I'm going to be a bit off my game this week. Truth to tell, I was a bit off last week, too.
Many of you probably know how attached we can get to our furry friends—or feathered friends, or whatever. I mean the pets we love.
Mine is a foundling mutt called Lulu. My friend Gabi is a triathlete who trains in a park in Chicago, and about five years ago she noticed, day after day, a feral puppy in the park—limping, with its ribs showing, being shooed away from picknickers and scrounging for edible garbage.
Day after day she tried to entice the puppy to come to her, without success, until she enlisted the help of a man whose dog the puppy seemed attracted to. Gabi says she felt as sense of elation when she got the puppy into the back seat of her car...and then she thought, "now what?"
I won't tell the whole story of how she tried to track down the owner. Suffice to say we suspect him of being a breeder of fighting dogs. Lulu, who had a prodigious ability to jump, escaped from his yard by jumping over the fence. He didn't want her back; all he wanted was money. Once Gabi demanded that he reimburse her for the vet bills—the first thing she did was take the puppy to the vet—she never heard from him again.
Unfortunately, Gabi already had three pets—all cats, the youngest of which was 15 years old. One of them, Spider, was dying of cancer, and not in any mood to have a puppy in the house. (Amazingly, one of the three is still alive, just about to turn twenty.) Three months into the project Gabi made the decision to send out a mass email to her friends asking if anyone would like a good-natured but very intense young mixed-breed terrier.
Meanwhile, I had been telling my son for about three years at that point that yes, someday we would get a puppy.
The opportunity seemed propitious. We suspect Lulu has some pit bull in her, and pit bulls are the demon-dogs of the moment, like German Shepherds (Alsatians) in the 1950s and Dobermans in the 1980s. Every era has its demon breed; actually bad dogs have to be either trained or not trained to be the way they are—there's nothing inherent in any breed that makes it evil. Twenty years from now people won't fear pit bulls any more and there will be a new breed being demonized. But Gabi knew Lulu's personality—she'd been living with her for three months at that point. And the price was right. That was a big consideration for me in 2006.
Despite her part-pit heritage (I don't think it's as much as half, but it's probably a quarter), Lulu is absolutely the best-natured animal I've ever known. She's infinitely tolerant of us and he has never growled or snapped at me or my son—and even people-friendly labs and goldens do that once in a while. Having a terrier has opened my eyes to the felicities of this type of dog—she's dog-centric and not friendly at all to other people, but intensely loyal to her owners, and she's very pack- and dominance-oriented.
She's also smart. I'll give you just one example: when I noticed she tended to get underfoot in the kitchen, I decided to train her to leave the kitchen when I was preparing food. The command was "cooking!" and it meant she was supposed to go to the living room at the kitchen door and lie down. I figured she might get it after a couple of weeks. Well, it took her exactly two days to learn what "cooking" meant...and then, on the fourth day, she surprised me. When I went into the kitchen and started to get ready to cook, she went straight to her position and lay down—without being told. I seldom have to use the "cooking" command any more (although she's not so good for my son, who is not her alpha). All I have to do is start cooking, and she does what she's supposed to.
An athlete's injury
Anyway, to make a long story short, Lulu is hurt and needs an operation. That left hind leg she injured in the park so long ago turned out to have an ACL tear, so she's been subtly favoring it for years—which has put extra stress on her right knee. A couple of weeks ago her left knee blew out completely—she essentially can't put any weight on it at all. This of course puts even more pressure on her right leg. The problem is that to get through the operation for one knee, the dog needs the other leg to be good.
So for the past week she's been confined to the kitchen (everywhere else in the house there are beds or chairs she's used to jumping up on), and my son and I have been taking her outside on the leash and lifting her up and down from the deck so she won't jump. The critical thing is to keep the right knee healthy long enough for her to recuperate from the operation on her left knee.
She goes into the vet for the operation first thing on Wednesday morning, and, very honestly, I would rather be operated on myself. I've been more worried about it than I probably should be. But you have to understand that Lulu is a very intense, strong, and athletic creature—Gabi once saw her leap from a standing position to land on all fours on a dining room table, and I saw her several times do the same thing to the top of the back of a couch—and the possible complications from this surgery can be bad (and expensive). The dog needs a lot of tending in the recovery period—to the point that I'm buying a small back-yard swimming pool in which to do her physical therapy! (You put a life preserver on them and let them swim—it gives the proper range-of-motion exercise without putting stress on the joint.)
Once we get the first leg healed, our options improve considerably. The surgery I've chosen is bulletproof and permanent, and a dog can get by on one good leg as long as it stays good—so if she blows out the other knee she can actually get along pretty well. I have no doubt we'll end up getting the other knee operated on eventually as well, which should be considerably less stressful for us.
I'm anticipating that this week and at least the week following are going to be pretty hard on us, and of course on Lulu. So if I seem a bit preoccupied and perhaps not tending to my duties as usual, now you know why....
"Open Mike" is a series of off-topic writings by Mike that appear usually, but not always, on Sundays.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Jeff Hohner: "Great pic; portrait of a happy terrier.
"The first picture I ever took was of my dog. I was 12 and used the sunny-16 instructions from the box of Plus-X to set the exposure on my mom's old Argus C3.
"The little notebook in which I logged my first rolls of film is long gone, but the first line in it would have looked something like this: 1. Sparky 1/100 f8
"I remember this photograph not just because it was my first, but because at the instant I made that first-ever press of the shutter button Sparky licked his nose. When the prints came back from the store, there was my little furry friend looking up at me with his tongue forever frozen in time. I was hooked and have been chasing the decisive moment ever since.
"Good luck with Lulu's surgery. Your readers' thoughts will be with you."
Featured Comment by John Friar: "Lulu looks remarkably like Sophie, a dog that I was lucky to become briefly acquainted with recently in Bali.
"For the past 6 months, I have been helping the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) in their fight against rabies on the island. I have volunteered some time to help set up a database to manage the vaccination campaign. As a result, I have been fortunate enough to visit Bali twice, most recently in April.
"On my last visit, we found Sophie in a temple parking lot. In some ways she was lucky to have made it that far...female dogs are often discarded in inhumane ways. She was hungry and timid, but not unfriendly. A red collar indicated that she had recently been vaccinated against rabies. There are thousands of dogs in Bali, and many discarded puppies in need of help. They are part of the culture of the island but, because of the recent rabies outbreak, are becoming persecuted and in many cases culled en masse with strychnine darts. (There's a long back story here...the short version is that culling will not control rabies as it lowers herd immunity. The only way is vaccination). It's impossible help all of the dogs. However, Sophie, as she was soon to be named, seemed rather special and deserving.
"How her life changed overnight! Because of a parvo outbreak at the clinic, she spent the next 4 days in my hotel room with access to the idyllic hotel garden overlooking rice paddies. She soon showed herself to be a very friendly, inquisitive, and intelligent dog. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to extend my visit to Bali and needed to find Sophie a home. I would love to bring her to the US but an import/export ban exists for all dogs in Bali. Janice Girardi, the founder of BAWA and crusader for the humane treatment of all animals on Bali, offered to take Sophie until a good home could be found. These photos show the changes in Sophies fortune from parking lot to tropical jungle retreat with canine friends....
"Best wishes to Lulu...from me and all the dogs on Bali!