Tessa’s misadventure

When a family member becomes seriously ill and is admitted and re-admitted to hospital for tests and treatments and surgery, what doesn’t really qualify as support and comfort to the directly and indirectly affected is somehow almost managing to kill the dog!

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Meet Tessa, a gorgeous, (unusually) black, noisy, somewhat overweight, but nevertheless lightening fast (miniature/standard? – a bone of contention in the family) Schnauzer. Possessed of the widest range of vocalisms I’ve ever heard emanate from a dog (with occasional breathing noises suggestive of a sinus condition), she is a wonderful, endearingly affectionate, though at times challenging pet. Her obedience is counter-pointed by a wilfully obstinate, independent intelligence and occasional foolhardiness that can be problematic.

Assuming the role of chief walker to alleviate the workload of the stressed, I took a window of opportunity for (providing) some breathing space by hooking up with a family friend’s dog-walking posse for a fun social run-out in the woods a few miles away. This is canine bliss: pack members variously disappearing at speed off the tracks into trees and undergrowth for varying duration; Tessa often out front vying with a spirited beagle for endeavour, darting left and right, exploring, clearing ditches and logs with soaring effortlessness. Nothing out of the ordinary, though a pleasure to behold nonetheless; what could possibly go wrong?

Shortly before we got back to the car park over an hour later, I noticed she was flagging – but she always does after a long run-out. And in retrospect I also noticed how, after she came out of the trees at the final bend, she stuck close to my leg for a while, before trotting on ahead again. And when I went to re-hook her lead, rather than come to me she just stood still where she was, but which she often does. And she then walked on fine, resuming her impatient, robust pulling as I walked to the bin to get rid of some fresh organic waste. As the posse departed, I secured her to a fence while I changed my footwear before getting us both into my recently purchased, Polish-ly-polished car. I usually let her jump in unaided; however, knowing she’d be filthy, I lifted her directly onto the pre-placed towel before connecting her belt harness… and it was then I noticed blood on my hand. Thinking she’d got a scratch somewhere I had a quick look at her legs and saw nothing. But, as I was watching her more closely, it became apparent the licking was not her front leg. I moved the limb out a bit and looked down… aghast at the huge tear across her chest! Though blood was not running/dripping from it, it was nevertheless bloody enough, with raw muscle visible, she having somehow conspired to fashion herself a marsupial-style pouch.

She’d made no sound, no wincing, no movement difficulties; the slowing down ‘clues’ are only hindsight. If I hadn’t lifted her, I wouldn’t have got blood on my hand, and I probably wouldn’t have known about it until I got her home – which would only have resulted in heightened anxiety levels with likely ensuing hysterics and/or fainting. But I now had to get her to a vet… necessitating a phone call, because I didn’t know where her vet’s surgery is. Trying to reassure as best I could, I got the address info and drove at points-risking speed not fully certain where I was going.

As I drove she sat up, looking at me in the way self-referencing humans anthropomorphise as their dog’s realisation that it has a problem and is entreating help. After a while, she lay down with her head on my hand causing me difficulty changing gear; the sound of her breathing changed, and I was becoming very concerned. But I fairly efficiently found the surgery; and the vet (who I’d been informed is a taciturn, gruff character) was as cool as a taciturn, gruff cucumber: “Often the owners are more bothered about these things than the animal”. Anaesthetic and stitches; ring after 4-30. Which I did from the hospital, during a scheduled visit to said family member. “She’s fine, collect her when you’re ready.” Which meant I could also honestly reassure all concerned.

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Upon collection she appeared unperturbed, her immediate concern being the need to get outside, pulling strongly on the lead towards the nearest patch of relieving grass. However, in the car it was apparent she was still circling the airport. And she was subdued all evening; clearly not herself with several stitches in a three-inch wound with tennis ball hemisphere-sized bruising below it. And I was up most of the night with her: I couldn’t sleep, trying to think back about where, when and how it happened. She was bombing and leaping round at such happy speed that she must have hit a sharp branch or bramble with force, but I don’t know for sure. (The vet discounted an encounter with some wild animal.) I imagined her temporarily impaled and having to reverse to free herself. I got up @ 3 am, encouraged by the sound of her eating and subsequent jumping on to my bed. But after dozing I awoke again around five to find her irritatedly licking the wound, depositing blood on the duvet, and panting a lot, which suggested stress and pain – it must have throbbed like a bastard! Attempts to stop or move her received a growl or weak attempt to nip. I think we both got to sleep around six and she was still sleeping when I awoke around eight. After rousing, her stress indicators had declined in frequency.

During initial outings she moved gingerly, uncharacteristically wary of other dogs too close. But she hardily recovered and, by the time she was due to have the stitches removed, the swelling and ‘sacred heart’ colouration had diminished and the wound was healing fine… except for a small spot of scabbing at the centre of the developing scar. She was unfazed during removal of the stitches… until the final one when she sharply attempted a backwards exit creating a tug-of-war on that scab. A small unsealed hole remained, with assurance that it would heal. Inevitably, however, for an excitable, active dog with renewed spark, increased exertion coupled with tongue accessibility quickly turned the hole into an open bloody red pocket, necessitating a return to the vet, this time coming away with “rot-able” stitches to be left in.

Anyway, the wound has healed beautifully and she is her old gamely self, much to the comfort of the family member who is now also recovering at home after a somewhat rockier ride.

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