For the love of dog: Tiggy cashes in on one of her seven lives…

A curious turn of incidents has led to a very emotional week for the Tarifa arm of the Neary family.

It all started, I think, with an extra enthusiastic bounce from Tiggy onto the sofa one evening which ended in a squeal and a sore back leg.  The next day when I left to go kiting she cried a bit – hindsight being 20:20, I now realise she was trying to tell me her leg was properly sore and not just an ‘ouchy’.

A few hobbling walks later, I started to get worried as it didn’t seem to be getting any better. But I knew it wasn’t broken as she could, when required, still bounce up the steep steps to our apartment, run after her ball or jump onto my lap for a cuddle.

Was it worth a vets visit, I pondered on Tuesday.  Having prevaricated and then decided yes, an appointment was secured for 1pm on Thursday.

In the meantime one of the Tarifa Tribe lent me his ‘red light’ therapy lamp – which, he explained, enhances and promotes the body’s natural healing powers.  I can’t confess I understood the science behind it, but when he mentioned it was used by NASA to treat injuries in outer space, I concluded it would be good enough for Tiggy to try on terra firma.

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Tiggy adores warmth be it a glorious sunny spot, a toasty wood burner and she is especially fond of underfloor heating (let’s face it, who isn’t?).  Unsurprisingly then she utterly adored being placed strategically into position and basking in the red light glow for a restorative twenty minutes at a time.

Thursday came and we ambled along the road to see our vet, Eva.  Eva was already firm friends with Tiggy as, quite soon after we arrived, Tiggy contracted an infection in her lady-bottom.  Quite how remains somewhat of a mystery – although my friends all took great pleasure in concocting stories as to how this had come to pass – each one more outrageous and revolting than the next.  One (i.e. me) was not amused.  My theory is it was something to do with the sweet yet slobbering boxer who lives below us and who licked her bottom like a lollipop every time we entered or left our apartment.

Anyway…I explained the potential source of the sore leg to the lovely Swiss German, fluent Spanish and English speaking Eva.  Tiggy was duly walked around the waiting room like a little show pony so that her limp could be seen from all sides and then hoisted onto the table in the examination room where her leg was manipulated in every angle conceivable (and some that seemed pretty inconceivable to me) whilst being bribed with biscuits.

“I’m sure it’s not broken” said Eva, “but it could be a torn ligament which will show if the bones are misaligned, so we need to do an X-ray.”

That almost worried me more as if Tiggy had torn the equivalent of her ACL, I wasn’t quite clear how well it would heal – you can’t exactly get a knee brace for a little back leg.

Tiggy obediently tottered behind Eva into the x-ray room to be papped at a number of different angles.  More than a smattering of the eight thousand plus photos I have on my phone are of Tiggy – so fortunately she’s very used to striking a pose.  Tiggy was returned to me for a tummy tickle and yet another treat whilst we waited for Eva to examine the X-ray.

After a while Eva came back and showed me the X-ray results.   It was good news, the leg bones were ever so slightly misaligned, which probably meant a strained, not torn, ligament – rest and recuperation were the order of the day along with an injection of pain killer. I also showed Eva a picture of the red light lamp of love and she concurred it was good to keep that treatment going too.

Then there was a pregnant pause and just as I was about to scoop Tiggy up and take her home, Eva told me, hesitantly, that something else has showed up in the X-ray.  An unexpected, slightly skewiff, solid triangle shaped ‘foreign object’ in, what seemed to be, her tummy.  Not a growth, not a tumour or anything else that would conjure a myriad of consequences – but, all the same, an unwelcome intruder, lodged inside where it ought not to have been.

There then followed a lengthy discussion as to what the alien object actually was.  I went through the options – most likely a pebble, possibly a remnant of bone or a bit of plastic from an old ball were the most obvious ones I could come up with.  One of the other vets suggested tin foil, which was also entirely feasible.
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I wasn’t at all bothered.  Hoppity leg aside, Tiggy was in more than great health. Wet nose, waggy tail, shiny coat and no change to her eat-everything-in-sight appetite or digestion.

“It’s probably a stone”, I said, “and I bet it’s been in there for ages”.

When I first got Tiggy, seven years ago, she had just come out of being on heat. She’s a rescue dog having been hideously treated by her cretinous previous owners. The RSPCA recommends all rescue dogs are speyed as, I’m guessing (although I don’t know for sure) if you don’t know what they’ve been through, then you should avoided breeding from them. You have to wait a while after a dog has been in season before you have them spayed and during this time poor little Tiggy developed a phantom pregnancy.

It was a nightmare. She became very territorial over her basket, she’d growl at the boys at work when any of them came into my office and, most heartbreaking of all, she ‘adopted’ some large pebbles from my garden and treated them like her own newborn puppies.

