We named him Badger but sometimes we call him Monster. He’s bitten me, many times. Growled, snarled. He ignores me when I call him and if I try to pick him up I risk losing an arm. He snaps at small children who irritate him with their affection. And despite numerous attempts at training, he jumps on every person who stands on our threshold and barks through the night at possums, cars and pedestrians.
He’s prone to skin conditions. We’ve spent thousands of dollars – thousands – treating his dog eczema. When it flares up he’s more cantankerous than usual. We forgive him since his skin reddens, itches, oozes and gives him no relief until the drugs kick in. It must hurt a lot. The drugs mess with his stomach and energy levels. He’s seven years old but he’s had to deal with this since he was a puppy. He hasn’t had an easy life, health wise.
I should’ve known he’d be a challenging companion. He’s a terrier, with all that implies – the small dog attitude, the wilfulness and wiles, the fierce pride. But when we were looking for our first family pet I heard a vet on the radio sing the praises of Cairns, and I fell for it. One day I’m going to write to that man.
Every time we go for a walk, Badger gets compliments. He’s a beautiful animal. He has a salt and pepper coat, thick and shiny, and big brown eyes. Sometimes when I stop to chat to his admirers he urinates on my leg.
His favourite place in the world is the off-leash park. He beams, struts around with his fat tail in the air, chin up, and chases the largest dogs without a second’s hesitation. I love going to the park with him; it’s where we feel like a team. We stride side by side, smiling at one another, him and me. When we see a particularly appalling piece of dog behaviour – something neither of us can countenance such as undue whining or cowering – we share a moment; I roll my eyes, he raises his bushy brows.
He keeps me company on my at-home days. When I’m having trouble writing I walk around the house, doing this and that, chatting to him. He follows me, stops when I stop, cocks his head and looks at me inquiringly when I address him directly. He sleeps on the floor under my desk.
Tonight is his fourth night in a row at the vet, in the section they call the hospital. He’s in a cage with a drip attached to his leg. They use this to feed him water infused with an electrolyte solution, anti-nausea medication, high-dose antibiotics and, as of this morning, something to stop him coughing blood from his ulcerated bowels.
He’s had numerous blood tests: no to pancreatitis, no to diabetes, yes to failing liver and kidneys. The possible cause of his pain is food poisoning. He’s on a strict diet of dry food that keeps his skin happy, but Lord knows what else he’s eaten lately. We went away, interstate for a week, to visit family and friends. Our dog minder tried to win Badger over with a daily dose of a chicken casserole she swears by; there’s a deep hole on the side of the house that indicates Badger’s been exploring in the dirt under the floorboards; and he’s always been one to eat snotty tissues and detritus when he’s on his daily walk. Garbage by mouth makes him happy as Larry. Usually.
We visited him today. He was curled in a corner of the cage and looked sad and small and confused. His ears were flat, like a whale’s fin when it’s unwell.
The vets have cared for Badger with kindness, intelligence and compassion. And they’ve explained to us, fully and without condescension, what’s happening at each stage of his treatment, as much as they can.
‘We’ll know in the next 24 hours,’ Vet Jenny said this afternoon.
Two days ago Badger tried to bite her hand and she’d told the attendant nurses, who’d cheered.
‘That’s when we thought he must be getting better,’ she said.
I think he’s snapped at all of them at one time or another, but he had no fight in him today. No spark. No smile. There was no mischief in those eyes at all.
He has no idea how much grief he’s causing us, and wouldn’t care a whisker if he did. I want him to come home. What’s a home without a monster, a Wild Thing? We wonder how he feels being alone in the cage at night, look at his empty food bowl, miss him. He better get better.