Lenny and I had one of those meaningful father-and-son moments in the run-up to Christmas. It was 4.30am, and Lenny, the dachshund named by readers of this newspaper, was in the Intensive Care Unit of the animal hospital, helpless, depressed, and medicated, and he fixed me with a look that appeared to say: what have you done to me? I met his glassy-eyed stare and mouthed my response: what have you done to me?
A dog isn’t just for Christmas, yes? But in this, the darkest of times just before dawn, I couldn’t help wondering whether this dog was even for Christmas. He’d just undergone serious surgery to remove a blockage from his intestine (an undigested corn-on-the-cob husk, since you ask), his wound had become infected, his temperature was 41.4°C, and his immediate future was uncertain. The vet, without saying that Lenny shouldn’t start a new series of Dogs Behaving Badly, was unequivocal about the dangers he faced should the infection spread.
But here we are, a couple of days later, and Lenny’s back home again, wearing the cone of shame, but relaxing on the sofa, replete with a dish of boiled chicken, and with the sorry-for-himself expression that has been passed down through the generations of dachshunds. But he’s a strong, healthy dog with good recovery powers, so we now expect him to be chasing his ball and barking at anyone wearing a hat (yes, really) very soon.
It’s been something of an ordeal for all of us, however, and I’ve learnt more about the internal workings of a standard dachshund than I ever thought necessary. I’ve also discovered that a vet’s surgery is not the worst place in the world to spend those unforgiving hours. There is a bonhomie in the waiting room of a vet’s that you don’t find in a normal surgery. We are innately sympathetic to the plight of others, we are interested in the stories that got them there, and we can always find common cause in a less altruistic consideration: the horror of the bill we are about to face (we neglected to insure Lenny).
I was there late one night, and a man came in with his labradoodle, who seemed ostensibly fine, but he (the labradoodle, that is) had just eaten a huge bar of Toblerone that he had found among the Christmas presents and carefully unwrapped. Chocolate, as any dog owner knows, is very dangerous, and he (the labradoodle) was there to have his stomach pumped. In his time, Lenny has eaten half a box of After Eights, some advent calendar chocolate treats and a slice of birthday cake, but thankfully survived unscathed.
Much less glamorously, it was the remnants of a discarded corn on the cob that did for him, but thanks to the expert ministrations of a number of different vets, his digestive system is now fully operational again. It’s not only the surgical skills of the vets, but their bedside manner, that inspires awe. They understand the particular anxieties of pet owners, and will address every concern in a consummate and thoughtful way. They call the pets “patients”, but it’s often the owners who are most time-consuming. I was told that one dog owner slept overnight in her car outside the vet’s just so she could be on hand if there was any change in her Pomeranian’s condition.
And that’s the reason why we pay up willingly. There is no price on love. Lenny racked up a bill of just more than £5,000 for his errant corn on the cob, but I’d have paid twice, three times, that to ensure he was well again. In fact, I’d have paid every penny I have, which, thinking about it, is not a bad business model for a veterinary practice.
So Lenny lives to see his third Christmas. I think he knows how lucky he is, but in case he doesn’t, we’re on hand to attend to his every need. No change there, then, you may say. Happy Christmas to one and all, human and canine.