Lulu-Belle at VERG-South during a visit.
Lulu-Belle’s mouth was so destroyed; it really did look as though a large dog had taken a bite out of the side of her face. A mouthful of flesh was gone.
At one point Dr. Fiorenza theorized that she had been electrocuted. When Lulu-Belle was first hospitalized she called to quiz me to determine if this might possibly be the case. Dr. Fiorenza thought that the chances were slim, but it was difficult to account for the devastation otherwise.
Lulu-Belle’s mouth wound–before it got worse.
So I was quite stunned to get Dr. Fiorenza’s call that Saturday morning saying that Lulu-Belle could go home. Every day her face had been getting worse. The patches where her skin had hardened had been peeling away to reveal painfully raw flesh underneath. The gaping wound at her mouth looked primed for infection. But the meds that she was being administered intravenously she could now take orally. Her appetite was good. She wasn’t running a fever. There was no real reason to keep her hospitalized. So the morning after my Flatbush adventure with Kieran and my ex, I arranged to pick up Lulu-Belle on my way to Philadelphia.
Kieran and I were bone tired from Friday night. The plan to take the subway to VERG-South rather than drive had been a good one but there were two things I hadn’t counted on: dinner at the Agra King taking a good two hours and the fact that late at night the number 2 train runs local, not express. The result: we pulled into our home stop (96th & Broadway) around 1:30 am. My ex got off with us even though his stop is now 110th Street. A kind gesture but it was so unfamiliar and unsettling to have him walk us to our corner and say goodbye. It felt so wrong. But exhaustion dulled the ache I might have felt otherwise. Getting to bed was a genuine priority; it trumped reviewing all that had transpired to get us to this sad state of separation.
Kieran snuggling Lulu-Belle at VERG-South.
Despite my trepidation I was thrilled to be taking Lulu-Belle home. Even if she looked bad it had to be a good sign that she was being released. And even though the staff at VERG-South was so consolingly kind she had still been essentially caged all day and night for the duration of her stay. She would be free now that she was coming home with me. I could take her for walks. She’d be able to play with Hazel, my French Bulldog.
Before this medical disaster erupted my biggest concern about getting Lulu-Belle was how Hazel would react. One of my neighbors had told me that dogs were pack animals. They like being with their own kind. I would be doing Hazel a favor by getting her a pal. But Hazel was a pampered only child. Would she really be pleased not to be the center of my canine universe? I hoped I was over-thinking it.
Turns out I was. The two instantly became a literally inseparable tumble of palpable happiness, even though Lulu-Belle tended to nip Hazel’s neck with a fervor that suggested more than love bites.
Lulu-Belle with a solicitous Hazel after her return from VERG-South.
We got to Philly so late in the day on Saturday, come Sunday I was reluctant to head home. So I delayed. The result: we pulled up to our building in Manhattan that night around 11:45. Kieran was limp with exhaustion. Once we’d unloaded the car I sent him up to our apartment and told him I’d take up everything if he could please just take Hazel. We had to pry Lulu-Belle off her first.
Since it was nearly midnight I wasn’t too concerned about briefly monopolizing the elevator. I loaded it until it was knee-deep with our stuff: two small suitcases on wheels, a soccer ball, a carry-all filled with manuscripts, a soccer ball, a skateboard, and—believe it or not—a trash bag filled with trash and another filled with recyclables. Because I’m not in Philly on “trash” day I take my garbage home to New York to dispose of it.
Lulu-Belle was in the elevator with me. She was as frisky as ever. Not the least fatigued. In fact, she wanted to play. She leaned down on her front paws, butt in the air, tail wagging.
Just as the doors were opening on my floor I looked down at her and smiled. Her face was so ravaged but here she was: such pure puppy joy. It was then that I noticed that all of my possessions—the two tall white trash bags included—were speckled in crimson. It took me several seconds to appreciate what I was seeing: blood. Drops of blood were splattered in a perfectly even pattern over absolutely everything.
I looked at Lulu-Belle. Her mouth wound was bright red and wet. She must have disturbed it when she was gnawing on Hazel’s collar. And then on the elevator she’d chomped on her own leash and had shaken her head, classic pit-bull style. Her blood sprayed everywhere.
I jammed a bag in the path of the elevator door so that it would remain opened. Kieran was already in the apartment. Often when we came home from Philly so late he would just collapse into bed. Sometimes he’d leave the apartment door unlocked for me; sometimes he’d forget.
