My Furry Muse

My Furry Muse

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

My Furry Muse

Newlyweds always face challenges as they learn what to expect fromeach other. My Iranian husband,Mahmoud, came from a country, culture and especially a family very different from the close-knit, pet-loving household I’d experienced. But we had faith our love was enough to build a life together.

In November 1979, our world blew up. We struggled to understand the taking of hostages half a world away, and we worried about Mahmoud’s relatives caught in the insanity of that awful nightmare.

The crisis threatened our relationship as well—we were so very different. The stress became unbearable. Sometimes we hurt each other expecting too much. We’d misunderstand a word, a glance, a gesture that had different meanings for each of us. Would our love survive?

So when Mahmoud suggested a puppy for my birthday, the gift meant everything. In his homeland, dogs were considered dirty, dangerous creatures suitable only for outdoor guard duty—inviting a dog into our home meant he understood me. That he wanted me to be happy. And that he knew what would help me most during the most frightening and challenging time of our lives.

The German shepherd puppy kept me company when Mahmoud worked nights. Fafnir listened when I worried out loud, clowned to make me laugh and licked away my tears—and there were many tears. I felt out of place in the small eastern Kentucky town where we lived and missed my distant Indiana family. I struggled to be a “perfect” wife, and of course failed miserably.

But Fafnir made me feel important. He didn’t care if meals never tasted likeMomused tomake, he never called me a Yankee and we seemed to have a common language that needed no words. He thought I was wonderful—and I knew he was special, too.

Then Mahmoud was laid off, so we moved to Louisville where he attended graduate school. Less than a week after the move, I found a position as a veterinary assistant near our apartment. As a special bonus, I could take Fafnir with me to work. Our neighbor’s small cockapoo, Fidget, became best buddies with Fafnir. Things were looking up!

Then Fafnir developed a limp. He favored first one paw, and then another. Medicine temporarily relieved his limping, but his paws turned red, itchy and swollen. He scratched constantly and only seemed happy when playing tag with Fidget.

I tried everything. Antibiotics made him sick. A special diet didn’t help, and his weight dropped to fifty-nine pounds. Despite my discount, the treatment costs added up—and up. Nothing seemed to help. Fafnir was allergic to the air he breathed—the molds, pollens and other allergens of the Ohio Valley region. His condition grew worse day by day. Fafnir no longer looked like a German shepherd. When I stroked his black coat, his fur pulled out in clumps with flaking skin still attached. His once-expressive ears were naked on the outside, the tender inside lined with pustules and slow-to-heal scabs. Constant licking and chewing stained his tummy black except where the red, oozing sores broke the skin. Swollen feet prompted a halting, limping gait more appropriate to an aged, arthritic canine.

When he visited the clinic with me, pet owners now shrank away and pulled their dogs out of sniffing range. They didn’t want Fafnir to give his “horrible disease” to their beloved pets. Although he wasn’t contagious, I couldn’t blame people for their concern. Fidget still invited games, but Fafnir could no longer play. He hurt too much. And he smelled.

He was only fourteen months old.

Had love blinded my eyes and my logic? If this poor creature belonged to somebody else, would I also shrink from touching the affectionate dog? How could I justify continued treatment? Was there a better, more compassionate option? No! Not my Fafnir! I veered away from the thought before it fully formed, but a calmer, more reasonable voice insisted that I face the facts and realities of the dog’s condition. Was I being selfish? Would death be the kindest treatment of all?

I couldn’t bother Mahmoud with the question—he had enough to worry about. For two days and nights I argued with myself, one moment sure that any life was better than an early separation from my beloved dog; the next trying to find strength within myself to stop his suffering.

The third morning, driving the short distance to work, it was hard to see the street through my tear-clouded eyes. Fafnir licked my neck, excited as always to visit the clinic and see his friends. Maybe he’d get to sniff a cat (oh, doggy joy!).

The busy morning moved quickly from case to case, while Fafnir rested in his usual kennel. Each time I dug into my pocket for suture scissors or pen and touched the crumpled paper, my eyes filled again. It was the euthanasia authorization form I’d decided to complete during lunch break after playing with Fafnir one last time.

Then an emergency case arrived. A young woman, nearly hysterical with fear, carried a Pomeranian puppy into the clinic. “It’s Foxy, please help! He chewed through an electric cord.” The woman’s two small children watched with wide, tearful eyes.

The veterinarian began immediate treatment. “A transfusion would help since the pup’s in shock. Lucky we have Fafnir here as a donor.”

I froze. For an endless moment I couldn’t breathe. Then without a word, I brought my boy out of the kennel. His eyes lit up at the chance to sniff Foxy’s small, shivering body. Fafnir’s scaly bald tail wagged, and he grinned. I had to coax him away to draw twelve cubic centimeters of precious blood from his foreleg, to be given to his tiny new friend.

By lunchtime, Foxy’s gums transformed from white to a healthy pink, and he breathed normally. The red puppy even managed a feeble wag and sniffed back when Fafnir nosed him through the kennel bars.

For the first time in three days, I could smile through what had become happy tears. Without looking at it, I pulled the euthanasia paperwork from my pocket, crumpling it and tossing it into the trash. What if I’d made that decision even an hour earlier? If Fafnir hadn’t been there for Foxy, the puppy would have died.

Fafnir grinned up at me, and I realized he didn’t care howhe looked. Fafnir patiently put upwith the unknowns in his world—with uncomfortable baths, bitter pills and scary needle sticks he couldn’t control—simply because he loved me and trusted that I would keep him safe. Fafnir willingly came to Foxy’s rescue, just as he’d rescued me during the first troubled months of my marriage. That’s what we do for our friends, for the ones we love. We pass it on to strangers, too, simply because it brings such joy.

Sixmonths later,Mahmoud attained hismaster’s degree, found a great job, and we moved from Louisville to Tennessee. Away from the allergens that had plagued him, Fafnir quickly recovered and no longer needed medication. My heart swelled with quiet thanks during each afternoon walk when neighbors admired Fafnir’s proud stride and glowing coat and begged to pet him.

In Tennessee, I began to write about my experiences working at the vet’s office. My first published article told Fafnir’s story and launched my pet-writing career. Fafnir has been my furry muse ever since. More than that, his infectious grin, his quiet trust, and his delight at meeting new critters (looky, a cat!), fill the pages of my heart with a joy beyond words.

Amy D. Shojai

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