Friday, May 28, 2010
I adore Murray. He's my first horse. He's moved with me from city to city and I've known him for longer than I've known Dave. But Murray can be a difficult companion, aloof and temperamental, distant and untrusting, fickle and frustrating. Muscade on the other hand, well, Muscade is a dog. And like any canine, she offers unconditional love, loyalty and trust. She sleeps in our room, she comes with us on vacation, she's part of the family in a way the horses never can be. She's also getting old, so anytime something goes wrong with her, my heart starts pounding frantically in my chest.
Sunday, May 9
Dave and I check on the horses at around 10:30 pm. Muscade, with her ageing, greying face, comes along to keep us company. As we fill water buckets and toss hay into the stalls, she takes her position at the entrance to the barn. Her back is toward us as she scans the dark driveway for kitty cats, or other nighttime prowlers. None materialize.
We finish-up, and as we make our way back toward the house, Muscade energetically leaps across the lawn and pounces on the green, soccer-sized, half-deflated "jolly ball" that has been hers since the moment we plucked it out of the snow in one of the paddocks-- just days after moving in. It's meant for horses, and is too big for her, but she takes pride in lugging it around all the same.
It's a beautiful night, warm and windless. So, we induldge Muscade by chasing her around the lawn as she darts left and right, trying to keep her ball out of our grasp. A few times, we snatch the ball away from her and fling it across the grass. She takes off in pursuit and sometimes somersaults over it in her exhuberance. It's a vigorous play session, and by the end of it we're all out-of-breath. But it's so good to see our 11 and a half year old golden girl bounding around like a puppy.
Monday May 10
Muscade trots out to the barn with me as usual. It's early afternoon before I notice the first sign that something might be wrong. I'm riding Murray in the ring. Muscade has followed us down. She takes up her usual post on the soft grass between two, young, evergreen trees lining the entrance to the ring. As Murray and I leg-yeild down the quarter-line, I catch sight of Muscade. She hoists her front-end up into a sitting position, then she twists her head around and lays back down. It looks as though she's trying to scratch somewhere that she can't reach. She does this three or four times, then she simply lays down again. It's a hot day and the flies are making their first appearances of the season, so I assume that they're getting under her skin. I make a mental note to check her for ticks later on.
Murray and I are hot and sweaty by the end of our workout. I ride him back up to the barn, but Muscade stays just where she is. That's unusual. Typically she follows close on our heels, but it's a beautiful day so I figure she's just enjoying lounging in the sun.
I un-tack Murray and try to brush some of the sweat from his coat. By the time I'm finished, I see that Muscade has made her way back up and is curled up amdist the bright yellow dandelions in the backyard. I'm ready to grab some lunch, so I call to her as I walk toward the house. She looks at me, but doesn't immediately respond. I call her again. She stands up, then instantly drops back down to the ground again. Perplexed, I walk up to her, calling her name. She doesn't get up. I run my hand across her side and over her ribs. When I reach the point between her ribs and her stifle (her waist I suppose), she winces and whines. That whole area is rock-hard and twitching with pain. My heart does a flip-flop.
My very first thought is that she's been kicked or stepped on. But I know she hasn't been that close to either of the horses. My next thought is bloat. Bloat, similar to colic in horses, can be deadly. She's never had it, but at her age, anything could happen. I dash toward the house to call the vet. Muscade gets up to follow. She takes a few steps, then drops to the ground, a few more steps, then drops to the ground again. Eventually we both make it into the house, and I start flipping through the yellow pages trying to find the vet's number. When I finally dial, they tell me to bring her in right away. It's about a 35 km drive on a winding road, so I tell them I'll be there in half an hour.
Now that I've made the call, I slow down and take a closer look at my dog. She's laying down, but she doesn't look all that bad. She looks at me inquisitively, and then picks up her squeeky toy and starts chewing. If she has bloat, she should be looking much less chipper, also she shouldn't want to eat. I hold a treat in front of her. She noses my hand, and licks at the edges of the marrow-bone sticking out between my closed fingers. Her tail is wagging, her ears are up. She wants to eat it. This doesn't fit. Maybe I overreacted. Maybe there's nothing wrong afterall.
