Sunday, May 14, 2006
Ride the Snake
Though it would seem to be another invocation of Sam Jackson, really I'm recalling a Mother's Day three years ago, when I took my 100 lb. labrador retriever on a hike in Griffith Park. Two-thirds of the way up to the Hollywood sign, my accident prone dog (though he's one of the healthiest beasts I've known), decided to embark on his first shamanistic rite of passage. I don't know if he was channeling the Lizard King because of all the time spent in Jim Morrison's "little Hollywood bungalow" across the street (now inhabited by my good friend and neighbor Joe), or if it was just the usual tendency to hunt that overtook him. Whatever the case, Duffy ran to the edge of the road and trounced a patch of tall grass, which elicited screams of "Snake! Snake!" from my friend, Barbara.
Undeterred by the high-pitched shrieks (probably some evidence he wouldn't be startled by the sudden discharge of a shotgun were we after upland game), my Shetland Pony sized dog trounced a second and third time before I was able to drag him off by his immense otter tail. Seriously, if I make a circle by touching the tip of my thumb and forefinger (and I have rather long hands), that's the girth of his tail. It's like the base of a Louisville Slugger, and it can thwack the shit out of your shins, sweep every knick-knack and water glass off the coffee table in one fell swoop, or just rudder him to and fro in the river, these being the reasons why God intelligently designed it.
After dragging him meters away from the beleaguered serpent, whom I never had the pleasure of actually seeing, I checked him for bite marks and found none. However, Barbara had seen the snake and was certain it was a rattler. Difficult to imagine that so provoked it wouldn't have retaliated, so we assumed the worst, and started to head back down the twenty minute walk to the car. After about five minutes Duff started to get a bit woozily and wanted to lie down.
Barbara and I were trying to devise a way to carry this canine Leviathan, who stands 34" to the top of his immense head, and is well over 40" from the tip of his nose to his haunches (exact measurements are difficult, the metal tape makes him skittish for reasons unknown). It was absurd, he hates to be picked up, and even though the venom was sedating, we still couldn't coordinate any resonable movement down the hill. Now, I'm fairly strong, I can move 90 lb bags of concrete and lift full sheets of plywood. And if I were able to get him up on my back, I could probably do a fireman carry. But I can't possibly lift that much weight and bulk up over my head, and furthermore, the distance was too far.
The only alternative was to prod him down the hill as fast as we could get him moving. I knew was bad because one is meant to lie still as possible after a poisonous bite like that. Still, he rallied, and walked himself back down the hill, though he tried repeatedly to sleep.
Forty minutes later we were crossing Hollywood on the way to the Vet hospital. The two bites on the right side of his throat had swelled larger than an orange by the time I got him there. The next morning, when I went to visit him, he came lumbering out, all dopey on narcotics. He could barely lift his head, which like his neck, was swollen up to the size of a Newfoundland's. Though he couldn't raise his head up when he saw me, his tail started wagging, but in super slow motion. It was maybe in quarter-time of the motion of a pendulum on a grandfather clock. Then he collapsed onto the floor in fatigue.
His four days and nights at the dog hospital, five vials of anti-venom (they run $500 a bottle), morphine (apparently it's among the most painful things a dog can endure, iv's, antibiotics, and a time release painkiller patch like they use on terminal cancer patients fixed him up right. The vet said I'd gotten him in quite fast, and the only necrosis and damage was at the wound. He still has a one and a half inch wide butterfly shaped scar on his throat where the hair permanently fell out, and gray hair on the second, smaller bite.
The house was so strangely quiet during his hospital stay. He's not a barking or whining sort of dog, really the most silent I've had, but you get rather used to the sound of their breathing. It's soothing, actually, Anyway, he's just fine, and I owe a major debt of gratitude to Barbara's husband, who showed up and paid the vet bill in its entirety because "Duff's like an institution on the block." Thank you still, Michael, and Happy Mother's Day.