Sunday, May 3, 2009

Double Chocolate Lab

Bandit nearly bought the farm the other night, and it was his sweet tooth that would have done him in.

Bandit is a chocolate lab, eleven and a half years old, with chronic liver problems, a golf-ball sized cyst on his shoulder that the vet doesn't want to remove because of his age and the bad liver...and that's just the tip of the iceberg. This dog of mine--my fourth since I was sixteen--was a stray pup at an animal shelter when the kids and I brought him home eleven years ago. I joke that he must have some beagle in his background because he "sings" on occasion. Most often in answer to the question "do you want to go out?" This absolutely mystifies my boyfriend, who can't get the same answer when he asks Bandit the same question.

He's lightening fast, and still as playful as a puppy on the days when age doesn't come knocking on the door, and he's had separation anxiety bad enough when he was still new to the family that we put him on Prozac. No kidding. We also tried aromatherapy. It didn't work either.

But what's really made things interesting in the past few years is his taste for eating stuff that he shouldn't. Post-winter yard-cleanup can be such an archelogical excursion. After the snow melts, there's plenty of evidence of misdeeds laying in the grass. A half box of Kleenex scarfed down in boredom, still brilliant white after its trip through the dog. Fourteen sticks of chewing gum stolen from my purse recently...including the silver foil wrappers. The list goes on.

Chocolate--generally acknowledged to be poison when it comes to other dogs--needs to be kept under lock and key. My sons and I could have skinned Bandit alive a couple of years ago when he found the chocolate we'd brought home from Germany in our suitcases...and ate it all, leaving colorful wrappers in foreign languages all over the living room. Just a couple of months ago he polished off a carton of Nestle Quik on the front stairs, leaving nothing but a large chocolate stain behind. Never an ill effect for the dog, though it tended to leave the humans in the room pretty steamed!

My kids and I have long ago learned to keep our bedroom doors closed behind us at all times because of other behavioral ...quirks. But the other night, my youngest son fell victim to juggling too many things at once--violin practice, then tennis practice, and a violin lesson after the tennis practice--and forgot to shut the door behind him before he left for the night at his dad's.

I got home from work and didn't notice. Drove into town for an hour's worth of errands, and came home to find the paper wrappers from two huge Cadbury chocolate bars my son had brought back with him from Scotland as presents for the family just the week before. The chocolate was nowhere in sight. Bandit lay on his bed in the kitchen, with a very guilty look on his face. "Bad doggie," I said, and went to town again to meet some friends for a wine-tasting. I didn't even bother to shake a finger at him. We've reached an understanding over the years. He's going to do something he shouldn't, and I'm not going to like it.

Two hours of delightful conversation and a lesson in how to mix peaches pureed in sugar syrup with Italian champagne for a "patio drink" later, I returned home at nine to find to dinner plate sized pools of regurgitated chocolate on the living room carpet (off-white of course) and a very sick doggie. I shooed him outside to keep being sick and miserable, then Googled chocolate+dog+poison. What I found scared me plenty.

We set off for the animal emergency room twenty five miles away, where Bandit was X-rayed, his stomach monitored, an IV line run to pump him with fluids and some charcoal somehow inserted down his gullet to absorb what chocolate it could. By the next day and $550 later on my credit card, I had a healthy dog again, along with the memory that I had run a quick cost calculation of what I could possibly afford to spend on an eleven year old dog with a bad liver (nothing, if you really must know!) and ultimately checked the "do not rescuscitate" box when asked what should be done if he went into cardiac arrest. I hope nobody tells him. I'm sure he wouldn't have checked the same box for me! But the last time I took a dog to an animal emergency room, I spent $3,700 dollars on last-ditch surgery...and he still died the next morning. It took me years to pay it off. I knew I couldn't afford to do it again.

Bandit's back to normal right now, which means chewing on sticks in the yard and following me around with a tennis ball in his jaws, hoping I'll throw it. The only lasting markers from our adventure are the dark circles under my eyes, the shaved patch on his foreleg from where the IV was inserted, and the chocolate stains on the carpet. I've shampooed them four times now and figure on leaving them for the carpet cleaners some time between now and Thanksgiving.

My son was suitibly apologetic and deeply chagrined over causing the whole incident by leaving his bedroom open and the chocolate available. He informed me that there were actually three Cadbury bars in his room. They're all missing now. One was probably wolfed down with the wrapper intact. I'll find the evidence some day when I'm out in the yard.

In the meantime, I figure all that guilt's gotta be worth some really good help with the yardwork this summer.

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