Saturday, February 3, 2007

One Sick Puppy and One Big Game

Louie the Pug

My best friend is sick.
He’s a dog, my best bud. A Pug named Louie, the American Royalty Louie, that is. And I know what you're thinking -- she's one of those people. Those dog people.

Yeah, so the fuck what? I could be hearing voices.

I’ve had cats most of my life and loved them all, maybe not like children but close. I do not bring animals into my house on a whim. Once they are in my life, for better or worse, they're in my life for good.

Case in point: I've recently become allergic to my cat Sassy (apparently there's actual precedent for this). It sucks. I have to take allergy meds and spray her with stuff that keeps her dander down, but the thought of giving her away because of it has never crossed my mind. For better or worse.

I don’t dress up my pets in people’s clothes and I don’t feed them people food. I don't let them chew up the furniture and use the house for a urinal and say "isn't that sweet?" Nor do I treat them like babies.

Boundaries are set. Rules are to be followed. Some of my friends say I'm too "easy" on Louie The Pug, which you'd understand if you had to face those eyes every day. But we've set down the rules of the house and he knows he has to follow them. Having said that, he's a pug and I’ve come to believe that the “P” in Pug stands for “persistence”. If Louie’s got anything, he’s got that in spades. That stubborn dog thing, that look, that bearing. It says “You may win this battle but I will win the war, bi-atch.” You know how they say "resistance is futile"? Well, I'm not saying it's exactly true, but I'm not ruling it out for the future.

The King of "Pug Mountain"

Louie’s a rescue. We don’t know his whole story but the one we were told is that he was found wandering the streets of Los Angeles’ Baldwin Hills neighborhood. It's not a bad part of town unless you're a lost dog who is allergic to everything and could suffocate to death if it gets too hot. Somehow, he ended up in a public shelter and if it weren't for the pug rescue folks, he'd probably have died there. Lucky for him. Luckier for us. He was in pretty bad shape, though, an old leg injury had cost him the fur on one of his back legs and paws, he was blind in one eye from a common affliction of pugs, and both ears were aflame with infection. Plus, he had two rotting teeth that had to be removed and skin lesions on his paws and back. His age, they thought, was two or three.

He was in a little bit better condition when he came to us, having just had the infected teeth removed. Lucky for us, we had the best vet in L.A. who is knowledgeable about the breed. He first put him on a new diet (turns out the ear infections were due to a food allergy) and within a few weeks, he was pretty much a brand new dog. We also discovered his age was probably more around four or five. No matter, we picked him up, endured the three-hour seminar on how to treat a pug, paid our $300 and loaded Louie into the car.

Our bonding moment began immediately as he fell fast asleep on my lap in the car despite letting out a series of mind-altering farts. There we were hurtling down the L.A. freeways on a chilly evening in March, both windows open and the sound of Louie's snoring louder than the whoosh of the wind outside. I don't think either of us (the dog or me) could have been more thrilled.

He immediately ran into the house and peed on our fine Italian dining room table (for the first and dare I say, last time) and then followed us upstairs and took a headlong, though decidedly ungraceful leap into our bed of perfect white linens. He then proceeded to rub his snout into my comforter, he found a spot he liked -- in between two fluffy pillows -- and began to "arrange" the pills with his paws. He got it just right, apparently, circled not once but twice and plopped down. His look at that point was somewhere between "is this okay" and "thank you God, thank you." I imagine -- knowing where he'd come from -- he must have thought he was in pug heaven. Turns out he hadn't found heaven, we did.

Immediately, Louie seemed to grow attached to me. Mostly I think it was because I was work at home and am almost always around. The worst part of his day was when he’d ‘lose’ me in the house. He’d run all over the place, frantic, until he found me (that would be him scratching at the bathroom door). Eventually, we settled into a sort of daily routine: morning walk, morning feeding and then a short ride to the Starbucks drive-in to get my morning coffee. Then back home to my desk. He’d ‘ask’ to hop up on my lap where he’d eventually fall asleep, his rhythmic snoring keeping in time with the tap-tap-tapping of my fingers on the keyboard.

When we moved up to Wine Country, Louie took to his surroundings pretty quickly. No more morning walks but he gets to explore our ample yard and poke his nose around interesting plants and grasses and shrubs. He’s a happy, healthy pug.

Last week, though, I noticed he wasn’t himself. He’d sleep in, well past his breakfast and he didn’t seem too interested in food. One week and three visits to the vet later, he still wasn’t getting better. Even after the vet removed a Foxtail from his ear, there was no improvement. Rather, he was getting worse. We still couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him, except that sometimes if you touched him in a certain area around his head, he’d yelp in pain. Can I just say this is a sound nobody ever wants to hear. Ever. I would rather walk blindfolded through freeway traffic then hear that again.

