The most ferocious tiger of all the jungles is one hell of a good girl

I’ll tell you what: Roo K. Beker is such a good girl.

Even before she got so sick over the winter with the gut ailment that was never diagnosed in spite of being scanned, prodded and tested up the wazoo and back, she’s always had a sensitive digestion. Over time I’ve tweaked her diet and her feeding times, and for the most part, she’s doing well now. Big changes include no more breakfast. She used to get something to eat in the morning, but once in a while the second she ate it she would want to throw it right up. Maybe there’s something about her somnolent gut that isn’t ready to handle food until she’s been up and about a little.

When her stomach bothers her, she makes things worse by wanting to eat entire pastures of grass, which she takes to an extreme. I could make a fortune by letting her mow large lawns or prepare housing developments or office parks for bulldozing. She tears it up fast enough to make the cows reconsider their technique. But going overboard on the grass sets up a cycle of irritation. Some of it comes up, but if she’s packed too much in and it works its way through, it irritates her for the next 24 hours, during which her answer is to try to eat more grass. Her bio-pharmacological instincts are lousy. I have to watch her like a prison guard on a suicide watch.

She might also ingest too much dirt sometimes when she digs too much. I’m not sure that’s it, but there seem to have been a few times when she’s been sick after marathon earth-moving sessions. But not reliably. Only once in a while. None of the 40 or 50 tons of dirt she’s move lately has done it, so I’m not sure. 

Once I heard the term pancreatitis used, when she was sick in Oklahoma, even though the vets didn’t think she had that, I cut out her fat intake. Not completely, but way back. I also switched her to a fish kibble ($100-a-bag Origen). 

For the most part, she’s fine now, but every once in a while she starts gulping and sticking her tongue out and looks like she’s trying to swallow — the signs of her indigestion.

Pepto-Bismal and an omeprazole capsule usually calm her down. My buddy Jim (Roo and I live in our refrigerator carton in his and Virginia’s driveway), is a physician, and the other day when I said, “Hm. Looks like Roo’s stomach might be bothering her a little,” he reminded me to hurry and get the meds in her right away and get ahead of it.

Roo and I went to the camper. Every time Roo re-enters the camper, she lies down in front of the kitchen counter. There are only a few feet of space there, but she has an exact spot she uses to let me know that she’s in the mood for piece of jerky or a cookie.

“Sorry, Bearface,” I said while I opened the drawer that has the pills in it. “You have to have a pill.”

She immediately looked concerned. Her ears went up and her expression became serious. Pills? First of all, that meant the possibility of a terrible switcheroo away from a treat.  And it meant that I would now either try to foist them on her by wrapping them in some of the stuff I keep on hand for her — a piece of turkey, usually — which she would then have to labor meticulously to isolate the pills and spit them out, and during the course of which mouthwork they would start to dissolve and ruin the turkey before she could get the rest of the pink mush settled into the fibers of the dollar-store carpet. Or, there was the possibility of suffering the indignity of having them jammed down her gullet. She is opposed to this method on principle. It’s no fun, but it’s not a torture. 

She took her chances for a minute until I asked her to come and sit for her pills. I could see that her indigestion was bothering her, but that never means she doesn’t want to eat something and she looked at me with disappointment. Some Daddy. What good are they. They let you down in your moment of need. Oh, it might not be a big let down, but the little inconsiderations add up. She got up and slinked like a coyote into the one space where she knew I wouldn’t have the room to operate and turned around so she could keep an eye on me.

“Rooki,” I said, “you know you have to take your pills.”

The front of that space is narrow, with just enough room for her paws, if she keeps her arms together, to extend outward, and she lay her head between her paws in the traditional manner of the dejected dog and looked up at me with her eyebrows up and a little of the whites of her eyes showing.

“Have it your way, Fatso,” I said. I started calling her Fatso when she was an emaciated puppy and showed the first signs of putting on some weight as a form of compliment, and it still comes up once in a while. “I’m not going to argue with you. But you know — “ as she very well does — “that these pills will help that stomach of yours.”

I sat down and let her sulk. For a couple of minutes she only raised her head to do a little more gulping and licking.

“Rooki Bear, you have a stomach. You should really take your pills,” I said. 

She looked at me and thought about it. She knew I was right. She was standing on a pointless principle. She stood up and walked the six feet to me and sat down, right in front of me, in pill administration position. This is how I know that she knows that the pills help her. She learned this in Oklahoma when she was deathly ill and the combination of anti-nausea and antacid pills were the only things that stopped her violent reflux and retching.

“Chig, you’re the best little bear in the world,” I said. I’ve pretty much wasted her brain’s capacity for vocabulary on the plethora of nicknames I use on her, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She had decided to cooperate and other than some reflexive movement of her tongue as I worked all three pills at once as far back as I could, she had made her mind up not to resist at all. I held that beefy tongue down, stuck all three pills as far back as I could get them — they’re all high-friction pills, chalky Peptos and a sticky capsule — and clamped her beak shut to prevent the inevitable flapping to spit them out, and after a few seconds of rubbing her throat she swallowed, signaling a completed job when her tongue came out to lick her nose. I use to give her liquid Pepto, but she hates it and most of it flies out of her mouth.

I leaned down and put my face against the side of her fine, velvety snout, and patted her chest. “What a good girl you are, Laroopka. You’re the best bear in the world. This is why you are the greatest mouse catcher and hunter who ever lived. You are brave and strong and smart. You are my good little puppy. Of course, you’re not so little, but to me you’ll always be my little puppy, even if you’re the most ferocious lion who ever killed all the mouses in all the jungles. Even if a tiger is a cat. Better than a tiger. A big, ferocious murderer, feared even by the mouses who laugh at tigers.”

Roo, like lots of dogs who were deprived of contact and kindness in their puppyhood, has never been sure about how to show affection. She’s not a licky dog, for example. But what she likes to do is sniff my ear and give it a single lick. You can see it makes her happy to do it because she always smiles and wags her tail when she does. I think she got the idea from me when she came out of the pound five years ago, and her ears were seriously infected and stuffed with gooey brown and yellow wax, and she connected my sniffing them and cleaning them all the time — my God, it was a terrible mess she had in there, and imagine the relief it was for her to feel that gluey mess come out in wads — and commenting on them and how they smelled with making them better. And so when I gave her the pills and held her with my face against her snout, she gave me one of those licks on the ear.

Good old Roo. She’s one hell of dog. She lay down, knowing that she was going to start feeling better soon, and went to sleep. Later, she was fine. And when she finally got her cookies, her faith in humanity was restored. Maybe having a Daddy who jams those things down your throat isn't the worst thing in the world after all.