Zoe Girl

I can’t bear to do the math. The latest prescription for our 12-year-old Labrador cost $70 for a tiny bottle of eye drops—for a prescription she will need for the rest of her life. This precious potion came from a specialty pharmacy in which the customers are typically humans, as evidence from the label on the bottle: Zoe the Dog McGuire.

Before the sticker-shock at the pharmacy, I purchased a pill organizer—you know, the kind with little compartments for each day of the week. My hubby would later laugh at this impulse-buy, but it has become a survival-tool at this point. The daily ritual of medicine has grown so complicated that my sticky-note system just isn’t cutting it.

Every morning, sometime after the coffee but before the preschool drop-off, I dole out 6 types of pills, half of which need to be coated in a blob of peanut butter and hidden in her food. Then the eye drops in each eye, followed by eye ointment. In the evening I repeat this routine, save for a couple morning-only pills.

Combine this with the veterinarian visits (during which I’m usually toting at least 2 kids along)...and the excessive shedding and daily vacuuming that comes with her allergies....and the years of suspicious lumps, infected ears, and two expensive and inconvenient knee surgeries...the random but frequent grass-vomits...and of course the regular walking and attention that every dog needs.

It’s enough that more than once I’ve called Hubby at work to say, “Please remind me why I love her.”

“You love her because she is your Zoe, your first dog. Because when you went to that farm in Holland, Texas, ‘just to look at the puppies, not to buy one’ she was the only one who bolted off the porch and chased after you in the rain. And when you brought her home after that afternoon of ‘just looking’ she slept beside our bed and you spent half the night waking up to see if she was still breathing.”

He’s right on all accounts. Zoe came to our family before kids, before I had felt even a smidgeon of maternal tugging about babies. She opened up something inside me. Yes, I really did stay awake with my hand on her round puppy belly, just to feel it rise and fall, just to confirm that she was there asleep next to me. Starting five years later I would do that with every child of my own.

Zoe has mostly welcomed the three babies who came into her world. She has been gentle and fun-loving. She has stood calmly during tug-the-tail games and never once snapped at a toddler dangling a graham cracker right in front of her nose only to yank it away in a giggle fit. She seems so conscious of her large body and thumping tail that she doesn’t even bump into these little people crowding her space.

But without fail, Zoe has developed some sort of all-consuming ailment every time I am nearing the 7th month of a pregnancy. Our veterinarian says this is no accident. Last year, when I was pregnant with Smiley, Zoe’s ears and skin developed such a horrible rash that she required regular skin checks and steroid shots. Then her arthritis got so bad she refused to walk up the steps to our house. To attend to her many issues, I made countless trips to the vet, each requiring the assistance of a non-pregnant person to lift the 75-pound drama queen into our suburban. Eventually I bought a ramp—yes, one of those contraptions you see in dog catalogs and wonder who actually spends money on those types of things. Apparently I do.

A year later the ramp is still in use. The logistics of her care wear me out. I keep thinking to myself, how in the world do I take care of an old dog? And how do I do it while juggling three little people and a tireless 3-year-old Lab as well?

For now, I'm all about embracing the chaos. Letting it wash over me like the long, hot showers I enjoyed before kids.  I remind myself to approach Zoe's care the same way I'm trying to approach everything else: with compassion and a sense of humor. I walk her, I pet her, I count pills. I clean up the puke and try to make a game of keeping Smiley from crawling into it. I remind myself, too, that like many of the daily, mundane struggles that conspire to get us down, even these chores--yes, even the messy ones--will be missed when she is gone.