Lord, give me the Serenity to accept
That which I cannot change;
The Courage to change that which I can;
And the Wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
(A.A. prayer, Anonymous)
So on the 12th of August I climbed into Miss Pumpkin (my trusty 1007 Orange Peugeot) and took off for my retreat in the Swiss Alps feeling absolutely certain that Salomé was in the best care possible and that she would spend a marvelous ten days loved and entertained by my downstairs neighbor and her family. Marie Thérèse who is eighty-two and has a tiny apartment three floors below me adores Salomé. She lives alone and the company of a loving, snuggly schnauzer with an abundant mustache and impressive eyebrows is a definite plus to her gentle days. But there was more: Marie Thérèse was expecting her ten year old grandson for a visit, and Olivier –as is his name- had always wanted a dog but lived in a small apartment in Paris which made it impossible. I was, of course, delighted: Salomé not only would be well taken care of, but also entertained for the full ten days I was planning to be away. She was assured a happy, healthy and secure home during my absence and what’s more, Marie Thérèse absolutely refused my offer to pay her, claiming that having Salomé was actually a gift.
Halfway through my stay in the Alps, I received a photograph of Salomé poised for flight in front of a small boy wielding a stick in what was definitely a You-throw-I-chase game stance. Below the photo was the verbal assurance that all was well, although the image left no doubt. So Sunday the 21st I headed for home looking forward to getting back to life as normal and recovering my healthy, happy Schnauzer.
To say I was greeted with whelps and squeals and barks and slurps and a crazed cavorting does no justice to the joy a dog can express upon being reunited with its mistress after a lengthy separation (for a dog even one hour, especially if it is spent in the dog-salon, is lengthy; ten days must seem like a lifetime). I had to sit on the floor and allow myself to be “schnauzed” by tongue and body and paws and ears for almost fifteen minutes before I could get her to calm down. I’ve always said that if you want to experience unconditional love, get a dog. Once she had exhausted her uncontrollable energy, she ran for her favorite toy and dared me to try and take it away. Marie Thérèse was kind enough to invite me to stay for lunch and seeing as I had nothing in the fridge anyway, it was a welcome invitation. Salomé had her lunch at the same time and then we both thanked our hostess and retired to our own abode. All was well… or at least it seemed that way until 2 o’clock in the morning.
The sound of claws pacing back and forth on the woodwork awakened me. I turned on the light. Salomé was desperately walking from one corner of the room to the other, head down, ears down, snout down, and abdomen heaving in and out. I knew darn well what it meant so I ran to the kitchen for a handful of paper towels and raced back just in time to see the first half of her evening meal hit the floor. I hadn’t finished cleaning that up, when the other half arrived a short way off.
By ten o’clock the following morning she had thrown up five times and I was beginning to get worried. There was no doubt she was miserable. The light had gone out of her eyes and she lay down in corner after corner as if unable to find a place that would allow her to rest. By eleven, with obviously nothing left in her stomach she threw up a pinkish foam that alerted me to the seriousness of her condition, so I took her to the vet. I pretty much knew what was going on, but I had never seen it take such extreme proportions. My story was that Salomé was having a crisis of divided loyalty, or maybe it should be said, feeling the pangs of love lost.
She is a dog with an enormous capacity to love anybody, anywhere immediately. There are few people she does not take to and they are usually people who don’t take to her either. This is no problem when she is with them for a short period of time and in my company. She takes her leave with no after effects whatsoever. But when I disappear from the scene and she is –so to speak- shifted off on to another for all her needs, she obviously adopts that other as much as the other adopts her, except that Salomé doesn’t know that it isn’t forever. I am gone, she has a new person or –in this case with the young grandson and his father- family and she attaches to them in much the same way as she is attached to me most of the time.
And then I reappear and her joy is boundless, but… she hasn’t read Loving What Is by Byron Katie, or practiced the Serenity Prayer from A.A. and she knows nothing about things not lasting forever or the necessity of making a choice, much less the serenity to accept that which she cannot change, so suddenly she has TWO loves in her life, and they don’t cohabitate. This time, the seriousness of her condition was, in my eyes, testimony to the extent of her love for the “new” family. The moment I’d open the door, she would race down the three flights of stairs and then sit in front of Marie Thérèse’s door waiting for me to follow. When I didn’t, but rather called for her to come instead, she would do so reluctantly. But if Olivier wanted to play with her and I returned to my apartment, she would immediately leave the game to follow me. She was distraught. The light in her eyes was gone and it seemed that nothing would stop her throwing up even the slightest sip of water. By ten thirty that night, when even the medicine which was supposed to soothe her stomach was retched up from its original white in a bright color of pink, I called the vet’s emergency number and drove over to the clinic. The doctor whom I had dragged from his home to attend what to me was no more than a neurotic, love-struck dog, was understanding and ascertained that I had done the right thing. If the vomiting continued, she would have to be put on intravenous hydration. I explained what I thought was going on and that the whole show had to do only with her absolutely neurotic anguish over losing either one love or the other, but he took a blood test nevertheless, and then proceeded to give her three injections: one for hemorrhaging, one for nausea, and one for infection just in case. When we got home, she gagged a few times but nothing came up (there was nothing in there!) and an hour later I gave her a couple of teaspoons of water as the vet had recommended. She didn’t throw them up and we managed to sleep through the night.
In the morning, I gave her some more water and then we went to the Café des Thèrmes where Kiwi-san gave her some tiny morsels of croissant. She was happy to see him and perhaps happier still to get the croissant as it was over thirty six hours since she had last eaten, but the light still wasn’t in her eyes and her ears drooped most of the time. I noticed that she would occasionally wander off despondently, sniff at a few places on the nearby wall and then literally drag herself back under the table. I had never seen her so depressed. It was heartbreaking; I wished there was something I could do but apart from playing with her more, I understood that it was her pain and her responsibility to get over it. At any rate, as she was no longer throwing up, I figured it was just a question of time.
In the late afternoon, Salomé and I went to Navarrenx for my appointment with the osteopath. When we returned, Olivier and his father were just loading up their car to go for an outing and Salomé leapt out of the car and ran over to the boy. He seemed as delighted to see her as she was to see him. I stood and watched as he climbed into the back seat of the car leaving the car door open. Salomé seemed to doubt for a moment and I wondered if she would jump in, but no, she finally turned and trotted over to where I was waiting and then continued on towards the building. Something in her gait told me she was ok. A feeling of relief swept over me. She hadn’t vomited since our emergency visit to the vet and I was almost certain we had passed the crisis and were on our way to recovery.
After feeding her a special meal of rice and chicken, I sat down to write this piece. She was asleep behind me on the carpet. Suddenly, just as I was writing the end, she stood up, ears down, head forward and down, and began pacing, the precise same movement that precedes a retch. I thought “Oh, no!” and in an effort to distract her, grabbed a tennis ball and threw it down the hall. Immediately she was in the game, ears perked up, stub of a tail wagging like mad and eyes all alert. Sick? It apparently wouldn’t have crossed her mind. We played for fifteen minutes and there was no vomiting. I found myself wondering if dogs are capable of willingly manipulating to get what they want. Maybe what I was mistaking for love was just the fact that she had been spoilt and played with all the time for ten days and expected me to do the same. So I am watching while I wait for the veterinarian’s bill and wonder if it will be the same as in restaurants where you wash the dishes if you can’t cover the cost of a meal: will he allow me to wash dogs instead?