A well-meaning neighbour’s e-mail had alerted me that something might be wrong. “I saw Ottie a few times and he looks so thin! Is he being fed?”
The dog who greeted me at the end of my two-week vacation looked indeed as if he had spent time in a concentration camp, all skin and bones. $300 worth of tests indicated that he might have an ulcer. So, here I am, cooking chicken and rice every other day, administering Pepcid AC an hour before meals and some bright pink liquid that looks suspiciously like Pepto Bismal but set me back $36.
The vet hypothesized that, between the rattlesnake bite and my prolonged absence, Ottie might be stressed. Bollocks, I think, but I keep my mouth shut. I hung up the phone and look at the skinny frame curled up on the cushion and think back at the last 12 months together. He lost his companion of six years, he got to know and accept another pushy dog whom he loves but who also sparks the jealousy that befits his name , got bit by a snake and then I left. Above all, he had to live for months with my neurosis, my bad moods, my general unhappiness, which I have no compunction in pouring all on to him because he is the best listener in my life. Could it be that it was I who stressed him out?
If it’s true, once again Ottie is my life coach, reminding me that I need to lighten up and take life less seriously or his health will suffer. Next, he will tell me he needs therapy, to unload on somebody else what I put on his shoulders. He is a dog and I should treat him as such. He is smart, funny, mischievous but his hobbies include coyote chasing, butt smelling and rolling in the grass, not French literature. My obsessing over the colour of his poop and on whether he has put on a few ounces of weight or not is not helpful to him. Or me.
My mother, ever so practical, upon my mention of Ottie’s black feces, retorted “Oh, that doesn’t sound good” short pause “It’s alright, you will get another”. I was too speechless to protest. I can’t even think Ottie might have something more serious than an ulcer – in my mind, he will live to a hundred. What has this world come to? Not only are we all in denial about our death, but we can’t even conceive of the death of our pets. Not today at least. Time for Pepto Bismal and a new batch of rice.