Cathy Carper, who usually writes under the pen name Lee Carper, is an author who is working on her first manuscript in a planned series about a serial killer investigation team. She holds degrees in social work and pre-med/biology, with a focus on profiling and forensics. For the past few years, Cathy was a judge for the Thriller Awards, a prestigious award given by International Thriller Writer’s Organization (ITW), and has attended numerous conferences where she continues to learn about the craft of writing. Cathy was a member of a police advisory board, and wrote several articles for a local newspaper. She is an avid reader, writes reviews, and critiques manuscripts for fellow writers, and has at one time or another been a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters In Crime, as well as several writer/reader sites.
Cathy has three adult children and many animals. She resides in the beautiful state of Vermont.
by Cathy Lee Carper
Several years ago, I had a good laugh out of that Maxine-ism. Little did I know I’d eventually end up with my own adorable black hole of need. Don’t get me wrong… I already have three adorable black holes of need (my children, now adults and on their own) but this black hole of need was something entirely different than anything I’d experienced. I mean, let’s face it. We know when we have children, they’re going to be adorable, demanding little cusses, but a dog? Surely they can’t be any more difficult than raising children.
Now let me clear this up. It’s not like I was *completely* ignorant to the fact caring for a puppy would take some work, but um… HELLO? I was totally clueless just how much effort would be involved. My ex-husband and I had always been animal-lovers, and we acquired a menagerie over the years, including but not limited to: a pot-bellied pig, iguana, turtle, cockatiels, and parakeets. So it’s not as if I hadn’t cared for animals, but I sure wasn’t prepared for what lay ahead.
So let’s get rid of the maudlin part of this, and go back to what led to my decision on getting a dog. Even though I’ve loved my entire kaleidoscope of furry pals, my Amazon parrot somehow stood out among the rest, and had always been near and dear to me. After a divorce a few years ago and being on my own, Chief the parrot became my best buddy, greeting me with a friendly hello when I walked through the door, or bye-bye when I left the house. In a strange way, it was almost like having a person around. After all those years of raising the children and accustomed to a lot of noise, Chief became the only sound left, her sweet little voice echoing throughout the house. Sadly, she died a couple of years ago, and like anyone who loses a beloved pet, I suddenly felt too alone. I’m one of those people who feel incomplete without a special animal in my life, but even so, I wasn’t ready to replace Chief… I needed awhile to grieve. After all, it had only been less than a month.
But as the saying goes: “Life happens when you’re busy making other plans”.
One day I noticed a woman walking by my house with a poodle by her side. I don’t know what came over me, but without even thinking, I rushed out the front door and ran toward her, full-tilt, waving my arms around like a mad person. I’m surprised I didn’t scare the poor gal half to death. I told her I was thinking about getting a dog, and asked where she bought her poodle.
A funny little smile crossed her lips. “My dog’s about to have pups,” she said. “Do you want one of them?”
Clearly, fate intervened. I didn’t even give the notion much thought before I plunked down a deposit for one of the puppies. As I waited for the pooch to be born, my daughter and I discussed names. She preferred Amigo. A cute name I thought, but kind of hard to say. It didn’t just slide off the tongue, so I thought if we dropped the “A”, Meego would be perfect.
Thus, Meego was born.
I didn’t have experience with dogs, but I puppy-proofed the house. I figured it was the same idea as child-proofing, so it wouldn’t be any big deal. Holy shmoly, was I ever wrong. It’s amazing how many places a dog could get in trouble. I had to tape up the areas under the kitchen cupboard with cardboard because a tiny puppy could easily crawl up inside. I proceeded to put all of my decorations away, which meant empty coffee tables and end tables. I purchased several baby gates, but my house was such that I had to find additional blockage for the stairs so found some old boards. These required a gymnastics routine for us humans to climb over. The house was like an obstacle course.
Meego was finally ready to join me, and was just as cute as cute can be. I had no idea what I was doing, so decided to just go with the flow. Well I went with the flow all right. The pee flow. Being an old softie, I didn’t want to put him in a crate in order to potty train him, so he was on my bed with me all night. Yup, this required daily laundry. I think I changed my bed sheets more in one month than I did my entire life.
So the little guy was with me less than two weeks, when I had a family reunion weekend at my house. On day two of the reunion, I took Meego out in the backyard, and he proceeded to find something in the grass and gulped it down before I could get to him. We’re talking as fast as a Hoover vacuum. I had already gone through the yard throwing out all mushrooms, but somehow I knew that’s what he’d eaten. I had missed one. Out of a huge backyard, he managed to find the ONE mushroom I’d apparently missed.
