January 18, 2011


My insanely bad luck with animals

I guess it started when I was six. I wanted a kitten, so my family got two, one of which died inexplicably and the other of which ran away. I was ready to throw the towel in then. This owning a pet business seemed way too traumatic to me.

But then my mom picked me up from school one day and said she had a surprise. The only thing I wanted was another toy but instead, she pulled up outside a chicken coop and said that the anticipated article was another kitten. I had a fit. I didn’t want another kitten, I wailed; why couldn’t we just go to Toys-R-Us? That was not an option, though, and so I remember sitting in the passenger seat, arms crossed, furious as I watched her through slitted eyes, picking her way through the garden until she finally got down on the ground to get a kitten that was stuck way back under a cage. That’s when I got out of the car, stomped into the yard and grudgingly picked out my own fluffy ball of fur.

I named it Dusty and she lived a long life, tolerating when my sister and I dressed her up in doll clothes, keeping me company during the chicken pox, and also many a bout of the flu and ear infections, and even following me to college. Then she stayed with my parents when I got a job in Virginia, because she was 17 by then and one more move would have been too much for her. That same year, I came home for Christmas and found out she was in pretty bad shape. New Year’s Eve night we came home from dinner to find her throwing up blood and so my parents took me to the emergency clinic and I stayed in the room with her, while they put her to sleep.

The next year, I decided to get another cat. I was still in Virginia, so I adopted one that had been fostered after he was found wandering a neighborhood known for drug deals and syringes discarded on the street. I named him Buddy James and I had him for about four months, when I took him back to Georgia for Christmas. Then he saw one of my mom’s cats, flipped out and ran away, never to be seen again.

I think that’s about when I decided to stick with my air plant. Then I moved to Barcelona, Spain, where having a pet did not even cross my mind for two years. In Mexico, my next home, people started trying to get me to adopt one of the island dogs, because there are so many strays running around that need homes, but I resisted for another two years, using my old excuse that if I ever wanted to just leave for a weekend get-away, it would be too much trouble to find someone to look after it. I was getting pretty good at this independent, I-don’t-need-anything-to-need-me-and-vice-versa thing, until I decided to take this trip and it suddenly made sense to have a canine companion.

It would be my first as an adult. I had had a Cocker Spaniel-Golden Retriever mix with my family growing up but then when I went West for a year after high school graduation, he stayed with my parents and I got a call one night that they had found out he was riddled with cancer. At barely eight years old, he died. But I was not thinking about that when I met Pedro, a four-month old mutt from Playa del Carmen with whom I fell head over heels in love. I got him all the way across the U.S. border and back to Athens, Ga., but what had started as a little case of kennel cough blew up into what we finally deduced had to be distemper and I put him to sleep.

Two weeks later, I decided to suck it up and get another dog, and after meeting with some local rescue groups, I found Rennie. At a year old and fully vaccinated, he had already persevered through all of those vicious illnesses that take down young dogs, and with a muscular build and shiny coat, he looked tough, like he could overcome anything. Besides, he had been found in a box on the side of the road with his sisters, and then taken to the pound, where he was rescued on the day he was to be euthanized. He had serious street cred.

All was well for awhile and I was slowly getting over my overprotective, slightly paranoid behavior with him, trusting that the odds were with me, that I could not possibly have another terrible experience with an animal. He had a few problems with urinary tract infections on the road but I was able to pretty much gloss over them. Until he started losing weight. At first, I was not sure if it was my imagination but then someone asked me if he had just been rescued from the pound. “Um, like a year ago,” I said.

I was thinking that maybe it was road stress and that being home for a little while might fatten him up. But it didn’t. And then he ate some furniture foam and had to get emergency surgery to remove the obstruction in his small intestine. The silver lining on that story was that while the vet was in there, she also got a good scrape of his intestinal walls to be able to do a biopsy, because his weight loss was alarming to her. In the four months since he had last been to her office, he had lost five pounds off his already lean frame.

