A few months ago, I wrote a column encouraging folks to adopt an older dog.
I had just acquired Wally, a fluffy and affable 10-year-old Lhasa-Bichon mix. I raved about Wally’s impeccable house manners, mellow nature and all-around sweetness.
But I conveniently forgot about one other thing: old man problems.
In human years, Wally is 70. At that age, it’s understandable that he has a couple of wonky discs in his back, skin allergies and wibbly-wobbly hips.
But last week, Wally added another prescription to his bulging medicine chest: dog food for pancreatitis. I’ve learned a lot about this finicky organ in the last week. It turns out pancreatitis is fairly common in both dogs and cats. Some breeds are predisposed to it, but it also can be caused by factors like age, obesity or a high-fat diet. In fact, the vet who diagnosed Wally said the day after Thanksgiving is known as Pancreatitis Friday to veterinarians, who see a nonstop stream of Spikes and Shadows that gobbled down one too many greasy turkey legs.
I'm afraid to admit that for Wally, every day was Thanksgiving. When we traveled out west to visit my parents, we zipped through the McDonald’s drive-through and I gave him a hunk of burger. His favorite snack was a peanut butter-filled bone. When we had roast beef at Mom’s, he was happy to gulp down the occasional morsel and lick the leftover gravy off the plate.
I was his enabler. All my life, I’d owned dogs who ate human food without a problem. My Pomapoo, Kita, routinely ate burger or tiny shards of bacon without losing her girlish figure or suffering any discomfort.
For that reason, I considered advice about not giving people food to dogs to be more of a gentle guideline. Didn’t most of rural America raise its dogs on table scraps and didn’t those dogs live to a ripe old age? (Well, if they weren’t trampled by a cow or bit by a rattlesnake or something.)
Now, in my defense, I hail from a long line of food pushers. In German-Russian-Gartner Family culture, food is love. Who cares if we never hug and the last time I told you I loved you, it was because we had too much red eye at the big Strasburg meat raffle? I made you prune AND cheese kuchen! If that’s not love, what is?
Wouldn’t any self-respecting pooch rather eat the juicy chicken meat off a drumstick than a bowl of kibble? Wasn’t it easier to train a dog if you could tempt them with a cheese or part of a peanut butter sandwich? If I were of the canine persuasion, which food would make me more likely to jump through a flaming hoop: a bowl of chalk-dry rice cakes or a triple-layer carrot cake?
I didn't want Wally to jump through a flaming hoop. I just wanted him to love me, so I spoiled him with my favorite "love language": ham.
Despite my less-than-stellar record with canine diets in the past, I had intended to show more restraint when Wally entered my world.
Wally’s foster mom had a military background, which meant she approached diet and schedules with an admirable discipline.
She had advised me to give him two meals at the same time every day. Determined not to spoil him, I carefully measured out his dry kibble twice daily, then topped it with two tablespoons of moist food.
But in time, my resolve started to slide. I was not prepared for the Double-Loaded Chocolate-Eyed Glare of Unrelenting Cuteness.
Wally could set those giant, brown, anime eyes -- beaming with that soul-tugging mix of vulnerability, pleading and sadness — on you and it was “Village of the Damned” all over again. Before long, I was rushing to Hornbacher’s to buy him a rotisserie chicken.
So it isn’t too surprising that Wally’s pancreas finally panicked. For two days, he refused to eat and would barely drink water. He showed all the classic signs: a hunched back, lethargy, diarrhea and vomiting.
Poor little boo.
As I was still at my parents’ house, I had to take him to a vet clinic in another town. The vet did bloodwork, then explained to me that pancreatitis is nothing to sneeze at: Some dogs get mild attacks, which clear up on their own, but some dogs actually die from it.
Racked with guilt, I asked why some dogs eat human food for years without problems. He explained that, like humans, every dog is different. While one pooch could swallow up a raft of cupcakes without consequences, a dog of Wally's age and genetics had "a glass pancreas."
After a couple of days in the puppy hospital and nonstop IV fluids, Wally was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed again.
But I won’t “kill him with kindness” this time. After a few days of white chicken, rice and vegetables, he will be restricted to a low-fat prescription diet.
I’m pretty sure he’ll hate it.
You can’t beg for carrot cake and eat it too.
Tammy Swift is a business writer/columnist at The Forum. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.