The $60,000 Dog
I drove home. My dog was neither dying nor dead, but the fact of her pain was almost beyond what I could bear. And what would her life become once the pain subsided? A blind dog. How could she understand what was happening to her? It was late in the day, the clouds like cataracts spreading. Inside the house, my 7-year-old daughter was riding her scooter in our hallway. "Lila has gone blind," I said to her. I started to cry. I told my husband when he returned from work. I did not mention the veterinary bill. Instead, I called the bank, cashed in a CD, paid the penalty.
Two days later, I drove back to the hospital. The final bill was $3,338. I figured this was a onetime cost that my liquidated CD could cover. They brought Lila to me. She did not come out on a leash. She came out carried, and when they set her in my lap I could see, immediately, that a dog can be devastated. The medications had brought the pressure down, so her eyes were open, but they were thickened, blank, like opaque sea glass, reflective but not receptive. "Lila, Lila," I whispered. She moved her whole head in the direction of my voice, but gave not the tiniest tail wag, not the slightest ear prick.
Back at home, I set Lila on the floor of our living room, but even here, amid familiar scents, she would not move. Musashi bounded forward in his typical greeting style, but something, some smell, stopped him short. He skidded to a bunched halt, then cautiously extended his snout to sniff his companion of 11 years—where had she been all these days? Lila stayed stone-still. Musashi backed away, then clattered, fast, up the steps. "Lila, Lila," I called, my daughter called, even my husband called, but the dog was too terrified, or despairing, to move. At last I picked her up, carried her to our bed. I slept with her for one week straight, my face buried in her fur, her pee soaking the sheets, her eyes weeping pus and drops.
I ordered a book about blind dogs. I watched a video that demonstrated training techniques. I stroked Lila's skull, moved my fingers through her dense fur, sent my husband to the pharmacy to fill the prescriptions, four tiny tubes of glaucoma drops. "Four hundred dollars," he said when he returned, holding the paper bag. "Four hundred dollars for a month's supply of this stuff."
What choice did we have? While the medication would not restore a single stripe of sight to Lila's world, it would prevent the pain of the pressure crushing her head.
"Maybe," my husband said, " we should put Lila down."
"Put Lila down," I repeated mechanically. "Put her down."
"She's had 11 good years," my husband said. "Look at her now."
Yes, look at her now. Lying in a puddle of pee on our marital bed.
I called the ophthalmologist. "Lila's depressed," I said. "She won't move."
"Put her on her leash," the doctor said. "Take her out. Do not baby her. I've seen blind dogs climb mountains. If you teach them toughness, they'll be tough."
I brought Lila outside. I made a Hansel and Gretel path through the woods by our home, using beef instead of bread crumbs. That got her going. She found the shreds of roast, tasted baked blood, and remembered the meaning of life.
Slowly, over the weeks, Lila began to make her way.
A month passed. We needed more medication.
It was June then. School ended. My daughter's day camp was $3,000, its high price reflecting its high quality. Now I had to choose: Clara's camp or Lila's eyes. To my husband it was clear. To me it was not. If Clara did not go to the fancy camp, she could still enjoy her summer. If Lila did not get her medications, she would not only not enjoy her summer, she would pass it in agony.