A Strange Lead Into A New Subject

Learning to walk again.

It all started Thanksgiving week. My husband, Alan, was still in California where he’d gone to be with members of his immediate family during a death and stayed afterward to help out. Here at home things were within shouting distance of normal. One afternoon I was taking Scout, the yellow Lab, for his annual physical. This is not on Scout’s list of favorite activities, so an hour ahead I went in the yard with him to throw his tennis ball, hoping that if I did this until my arm went limp and my feet and eyeballs froze, he might be slightly tired. Enough so that I could encourage him in the vet’s door by leaving a heavy trail of cooked chicken. You get the picture, I hope.

Maybe I brought it on myself. Remember that saying, “Be careful what you wish for because you might get it?” Well, clearly I should have been far more specific when I wished I knew how to introduce the first theme of my new novel, The Language of Kin, to youI didn’t think of that when I launched my first pitch. Scout rocketed after it, as always. He hit nothing, nothing hit him, he was on flat grass with no ground holes or impediments, but suddenly, his back legs were on the ground, his front legs flapping wildly for purchase, and he was yelping and crying in obvious excruciating pain. I ran to him and tried to get him to lie down. Tried to calm him. Trembling violently, he kept up a terrifying screech, frantically trying to get up.

I’m strong and healthy but definitely not able to dead lift a sixty-five pound dog, especially one writhing in pain. I yelled repeatedly for help, which made no sense. (It’s winter, people have their windows closed and we’re surrounded by trees anyway, but I guess one always does that first?) Then I thought to check my back pocket–yes, I had my phone. But Scout was moving, struggling, crying while I tried to hold and comfort him and use the phone one-handed. Getting a screen up and scrolling through contacts did not go well.

I’ll cut to the chase: finally a neighbor came with her husband and he carried Scout to my car, to our vet, who said it was his spine and he’d need an MRI.  (Yes, he also gave Scout a shot of painkiller and a sedative to make the trip endurable.) Right then, too, help from another friend who got me to Cincinnati, where my vet had sent us directly to a neurological specialist at an emergency vet clinic there, over an hour away. They took Scout to the back while I waited, pacing, with no word for hours. And hours. The ER vet (the neurology department was now closed for the day), after first telling me they had no spots open for an MRI the next day and I’d have to take him somewhere else (my vet had called ahead to alert them and arrange it), then another two hours later, after she read the notes, let me see him for less than a minute and agreed that my vet had indeed set it up so, yes, he’d have the MRI the next day.

He spent the night in the emergency hospital, and had the MRI and spent another night until the next morning when Alan was there, thanks to a red eye flight, and we brought him back to our own vet, where there’s been another three nights total in the local hospital. And finally, he’s home.

In the confinement pen at home.

What happened? We’re told it can happen to any vigorous, athletic dog, any age: a disc in his spine extruded and bruised his spinal cord. His back legs are paralyzed, but as the cord heals, the prognosis is for full recovery. With two more weeks on a catheter and four to six weeks confined to a pen at home.  We are doing intensive nursing, moving him side to side, carrying him outside as instructed. Physical therapy in his bed to work the muscles and joints. Already there’s muscle atrophy, so we’ll need to do a lot more active therapy with him as he recovers movement. Still, he’s fully himself other than what should be a four to eight week condition–alert, curious, barking to protect us when he hears anything he considers an imminent terrorist threat (bird visible through window, car on road, god help the UPS guy), giving his kisses and wanting our company on the floor by the pen we had to get him. And we love him.


Getting lots of extra love and comforting!

Why am I telling you this? To start talking about the human/animal connection, one of the themes of The Language of Kin. I know everyone doesn’t experience this, but I think many people feel a deep bond with their animals. And many animals return the love with astonishing loyalty and unwavering affection. We develop ways of communicating with them using our bodies, our faces, our words and tone, our hands. And they develop ways of telling us what they want. Communication between animals and humans–and humans among themselves–can either work brilliantly or derail terribly. For example, as we care for Scout, Alan and I work to stay patient with each other as we struggle to interpret what Scout needs when he whines (company? water? food? switch positions?) and try to agree on exactly what the vet said to do…because the written instructions don’t answer every question.

