Being pregnant

Learning about maternal instincts

Cara's maternal instincts kick into gear when her puppy falls ill.

Last Wednesday, we took our puppy Issa to the vet.

As a “bush dog”, she had “inherited” worms from her mother. I had seen the writhing parasites on many occasions. (Anyone who has a puppy knows that fecal matter is a major part of puppy rearing.) For months, she had been scratching her skin until it was raw. She was also underweight and had little appetite.

I imagined this was similar to how parents felt when their children were suffering — you wanted to find the antidote to what ailed them, no matter what.

Our current vet had prescribed measures with no lasting results; that’s how we ended up at Dr. M’s veterinarian clinic.

When we arrived, we were relegated to outdoor seating, not because of overflow in the waiting room, but because of Issa’s barking. She tended to get stressed in new environments and could be hostile with other dogs. (There’s no easy way to socialize dogs here — the only dog park that exists is the one in your backyard.)

We were eager to meet the vet, but there were plenty of canine theatrics to entertain us.

One customer rang the doorbell, requesting the vet’s assistant. “Excuse me, my dog is in the car. She’s very mean. I need help bringing her in.”

My partner tightened his grip on Issa’s leash — the last thing we needed was a rumble.

“That dog must be enormous,” I whispered to him.

“Let’s sit over there and make sure she stays calm,” he said. We scuttled to the corner bench as the air filled with foreboding.

Shortly after, the assistant emerged, grasping a dainty, fluffy thing with a black muzzle strapped across her mouth — the Hannibal Lecter of Miniature Poodles. The owner stayed a few timid steps behind.

The assistant attached her collar to a chain leash and then began to scold the owner.

“Monsieur, how can you be afraid of this dog? She’s less than half your size. You have created the monster — not the other way around,” he said, waggling a finger in his cowed face.

Eventually, Dr. M. appeared. He had kind eyes beneath a head of steely gray hair. He ushered us into the examination room near a poster of a fiery-eyed dog that said “Rabies kills.” On the adjacent wall, there was a picture of a dog straining to reach something on its hind legs with “Oh s*&*!” scrawled across it in capital letters.

Dr. M lifted Issa onto the table and gently stroked her underbelly. “You see these red bumps? They’re because of the worms.”

She didn’t bark or squirm when he touched her — not even when he gave her the injection.

We shifted to his office, where the miscellany defied categorization (but intimated his professional longevity). Three archaic computers sat opposite a worn collage of animal photos. In another corner, there was a painting of a makeshift shack with a sign, “Doctor for Animals”; a goat and chicken stood expectantly at the threshold.

Dr. M expanded on Issa’s treatment. “Half a pill, twice a day for three days, then the same treatment one week later. Repeat after two weeks and after three weeks.”

Instructions like these, heavy on quantities and timetables, weren’t my strong suit. And it wasn’t easy to concentrate when there was a poster above his head of a dog riding a tricycle with a ginger cat on its shoulders.

“The other puppy will also need treatment. Worms are very contagious. And there may be diarrhea, but you’ll need to differentiate between the kind that’s caused by the medication and the kind caused by general stomach upset.”

Great, I thought.

My partner looked over at me as if to say: That’s your job, sweetheart.

After four months of mopping up urine and scooping up waste and vomit, I had managed to get over some of my squeamishness. After all, wasn’t it another preparatory step towards motherhood? And weren’t both measured in fairly similar “outputs”?

In fact, the scant “mothering” experience I had seemed to indicate that love of one’s dependents was inseparable from the more mundane tenets of habit and commerce.

But it was a small price to pay for a soon-to-be healthy puppy.