Column: Surviving (or Not) on Dover St.

By Susan Parker
Tuesday September 19, 2006

On Thursday I bought three pints of Haagen-Dazs ice cream for Ralph, Andrea, and me. We were planning on watching “Survivor” together. It was the 188th episode, the beginning of the most controversial season yet. Real life-like explosive racial stereotyping, the news reports said.  

But that afternoon real life got in the way. Our dog Whiskers became ill. She was weak, lethargic. There was blood in her mouth and under her fur. I rushed her to the VCA Animal Hospital on Shattuck Avenue. 

“We’ll do some tests,” said the veterinarian, taking Whiskers from my arms. “Come back after 6.” 

I went home, straightened up the house, paid an overdue bill, prepared dinner.  

That evening I returned to VCA. “Something is very wrong,” said the doctor. “Whiskers’ blood isn’t clotting. You need to take her to the emergency pet clinic on University Avenue. I’ve contacted them and they’re expecting you.”  

I called Andrea and told her she’d have to give Ralph dinner. I was going to miss “Survivor.”  

“Do what you have to do,” said Andrea. “Me and Ralph’ll be just fine.”  

At the clinic someone whisked Whiskers away. While I waited in an outer room a woman came by and picked up two rabbits. A man left with a meowing cat. A couple sat quietly in plastic chairs holding between them a sad little Chihuahua. 

“Whiskers has lost a lot of blood,” said a new doctor. “We need to give her a transfusion immediately.” 

“Okay,” I said. Carefully I added, “No heroic efforts.” I had been rehearsing those words for the last half hour. “She’s almost 14 years old,” I said. “I know she can’t survive forever.” 

“Yes,” said the vet, “but let’s see how she responds. We’ll keep her overnight and run more tests. You can pick her up tomorrow morning.” 

In a flash, my false bravado abandoned me. “I can’t take her home? She’s my best friend. She’s—” 

“She’s too sick to go home with you,” interrupted the doctor. “She could bleed to death.” 

I left Whiskers there. I didn’t want to be one of those people who fell apart when their dog dies. But at the thought of Whiskers’ death, I had to pull into a gas station on MLK and wait until my vision cleared.  

It was dark and quiet at home. Ralph’s oxygen machine hissed. Andrea’s bedroom door was closed. I did a crossword puzzle. I read an article about Snakes on a Plane. 

In the morning I drove to the clinic. The transfusion wasn’t finished and it hadn’t gone well. Whiskers and I returned to VCA with a plastic bag full of dark red blood and a large brown envelope containing her x-rays. A technician told me to come back at 6 p.m.  

I kept myself busy at home. I made an appointment for Ralph. I called the wheelchair people to find out why they hadn’t fixed Ralph’s chair. I went to the pharmacy to get Ralph’s medications. I watered the garden. I wrote a letter for Andrea’s sister, Noonie, demanding that her ex-landlord return her furniture. I tried to ignore Whiskers’ food and water bowls.  

At 6 I went to VCA. Whiskers was better. I carried her, ensconced in thick pink gauze, to the car. At 8 we rushed back. The dressing was drenched in blood. At 9 we went home again. Whiskers was now wrapped in thicker bandages.  

During the night, I heard Whiskers wander through the house. At 7 a.m. I scrubbed blood from the living room, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom floors. At 7:45 we waited for the front doors of VCA to open. At 9 I held Whiskers in my arms as the doctor gave her a final injection and put her to sleep. 

I went home and got into bed. For the first time in almost 13 years I tried to fall asleep without a miniature Schnauzer wrapped, like earmuffs, around my head. 

On Sunday I ate two pints of Haagen-Dazs and Andrea ate one. We realized we didn’t know what had happened on “Survivor.” We didn’t bother to find out.