Who would have thought Buck and I would be relieved to hear this diagnosis from our veteranarian and friend, Dr. Chere Ernest, at Scenic Hills Veteranary Clinic?
We dropped Maggie off at the clinic early yesterday morning for a fun day of no food, lots of xrays, poking, prodding and a barium milkshake. A staff person at the front desk told us we could pick Maggie up between 5 and 7. All day without Maggie. Not a happy thought.
Buck and I worked at our desks most of the day. We grimly battled a cut-throat stock market to a standstill, and then went outside to mow grass. He took the small push mower to cut around corners and sidewalks. I laid waste to grass in the back yard on the riding mower.
The phone had not rung all day, but I was sure that as soon as we went outside and were out of earshot, Chere would call. That's the way it usually happens. I put the little John Deere back under the shed and went inside, a confetti of cut grass sticking to my sweaty face.
No messages. I called. A nice-voiced young man said Maggie was fine and that we could come get her. "Fine?" I asked. "Do you know she is fine? Really?"
"Um, I meant to say she's fine. She's comfortable. And that Dr. Ernest will show you and your husband the xrays and talk with you when you get here."
Buck was just parking the little mower when I went out to get him. We jumped into the pool to rinse off the sweat, then threw on shorts and t-shirts and drove to see Chere and get the word.
Our fear, and her's too, was that Maggie had cancer. Her abdomen was so tight last Friday when Chere felt her, and the xrays showed her guts all pushed together strangely. There wasn't a tumor, but Chere showed us the xrays of Maggie's poor spine, which showed a remarkable degree of degenerative arthritis.
I kept waking up last night with imagined scenes of Maggie as a very young dog being trained by her first owner to become a field trial champion. How young did the training start? Was her immature skeletal system overworked and stressed by the impact of all that leaping and the competitive trials? I doubt it, and in any case, those thoughts are nothing more than fruitless, middle-of-the-night speculation. She came to us in April of 2003, when her owner knew he could not breed her due to a diagnosis of hip dysplasia. Maggie has been a lovely gift of light since her first day with us.
I don't know how to explain it very well, but it seems that the abnormalities in the vertebrae are causing problems with nerves in Maggie's belly, and creating motility problems. This can make her more susceptible to a highly dangerous condition called canine bloat (or gastric volvulus).
Chere recommended several approaches: first, to change Maggie's diet to more frequent, smaller meals. Next, to change her food to Hill's Science Diet for Active Seniors. There are other things, like making sure that she doesn't gulp lots of water, or exercise shortly before or after eating. Chere told us to stroke Maggie's belly and be sure it doesn't feel tight, and isn't tender or swollen. We'll continue the glucosomine condroitin and fish-oil capsules to help with her arthritis.
Mostly, we'll continue to treat her like the privileged character and great friend she is, and celebrate her dearness every moment she is with us.
When Buck and I had lost our beloved black Lab, Westmark's No-Cut Contract, who died in March, 2003 at almost 16, we swore we would wait at least a year to get another dog. Then someone called us about Maggie. I insisted they email us a photograph. I didn't want to drive over to Alabama and feel pressured into taking home a dog that we didn't have a chemistry with, and risk the awful-ness of either keeping it or returning it.
Soon as this photo of Maggie came on the screen, I told Buck, "Get the truck keys. Let's go get our dog." I always thought Maggie looked like a bright orphan auditioning for a new home in this picture. She hopped in the club cab of our truck and never looked back.