For the love of Rigby

It’s lucky today is a public holiday because I didn’t get to bed last night until 4 am, and I’m bloody tired.

It’s not that I did anything fun last night, nor was it anything planned. I expected a regular weeknight and to bed at an unreasonable hour. But then Rigby got crook.

It happened very quickly. He was perfectly fine up until about 7 pm. By the time I noticed something was amiss. It was about 9 pm. By then, he was panting hard as if it was a summers day, and scratching at himself frantically every few moments. It was so insistent that he would stumble mid-stride as if he’d lost control of his back legs as once more he stopped to scratch.

I put some steroid cream on him I’d picked up earlier in the year for a similar problem, but that made no difference. Then I took him for a walk, hoping that some fresh air might do him good – and, if he needed to, there was grass for him to chew on. He was as keen for the walk as he normally is, and seemed improved. He wasn’t interested in grass.

Finally, we went to bed with grave misgivings. I didn’t know what to do. I googled his symptoms, looking to find out. He lay on the bedclothes breathing hard and scratching and nibbling at the skin around his groin, which by this time was raw. He got down from the bed and lay on the cool floorboards. Then he hopped up again.

I turned off the light, and for a while, he seemed to settle down. I caressed him gently as his hard breathing eased. For minutes at a time, he didn’t scratch. But then it all came back again, and I knew I had to do something.

It was well after midnight when I left the house with him. I’d called an all-night vet in Highett and was encouraged to bring him along. I pulled into the car park there at about 1.15, put my mask on, and took him to the door.

Because of Covid restrictions, I wasn’t allowed to go in with him. I was told to wait in the car, and they would call me.

I don’t know what I expected. I just hoped it wasn’t anything serious. And I wanted his discomfort to go away. It’s hard seeing something/someone you love struggling so badly. I sat there looking at my phone as the minutes ticked by.

It was a bright night, but so quiet. Everyone sensible was home in bed. I sat in my car in a lonely car park in Wickham road. Across the road was the Salvos. There were no houses in sight, just factories and outlet style stores closed for the day, hardly any traffic on the road, and certainly no-one around on foot.

It was a strange and uncertain time. He’s inside being treated, but you’re outside without a clue what’s happening.

Once I went for a short walk wearing my mask, to stretch my legs. That’s when I got the first call from the vet. Seems like an allergic reaction, he said in an American accent. Something he came in contact perhaps, and he asked me of anything new, or anything that had changed. I could think of nothing. Until he got sick, it’d been a normal evening. He lay on the couch beside me his head on my lap as I watched TV. It was normal. I told the vet. Okay, he said, we’ll get back to you.

I waited some more. Around me, other cars had pulled in and taken their pets inside. Others had left. I’d been there maybe 90 minutes and wondering what was going on when I got the next call. They wanted to try a steroid injection on him but wanted to check of any other medication he might be on or prevailing illnesses. There were none, I said. Okay, give it 20-30 minutes for the injection to take effect.

In the end, it was about 45 minutes. By now it was after 3 am. The vet reported that Rigby had settled a little bit and wasn’t scratching so much. He was breathing normally. I could take him home soon – did you want us to sedate him, so you can both rest. Don’t bother, I said, and the same when he suggested antibiotics, just in case.

I’d made up my mind by now. If he were still troubled the next day, I’d take him to my local vet for a proper check-up. I hoped that Rigby would be fine by then, and had it in my mind that this was something that would improve with time.

It was past 3.30 am when I collected Rigby. As always, he leapt to see me. I drove away nearly $250 lighter and with Rigby in the back seat restless and whimpering.

It was nearly 4 am when I got back to my bed. Rigby lay beside me. For a while he was unsettled, and I became worried again and wished I’d agreed to the sedative. I crooned to him, and slowly he settled, and we both slept.

I dreamt of it all, and in the dreams, there was a fearful element wary of what I might wake to. I woke at the normal time, foggy with sleep and vaguely aware of Rigby. I thought he was scratching again, but then both of us drifted in and out of sleep for the next couple of hours.

When I opened my eyes properly, it was after nine. Rigby seemed well-rested, and though he had the occasional scratch was much better than the night before. He’s got better still more since. I am greatly relieved.

Last night, as I sat in my car, I posted something to Facebook about the situation. I woke this morning to find a dozen or so had reached out to me in the time since. There’s something about pets that touches at the vulnerable place inside of us. Our pets are guiltless and innocent and know only how to show affection. We owe them a debt that comes calling when their safety is threatened.

I was heartened and moved by the reaction. Not that I needed to be reminded, but the blessings of love resonate at times like these when it’s under threat. He is well, for now, and so to am I.

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