a glass door that would be shut after the metal gate was closed. The cattle could still see the world, still have natural light. One cow barn further down the row had overhead fans. At no time did I ever hear cows mooing or horses kicking stall walls. The animals all appeared to be content, their every need cared for. At one point I saw a tall gelding in a metal round pen, alone in the warm sun. He didn’t whinny to me or paw the ground in frustration. He seemed to find me as interesting as I found him. The sunshine was his therapy for the moment. What was his story though?
As I walked by a separate horse admitting barn and arena I again saw pristine floors with no loose hay or manure anywhere. The arena had been raked in such a way that the marks left in the sand reminded me of the Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon. The swirls and circles were another calming influence, if not on the horses, at least to the owners.
With hours still to kill, I drove to a nearby Wendy’s and then returned to the University. I knew right away how to kill hours of time easily. I would sit in one parking lot, open the doors to my van, eat my lunch and watch the horses in the University’s fields. The ponies had been replaced with horses of all colors: a pinto, white horses or gray or bays. All the animals were enjoying the winter grass or were standing at the covered hay bins. I watched the Pinto walk by. He was my favorite, yet he seemed stiff in his hind end, not quite flexing his legs as a healthy horse would. What was his story?
A few minutes later a young girl led a high-strung young colt to another pasture. When she released him the colt didn’t run across the pasture. He bucked from one end to another, his back legs up almost over his back. Within ten minutes he had settled down and was no different from the other horses, head down, eating and walking, eating and walking. The young girl removed another horse from a nearby pasture. But this one saddened me. The horse’s tail was cocked up at the base in an uncomfortable position, its head was down and it walked ever so slowly. Sometimes a blind horse will sniff the ground to “see” but this horse walked one step at a time, its head down but not to the ground, the handler adapting to the horse’s pace, the horse adapting to the handler. What was the horse’s story, I worried?
As the hours passed many if not most dog owners started talking about their dogs’ problems. We became instant neighbors, friends for life as we consoled each other. One by one the vets came out and we saw each other’s dogs. There are an unusual number of older dogs that seek treatment at Auburn, many rescued from shelters, as well as some show dogs, purebreds and numerous mixes of all kinds.
One man sat near me with this Golden Retriever, the dog’s eye missing on one side. The man spoke to no one but I saw him lovingly hug his Gold dog.
At one point an older man came out of the exam room and said to the Golden Retriever’s owner that he had been told his dog had to be euthanized. The quiet man never acknowledged the saddened owner. A few minutes later I went up to the old man as he stood stunned at the bad news. His wife wore heavy sunglasses but never said a word. The husband however, needed to talk. His dog was eleven and a half years old, he said, but his kidneys had finally given out. He asked about my dog and I said mine was having kidney problems but my dog is only 16 months. He said he felt lucky to have had eleven years with his pet and was sad to hear of such a young dog with problems. Later we met outside. His wife got in the front of the car to drive. The man held his beloved little Schnauzer in his arms and sat in the back seat. The dog might have been royalty, held so carefully and lovingly, the man still in shock, emotionless, not crying. You bet, I cried all the way home. This time I knew the story.
It was time for Bodie’s diagnosis, which is to say, his possible diagnosis. They saw an anomaly on his kidneys which may be where the blood is pooling. Or not. He’ll need further testing at yet another University, in either Georgia or Florida. Then the blond, Australian female vet asked me a question that bothered me. She wanted to know “how far” I’d go for Bodie. We had discussed a kidney removal, among other options. I held my breath, remembering last week’s possible decision about Tom. Now I had to decide something equally as horrific. I slowly said I would NOT do a kidney removal on Bodie. I also didn’t want him to be given more antibiotics since there had been no improvement. She agreed with my decisions but, she pressed on. If she made an appointment for Bodie at the Florida University would I follow through. What? Was she making an assessment on me based on my Walmart/Goodwill comfortable clothing, my still swollen and stitched face? I felt a touch of anger but on the drive home I tried to understand why she was so adamant that I do the best for Bodie. She had seen something in me that possibly said poor or loser or who knows what. It still bothers me. Of course, I will pursue all options for my dog’s health.
As I drove home the sun disappeared in the west in a beautiful blaze of orange and reds and yellow. I had made my decision from last week. When it came to life or death decisions about my dogs, I will do whatever gives my dog the best quality of life. Furthermore I won’t make a decision because someone else did it one way or another. I have to make the best decision that will fit MY life too. I have to live with the dog trying to walk with only three legs or one kidney or chemo treatments or who knows what. I appreciate advice but now the decision is firm in my mind. My dogs’ well-being is in my own hands, not in what other’s think should be right for my dog or how much money I should or shouldn’t spend. I have to look at the being next to me every day and know in my heart that I’ve done what is right for both of us.