Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Murdoch mystery


At breakfast I hold my hand flat under Murdoch’s nose with a tiny piece of meat laid across my fingers. An offering. He sniffs it, hovers his big black nose over its surface. For a moment it looks as though he might lick it before turning his head away.

“What about this then?” I ask, plucking a piece of kibble from the bowl beside him where he lies on Molly’s bed. I hold the kibble under his nose too, he barely swivels his head towards it before turning away again. He reminds me of a pouting child refusing to eat his vegetables.

This is how I fed him some of his dinner yesterday, a few pieces of kibble at a time in my hand, the soft warm fur around his lips against my fingers, as he dabbed each piece into his mouth with his tongue, crunched, swallowed and then returned for more. Today he is uninterested.

“Okay,” I say, dropping the kibble back into his dish, placing some meat in beside it. “I will just leave this here for you.” And I give the dish a little shake, tuck it in beside him so he doesn’t have to get up or stretch too far to eat if he is suddenly struck with a regular appetite.

Murdoch has never been a ‘morning dog’, always greeting the day with a growl and a stomp, waiting in his kennel until the absolute last moment before charging out the door for a sniff and a pee, returning to his kennel again until it’s time to eat. He was never one for social niceties. “Just give me my breakfast and we’ll see where the chips fall after that,” was always more his style.

But mealtimes have changed drastically and we scramble to explain it. He just had a second tooth removed five days ago; a crisscross of purple suture patterns the very large space in his gum where two teeth used to be. The x-ray at the vet revealed a shadow on his jaw beneath where those teeth were, an infection gone deep perhaps? The vet can’t say for sure.

There is also the pain in his injured leg, the one he won’t put weight on first thing in the morning. Not until he’s stretched anyway, taken a few limping steps. Pain can make the simplest things more difficult. Even eating. So, we try everything.

Morgan bought him high-end canned food, he bought him great frozen bricks of raw dog food, he bought kielbasa, hot dogs, croissants, ground beef, soup. Everything works at first, “Perfect,” we said after he gobbled down his first raw-food meal. “We’ll switch his food to that.” But the next meal, he turns up his nose at the plate of meat and instead perks up at the sound of kibble hitting Molly’s bowl, so we put his own bowl of kibble in front of him and he crunches through half of it with determination.

“Weird,” we say, but if that’s what he wants. Next mealtime he gets kibble again, refuses to look at it, refuses the plate of raw food too, so Morgan puts down a bowl of cooled split pea soup and Murdoch slurps it up.

He returns to the vet three days after his surgery, three days of trying to get him to take his antibiotics, slipping pills in to meatballs, specially designed pill pocket treats, hiding it in his raw food, all to be quickly spit out again. One, two, three, and a hard stare from knowing brown eyes up through scraggily eyebrows, “You’re kidding, right?” he says. “I am NOT eating those.”

Finally we resort to opening the capsules, dissolve the powder in water, shoot the medicine into his mouth with a syringe. The vet says they can inject the antibiotics instead, so Morgan takes Murdoch back in.

And then there’s another mealtime, more bowls of food, more options. We wonder how much of it is the pain medication he’s on upsetting his stomach, how much of it is psychological? It has been two months now since he ate a meal properly, like the old Murdoch, inhale first, ask questions later; two months, I have to imagine, in which his mouth has hurt each time he’s eaten anything. We can’t blame him for suddenly being cautious Murdoch.

We spread out his dinner on a plate, ground beef and egg mixed with soup, put it in front of him where he lies in his kennel. I mash the meat in to smaller and smaller pieces, spoon it towards Murdoch’s mouth and he licks at it eagerly. He is hungry. He wants to eat. Between pauses and getting up and walking away and then coming back again, he gets through it, most of it.

“Good boy!” I say, making a big deal about a semi-clean plate. It is a small victory. He ate. It feels as though we cracked some kind of code, but it is most likely temporary. Tomorrow is another day, another meal, another mystery to solve.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

On the cusp


Two weeks after Murdoch’s surgery he still lingers over his meals. Eager to eat, he appears at the sound of metal bowls set clanging onto the counter, the crinkle of the food bag, the plink of kibble hitting Molly’s bowl.

