Who Would've Thought My Dog Would Be My Teacher?

Nearly 10 years ago when I was splitting up with my husband at the time, I was worried about my kids and how the transition would affect them. My older daughter, Ayu, had been bugging me for ages about getting a dog. I always put her off. We travelled a lot and I couldn't imagine how that would work. But when things began to fall apart with her Dad, I started to reconsider. Maybe it was time to get a puppy. Maybe that would help the kids, give them a new focus, but what kind? I quickly realized I needed a dog that didn't shed a lot. I had a hard enough time keeping the house clean with two small girls. I also wanted something small, thinking we could bring a little pet onto an airplane with us. Somehow we settled on a dachshund. 

The next thing I knew, Ayu was talking to a friend who was enthusiastically saying, "I have a client who just had puppies!" Kumari is an animal communicator and one of her doggies had had an unexpected litter. She contacted the human owner to enquire if she'd generously give us one. Jan agreed with the caveat that Kumari "interview" them all to see which one wanted to come to Florida. The dogs, you see, lived in Los Vegas and I was planning on opening a school so our puppy had to like kids and be okay with coming to school with us everyday.

 Rudy Dog

Rudy Dog

Kumari went to work talking to the litter and one male, Roo, excitedly responded, "Yes, yes, I want to go to school." So within a few short weeks, I was at the Atlanta airport picking up a 4-month-old brown, shorthaired dachshund. 

The first time Ayu saw him, she cried. He was so tiny and squirmy but super friendly and loving. We brought him home and it was just like having a baby, up every few hours taking him out. We quickly figured out that for all his cuteness, dachshunds were astoundingly stubborn and willful.

Then school started. Rudy, (we changed his name to Rudy after the spiritual teacher, Swami Rudrananda who went by Rudi) came to school with us everyday. At first, he barked at nearly every adult, not exactly the most welcoming mascot. But he also immediately loved the kids and became quite protective of them. He would wander from classroom to classroom checking on the students, lay on a bean bag and allow kids to read to him, hunt for dropped sandwiches under the picnic tables, and participate in PE, running enthusiastically like he was one of the pack. 

This past August he started acting strangely. He was protecting his left paw, wouldn't put weight on it, and was sleeping a lot. His vet, Sandy, prescribed anti-inflammatories and pain pills. Finally one night in early September, he cried all night. In my gut I knew something was terribly wrong. He was getting worse not better. In the morning I called Sandy who explained that his problem was neurological. "If he has to see anyone, it's gonna be the best." She made a few phone calls and got me in with a Board certified neurologist. I would have driven to Canada to take Rudy to the doctor, that's how desperate I felt. Instead I just had to go to Melbourne, about an hour away. Rudy sat on my lap the whole time. He was just like a sick infant wanting my touch, to be comforted and held.

Dr. Bichsel took one look at him and knew what was wrong but did an examination anyway. He came back to tell me, "your dog needs surgery. He is in excruciating pain from nerve root damage. I think he has a herniated disc but we must be sure by doing a myelogram. If you do not do surgery, I recommend you consider putting him down, his pain is too great."

I was in shock. My dog wasn't even 10, I wasn't ready to put him down but what if the surgery didn't work? In desperation I called my husband. Through tears I told him what was happening. He, naturally, was much calmer. "We have to do the surgery. Rudy has too much life left in him."

"Okay," I told the vet tech, "let's do it" and like that, they whisked him away from me and into the back. I sobbed the entire ride home. I felt so guilty that Rudy'd been in excruciating pain and I hadn't known. I cried because I felt like I didn't get a chance to say goodbye and he could die on the operating table. 

After the surgery, they called to tell me everything had gone well. Every day after that, they checked in and gave me a progress report. First Rudy was on morphine, then a fentanyl patch. He was getting hyperbaric oxygen treatments and physical therapy. Meanwhile, I had sunk into a depression, I wanted my dog back. Rudy had weaseled his way into my heart and I loved him like the member of my family he is.

 Rudy's staples. 

Rudy's staples. 

On Monday I was ready to pick him up only the doctor said, "I think we should keep him a few more days." I wasn't able to get him until Wednesday. When they brought him into the room he started yelping so happy to see me. He had an 8-inch opening down the back of his neck held together with metal staples. I quickly dubbed him my Frankenweenie. "He is urinating and defecating on his own," they assured me. I paid, brought him to the car and drove home. 

Once at the house, I carried him outside to pee and he fell over. Not only was he unable to walk but he couldn't even stand. I was scared and called our vet. "Sandy, I don't know what to do. He can't even stand on his own."

She came over the next day and showed me how to stabilize him. "Situate his legs so he is upright and if he has to go, he will." She got him into position and he peed, then he attempted to move away from her, went a step and collapsed but his movement gave me optimism. "He's still wonked out on pain killers. Once they wear off, he'll be able to walk." 

I held on to her words like a promise and kept seeing him running freely in the yard, chasing squirrels.  

Despite it all, his pain, his inability to walk, Rudy personified love. He would look at me, love and gratitude emanating from his eyes. Here I was feeling horrible, like a bad mother, a bad owner, unaware, having hurt him (unintentionally) and all he had for me was love. Love and gratitude. Those looks pierced my heart. Maybe it's the simplicity of being a dog- they don't have all the other trivial thoughts that we have like, "what am I gonna wear today" or "I have to flat iron my hair, pay bills, run errands." Their lives are simple and it seems to me they think more with their hearts than with their heads. Most importantly, they don't beat themselves up over and over again for screwing up. 

One of Rudy's naughty traits is that he loves to dig in the garbage. The other day, my husband came home and Rudy was his usual thrilled self, greeting him with eagerness, chatter, tail wagging and playful pitter patter. Then he noticed Rudy had been in his trash can. He bent down, picked up the tissue, and looked at Rudy who promptly bolted out the door. Clearly Rudy knew what he'd done was wrong but does he constantly say to himself, "I'm a bad dog, I shouldn't go in the trash?" No. He forgets after that moment and moves on.

We rehabbed Rudy for three weeks and he has since recovered nearly 100%. He can walk, run, chase lizards and squirrels. He still limps slightly, which impedes his ability to go on long walks. He can no longer jump or go up and down stairs and that means he won't be able to go back to school to resume his full time job there. So now we have to see what his next task will be. I know that he continues to be my teacher. Reminding me that love is the only thing that matters and that forgiveness is the only way to treat each other and ourselves. He has become my constant companion, following me around like a shadow. When I do take him to school, he's treated like a celebrity, and he loves seeing the kids. I worry a little that he'll feel like he's lost his purpose but I don't think he has. So I hold open the door of possibility, waiting to see what his next job will be and if it turns out that it is simply to be my teacher than so be it. I am the greater for it.