How a sick dog changed my outlook

Artie got sick and needed an IV
Why haven’t I been posting? Well, the dog got sick. She’s better now, thank goodness but her out-of-nowhere illness shattered my heart into a thousand little pieces. It is taking some time for me to return to the high-functioning writing machine that I aspire to be.

When I started Happy Dog Phoenix so many years ago, I wanted to provide accurate, reliable info for my community. Phoenix and Arizona can be weird places and I wanted to help people in a positive, upbeat kind of way. I like finding out things and I like passing them along.

I’m not sure there is any of that news you can use to this blog post. Just a personal story — as I try to make sense out of a couple things in my life – perhaps you are also trying to do that?

Being sick started in San Diego

The dog and I went to San Diego and we had a blast. So much so that I kinda downplayed her lethargy and lack of appetite as we got ready for the car ride back. She slept the entire trip but when we stopped in Buckeye for an In-and-Out burger, she showed no interest in my sandwich. Getting more worried, I floored it back home. The vet’s office was closed. I tried one 24/7 veterinary urgent care but I didn’t feel like they had any urgency about them. Blue Pearl Pet Hospital at 32nd Street and Indian School Road, however, triaged her immediately. Her temperature was skyrocketing.

They diagnosed possible pancreatitis and provided some meds. The next morning she was still wobbly and unresponsive.

I zipped her back to the regular vet at North Kenilworth who saw her immediately. When humans in the house get sick, it’s bad but we usually know what we are dealing with. When the cheerful, energetic, always-up-for-a-snack dog is sick, it’s terrifying.

Or at least to me. My father died in January after a long illness. As I watched the dog for signs and symptoms of her health, I was taken back to my father’s bedside; watching him, wondering if he was taking his last breath.

I always knew that everyday occurrences would trigger memories of his life and death. I was bracing myself for Father’s Day, his birthday, my parents’ wedding anniversary. But I just didn’t expect to be reminded of his passing so quickly and to be reminded by the dog, who was my staunchest companion in my father’s final months.

Control what you can – but it may not be much

Perhaps there is news you can use in this blog: you can’t control everything; you can prepare — like I am preparing for Father’s Day. You can think about how to deal with a situation and when something like that situation occurs, you take a deep breath and follow the mental script that you have written.

But apparently you can’t prepare for every wayward circumstance like your dog eating something bad at the beach, getting sick, making you think of your Dad and then sobbing uncontrollably in the vet’s office.

Gratitude doesn’t protect you

And perhaps another news-you-can-use tidbit: gratitude may not be all it is cracked up to be. I try every night, as everyone from psychologists to gurus suggest, to list five things I am grateful for. The dog always makes the list and usually pretty close to the top.

But being grateful for her didn’t protect her. Being grateful doesn’t keep the thing that you love exactly the way it is for all time. It just acknowledges the power that thing or person has in your life. Right now, it seems to me that gratitude only amplifies your pain over your loss.

In time, I may come around to the idea that while being grateful does increase the pain; it also deepens the richness of the experience. And, while it is so much easier to have shallow, painless, disposable relationships, I don’t think that is what life should be about.

I know that you need the nourishment of hearty and sometimes heart-breaking relationships. Even though they are so painful. So very painful. I hope to figure out the right balance in all of this but for the meantime, gratitude kinda sucks.

Time vs. unresolved issues

And maybe the last lesson is that grief takes time. We know that but we do we really practice it?

For me, I want to get away from unpleasant circumstances as far and as fast as possible. I want to be productive at work and smiling to family and loved ones. Keep busy and outrace any possible depression. The world wants me to move on; I want to move on but as the dog’s life-threatening pancreatitis showed me, you can want to move on all you want but Life will pull you back to deal with unresolved issues. Like grief over your Dad’s death.

After lots of money for vets’ bills (which I gladly paid for a healthy dog); lots of hand-fed meals, bowls of boiled chicken breast, white rice, splashed with chicken bouillon (the new cuisine and its presentation is Pinterestworthy); sleepless nights and rejiggered work days to accommodate lots of vet visits; the dog is fine.

I’m not sure who was more ecstatic to go on our nightly neighborhood walks, her or me.

I guess a non-dog person could read this post and point out that the biggest takeaway from all of this is: don’t have a dog. Too much heartbreak. But as I look in my dog’s gentle, trusting eyes and smile at her still-bouncy walk, I realize that is a lesson that I will never learn.