For now, though, let’s set people aside. We’ll deal with them later. I’m hoping we can talk about communicating with an animal. Have you had a strong bond with an animal? What is or was it like for you? Please write in the comment section below and know I try to respond to every comment. If you think of it, maybe check back in later to see if someone else has responded to what you’ve said. And thank you so much for being here.

33 Responses to A Strange Lead Into A New Subject

  1. I had tears in my eyes reading this. We haven’t had a dog since our Samoyed died. But we do dog-sit our Granddog once in a while. We have bonded with all our dogs, At my age I am losing too many two-legged friends to want to get close to another dog (except the Granddog).
    May you sweetie get as well as they say he will!

    • Oh, I know exactly what you mean. Losing a beloved dog is incredibly painful, isn’t it? I’m glad you’re able to share the Granddog–that’s maybe a good way to sort of have one at just enough distance. But it sounds like you really love Granddog…I think once you’re an animal person, you’re just that way for life. Thank you for caring!

  2. Oh, honey. Poor Scout. We do love our furry family, don’t we? Sending as many sparkles as I can for his full, fast recovery. And booyah for you, pulling a positive from this experience. The book will be great.

    • Well, I’m aware from your Facebook posts that you’re very devoted to certain cats! so I’m assuming your answer to the question in this post is likely a resounding yes! Have you always been a cat person?
      Thank you for your good wishes–and I sure hope the book will be great. Advance reader copies go out for review in February…fingers crossed! And I know the novel you have coming out on Feb. 14 is a winner. I’m encouraging all my readers to look for Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story!

      • You’re the best. <3
        Yup, my bond with my cats is unshakeable and absolute. I've never NOT been a cat person. I got my first when I was around 12 and haven't been catless since.
        Looking forward to The Language of Kin!

  3. We’ve been through a lot with our pups-happy walks, temporarily lost pup searches (with I’ll kill him/her when we find the ripe venison eating rascal)…to lovely crunchy fall walks and dog swims to sharing tearful farewells. But this one is so hard to deal with-a dog that hardly lies down to be confined to a cage-is heart rendering. I know he will be up and at it soon but each day seems like a month!! Hang in there dear friend….and Al too!!

    • I thought you were going to answer the question by talking about Maggie and Hannah–or even go back to Shadow. But you have deep bonds with each of your dogs in turn, I think. And so do I. And we tend to think each one is different, each one so special and unique, that we’ll never have the same feeling for another. And it is different, but no less deep and real, I suspect. I’m wondering if those who are animal people feel the same way? Thank you for being so supportive about Scout. We are some days hanging on by a thread, but it’s okay because we are hanging on.

  4. Ah – well, I do see progress! That can’t be easy getting him up with the sling for his back legs, but it’s SO much better than last I’d heard! Baby steps. Or paws.

    As you know, I rode the proverbial emotional roller coaster with little guy. Our bond was strong b/c he was a one person dog. He came around to Blaine eventually, who was so patient with him. What was it like . . . heart-melting, rewarding, and frustrating. The frustration came from the hours a day spent trying to get him to eat so he wouldn’t get sick. Worrying about him becoming sick in a stressful environment – which EVERYTHING was – if he wasn’t home. He made me laugh – and cry. Entertaining and irritating. I loved him so much.

    The girls were my first, and they left an indelible mark on my heart too. People say we have A heart dog. I agree with your statement above to Barbara Eshbaugh – our feelings for each are different, but no less intense.

    • Oh, Donna, I do remember your little guy and how nuts you went coaxing him to eat, how you hand fed him and worried when you had even brief trips for one of your novels because he didn’t want to eat for your husband. Definitely a one-woman dog and so devoted to you, and you to him. I also remember the hilarious video you posted of him defending the yard against the awful menace of the mail truck…a ferocious hurricane of noise! And I remember how you loved the girl yorkies before him. Definitely feelings for each so strong and enduring.

      I’m thinking about how some of us always give our characters animals (you know I do) and some don’t. It just seems natural to me! Of course, you write historical fiction, so I imagine they would only fit sometimes! We’ll be eager for your next novel…The Saints of Swallow Hill has been a huge success.

