Monday, June 28, 2010

For The Dog Lovers

There is a crack of lightning, followed closely by rolling thunder and Ben runs to the back door. He paces until I open it and then races down the stairs and onto the pool deck. Ben is our Jack Russell, and instead of being afraid of lightning and storms, they are his playmates.

As the rain begins, a heavy Florida downfall, it runs off our roof, through our leaky gutters and falls in thick streams onto our pool deck. Ben, on his two hind legs, jumps into the cascading water, snapping and barking at it. He spins in circles as he jumps and bites, falling onto all fours occasionally, running a lap around the pool and then returning to his spot under the flow of water.

We sit—Husband, Daughter and I—where the eaves protect us, watching and laughing. When Ben is finally exhausted, we scoop him up, dry him off and dump him back inside. An hour later, the rain having slowed to a mist, Ben is back outside, vomiting. He walks crouched low to the ground, his ears pinned back. Daughter notices him first. We follow him around the yard, dry him when he seems to feel better and bring him back inside. A few minutes later, he wants to go out again. More vomiting, more slinking around the yard. This time, he slinks behind the areca palm and lies on his side. I scoop him up, wrap him in a dry towel. He eyes are watery. This is what “glassy” looks like, I think. He is panting and his ears, which usually point straight up, are laid back as if he’s in pain.

The vet tells us it usually happens in larger dogs. They ingest too much water and air and the food in their stomachs ferments. It can cause death. But Ben feels no pain when we press on his stomach. A good sign. Still, he drools so much water we must put a towel under him mouth. The panting continues. The vet says water toxicity can also be fatal. His electrolytes are seriously out of balance. Put him in front of a fan to cool him and try to let him sleep. So many storms, Ben has played in the water, but this day, something was different.

One of the most important things to consider when beginning a novel is …. Why this day? If your protagonist suddenly quits his job or leaves his wife or robs a bank, the author must answer the question…why this day? Why does Protagonist decide to leave or quit or steal on the day the story begins and not a day earlier, or a week earlier, or a year earlier? What happens on the day the story begins that is different from any other day and is enough to finally drive Protagonist to such action. Why, after playing in countless storms, does this one storm cause such damage?

Ben continues to drool throughout the evening. The panting subsides. His glassy eyes slowly clear. I sleep with him on the floor so I can keep a close eye. Sometime during the night, he scampers toward the back door on unsteady legs but can’t quite make it outside. I soak up the mess with a wad of paper towels, pat him on the head and carry him back to bed. In the morning, his ears stand at attention and he promptly rolls on his back so I can scratch his belly.

We’re still not sure why that storm—that day—was different from all the others. Perhaps the gutters had sprung a new leak. Maybe he played longer because Father, Daughter and I were watching. Perhaps there was nothing different, because truth is often stranger than fiction and never as orderly. Regardless, the gutters are fixed now and when the next storm hits, we’ll limit Ben to five minutes in the rain.

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