Harry is sick. The vet reports it’s kennel cough, essentially a canine cold. My wee dog has been sneezing and snorting since the weekend, and as of Monday was diagnosed with fever. Listless doesn’t seem close to describing his condition. This is a dog who under normal circumstances makes Red Bull tired, springing from room to room, running up and down stairs, terrorizing yard squirrels, barking at passersby, and generally causing a ruckus. For the past six days, when not whining or sleeping, he’s hovered close to me, tail down, glassy-eyed, a look of such pleading on his face to break the heart.
Kids, at least, can tell you what hurts. In spite of the vet’s assurance that my dog is basically healthy but for a touch of fever, I’ve worried myself into distraction. Like Shirley Maclaine in the first scene of Terms of Endearment, I check Harry every few minutes, shaking him awake to be sure he’s breathing. I hand-feed him and encourage water, which he laps without interest, appeasing me. Even the felines, who generally regard this relatively new addition to the household with peevish tail flicks, seem worried. They sniff him and frown at me, glaring accusations. He’s sick. Do something. I bundle him in blankets when he starts to shiver and slip antibiotics down his throat, then google kennel cough and wring my hands when I see words like pneumonia and even, if too serious, death.
When I got sick as a kid, my mother would tuck me into bed and bring me comfort food: ham on buttered toast and hot sweet tea. I can’t do that for Harry, but found myself last night under a blanket on the sofa with Mom’s remedy. I nibbled at my ham on toast and studied him. I sipped tea as he whimpered on my lap. Cats are different somehow. When they get sick they disappear, hiding under beds until they feel better. Harry, my first dog in 30-plus years, sticks close and looks into my eyes. Help me, he seems to say.
A few weeks ago I had out-of-town company, and every time I sat down a then healthy Harry pestered me at twelve-minute intervals, wanting me to throw his favorite toy, or let him out, or let him in, or begging for a bone. I carped about it, stop bothering me dog! I’m entertaining! This week he lay curled on my lap, and no matter how many times I squeaked Rocky or Squirrelly or Mr. Pig there was no interest. I waved a bone in front of his face and he turned away. Not much of a praying woman, I spoke to “the above” last night. I’ll never complain again, I whispered. Let him be okay.
This morning, I woke up with Harry on a pillow nearby, fully expecting him to be dead. He was not. In fact, a little while ago he bounded down the stairs and barked to go out, in spite of the fact that it’s cold with a threat of snow. And once, while I was in the kitchen, I heard a squeak from another room. Harry appeared seconds later, tail wagging, with Mr. Pig in his mouth. I felt his nose, which for a week has been warm. Cool and moist. Eyes not so glassy, though still imperfect. But getting there.
Now he is feet away, snoozing in his purple sweater. The cats have vanished, going about their business. They sense, like I do, that Harry is in recovery. My hand-wringing has stopped and life is returning to normal. Maybe my little man and I will take a walk later, snow be damned. Of course, he’ll be wearing his winter jacket in spite of the calendar.
As I write this I am patting his head, his breathing even and safe. He is deep asleep, no longer looking at me with desperate brown eyes. Good grief, I wonder. How to people have children?