Years ago, when we were dealing with a very sick cat, the veterinarian calmed our fears by telling us, “You can put two halves of a cat in a room and in the morning there will be a whole cat.” The theory being that cats are freakishly resilient creatures, and just when you think they’re goners, they rise up, Phoenix-like, and carry on as if nothing happened. Same goes for dogs, as it turns out.
We arrived in San Pancho this summer to the usually tongue-lollingly, goofy-happy Kahlua but a relatively subdued Rufus (not that he was ever tongue-lollingly, goofy-happy). His immune system had weakened, and as a result he’d been battling a series of skin infections, as well as an ugly growth on his left foot that had him on a miserable merry-go-round of cut-and-drain, only to keep mushrooming back. It was clearly painful, so he was constantly licking it, which hindered the healing. So the vet took the drastic measure of lopping off Rufus’ entire first toe. It was the only way to ensure that bad boy would be gone and stay gone.
The day of the surgery, Canada Day, there was nothing to celebrate, as we all sat on pins and needles worrying about how the old dog was going to pull through an operation and anesthetic. When he came home, he was doped to the gills and sported a big fat bandage that wound around his foot and half-way up his leg. He could not put pressure on his foot, so we helped him over to his bed, where he promptly passed out, and stayed that way until the next day, when we had to change his dressing. Then all hell broke loose.
Just delicately touching the bandage to try to remove it sent the poor guy into a howl. If not for the muzzle and cone, all of us would be minus a few digits ourselves. It took us nearly an hour, with Rick holding Rufus in a headlock, while Bill and I carefully removed the dressing and, as quickly as possible, rebandaged the wound, all while poor Rufy bawled in pain. When it was done, we all sat back, looked at each other, and said, “We can’t do this again.” Rufy’s agonizing cries broke our hearts. So, before Bill hit the highway, he called the vet and persuaded him to make a house call. Which he did — over a dozen times. Thank. God.
And when Dr. Julio Cesar, of AnimaLove, did come — hoofing it, by the way, out to the house from town — he brought with him some heavy-duty painkillers that he injected into Rufus’ neck. While Dr. Julio’s touch was as gentle as ours, he was more practiced and sure (and lacked the emotional attachment we had), and had the deed done in minutes, with Rick bracing Rufy and me acting as nurse, passing the doc bandages, tape and ointment. We communicated via Google Translator and after a few weeks, much to our relief, the good doctor gave us a welcome prognosis: Rufus was healing, slowly but surely, every day.
Because Rufus couldn’t put pressure on the foot (from painand the risk of reopening the wound), Rick had to lift him up and down the stairs forbathroom breaks, which were often, since the pain meds he was on caused dry mouth, which in turn caused him to drink a lot of water, which in turn caused him to pee a lot. The look of indignity was clear on his face (Rufus’, not Rick’s). This proud old man (again, Rufus, not Rick), this cock of the walk, this big bruiser who ruled the ‘hood, who roamed where and when he pleased, was reduced to being carried out to crap.
As the weeks turned into a month, and the bandage finally came off and the stitches pulled out, we wanted to keep the wound clean until the scab fell off to be absolutely, 100 per cent sure it was fully healed. So, to keep it clean, at pee time we gently slipped one of Bill’s old socks over Rufus’s foot, bound it with masking tape, and took him out that way. Invariably, however, balance not being what it once was now that he was down a toe (and his muscles had somewhat atrophied from no exercise), he would pee all over the sock. Rick tried holding his foot up and out of the line of fire, with intermittent success. So we’d have to wash that soggy sock several times a day and hang it to dry in the midday Mexican sun.
At one point, just as we thought we were out of the woods, Rufus developed another growth, this time on his hind leg. Here we go again, we thought. We quickly slathered on ointment and bandaged it, hoping to nip it in the bud. We’re happy to report that it did the trick. But Rufus, with one bandaged front leg, one bandaged back leg, and a honkin’ big cone over his head, looked like a dog made of parts. Franken-canine, if you will.
Now, six weeks later, you can’t even see traces of a wound, and you’d have to look close to notice a missing index finger (good thing he’s not a Pointer). While not yet back in full fighting form, his skin looks good, he’s gained weight and energy. He’s even trotting up the jungle road and down to the beach, but only as part of our pack now. He still thinks of himself as a solitary man, but realizes he can’t (in fact, doesn’t want to) go it alone anymore. He’s reluctantly accepted that he’s become dependent, as we all do in our twilight years. But just like those two halves of a cat, Rufus once again has become a whole dog.