So I’m at the vet the other day, waiting to put more money into the paw of some wealthy pet pill-pusher, when a name is called and a woman stands up.
Much the same as people get referred to as Ben’s Mom or Meghan's Dad the minute they get in proximity of a school or other child-centric locale, at the vet you’re referred to by your pet’s name. Thus when I heard “Fluffy Santiago” summoned I knew it wasn’t “Fluffy” the person who stood up, and I further suspected I was the only one who would appreciate the sentiment, but I couldn’t help myself saying to no one in particular “Fluffy Santiago? What a coincidence – that’s my stripper name”.
And true to form – and expectation – all that greeted my contribution was a resounding, even judgmental silence.
Fluffy Santiago’s mother didn’t look any the worse for having heard the offending phrase, but the other pet owners looked distinctly unimpressed – all except a girl with an extremely odd looking dog (seriously, the legs, body and head were all from different animals – no blending or smoothing – and looked like they’d just been hastily slapped together, perhaps as placeholders until something more appropriate could be found… which wasn’t…) who broke into giggles before promptly wiping the smirk off her face. I suspect the general sense in the (un-air conditioned) pet pain palace was that I had taken a cheap shot, when really all I was doing was letting myself free-associate while nervously awaiting news.
Because I wouldn’t on purpose. Truly. I detest the cheap shot.
But if it was – subconsciously or otherwise – a shot that was cheap, it’s the only cheap thing I’ve done recently, at least in relation to veterinarians.
About a month ago, late on a weekend evening (the time when all children, dogs and teeth routinely act up) Lily had to be hustled off to the animal emergency hospital and ended up spending the night and fifteen hundred of my hard earned dollars on a condition we still have no diagnosis for: just a handful of ominous symptoms and a worry that’s with me from the moment I awake each morning.
(May I just say - Emergency Animal Hospital? Total racket. And a real insight into how it must be for Americans health care and health-care insurance wise. Because pet insurance? Another total racket.)
But to be honest, this is nothing new. Since the day she came home with me 13 years ago, I have been on near constant high alert that Lily was on the brink of death. Struck by a car, kidnapped (it happens – twice in my seemingly sleepy little dog-napping neighbourhood) accidentally squashed, squished or squeezed (she’s very small) or just plain succumbing to some horrible doggie disease, and all in some fatalistic way just because I love her so much.
Remember in Terms of Endearment, the character Shirley MacLaine plays, who shakes awake her peacefully sleeping infant to see if it’s breathing? Done it. Many a time. Through my fears I’ve trained her to be somewhat spoiled, a bit of a hypochondriac and a prime manipulator who only has to let out a squeak or a whine to get me coming on the run.
And now all those worries are coming home to roost as it looks like her time may be limited. She has an enormously enlarged liver (I begged her to put down the vodka – but she just loved those Greyhounds so much…) which seems to be pushing all her other little organs around, making it difficult to breathe, eat, or find a comfortable position in which to rest.
Since the emergency vet, we’ve been to my own vet three more times and have another appointment scheduled for Thursday to see if we can’t find some drug or other to make her more comfortable. The other options surrounding diagnosis are just too risky and painful to consider, as are the options for treatment should we get a diagnosis.
There’s no good news scenario available for Lily, save the hope that she can maybe continue to heave her giant liver around for some time, in as comfortable a state as we can devise for her.
She’s also, quite aside and apart from the enlarged liver, apparently going through premature senility – part of the answer as to why she’s so unsettled – she simply has no memory of the fact she’s been on and off the bed ten times in the past hour. I should have known; I sing to her, and for some time I’ve suspected that I’m not the only one who routinely forgets the words to “I love a Piano” and “Indian Love Call”.
Strangely all her fetishes and quirks remain unchanged: she likes to walk between lines – between the traffic on the street and the edge of the curb stone on the sidewalk. She has to be dragged to the centre of the pavement. (Think Jack Nicolson’s OCD character in As Good As It Gets.) She hates the colour red (and I thought dogs were colour blind) invariably kicking red cushions off sofas, chairs and beds, like Tippi Hedren having a bit of a freak-out in Hitchcock's Marnie.
And she likes to eat dinner twice: once to suck the tasty wet food off the kibble, the second to eat the kibble, but all the while with a long-suffering look on her punim, like a prisoner of war forced to eat sawdust while her wicked oppressors are gorging on chocolate, fresh coffee and creamy Danish butter. (Think The Great Escape.)
The movie references didn’t start out as a theme, but the fact is it’s just a natural association. Lily is without question a movie star type of dog – a diva with a list of ridiculous demands (who was it who had to have the brown M & M’s removed from the snack tray in their dressing room as a condition of performance? And who do you think it is who will only eat her apple if the skin is first peeled?) who deigns to walk amongst her fans, always aware of her effect on people – which is considerable. Folks regularly abandon infants in strollers and puppies and kittens (true story: a woman and her two little girls let their Yorkie puppy wander off into the path of a large cranky Labrador at the vet last week in order to repeat that instantly familiar phrase, “She’s just so CUTE!”) to worship at the shrine of my small, bad, brown dog.
So I’m in a sort of limbo – I don’t know what she has or how long she has to live – but I find I prefer it this way. As long as she’s annoying me with constant demands to be lifted on and off furniture, eating like a small brown pig and begging for her beloved treats with all the fervent need of a drowning victim going down for the third time, then we’re both happy. Well, happy-ish.
And my real stripper name? Based on the traditional method of determination, I’d call myself Charlie 14th Avenue. Which is neither particularly strippery, nor terribly memorable.
If I ever find myself in the act of peeling – clothes or apples – I think I’ll just call myself Lily Wilson. It isn’t particularly sexy either, but it is a name I’ll never forget.