For Murdoch we spoon rice from the cooled pot, tear chicken into chunks, peeling meat from bone. His eyes, round and alert, pierce mine from beneath his shaggy eyebrows as I turn from the counter. He stands at the ready, “Is it time? Just say the word.”

“Downstairs,” I say, and he spins on the spot, bolts down the short flight to the entryway, sits in his kennel. I feed Molly in the kitchen and carry Murdoch’s bowl downstairs, place it on the floor. He leans forward ever so slightly, glances from his dish to my face. His eyes land on mine and I hold them for a moment before I say, “Okay” and he charges for his meal.

But where he used to hit his dish like a predator taking down its prey, scooping the food into his mouth in great engulfing gulps, chasing his bowl across the floor as he polished off his meal in seconds flat, now he stops, tastes the food with his tongue, carefully plucks up a piece of chicken and chews slowly with a crinkled nose.

I watch for a minute, every mealtime hoping it will be different, hoping he will open his mouth wide, gobble down the food in two great big gulps, but he picks at it, rice falls from his mouth to the floor as he tries to chew around the sore spot where the tooth used to be, where the infection was found in his gum.

His meals these days can take up to two hours for him to finish, so I turn and leave him to his dish, close the gate at the top of the stairs so Molly can’t barge down there and offer her ‘help’ to clean his plate.

Murdoch eats in shifts. He nibbles for a bit and then returns to his kennel, lies down and eyes his bowl. I watch him from the kitchen. He looks like he is trying to psyche himself up to eat more, and after a while he does, pushing himself to his feet, approaching his bowl again, a few more bites, more rice spread on the floor, back to his kennel. Molly paces in the kitchen, bumps the baby gate with her head. “Molly,” I say, and she tiptoes away, lies on the floor, grumbles under her breath.

When I talk to the vet and tell her about his eating habits and his more than normal disgruntled attitude and how he has started snapping at me when I try to look in his mouth, she agrees there is something else wrong. He should have been back to normal by now after his tooth extraction and the antibiotics for the infected gum. It could be another tooth or perhaps, she says, the infection has gone into the bone.

So we schedule him in for another vet visit, more sedation, an x-ray that will hopefully tell us something, something repairable. In the meantime there is pain medication, there is more chicken and other soft foods, and there is space, lots of it, for a cranky dog and his sore mouth. Oh yeah, and there’s that injured leg too..

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Ghosts of the woods


Fresh snow falls on the first day of May. Storybook fat flakes rush to the ground, flick coldly off my face and pepper the dogs’ backs, white on black.

Murdoch and Molly dig through the sloppy snow from the last storm at the trunks of trees we have not visited in some time. There has been activity here, rabbits, birds, deer, something of interest. I stand on the trail and wait for them, watch the snow fall against the dark backdrop of trees from a heavy grey sky that looks more like rain than snow. In fact, the snow smells like rain and I turn from where the dogs dig, breathe in the metallic ozone-rich scent filling up the spaces between trees with the flurry of white.

I look up the height of the trees, begin to speak, moved to tell the dogs, tell the forest, how beautiful it is, how real it is, this world of snow and spring and green on brown on white. But I don’t get far in my speech; a sweep of horizontal movement in this vertical landscape stops me.

A glimpse is all I am allowed, but I inhale that fleeting moment, revel in it, the silent glide of an owl flickering into existence and then out again. Brown feathers blending in to the surroundings, wings outstretched impossibly wide. How does it fit between the trees?

I have not seen the owls in some time. Not since last summer when the dogs and I, returning to our woods after a walk, stumbled upon the unfolding drama of a horned owl swooping down for a juvenile robin learning how to fly, the parents squawking in a flurry of snapping wings and outstretched claws chasing it away.

