There is a terrible feeling that accompanies the knowledge that you have failed your best friend. It’s a deep, sickening shame that leaves you barely able to think about anything else. The feeling of powerlessness is overwhelming, and you genuinely think that you are probably the biggest, most hopeless failure on the planet. Then, you get this gut wrenching feeling of guilt mixed with the warmth of love as you realize that she’s put her head in your lap because she knows you need her… again.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this before on the blog, but the people around me know it pretty well. Abbey, my 9 (almost 10) year old Golden Retriever is basically the reason I’m still alive. For the last 6 years she has been my constant companion. Dogs are funny creatures. On one hand, if you’re not a hunter or a farmer or something like that, they’re pretty much useless in a practical sense. They eat a lot of food, which basically doubles my personal grocery bill. Golden Retrievers are capable of shedding somewhere around fifty times their own body weight in fur an hour. Her entire life is basically sitting round waiting to poop, pee, or slober on something. Oh, and be petted. She lives to be petted.
On the other hand, despite her extreme lack of practical function, this dog, Abbey, is probably the most important thing in my life.
During my depression, there was no lack of love pouring out of this dog. She was content to sit next (on top) of me and just be there. As long as I was home, she didn’t leave my side. She just waited patiently. When I was okay, she’d lay nearby, dosing contentedly. When I wasn’t, she’d put her head in my lap, or more often, smash her face against my hands and force me to pet her, even if it was against my will. I have it on good authority (mostly as an anecdote told by my ex-wife) that she also has literally saved my life by nudging me when I stop breathing at night. Yeah, I have undiagnosed sleep apnea, and, my dog will knock me around to get me to start breathing again.
What I’m saying is, whether it’s true or not that my dumb dog has enough brain power to nudge me back into breathing at night, or not, she was this source of unconditional love, support and responsibility. Yes, there is something to be said about having a life dependent on your own as being part of a motivation to keep putting one foot in front even when all you really want to do is just lay down and let the world pass you by. She’s the reason that instead of giving up on everything and fading into the background, I keep getting up in the morning and going to work.
I don’t think it is an exaggeration at all to say that without my dog, I’d have either died or killed myself a long time ago.
Now, Miss Abbey is sick. She’s been hobbling for a few weeks, and last week I took her to the vet. She got x-rays and butt thermometered, and the next day they called to tell me there was nothing to worry about. What was initially thought to be a broken toe turned out to be a soft-tissue injury. I was told to give her the rest of her dog drugs, keep her from getting too excited if I could, and come back for a follow up this week, just to make sure she was doing okay. The entire vet visit drained all of the spare money I had (and then some), but it was worth it because the doggy drugs had my old friend bebopping like a puppy again.
Last night, we went for her follow up. She ran out of medication on Saturday (they only gave me a 5 day supply because veterinarians are monsters at heart), and had been limping again all week. I wasn’t too worried about her because they told me not to be. She was limping, and obviously in pain, but other than that she didn’t seem to be in too bad of shape, if you catch my meaning. She was like a person with a sprained ankle. It’s inconvenient, and if you move it wrong it hurts, but for the most part you can lie on the loveseat and get your belly rubbed, maybe even score an extra treat or two with a well timed double limp. You know, whenever your boy happens to be near the treat bag.
The point is, that even though she was limping and in obvious pain, it wasn’t in her eyes. She looked excited and happy, just… well… bouncy since she was hopping instead of running.
When we got to the clinic last night, though, I noticed something different about her, and pointed it out to the vet right away. Her entire leg was swollen and her eyes seemed bloodshot and tired all of a sudden. She didn’t see her vet. Her vet was on vacation this week, so she saw the back up. The vet checked her leg, and announced some sort of medical term that sounded like, “Her leg is basically a horrible mess of pain and you’re a bad dog owner,” in my ears.
Then she found a scab in Abbey’s armpit.
Then she checked all of the Abmonster’s lymph nodes, and shook her head solemnly.
“I’d like to do a biopsy on her lymph node and a complete blood workup. This could be really bad, and it’ll be hard to do.”
“Okay,” I mumbled. All I really heard was ‘She’s got dog cancer and I’m going to have to cut off her leg.’ This was probably because as we were coming in, we were greeted by a very friendly German Shepard that had just had her back leg amputated, poor girl.
“I’ll go and work up the paperwork and send the tech in to talk to you.”
I sat there, pretty much more heart broken. The last time I had worried like this was the night my wife left. That’s when I took the first picture on this post. Abbey, swollen lymph nodes, bloody eyes, leg pain and all, had put her head in my lap because she knew I was hurting. That is a level of devotion and love that human beings are not capable of. All that pain, all that fear she must have had, and she wanted me to know that she was there for me. So, of course, I took her picture and then petted the crap out of her.
When the vet tech came in, she showed me the cost for the procedures.
I had come in that night expecting to spend $30 or so. With her visit last week and the move, I had to really squeeze that out of my budget, and it wasn’t easy.
I simply do not have the money to cover another $250 worth of diagnostic tests.
No, that doesn’t include treatment at all. That is merely the cost for them to stab my dog with a giant needle, so they can then probably, mostly likely, tell me what is wrong with her.
When you tell your dog’s vet that you can’t afford the procedure. You get this look. It’s a look that is half disgust and half pity. It’s a look that says something along the lines of, “You miserable sack of crap, how dare you put things like car payments and rent above your dog!?”
It makes it almost impossible not to cry as you pay $45 for the office visit and the refilled dog drug prescription and head out into the parking lot. When you get into the car, watching it take your dog 4 attempts to make the hop into the back seat, you can’t hold it back anymore at all. The walls that normally hide those emotions from the world shatter, and you sob like a terrified infant in the front seat of your car. The only thought in your head being, “I’m sorry, I failed you.” It repeats over and over.
You know what the dog does? She puts her nose on your shoulder and licks the back of your ear.
Just like she always does… every time she goes for a ride.
So, you wipe away the tears, you dry your eyes, and even though you really can’t afford it this week, you splurge on some KFC to take home and share with her. Why? Because she deserves it, and you’ll figure out a way to pay for the procedure that hopefully she won’t need, even if it means selling what few possessions you have left… or your blood… or your soul.
You’ll find a way.
You have to.
Because that dog is family, and you can never turn your back on family.
Last night I was given a heads up about a service call CareCredit, and I’m looking into it right now. It’s basically a credit card for medical bills, including veterinary. I shouldn’t tax my credit anymore than I already have, but… It’s the Abbmonster, and I don’t really see a choice at the moment.
I’ll keep you informed.
UPDATE: I have gotten approved for CareCredit. Abbey is getting dropped off at 9:00 tomorrow morning and she’ll get her medical stuff done.
For those who want to know, CareCredit is a low interest rate credit card designed for medical/dental etc use. When used for medical, dental, or veterinary costs, you have a grace period of 3-12 months (based on the cost of the procedure) to pay it off interest free.
It’s basically a godsend lifesaver in this situation for me right now.
Thanks to Meredith for letting me know about it!