Saturday, September 4, 2010


Our newly adopted dog, Raven, has been undergoing heartworm treatment, a long and painful process that is similar to chemotherapy. Luckily, she has seemed to breeze through it with no ill effects, remaining cheerful and energetic through it all.

Two weeks ago, however, things changed. Raven started to growl…a lot.

It seemed as if everything bothered her. She growled at our other dog. She growled at the wind. She growled at my husband when he entered the room. She beat up her teddy bear and then growled at that, too. And when she saw her own reflection in the curio cabinet, she attacked it. For some reason, I was spared. Whenever I came near her, the growling stopped.

“I think she may be in pain,” I said to my husband. “She’s really grouchy. I’m going to take her to the vet’s, just to be safe. I mean, she could have a heartworm carcass lodged in her brain or something.”

Raven’s regular vet wasn’t available that day, so another vet examined her.

“Raven’s been really grouchy,” I told her. “She’s suddenly growling and lunging at everything that moves.”

The vet’s eyes widened. “She was a stray, you say?” The minute I nodded, she backed up a few inches and started to put on rubber gloves. “You know, it’s possible she might have rabies!”

Rabies! Stephen King’s frothing killer dog, “Cujo,” whose hobby was dismembering people, immediately came to mind. I was afraid to move. “But she’s fine with me,” I said. “She doesn’t growl at me.”

“Not yet!” the vet said, comforting soul that she was. “When she was a stray, she could have been attacked by a rabid animal, and even though you’ve had her vaccinated, it may have been too late. She’ll keep getting worse and then be dead within 10 days. Then, you and your husband will have to undergo a series of really painful rabies shots.”

Before I could even open my mouth, which actually was already hanging open, she added, “If she gets worse, we’ll want to test her for rabies.”

“Can’t you do it now?” I asked.

“We’d have to remove her brain to do it,” she answered.

And I’d thought human tests were bad? I promised myself I’d never complain about a colonoscopy again.

“But she has no signs of hydrophobia,” I said, remembering that hydrophobia was another name for rabies because dogs with rabies get swollen throats that make them shy away from drinking water.

“Hydrophobia?” the vet repeated. “I don’t know – I’ll have to look that up.”

She decided to draw some blood to test Raven for anything other than rabies. Trying to jab an already grouchy dog, however, proved to be a big mistake. Cujo seemed like a pet hamster compared to Raven. Within seconds, the vet and the technician were backing out the door.

The next thing I knew, a muzzle was being tossed at me. “Please put this on her,” the technician said.

I held up the muzzle, took one look at the growling dog and wondered how many fingers I’d lose in process. Not only that, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to get near any mouth that contained potentially infectious rabies saliva. But I finally gathered the courage to give it a try. To my relief, Raven didn’t protest when I muzzled her.

After the blood was drawn, the vet gave her a shot of rimadyl and an antibiotic, just in case she was having pain or inflammation somewhere, then told me to take her home, watch her every move, and wash my hands frequently. She also told me that if Raven did have rabies, death would come pretty rapidly.

“To her or to us?” I had to ask.

As I drove home with Raven in the back seat, I kept wondering if at any minute she was going to latch onto the back of my neck and tear off a chunk. The 10-minute drive seemed to take an hour.

The minute I got home, I put Raven in the laundry room and used a baby gate to block the doorway. Then I told my husband what the vet had said. He cast me a look of sheer disbelief.

“And they sent you home with her?” he asked, “Aren’t they supposed to quarantine her or hold her for observation or something? What if she gets loose?”

“I don’t know, I’m new at this rabies thing!” I said. “We’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t get loose!”

Later that day, I knew I had to take Raven out of the laundry room and bring her outside to do her duty. When I told my husband I was going out to the yard with her, he gasped, “You’re actually going to release the Kraken?”

I couldn’t help it, I laughed. He was referring to a movie we’d recently seen, “Clash of the Titans,” where Hades, the ruler of the Underworld, had created a hideous, drooling, vicious beast called the Kraken. Whenever someone in the movie got the gods ticked off, they’d shout, “Release the Kraken!” and it would tear off someone’s head.

For the rest of the week, my husband and I walked around on tiptoes. We also studied every move Raven made. If she yawned, we thought it was because her mouth was swelling. If she drooled, we thought she was foaming at the mouth. We were so paranoid, whenever she slept, we kept checking her breathing to make sure she still was among the living. We also washed our hands about 950,000 times.

But Raven didn’t get worse, she got better. In fact, by the end of 10 days, she was romping and playing with her ball and not growling any more. And when the regular vet came back, she contacted me and said she thought Raven’s problem might be that she was hormonal, mainly because she’d been in heat twice in the past three months, which wasn’t normal. So Raven is now scheduled to be spayed on Sept. 16. I would have had the surgery done back in May when we first adopted her, but the heartworm treatment had to be completed first.

So basically, Raven just had a really bad case of PMS.

My husband said he completely understands how that could be confused with rabies.