One day last summer when while up in Maine, we noticed our small dog Mina making a coughing sound.
Nothing Mina does is that shocking to J and I, despite the fact that it might be shocking to other people. Mina's burying a breadstick in the hamper? Fine. Eating the remains of a vodka-soaked watermelon that was left out at the pool after last night's festivities? She'll survive. Trying to murder a two-year-old with what's left of her tiny, ragged teeth? Normal.
But this cough. It went on and on. It sounded like what I imagine a dying goose would sound like. A raspy, continuous honk, and when my my annoyance finally gave way to worry, I decided we'd call the friendly veterinarians up in Boothbay. They told us they'd see us right away.
An x-ray revealed that Mina was in congestive heart failure; it's one of those conditions that, in people and animals alike, sounds incredibly scary, but is actually manageable. Mina's had heart issues for years, none of them dire, so this wasn't incredibly surprising. The doctor prescribed a twice-daily dose of Lasix and told us to schedule a visit with our vet once we were home to evaluate how she was doing.
Mina's 13 - not young, but she's a small dog and their lifespans are longer - and would be fine for years, they explained, if the medicine worked well.
Lasix is a diuretic. My general, non-medical understanding of the drug is that it helps remove fluid from the system, which is good when you have congestive heart failure and are retaining water. A natural side effect is that you have to pee approximately 7,000 times a day. This is the drug that we were now giving our dog.
I'm gonna tell you a little story about Mina, and J is not going to like it, but it's a story that deserves to be told.
Several months ago J was taking a shower. Those of you who know him know that my husband has bad eyesight. As in, when he wakes up in the morning, before he puts his glasses on, he has to hold the clock less than an inch from his face to see the numbers on it (my sight is better, but not much, and our children are doomed).
Anyway, he's in the shower, enjoying his normal, semi-blind shower routine, when he notices something on the shower floor. He thinks it's one of the kids' bath toys, or maybe a bar of soap, so he picks it up and holds it close to his face like the alarm clock, a mere millimeter from his eyes to facilitate sight recognition.
It was a dog poop. Mina had pooped in the bathtub, which was, by the way, not that surprising, because this dog, she has her moments. I mean, this was not one of her more delightful ones, but let's just say she's not a boring dog.
This is the kind of lifestyle we were dealing with before the Lasix. This is the animal we were now giving a drug, that was also going to, yes, save her life, but also up the ante in terms of her bathroom habits.
I imagine if you were heard your normal, loyal dog making death cough noises and had to put it on a diuretic you'd feel sorry for it. Not so with Mina. I knew she'd be fine and live forever, and that we were the ones in trouble. Because if there's one thing you want when you are about to give birth to your third child, it's a dog that urinates to no end. A dog that has:
- eaten its weight in taco meat
- gotten in the carseat with your kid when you are driving on the highway and there is nothing you can do about it, and by the way, she hates children
- routinely finished your coffee when you leave it unattended, because that is the quality of life she expects
and now was being given the impetus - and license - to desecrate our household. Our other dog, Cecilia? If she was on Lasix, she'd sit patiently by the door if she felt the urge, each and every time, waiting for someone to let her out. She'd die before she had an accident. That's what nice dogs do.
Mina's what I'd call a legendary dog. I adore her, but "nice" isn't the word that comes to mind. And so, despite our best efforts to get her outside countless times a day, she started peeing in our house on occasion.
This wasn't good for obvious reasons, but also because it turned our home into a carnival of paranoia. J took to dropping his 6'4" frame to the floor any time he felt even a modest dampness on the rug, which, let's face it, happens when you've got a family of five tramping in and out of the house all day.
I'd try to explain. "I think that might be from the kids' shoes? Because it's rainy today?" But he wouldn't listen, on all fours swaying his head from side to side like a metal detector. "I know it's Mina. I know it. It's everywhere!"
Let's be clear. She wasn't peeing everywhere. I meant it when I said she was doing it "on occasion," but still. I tried hard to come up with solutions and schedules but the truth is that her diagnosis coincided with the addition of a new family member, and it's hard to watch three young children while ensuring your already mischievous and now medicated dog - who, frankly, would much rather never go outside anyway in winter months - is emptying her bladder sufficiently.
It's also worth mentioning that while the medicine helps her, and we are very thankful for that, the cough hasn't disappeared. It's not constant or scary like it was initially, but it's there, often when I'm nursing the baby to sleep in the evening. Mina will nudge her nose into the cracked door, swing it open and enter the dark room with the "clackety clackety clackty" of her toenails on the hardwood, wheezing loudly and wagging her tail, while she looks at me, happily, like, "How about now? Is now a good time to hang out?"
The combination of it all breeds this constant level of distrust and I recently told J we had to get a grip (especially him, let's be honest). The most common refrain in our household has become, "Mina! What are you doing?!" When the kids are all asleep and we notice her slinking up the stairs to their quiet and unattended bedrooms. When she's circling the rug. When she's walking around, without purpose.
I tried looking up solutions to the dog-on-Lasix situation online, and found only heartfelt narratives regarding a beloved pet's heart deterioration. This wasn't the help I needed.
I read a few explanations of congestive heart failure and related issues that came with plenty of reassurance that even though the medicine made your dog urinate excessively, at least its quality of life would be extended over many years.
I read that to J. He replied, "What about us? What about our quality of life?"
Over the past few months we've made a concerted effort to deal with this new adventure, and like all of life's challenges, it is slowly but surely improving.
J (who has adopted a new calm in recent weeks, I don't know, maybe it's this book on meditation he's reading) brought home some puppy pads which I was totally opposed to at first but then conceded might be helpful on unusually busy days. He also replaced our bathmat - Mina's favorite spot for relieving herself - with a cedar mat that smells like a spa and is hard and uninviting for her bathroom dalliances.
Of course, I let the dogs out any chance I get and am trying to get better about long, regular walks. Mina stays in a crate when we're out of the house and while she's sleeping at night, and seems to like it, happily entering when I ask.
Last night, though, I went into our guest room, which has just been transformed into Adriana's room with the addition of a crib, and I noticed a lump moving around under the comforter on the bed. Mina, having heard me enter, stuck her little head out from underneath. "What are you doing?" I said, automatically, as though she'd answer.
Then I sat down next to her and stroked her silky, soft ears. I haven't done that in forever and I thought about how you always read studies that petting an animal helps lower blood pressure. She needed to go in her crate, but the room, in its new incarnation as nursery, was so peaceful and warm. Mina may be a troublemaker, but she's no idiot. She'd chosen the least turbulent spot in the house and gotten down to business unmaking the bed and turning it the perfect lounge for an aging Pomeranian/Miniature Pinscher mix.
I looked at her, and at my quietly sleeping baby in the crib. One just beginning life and one beginning life's last stretch. One with an actual diaper one. Another who could really use a diaper.
I left her to enjoy her cozy nest, until J found her anyway, there was no way in hell he was going to leave her free to roam the house all night.
At the door I whispered, "Behave yourself. Don't wake up the baby." Again, as though she understood. But you know what? This is Mina we're talking about. A legendary dog, who is still making waves. And I think that maybe she did.