James herriots dog stori.., p.18
James Herriot's Dog Stories, p.18James Herriot
‘No, nothing like that.’
‘Is she inclined to eat rubbish when she’s out?’
Mrs Flaxton shook her head. ‘No, not as a rule. But I suppose even the nicest dog will have a nibble at a dead bird or something horrid like that now and then.’ She laughed and Penny laughed back at her.
‘Well, she has a slightly raised temperature but she seems bright enough.’ I put my hand round the dog’s middle. ‘Let’s have a feel at your tummy, Penny.’
The little animal winced as I gently palpated the abdomen, and there was a tenderness throughout the stomach and intestines.
‘She has gastroenteritis,’ I said. ‘But it seems fairly mild and I think it should clear up quite soon. I’ll give you some medicine for her and you’d better keep her on a light diet for a few days.’
‘Yes, I’ll do that. Thank you very much.’ Mrs Flaxton’s smile deepened as she patted her dog’s head. She was about twenty-three and she and her young husband had only recently come to Darrowby. He was a representative of one of the big agricultural firms which supplied meal and cattle cake to the farms and I saw him occasionally on my rounds. Like his wife, and indeed his dog, he gave off an ambience of eager friendliness.
I sent Mrs Flaxton off with a bottle of bismuth, kaolin and chlorodyne mixture which was one of our cherished treatments. The little dog trotted down the surgery steps, tail wagging, and I really didn’t expect any more trouble.
Three days later, however, Penny was in the surgery again. She was still vomiting and the diarrhoea had not taken up in the least.
I got the dog on the table again and carried out a further examination, but there was nothing significant to see. She had now had five days of this weakening condition but though she had lost a bit of her perkiness she still looked remarkably bright. The Toy Poodle is small but tough and very game, and this one wasn’t going to let anything get her down easily.
But I still didn’t like it. She couldn’t go on like this. I decided to alter the treatment to a mixture of carbon and astringents which had served me well in the past.
‘This stuff looks a bit messy,’ I said, as I gave Mrs Flaxton a powder box full of the black granules, ‘but I have had good results with it. She’s still eating, isn’t she, so I should mix it in her food.’
‘Oh thank you.’ She gave me one of her marvellous smiles as she put the box in her bag and I walked along the passage with her to the door. She had left her pram at the foot of the steps and I knew before I looked under the hood what kind of baby I would find. Sure enough the chubby face on the pillow gazed at me with round friendly eyes and then split into a delighted grin.
They were the kind of people I liked to see, but as they moved off down the street I hoped for Penny’s sake that I wouldn’t be seeing them for a long time. However, it was not to be. A couple of days later they were back, and this time the Poodle was showing signs of strain. As I examined her she stood motionless and dead-eyed with only the occasional twitch of her tail as I stroked her head and spoke to her.
‘I’m afraid she’s just the same, Mr Herriot,’ her mistress said. ‘She’s not eating much now and whatever she does goes straight through her. And she has a terrific thirst – always at her water bowl and then she brings it back.’
I nodded. ‘I know. This inflammation inside her gives her a raging desire for water and of course the more she drinks the more she vomits. And this is terribly weakening.’
Again I changed the treatment. In fact over the next few days I ran through just about the entire range of available drugs. I look back with a wry smile at the things I gave that little dog, powdered epicacuanha and opium, sodium salicylate and tincture of camphor, even way-out exotics like decoction of haematoxylin and infusion of caryophyllum which, thank heavens, have been long forgotten. I might have done a bit of good if I had had access to a gut-active antibiotic like neomycin, but as it was I got nowhere.
I was visiting Penny daily as she was unfit to bring to the surgery. I had her on a diet of arrowroot and boiled milk but that, like my medical treatment, achieved nothing. And all the time the little dog was slipping away.
The climax came about three o’clock one morning. As I lifted the bedside phone Mr Flaxton’s voice, with a tremor in it, came over the line.
‘I’m terribly sorry to get you out of your bed at this hour, Mr Herriot, but I wish you’d come round to see Penny.’
