Mom starts sobbing when I call to tell her that Blue, the not-so-small Newfoundland she’d held in her lap as a tiny puppy, is very ill. The first born of Bella’s eight-member brood, Blue is not quite a year old.
Our veterinarian can’t figure out what is wrong. Blue continues to have trouble breathing and his rear hind leg is swollen and infected. Although exhausted, he sits up and tries to expand his lung capacity. Cancer, pneumonia, sepsis, fungal infection, and rattlesnake bite are among the suggested, and scary, diagnoses. I reassure Mom, trying to convince both of us Blue will be okay.
Amy, the hard-working local veterinary, phones me early the next morning. Blue survived the night, but he needs a chest tube and other specialized services of a veterinary teaching hospital. Soon, Blue, Bella, and I drive the length of the Massachusetts Turnpike and arrive at Tufts. Blue is immediately admitted; Bella and I join the worried pet owners in the waiting room. Bella, believing she is adorable and adored by everyone, wags her tail, sniffs a crated cat, licks a toddler in a stroller, and basks in compliments about her giant size and luxurious black coat. We wait.
So many marvelous smells and so many nice people in one room! I love the commotion and feel like a rock star. Every few minutes, people approach a big box in the corner of the room and push a few buttons. Suddenly, there’s a loud noise and out pops a bag of chips, granola bar, or candy bar. I stare and stare, trying to understand this miracle. I wish I had human hands!
Katie and I trot behind a nice lady into another room full of sick dogs and chemical smells. Blue is asleep on a soft blanket with a fan blowing at his face. It looks so comfortable – I want to join him for a snooze. We touch noses and I wag my tail. I try to reassure both of us that Blue will be okay.
As Bella pulls me towards the car after our hospital visit, I recall an oft-quoted line by Animal Behaviorist James Serpell — “An invisible cord connects a dog with its owner.” Indeed, dogs are family members; 50 percent of dogs sleep in bed with their owners; a pet is more likely to reduce stress than a spouse; and a ‘shockingly high’ number of people claim they would save their pet before they would save another human being in certain life threatening situations. A recent study confirms what every dog owner already knows — dogs treat their owners like their mothers: they show less anxiety when their owners are present and greet owners with puppy-like behaviors.
It’s a dreary, drizzly Mother’s Day, but I feel sunny and bright. Blue can come home tomorrow! I call Mom to tell her and wish her a good day. Our conversation is like touching noses or wagging tails, reassuring and renewing.
(Bella and Katie are co-authors of a book about raising Blue and his littermates, while Katie teaches a Writing About Animals course at the Sarah Lawrence Writing Institute. For details, see Bella’s Blog at katielangedolan.tumblr.com/ or contact Katie at firstname.lastname@example.org)