As I walked down the hallway of our veterinarian’s office a couple of weeks ago, I was riddled with guilt and stressed over what to do about our new, 9-week-old boxer puppy, Gus, who laid in a kennel inside, hooked up to an IV. He had a traumatic brain injury - brain damage, blindness and jaw paralysis that was caused after I tripped and fell on him in a freak accident.
I told myself we’d do everything we could financially afford for him, but my husband raised valid concerns. Could we really raise a blind dog? Would we have the time needed, with three kids and another dog, to hand feed him via syringe for the rest of his life? And if he did live, what would that quality of life be? As I grappled over what to do, expecting to see his lethargic little body lying in the cage, instead I saw him standing there, wagging his tail. He wagged as I said hello and I started to cry happy tears.
And at that moment, I decided one thing: Gus needed to come home, even if it was just for a night. Luckily, our vet agreed. Although his jaw hung open and his eyes had a blank stare, the second Gus came home, there was hope. I carefully placed him in the grass of our backyard to go “potty,” and instead, he jotted quickly toward our deck, climbed the stairs and walked straight to our doggy door, climbing through and into the house - a trick he had only learned a day before I fell on him. I pulled him back outside, carried him into the grass again but in a different spot. But the result was the same, straight up to the house and inside. Inside the house, Gus wandered from room to room, never bumping into furniture, never wavering on where to go. If someone was on the couch, he wanted to be with them. Even despite the brain injury, he wanted attention and love.
A night at home turned into a weekend. When Gus heard me open a can of dog food, he’d run to the kitchen. Although his jaw is paralyzed, he’d try desperately to eat on his own instead of through a syringe. It was a mess, with dog food on our kitchen floor, all over Gus’s little face, even in his eyes and on my leg. But he ate an entire can, all by himself. He seemed as pleased as I did, tail wagging. After his weekend at home, Gus went back to the vet for a week of specialized care while I had to go out of town on an already planned trip. But, a dear neighbor agreed to check in on Gus, taking him for walks so that he’d have a chance to socialize and stretch his legs outside of the vet office.
Each day, I received videos and pictures of him. One day, my neighbor texted me excitedly, “GUS KNOWS HOME!” My neighbor had brought Gus to our neighborhood park, only the puppy climbed through a hole in the fence, and toward the road. My neighbor walked closely with him, letting him cross the road to see where he went - and he beelined straight to our yard, up the sidewalk and climbed the stairs to our front porch, where he pawed at the door. He had only spent a few days at our house, and yet he knew where home was.
As I watched the video, I realized that no matter how much effort it might take, I would do everything I could for the dog. Several days later, I arrived home from my trip and so did Gus, home for good. He still has limited jaw movement, and is being treated for eye ulcers, although he can partially see.
But as I laid on my 4-year-old daughter’s bed last night reading bedtime stories, Gus barked at me, wanting me to pull his tiny body up on the bed with us. After I lifted him up, he licked my cheek and then curled himself under my neck as I read a book. My daughter giggled, wrapping her little arm around Gus, who soon fell asleep. And I knew I made the right decision. Gus isn’t in the clear, he may never be 100 percent, but he’s on the road to recovery. Gus is home.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.