It’s Boxing Day, the day many Canadians emulate the worst of their American cousins who partake of that south-of-the-border mania known as Black Friday. In the past, we have steadfastly steered clear of any retail conglomerate on this day of shameless commercial gluttony. We think of it not as Black Friday but more like the Black Plague, and avoid it accordingly. Until this year.
Since Scratchy continued to be scratchy, his body stubbornly resisting any attempts known to mankind to treat his allergy/yeast infection, we decided to get creative. We dispensed with the drugs that did zilch to curb his enthusiastic chewing and scratching and employed some more natural techniques. First, we scoured an already spic-and-span house top to bottom, banishing any trace of dust and mites. Then we bought him all-new food — raw lamb patties, organic tripe, organic grain-free fish kibble — all of which we mixed with steamed broccoli, spinach and green beans. For a treat he got plain organic sugar- and fat-free yogurt, which shored up the healthy bacteria to combat the bad bacteria we suspected was lurking in his gut. His diet was now virtually devoid of any sugar, salt, fat, grain or carbohydrates that could feed his yeast or exacerbate his allergies (whatever those were). We topped off this purified diet with a dash of salmon oil (a triple whammy that benefits not only his skin but his immune system and his heart), and added some so-called anti-itch drops (more like pet store snake oil) to his water. To minimize the damage to his poor pink neck, we filed down his nails. We also increased his bath time to twice a week, shampooing him with skin-soothing tea tree oil, followed by a rinse of diluted vinegar. In between his regular ablutions, we dipped him several times a day in a foot bath of hydrogen peroxide, vinegar and water to neutralize the yeast that festered between his toes. To further distract him from his own skin and bones, we offered him an antler to gnaw on. Yes, an antler. Naturally shed from deer and elk, they’re apparently a healthy source of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and zinc.
And on he scratched.
Frustrated and desperate, we considered the Thunder Shirt theory (http://www.thundershirt.com/). We had learned about the nifty little threads in Mexico, while pet-sitting Kahlua and Rufus. Mexico in summer is notorious for roof-rattling thunderstorms, which spooked the be-jesus out of the normally serene Kahlua. Her parents bought her a Thunder Shirt which, essentially, is a tight T-shirt designed to hug the fear out of a dog. They swore by it so we, theorizing that the same remedy might hug the itch out of Scratchy (or at least provide a buffer from his nails) decided to give it a shot. We didn’t, however, send away for the expensive trade-marked version, convinced the same result could be achieved with a simple snug-fitting shirt. Plus it would save us 40 bucks.
Now, naturally neither of us owned a T-shirt small enough to fit the dog, no matter how petite I considered myself. We had to buy one. So that’s how we found ourselves in the toddlers’ section of a department store on Boxing Day. Perusing the racks of boys’ shirts, we felt like first-time parents: “Oh, he would look so darling in this!” “I’m not sure that colour would complement his hair.” “Will stripes make him look fat?” Anyway, as we were bickering over stripes or polka-dots, solid or multi-hued, bright or ecru, a sales lady approached. “How old is your little guy?” she asked, offering to help us narrow down a size. “He’s 13,” I replied proudly. The lady’s smile slid from her face. “And very hairy,” I added, for god knows what reason. Rick only made matters worse by supplementing this bizarre information with, “We’re trying to get him to stop scratching.” The salesclerk frowned and folded her arms like a school teacher not amused at whatever prank we were pulling. We quickly explained we were not being smart asses, that we were in fact shopping for a dog with a skin condition. “But as anyone can see,” she said, sweeping her arm to indicate the racks of boys’ shirts, pants and jackets, “this is clearly not the dog department.” We started to explain that we didn’t want to spring for the uber-expensive duds a “dog department” would charge to get the same result — or not — as a five-dollar kid’s shirt, but she remained skeptical, ready for the punch line. When none came, she narrowed her eyes and said, “I’ll leave you to it then,” and sauntered away.
Red-faced, we snatched a couple of shirts, size 12 months, and high-tailed it outta there.
Back at home, Scratchy eyed our new purchases with the suspicion of a dog that’s been washed, rinsed, spritzed, balmed, filed and medicated to within an inch of his life. “What now?” he appeared to be thinking. Rick got busy with the scissors, cutting off the shirt’s arms and part of the front, leaving a space for Scratchy’s business. Then, with great excitement and expectation, we dressed the dog in his custom-made duds. Stepping back to admire our handy-work, we burst into laughter. This, of course, did nothing to pump up Scratchy’s pride, who stood there looking back at us with an air of defeat and humiliation. And then he scratched. And scratched.
We eventually gave in and bought him some expensive, dog-appropriate togs from a pet store. These had long sleeves which, we hoped, would deter him from chewing on his arms while still cushioning the impact to his sides from his claws.
Back home, Scratchy made no attempt to resist this latest affront to his manhood. He stood, defeated, while we dressed him in his new garb. This time, rather than laugh, we were horrified. The clothes were too small! He turned to slink away but the togs were too tight and the sleeves too long, which forced him into a kind of prance/trip like a drunken Lipizzaner. When we lifted him onto the couch in an attempt to readjust the fit, he tipped over and went into a kind of rigor mortis state, lying there with this limbs sticking out, stiff as a corpse. We sighed, gently pried him from his dapper new duds and set him free. To scratch.
We had to face facts; Scratchy was a lost cause. Unless we spent a king’s ransom to recruit an army of specialists working around the clock employing the latest scientific breakthroughs to treat this medical mystery, we would simply have to live with an itchy dog. His parents would be home soon, and we would leave this fur-bearing anomaly in their hands. We surrender.
To at least save his sides, we occasionally dressed him in the kid’s shirt. We cut away at it some more so it would be more comfortable, but it ended up looking like a tank top. This new, tough-guy look naturally played to Scratchy’s elevated sense of himself, and he took to it like a stud. Strutting through the streets with his muscle shirt on he was sassier than ever. All he needed was a tat, some bling and a pack of smokes tucked into his sleeve and mutts everywhere would clear a path. We’d created a monster. A monster that still scratched . . .