What’s the matter with Milo?

Beloved dog, mystifying ailment: The definition of despair.

Early last month, two of our dogs got out of the yard.

I’d been fishing the night before, and must not have latched the gate securely while carrying in my gear. I was outside the fence and calling back Milo and Sophie before they could leave the alley.

As Milo the White Trash Terrordog loped my way, his hips wobbled and rolled in a disconnected way that instantly chilled me.

In the car, he was so anxious — both about traveling and about this strange new gimpiness he was experiencing — that he ripped out one of his claws. Of course, I didn’t know that until I got to the vet; I just noticed fresh blood spattering the upholstery and assumed he was dying on me — visions of the “chestburster” scene from Alien, or some fast-acting poison scattered in the alley by an unthinking neighbor, filled my head.

The vet assured me Milo’s back legs weren’t in any pain, and that he didn’t appear to have broken anything. But she couldn’t be specific about the nature of his injury without ordering a volley of tests she wasn’t sure he needed, or that I could afford. We decided to wait. They patched up his “toe” and I brought him home.

Over the next few days, he appeared to regain some of his lost motor function.

That Friday night, I was in a boat under the Gandy Bridge, with 30 minutes’ worth of water and a nasty little thunderstorm between me and the dock, when Rebecca called.

Milo’s hindquarters had suddenly stopped working at all.

The sense of helplessness, of being in the midst of an intensely personal crisis over which I had no control whatsoever, was total. Despair is an archaic word, better suited to pulp-novel titles than contemporary conversation.

But when it’s the right word, it’s the right word.

By the time I got home, Rebecca and a friend had gotten him to the emergency vet down the street; he was there, sedated and sleeping, and they were back at the house. I’ll never know how my wife managed to lift a terrified 75-pound pit mix and carry him inside by herself.

Saturday was a blur of vets: the emergency clinic, our regular vet, the specialist over in North Tampa. The same friend shuttled Milo and me around, helping me move him, keeping me from freaking out too badly, and I’ll be indebted to her forever. I took Rebecca to see Milo at the specialty clinic the next day, a Sunday; he was so out of it — sedated, slobbering and shitting himself — we could hardly stand to be in the room.

A few weeks later, Milo the White Trash Terrordog is slowly learning to use his back legs again. He thinks he’s ready to walk and run and hop up on the couch; he’s not, and I’d rather he not learn that particular lesson the hard way.

We know he has a herniated disc toward the back of his spine. We know he’s responding, with frustrating gradualness, to conservative therapy. That’s about all we know for now — and that knowledge was staggeringly, frighteningly expensive. So expensive that I’m embarrassed to tell people the amount; even close friends looked at me like we were nuts to have spent so much money on what is, to them, a pet. The shelter’s full of ’em.

And I don’t judge the people that give me that look. They just don’t get it. That’s all right. When I look at Milo, and I think about all the ways in which he has enriched my life over the last eight-and-a-half years, I’m not angry that some folks don’t get it.

I’m just glad I happen to.

Read more Scott Harrell at lifeasweblowit.com, and follow him @lifeasweblowit.

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