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KALIS: If dogs could talk and other wishful thoughts

• May 15, 2018 at 3:00 PM

When my kids were younger, they would occasionally watch The Cartoon Network — a show that gave old-school cartoons new life. One of those cartoons was called “Dexter’s Laboratory,” about an exceptionally smart kid with a secret lab in his basement.

In one particular episode, Dexter’s dog would not stop barking at something in the lab. This led to a lengthy montage of Dexter creating a scientific formula that would allow the dog to talk so he could understand why he was barking. Finally, the concoction was complete and he fed it to the dog, and then asked, “What is it boy? What are you barking at?” The dog replied, “There’s a thing over by the thing, on the thing, there’s a thing.”

Dexter did not find this funny, but I sure did! It reminded me of the old Far Side comic — What you say to your dog: “Hey Buster, want a treat?”; and what your dog hears: “Bla bla bla bla Buster bla bla bla treat.”

Ironically, as much as we wish we could communicate with our pets, there are some words we know they recognize but don’t want them to, so we spell them out, right? Don’t tell me you never discussed going for a w-a-l-k!

All this comes to mind because, just as you might wish you could ask dogs why they’re barking, sometimes, if they’re sick or hurt, you wish they could tell you what’s wrong. We found ourselves in this situation one night back in the middle of March.

When I let our dog out, she was totally fine, but when I let her back in, she could not put her foot down and could barely walk. We checked between her pads, gently squeezed and bent, got no reaction, and everything seemed fine, but she would only touch the ground with the tips of her toes. There was no improvement the next day, so I brought her to the vet first thing in the morning. We were told she strained her Achilles and were given medication, only the medicine didn’t work. An X-ray followed but was inconclusive. They suspected the Achilles was actually ruptured and referred us to a surgical specialist.

We braced ourselves for the expense of a surgery and complained that it didn’t happen in the winter when it would be easier to keep her down. But what we were told was something we never even once considered — that there was nothing they could do. And not only that, but her other Achilles showed signs of eventually rupturing, as well, which would leave her completely immobile.

This hit us hard. We’re an active family with an equally active dog who has always come with us on every adventure we’ve ever had. The thought of her never being able to run with me again, never catching a Frisbee, playing fetch, or even just simply going for a walk — it was devastating.

They gave us one last referral, one last-ditch effort with a surgeon all the way in Flint. We assumed he would confirm the prognosis, but once again we were blindsided — this time with good news. The doctor turned out to be a top dog (pun intended) at Michigan State Veterinary School, specializing in the exact procedure our dog needed. He literally wrote a book about it!

She is now sporting a cast up to her knee, and will have it for another 10 weeks. Now, more than ever, we are wishing we could communicate with her. Wishing we could explain what’s going on so she isn’t so sad and confused. I want to tell her that it won’t be forever; that it’s nothing she did wrong, and the fact that she’s not allowed upstairs and can’t jump on the couch and has to watch her diet isn’t punishment, it’s so she can walk and play again.

It is hard knowing she doesn’t understand, hearing her cry at the bottom of the stairs when we go up to bed, and looking at her sad eyes when I close the door, leaving her behind as I head out for a run.

However, I do know this: When the day finally comes for her cast to come off, then she will understand. Then she will feel the overwhelming sense of relief, happiness and renewed hope that we felt when we found out we could get her the help she needed after all. Because then, she will be able to catch her Frisbee, she will play fetch and she will most definitely go for a w-a-l-k — only we won’t be spelling it out, we’ll be shouting it out with joy.

— By Kelly Kalis, Tribune community columnist

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