Your dog is sick. It's heartbreaking. You think:

"If only they could tell us what's wrong!" True, but if we're redesigning the whole dog experience, let's not limit it to that. Your dog spends his day barking, woofing, whining, yawning ­— all the usual means of communication. Then one night he says, with startling clarity, "My guts really hurt."

"Oh, good, you can tell us what's wrong! Can you be more specific?"

"It feels like a lower abdominal problem in the pyloric region. There's some esophageal burn, but that could be stomach acid. Nausea."

"Oh, no, poor fellow. While we're at it, do you love us in the true sense, or are you just manifesting a series of reactions honed by centuries of socialization to manipulate us for food and shelter?"

"Sorry, can't go there."

As it happened, we didn't need to know. It was obvious that Birch had eaten something, again. When we got him, he was a poor Southern stray, a sack of bones, and I think he regards anything remotely edible as his last chance to eat, ever. Hence his early years of promiscuous consumption: a loaf of bread, bag of flour and a bag of foil-wrapped chocolates that had to be induced to retrace its route by a 2 a.m. application of expensive emergency-room charcoal.

Last year he ate a rabbit, which could not have been satisfying. I mean, I like steak, but not served in a thick, fuzzy sock. The effects of that brief meal were so profound that he vibrated like a freshly struck gong for an hour the next day, attempting to move the lapin tartare through the plumbing.

Of course we took him to the vet. It's always the same. Before: Save my dog, oh please, save my dog, I'll do anything! Does he need a kidney? After: It cost how much to save my dog? What do you want, a kidney?

The last episode suggested a replay of small-creature ingestion. A morning of diminished spirits; diminution of appetite, loud repeated gorking on the good rugs, eating of grass, eyes at half-mast, lying inert in the backyard. Squirrels could have come right up and taunted him, and he'd have done nothing.

Sometimes the dog rallies after a day. He did not rally. He seemed done with his mortal allotment. I took him to the emergency room. Nine hours later, at 4 a.m., I got inconclusive X-rays, a bill more appropriate for an omelet made with Fabergé eggs and a discharge paper that said — and I quote: "Diagnosis: Vomiting." The carpet could have said the same thing.

At this point, you start to investigate pet insurance. I called up some sites, got some quotes, looked at the exclusions, expecting to see "Not Covered: Stupid dog stuff." What I found, though, was rather surprising.

Not covered: "Any claim for loss from a nuclear incident as defined in the Nuclear Liability Act, nuclear explosion or contamination by radioactive material."

Uh ... hmm. So we emerge from the bunker to a hellscape of twisted girders and poisonous sky, and the dog looks a little shaky — he always did hate fireworks — and I think, "Great, all the vet bills are on me now. Then again, there aren't any vets, so it's probably moot."

Also not covered: "Conditions caused by war or war activities whether war be declared or not. War activities include civil war, insurrection, rebellion or revolution or any act or condition incident of any of the foregoing."

So, if Minnesota secedes from the union and a National Guard tank runs over your dog's tail, sorry. It goes without saying that any injury your pet suffers if the revolution involves a nuclear device is not covered.

I hesitated to buy insurance, because that would virtually guarantee nuclear rebellion the next time Birch ate some scamper-snack. I did shell out for another round of X-rays after he got worse; they were also inconclusive. Eventually he passed a walnut-sized hunk of a chew-treat we were assured was made from the core of a neutron star and could not break down.

How it didn't show up on the X-rays is a mystery. How he expelled it is a mystery; if he'd been facing away from the house, that thing would have embedded itself six inches in the stucco.

He's fine now. I'm still considering insurance. It doesn't cover "anal gland expression," but that's OK. He's not on Twitter. • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks •