Our dog is a bit of a dichotomy.
He is the gentlest, neediest, suckiest dog ever when it comes to humans, the kind of pup who'll roll onto his back and offer up his stomach to anyone if he thinks it might result in a belly rub. He's the kind of dog who'll lie on your chest when you're on the couch and lick your face for hours (if you let him). He won't bite down human skin even if you are roughhousing with him and stick your hand into his mouth. He's played with everyone from toddlers to adults and has never shown an ounce of aggression towards people of any age. He loves his humans, all humans (except perhaps for those hooligans who used to throw empty pop cans and stuff at him over our backyard fence - he barks at them).
However, when it comes to the animal kingdom, our beloved Gunn is a tough guy. He steadfastly protects our yard from furry intruders of all shapes and sizes, to the point where we often joke that his unofficial nickname is Killer. Yes, we're not exactly proud of it, but Gunn has a body count. Over the years he's made short work of raccoons, squirrels, birds, rats and mice - always dragging them into the middle of our yard like trophies celebrating his hunting prowess. When we were travelling in Ireland and England earlier this year on our long-overdue honeymoon he scared our dog-sitters shitless by scrapping, to the death, with a feral cat. Now, please understand, this is NOT something we trained him to do - though I think the hours of playing catch in the backyard with his favourite squeaky football probably fine-tuned his chasing skills. In many ways he's like those dogs who won't stop pursuing cars - you just know that someday they will catch one and it won't be good. It wasn't hard to predict that someday he'd wrangle with something that had the upper hand, the only question was what that would be.
Last night we got our answer: PORCUPINE.
Yes, Killer got himself a face and mouthful of quills - dozens upon dozens of them. They were sticking out of his snout, chin, ears, head, tongue, gums and, worst of all, the roof of his mouth looked like a forest of white twigs. It undoubtedly was terrifying for him, and equally horrible for us. Have you ever heard a dog shriek in pain and know that for the time being there was absolutely nothing you could do about it? It breaks your heart. Brent and I ended up sitting on the cold, snowy road with him, holding him still and comforting him, while my father-in-law ran for his truck.
After what seemed like ages, but was likely only ten or fifteen minutes, we were speeding off to the emergency vet clinic, which it turned out only had one doc on-call. So Brent and I were immediately recruited as impromptu veterinary assistants. This job required multiple sets of hands and eyes. One of us had to help with the sedation and monitoring (i.e. play nurse), while the other was needed to assist with the removing of the quills. Well, one look into that quill-riddled gob and my stomach was pitching like a ship in stormy seas, so Brent had to wield the pliers. (As an aside, in that moment I was reminded about how badly my dad wanted me to grow up and become a doctor, and just how much fail that profession would have been for me. I prefer my blood and guts fake and onscreen, thank you very much.) We started the quill-removal procedure out in the main veterinary area, but Gunn's vitals weren't where they needed to be, so everything had to be shifted into the surgery area where he could intubated. Things levelled out after that and the vet and Brent were able to work. An hour and half later, the pair of them were smeared with blood, but Gunn was mostly quill free; two did go in too deep and were unable to be removed, the doc - who was a kind and wonderful lady - said these would most likely fester out on their own. We'll be keeping a close eye on that over the next few days.
Around then I made a joke about how I hoped he learned his lesson about tangling with porcupines, but the vet said that likely wouldn't be the case, and that she's removed quills from the same dogs five, sometimes ten times. Egads! As a pet owner I can't imagine something like that becoming rote. Nor would I ever want to.
We left our credit card number at the desk and carried our limp, still heavily sedated dog out of there. He slept through most of the night, only crying and whining a little bit as the drugs wore off. Really, he was nothing short of a trooper throughout this whole ordeal. On our way to the vet, he sat quietly in the car despite a head full of hurt, and apart from the occasional moment or two of panic and howling, he held it together marvelously. Truth be told, this actually surprised me a little, considering he'll often cry, whine and howl when you are trying to do something as simple and pain-free as trim his nails.
In the end, our wallets are a few hundred dollars lighter (hey, it wouldn't be Christmas without a big-ass vet bill), but our pup, our Killer, will heal up to lick another face, chase another ball and fight another battle (hopefully with less quills).
Gunn is my first dog, who knew it would be such an adventure?