The ritual tug-of-war.
When I got Hazel, my French bulldog, my friend Jack told me that people who buy dogs are trying to buy happiness. He had made some unfortunate choices for himself over the years so now the pH of his temperament is permanently bitter. I absorbed his comment with that in mind. But I couldn’t let the statement stand. I took a deep breath and prepared to launch a gentle rebuttal when I realized that he was right.
Or at least he wasn’t wrong.
Hazel–when I picked her up at Forever Young French Bulldogs in Secaucus.
He wasn’t wrong about Hazel. From the moment I first held her in my arms when she was only nine weeks I knew I was holding a sweet, silly bundle of joy. She radiated happiness then and still does. And she’s catchy. It’s hard not to be happy whenever she’s around.
If Jack was right—that I was trying to buy happiness with her purchase—then I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. Oh, I suffered the standard nuisances. Housebreaking her in arctic February. And as a puppy, she chewed several pieces of clothing that I thought I’d prized. Come to think of it, she gnawed the edge of an oriental carpet of Jack’s when we came to visit. Fortunately, she didn’t do any real damage; I caught her in time. But these hassles are insignificant compared to the happiness she brings to me and even to others. Hazel is a minor hit in my building and on my block. Many look forward to seeing her much the way I looked forward to seeing neighborhood Frenchies back in the days when I was Frenchieless.
With Lulu-Belle, it’s a bit more complicated.
My first order of business upon returning home from Florida was to find Lulu-Belle a veterinary dermatologist in New York. Dr. James was merely a stopgap—albeit a critical one. But she was the first to insist that I find a local specialist ASAP.
Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners on West 55th Street.
Lulu-Belle would need to be seen on a weekly basis for several months. And that was in the hopeful case: if she survived.
Dr. James had made her best educated guess with respect to the medications and dosages she’d prescribed but Lulu-Belle would have to be closely monitored. Her medications would need to be adjusted depending on how she responded. Eventually they’d have to be tapered. In the meantime, she’d need regular blood and urine screenings to make sure that the antidotes weren’t wreaking havoc on her system or causing ailments as bad or even worse than what she already had. All of this had to happen under the watchful eye of a seasoned veterinary dermatologist.
I hoped they weren’t as hard to book in New York as they were in Florida.
It turns out that they were. The veterinary dermatologist that Dr. James recommended couldn’t see Lulu-Belle for a month. What’s more, her offices were in Yonkers. Commuting would be time-consuming, especially if I was facing weekly visits.
My alternatives were the Animal Medical Center and Blue Pearl, both highly regarded emergency and specialty animal medical centers. Both offer 24/7 emergency care. In addition, they feature veterinary specialists in cardiology, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, radiology, surgery—and dermatology. Their practices are versatile. You can take not only your Persians and golden retrievers in for treatment but also your Amazons and cockatiels, your iguanas and ferrets.
Frisky as usual.
The Animal Medical Center is located on East 62nd Street between Sutton Place and the East River. Blue Pearl is a chain. The closest one to me is on West 55th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. Location being everything, I chose Blue Pearl. I live on the Upper West Side. I’d be able to get Lulu-Belle there and back by subway. The Animal Medical Center would mean a cross-town schlep.
I was able to secure an appointment for Lulu-Belle with Dr. Kathryn Rook, one of two veterinary dermatologists on Blue Pearl’s staff, only four days after my return. On Blue Pearl’s website under Dr. Rook’s bio it said that she was “particularly interested in immune-mediated skin diseases.” I was confident that Lulu-Belle wouldn’t disappoint.
Lulu-Belle had been holding her own since Miami. Thanks to the drug regimen that Dr. James had prescribed I thought that she might be getting every so slightly, ever so slowly better. She definitely wasn’t getting worse. But on the morning I was to take her to see Dr. Rook for a first visit I walked her around the block and somehow, just before we got home, her face swelled up. She had been fine—“fine” being a relative term in her case, of course—when we’d set out but by the time we got home her face was noticeably altered. When we got to Blue Pearl,
By the time we reached Blue Pearl Lulu-Belle’s eyes were swollen shut.
she was even worse. Her eyes were closed shut. She didn’t look like the dog I’d awakened to that morning. She looked more the way she had a few hours into that lepto vaccine, back when this whole auto-immune response had started. Only this time around her face was already ruined.
Dr. Rook needed to address this more immediate problem, not only Lulu-Belle’s ravaged skin. It was perplexing. Was the swelling part of her underlying condition or was it something new? Could she have encountered some allergen on our walk that had produced all this? How much bad luck could one dog have?