He became very sick within a half-hour, and I went into panic-mode. Of course it was a Sunday – a rule of law I’ve come to live by… “when your dog is sick, it will be on a weekend so you have to take him to an acute-care clinic and pay a thousand times the normal fee”. So with a house full of people, I apologized for leaving, and rushed Meego out the door and brought him to the Emergency Vet. I hadn’t even had my puppy two weeks, and I was sure I’d killed him.
He spent the night in *ICU*, followed by several days at the regular vet, to the tune of over two thousand dollars. That wasn’t my concern however, as all I cared about was him pulling through.
Thankfully, he did.
Then a couple of weeks later I noticed he would spit-up a lot, and he’d tuck his tail down and limp… I frantically researched side-effects of various mushrooms, some of which were liver failure and eventual death. Back again to the vet, and she wasn’t sure what was wrong – said to wait it out a few days and unless he became worse, we’d do nothing.
So even though he wasn’t horribly ill, he would have days where he’d still limp and act lethargic. He obviously wasn’t feeling well. I took him to a different vet who said –get this – he had tonsillitis. A dog with tonsillitis? You have got to be kidding me! So he went on an antibiotic, but he continued doing the on again/off again routine of seeming okay but then spitting up and the tail-tucking routine with the limping. There was no diagnosis other than every time I’d bring him in, his tonsils were swollen. So back to antibiotics, which in turn made his tummy problems worse, and round and round we’d go.
When I had him *fixed*, I asked the vet to take x-rays to see if there was a cause for the limp. Sure enough, turns out he had dysplasia in his legs. This means when he hits about five years of age, he’s likely going to require surgery, as well as suffer from arthritis.
At this point, I’d only had him a short time, and the poor little guy was wrought with health problems. I pretty much lived at the vet’s office, and I’m sure they started thinking of me as a “Munchausen-by-proxy” pet parent, seeking attention by always bringing my dog to the vet, especially when a couple of symptoms were never diagnosed.
Between all of this, he began experiencing behavioral issues, the main one being aggressiveness when I’d leave the fenced-in area of the yard after playing ball with him. He would do the same thing right in the middle of play-time as well, so it wasn’t as if he was just angry I was leaving. I tried everything I could think of – even using techniques the dog experts recommend - but nothing made a difference. He also had severe separation anxiety, so when I’d try to leave the house, he’d go ballistic. He would attack me. Biting, barking, growling. This separation anxiety resulted in me becoming a hermit. It was too much of an ordeal to leave the house.
This had gone on for a year. Nothing had changed regarding his health issues. The vet suggested allergy testing, and it turns out he’s allergic to… wait for it… wait for it… almost EVERYTHING. Not only environmental, but food. I immediately had to cut out about 99% of his current diet as well as treats. His bouts of illness became less frequent, as did his spitting-up.
Even though his myriad of health problems weren’t completely resolved, at least they were on the right track. However, his behavioral issues were another thing all-together. Taking him on walks proved as difficult as flying to the moon. He would either pull on his leash so hard he’d cough and wheeze, or he’d sit and refuse to budge. Meanwhile, his separation anxiety had become impossible to manage. Seeing my pocketbook on the counter, set him into a frenzy. Same with dressing in anything other than my *lounging clothes*, so now I wasn’t just living like a hermit; I was a horribly-dressed one at that.
I called in a doggie-trainer. Yes, to my home. She managed to help me teach the dog to sit.
Woo-hoo! Yeah, THAT was worth the $300.
Fast-forwarding… I’ve now had Meego two years. Has his behavior improved? Not really, although I’m learning to work around his *issues*. Our walks became a little easier once I started using a long leash. He fusses and whines if I’m not paying attention to him. Having company over presents its own set of challenges; he usually requires tethering or else he’s jumping all over the people. You’d think after being tethered each time, he’d learn. Not. And yes, it remains a major ordeal to leave the house, but I no longer allow myself to be a prisoner in my own home. Not entirely anyway.
In the past two years, I’ve spent more money on veterinary bills than I have my own health care. Has it been worth it? Heck, yeah! For those of you who are animal-lovers, you understand. I don’t regret having my Meego for a second. He’s been worth every penny.
I guess it’s like Private Ryan when he says: “Life is like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re gonna git”. When we add an animal to our lives, none of us knows how their personality will end up – nor their health – but just like with our human babies, we love them unconditionally, and no matter what, wouldn’t trade them for the world.