I kneel down for a closer inspection. Her belly itself is not hard and bloated. Her sides, however, are as hard as bricks, and again, she wimpers when I touch them, even lightly. My next guess is that there's something wrong with her kidneys. That seems a moderately better prognosis than bloat, but still very serious. I shove a collar over her head and onto her neck and make tracks for the car.
Again, I start to doubt myself. With the collar on, Muscade is as perky as ever, primed for a walk. She can walk out to the car, she's definitely not lame, but she still lays down the instant she stops moving. She doesn't immediately jump into the car either. She just stares at it as though waiting for an elevator to lift her in. Finally she attempts a jump, but collapses before she can make it. I do my best to hoist her in, but I don't know where to put my hands so that she doesn't hurt. We finally perform the un-graceful maneouver. The moment she's in the car, she lays down, starts panting, and voices the occasional wimper. Now I know I'm not imagining things. Something is definitely wrong.
It's illegal to talk on a cellphone while driving in Nova Scotia. So, as I'm bumping over our pot-holed dirt road, I call Dave, who's at work. He doesn't answer. I leave a message. I need someone to talk my over-active imagination out of it's ever increasing panic, so I call my very good friend KK, the vet-to-be, and my go-to person for all animal advice it helps that her husband is a vet too). She can't give me any answers, but at least she commiserates with me. When I hang up, I can hear Muscade panting in the back, and I start imagining all kinds of horrible scenarios: poisonning, kidney failure. I realize I'm not ready to lose this dog. I'm not ready to say goodbye.
While I'm thinking all this, my cellphone rings. It's Dave. He's worried, but as always, he's calm and un-stressed about it all (he didn't have to see our girl struggle in pain). He's in a meeting. He tells me to call back as soon as I have news from the vet.
The 25 minute drive seems to take forever. It doesn't help that we're in the dairy capital of Nova Scotia, and I'm stuck behind a sputtering farm tractor doing 40 in a 70km/hour zone. Eventually, we hit a straight stretch and I put the gas pedal to the floor and pull my station wagon out to pass it.
It's about 3:30 when we reach the clinic. I park the car and run around to the back. I gently lower Muscade to the ashphalt. She puts her nose to the ground and lifts her tail and starts investigating every whiff of every scent she picks up. She's the picture of health. Ok, this is getting ridiculous. I run my hand down her side, instantly she flinches and sits. No, she may be putting on a brave face, but she's not ok.
The vet turns out to be a kind, middle-aged woman with glasses and salt and pepper hair. She assures me that it's normal for dogs to act as though they're fine when they get to the clinic. It's a combination of the excitement and the instict not to show weakness. She does some checks, proclaims Muscade to be free of bloat, and likely free of any kidney problems. She has me walk her up and down the isle.
"I think", she says, "that she has pulled her lumbar muscles". I think back to the night before, the rough play just before bedtime, the sommersaulting, the sliding stops. She seemed fine in the morning, but perhaps by afternoon, her muscles seized up. I wasn't entirely convinced, but couldn't think of anything else so, Muscade got a shot and a prescription, and I got the bill.
Tuesday, May 11
I wipe the sleep from my eyes and wander dazedly to the barn to feed the horses their breakfast. Muscade watches from her bed. She makes no effort to get up. I finish the chores and begin to dish up my own breakfast. Still, Muscade doesn't get up. After a couple of hours, I coax her up and take her outside for a pee. I manage to get some food into her before she gingerly drops back onto her bed. She seems worse, not better.
At 4pm, it's time for her next does of medication. Within an hour of taking it, she's much more perky. By evening, she's wandering the kitchen in search of crumbs.
Wednesday, May 12
Muscade is almost back to herself. She feels so good that we have to encourage her to take it easy, not to run or play.
Now, almost three weeks later, she runs around as if nothing was ever wrong. I guess it was her lumbar muscles, and I guess they healed pretty well. Now she, Murray and Maggie have all met the vet. Lets hope Ruffles doesn't continue the trend.