‘Why, is she worse?’
‘Yes, and she’s . . . well . . . she’s suffering now, I’m afraid. You saw her this afternoon didn’t you? Well since then she’s been drinking and vomiting and this diarrhoea running away from her all the time till she’s about at the far end. She’s just lying in her basket crying. I’m sure she’s in great pain.’
‘Right, I’ll be there in a few minutes.’
‘Oh thank you.’ He paused for a moment. ‘And Mr Herriot . . . you’ll come prepared to put her down won’t you?’
My spirits, never very high at that time in the morning, plummeted to the depths. ‘As bad as that, is it?’
‘Well honestly we can’t bear to see her. My wife is so upset . . . I don’t think she can stand any more.’
‘I see.’ I hung up the phone and threw the bedclothes back with a violence which brought Helen wide awake. Being disturbed in the small hours was one of the crosses a vet’s wife has to bear, but normally I crept out as quietly as I could. This time, however, I stamped about the bedroom, dragging on my clothes and muttering to myself; and though she must have wondered what this latest crisis meant she wisely watched me in silence until I turned out the light and left.
I had not far to go. The Flaxtons lived in one of the new bungalows on the Brawton Road, less than a mile away. The young couple, in their dressing gowns, led me into the kitchen, and before I reached the dog basket in the corner I could hear Penny’s whimperings. She was not lying comfortably curled up, but on her chest, head forward, obviously acutely distressed. I put my hands under her and lifted her and she was almost weightless. A Toy Poodle in its prime is fairly insubstantial, but after her long illness Penny was like a bedraggled little piece of thistledown, her curly brown coat wet and soiled by vomit and diarrhoea.
Mrs Flaxton’s smile for once was absent. I could see she was keeping back the tears as she spoke.
‘It really would be the kindest thing . . .’
‘Yes . . . yes . . .’ I replaced the tiny animal in her basket and crouched over her, chin in hand. ‘Yes, I suppose you’re right.’
But still I didn’t move but stayed, squatting there, staring down in disbelief at the evidence of my failure. This dog was only two years old – a lifetime of running and jumping and barking in front of her; all she was suffering from was gastroenteritis and now I was going to extinguish the final spark in her. It was a bitter thought that this would be just about the only positive thing I had done right from the start.
A weariness swept over me that was not just due to the fact that I had been snatched from sleep. I got to my feet with the slow stiff movements of an old man and was about to turn away when I noticed something about the little animal. She was on her chest again, head extended, mouth open, tongue lolling as she panted. There was something there I had seen before somewhere . . . that posture . . . and the exhaustion, pain and shock . . . it slid almost imperceptibly into my sleepy brain that she looked exactly like Mr Kitson’s ewe in its dark corner. A different species, yes, but all the other things were there.
‘Mrs Flaxton,’ I said, ‘I want to put Penny to sleep. Not the way you think, but to anaesthetise her. Maybe if she has a rest from this non-stop drinking and vomiting and straining it will give nature a chance.’
The young couple looked at me doubtfully for a few moments, then it was the husband who spoke.
‘Don’t you think she has been through enough, Mr Herriot?’
‘She has, yes she has.’ I ran a hand through my rumpled uncombed hair. ‘But this won’t cause her any more distress. She won’t k
When they still hesitated, I went on. ‘I would very much like to try it – it’s just an idea I’ve got.’
They looked at each other, then Mrs Flaxton nodded. ‘All right, go ahead, but this will be the last, won’t it?’
Out into the night air to my car for the same bottle of nembutal and a very small dose for the little creature. I went back to my bed with the same feeling I had had about the ewe: come what may there would be no more suffering.
Next morning Penny was still stretched peacefully on her side and when, about four o’clock in the afternoon, she showed signs of awakening I repeated the injection.
Like the ewe she slept for forty-eight hours and when she finally did stagger to her feet she did not head immediately for her water bowl as she had done for so many days. Instead she made her feeble way outside and had a walk round the garden.
