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The Marrow Bone Incident
How I learned to pack wire-cutters in my pet-care toolbox
Lee Harrington and Chloe
Lee Harrington and Chloe

For the New Year, I have resolved to get pet insurance for my dog Chloe, who doesn’t look like a troublemaker or act like a troublemaker, but who has—in the four short years I’ve had her—racked up several thousand dollars in veterinary bills.

I love this dog. But sometimes, in the dead of the night, when I am feeling financially challenged, I ask myself: Can I afford her?

Of course! I’ll always find a way. I am hoping pet insurance will be that way. I have hoped that for some time. It’s just that, for the past few years, I haven’t even been able to afford pet insurance. It’s a cat-and-mouse game for sure—trying to save up enough money for pet insurance, only to blow all that saved money on lacerated paw pads or a swallowed river rock. This is a long topic for another day—one that I am sure millions can relate to—but today I am writing about The Bone. 

For, yesterday we had to make another trip to the vet—this time because Chloe had an inch-long marrow bone stuck around her lower jaw.

Yes, yes, it’s my fault for letting her have the bone in the first place. But what dog doesn’t love a good marrow bone? Especially on a blustery Northeast Atlantic day, when the winds are gusting at 60 MPH and the rain sounds like machine-gun fire? What dog doesn’t love a bone when she has been condemned to strictly-limited exercise, meaning three short pee-walks per day, because of a recent rabbit-chasing incident that resulted in a torn ACL and two $250 trips to the vet?  My dog Chloe, that’s who.

Yesterday, however, while I was in the kitchen making ginger tea, I heard a yelp, and a helpless little whine, and I rushed into the living room to see what was wrong. There, I found Chloe with the bone-ring lodged around her lower jaw. It was hard not to laugh. She had stopped whining and was looking at me with a completely perplexed expression on her face, with the bone shaping her mouth into a goofy smile. And don’t be mad at me for laughing because everyone who has experienced this tells me they laugh too. And take pictures. And videos. And post them online. I did not do that. Instead, I knelt before the dog, and stroked her head, and told her I would help her get the bone off.

But the bone was wedged behind her canine teeth, and I could see no way to slip it back over them, and off.  This is why Chloe yelped, I surmised: One hard crunch had forced the bone behind her teeth. Poor baby. As I inspected her mouth, and turned her jaw this way and that, she kept her head still and wagged her tail. She even tried to kiss me but her tongue was, um, obstructed.

I’m not a mathematician. I have problems with spatial thinking, too. But still, I kept analyzing the bone, and its position, to see if there was any possible way it would slip off without causing her pain.  To the best of my limited knowledge, it looked as though Chloe’s teeth were a quarter of an inch too long to make this possible.

Still, I spent an hour twisting and turning the bone this way and that. Every few minutes I would conclude that I needed to take her to the vet, and then I would consider the costs of such a visit (I had just paid rent, so I was a bit strapped), and then I would resolve once again to try to solve this myself, at home.

So, back and forth it went—to vet or not to vet? I spent another twenty minutes trying to calculate—geometrically—if/how I could wedge bone off my now-patiently-drooling dog.  I tried to lubricate the bone with extra-virgin olive oil.  Nope. Arnica gel. Nope. It wouldn’t budge. I looked at my checkbook, to see if I could afford another trip to the vet.  Nope. I prayed to St. Francis.  I searched the internet, where I found all those pictures of all those other silly dogs with bones ringed around their lower jaws.  Each of these dogs, in the end, had to be taken to the vet. Back to the olive oil. Nope. It finally got the point where poor Chloe had had enough, and she crawled off into the closet with her tail between her legs. At that point I had a small meltdown (How had my life come to this? Why am I so pathetic?), and then called the vet. 

Now, I am in South Carolina for the winter, and can tell all sorts of stories about how the vets and the dog people ‘down here’ differ from the ones ‘up there’ where I am from. But that would make me sound like a New York City snob, which I guess I am. It’s in the blood.....

We ended up at a veterinary practice with a waiting room littered with advertisements for pharmaceutical products. There were pamphlets for anti-anxiety pills, anti-depressants, anti-shedding, and anti-bark sprays on every table and windowsill. There was a slick mobile hanging overhead, dangling cardboard images of large fleas and ticks, interspersed with packets of toxic flea and tick preventatives. There was even a TV mounted in the corner, showing, again and again, some kind of pumping animal organ—I don’t know what—crawling with worms. The screen intermittently flashed to an image of the pill that was going to prevent this. Next to a long row of bagged dog kibble was a poster advertising the latest anti-itch pill.  That to me was a great irony, because in my mind, it’s the crapola commercial dog food that causes the skin allergies in the first place.

Practices like this, I am told, tend to try to jack up your vet bill with pharmaceuticals, so I prepared myself. Plus, I now considered myself an expert on marrow-bone removal, given that I had spent 40 minutes on the internet reading about it. I told them that I needed to have the bone sawed off, that I refused to have my dog anesthetized, and that I wanted to be in the room with the dog and the vet while the vet sawed. The vet resisted, saying that he wanted to take the dog “into a back room” so that he could shoot her up with pain killer, but I insisted.  I am a New Yorker after all, and we must uphold our reputation of being pushy, obnoxious Yankees. I’m also a crazy dog lady. Why not let it all hang out?

 “I want to be with her,” I said. “I am going to apply acupressure to one of her calming points so that she’ll stay still.”

“Acu-what?” the vet said.

“Acupressure.” 

Confused, he and the vet tech stepped out of the room to discuss my proposal (and perhaps my damn-Yankee insanity).  In the meantime, I started to think about this pain-killer thing. Chloe would not need a pain-killer—I knew this instinctively. What else might these vets try to sell me?

When the vet returned, I told them I needed to see an estimate before they did anything. Sure enough, there was an extra $150 worth of painkillers, penicillin, antibiotics, and some other pills I’ve never even heard of but I knew were not necessary. I pared the bill down to two things: Office Visit; Removal of Foreign Object. I felt proud. I had also vowed this year to stand up for myself.

“Ready?” the vet said.

Ready. I had already dosed Chloe with Rescue Remedy, and had been acupressuring her Governing Vessel for the past half hour. So she was ready, too. Patient, trusting, and mellow as you please.

I had expected the vet to come equipped with saws, drills, rubber gloves, and a headlamp, the way a dental surgeon might. Instead, he came forth with a pair of wire-cutters. I held the dog, pressed her calming points, and was about to whisper “it will be all right” when—clip!  The vet clipped, the bone snapped, and it was all over. Chloe did not even yelp. 

“That was brilliant!” I said, truly impressed. “What kind of tool did you use?”

“Just your basic pliers,” he said.

“You’re kidding!” 

I can’t tell you how excited I was about that tool. I finally understand why men get so excited about such things.

“That acupressure thing you did really works,” the vet said.

We parted as friends.

Let it be known: I am single, and I live in New York, which means I do not own a wrench. Or a screwdriver, or a hammer.  But I do have an entire storage bin full of ‘dog supplies’ (flea combs, thinning shears, toe nail clippers, herbal conditioners, first aid supplies, travel bowls, etc). And now I will add a pair of marrow-bone-clippers to this collection.  It will be a nice assurance to have them. But I hope I never have to use them again.

An extended version of the essay appears at www.emharrington.com.
 

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Lee Harrington is the author of the best-selling memoir, Rex and the City: A Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog (Random House, 2006), and of the forthcoming novel, Nothing Keeps a Frenchman from His Lunch. emharrington.com

Photo by Karen Ngo

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