When Angus was a tiny puppy, he developed intestinal problems that required frequent excursions to the backyard. It was January, and very cold, and for a period of a week or two I got up three times a night to take him out.
When you have a dog, this is what you do.
In midsummer, when he was about 8 months old, Angus developed seasonal allergies. He scratched himself bald in big spots on all four of his legs. Sometimes the itching grew so intense that he bit furiously at his haunches.
We took him to the vet, who gave Angus a shot of prednisone and a shot of something else, and gave us a bill for several hundred dollars. We paid it. When you have a dog, this is what you do.
We all want our animals to be healthy and to live long lives. But like any close relationship, we take the good with the bad, and the infirm with the firm.
All of our dogs have always eaten well and gotten a lot of exercise — three walks a day, and lots of play time in the yard. They have all lived long lives, but they all developed health problems late in life — expensive health problems.
Over the years, we cared for a dog dying of heart disease, which meant buying monthly supplies of digitalis and Lasix and paying for a three-night stay in an oxygen cage; nursed a dog through a surgically repaired meniscus; administered insulin to a diabetic dog twice daily for nearly three years; cared for a dog who mysteriously collapsed and became paralyzed and then, against all odds, slowly recovered; and then, three years later, nursed the same old dog through arthritis so severe he could barely lie down.
We have carried shaky old dogs out into the yard and taken them for slow, trembling walks to the corner and back. We have slept on the living room floor with dogs who were too ill to climb stairs or be left alone. We have cleaned up all manner of stains on carpets and floors, and cooked meals of rice and boiled chicken and scrambled eggs when dog food could no longer be tolerated.
OK, I am beginning to depress myself, remembering all of these deeply loved and long-gone old dogs. So let’s get back to Angus — robust, rowdy, funny Angus.
He’s fine. He’s great. His hair is glossy black and he happily eats all sorts of things, including contraband grabbed surreptitiously on strolls, and he can walk forever.
But if something were to happen — a torn dew claw, a broken tooth, an upset stomach, something worse — we would take care of it. When you have a dog, this is what you do.
Not too long ago, I had a bad day. I had a headache, I was feeling blue, I just didn’t want to be out in the world. When a day goes badly, my husband says, end it. So I went to bed early, pulled up the covers, turned off the light.
Angus hopped up with me. He did that behind-the-knees cuddle that is so comforting. He put his head on my feet. He fell asleep. And he made me feel much better.
Because when you have a dog, this is what they do.
Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books at the Star Tribune. She is not a dog expert, just a dog lover, chronicling her puppy’s first year on these pages. 612-673-7302. @StribBooks
Coming Oct. 13: Angus’ fateful leap. Follow Angus’ adventures at startribune.com/puppy.