From then on, recovery, as they say in the case histories, was uneventful. Or as I would rather write it, she wonderfully and miraculously just got better and never ailed another thing throughout her long life.
Helen and I used to play tennis on the grass courts near the Darrowby cricket ground. So did the Flaxtons, and they always brought Penny along with them. I used to look through the wire at her romping with other dogs and later with the Flaxtons’ fast growing young son and I marvelled.
I do not wish to give the impression that I advocate wholesale anaesthesia for all animal ailments but I do know that sedation has a definite place. Nowadays we have a sophisticated range of sedatives and tranquillisers to choose from, and when I come up against an acute case of gastroenteritis in dogs I use one of them as an adjunct to the normal treatment; because it puts a brake on the deadly exhausting cycle and blots out the pain and fear which go with it.
And over the years, whenever I saw Penny running around, barking, bright-eyed, full of the devil, I felt a renewed welling of thankfulness for the cure which I discovered in a dark corner of a stable by accident.
Fleming discovered penicillin by accident and on a much smaller scale many vets in practice stumble on things which are of inestimable value to them in their work. My own priceless find was that relief from pain can aid an animal’s recovery to a magical extent and I have used it happily for over forty years. When the pain disappears, so does the fear. A sick animal doesn’t know what has happened to it and the unknown is terrifying.
The name was on the garden gate – Lilac Cottage. I pulled out my list of visits and checked the entry again. ‘Cook, Lilac Cottage, Marston Hall. Bitch overdue for whelping.’ This was the place all right, standing in the grounds of the Hall, a nineteenth-century mansion house whose rounded turrets reared above the fringe of pine trees less than half a mile away.
The door was opened by a heavy-featured dark woman of about sixty who regarded me unsmilingly.
‘Good morning, Mrs Cook,’ I said. I’ve come to see your bitch.’
She still didn’t smile. ‘Oh, very well. You’d better come in.’
She led me into the small living-room and as a little Yorkshire terrier jumped down from an armchair her manner changed.
‘Come here, Cindy my darlin’,’ she cooed. ‘This gentleman’s come to make you better.’ She bent down and stroked the little animal, her face radiant with affection.
I sat down in another armchair. ‘Well what’s the trouble, Mrs Cook?’
‘Oh, I’m worried to death.’ She clasped her hands anxiously. ‘She should have had her pups yesterday and there’s nothing happenin’. Ah couldn’t sleep all night – I’d die if anything happened to this dog.’
I looked at the terrier, tail wagging, gazing up, bright-eyed under her mistress’s caress. ‘She doesn’t seem distressed at all. Has she shown any signs of labour?’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘Well, has she been panting or uneasy in any way? Is there any discharge?’
‘No, nothing like that.’
I beckoned to Cindy and spoke to her and she came timidly across the lino till I was able to lift her on to my lap. I palpated the distended abdomen; there was a lot of pups in there but everything appeared normal. I took her temperature – normal again.
‘Bring me some warm water and soap, Mrs Cook, will you please?’ I said. The terrier was so small that I had to use my little finger, soaped and disinfected, to examine her, and as I felt carefully forward the walls of the vagina were dry and clinging and the cervix, when I reached it, tightly closed.
I washed and dried my hands. ‘This little bitch isn’t anywhere near whelping, Mrs Cook. Are you sure you haven’t got your dates wrong?’
‘No, I ‘aven’t, it was sixty-three days yesterday.’ She paused in thought for a moment. ‘Now ah’d better tell you this, young man. Cindy’s had pups before and she did self and same thing – wouldn’t get on with t’job. That was two years ago when I was livin’ over in Listondale. I got Mr Broomfield the vet to her and he just gave her an injection. It was wonderful – she had the pups half an hour after it.’
I smiled. ‘Yes, that would be pituitrin. She must have been actually whelping when Mr Broomfield saw her.’
‘Well whatever it was, young man, I wish you’d give her some now. Ah can’t stand all this suspense.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I lifted Cindy from my lap and stood up. ‘I can’t do that. It would be very harmful at this stage.’
