Howling in the Night

“Ticky-tack, ticky-tack, ticky-tack”.

The sound alerted that small portion of my brain that remains on-duty while the rest of me sleeps, “Strange sound! What is that?” Sentry queries Main Brain.

Memories are searched, the reply comes back, “Small-dog claws clattering on the granite-like tiles of the hallway. Someone is up. Must be Kathy.”

“Is that of concern?”

Main Brain, groggy with slumber considers this: Kathy rarely gets up at night. Cochise does, but Cochise’s 90 pound frame sounds very different from 20 pound Kathy as they traverse the short hallway leading to the kitchen for a drink.  Kathy often gets up when I do, but almost never before I do.  “Yes: this is an alert.” Main Brain swims up through the levels of unconsciousness.

My eyes open and I am awake and alert. I am aware of the sound even before I hear it again and consciously confirm the unconscious evaluation.

I reach for my glasses: I can navigate to and use the bathroom in the semi-dark and my mostly-blindness, but anything requiring investigation will require vision. The glasses are where they’re supposed to be and I slide them onto my face. My feet slide into slippers as I stand up.

Our house is small and it is only a few steps from my bedside to the doorway of the laundry room where little Kathy sits, watching me approach. “What’s up, girl? Do you need to go out?”

Kathy is a foster dog who has been with us a couple of months for treatment of heart worm. A Jack Russel mix, she’s very bright and has been a breeze to house-break and train. She recognizes the words, “go out”, stands and walks to the door at the other end of the laundry room.  I follow, retract the dead-bolt, swing the inner door in and push on the glass storm door for her.

It’s raining. Water drips from the eves and a light rain patters the deck beyond. Our other two dogs, spoiled as they are, would back up, turn around and return to their beds – unless their need was truly urgent. They can be trusted completely, but they dislike getting wet. Kathy was a street kid before she was collected and brought here. She spent most of her time wandering the roads of a semi-rural area, taking shelter where it could be found, eating what was available. Since being picked up, she has come to know nutritious meals served twice a day, the warmth and safety of a home, the pleasure of a soft dog bed, and love. Petting, scritchies, cuddling. She’s become quite a lap dog and soaks up all the attention she can get. But she’s no coward: a light rain does not deter her from taking her bodily functions outside.

She steps through the door, hops down the steps, and trots along the stone pathway that winds around the back of the house and out to the large, fenced play yard.

I lean on the washer and wait. It’s warm for December, but cool and damp enough that I figure she won’t be gone any longer than is necessary to attend to her need. I wait what seems like an awful long time.

Finally I flip the light switches for the exterior floods, grab a flashlight (just in case), trade my slippers for my Sloggers, don my fedora, and follow the path to the play yard.

Kathy is white with brown patches: easy to see in the dark if there is any light at all. I look in all her usual spots for this sort of thing: no Kathy. Finally the corner of my eye catches movement, I swivel my head and see a ghostly shape near the ground, way up by the front chain-link fence. No floodlight up there, but the closest one casts just enough light that far to differentiate her from the dark of a moonless light. Flashlight in hand I follow the stone path that circumnavigates the house up to where she is. Kathy is eating grass. That’s not good.

“Come on, Kathy, let’s go inside.” She knows “inside” too. She knows what I’m encouraging (instructing) her to do, but she turns and trots out into the blackness of the play yard, well beyond the spotlights.

Normally I would go after her to reinforce the “request” that I had made. But it has been raining for days and the ground of our steeply sloping mountain-side property has become treacherous for upright, bipedal beings with bad knees. The dogs handle it fine, especially Kathy. Her wide stance and solid, stumpy legs give her a low center of gravity and plenty of pulling power to navigate up as well as across and down the slopes.

I sigh and head back to the laundry room. I prop the storm door open for her and consider going back to lay down in my warm bed until her return, but quickly reject that notion. I might fall asleep and who knows what may decide to seek shelter in our house. I consider going to the living room (just around the corner) and settling into my favorite chair with a lap blanket to wait. But I reject that thought as well and end up leaning on the washer wondering what time it is. I slip away long enough to check a clock: a quarter till 3:00 am.  Sigh.

Eventually a small brown and white face pokes in the blocked-open door and checks to see if I’m waiting (I am) and if I’m mad (I am not). I did not hear her approach so she’s being deliberately stealthy. She comes in, I close the door, towel her off, and offer her a small cookie: she refuses it. That’s not like her.

Then we both return to our beds. Kathy does not stay there though.  This time Marie gets up to check on her and try to get her settled back in bed.

I am awakened by the heavy “clack-clack-clack” of Blondie Bear claws on the wooden living room floor. This is the sound she makes when she and Kathy are mouth-wrestling. I groan, roll out, and head for the crime scene.

I turn the corner to find Marie on the sofa with her Kindle and book-light. Blondie and Kathy are playing in the dark. “I tried to get her to settle on the sofa with me, but she’s restless.” Marie explained. Obviously, morning has come. I flip on the coffee maker.

I take over babysitting and Marie goes back to bed: she has to go off to work in a few hours. Blondie goes with her.  I get my Kindle and a cup of coffee and settle on the sofa. I invite Kathy to join me. She eagerly accepts, but can’t get comfortable. She wiggles and squirms. She gets down. She tries the dog beds on the floor, she tries her crate. In between each she paces. She gets back up on my lap and squirms some more. Finally she lays in the valley between my legs (which are propped up on the hassock) on her back, all four feet sticking up in the air, while I rub her round, bare, pink belly. She falls asleep like this. I devote one hand to gentle, slow, belly-rubbing and one to the Kindle.

Kathy’s belly starts to scream and howl like a wildcat. It sounds horrendous and I’m sure it will wake her, but it doesn’t. This continues for an hour. When it stops, Kathy wakes, rolls over, hops down, and stretches out on one of the dog beds to go back to sleep. No more howling.

Soon Marie returns. Cochise comes with her. We discuss Kathy’s situation and I fill her in on the howling belly. Marie warms up some left-over mashed sweet potatoes and feeds them to her on the end of a finger. She takes those, slowly. Cochise gets a little too. After the first bit his tongue slides in and out, in and out, like that of a monitor lizard and goes on for the longest time. We laugh and I wish my video camera was working.

Kathy is returned to my lap for a little more snuggling while Marie checks the morning weather and news. Then Marie heads back to the bedroom to begin assembling herself for work and I begin breakfast preparations. Kathy is doing better now, but milking it for added attention and privilege.

I always worry about bloat when a dog gets anxious and refuses to eat. Bloat is when a dog’s stomach twists and the duodenum becomes blocked so food cannot move into the small intestine. Without immediate treatment (surgery) bloat is fatal. So I worry about bloat, but I often worry too much. She may have been constipated. She may have chewed on the hoofie too much last night. We can’t know for sure. Sweet potatoes promote regularity and the olive oil I put on her breakfast kibbles will help lubricate the innards if there is constipation. I’ll also watch to be sure she drinks plenty of water. All that stomach howling was strange, but whatever the problem was seems to have fixed itself.

She’s a sweet little thing and I’d hate for anything bad to happen to her. She should be fine now, but I’ll keep an eye on her just the same. I just wish I were able to nap, today would be a great day for a nap!

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