I’m back!!! Just wait till you hear my excuse for not posting last week. The dog didn’t eat my homework, but the dog is certainly involved.

Please do not read on if you are one of those people who lack the empathy with animals that would lead to spending vast sums of money on their comfort and longevity, or who don’t understand why someone could get their emotional knickers into such a twist over a pet.  Because today’s post has a tick mark beside both of those particular personality traits.

I have a wiener dog. I should have known. But I was naive. I thought that since my wiener dog is one of the good ol’ standard boys, is not particularly long (for a dachshund that is) and is very physically fit, he would be somehow immune to the perils of back problems. But cruel genes trump all, and ten days ago Chorizo developed excrutiating back pain followed by hind leg paralysis. Now, I don’t use this blog to promote commercial enterprises, but I will allow myself to give an enthusiastic endorsement for Canada West Vet Services, who saved my dog from his agony and probable permanent spinal cord damage. Within two days of arriving at the hospital, he had a CT Scan and extensive surgery to remove a herniated disc, as well as to proactively ‘fenestrate’ (clean up) the discs on either side. Can you imagine the Canadian human health system working that quickly?  I can’t.  Chorizo came home last Friday, where he has steadily recovered to the point where I am now having to keep a dog pen around him inside the house and put him on the leash to go out in his own yard to pee. He’s still wobbly, but he clearly doesn’t understand why a little running and ball chasing is not yet on the agenda. I can see that the next couple of weeks are going to be frustrating for him and tempting for me, until he’s allowed to get back to all the activities he loves so well.

Breaking News: American Kennel Club accepts the Northwestern Zipperback as its newest breed.

So far this is a good news story, if an expensive one. But Chorizo is just four years old, and as the staff at the hospital – who catered to his every whim including keeping him out on the floor in a little pen instead of in the detested kennel – can attest, he’s as lovable as they come. I never thought twice about spending the money.

I was almost entirely non-functioning from the weekend Chorizo started having problems until a couple of days ago. The experience was a flashback to when I took my previous horse Punch to have stifle surgery at Washington State University and went through the  devastating process of facing the possibility of losing a beloved animal long before it should have been his time. Last week, as I sat around numbing my thoughts by playing Angry Birds by the hour while waiting for the vet to call with an update,  I also spent some time reflecting on what it is that makes us become so deeply attached to our pets.  I also asked myself if it’s right to get so messed up over an animal instead of volunteering at a soup kitchen and sending money to a third-world children’s charity. I can’t say I am a whole lot more enlightened about how I might justify the financial and emotional expenditure , though I am in a much better mood now that Chorizo is on his feet again.

When we think of the love we feel for a horse or a dog, we tend to go down those well-trodden paths of unconditional love, honesty and acceptance. How can you not adore an animal that dotes on your every move, or that lets you climb on its back and get it to do all kinds of things it might do once or twice in a herd-bound lifetime, not over and over again on a daily basis in the artificial environment of a ring? But I think there is something more than that to our bond with animals. I suspect it can be found in a rather self-ish (I don’t quite mean selfish) place.

As I spent days and nights thinking about how much Chorizo means to me, I realized that I have connected my image of him with my own life experiences, with those I have shared with him. Our Christmas trip to Portugal three years ago can never be remembered without Chorizo, since he was there with us. Every trip to a beach since he was a puppy has been a trip with Chorizo, who loves the beach more than anything else on earth. This past Christmas in California with my father, stepmother and siblings will always be intertwined with having Chorizo in a special seat between us in our VW van and on early morning walks with my father.

When I remember the horses of my past – there are really only three that matter: Spooky, Snap and Punch – my memories of them are closely connected to important moments in my life, including milestones in my riding career. But the memories are also about smaller events that at the time didn’t seem remarkable. Like when I was on the way to an event with Snap and we broke up a long, hot day’s drive with a bareback swim in a roadside creek. Or when I would take Punch out for some grass on a dark, windy Vancouver winter night and watch the planes at the nearby airport come and go while unwinding from my day job. Those of us who love the animals in our lives (and we are a breed apart from the general population, for better or for worse) spend an impressive amount of our time in their company.  They become part of our emotional fabric, even after they are gone. Our animals even become symbols for entire phases of our lives. My ‘Snap’ period is my entire teenage-hood.  I ‘grew up’ during the time of my life that he was in it.

The night that Chorizo was checked into the vet hospital, I went down to the barn after the other boarders (my close friends, whom I could not bear to face without losing my composure entirely) had left. I put on a reflective vest and took Theo out for a long walk around the neighbourhood. I expected him to be frisky and to need a bit of restraining, but Theo walked happily and quietly beside me on a loose lead. If I were more of a ‘woo woo’ type I would perhaps claim that his perfect behaviour was a sign of sensitivity to my emotional state. Okay, maybe I am a bit ‘woo woo’. But whether or not Theo was experiencing a kind of empathy, that night-time walk with him has formed a meaningful memory that will always be with me.

Having more than one pet can sure be helpful, since the pain caused by one was soothed by the companionship of the other.

This might be the sappiest thing I ever write. It’s certainly on a par with the sappiest thing I ever wrote so far. It probably sounds less than K-Rob shooting Straight-up from the hip than the next author in the Chicken Soup series. But this blog has always been a place where I share my state of mind, and today I just don’t care if the EC Board isn’t held to the fire for their shoddy treatment of Akaash Maharaj. I’ll care about that again soon, I’m sure. For now I am tearfully happy to have my wonderful dog contentedly devouring a cow tendon at my feet.