This particular night I was able to open our door a crack; some sort of door latch was preventing me from opening it farther. I felt desperate. I had to get everything out of the elevator and cleaned up fast. I began slamming on my front door with the palm of my hand. “Kieran!” I screamed. “Kieran! I need your help! Kieran!” Even to me I sounded like a crazy person. It was then that I noticed the mezuzah. I knew that I didn’t have a mezuzah on my doorjamb anymore than I had a latch that would let my door open a crack but I kept yelling for Kieran anyway. Finally, someone came to the door. It was Lisa, my upstairs neighbor—from 16. My apartment is on the 8th floor. She was in her nightgown and was clearly startled. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “So sorry.” I couldn’t explain that somehow the elevator had missed my floor and I’d wound up on hers without realizing it. “My dog is really sick,” was all I could manage. Lisa has a dog, too—Asta, a picture-perfect Labradoodle. Her husband David is a triathlete like me. We often trade racing sagas in the elevator on our commutes to our respective floors. “I’m so sorry,” I repeated. Lisa said that it was okay. She was home alone and had been reading in bed. In other words, I hadn’t scared her whole family—she and David have two teenage kids; I’d terrified only her. I thanked her for understanding—even though I didn’t quite understand what had happened myself. All I knew was that I still had to empty that elevator and clean it up—pronto.
I squeezed back into the cab, straddling my bloody possessions and Lulu. When I reached the 8th floor I found a weary Kieran sitting by our front door. He didn’t have his key. He was locked out. “I could hear you, you know,” he told me. “All I could think was: ‘What’s she done now?’” He sounded like the patience-worn parent of a perpetually misbehaving teen, not the twelve year old he was.
“You could hear me all the way down here?”
I cringed but like so much else in my life at this point there was nothing to be done about it. Best to move on.
I explained about Lulu-Belle while tossing our stuff out of the elevator. When it was all off I was relieved to see that there wasn’t a speck of blood in the elevator cab. All of it was on my things. There was nothing to clean up.
Lulu-Belle was oblivious to her horror-movie star turn. She was still wagging her tail, ready for play, her blind eyes turned conspiratorially up toward me but of course not seeing.
I didn’t know that my runner-cyclist friend Jon was a veterinarian until after I adopted Lulu-Belle. One of the many great things about training with others in New York City is that we don’t talk about our jobs. We talk about watts and power, heart rate and VO2 max, threshold and periodicity. In a city where people are defined by what they do for work, this comes as a relief—at least to me. So it wasn’t a surprise that I didn’t know what Jon did for a living. I don’t even remember telling him about Lulu-Belle. But suddenly he was my volunteer resident expert, answering my every concern within seconds of my texting him, reading the near daily veterinary reports filed on Lulu-Belle by the various specialists treating her, even going so far as to contact the veterinary pathologist who reviewed her biopsies and wrote the report indicating that the lepto vaccine had triggered all this.
If Lulu-Belle were a question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Jon was my über friend. And I had him all to myself. Jon, I discovered, didn’t practice veterinary medicine anymore. He owned a string of veterinary clinics and divided his time between New York City, Miami, and Aspen.
I train with a triathlon team called Full Throttle Endurance. Back in the ’80s our coach, Scott Berlinger, was one of the original American Gladiators. His stage name was Viper. Now, instead of battling contestants he exhorts willing conscripts like me at ludicrously early hours to swim, bike, and run harder and faster than any of us thought possible.
The first race on Full Throttle’s calendar is always the South Beach Triathlon. It’s easier to get up at 4:30 in the morning to train in February when you know that you have a race coming in April.
So I was planning on going to Florida but not only for the triathlon.
My friend Rick, mentioned in two previous posts (“Blind Dog” and “Zombie Dog”), is Rick Springfield, the singer-songwriter-actor perhaps most famous for his mega-hit Jessie’s Girl. I worked with him on his memoir Late, Late at Night and subsequently on his debut novel Magnificent Vibration. He’s very smart and kind and funny, and is an extremely hard worker; we immediately hit it off.
Rick hosts an annual fan getaway. For years the getaways were cruises. I never went on any of those. Even with Rick there and his cool band and irreverent staff and all the luxury amenities I couldn’t imagine being cooped up on a boat for five days. How would I run? What if I wanted to getaway from the getaway? But once he started hosting getaways on solid ground I was all in. The first one I went to was at the Club Med in Cancun. The year after that it was the Club Med in Port St. Lucie, Florida. And now he would be going to Port St. Lucie again.
