Monday, August 08, 2005
Like Losing The Ability to Smile
Brown Fang in happier times.
By dint of some sovereign palliative scalpel-work, the Medical Establishment has given its blessing for the Jingo Tendency to decamp, lock, stock and Dominion Oak Barrel, for our annual sojourn at the beach. The Recent Unpleasantness is a but a baleful memory. Another shoe remains to drop on that matter, but not before a week of La Dolce Far Neante has soothed the fevered brow.
[Later: Il dolce far niente, thank you Bob. I don't know how that French slipped in there!]
The Outer Banks of North Carolina is about a five-hour drive from Jingo Acres, and these are without question Madame Ring Ting Ting's least favorite hours of the year. Not a relisher of car trips, is our acutely intelligent pointer-lab mix lady-friend, nor of thunderstorms or electric fences. Her anxiety on the trip's outset was as heartbreaking as it was inconsolable, and not until we broke for lunch about the third hour did she evince signs that she no longer believed a sudden painful death was immediately imminent.
However, her obvious ecstasy, and that of her littermate Brown Fang, on our first walk on the beach in the oncoming gloaming of the day of our arrival, plainly made the whole ordeal worthwhile. Dashing around with noses to the ground, making life hell for every sanderling, gull and tern within leash-length, and above all racing headlong, barking madly, into the surf, all made for plainly the sort of memory a dog will treasure fondly for the rest of her life.
The next day, yesterday, I made a point of extending and deepening their enjoyment of the seashore. In the afternoon, after the human portion of the family was satiated with the beach and had retired to the air conditioning to rest for dinner, I strode out with the dogs for a swim. Down to the beach we marched, both pooches straining at the leash in pleasurable anticipation of the fun to come.
The surf was not very high, but it was present, and the three of us bounded happily into it. Brown Fang quite plainly enjoys attacking the waves head-on, leaping over their crests with fists flailing, while sister Ring Ting Ting is more the tunneler type. As the bar-sinister progeny of a German wire-haired pointer bitch who loved not wisely but too well, these dogs have amazing gun-dog features bred into them: Ring Ting Ting, by far the more wire-coated of the two, sheds water better than your average duck. Both dogs have webbed toes for swimming, and they both would rip my arms out by the sockets to wallow in even a mud puddle on our usual walks at home. Plainly, they are keenly aware and proud of their aquatic ancestry.
So, after a happy hour spent splashing and, I swear, body-surfing! -- we happy three made our way back to the cottage, where a London Broil marinated in Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce and a tossed salad awaited us. After dinner, we embarked on a traditional post-prandial ghost-crab hunt in the evening light, and the dogs had yet another ecstatically happy time fruitlessly chasing the crafty little buggers around the cooling sands.
Nothing gave even the tiniest hint of the troubles to come.
Along about bedtime, Brown Fang began to whimper pitifully. Usually this is a sign that he wants to be let outside for a nocturnal pee, but this was not the case now. He is always preternaturally attached to Wonder Woman, pretty much tied at the wrists and ankles, and he now followed her around complaining -- and by now showing mounting and incontrovertible evidence that he was a seriously hurtin' pup. In particular, he didn't want to be touched in the hindquarters.
In the early AM hours, Wonder Woman woke me up, no longer able to deal with the poor guy alone. Furthermore, Ring Ting Ting had begun to exhibit the same crying-and-complaining behavior. We called an emergency vet listed in the local phone book: Could it be viral? A bacterial infection from the ocean water? Had they gotten into something poisonous -- or could it be something from the car trip, something horrendous like an unseen puddle of antifreeze, a rat-poison setup? It's utterly impossible to listen to a beloved friend panting and whimpering in obvious agony -- it tears the innards to pieces. The vet summoned us to his practice immediately. And immediately we went.
The diagnosis absolutely floored me. I simply would never, not given an infinity of time, have thought of it. Once made, it was blindingly obvious what the problem had been all along, but I swear to whatever binding concept you want me to swear to, I, descended from millions of generations of tailless apes, had absolutely no idea such a thing was even possible.
Both dogs had sprained their tails.
Yes, you heard me. They sprained their tails. Splashing around in the surf. Using their tails as rudders and counterbalances against the unpredictable powerful currents in ways they never use them in still water, they'd both done damage -- mild, easily healed, but damage nonetheless -- to the muscles governing their tails.
Wonders will never cease. The first thing that flashed over me when the vet made his pronouncement was "Oh, so this is why they dock pointers' tails!" And I suppose that's true. If a little loony.
So now the two poor things are on the mend, antiinflammatory drugs making life easier. Within about two minutes of the injection, Brown Fang was already obviously greatly relieved, and in the next couple of days I expect them to both to rejoin me in the surf.
But I think the most pitiful thing was this: Both dogs are as affectionate and cheerful and loving and demonstrative as you could possibly hope for in a beloved family friend, and the sight of the two of them, side by side, unable to even summon up a cursory wag on my appearance, was the saddest thing I could ever care to see. Please don't try to wag, guys. I'll understand.
PS: Their names aren't really Brown Fang and Ring Ting Ting. They are Django (for Django Reinhardt) and Ella (for Ella Fitzgerald.)