  5. What a journey you have been on with poor Scout. How do we read animals’ minds when they are injured and in pain? How do we ever know is the right thing to do? I do know this, though, that the unconditional love you have given him will bring him back to full health.

    My story: I have always felt a silent bond with most animals, whether it is one of the chickadees in my bird feeder, a humpback off the bow of my boat, or one of the magnificent gorillas in the impenetrable Forest. When my dog, Potter, died last year, the cat Saki took over. He greets me at the top of the stairs when I arrive home, he lies in my bed when I am ill and does not leave until I recover; he stares at me with a look of:”have you no idea what I am trying to tell you?” Maybe I am not the one who made the bond. They are.

    • Oh Elizabeth, I love your take on this, the notion that the animals we love may initiate the bond we feel, not only reciprocate! I can picture Saki greeting and protecting you–thank you for sharing that verbal image!

      Note to readers: I imagine that at least some of you don’t know that Elizabeth G. Brooke is a renowned photographer. When my new website goes live, sometime this month, you’ll see a number of her gorgeous images from a recent photographic safari in Uganda which she’s generously let me use. You can see her work on Instagram and facebook, as her website, too. You’ll love it.

  6. So sorry to hear of Scout’s pains and tribulations, and then all the worry and empathetic pain and care you and Alan and all going through with him. I’m so glad he is home now, for that matters more than anything, or so I think. People can rationalize a hospital and strange people and barred beds and noises and all, but puppies don’t get it at all, for they are much better at loving and being loved than at making all the excuses we come up with for everything instead. They just want to be home and with you (and no, of course this is NOT projection on my part….well, not entirely, maybe, and if it is much projection that’s just an indication of how a puppy can make even a person like me a better one).

    I look forward to your further blog on how human conversation changes over a beloved animal, like you and Alan over Scout, or Candy and I now over our recently died and lost Finn or our blind and deaf little Molly who also misses her brother Finn, her cue to the world all around her. Candy’s been going through all sorts of terrible pains and miseries with knee surgery and drug reactions and more, and I love her dearly – but why is it so much easier to be patient with Molly scratching to get up in the middle of the night, or Molly giving up an peeing on the kitchen floor (if we’re lucky)? And our different tolerances for waiting to satisfy our own needs, or each other’s needs, until Molly’s are at least immediately tended to. What’s going on?

    In talking with friends I’ve met haphazardly in the grocery store or at the post office or in letters I have found a frequent, not universal but still frequent, response from those who have also lost a dog, seems to be dogs that this works most with, that losing a dog goes deeper or spreads further somehow than missing people, even those close to you. A dog shares your life in a way no person does – and in a way you as a person don’t even know how to plumb the depths of. Looking into Finn’s eyes in the morning when he was eager to get up and begin A Day, A Day, A Day, and he was waiting patiently to do so with me! It’s like God waiting until Adam’s ready to get up to show him the animals to name or point out the stars to wish on. What people do that, and Finn in such a shorter life span, to wait so patiently beside you, with you, for you to begin each great adventure – to think, to assume for sure, to simply know that with you IS the great adventure? We need a canine theology more than yet another violent reformation.

    I’m glad you have this time with Scout to spend time like Alan is doing in the picture you include in your blog. To wait in turn with Scout as he has waited so often with you – how different you may become in a way long forgotten, but a way Scout’s always remembered about you.

    • Mike, I think you have hit on something–it IS often easier to be patient, tolerant, attentive with a beloved animal than with even a beloved human…maybe because we know the animal has no way of understanding what’s happening to him/her? It must be so confusing. We have kept empathizing: how terrible it must be for our vigorous, athletic dog to suddenly have found his back legs paralyzed. No way to explain to him, and no way now to explain that this arduous physical therapy that is so difficult for him as well as exhausting and backbreaking for us is the way forward, for him to be able to walk and eventually be able to run on his own again. Hope is such a human construct, isn’t it?
      Thank you for your thoughtful response!