When it was sunny, one by one, the pebbles would be picked up and carried outside and placed in the warmth of the sunshine.

When the sun went in, one by one, the pebbles would be picked up, carried back inside and tucked into her basket.

An injection of hormones at the vets put paid to the phantom puppies and pregnancy and Tiggy buried her own demons from the past to become the much adored and happy, bouncy dog she is today.

So I wondered if the stone could have been an unintentional left over consequence from the puppy-pebble saga.

The other reason I felt there was more than a fighting chance it was a stone was because Tiggy also loves nothing more than a game of throw and catch with anything that resembles a ball.   Given that a fair few beaches where we’ve played catch for years on the Isle of Wight are pebbly ones, it seemed entirely plausible that one had been accidentally ingested.

So, as I said, I was entirely unbothered – Tiggy was in fine fettle, it clearly wasn’t causing her any issues at all and I assumed it could therefore just stay put.

Unfortunately, Eva did not share this opinion.  She was quite firm, it needed to be dealt with before it became a problem.   It absolutely could not stay put, it had to come out.   Some more X-rays on an empty tummy were required in order to properly determine the next steps and we were sent home, Tiggy to be nil by mouth until 1pm the next day.

Back we went on Friday, this time with my visiting friend, Gretchen, also in tow.   We had an ultrasound to start with. Good news! The object had vanished.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  It must have been some tin foil stuck to a piece of left over steak brought home from a restaurant for Tiggy on Tuesday.

I felt as if I had exhaled properly for the first time in twenty four hours.

Eva said we should do one more x-ray to be on the safe side. Fine, I said, already looking forward to a restorative gin and tonic and toasting the demise of tummy-gate on the beach with Gretchen.

But no, those plans were quickly thwarted as lo and behold the x-ray showed the pesky little blighter was still there. In exactly the same place, it just hadn’t showed up in the ultrasound for some strange reason.

“What happens now?”, I asked Eva.  I was given two options.  Either drive up the coast to a pet hospital in Chiclana where they could perform an endoscopy, or have an operation here, which that would mean cutting directly into her tummy, i.e a big operation.

I was still struggling to grasp that my seemingly, healthy, happy little dog was going to have to undergo a major procedure, when, to all intents and purposes, she clearly was feeling perfectly chipper.

“What would you do if she was your dog?” I asked Eva, “I would go to Chiclana for the endoscopy”, she replied.   Although she made it clear there was no guarantee the foreign object could or would be excavated by the endoscopy, and then there would be no option but to cut her open.

At this point the enormity of it all hit me and I put my head in my hands and burst into tears. I didn’t want Tiggy to have a general anaesthetic. Even though I’m ridiculously squeamish, the idea of the endoscopy didn’t bother me at all. But the idea of her having a general anaesthetic filled me with an overwhelming gnawing, clawing anxiety.

The vet in Chiclana had already been contacted and an emergency appointment was made for Saturday (the following) morning.

In the meantime I messaged my friends at home who have far more experience in this area than I, having owned not one but five spaniels (at the same time) over the past thirteen years, one of whom had a particular penchant for eating toy soldiers and dinky cars.  Get a second opinion, they counselled whilst sending lots of love to Tiggy.

In the end, four vets all concluded that, whatever it was, it had to come out.

There was little more we could do, so Tiggy, Gretchen and I headed off to the beach for a few hours and a much needed beer.   My head was still reeling that an initial visit over a sore leg had turned into such a significant incident.  I hadn’t had time to brace or prepare myself for this at all.

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Tiggy, who already hadn’t eaten for twenty four hours, was now nil by mouth both food and water. Hunger aside she was still full of bounce and fun and was ecstatic that, as a rare special treat, she was allowed upstairs to sleep on my bed that evening.

She started the night curled up in a puffed up part of duvet at the end of the bed. By about 3am I felt the warmth of her body tucked into the small of my back. By 6.30am, when it was time to get up, she’d managed to commando crawl on her tummy and ended up nose to nose with me on the pillow, somehow sensing that she wouldn’t be told off for doing so.img_4947

This was the first “early getting up” deadline I’d had since being made redundant. And I didn’t enjoy it at all.  Having washed, fed and watered myself whilst Tiggy looked on hungrily it was time to leave.

I packed her bed and her blanket so she’d have some security from familiar surroundings when she came round the from the anaesthetic and it was time to hit the road.

The destination of the pet hospital was tapped into the TomTom and The Beast roared into life, ready to transport his precious cargo up the coast.

