Another day at the vet's

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Oct. 23, 2003

Dear Patty,

Our little beagle Alvie has a calming effect on people. It must be because he likes everyone so much. Sometimes DC brings Alvie into her office and has him sit in the chair next to a child who is scared of dentists. It usually works.

He has that effect on me, too, except when he starts baying. This is a sound designed to summon far off hunters. In our tile-floor kitchen it's a Metallica concert. He stops baying if you pet him.

There have been nights of difficult breathing when we didn't know whether Alvie would be alive when we awoke. The heart worms that damaged his heart are gone now, but his heart has swollen because of the holes they left behind. His belly looks huge. We know the heart congestion eventually will cause his death.

We give him three different pills each day to control the symptoms: One for his heart, one for his lungs, one to get rid of excess water and a squirt of potassium paste in his food. It has worked for awhile.

But DC has been more worried about him than usual lately. He has appeared more bloated and less peppy. Alvie has been spending extra time with our veterinarians.

The entrance to their office is split. One door is for cats and their owners and the other for dogs and the person at the other end of the leash. When 18-inch-high Alvie led me in last week we were confronted in the waiting room by a bull mastiff, a dog that is probably taller than I am standing on its hind legs and built like a Tampa Bay linebacker.

Alvie's usual method of greeting people and other dogs is to begin baying at them while he walks up to get petted or to exchange sniffs. This time he stood still, hind legs searching the tile floor for a foothold. Fortunately, this was a bull mastiff who didn't have anything to prove or say. He just sat down.

And we wonder why part of Alvie's ear is missing and how he got the jagged scar that stretches the length of his torso.

One of Alvie's vets, Christy, took blood and X-rays. The bloodwork turned out fine, except Alvie's potassium level is low.

When Christy showed us his X-rays, she said all of Alvie's other organs look good too. Then she pointed to his heart. Huge, she said, compared to the size it should be.

There's no shrinking it down to size. Do they do heart transplants for dogs? I wondered but did not ask.

I did ask what the little white spot on the X-ray was. Christy thought it must be the identification chip some owners have put in their animals, but we've never done that. Then it's probably a pellet, she said.

In all our fantasies about Alvie's life before he walked into our yard nearly two years ago, we imagined fights with wild dogs and collisions with car tires. He's so afraid of thunder we wonder if lightning may have sizzled him. But it never occurred to us that someone might have taken shots at him.

Crying, DC asked Christy how long she thinks Alvie will live. Some dogs go fast, she said. She treated another dog that lived with a badly damaged heart for four years.

Back when we found Alvie and discovered he had heart worms, we knew the prognosis. We knew that treating him for heart worms could kill him. But he made it through. And when the heart worms returned, he survived another treatment.

He wouldn't be alive if he wasn't tough.

When Alvie leaves it will be from having too big a heart. All of us should be lucky enough to die so poetically.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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