"An animal's eyes have the power to speak a great language." Martin Buber
I thought my dog was just tired at first. Resting after our long hike on the Cloudland Canyon Connector Trail. But then he quit eating. And barely got up to greet my husband when he came home from work. His eyes were forlorn and dull.
All weekend we kept our eyes on him, taking his food dish back to our bedroom where he lay pitifully, not moving his tail when we approached him. He was so sick he could barely look me in the eye. We debated taking him to the emergency animal clinic, but instead sat by him and rubbed his head. "You're okay, Bubba," my husband whispered.
We were all terrified he was not.
I took him to the vet first thing Monday morning for blood work, x-rays and a temperature check, which was interesting. The vet told me it was probably a tick-borne illness, but also said there was a small chance my dog had lymphoma. He held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart, and squinted through them, reiterating how infinitesimal this chance was.
One shot, four bottles of pills and three hundred dollars later, my dog bounded out of the car like he was an energetic puppy, and I cursed myself for overreacting. My children had been sicker than that before I'd even given them Tylenol.
I was convinced he had a virus, and that if I'd waited 12 more hours I'd be several hundred dollars richer, and my dog wouldn't have been alarmed over the thermometer up his rear. Nonetheless, I gave Bubba his medicine diligently, surrounding every single pill with softened cheese or grilled salmon, disguising the tablets. He quickly wised up to me, taking the savory bites in his lips and clenching his teeth in a tight row as he swirled the tidbit around in his mouth before dropping the tiny pink tablet on the rug, where my other dog tried to gulp it. I persevered, and was more disciplined about giving that dog his medicine that I ever was with my kids.
At the end of the two weeks, my middle son kept the dogs while we went out of town. He took them down to his bachelor pad where they were hits with all five roommates, and the slew of constant visitors.
So when we picked the dogs up and noticed Bubba had relapsed, lying on his bed lethargically and barely eating, my husband joked our dog was merely hung over.
We watched him through another long weekend, covering him with a soft blanket as he shivered uncontrollable. The lymphoma was in the back of my mind as I rubbed my hand gently over his protruding ribs.
"We are not getting another dog," I remembered telling my husband firmly six years ago when the stray hound mix showed up at the edge of our driveway. Two days later we had Bubba neutered, and he's slept in our house every night since.
He loves us.
When my middle son came home from college after being gone for months, Bubba enveloped him and cried and cried, overwhelmed with emotion. Whenever any one of us has been down and out or broken-hearted, Bubba has known it, and stayed by our side, watching over us with warm, understanding eyes. His eyes are almond-shaped, and lined in black like Cleopatra. They are kind, and expressive, and he speaks to us with them. When we are too-heavily-burdened, he is as devoted as any doting mother, following us to the bathroom, to the car, to bed, until we are ourselves again.
I couldn't let myself think about lymphoma.
We left the vet with even more pills, and instructions to call if he didn't start eating soon. We all fretted over him, each whispering to him privately as we took turns sitting by his bed.
After three long days, Bubba finally got up out of his bed, slowly walked into the kitchen, and ate a few bites of gravy-coated meat. We were ecstatic. The next day he walked a loop around the lake. And the next day he ran toward my husband's truck as he pulled in the driveway, greeting his master.
"You're okay, boy. You're my best boy," my husband said as he rubbed the dog's silky ears. And Bubba looked at him devotedly, telling my husband exactly the same thing.