It’s a bit of a standing joke in our family that I’m a fairly rubbish driver. I don’t enjoy or like driving and I certainly don’t like going fast.  My usual modus operandi is far more Driving Miss Daisy than Speedy Gonzales, I tend to tootle along, very content to be overtaken by all and sundry whilst we amble bumpily to our destination.

It’s partly why I like driving on the Isle of  Wight – no motorways or dual carriageways, the sat nav in my old Fiat 500 would often report an average speed of 25mph.   For the past ten years my total annual mileage has been under 2,000.

Not today though.  We pulled out of Tarifa and onto the main coast road and with a purposeful sense of grit and determination, I totally floored it.

The Beast charged and roared loudly (and rattled) like a raging bull – I think he has something like a 2.5 litre engine, and trust me, it was put to good use.

On any given day it’s an impressive drive – we left the beautiful beaches of Tarifa and Bolonia behind us and turned the corner to stampede through the national park and thunder past the enormous wind farms.

In 2016 Spain was impressively the fourth biggest producer of wind power in the world (after China, the USA and Germany) and 20% of the country’s total electricity comes from the wind.  When the conditions are right (i.e. windy), wind has surpassed all other power sources in Spain – the record being November 21, 2015 when 70.4% of electricity consumed on the mainland came from the element.  Capitalising on its exposed location, fifty eight giant wind farms power the entire region of Cadiz, a truly arresting sight as you’re driving along.

Not much happens in Spain at 7.30am on a Saturday morning and the wind farm was no exception.  The windmills were completely stationary, like an army of mammoth, slumbering triffids, row after motionless row, heads bowed as if to respectfully let us pass through unfettered.

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This must have been the first time in my life that I’ve ever broken a speed limit as we arrived in Chiclana at 8.50am, a full fifteen minutes before the TomTom’s estimated arrival time. (Usually we are fifteen to twenty minutes behind its ETA.)

Navigating the many roundabouts in Chiclana, I drove on the principle that anything getting in the way of us would come off far, far worse. It’s amazing how quickly cars get out of your way when they see two and a half tons of noisy, shaking and vibrating Land Rover with a wide eyed woman at the wheel, hurtling down on them at speed.

We pulled into the car park of the pet hospital – a reassuringly clean, modern and clinical looking building.  I turned off The Beast’s ignition, the vibrations juddered to a stop and for a few moments I just sat in stillness and silence hugging Tiggy on my knee.

Plastering a brave smile on my face that tried and failed to mask my true emotions, we walked towards the main door, carrying Tiggy’s bed and blanket, where the Vet and his assistant were already waiting for us.

We were immediately ushered into a consulting room – Tiggy who clearly still felt right as rain, was totally oblivious to what she was about to be subjected to.  The vet was calmly and clinically efficient.  Instructing me to hold Tiggy’s head, he took some blunt ended scissors and started to snip a patch of fur away on her right leg.

Tiggy, at this point, sussed that something untoward was up and started to tremble.  She looked at me as if to say ‘what’s happening mummy?’ as she shook from head to tail.  I kept talking to her to reassure her as a huge needle was inserted into her little leg and she was given a tranquilliser prior to the anaesthetic.

Then it was time to hand her over to the professionals. The vet picked up her blankie and told me to put her in his arms which I did with a big kiss and ear tickle.  Then I looked up at him and said “Por favor ten cuidado, ella es mi bebé” (please take care, she is my baby) and I stifled a sob as he nodded brusquely and walked out of the room.

The lovely, kind assistant squeezed my arm as tears streamed down my face.  There was a cafe at the beach I could go to, she explained, and they would call me when the operation was over.  “How long will it be?”, I asked, “we don’t know” she said, as it would depend on whether the endoscopy was successful for not.  Clearly it was going to be a fair few hours and I was in for a long wait.

By now I was shaking as much as Tiggy and I drove, super slowly, towards the beach where there was a street dotted with small cafes and cervicerias.   I plumped for the one that was busiest and, with my book, sat outside waiting to be served.

The waiter approached and I asked for the menu.  He smiled and said “Solo tenemos café, chocolate caliente, té, zumo de naranja y churros” (we only have coffee, hot chocolate, tea, orange juice and donuts).   Somewhat dazed I decided I needed some sugar and went all out ordering a hot chocolate, orange juice and churros.

On the table next to me was a Spanish couple about my age with a giant Great Dane who came over to say hello to me.  Sitting down my eyes were level with his, he was huge.  I patted him on his head and explained, haltingly, to the couple that my little dog was currently having an operation at the hospital down the road.  They cooed appropriately over a picture of Tiggy and were fittingly sympathetic, saying they had heard it was an excellent hospital, she was in good hands.

