Old dog, new tricks for us


It was the message no one wants to receive while on vacation. We had just settled into our rooms at a lovely bed and breakfast overlooking a lake in the Highlands of Scotland when I noticed an email from our neighbor: “We’re at the vet’s office. Please call ASAP.” I realized that the email had actually come through a couple of hours before, but we had been driving through the mountainous Highlands: beautiful, remote, and completely without service.

Four days into our vacation this was the first place that had no wifi service in the rooms, only downstairs in the lobby. I texted back, not sure whether it was our dog or one of the cats in our geriatric animal unit who was in trouble. At nearly 18 years of age, our dog had already defied the odds multiple times, coming back from the brink of pancreatitis or dehydration, bouncing with remarkable spunk to his arthritic but enthusiastic self.

Navigating the communication was proving challenging. I had no phone service, nor did our daughter with a British phone. My husband, two daughters and I gathered in one section of the lobby, pooling our respective electronic devices. Skype! We used my husband’s iPad, and called our neighbor. We could hear her, but she couldn’t hear us. The service cut out and I called back and if I spoke loudly, she could tell I was there. She continued speaking even when she couldn’t hear me. Already home from the vet, they had administered fluids and an appetite stimulant, but needed to have our wishes clear should the dog start to fail again.

Teary, but clear, we call back and convey our wishes for him to be comfortable, but not to keep him alive until we returned four days later if he was in pain.

“The vet needs you to call and tell them directly, “ our neighbor advises. We ring off, and place a call. Amazingly we get through first try. I explain our wishes to the woman who answers in an increasingly loud voice because the wifi is shaky, fading in and out. “OK,” she says, finally, “but I need you to tell the vet herself. Can you hold?” I sigh, praying that the connection can sustain.

The vet picks up and I rush to try to get our stance across before we lose signal. “Our dog has lived a long and happy life and we don’t want to prolong it if he is in pain.” I’m speaking in a controlled shout so she can understand. “What?” she asks. I take a breath and go for the quick direct route. “IT’S OK TO GIVE THE DOG THE SHOT IF IT’S TIME.” I look around and see a couple on a Skype call with their grandchild, and another couple speaking in hushed tones. The vet responds. “So it’s ok with you if he doesn’t come around from the fluids?” “YES, IT’S OK.” I’m self conscious about screaming how it’s all right to send our dog into the next life with all these people around. I’m hoping they are foreign and don’t understand me.

“Ok,” the vet says. “I need you to just tell our tech since we can’t get it in writing.” She is transferring me over before I can tell her that I already spoke to someone. Tracy picks up and I feel a wave of nervous laughter bubbling up. I am in a sit come here, about to shout to a third person that IT’S OK TO OFF OUR DOG if necessary. I have to slap a hand over my mouth to regain control.

Miraculously the line holds, although it is staticky. Tracy is apologetic and sympathetic but I interrupt her and blurt out that “IT’S OK TO GIVE HIM THE SHOT IF NECESSARY.” Having satisfied this condition we are able to ring off and I breathe out a sigh of relief.

The next morning I remember that we have our calling card number and text it to Beth, our generous neighbor, suggesting she call my daughter’s phone. We receive the call in the afternoon and once again our little street dog from Puerto Rice has come through, happy to eat the special cans of dog food from the vet. I am eager to see the little guy, grateful that we will be able to be with him again, with no plans to be away more than a night for months to come.

Meg Stafford can be reached at megstaf@aim.com. She will have good service for the foreseeable future.


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About Meg

Meg is a licensed independent clinical social worker with over thirty-five years clinical experience. She holds a Master’s Degree from the Boston University School of Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts from the State University of New York at Binghamton.