My husband is clutching our ten-year- old Schnoodle protectively. Shasta wriggles to get down, oblivious to the heated discussion about her future, while Bob looks at me as though I am the grim reaper. “What about me? Would you have me put down if I needed surgery?”
“It depends. Are you peeing on the carpet?” I dump a half-cup of prescription dog food into a bowl and Shasta leaps from his arms to dance in front of me as I place it on the floor.
“Not yet, but give me time.”
“She’s a dog,” I remind him. She looks up, crunching noisily on her food. “And we agreed that we wouldn’t go through this again. It’s only been ten months since the last surgery.”
“But look at her,” he says with that “isn’t she sweet?” tone. We watch in silence as the dog inhales her food and shamelessly burps. Her brown eyes flit back and forth between us as she tries to figure out why we are hovering over her. “She’s still relatively young,” he points out. “And healthy.”
“Hardly.” She is on her second round of bladder stones in less than a year. They are nasty little things with sharp points that cause blood in the urine and frequent urination, much of it on our hall carpet. “She’s like a used car,” I sigh, turning to load the dishwasher. “At what point do you say that the repairs are a bad investment and just go and buy a newer model?”
“You’re comparing our dog to a car?” he asks, appalled at my apparent lack of compassion.
But she was only supposed to stay a few weeks! I can’t help it. I was raised in a household where pets were loved, but never at the expense of the family. If the cat needed spaying and my sister needed shoes, the shoes came first (hence the two litters of kittens). If the dog had bad breath, we stopped putting our noses quite so close to her mouth. Dental work was hard enough to afford for three kids, never mind the stray hound that adopted us.
Now here we are with Shasta, the little white dog we agreed to watch for just a few weeks, the one who has been with us for five years. As much as I have never favoured small dogs, I have to admit that she is feisty, energetic, and fun loving. She bounds through the woods after deer as though she is a hound, and walks with us for miles, just like Maggie used to. Maggie was a real dog, a Lab/Border Collie we had for twelve years until her hips finally gave out. Maggie was my dog. She would never have peed on the carpet.
So much for the trip to Antigua My mind has done a quick calculation. Exam and x-rays - $93. Surgery - $1000. Urinalysis every three months - $35 a sample. Special dog food - $70 a bag. Never mind her regular checkups, dog-sitting costs, grooming, and carpet replacement.
“We can’t afford to go through this every year,” I sigh. “Small dogs live a long time. She’ll end up costing us over $10,000 soon. Do you have $10,000?” I know he doesn’t. He has just bought a new plasma television.
“I just bought a new plasma television.”
“Exactly!” I crow.
“But that’s the point. If we can afford to buy a new TV, and build a new deck, and go out for dinner Friday night, how can we say we can’t afford to have the dog operated on?” Shasta wags her stubby tail. “Ready for your walk?” Bob asks her. She barks and runs full tilt to the back door. Even though she is in pain, she’s too excited about a walk to remember.
“I’ll walk her,” I offer, closing the dishwasher.
“Yeah.” I walk down the hall to the back door and pull on my shoes as Shasta barks at me demandingly. “Stop barking,” I tell her sternly. She sits. I look at her tiny face and see her quivering in eager anticipation of her third walk of the day. Sighing, I call down the hall. “Go ahead and book the surgery.”
“Okay,” he shouts back. He was probably already on the phone.
Later that night as we are lying in bed, Shasta’s small body curled in the crook of my knees, I rub her curly fur. “I could never have done it,” I admit.
“I know,” Bob answers in the dark. Shasta sighs and presses closer to me.