Tuesday night Butch whined, paced and chewed at his behind until almost six in the morning. I don’t know if he slept at all, and I personally slept for about an hour, if you add all the five-minute sleep intervals together.
By the time the sun came up Wednesday morning, my brain was so fried that I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew I couldn’t leave Butch alone to inflict certain damage on his new stitches, and I was so exhausted I felt sick, but there were things I had to do at the office. I managed an inadequate sponge-bath and five minutes with a curling iron, then puzzled what to do about Butch. He’d stopped whining. He’d had food and water and had successfully completed his business outside, which was very good news under the circumstances. I made a split-second decision, put the leash on him and took him with me to work.
In the nearly three years since Butch’s eye surgery, this was the first time he’d been anywhere other than his own house, his own yard, or the animal hospital. He hesitated just inside the door to the office, then relaxed when friendly hands and voices welcomed him. I led him down the hall to my desk, spread a clean sheet on the floor, and encouraged him to lie down. He remained alert, wagging his tail and straining at the leash to get better acquainted with new people, then finally calmed down and napped on the sheet.
As soon as the crucial jobs were done, I took the rest of the day off. Butch and I went home, where I thought we'd go to sleep immediately. We didn’t. He licked and chewed, and I made him stop. Over and over and over.
In your comments to my last post, several of you asked about the possibility of putting one of those cone-shaped Elizabethan collars on Butch. If I hadn’t been too tired to respond, I’d have told you about the time when he’d had the cruciate ligaments repaired in both knees. The vet put an E-collar on him then, but removed it minutes later out of concern that Butch’s leaping and bucking would further damage his injured legs. And then I’d have told you that a different vet had tried an E-collar after Butch’s eye surgery, removing it almost immediately in fear that Butch’s blindly violent twists and turns would cause him additional harm. In my mind, the E-collar wouldn’t work this time, either, but you made me think about it.
By Wednesday night I could have slept through a tornado, and I think Butch must have been in the same shape. I only recall telling him to stop chewing a few times during that night, and we got all the way out of bed only twice.
On Thursday morning I was relieved that Butch’s bottom didn’t look too bad, and I thought maybe the urge to chew the stitches had passed. I cut the tail off an old, soft T-shirt and fashioned a diaper I thought might keep him away from the stitches. Then I left for work and worried about him all morning long. By the time I got home at lunchtime, Butch had managed to chew the stitches enough that blood and other gunk was dripping down his backside, and I wasn’t sure if he’d done serious damage or not. I cleaned him up, patched him as well as I could, and made a better diaper, this one out of an old pillow case, with an elastic belt looped through slots I'd cut in it. Then I went back to work just long enough to request emergency vacation time.
Back we went to the vet. Remarkably, Butch hadn’t done permanent damage. Aside from all the licking and chewing, the vet said, he appeared to be healing nicely. She added a second antibiotic to his daily medications, plus an ointment to apply to his stitches twice a day. Then I asked if we could try the E-collar again. I told her everything I just told you about his prior experiences with it, but I was getting desperate. I told her he might just have to suck it up and deal with it this time.
A vet tech left the room for a few minutes and came back with an E-collar. They fastened it around Butch’s neck and we waited for the explosion. He shook his head gently a couple of times. He scooted backwards to try to get away from it. And that was it. There was no more drama. He had a hard time navigating with that big thing on his head -- a harder time than a sighted dog would have had -- but he kept his dignity and managed the best he could.
He’s worn the collar almost constantly since then, and he’s bumped into a lot of things. At first he had a problem of over-correction. If he bumped something to his right, he’d turn 180 degrees to his left and crash into something on that side, but he’s beginning to get the hang of it. Because his nose serves as his eyes, he’s used to walking with his nose just inches from the floor. He can’t do that now without the bottom of the collar dragging against the floor. Instead, he’s learned to walk a few steps with his head held high, then flip it way forward to plop the whole circumference of the circular collar against the floor while he takes a good whiff. He’s figured out how to back out slowly when the collar has prevented him from turning around in tight spots. He seems to have accepted the fact that he can't scratch his behind, or his ears for that matter, and to live with that reality.
This afternoon, not quite brave enough to leap up onto the sofa while wearing the new collar, Butch summoned up the courage to climb up cautiously. Once there, he snuggled up against me and laid his head with its big silly "hat" on my chest. He’s learned that most of the pleasures of life are still available to him, and I’ve learned it’s not so bad to watch television through a semi-transparent plastic cone.
Considering everything Butch has had to deal with in his ten years, I suppose he's grown to understand that a big lampshade attached to his head is no big deal.
(First published at Velvet Sacks on June 6, 2008.)