My vet, though competent, was stumped and so I decided to take him to UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, which is more than 100 miles away, southeast of where I live. They have a small animal clinic that has a great reputation. I called them up and explained Louie’s symptoms – right away they seemed sharp and responsive and I knew I had to go, if only to rule out the stuff I didn’t even want to think about.

Louie and I set out for our long ride, me with a heavy heart and he with his head hanging low and his beautiful pug’s tail uncurled. It was Friday, half passed two in the afternoon. We were heading right into teeth of Bay Area’s notorious rush hour, not to mention the weekend traffic of skiers and Super Bowl bettors to Tahoe and Reno. I 'm just laying it out for you, just in case you wondered how much I love my dog.

Louie likes to ride in cars and while he yelped twice on the ride there, I think it had more to do with his being generally uncomfortable. He was shivering a little from what I suspected (and later confirmed) was a fever. Though I usually don't allow him to sit on my lap when I'm driving (for obvious reasons), I made an exception, if only to quell his shivers and ease his stress.

When we finally got there around 5 p.m., I knew we were in the right place. Nothing against my local vet, but these people clearly have seen everything – and they act like it. Professional, smart, caring – they made you feel like nothing was being left to chance. I was amazed at how they were even able to put Louie at ease. An animal in pain is unpredictable in part because he will do anything to protect whatever is hurting. The exams and tests and poking and prodding don’t help.

But the people at VMTH were gentle and kind with Louie and it seemed to make the whole process a lot easier on him. They were just as stumped as my vet so they started from the beginning, doing and redoing blood tests, X-rays and a mouth exam (which required a sedative) -- doing everything took nearly three hours.

What’s the verdict? Well, we still don’t have one exactly. The tests didn’t point to anything specific and while the worst stuff was ruled out, a few other things are still to be determined. The best the docs can figure is that the foxtail so irritated his ear canal that opening his mouth causes him pain. A course of antibiotics and pain meds were prescribed to see how he does over the weekend.

I’m putting his food through the blender and feeding it to him by hand so he doesn’t have to open his mouth too much and right now, he’s sleeping at my feet. If the meds don’t help, we get a return trip to Davis on Monday.

* * * * *

Tomorrow, in case you’ve been living under a rock, is Super Bowl Sunday. Even if you pay attention to the sports world, you could be excused for forgetting. These days, the traditional January game is being played in February. So let's see: we got New Year's Day College Football Bowl games being played a week after New Year's Day. And now we got January games being played in February. What's next? The World Series on Christmas Day?

I was living in the D.C. area when the Colts literally bolted from Baltimore and it was a big deal, even from my vantage point in the middle of Washington Redskins territory (I’m a New Yorker and therefore, a Giants fan however). The owner of the Colts at the time was never anybody’s favorite human being (though I never met the guy so I wouldn’t know) but if you know anyone who ever called Baltimore home prior to 1984, you know what a blight on their sports-loving soul the pre-dawn departure of the blue and white squad of Johnny U. and John Mackay really was. If you still don’t get it, watch this.

For a long time in deference to my friends from Baltimore, I couldn’t root for the Colts. But Bob Irsay is gone and Peyton Manning has finally arrived on his sport’s biggest stage and Baltimore has a new team to call its own and replace the Blue horseshoe in their hearts, and basement walls. So I’ve no problem now rooting for the Colts and their great, deserving coach who didn't get credit for building his first Super Bowl Champion in Tampa.

Besides, I hate the Bears. That’s a function of being a Giants fan (if I have to explain it ...) and anyway, my take is that the best quarterback ought to be the winning quarterback.

This year’s match-up features the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts. It seems at first glance to have the makings of an exciting game. The Bears are known for their defense; the Colts for their offense. The most well-known Bear is a linebacker and the number one Colts player is their QB. The reason I say it seems like a good match-up is because most Super Bowls end up very one-sided. Not a bad thing if your team is on the north end of a blowout but if you're team is in the big hole or if you're just tuning in as a football fan, the long t.v. timeouts, the extra, overrated, overpriced ads, the (usually) long and boring half-time show -- well it all adds up to all pomp and hardly any circumstance.

So I’ve been skipping a lot of Super Bowls lately. However, I tuned in last year because I had a rooting interest (the Steelers, and a storybook ending for The Bus). It was a good game (if not so well played) and despite Seattle's seeming to not want to win, the outcome was in doubt almost down to the wire. Another reason to watch the game is that it's being broadcast in HD .

And it's probably the best quality HD broadcast you'll see anywhere all year. The Super Bowl is why they invented HD. Even if the game sucks, you'll see it suck with the kind of clarity that would make a Zen Master envious. I’d watch paint dry in HD. In fact, I’d have a party to watch paint dry in HD.

I’m going to tune in and hope for a good game; either way I’ll share my thoughts here, live from my living room chair, with my best friend sitting at my feet.

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