Now, if you’re reading the Flit Flitter Facebook fan page, you already know that the test results came back and that he has IBD, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, not to be confused with IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Of course I would choose an animal that has this. The good news is that it might be manageable with a very strict diet of a special non-allergen food, and that if it is indeed manageable that easily, he will gain weight again and turn back into a normal, healthy dog. The bad news is that he might also have to go on steroids for the rest of his life, if the food alone does not work. And the worse news is that if both those things don’t fix it, there are no other options, which I did not question any further when the vet told me that, because as far as I am concerned, he is going to respond miraculously to the food alone. By careful management of what goes into his mouth, right down to filtered water, he will recover just fine.

I mean, my luck is due to change any minute now; right?

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jan 18 2011

    Oh no Margaret! That’s so sad. I’m sending Rennie some get well thoughts. …and a few e-belly rubs.

  2. Leigh
    Jan 18 2011

    Oh, Rennie! the food alone will work… I’m sure of it! Who needs medicine on top of expensive food? Not him!!!

    And I forgot about Dusty! I swear – your family’s cats were the only cats I’ve ever liked!

  3. Jan 18 2011

    They are the lucky ones- you’ve given them all great lives. I have a good feeling about Rennie. He’s a fighter. In a good way.

  4. Anna Dlugosz
    Jan 18 2011

    feel better rennie..don’t worry margaret my parents got a year old rescue 2 years ago and after having her for 6 month similar stuff happened and she was put on a strict small portions several times a day diet of hypo-allergenic food(wet and dry mix) and she’s good as new and can occasionally sneak in a cooked carrot or chicken as a treat. My friend also swears by the raw dog food diet but it can’t be mixed with kibble and a bit hard to come by. So rennie will be good as new shortly too!!!

  5. SirenaSteve
    Jan 19 2011


  6. Jan 19 2011

    Thanks, you guys. All very encouraging thoughts and I’ve got my fingers crossed for the same thing, Leigh. That’s good to know about your parents’ dog, Anna. He is indeed a fighter, Babbler– in all ways possible : ) But he also adores belly rubs, Matt. I am giving him lots of those. I’ll tell him you sent him one, too. He’ll remember you when I explain that you’re the nice man with the camera who made him look really, really good.

  7. Yvonne
    Jan 19 2011

    Aww…your e-mail made me so sad. I hope Rennie pulls through and it is just a matter of a controlled diet. Thinking your story sheds some light on why I haven’t pulled the trigger on a dog. The last one I had was taken away after a week when I was a child because it was too much work and nipped my little brother. 🙁 Thinking of you and Rennie!

    • Jan 19 2011

      Totally possible. Those things can be scarring, especially at a young age. But I hope my story also conveys how the benefits of having animals completely outweigh the horrible reality that yes, you do eventually lose them. As they say, “Better to have loved and lost than to have not loved at all.” Painful endings as they were, I would still have every one of my pets all over again, because the times leading up to those points made it all worthwhile. Okay, maybe not to those two kittens when I was six. I barely remember them.

  8. Jan 19 2011

    I am so sorry to hear about Rennie! I hope he starts feeling better!

  9. Jan 19 2011

    I’m so sorry. I hope that the diet alone works for Rennie and he’s feeling better soon.

  10. Jan 22 2011

    “Better to have loved and lost than to have not loved at all.” absolutely true, but it doesn’t make the grief any easier. i’m pulling for rennie and sending all my love to you both.

    • Jan 22 2011

      p.s. i cried as i read this post…hoping that at the end of the post i would not read of another loss. hang in there rennie, you are a magical creature with the most soulful eyes. (hang in there, mama, you are magic too!) lots of love from austin. x

    • Jan 23 2011

      Aw, thank you. And no, I don’t suppose it does make the actual grieving process easier; it makes the wound go even deeper. But I guess eventually you do get to a point where you can separate the grief from the gratefulness that you had such a fulfilling experience, and then it becomes a separate and very good thing.


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