Today at work the owner’s dog, Thelma Lou, wasn’t there to greet me in her usual overly-exuberant manner. We’d known there had been problems. They’d been going on for days, but weren’t clearly identifiable symptoms.
It started when she began running away from me and my colleagues instead of bowling us over with affection. She was fearful and timid, and we puzzled over the change in her demeanor. Perhaps one of us had scared her inadvertently? Or had something frightening happened on one of those days when she ran away while being walked? (Her mom agonized over those escapades, but her dad was pretty nonchalant about them, much to the chagrin of the entire staff.)
Then, yesterday, she refused her treats after her morning walk. She was lethargic and clingy, and we all knew something was wrong. Her dad took her to the vet, who diagnosed a pulled muscle or tendon in the right hind leg. When she came back, she was clearly better. We were relieved.
But overnight she lost movement in her hindquarters. Paralyzed in her hips and back legs, she struggled to move and understand what was happening to her. After a race back to the vet, a more experienced doctor determined she had a slipped disc. Emergency surgery was required, but he wasn’t qualified to do it. The best “pup surgeon” for the job was an hour and a half away. So Thelma Lou was loaded in the Jeep, and rushed down the Interstate to helping hands.
I got a call a few hours after I left work that her prognosis was surprisingly good. The veterinary surgeon, who wouldn’t operate unless there was reasonable hope, estimated she had a 70 percent chance of full recovery. The fact that they were able to get her in for surgery within 24 hours of becoming paralyzed was critical to the success of his work.
So now we wait, and her mom and dad have their work cut out for them. But it’s a labor of love, and they don’t mind doing it.
Thelma Lou came into her dad’s life when she was a puppy and he was severely suffering from the effects of PTSD, a result of his time as a Marine photographer in Vietnam. He’d left his wife and was living in a storefront in a nearby town, struggling day to day to survive his nightmares and the cumulative effects of the trauma. He had this energetic, simple soul to keep him company and give him love. Yes, his wife was always there for him, but he was suffering in a world he couldn’t escape and hadn’t yet gotten help to deal with properly. So Thelma Lou was his salvation.
I understand that bond. Twenty years ago I was alone and living in Nashville, dealing with the memories of sexual abuse. The pain at times was so overwhelming I wanted to die, just to escape it. I wasn’t suicidal in that I didn’t truly want death, I simply wanted to escape the burden that was weighing me down, physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Enter Paco. He’d had his own share of pain in his short life, having been abandoned three times that I know of by the time I took him in. He came with troubles, some of which never went away, although I learned how to manage them. He bit everyone. He wanted love, but would become overwhelmed when he received it.
We quickly became dependent on each other. When I came home from work, he was at the window, waiting for me. He’d turn and run to the door, and when I opened it, he’d dash outside and run upstairs, where he’d be trapped, so to speak. He couldn’t get past me once he was up there, and he didn’t try. Instead I would pick him up and hold him close, carrying him back to our apartment, while he purred and buried his face in my shoulder.
When I wanted to die, I would reach out to him. I couldn’t leave this needy little soul. He saved my life just by being there, and I saved his by taking him in and giving him the love he so desperately needed.
As he got older I began to have dreams I’d be outside, perhaps with some friends, somewhere near my car but not right next to it. I’d look up and there would be Paco, waiting for me. He sat close to my Toyota, patient and loyal, knowing I would return. I’d wake up from those dreams and call his name, and he’d come running. As if he knew what had been playing out in my mind moments before, he’d stay by my side until I fell asleep again. When I woke up, he’d be a little distance away on the bed, as was his preference, but near enough to reach out and scratch behind the ears.
He died at the age of 16, just four years ago. Until the day he died, when I was driving home I would anticipate seeing him. I was twenty, ten, three minutes away from Paco. I miss him terribly, even though today I have the love of two wonderful kitties.
I pray Thelma Lou recovers completely. It isn’t time for her to leave us yet.
Update: I’m happy to report Thelma Lou came through her surgery as well as could be expected, and she’s now home. She has months — up to a year — before she is fully recovered, if in fact that ever happens. She may never run again, certainly not like she used to do on a regular basis. But she is loved, and love is healing.