Dr. James’ prediction was correct: Lulu-Belle saw a lot of Dr. Rook in the months ahead. At first we went on a weekly basis. Then we tapered off to once every two weeks.
At the end of every appointment Dr. Rook’s manner suggested that she was about to deliver bad news. A heavy sigh would precede her assessment and prognosis. I’d brace myself for the fatal verdict that never came. It wasn’t a glass-half-full-glass-half-empty issue. I think that Dr. Rook didn’t want to overpromise, and Lulu-Belle was suffering from such an atypical autoimmune disease. Hers was no textbook case. Dr. Rook was in uncharted territory. There was no norm, no standard percentages of mortality and survival. No odds. So all bets were off.
Over time although I got used to the routine—Dr. Rook’s suddenly solemn demeanor, the heavy sigh—I was never immune from reacting: I’d focus intently on her every word, as if by listening hard enough I might alter what she was about to tell me. But that first time I had no context. No perspective. And Lulu-Belle had suffered that odd relapse only that morning. I could understand if Dr. Rook found herself honor bound to pronounce this the beginning of the end.
But the gut-punch never landed. It was never telegraphed.
The diagnosis was elusive but Dr. Rook said that a treatment was indicated even without pinning down the precise cause. Increased doses of the steroid that Lulu-Belle was already on were in order. And an antibiotic. Actually, two for good measure, at least until the culture results came in and we were surer about what we were battling.
Beyond that, Dr. Rook’s view was wait and see. No promises. No guarantees.
The future was uncertain but for the moment: crisis averted. Again.
I was learning that the future had always been more uncertain than I had taken it to be.
Something Lulu-Belle’s setback taught me: Dr. Harrington was right. Despite the severe corneal scarring, she could see a little bit of light with her left eye. I could tell because now that her eyes were swollen shut she was acting like a blind dog. Instead of bounding over that step from the elevator to my lobby she pawed the edge as if uncertain if the drop were seven inches or seven feet. And on our walks she was bumping into all sorts of things she’d successfully evaded back when her eyes were open. She might trot into a trashcan or light pole or the low cement wall surrounding a modest urban flowerbed. I had to be hyper vigilant, anticipate her every move. She was still a playful puppy with boundless energy. If I didn’t manage her leash properly she would run full speed into obstacles she could no longer detect. It made me grateful for days I used to bemoan. I’m an optimist at heart. This was a cruel reminder: no matter how bad things were, they could always get worse.
But Lulu-Belle didn’t seem worried. When her tail wasn’t wagging it was bowed in its signature perky, upward arc. Her setback was getting to me but save for these few practical matters of navigation, it wasn’t getting to her.
Lulu-Belle–always ready for a new day.
When Jack said that people who get dogs are trying to buy happiness he said it as a dig. But is it wrong to seek happiness? As citizens aren’t we guaranteed its pursuit? Desiring it is the human condition; it may be in our DNA. So how satisfying is it that in a world of tempting placebos—cars and clothes and every accessory imaginable; electronics and delicacies and other luxurious nonessentials—with a dog you can get the real thing?
A dog will really deliver.
A dog will really deliver even if happiness wasn’t what you were seeking.
Every now and again I asked myself why I adopted a blind dog. My heart isn’t any bigger than other adopters’. I remembered falling for that little puppy in the Second Chance Rescue photo with the caption “Blind dog,” but why was I more susceptible to a dog that couldn’t see? There were other dogs available that were needy in other ways.
The truth began to glow unexpectedly in me like an ember I hadn’t appreciated was there. A blind dog would need me more. A blind dog was less likely to go missing; she would need to stay close. She’d have to rely on me.
Bottom line: a blind dog would never leave me.
My ex has a new girlfriend. He met her online. She’s divorced with two children and a mean ex-husband. She lives ten hours away. He has never met her. He would rather have a virtual relationship with her than deal with flesh-and-blood me.
Sometimes it’s advisable to abandon hope.
This is probably one of those occasions.
Lulu-Belle is another matter.
As long as she continues to give me reason to hope, I will continue to hope. She hasn’t come close to quitting so neither have I.
Is this happiness? Not precisely, but hope can be even better: it’s happy-making and inspires you to believe that something better is on the way.
Hope is happiness with dividends.
Better still or as good: resilience. By her example Lulu-Belle gives me a steady, silvery stream of it. Constantly. She provides an endless infusion. I don’t even have to be in her proximity. She’s that potent. Just the thought of her is strength enough. She can get me through the worst of anything. Come to think of it, she already has.