Why Does a Dog Get Sick?

In his poem “One of the Animals” Marvin Bell writes:

Why does a dog get sick?

—You tell me.

What does he do about it?

—You tell me.

Does it make a difference?

—You tell me.

Does he live or die?

—You tell me.

Does it make a difference?

—That one I know.

Does it prepare you?

—That one I know too.

Will we know what to do?

—You tell me.

Yesterday this poem was much on my mind as my guide dog Nira had a seizure in the small hours of the morning and lost her ability to walk—her back legs were stymied, she stumbled from side to side with her hind quarters half dragging. I carried her from our bedroom, down the staircase. When I put her on the floor she fell. Then she staggered to her feet like a newborn foal, skittering and swaying. I lifted her again and brought her outside.

At the emergency veterinarian complex they ascertained she’d had a seizure and said they could run $1000 worth of tests. I declined. “Will we know what to do?” “—You tell me.” I think the vet wanted to fleece me. I took her for a second opinion. By the end of the day she was walking normally, her eyes were good. “Older dogs can have seizures,” the vet said. “They can be singular incidents, or they can happen more than once. They can be caused by anything from a brain tumor to simple aging.”

They took some blood. We will make certain her internal organs are functioning properly.

“Does it make a difference?” “—You tell me.”

My first guide dog Corky died of a brain tumor. She had a massive seizure and we took her to the vet. The vet wasn’t in. They told my wife and I to go have coffee and come back. When we returned, Corky was lying on a blanket with an I.V. attached to her foreleg. she was panting heavily. They told that it was a brain tumor and there was nothing they could do. It was time to say goodbye.

“Courage,” said Hemingway, “is grace under pressure.” I’ve never felt especially courageous. But it occurred to me there in that vet’s office that Corky spent her life protecting me. More than once she had taken evasive action to save my life. She was always looking out for me, concerned and yes, spiritually affirming. My dog. My special angel. I knew I had to force back my tears. I lay down on the floor beside her, held her, and sang to her our special walking song. And she died in my arms.

“Why does a dog get sick?” “—You tell me.”

This morning I’m grateful to have my dear Nira beside me for another day.

This morning I want to cry.

I won’t.

“You tell me.”