  7. Oh Lynne- I have tears in my eyes while reading this. I just told Russ as soon as I am done writing this- he needs to come over and see this- and I have to make sure Meredith and Alec read this as well. We have always been dog folks. We love our dogs as family, especially as our kids have moved out. My two current lovebugs are rescued mutts (black dogs from the south where discrimination apparently still resides). They keep me honest as I walk them every day (they remind me if I am feeling somewhat lazy!!) They are so bonded and look out for each other. They are the very best. Christmas week saw 4 doggies at my house with Meredith and Rhett bringing Pippa ( the 5 pound rescued Schnoodle who rules the roost ) and Buddy (their wonderful special needs 100 pound black lab). My house is full of dog hair and dragged in dirt but lots of love and puppy smooches! I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are sending you, Alan, and Scout lots of love and positive vibes. Love you guys!!!

    • Carol, yes, you are truly dog lovers and bond with them deeply! It seems you’ve passed that on to your children, too. I wonder if it’s that way usually, that people who grow up with animals who are loved become animal lovers themselves as adults, ones who tend to find meaning in that bond? And you brought up something else–the bond between animals. That’s something that The Language of Kin goes into deeply, as well, and perhaps something humans tend to disregard? Thank you for sharing your family’s story.

  8. Lynne, I know this has been a very emotional and physical ordeal for you both and you are right, there is an incredible bond between animals and the humans that love them. Here’s hoping for a 100% recovery!

    • Jo, thank you. I know you’re an animal lover, too. I’ve witnessed your devotion to your various Labs, and also seen how they love you in return. It’s quite something–and you’ve passed that animal/human connection on to your children, too. That’s a special gift.

  9. My experiences of living, loving and communicating with my four-footed folks? In the words of Rodgers and Hart, “If they asked me, I Could Write a Book.” I gather you’ve been doing just that. In lieu of writing a book, which obviously would be too bulky for a mere Comment, I’ll just say this for now. All my life I’ve been blessed by the longevity of my cats, each of whom — with one tragic exception involving a window that was too high and too open — lived well past the median average for their species. And so I’ve always believed that when pets know they’re loved, they hang around as long as they possibly can.

    • Thank you, Preston, for raising an interesting thought: that animals won’t only “keep going” for the sake of their young, but for owners who love them/want/need them. I hadn’t thought of that before. Thank you for the perspective!

      • You’re more than welcome, Lynne. (FWIW, If we could edit our Comments here the way we can edit posts on Facebook, I’d wish to change “hang around” to “stick around.”) And it’s my turn to thank you for offering a perspective I had not considered, — that pets could stay around for the sake of loving and caring for their humans — whereas I had been thinking more in terms of pets wanting to experience the humans’ love for them for as long as possible. I love you for your all-embracing vision; that’s so you.

  10. You, Alan, and Scout are constantly in my thoughts as you struggle towards a full recovery. As you know, we have had many dogs and cats, enriching my life beyond words. I have willingly attended the majority through injuries, illnesses, and end of life, because they have given me so much love and joy and comfort. Loved the stories and thoughts of your other bloggers. Stay strong. Scout knows you are doing your very best! Love you all.

    • Thank you, Susan. I sure hope he knows that. The physical therapy is as hard for him as it is for us–and I keep thinking it must be confusing because how can he know the purpose? He’s such a sweet-natured dog that he tolerates it, but it’s clear that with each of the three or four sessions a day, he’s very happy when it’s over. Explaining it to him is what I do to make me feel better–but, I know, those words are exactly that, me comforting me.

  11. I have never had a dog — only cats, and none of these lately. However, in part because of my daughter’s devotion to a succession of 3 Old English Sheep dogs, I understand the specialness of dogs and their bond with humans. You know I am deeply sorry about Scout’s situation and the difficulties of caring for him. But thanks to your care and, probably, his strong spirit, it sounds like he is getting better. Sending hugs to you, Alan, and Scout. Spring will come.

    • Thank you, Sue. You’ve observed your daughter’s connection and given your empathy with her, that probably gives you a good sense of what this all is about. You’re right that spring will come…not a day too soon, or soon enough! Thank you again!

