Kind reader, life has gotten away from me. It’s November already! Seriously? Where has the time gone? The thought of Christmas around the corner boggles my mind. Though I have no pressing agendas or a timetable that I’m subject to, I’m behind in everything, including penning a few words in this here space, at least on a weekly basis.
Sigh. Can you hear my groan? There are not enough hours in a day.
So yesterday was my poodle-love’s tenth birthday. My heart swells still at the memory of that brisk February day in Oregon, well outside of Portland, in the country. We drove up quite a hill to the modest home that sat on acreage more than ample enough to allow puppies to thrive and run to their hearts content.
It seems like yesterday when we first laid eyes on what was then a small bundle of black fluff. I had walked out on a large wood deck and this fellow came running out of the blue, planting himself down right between my legs. That was it; my head and heart were seized by somersaults of overwhelming love though I pretended to hem and haw for more than an hour as we watched how the little fellow got along with other pups and such. Rocket-man had to agree to the new addition of course…and therein was the potential hiccup in my decade-old quest to add the pitter-patter of four paws to the house. Truth be told, initially he wasn’t all that keen on the idea. In fact he was such a hard sell that it took me nearly ten years to merely warm him up to the idea. At times I was ever so subtle in my approach. We’d be out for an evening stroll and I’d make it my secret mission to stop and talk to at least one dog-walker. Of course I’d be overly-effusive at times in an effort to engage Rocket-man, as in for example: “how brilliant that your dog fetches the paper for you every morning! That’s what we need too, don’t you think?” At other times I could be more direct…like parking the grocery cart in the pet food isle, vocally sharing the ingredients of a particular brand that I intended to purchase for my make-believe pup, all to rocket-man eye-rolls and a shake of his head with an emphatic “No!”
Ah, but rocket-man was captivated too on that February day that would bring further internet searches to a halt. I had found my poodle-love–or rather, he had found me. As for my husband: he will claim that it was the sparkle in my eyes that did him in. I submit that he too fell in love at first sight with the ball of fluff that chose me…us.
So as I sit here an type at my desk my shadow–as I often call him– sits on top of my feet slumbering away. He’s recovering from the trauma of a dental cleaning at the vet’s just last week. In fact, I am sort-of recovering too…from an unexpected jolt over it all. The vet called to advise that three teeth needed to be pulled.
I did not see that coming.
Okay….perhaps my head was stuck in the sand on this one. I will admit to a little voice nagging about a certain someone’s recent bout of bad breath…
“Oh, wow,” I cried in disbelief. “He’s had stellar checkups in the past!”
“There are a number of factors that could account for this,” the doctor said in her soothing, undeniably British voice. “Age is certainly one factor but also he hasn’t been getting his teeth cleaned consistently and thoroughly enough.” She noted that I’d recorded his last cleaning a little over two years ago. Before that, my boy had had three cleanings while we lived in Southern California but those were done anesthesia-free. I thought I was being a “good” dog-parent by not subjecting my pooch to an IV and drugs. What I realize now is that it meant that he could not possibly receive a thorough cleaning because he was not put under for the procedure.
After going over the options with the doctor we settled on pulling one tooth, the worst of the three that was nearly falling out due to bone loss at the site. “We may be able buy some time for the other two; but let’s be quite vigilent about it,” said the vet.
“I feel terrible,” I tell her. “I’m guilty of being lazy about tooth-brushing. I honestly tried to do it daily for awhile but life got in the way…with my mother…family stuff…moving…Lord, the list could go on! All excuses nonetheless.”
“Don’t beat yourself up over this,” were her kind words. “It’s not easy for most pet-parents…sometimes it’s all we can do to brush and floss our own teeth! And really, his health is otherwise excellent and overall, the rest of his teeth are in good shape, with minimal tartar and plaque build-up. The important thing is that you are taking care of this severely wobbly one now which will prevent more health complications in the future if you do nothing.”
$600 dollars later….(yes, indeed that was head-popping)…. I thanked the veterinarian with certain promise that my boy would be on the schedule for a dental cleaning next October. While he slept in his bed, fortified with antibiotics, exhausted no doubt from the stress of the day, I high-tailed it to Petsmart in search of liquid tartar remover, Greenies dental treats and canine toothpaste. As I stood looking at all the dental-related choices I was amazed by how much the canine/feline dental products mirrors those that we “uprights” use daily. Some would argue the canine/feline dental industry is nothing short of a scam…an unnecessary, even fabricated excuse to drain the pocketbook. After all, as a general rule, for eons, dogs and cats in the wild didn’t go for dental cleanings. My vet pointed out that our four-legged loves aren’t foraging for food in the wild. They are not, for the most part, tearing meat from bones or sharpening their teeth on twigs and branches. And, they also don’t live long enough to outlive their teeth. Our fur-babies snuggle in our laps or slumber in comfy pet beds after eating kibble or canned soft mush. Baring unforeseen health circumstances, our pets live years longer than their close counterparts in the wild.
So the consequences of mediocre dental hygiene are essentially no different between us and our four-legged loves. Just as we take our own precautions against gum disease by regular flossing, cleanings, and good dental hygiene habits, essentially the same applies to our beloved cats and dogs. Obviously, we cannot floss our dog’s teeth to prevent canine periodontis (inflammation and infection from bacteria in the mouth), but we can pay attention to our pet’s teeth with daily brushing or at least a yearly thorough dental cleaning. Without proper care, even mildly inflamed gums can progress to full-on painful gingivitis. From there it leads to where my pooch is today…resting in his bed minus an incisor with two other teeth in peril. Furthermore, doing nothing would exponentially increase the likelihood of developing heart disease as a constant attack of bacteria from the inflammation in the mouth would find it’s way into the blood stream…the sticky plaque substance adhering to arteries surrounding the heart, threatening other organs as well. Not much different from us bipeds if you think about it!
I look down at The Poodle who is still sleeping on top of my feet. “Ten years and minus a tooth,” I whisper to him. His left ear twitches at the sound of my voice. My heart swells. His presence fills me with peace. The world is right as rain when my shadow is with me. I know our days together are numbered, in every sense of the word. That’s the way it is of course, the natural order of things. Impermanence. But for now I try not to think of rainbow bridges. I just want my birthday boy to be with me–as healthy as possible–for as long as the fates allow.
Feeling the bliss on a chilly, wet, and overall dreary November day.
Now, get out and vote if you haven’t already!