I eeked out eating my breakfast, savouring the sweetness of the churros whilst attempting to read my book.  After reading the same page twenty times, I gave up and sat simply staring into space, alternately checking my watch and my phone every five minutes.  The Great Dane couple left, wished me good luck and farewell and I was alone once more.

Time crawled torturously by.  First one hour.  Then two.  I kept the small family of friends who knew what was going on updated by text and also filled my sister in on the situation.  My heart hurt, my tummy ached, and I had to concentrate really hard on not letting myself fall into the trap of “what if” fear-mongering.

Just as I was coming up on the three hour mark, I texted “I’m flapping now.  It’s been three hours, I’m getting really worried”.

I was just about to lose it when two seconds after I’d hit send, the phone range.  A Spanish number.  The hospital.  My hands were shaking so much I nearly dropped the phone.  The vet’s voice spoke to me “Todo es bueno, puedes venir a recoger a tu perrito” (everything is fine, you can come and collect your little dog).  My voice caught in my throat, I couldn’t speak, all I managed was a squeaky ‘Gracias’.  

I asked the waiter for the bill, he explained it had been paid by the couple with “the big dog”.   I was touched beyond words –  a timely reminder that no act of kindness, regardless how big or small, is ever wasted.  Dog people really are the best.

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The Beast and I sped back to the hospital.  And, once again, the vet and his assistant were waiting at the door.  I was whisked upstairs this time and taken into a different room.  The endoscopy had been a success.  There was no need to slice Tiggy open.  She would be sleepy and dozy for the next twenty four hours – but she could have some soft food this afternoon.  I just kept saying ‘gracias’ and nodding.  I didn’t even really feel relieved which was strange, I think I was still numb from it all.

And then, before being reunited with little Tiggy, I was ceremoniously handed over the mysterious alien object and the root cause of all this trauma and emotion.  It was a large pebble – smooth on all sides, shaped like a duck (he said).   I’ve kept it of course, although I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with it.

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We left the consultation room and went next door, and there, in a tiny cage, in her basket, wrapped in her blankie was Tiggy.  The door was opened and she teetered out, like a little drunk, tottering about on jelly legs, still clearly feeling the after affects of the anaesthetic.

I scooped her up and covered her little face in kisses before carrying her out to the car and clicking her into the middle seat.  She gave me a look as if to say ‘what was that all about?’, closed her eyes and dozed off to sleep.

Heading back to Tarifa I reverted to “Driving Miss Daisy” mode once more – although clearly the stress and worry of the morning was wreaking havoc on my mind, as we went round a roundabout three times having missed the exit that was extremely clearly communicated both verbally by the TomTom and visually by the road signs.

I drove home at half the speed of the early morning journey, The Beast, far less noisy and rattly now he was not being pushed to the max – a much quieter and calmer ride.  Every now and again Tiggy would wake up, lift up her head and snuffle at me, and then plonk her head down again and go back to sleep.

As we closed in on the approach to the national park, I could see in the distance that the wind had picked up and the triffid army of windmills had awoken, their arms twirling in their endless and relentless march to power the region.

The road was busier now too – and we were peeped at and overtaken many, many times as we bimbled along, back home to Tarifa.  Once safely ensconced in our apartment, Tiggy dozing contentedly on the sofa, I lay down next to her and, totally shattered, fell fast asleep.

For the next few days Tiggy was definitely out of sorts, very clingy and always wanting to sit on my knee – which isn’t really like her at all as, like me, she’s a very independent little thing.  Her throat was clearly sore – although she very much enjoyed being fed home-made chicken stock along with poached chicken and rice instead of her usual crunchy, scratchy kibble.

Little by little she’s got her mojo back, the fur is growing on her leg, and even though her back leg is still a bit wonky, day by day she is reverting back to the fizzing, bouncing bundle of energy we have grown to love so much.

Gosh life can be cruel with its twists and turns – a lost job, a broken heart, an unexpected illness…sometimes we are fortunate enough to be able to take the cards that fate has dealt us and throw them back into the dealer’s deck and select some more.

And other times we have no choice but to deal with the cards we’ve been handed, to make the most of a situation which, particularly when our hearts and emotions are involved, can seem to take on a magnitude all of its own.

Sitting now writing this, with Tiggy snoozing contentedly, sandwiched between the warmth of my lap and the heat from my laptop I can’t help but think, no matter what happens, how lucky we are to have the luxury of this gap year together.

With Tiggy by my side I am never alone and our home, wherever that may be, is always full of love.  She waits for me at the bottom of the stairs when I wake up in the morning.  She’s right by the door with a little waggy tail to welcome me home.  She is Piglet to my Winnie the Pooh, and, as that oh so clever bear of very little brain once said;

“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart”.

Choose happy – do all things with love.

Sophie, Tiggy and The Beast X

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