  12. Awe Lynne and Alan! I’m so sorry to hear what you’re going through. I gave up on having a dog way back in 1998 when our beloved Jake died after a sudden and unspecified blood disorder. We did our best to save him with transfusions while the vet tried to diagnose the problem. Eventually it was so expensive we had to stop. Broke my heart. He died in Jenny’s arms. Jake was a beautiful white shepherd and in good health weighed a whopping 120 pounds.

    I can’t imagine how you cope with the ongoing care for dear Scout, but pray you have a good result! Blessings my friends.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with Jake, Judi. I honestly do understand how terribly hard and heartbreaking that must have been for you. I don’t know what lies ahead for Scout and us. He’s not improving the way we’d hoped; still not able to walk on his own. The vet we saw today said improvement is still possible for the next two months but after that it wouldn’t be realistic to expect he could live as a normal happy dog. That’s important to us.

  13. Lynne. Do you know the books by Pat Shipman? She has one from 2011 called “The Animal Connection. A new perspective on what makes us human”. It is about early humans as well as more recent ones and their relations to non-human species as one of the main features of “non-genetic evolution.” It’s is perfectly in your subject field. She has another on the relationships between Homo sapiens and dogs specifically. I own the Animal Connection and could lean it on Allen’s door on the 3rd floor of OCAC if you would like to read it. I might use it for one of my ILR courses in the future but not before the 2023 Fall ILR Term.

    • Muriel, I’m not familiar with that book and I’d really appreciate borrowing it! and, of course, I’ll be sure to return it well before you’d be teaching. Thank you for such a kind offer. (I think you’ll be interested in The Language of Kin. A lot of research underpins the story, but I didn’t run into Shipman’s The Animal Connection.)

  14. So sorry to read that Scout is not improving as well as expected. I sincerely hope that some extra time and therapy helps.Even though Scout doesn’t understand the purpose of the PT and it’s not his favorite thing , I’m sure he tolerates because of the loving trust you have with him and that it is your loving hands doing the therapy.
    I feel for you, it must be heartbreaking and frustrating for you that verbal communication only goes in one direction. I know that I always want to know what the animal is thinking or feeling. I wonder just how much they understand, so I overexplain everything to them. I laugh at myself when I catch me doing it. Apparently others have noticed, my mom and sisters have had conversations about it.They have a good laugh at what ever they overheard and also feel bad that my apartment doesn’t allow pets.
    as much as I would like to be able to know what they are thinking, I am always more concerned about how they are feeling. I feel honored when a dog wants to spend every possible second with me. I get such a kick out of it, but then feel bad if I have to set limits or boundaries. Am I insulting them or hurting their feelings when I don’t let them come in the bathroom with me?
    Because I don’t have pets of my own I happy to give the pets of family and friends as much love and attention as they want, I enjoy it and it’s really good for my mood; but it all crashes down on me when it is time to leave. It’s always a little bit sad to say goodbye to my family, especially the nieces and nephews, but after a 2 or 3 week visit we’re all ready.We know that it is not forever and we will see each other again. Even though I make a point of saying goodbye, I don’t think the dogs understand because I have been told that they seem to be looking for me for the next few days o I rarely pull out of the driveway without tears in my eyes worrying about what the dog is feeling or thinking
    Dogs know things, pickup on our feelings, and have feelings of their own, I wish I could understand better and more clearly.

    • Thank you for this thoughtful response, Cindy. You’ve brought up an interesting idea. Yes, it’s difficult when there’s no way to really know what an animal feels or wants (other than treats, yes, for sure he wants those!) and I, too, explain things even though I suspect it’s pretty pointless. After all, what can he really understand of “This is to help you learn to walk again…”?? even though Scout has a pretty extensive single word at a time and three word phrase vocabulary.( Like, among many others, “treat,” “let’s go out,” “walk.” “go get your ball,” “dinner.” “come,” and his least favorite, “leave it!” Feelings are largely expressed by furiously wagging tail, joy dances, banging his nose on my elbow to say let’s go, or planting his feet stubbornly and refusing to move–never an indication of pleased cooperation. So, I do know what you mean! Many of those are now not available, and refer to concrete actions anyway.) You’ll be interested in The Language of Kin because it does deal with the various ways feelings and desires are and/or can’t be by humans without words and within the non-human animal world.

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