A Mother’s Love (or, How to Not Kill Your Dog)

Oh Boy.  What a week.  Why did I disappear again, just after I’d told you I was excited to be writing again?  Well, I was busy keeping my dog alive . . .

After a whirlwind of travel last month, followed by a friendly visit from Tropical Storm Isaac, I was finally enjoying getting settled in to our island routine again.  This is a particularly quiet time of year on the island – turns out hurricane season is not a draw for the tourists – and I was enjoying the slow summer pace.  After posting last Monday, I decided to take advantage of the deliciously warm summer sea and go for a swim.

Late Afternoon Swim

After wrapping up various chores late afternoon, I threw on a swimsuit, grabbed a beach towel and called out to Angel, “Wanna go swimming?”  As this phrase is well-recognized in her little dog vocabulary, she came trotting to the screen door, and out we went.  Traipsing down the back steps, our feet hit the sand and we strolled – well, I strolled and she scampered – to the water’s edge.  I walked right in.  No need to dance the toes to get used to a chilly temperature.  No, the water is bathtub warm and so clear that I can see everything clearly in the 1-3 feet depth out back.

Angel waded in with me to her chest, then waded back out and raced around on the sand and coral rock.  Eventually, I walked back to the beach, scooped her up and carried her out to float with me in the slightly deeper water.  Ahhh, so relaxing.

Swimming in the backyard on another day.

Back to the House where Catastrophe Strikes – Phase 1

After half an hour or so, I headed in.  Angel ran ahead of me and up the steps, probably attempting to escape the mandatory post-saltwater-sea-and-sand bath on the downstairs patio.  I walked up to retrieve her for her bath.  As I reached the top of the steps, I vaguely remember seeing her on the deck by the chaise lounges – had she just jumped up and slipped or fallen off?  I’m still not entirely clear.  All I know is that my baby began screaming in pain.

I don’t mean whimpering or crying or even howling.  She was screaming, eyes wild with pain and terror and locked onto mine.  However, she wouldn’t let me near her.  I kept looking at her, got down to her level and told her in soothing tones that she would be okay.

Today those big ‘ol eyes are calm.

Finally, she let me pick her up gently.  I gave her a quick rinse with the hose.  Less for cleanliness concerns and more because in my desperation to help her, I wondered if the salt water was somehow stinging her.  That is not particularly logical, but is likely tied in my mind to the only other time I’ve heard Angel scream in pain – when rock salt on City sidewalks in our former winter world got in her paws.

Anyway, once I rinsed her and swaddled her in a towel, I simply held her until she calmed down.  At this point, I was sitting on the bedroom floor – away from the chill of the living room A/C – and both of us were dripping all over the tile floor.

After she calmed, I attempted to trouble-shoot the source of her pain.  I already knew she wasn’t bleeding, although she did have a bad scrape on her inside thigh.  I also had felt her enough to know there were no broken bones apparent.  Did she throw her sensitive back out?  Did she fall and badly bruise her leg?

I just couldn’t be sure.  All I knew was that my darling dog, who usually lets me poke and prod her with the nonchalant patience of a saint, wouldn’t let me touch her anywhere on her back end.  Nor could she get comfortable to lie down or even sit.  She whimpered and was clearly in pain.

Desperate to ease her pain, but aware of her small size, I gave her a quarter tablet of Excedrin, the only pain relief medicine I had around.  Angel eventually was able to lie down, but she remained uncomfortable.  I had to carry her up and down the steps to go potty outside, and, even with my super-careful maneuvering, she winced every time I touched her.

Catastrophe – Phase 2

The next day, I continued my Excedrin regimen.  Angel was eating and going about her business as usual, but she was very subdued and clearly still in discomfort.

Then, we reached Phase 2.  Angel began vomiting late Tuesday afternoon.  Hmmm, I presumed the Excedrin was upsetting her stomach, so I knew to discontinue that, but thought I’d look up online how to ease her tummy.  I hadn’t even finished entering my key words “Excedrin” “dog” before other terrifying words and links started popping up.


Liver Failure.


No. No. No!  What had I done?!  Frantically, I began to read.

(And why I hadn’t googled this BEFORE I gave Excedrin to Angel, I’ll never know!  I mean, I used to research for a living, for heaven’s sake, and I remain queen of the google.  I guess I was just so focused on getting her relief that it didn’t occur to me that my baby is not, in fact, a person and that I should check out the over-the-counter medicine she was about to trustingly take from me.  Sigh.)

Acetaminophen is Toxic to Dogs

So, it turns out that acetaminophen is extremely toxic to dogs (and caffeine ain’t so great either).  It can cause liver failure and all kinds of dangers, even – gulp – death.  I was simultaneously reading everything I could at a rapid pace, instant messaging with an online vet service, and – after a tearful phone call to my father who worked decades in the pharmaceutical industry – reading the pharmacology information he sent me.  (If you’re curious for the details, the vet “bible” gives the technical information here.)

Thankfully, I’d given her very small doses.  Even so, I was terrified that I’d done serious harm to her, and I was stricken with guilt and remorse at being the one to have done this to her!  I managed to reach my vet in Florida by phone and discussed this with him.  Unfortunately, all of the remedial steps recommended by my vet (and the online vet and my father) were simply impossible.  I had zero access to any of the veterinary medicines they discussed.   (Of course, no vet on this tiny island.)  I didn’t even have access to a store that carried enough variety of human medications to get acceptable alternatives.

