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Lily got sick the night Arran left for Geneva. She vomited twice in the hour it took to pack his bags. Normally an independent animal, she followed me around the small apartment underfoot as I tidied in her owner’s wake. Some hours later, I came home from the gym and found her sitting in wait at the door, panting as if something were urgent. The Internet told me panting meant she was in pain, but it wasn’t until later that evening I feared something was seriously wrong. By then, she’d thrown up two more times. Her breathing had gotten more shallow, and she’d refused to move on her walk.
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Rather safe than sorry, I thought. A little after midnight, I threw on a pair of sweatpants, grabbed her leash, and carried her out to the street, where I hailed a cab that drove us to the all-night animal hospital. Four-hundred dollars later, the vet determined Lily had a tummy ache. But three days later, the symptoms hadn’t improved. A second vet decided it was her back and prescribed pain medications. I tried everything to get Lily to take them. Bacon. Chicken. Egg. Cheese. Peanut butter. Lily simply turned her head. If I tried to insist, she’d scamper off to a corner of the room, the only time she’d move.
What was wrong with her? Why wasn’t she improving? What was I doing wrong? It was my fault, I thought. Because I wasn’t giving her the medication. Because I couldn’t get her to eat, let alone take the toxic pills. I’d made the mistake of Googling the medications, and now the side effects made me nervous to give them. It was a pet-sitter’s nightmare.
All the while, I tried to bother Arran as little as possible. I told him Lily was sick, but focused on signs of improvement rather than concerns. I told myself he was busy, there was a time difference, he had jet lag, he was there for work. I wanted him to believe I could handle things. I was terrified I couldn’t.
At one point, I tried to force Lily to eat. It had been nearly a week and I was desperate and so I wedged a piece of chicken between her lips. She bit me, hard. I yelled out, “Fuck!” as Lily scampered off to her corner. Holding my bleeding thumb, I cried in despair. I’d done everything I could. Nothing had worked. She wasn’t getting better. She was only getting worse. Lily, I seriously believed, was going to die.
But Lily didn’t die. The following afternoon, she lay on the bed, panting, when we heard the keys jingle in the door. As Arran walked in, Lily pounced down, just like her old self. “That bitch tried to kill me!” I could almost hear her say.
Lily perked for a while but then, some hours after their reunion, the symptoms gradually returned.
The next few days, her illness got more mysterious, as well as a little gross. Lily soon developed an abscess on her back. The enormous sack of fluid indicated an infection, something inconsistent with her earlier diagnoses. Arran and I started her on antibiotics, which, gratefully, she took. And she started eating. A couple of days after it appeared, the softball-sized lump got soft and popped. Until it healed, Lily walked around with an enormous, weeping wound.
Then, one Saturday morning, just after I’d headed off to work — nearly a month since Lily had first gotten sick, I got a phone call from Arran. He’d been cleaning Lily’s wound when he saw a hard point like a bird’s beak peeking out of it. “I don’t know what compelled me to do this,” Arran said, “but I pulled it.” Arran kept pulling, he told me, until he’d removed a nearly five-inch wooden stick from our thirty-pound Cairn Terrier. It was an intact wooden skewer — the kind takeout joints use for satay. I’d eaten a shrimp satay in front of the TV the night before Arran left for Geneva.
Today, Lily is back to her old self. If you Google “wooden skewer dog abscess” you will find her experience is not so uncommon. Nevertheless, she’s one lucky, hungry dog.
Have you read a dog food label lately?! The ingredients aren’t much better than the inedible objects featured in this series. Let the good folks at Ollie help you figure out what your dog should actually be eating. All purchases directly support Narratively and help us continue sharing stories like this.