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Remy, the author's German wirehaired pointer, wears a protective cone to keep him from licking an incision caused by a recent surgery to remove pieces of a tube sock from his stomach and intestine. Tyler Shoberg / West Fargo Pioneer

Some very inopportune dog owner heartbreak

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Devastated, crushed, completely demoralized; pick an adjective to describe pure melancholy and it probably fits the bill.

"He'll be laid up six weeks," the veterinarian said, "minimum."

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By my rudimentary math calculations, that's more than a month. Forty-two days of watching, waiting, and praying there are no more surprises; no more setbacks.

All the hopes and dreams of a fast-approaching hunting season, obliterated into fragments of thought like a well hit clay pigeon.

So much for dove hunting Sept. 1, and forget about North Dakota's resident waterfowl opener at the end of the month. The most I could hope for was getting him on some birds by mid-October, if that, and cramming as much hunting in as possible until we hang up the scattergun sometime in December.

Hunting aside, my wife, Erin, and I were in the midst of an emotional rollercoaster with no end in sight. Would Remy be alright? Before the vet's prognosis, we had no idea what was wrong with our dog. Was it a virus or an infection? Was he just being stubborn and not eating? Or was it something more serious; something we hadn't considered?

The latter wound up being spot-on, but we wouldn't discover that until other avenues were exhausted, and our fingernails were gnawed down to stubs.

To say the past week was stressful may be as much an understatement as characterizing North Dakota's winters as, "a bit nippy."

And all because of a gosh-darn sock.

What goes down - ought to stay down

It was 5 a.m. on Saturday morning when Remy began howling to beat the band. Normally he is fairly quiet at night, however Remy hadn't created this much racket since we brought him home as a pup more than a year ago.

With sleep still fresh in my eyes, I somehow maneuvered my waking limbs out of bed, and stumbled to our 15-month-old German wirehaired pointer's kennel in the living room. As soon as the spring-loaded latches were depressed, he bolted to the door leading outside.

Like a well-trained owner, I complied, and Remy turned into a gray-and-brown streak as he raced out into the yard.

My attention waned as he did his business, but by all accounts he seemed normal. Nothing out of the ordinary, at least based on what I could see in the barely-there predawn light.

"Must have drank too much water before bed," I thought.

"Come," I commanded, which he did, and back in the kennel he went. I was tired, after all, and still wanted a couple hours of shuteye before the big day ahead.

Had I been a bit more attentive, or listened more to that parental instinct inside my gut, I might have noticed the large wet spot on his stuffed kennel pad.

That would come later, after Remy threw up on the kitchen floor; twice. After we'd driven more than 100 miles - half way to Hibbing, Minn., for my grandparent's 60th wedding anniversary - and he threw up breakfast in his kennel, and then proceeded to empty his stomach four more times on whoever's driveway it was we stopped at.

After we turned around and drove all the way back to Fargo. After he puked a dozen more times in the yard. After we finally decided to call Casselton Veterinary Office to make an emergency appointment.

It was when we got home with more questions than answers that Erin finally noticed the vomit in his kennel.

Maybe if I'd paid more attention 12 hours earlier, this could have been a lot less stressful.

But I hadn't because I wasn't thinking about him, I was thinking about myself.

Stupid, stupid me.

When the antibiotics didn't work and Remy's condition worsened, Erin and I were forced to schedule another appointment for Tuesday morning. But I soon found myself spending most of Monday morning using the Internet to hypochondriacally search for clues to Remy's malady. Each shred of evidence made the blood drain from my face a bit more; the anxiety level rise a notch higher.

By noon I couldn't handle it anymore, and called Erin.

"We need to get Remy in this afternoon," I said, the cell phone quivering in my hand. "I just have a bad feeling."

"Me too," Erin said. "He looks worse now than he did this morning."

Long road to recovery

We bundled up Remy into the pickup truck and raced back to Casselton. Our poor guy was deteriorating by the minute. Even at the office, where a scattering of dogs would normally have caused Remy to split at the seams, he was content to lie on the cold tile floor and look forlornly into his master's eyes as if to say, "Please, fix me."

Another set of x-rays revealed what I most feared: Remy likely had some sort of intestinal blockage and the only way to remove it was with surgery.

So with a quick pat on the head and a kiss from my wife, Remy was whisked away behind closed doors to his appointment with the scalpel.

I'm not ashamed to say it, but Erin and I cried nearly the whole way home. Thinking of our dog in such dire straits left both of us emotional wrecks.

Not only that, but I saw my carefully laid plans for a long, full fall of hunting suddenly dissipating like a morning fog.

An entire summer of training for naught.

That night was a sleepless one, especially after discovering what exactly was causing our dog's symptoms: two large pieces of sock were plugging up his stomach and intestine.

Of all things: a sock, and an expensive one at that (there goes that new shotgun I wanted).

Most of Tuesday was spent anxiously waiting by the phone for to hear that Remy was ready to come home. Erin finally got the call at 2:30 p.m. to say we could pick him up that evening.

It was with no small sense of relief that our dog came back to us. After a short instructional period by one of the vet techs, explaining his various bottles of pills and his at-home care, Remy was released back to his grateful owners.

Even with an 8-inch-long red, swollen incision on his belly, he appeared loads better than when we dropped him off.

And apart from interrupted sleep by frequent bathroom breaks, that night was our most restful in a long time.

Our dog was back to us, albeit a tad goofier looking with that plastic cone around his neck.

Now if he can just hurry up and heal so we can chase down some birds sooner than later, I'll be one happy hunter.

And, hopefully, so will Remy.

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