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The course of doggie love never does run smooth

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By MARY JO MELONE, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 16, 2003


It's the eyes that get me.

They look out upon the world, golden brown and full of reproach. Oh, if my dog Buck could speak in this moment, what would he tell me? That I was torturing him? That I didn't know how much he hurt?

His right hind leg was bandaged from toe to hip. He'd had his leg opened up, the torn ligaments between shin and knee cap stitched back together by the vet, and $1,000 of my money later, Buck was home again, hobbling, but home.

How he tore the ligaments is a mystery. Two weeks after we moved into our new home, he tunneled under the fence that encloses the yard. I guess he wanted to scope out his new turf.

He was loose for three hours. When I found him, he came bounding down an alley, delighted to see me. I, on the other hand, had been half crazy with worry. By the time I laid eyes on him I was ready to kill him.

The limping began later in the day. It's possible that he hurt himself during his illicit romp, but my preferred theory is that, once back inside, he engaged in another of his futile races against the cats and twisted his leg in the contest.

The bandage came off a few weeks after the surgery. Buck was left with a pressure sore on his leg that he licked at so much I had to have one of those lampshade-like devices put on his head. This way, his mouth couldn't reach where he hurt.

He banged into everything -- doorways, people, furniture -- while wearing that lampshade. He seemed to lose his ability to judge distances, because his vision, at least his peripheral vision, was suddenly so limited. He even seemed to lose his passion for barking and generally raising a ruckus when strangers passed on the street.

The accusatory looks at me became more accusatory, if that is possible. I had deprived Buck of his constitutional right to gnaw on himself. In those golden brown eyes, I was a piece of A-plus low-life -- and one with a problem. There had to be a way to keep him from digging out and escaping again.

I had one of those invisible fences installed. A wire was stapled the length of the fence and in some places buried in the grass. If Buck gets too close to the wire, the special collar he now sports picks up a shock to correct him and warn him to back away.

Please don't call and accuse me of animal cruelty. Nothing would be more cruel than my beloved dog under the wheels of a passing car.

Installing the fence has in fact been an exercise in watching out for Buck's feelings. A balance had to be struck, the man who installed the fence said. The shock had to be strong enough to keep Buck from the fence but not so strong that he'd be afraid to venture out into the yard.

So we practiced, the trainer and I, getting Buck to run toward the fence and then praising him with words or a treat when he backed away. We did this for a decent while, and eventually Buck caught on.

I was proud of him, the way you get when your child is in the school play. Oh, Buck. My Buck.

His yellow ears feel like velvet, and when you rub his stomach he breaks out into a dog smile. When somebody knocks on the door, he greets them, ready to play, with a toy in his mouth. Sometimes when he is splayed out on the floor, asleep and deep in a doggy dream, he whimpers and cries and his legs tremble.

He pesters me constantly during dinner trying to get his snout on my plate. The living room carpet is supposed to be a deep green, but the yellow dog hair that constantly covers it keeps the carpet several shades lighter.

I put up with it. I give him dinner scraps. I vacuum the rug a couple times a week.

The invisible fence cost another several hundred dollars. If you add in the vet bill, Buck has cost me nearly $2,000 in the past month. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Now I'm the one who's hurting, and the pain is in the wallet. But what price do you put on caring for the one creature you know will always love you back?

-- You can reach Mary Jo Melone at mjmelone@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3402.

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