In a rare case of perfect timing the South Beach Triathlon fell on the weekend before the Wednesday start of Rick’s fan getaway. My plan was to go down to Florida for the tri and stay down for Rick. And while I’m on the subject of perfect: How great that I could be done with the stress of competition by Sunday and then have the rest of the week to relax?
I needed the break. I was less than a year into a new job. Six months into the split with my ex. And one month into Lulu-Belle.
That was the rub: Lulu-Belle. She was on seven medications. Her health was precarious at best. She wasn’t housebroken. It was far too much to ask my ex to mind her. She couldn’t board with my dog walker. I would have to medical board her with my vet. For ten days? It was unacceptable. I didn’t even have to make a decision. I instantly knew: if I was going to Florida Lulu-Belle would have to go, too.
The airline wouldn’t be a problem. I’d flown with Hazel so I knew the ropes. The weight limit for dogs for in-cabin travel is twenty pounds. Lulu-Belle weighed ten. She would fit easily in a soft carrier that would fit easily under the seat in front of me.
Accommodations in South Beach wouldn’t be a problem. The team hotel—the St. James Royal Palm—is pet friendly. I don’t mean pet tolerant; I mean pet friendly. The year before I had taken Hazel with me. The staff couldn’t have been happier to see her every time I took her in and out. They had water bowls for dogs set up in the lobby and when I checked in I was presented with a complimentary canine goody-bag filled with treats and a colorful poop bag dispenser with a roll of hot pink bags thrown in.
Club Med was the problem. It was not pet friendly but I figured I could get Lulu-Belle in as an emotional support dog. I didn’t like the idea but I felt desperate. So I got the necessary documentation and called Club Med to confirm. It took the manager four days to get back to me but when he did it was to say it was a go. As long as I had the proper paperwork Club Med would let Lulu-Belle in.
Lulu-Belle was due back at VERG-South for a check-up two weeks after her release. Dr. Fiorenza was out that day; instead we saw Dr. Clarke, Dr. Fiorenza’s supervisor, who had been monitoring Lulu-Belle’s case.
Driving Lulu-Belle back to VERG-South for her check-up two weeks after her release.
Dr. Clarke said that Lulu-Belle had to see a veterinary dermatologist as immediately as possible. Despite all the medications she was on, she wasn’t improving. She wasn’t remaining stable; her condition was worsening almost by the day. If she kept heading in the direction she was going she’d have to be put down. Only a veterinary dermatologist would be expert enough in raising her doses to effective levels. I explained about my upcoming trip; I was to leave for Florida in two days. My regular vet had already cleared Lulu-Belle for travel. “Oh, she can fly,” said Dr. Clarke. “You just have to get her to a veterinary dermatologist ASAP.” I asked her if she could recommend one in Florida. It turned out that her best friend from veterinary school lived in West Palm. The friend worked with a veterinary dermatologist who she thought the world of. Before I left VERG-South that morning, Dr. Clarke gave me her name: Dr. Danielle James.
Dr. James worked in three different locations in Florida. I could have gotten Lulu-Belle to any of the three. I’d have three days to work with. I would take her to Dr. James between the triathlon and Rick’s fan getaway.
One thing I hadn’t counted on: veterinary dermatologists are in high demand.
I wasn’t able to book an appointment with Dr. James at either of the first two clinics I called. The soonest Dr. James could see Lulu-Belle was in six weeks. When she wasn’t any more available at the third clinic I told the receptionist my sorry tale. She was instantly sympathetic. “Let me put you on the waiting list,” she said. But after keeping me on hold briefly she came back with more bad news: Lulu-Belle would be the fourth dog in that queue.
I’d have to cancel my vacation. The entire trip. There was no way around it. I wasn’t medical boarding Lulu-Belle for ten days. Maybe it was unscientific but I felt that even if the medication wasn’t doing the trick my love for her was. I wouldn’t leave her.
I’d been updating my friend Jon about Lulu-Belle’s situation. I emailed him everything that Dr. Clarke had said and filled him in about the elusive Dr. James.
I didn’t hear back for a few hours but when I did his reply changed everything. I couldn’t believe my luck. On the screen were four simple words: She works for me.