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.