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The wind gust had been so instantaneous that we were all temporarily in shock. It took a moment to register in my mind that my dog was actually too far from the garage door to be attached to the tail tip stuck within it.
He didn’t utter a sound and I had no idea what had happened until I turned around. After frantically wrenching the door open, six inches of Ralph’s fur dropped to the threshold.
Of course, I felt terrible for not taking more time to hold the door open against the March winds. I couldn’t believe my eyes: His beautiful, distinctive white tail tip lay dying before my eyes on the door frame. For almost 13 years, it had been as frothy as a ball of white cotton candy on a brindled cone.
I grabbed a clean towel and tried to keep the blood from spurting from the point of amputation – an absolutely clean, guillotine style slice. I actually expected more blood, but I think I grabbed it quickly enough to decrease the flow.
I filled a syringe with canine anti-inflammatory drugs and took quivering aim for the back of his throat, then worked on the wound, which had to be wrapped, twice, because the first dressing fell off as he beetled toward the sanctuary of our bedroom and his bed.
I applied a cooler pack and felt immobilized by my guilt as I stretched out on the piece of floor directly beside him. There was little else to be done apart from reliving the moment and making mental notes of how it could have been prevented.
Before this, Ralph had always seemed to have an incredibly long tail, but, being a Greyhound, it did balance his incredibly long body. Now, once I’d learned to apply a proper spiral tape dressing on his wound, it left him taking on the appearance of a short tailed, ring-tailed lemur.
Ralph is an older dog, 91 in people years. I tried to comfort myself by imagining that he wouldn’t have needed that particular six inches for much longer anyway. Maybe he wouldn’t notice the deficiency, but I sure would, and it would haunt me for the rest of my life. For someone who pampers and fusses over their dogs as if they are my children, this was an utter betrayal of my responsibility.
I know it’s not like it was a foot or a leg or an ear or a nose, but it tore out a little piece of my heart. There was no putting it back. It was truly and perfectly departed. There was no point reaching for the usual tape or glue or staples, as in the case of household fractures and separations. This was a living piece of tissue that suddenly had no home.
My husband had quickly collected the remains in a clean Ziploc bag and immediately stashed it in the garage beer fridge. I don’t know what we thought we were going to do with it – save it to bury it with Ralph when he eventually died? – but I just wasn’t ready to let go of it yet. It was still in perfect condition, except for the fact that it wasn’t attached. It seemed disrespectful, somehow, to just throw it out.
I spent the rest of the day poised like a hawk above his bed where he seemed to sleep like a log after a double dose of medication. Our veterinarian daughter had given emergency advice over the phone and offered antibiotic therapy if we had deemed it necessary. Having been an R.N. once myself, in a galaxy far, far away, I was well aware of how quickly infection could set in and at least knew what to look for, as far as signs and symptoms.
Ralph didn’t seem interested in sharing my double dose of vodka and orange juice as the sun rose over the yardarm. Sure it was a little early, but I needed that drink. And when rummaging for ice for my screwdriver, I found a couple of frozen cooler bags which I used to elevate his long and bloody stump.
Of course I felt totally irresponsible, drowning my sorrows while he adjusted to life with a diminished tail. I wish it had been my tail, if I’d had one. I would have given anything to have spared Ralph the pain and degradation.
While I continued to figuratively beat myself over the head, Ralph seemed to stoically accept the situation and carry on. It must have hurt, but he never let on. He devoured his dinner and curled up in bed as usual as I continued to relive the horrid moment of amputation.
It was inspiring, really. Ralph’s tail was literally behind him and he looked forward as I looked back. For him, that part of his anatomy was history, end of story. For me, six furry inches of it still languished in our beer fridge, being mourned and eulogized and kept in respectful cold storage until it could join the rest of Ralph in his ultimate demise and cremation.
But if Ralph could still wag his truncated tail, perhaps I could catch the wind of its forward movement. It wasn’t the first time my canine friends had taught me life lessons and it probably wouldn’t be the last. Why was it, I thought, that so-called lower life forms have greater malleability and are less resistant to change?
Darwin was right. The way of the dodo awaits all who cannot change. Acceptance, self-forgiveness and change precede survival. Although he now looked less like a cheetah and more like a lion, life would go on for Ralph.
The dignity that may have been lost by the loss of his tail had been restored by his tale of recovery.
Linda Webster lives in Duntroon, Ont.