Bearface can run, but she can't hide

Roo hasn’t been feeling too well lately. A little low key. Not running around as much as usual. It started when she picked up some kind of stomach bug several weeks ago in Maine. First it diarrhea for a few days, but then it went away. Then it came back. A day later it went away again. Other than that she seemed to be feeling all right. I gave her a dewormer just in case, and that seemed to set her straight, but then whatever was bothering her came back. She started getting terrible attacks of acid reflux. Every time she ate she would start making little noises in the back of her throat and licking her nose and then decide it was an emergency to get outside and eat grass so she could make herself throw up. When that happens, I’ve learned that the best thing is to make her wait it out. I can help her calm down by petting her and talking to her. Usually, the emergency passes in ten minutes. If I let her out to eat grass, she goes overboard and eats about a pound of it and even though most of it comes up, not all of it does, and her stomach gets worse. It’s all right if it’s an isolated event and she needs to get something up, but when something more extended is bothering her, eating grass all the time would play hell with her stomach.

Pepsi Bismal seemed to help a little. And she didn’t stop running around and digging holes and chasing every poor rodent that happened along. Just, well, a little less. And, then, in the mornings lately, she stopped wanting to go for a walk. She never looked unhappy or disinterested in anything. She just looked like she wanted to get back to bed.

I took her to the vet weeks ago, but he said she was fine. She seemed to level off and feel better, but then the reflux started hitting her again about five days ago. I took her back. He tested her, looked her over, and—nothing. Perfectly healthy. Coat glowing, eyes bright. Her appetite was a little less hearty than usual, but only in the mornings when she wanted to get back to sleep. He gave her a course of metronidazole in case it was giardia and a week of Nexium. Her five days of the antibiotic ended tonight. And the Nexium seems to have taken care of the reflux. So, maybe whatever the stomach bug was put a dent in her. Maybe the antibiotic has some effect on her.

Or… well, I guess my little puppy could be starting to slow down a little. After all, she’s five now. Or maybe the whole damn thing is just starting to get to her—maybe it’s more stressful for her than I thought, living in the camper, being on the move so much,  being around a human who is so stressed all the time. On top of the way she’s wired to begin with, maybe that stuff is tough on her.

Where we’re camped in Oklahoma, there is a big pasture for a herd of 19 buffalo, and in the mornings we usually walk around that. It’s about a mile. For the last few days, though, she hasn’t even wanted to do that. She goes only as far as it takes to take care of everything, and then starts asking me for her Flexi. Wanting to carry either that or my hat is her way of saying, “Time to go back, now.” How this has evolved in her mind as the signal I’m not sure, nut it’s clearly what she means. Before I give it to her I clip the lead to her collar because once in a while she decides to bury it or takes off after a squirrel and is prone to dropping it someplace inconvenient. It’s a hoot when she tries to bury it. She digs a proper hole, places it in, noses all the dirt back over it and is then always surprised when it follows her back out of the hole.

Even over this last week, when she hasn’t been feeling too good, she has still wanted to go on her afternoon hunting expeditions. Her rampages continue. You’re lucky you didn’t have to watch her catching the colossal rat she murdered yesterday. The poor little thing. 

Anyway. This afternoon we were coming back from her walk. Roo was dragging as if she had just spent 20 hours straight chopping trees down in a Siberian logging camp, but it had been warm and she had gone overboard trying to excavate a mouse. So it was understandable that she was slow. I haven’t been feeling too hot myself, so I wasn’t exactly galloping either. She didn’t ask to carry her Flexi, which was unusual, but not unheard of at this level of exhaustion. She’s known around here as The Dog Who Walks Herself. People stop to take her picture. She was off the leash, and I kept going.

But then she stopped. I was ahead a little ahead of her and turned to see her deciding on a course of action that she thought I might oppose—run off to harass some other rat or throw herself in the water. But she just stood there. I took a few more steps away—which gave her the distance to execute her plan. The next time I turned it was just in time to see her running to where a culvert goes under 30 feet of grass and start to stuff herself inside.

Now, this business of going inside culverts is the most frightening thing Roo does, worse than her former obsession with cliff jumping. She started doing it in Mississippi after someone out on a pirogue down the street where the Mississippi had flooded blasted a few rounds from a shotgun close by with the result you would expect from Roo. Terrified out of her skull, she crammed herself into a corrugated culvert and it was a miracle that she was able to back out.

Since then, and because she suspects that if she’s interested in culverts, mouses must be, too, she checks every single one she sees. It’s a constant battle to keep her out of them. There’s one here that she’s especially interested in. I never worried about it because it seemed way too narrow for her to get more than her head in. And of course she knows full well that it’s off-limits—which only makes it more interesting. She’s always trying to hide her interest in it. And, naturally, that’s where she was headed now. She got there and started in. Somehow, she was actually managing to squeeze herself in. I ran over and got ahold of the last hairs on the end of her tail and started pulling her back. She was wedged in pretty good. I had to take it easy to uncork her.

Like all dogs, Roo has one of those looks when she’s done something mischievous—that guilty smile with ears down—and I realized that that was the look I was expecting to see when she came out and when I saw the actual look on her face insteadShe looked defeated. She looked disappointed. She looked like something that had meant a lot to her had gone wrong. 

I knew right away what it was. She just wanted to hide. She wanted to be by herself. It’s how she spent her puppyhood and what she has always had a need to do, even when we were living in a house. She liked to go off and spend a couple of hours resting alone. She still asks to be let in the car sometimes so she can be alone there for a while. That’s all she wanted to do in the culvert. She needed to hide. And in our tiny trailer, there is no place to hide.

“Poor bear,” I told her. We sat there. She was panting. I kept a hand near her tail in case she took another dive at the culvert. She looked at me and I told her she was a poor bear again. We sat there for a couple of minutes. Somebody was watching us from the widow of their camper. Then she gave up and agreed to walk back with me.

I hope the antibiotic might account for Rooki feeling a little down. The vet said that if she got back to being sick after the week of Nexium and antibiotics, we’d go on to some more checks. Maybe scope her, see what’s going on down there. She’ll love that.

The vet also said that who knows, she could have an ulcer. That got my attention. It never occurred to me. But it would make sense, wouldn’t it? She is a worrier, after all.

So, that’s what’s going on with Bearface. I read something lately about the way dogs catch up to us in age and then surpass us and how they might hope we understand that. The vet has one of those posters in his office with the human equivalent of a dog’s age, and that thing puts five dog years at 36. Could it really be? Could this puppy—I still see her as a puppy, somehow, though I know it’s insane—but could it just be that little Rooki Kahoo is just getting older?


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