Two nights ago I found myself sitting on the cold kitchen floor hand feeding soggy kibble to my puppy. Not exactly how I’d planned to spend my evening. The wind howled outside, it was a frigid negative 10 degrees (according to the temperature gauge on my car), and I had a nasty cold that had settled in my throat and made me sound just a bit like I could have been the love child of Bea Arthur and Darth Vader.
I’d planned to curl up by the fire with a mug full of Theraflu and knock myself out, but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Capone the Wonder Dog was having a bad night.
He hasn’t been enjoying the weather, a brutal gift from Siberia, which is kind of a surprise. Labrador Retrievers are designed for the cold. They’re bred to haul fishing nets out of the icy North Atlantic, but I can’t even get my Lab to take a poo in the backyard without a lot of urging and promises of treats and belly rubs.
I asked Steve Moore, owner of Brown Dog Java (and also the owner of Capone’s grandfather, Alfie) how to know if it was too cold outside for a Lab. He said if they lift up all their paws, it’s too cold. I thought he was joking, but I actually saw this happen today. Not simultaneously, but Capone lifted one paw at a time, let out a whimper, and charged back to the house. I don’t blame him. I was ready to go back inside, too.
The trouble started with dinner. Usually dinner is a big event for Capone. Usually food in general is a big event for Capone, but dinner holds a special place in his heart. I don’t know what he’s thinking, but I imagine it’s somewhere along the lines of “Happy, happy, food, food, happy, happy, food.” Every mealtime I fill his Bob-A-Lot (an interactive dog food dispenser) (don’t judge me – it buys me fifteen minutes of quiet time in the morning to have a cup of coffee), and just let him go. Tail wagging, he happily rolls the Bob-A-Lot around the kitchen floor and feasts until the Bob-A-Lot is empty and the fun is over. But today he didn’t. He just looked at it and…sighed.
“Something is very wrong,” said my youngest. “Call the vet.”
I watched as Capone nibbled gingerly at the bits of kibble on the floor. He seemed hesitant to bite them, which was a little strange. He usually sucked them up with the intensity of a Dyson. But Capone just wasn’t his usual starving self this evening.
“I think he’s teething,” I said. “It would explain a lot. Like the biting. And the chewing. And the various poo issues.”
“You’d better call Patti,” said my youngest.
Patti is a friend who owns one of Capone’s uncles, Clancy, and knows everything there is to know about Labs. Honestly. If a person could earn a PhD in Lab training and behavior, Patti would be awarded an honorary degree.
Patti stopped by the next day after work to make sure Capone didn’t have an abscess or a dental issue. He greeted her, tailed wagging, and acted pretty much like himself. As soon as she left however, things got worse.
I’ve heard the term “explosive diarrhea” before, but I thought it was hyperbole, like “greased lightning” or “raging hormones.” I found out that "explosive diarrhea" was pretty much spot on in describing exactly was Capone was able to produce. It wasn’t an exaggeration at all.
It went on all night. One in the morning, then four in the morning, then seven. I’d decided to cut Capone off from food after he barely ate his evening meal, but by morning he had no interest in water either. I fed him a steady diet of ice chips until the vet opened at nine.
Of course Capone had to get sick in the middle of a snowstorm. It would have been far too simple for him to have explosive diarrhea on a pleasant, sunny day. We shoveled the driveway, packed him into his travel kennel, and hit the road (or at least what we could see of it) with our sample of fecal matter double wrapped in garbage bags in the back seat. Fortunately, it was a short trip. We really did not want to experience the explosive power of Capone’s bowels while trapped together in an SUV.
The vet, after checking Capone’s poo and finding blood, suggested an x-ray. “Just in case he ate something. Like a sock.”
This was not beyond the realm of possibilities since socks were one of Capone’s passions. His other passion was shoes. In all honesty, Capone is passionate about anything he can stick in his mouth, especially if it will result in his favorite game, “Chase Capone Around the House.” It now takes two people to catch him, trap him, and get whatever he as stolen out of his mouth. He’s become very wily.
As we waited for the x-ray results, I was actually kind of scared about what would show up in Capone’s belly. I thought we’d been pretty cautious, but he was fast and he was determined. I imagined the kindly vet looking over his glasses and shaking his head in disappointment at me. I also pictured a collection of assorted objects in his belly. Keys. Rusty nails. Paperclips. Ginzu knives.
It was a huge relief when all the x-ray showed was gas. A lot of it. “What did Capone eat? He definitely ate something he should not have.”
This time the vet did look over his glasses at me. I just stared at him, unable to answer for a moment. This was a very complicated question. I started making a list in my head. What did Capone eat or attempt to eat in the last few days?
1. A used tissue
2. A cardboard box
3. A roll of toilet paper
4. A dried up worm that he found in the garage
5. A thermometer
6. My socks
7. My sons’ socks
8. My neighbor’s socks
9. Shoes belonging to everyone in our family
10. Shoes belonging to everyone who visited our house
11. My glasses
12. My hand lotion
13. A pillow
14. My glove
15. A blanket
16. The newspaper (a daily event)
17. A book on dog obedience
18. Rabbit poo
Since the rabbit poo was the only thing he actually ingested, I went with that one. “He does eat a lot of rabbit poo.”
The vet raised one slightly judgmental grey eyebrow at me, putting me immediately on the defensive. “I don’t encourage it. Sometimes he’s just sniffing in the snow and comes up with some. I guess it kind of does look like his treats. He’s also been nibbling on the bushes in the backyard. And the frozen moss that grows between the bricks on our patio.”
The vet shook his head. “None of this is good for a dog. I can’t say for sure what caused it, but we’ll need to treat it immediately.”
After a shot of anti-nausea medicine, a prescription of antibiotics, four cans of special food, and a bill that was roughly same amount we paid to purchase Capone, we drove back home. My husband poured a large glass of wine.
“This is not how I planned to spend my weekend,” he said. I felt bad for him. He was only home for a few days, and spent most of it shoveling snow and caring for a sick puppy.
"It's almost like the rabbits planned this," I said. "Like they were plotting for a way to get even at me for accidentally running over their nest last spring."
Capone went straight to his water bowl, happily lapped up water like he hadn’t just been on the verge of dehydration and death, and proceeded to rub his wet face all over my husband’s leg. “Well, at least he’s feeling better,” I said.
My husband didn’t respond. He just quietly reached for the bottle and poured some more wine.