Probably very few people who attended Heidi’s 10th birthday party at Maxwell Dog – – noticed that Heidi was walking around with a large shaved patch on her belly. Maybe very short canine guests noticed, wiener dogs and Chihuahuas and other small breeds that tend to walk underneath her like she’s a tall, furry tree. But amid that happy chaos, no human guests seemed to be thinking much about what the birthday girl looked like from underneath.
But my husband and I were thinking about it. Just a few days before, Heidi’s tummy had been shaved so she could undergo an ultrasound test to see if a series of urinary tract infections could have been caused by bladder cancer, a very bad diagnosis for a dog. By the time of the birthday bash, we had learned that she did not have bladder cancer. But by chance the ultrasound had turned up a mass on her spleen the size of handball. The chances of that being malignant, said her vet, , were about 50-50.
And, cancer or not, masses in dog’s spleens tend to rupture, we were told. Either way, the spleen had to go. So, about two weeks after the birthday bash, Heidi had her spleen removed. Alan and I had already firmly decided that the thing would be benign, and it was. No Marley & Me ending here, thank you very much. But we thank Dr. Heim for ordering the ultrasound that uncovered the problem and her surgeons, Drs. Megan and Oliver Morgan, for performing successful surgery (although we joke that, for the price of repairs on a 10-year-old Shepherd, we could have bought a five-year-old Hyundai).
But no matter how successful a procedure is, there is still the Cone of Shame, made infamous in the movie Up. Unlike the dog in Up, Heidi actually seemed to like wearing the Cone, possibly because the first time she wore one years ago we told her what a pretty, pretty girl she was wearing it. And instead of the hard, plastic model she came home wearing, we got her a soft-sided Comfy Cone. But because she has such a long nose, she had to wear the extra-large size, even though she’s only a large, not an extra-large dog. With her face in the middle, she looked like a dainty German shepherd blossom.
And, since Heidi came through the surgery just fine, we decided it there was no good reason not to laugh at her as she and her extra-large cone navigated the house. We’d been advised to move anything breakable off of low shelves, which was a good call. Because Heidi couldn’t see out of the sides of the cone, she would swing her head like a cow in the field to check for obstacles on either side. All that was missing was the moo.
And in her usual perambulations around the kitchen to see if anything good has fallen on the floor, she’d put her head down and the cone would touch the floor all around, so she looked like an alien creature with no head. Or a big mushroom. Or maybe that animated lamp from the Pixar movie shorts. Sometimes we’d find her standing in a corner, having run into a wall, and gently send her in another direction.
For a while, we called her Conehead. Then Coney Island (in Michigan, where I’m from, that’s what they call a chili dog -- a Coney Island or a Coney Dog. I thought that’s what they are called everywhere, but have learned this is not the case). This was soon shortened to Coney. Either way, she was one hot dog.
Toward the end of her incarceration in the cone, she developed a nervous habit of licking the inside of it. Friends advised us to put a T-shirt on her instead, knotting it at the waist so she couldn’t gnaw at her incision. Brilliant! Why didn’t we think of it before? We couldn’t get her head and front legs through the openings in any of my regular T-shirts but found one stretchy black tank top that worked just fine, although it got droopier and droopier as the days passed.
With today’s veterinary innovations, animal patients are getting increasingly sophisticated diagnoses, surgeries and treatment, just like humans. But you have to ask yourself: has modern science gone too far when dogs start sharing our clothes?