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Under The Knife - by Lori Windsor Mohr

Under The Knife - by Lori Windsor Mohr

Major surgery. Nobody likes it. It’s always a cause for anxiety, if not about the outcome, at least about the aftermath. Pain control. Diet.

Restricted activity level. Life measured, at least temporarily, in terms of before and after The Event. I’m not talking about my surgery, or yours. I’m talking about our dogs.

It makes a good argument for not getting a female who will need spaying. But is that what comes to mind when choosing a dog? That kind of reasoning is right up there with wondering if she’ll make the cut for the Westminster Dog Show. Who cares? So what if a female dog will need major abdominal surgery.

That’s just part of the deal, like kids getting ear infections and tonsillitis. That’s no reason to not have kids. You get the dog, and you fall in love. You’ll deal with surgery when the time comes.

But then that day arrives. You worry about the actual process. No food after midnight the night before. If you own a Lab, pug, or other food-driven breed, you’d rather grow tarantulas in your ear than be sequestered at home, withholding a meal. You watch the clock for appointment time with a mix of yearning and dread, wishing you could explain the empty food dish to your puppy, who gazes at you with what you hope is confusion rather than the crush of betrayal.

Delivering your dog to the vet for surgery is one case where the actual event is worse than the anticipation. The vet is caring, understanding even, as she leans down to put a clinic leash on your pooch, a standard-issue twine cord equivalent to the mass-produced cotton apron we know as the hospital gown. You’re instructed to say goodbye and leave, a sign to Fido that you’re giving the vet permission to take charge.

Brutal, huh? I’ve just gone through this drill, dropping my puppy, Romey, off for surgery. Driving home for the long wait – the reassuring phone call that all went as planned — took me back four decades to the day of my daughter’s surgery, a déjà vu experience that makes leaving Romey seem primitive and cruel in retrospect. My daughter was three at the time. It was a small benign cyst, the surgeon explained. But it was near her left eye and had to be removed. As they rolled her into surgery, her father and I were ushered into a surgical waiting room where a fresh pot of coffee was brewing. The wait was torturous. When the surgeon appeared with a big smile, my husband and I hugged each other, and then him. Such relief. A drug-induced high would pale in comparison.

Of course those were the days when surgery was referred to as “an operation” rather than “a procedure.” Any patient going under general anesthesia was kept a minimum of twenty four hours. How indulgent. Not only did my daughter stay overnight, but I was allowed to stay in the room. She was loopy and probably didn’t know I was there, but the comfort for me was immeasurable. I spent a sleepless night perfectly content, watching her breathe from the chair next to her bed.

The vet clinic is no pediatric ward. But vets know as well as anyone: these dogs are our kids. Yet after delivering Romey for surgery, I was ushered out the door to my car, not a surgical waiting room. Driving home I fought tears, noting the exact time and calculating how long it would be before the call that all had gone as planned.

How would I cope with the wait? Her surgery was scheduled for noon. Five long hours. If we lived closer to the city, I’d head for the pet store and splurge on a new Charming toy. That’s my kind of coping.

eBay will have to do. Unable to concentrate on my work at home, I peruse art books on the auction site. I figure the adrenaline rush of snatching a buy from another bidder will help me focus on something besides the image of my pup splayed open on a cold slab, her body turned down as low as it can be, short of death.

I try to focus on the item descriptions. Ashille Gorky. How can I go through life without a book on Arshile Gorky: The Early Years. $21.50, my winning bid. Only four hours and forty minutes to go. This could get expensive.

But eBay fails to keep Romey from poking through my psyche. She is our first rescue dog. We’ve always had Labs and pugs from reputable breeders, even if we had to travel to get them. When our beloved old Lab died, Larry and I decided it would take two dogs to replace him. We turned to a breeder in Santa Barbara for Luke, our Lab pup. But we decided it was time to offer our home to a rescue as well.

We live in the country on a big property that needs big dogs. It’s also a bit isolated. The thought of a hulking, scary looking dog was appealing. No one thinks twice about a Lab. Give him a biscuit and he’ll lead you to the safe. A German Shepherd, that would be the ticket. Not that the puppy would be a working dog. The Fierce Dog look would be intimidating enough.

I had no trouble choosing an eight-week-old female (of course we’ll provide documentation of spaying!). Once our questionnaire, interview and home visit passed muster, Romey was ours.

During my years with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation I’d come to know the German Shepherd as highly intelligent, with a streak of independence not common to Labs, and totally foreign to the lap-entrenched pug.

Intelligent. Independent. Strong. I looked at the eight-week-old pup and could imagine her in a squad car, LAPD Canine Unit. She would grow into a powerful specimen, all muscle and fur and ears, ready to protect, if not serve.

Things didn’t unfold quite as I’d imagined. Romey’s energy level is off the chart, and it’s a darn good thing she has room to run. That high spirit is also a good reason for nailing the training part. And we have. She has me trained to issue her biscuit during rather than after dinner, my having made the mistake only twice. Intelligent indeed.

As for the LAPD Canine look, well, that’s not quite as expected. My would-be intimidating hulk with the massive coat, high pointed ears and muscular frame turned out to be a lanky gazelle with floppy ears and sleek fur shellacked over a tube-steak body, the kind of dog you envision prancing dutifully behind her owner on the Champs-Élysées, bejeweled collar hugging her pencil neck. There’s nothing police dog about her. She’ll max out at 50 pounds, tops.

But sweet? Oh, man. Unlike the conniving pug and the mischievous Lab, this dog is guileless. Sweet through and through.

The phone rings: it’s the vet. Surgery has gone well. Of course it has.

Still, a wave of relief washes over me. Another satisfied customer. Now, if I could’ve just sat in a chair, next to the post-op crate with my arm squished through, resting on my puppy…

That would’ve been perfect.