Now What?

My only course of action was to withhold food, encourage water, get through the night and see how she was in the morning.  UGH.  (I even considered flying out with a private pilot that night, but we wouldn’t have been able to land in the U.S. before Customs closed.)  By this time, Angel had stopped vomiting (after six episodes!).  She was listless, but not totally out of it.  She was also still in pain so it was difficult to tell if she was subdued from the pain, or because I poisoned her, or both!

Beau encouraged me to just make plans to take her to the vet the next morning – for my own peace of mind, to do whatever they could for her, and since she was still in pain anyway.  We first contemplated going to a vet in Nassau – it’s a shorter flight and far cheaper than flying to the States.  But I decided I’d be more comfortable taking her to her regular vet in Florida rather than an unknown vet in Nassau (where we’ve had less-than-stellar vet experiences before, I hate to say).

Because it’s the slow season, I didn’t even know if I’d be able to get a flight out the next day.  It was after-hours, and the local charter service was closed.  Fortunately, one of the friendly staffers answered my after-hours email; they had a flight the next morning, and she put me and Angel on it!

I didn’t sleep much that night, checking on Angel every time I heard her – and also when she was too quiet! – and making sure she wasn’t showing other dangerous symptoms:  drooling, gum color change, jaundiced eyes, etc.  She seemed okay and, while I was sad that she was hungry, I was relieved to see her roaming the kitchen in search of breakfast, demonstrating that she still had her ever-present appetite.

Stateside Care, Here We Come

After a heads up to the vet that we were headed in, Angel and I spent the morning in an airplane.  Upon landing, I went straight to the vet.  He had me leave her there so he could administer an iv with fluids, cleanse her liver, check her blood levels, give her a full xray, etc.  At the end of the day, I picked her up.  Good report!  He couldn’t see permanent damage and her blood levels were okay.  He gave me a variety of medicines and homeopathic remedies to maintain with her, and we returned the next day to confirm the blood levels were still okay.  PHEW.

The vet shaved her little arm for the iv. See her freckles/spots?!

He also surmised that her pain stemmed from an historically “bad knee” which has gotten worse, and he showed me the details on her little xray.  Thankfully, she seemed to have gotten herself righted again.  Although she still seemed a little sensitive, she was no longer in pain.


SO.  Moral of this story?  NO ACETAMINOPHEN FOR ANIMALS!  And really, don’t give anything without checking it through the vet, or at least the almighty Google.  Duh.

Back home and relaxed today, shaved arm and all.

This story had a good ending.  As much as I ascribe human characteristics to Angel, even I don’t think she is highly evolved enough to appreciate that I almost killed her (okay, that’s a little dramatic, but I still feel terrible about it!) and that she, therefore, can be appreciative of her own Better Life!

Kibble ball breakfast today, perky as ever.

Another good ending to this story is that it gave me the opportunity to see my dad, brother, grandparents, a good friend and to spend my mother’s birthday weekend celebrating in person with her!

And an Aside

As a final aside, the unplanned trip also ended up with me attending a dynamic and entertaining presentation by Paul Efron about “Hope.”  Paul, a guest speaker at my church that day, usually works in a recovery setting, and he is a wildly popular speaker about overcoming adversity.  In a delightful chat with him afterward, Paul also tuned me in to an intriguing book series and community of people – all coming from a place of gratitude and sharing their stories of triumph.  It’s called Thank God I . . . and it has a definite Better Life philosophy!  Check it out at www.thankgodi.com

Happily Home with Angel

Now, I’m pleased to report that Angel and I are happily home. After arriving yesterday morning, I delighted in putting away Stateside groceries, starting the never-ending laundry, cooking for Beau who seems to have been subsisting largely on takeout and the mercy of others, enjoying the warm sun combined with a strong cool breeze, and relishing the HAPPY feeling of being home!

Angel back to her Better Life today, napping per usual.

4 Responses to A Mother’s Love (or, How to Not Kill Your Dog)

  • Sarah says:

    Oh Dear! What an adventure you have all had. It is difficult to deal with doggy emergencies living down on an island far from basic necessities. Glad you were able to catch a flight with her and get her looked at. VERY glad she is ok! Don't beat yourself up over this. Most people have these sorts of "oops episodes", and it's not like we intend to hurt our sweet little furry family. You're a wonderful Mommy, and I guarantee that is what Angel knows.

  • Dawn says:

    Thanks so much, Sarah. I felt so terrible! Thankfully, Angel is perky and fine and doesn't seem to hold it against me. 🙂

  • Christine says:

    Waaaaaah!!! 🙁 SO stressful. WOW – I was right with you through the whole blog post! That must have been horrible! And awful to have to wait to find out if she was okay. Thank goodness all was fine. And do not be hard on yourself – you were just trying to do the best you can to alleviate her pain. You’re a great mommy!

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks, Christine! When I’m not poisoning her, I’m spoiling her. Sigh. 🙂 I always said I’d be better disciplined with children than I am with my dog. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

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