Around noon yesterday, Barb and I took our dog Abbey to an animal hospital. If you’re a regular reader here, you know our eight-year-old dog has been hobbled for nearly a year by weak back legs, which our vet initially diagnosed as hip dysplasia. That seemed to make sense — Abbey’s a big dog, and she’s got a lot of German Shepherd in her, a breed prone to developing dysplasia.
But what concerned us was how quickly her condition deteriorated. At first, she would swing her rear left leg in this funny, wide cowboy swagger as she walked. Then she stopped being able to walk up and downstairs. Next, she started having difficulty getting to her feet or walking on tile, prompting us to throw rugs down on our tile and wood floors so she could walk from room to room. Eventually she settled into living in one room in the house — but she’s such a social dog that being by herself for too long was more than she could handle. Once the lights went out at night, she started barking from her bed –just one or two loud, clipped barks every few minutes — until someone came back downstairs to sleep on the couch nearby. Now she can barely use her back legs — she hobbles around gamely for a while, then falls to her haunches as her rear legs buckle. It’s heartbreaking.
Our vet, then, referred us to a neurologist. So yesterday, Barb and I spent the better part of the day at an impressive animal hospital that occupies an abandoned and revamped CompUSA building. We walked Abbey into a back room — using an old towel as a sling to support her rear end as she walked — where the doctor crawled around on the floor with her, poking, prodding, listening and looking. He then ordered that she be taken in for x-rays and an MRI, which would likely take several hours.
We spent the next few hours getting to know the other pets and pet owners in the waiting area, listening to each other tell stories and sharing that unique bond that pet owners — especially pet owners in duress — seem to have. There were some happy moments — an injured black lab named Bo sulked in, tail down, humiliated in a muzzle and Victorian collar, and emerged thirty minutes later, stitched and happy. There was Ollie, the biggest black cat I’ve ever seen, mrowing happily from his crate as a nurse waggled her fingers at him as she sent him home.
There were plenty of nervous patients, too. There was the white dog who cowered beneath my legs when the doctor came out to retrieve him (“That man doesn’t know you, so don’t look for help there,” his owner said, wagging a finger at the wide-eyed dog) and the terrier who nervously left a trail of poop behind him as he walked from the front door to the reception desk. There was the old pug with a cataract who wandered the waiting area, looking intently under every chair for . . . something.
And there were some heartbreaking moments as well. A young woman rushed in with a wheezing Boston terrier, flailing with a seizure. A nurse ran over, scooped him up and disappeared into the back, leaving the woman sobbing in a chair. Later, we watched as a middle-aged couple staggered out of a back room, the woman stone-faced and her husband — an enormous mountain of a man — red-eyed and tight-lipped, choking back tears. “I’m so sorry,” a young nurse told them as they paid their bill.
Our story doesn’t have an ending yet. Abbey’s home, and we’re waiting for test results. I’m hoping to write a happy ending. Stay tuned.