The owls have been here though, their dulcet voices, felt as much as heard, pulse regularly through the woods at dawn and dusk. They have chosen not to be seen, which makes this moment caught in the corner of my eye so magical, with the tumultuous white flakes filling the grey day and the silent passage. They move like ghosts in the forest, a trick of the light, they are there, floating past, but they make no sound, as though an afterimage of something that came before.

I scrutinize the trees against which the owl disappeared so quickly after its brief appearance. I blink and scan the vertical planes, how exactly the owl’s colouring matches the bark, how the shading on each feather stitches the bird seamlessly into the landscape, mimicking the distances and depths, the contours of the trunks.

I hardly breathe as I search for more movement, begin to question if I did indeed see the owl or perhaps I imagined it.

“Guys,” I say when the dogs meet me on the path. “That was awesome. Did you see it?” But they are distracted by more smells. We walk on in silence, they with their noses to the ground, I looking up into the falling snow, searching the treetops for the silent shape I have seen in the past sitting tall and still, watching everything.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Recuperating


“Oooo,” I say when Murdoch’s lip quivers in annoyance and I catch a fleeting glimpse of white. “Look at those teeth! So clean and shiny!”

In exaggerated slow motion he swings his head towards me where I kneel beside him on the floor, me desperately wanting to wrap my arms around him, he trying not to melt into a puddle on the floor.

“Sorry Murds,” I say. “I just really want to look in your mouth.” But I won’t. It’s sore and he’s drugged and wobbly and, I imagine, just wanting to curl up in his kennel, slide into a drunken sleep.

He stands in the entryway on sinking knees as though he has just been dropped there, as though he had been happily enjoying himself somewhere else and now, suddenly, he is here and is feeling a little lost, a little confused.

His day started fine enough, although he missed breakfast. But there was a car ride, so that was awesome. But then there was the strange kennel and the muzzle and the people he didn’t know and, later, a soupy brain, a sore mouth, a missing tooth.

At the vet we found him lying on a comfy blanket in a large kennel, his tongue poking from the front of his mouth as though he had slid it out to taste something and forgot to put it back; his eyes glassy and unfocused with big red droopy lids underneath. But there was a slight spark at seeing my face and he stumbled to his feet, walked drunkenly beside me through the clinic and out to the car.

We drove at a crawl through a burgeoning spring storm. Ice clattered on the roof, gathered in a thick white layer on the road like frozen sand and we wondered if we might not make it up the next hill. The car dug in, clawed its way home, as Murdoch slid down slowly in the back seat, looked at me as though wondering, “How did I get here?”

He sways sleepily in the entryway, looks much thinner than he did that morning, more fragile, but he musters enough energy to growl a tiny growl as I pull out some of his hair when I remove the tape and gauze from his arm where the IV had been.

“Sorry,” I say again, holding the tape under his nose so he can see what I did. He gives it a slow sniff and then, on feet two sizes too big, he stumbles into his kennel, turns around and lies down; mouth buttoned shut, eyes staring into space.

The vet showed us on a diagram which tooth she pulled, the smaller of the two that flanked that pocket in his gum. The tooth was starting to rot where the gum had worn away, exposing the root, and there was infection underneath it. But his other teeth look good, the vet tells us. I am relieved.

In his kennel, Murdoch strains to hold up his head, his eyelids droop halfway down his face and I resist the urge to crawl in beside him. I leave him his space in the entryway where a fire glows cheerily orange in the woodstove and just outside the windows ice comes down in sheets.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day


In our tiny patch of boreal forest rabbits turn from white to brown, robins arrive promptly with military precision, nuthatches cling upside down to branches, hop gleefully from trunk to trunk, juncos swarm in packs of gray across the thawing ground, deer stroll, red squirrels leap from tree to tree, tails whirling, owls fill up the twilit hours with voices you feel in your chest, the first haze of buds appear on that tree, and that one, grouse explode from cover with heart-stopping clamour, tiny orange butterflies land on dried out grasses, somewhere bears plod, woodpeckers knock against trees and laugh at each other, ravens reel, a mosquito or two, water rushes, there is green under brown, sunlight and patches of snow.