She stared at me and it struck me that that dark face could look very forbidding. ‘So you’re not goin’ to do anything at all?’
‘Well . . .’ There are times when it is a soothing procedure to give a client something to do even if it is unnecessary. ‘Yes, I’ve got some tablets in the car. They’ll help to keep the little dog fit until she whelps.’
‘But I’d far rather have that injection. It was just a little prick. Didn’t take Mr Broomfield more than a second to do.’
‘I assure you, Mrs Cook, it can’t be done at the moment. I’ll get the tablets from the car.’
Her mouth tightened. I could see she was grievously disappointed in me. ‘Oh well if you won’t you won’t, so you’d better get them things.’ She paused: ‘And me name isn’t Cook!’
‘No it isn’t, young man.’ She didn’t seem disposed to offer further information so I left in some bewilderment.
Out in the road, a few yards from my car, a farm man was trying to start a tractor. I called over to him.
‘Hey, the lady in there says her name isn’t Cook.’
‘She’s right an’ all. She’s the cook over at the Hall. You’ve gotten a bit mixed up.’ He laughed heartily.
It all became suddenly clear; the entry in the day book, everything. ‘What’s her right name, then?’
‘Booby,’ he shouted just as the tractor roared into life.
Funny name, I thought, as I produced my harmless vitamin tablets from the boot and returned to the cottage. Once inside I did my best to put things right with plenty of ‘Yes, Mrs Booby’ and ‘No, Mrs Booby’ but the lady didn’t thaw. I told her not to worry and that I was sure nothing would happen for several days, but I could tell I wasn’t impressing her.
I waved cheerfully as I went down the path.
‘Goodbye, Mrs Booby,’ I cried. ‘Don’t hesitate to ring me if you’re in doubt about anything.’
She didn’t appear to have heard.
‘Oh I wish you’d do as I say,’ she wailed. ‘It was just a little prick.’
The good lady certainly didn’t hesitate to ring. She was at me again the next day and I had to rush out to her cottage. Her message was the same as before: she wanted the wonderful injection which would make those pups pop out and she wanted it right away. Mr Broomfield hadn’t messed about and wasted time like I had. And on the third and fourth and fifth mornings she had me out at Marston examining the little bitch and reciting the same explanations. Things came to a head on the sixth day.
In the room at Lilac Cottage the d
‘Of course I know how you feel about her, Mrs Booby. Believe me, I fully understand.’
‘Then why don’t you do something?’ she snapped.
I dug my nails into my palms. ‘Look, I’ve told you. A pituitrin injection works by contracting the muscular walls of the uterus so it can only be given when labour has started and the cervix is open. If I find it is indicated I will do it, but if I give this injection now it could cause rupture of the uterus. It could cause death.’ I stopped because I fancied little bubbles were beginning to collect at the corners of my mouth.
But I don’t think she had listened to a word. She sunk her head in her hands. ‘All this time, I can’t stand it.’
I was wondering if I could stand much more of it myself. Bulging Yorkshire Terriers had begun to prance through my dreams at night and I greeted each new day with a silent prayer that the pups had arrived. I held out my hand to Cindy and she crept reluctantly towards me. She was heartily sick of this strange man who came every day and squeezed her and stuck fingers into her, and she submitted again with trembling limbs and frightened eyes to the indignity.
‘Mrs Booby,’ I said, ‘are you absolutely sure that dog didn’t have access to Cindy after the service date you gave me?’
She sniffed. ‘You keep askin’ me that and ah’ve been thinking about it. Maybe he did come a week after, now I think on.’
‘Well, that’s it, then!’ I spread my hands. ‘She’s held to the second mating, so she should be due tomorrow.’
‘Ah would still far rather you would get it over with today like Mr Broomfield did . . . it was just a little prick.’
‘But Mrs Booby . . . !’
‘And let me tell you another thing, me name’s not Booby!’
I clutched at the back of the chair. ‘It’s not?’
‘Well . . . what is it, then?’
‘It’s Dooley . . . Dooley!’ She looked very cross.
James Herriot's Dog Stories by James Herriot / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes