55: Healing Oreo

55: Healing Oreo

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

Healing Oreo

Not-so-fun fact: “Kennel cough” (canine infectious tracheobronchitis) is contagious, so infected dogs should be kept away from other dogs.

The phone rang at 11:30 p.m. The young man on the other end was the resident assistant in my daughter Mimi’s college dorm. “Your daughter has been rushed to the hospital. She wasn’t breathing,” he said. I prayed my way to the emergency room. The doctors said Mimi had overdosed on heroin. Miraculously, they were able to revive her.

Mimi’s nurse told her she was lucky. She had another patient who hadn’t been as fortunate. “Did she die?” Mimi asked.

“No, but she suffered brain damage, and now she can’t even feed herself,” the nurse said.

Mimi had been struggling with drug addiction for years. She’d tried often to stop on her own but would slide back into drug abuse. This near-death experience convinced her to seek professional help. She checked herself into a residential treatment center. There, she attended 12-step meetings and sessions with a psychologist. When she was released, the psychologist recommended an unconventional aspect to her continuing therapy — a dog.

The dog arrived hidden in Mimi’s jacket. “Surprise, Mom,” she said. She opened her coat to reveal a palm-sized Poodle puppy. Her psychologist had suggested that the responsibility of caring for a pet might help her maintain her sobriety.

Who could argue with that? And the pup was adorable. His soft, wavy onyx hair was accented with a diamond-shaped mark of white on his chest. My littlest children, who define the world in terms of sweet treats, promptly named him Oreo.

The first days at home, Oreo romped in the kitchen, skidding on the unfamiliar ceramic tiles under his paws. He pranced to investigate his new stainless-steel food dish. We laughed when his dog tags clinked against the dish and he jumped backwards — he’d startled himself. Oreo’s favorite toy was a blue octopus the size of his own head. He refused to nap without it, so he’d struggle to drag it into his bed.

Then, the cough started. The veterinarian diagnosed kennel cough. Soon, Oreo stopped romping and prancing. The cough advanced to frequent choking jags. Oreo had developed pneumonia.

Mimi stayed by his side, patting him as he coughed. “You’ll be well soon,” she’d whisper to him. His only response was an upward gaze of his brown marble eyes. Oreo was too weak to pad over to his food dish, so Mimi handfed him. She gently coaxed him to swallow his antibiotics. At a time when Mimi might have been tempted to party with old associates or visit a bar, her heart and soul were focused on her beloved pup.

Despite the round-the-clock nursing, Oreo worsened. The vet warned that the pneumonia might take Oreo’s life.

Mimi had found an out-of-state animal hospital that specialized in treating pneumonia. She was making arrangements to have Oreo admitted when he began to perk up. Day by day, he regained his health.

I could see how grateful Oreo was to be alive. When Mimi scratched behind his ears, his tail wagged so furiously that it would knock him sideways. He loved to play fetch with Mimi. She would throw his octopus, but Oreo would wait for her to crawl across the floor to retrieve the toy. Then, when she came close to him, he would grab the octopus from her hand. Every evening, he would curl up on Mimi’s lap with his head resting in the crook of her elbow.

Almost thirteen years have passed since Oreo first joined our family. Mimi has earned her doctorate in psychology and is helping other addicts overcome their drug abuse. While she is at work, Oreo stays at home with me. It is my privilege to rub the underside of his neck and give him tight hugs. I hope he knows how thankful I am that he helped make Mimi healthy.

~Lily Ryan

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