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Where there is no vet

All winter, I kept grass stashed away in a box behind the cabin. I mean the kind of broadleaved grass blades that dogs are fond of eating when they…

All winter, I kept grass stashed away in a box behind the cabin. I mean the kind of broadleaved grass blades that dogs are fond of eating when they have an upset stomach, nothing for human consumption.

So when old Leshi got the dry heaves the other day and frantically scratched at the snow to find some grass to eat, I triumphantly whipped out a fistful of my harvest, which the dog then pulled eagerly out of my hands.

Living beyond the reach of roads obviously has a number of downsides to it, and being separated from medical help is certainly one of them. In a major emergency, the course of action is obvious: call in a plane or helicopter.

It is more the prolonged aches and pains, feelings of not being well, that are hard to judge, particularly at times of the year when travelling out is tricky or nearly impossible because of the weather.

Freeze-up and break-up leave the costly helicopter as the only option.

It is even more difficult to judge the mournful face of a dog who isn’t quite herself, when she doesn’t display dramatic symptoms of real agony.

What to do? Oh, I had envisioned myself toughening up. Paying for plane rides for a sick dog and thereby pushing the cost of a vet visit well beyond the $1,000 mark is out of the question — that is more than a fifth of my annual budget.

How to pay for it all without a dependable income?

Some way or another, it turns out.

I’m still not in that class of pet owners who get hip replacements done on their dogs, but neither have I been able to “toughen up” and impersonally regard the dogs as livestock.

Out here, they are my companions 24 hours a day, since now I don’t leave for work anymore, and they stay with me when Sam goes out on a job.

If anything, our relationship is closer than ever. This makes dealing with doggie illness harder and has made me a great believer in prevention and early intervention. Never have I paid more close attention to every little bump, cut, dullness of fur, strange odour and oddness in behaviour.

We attempt to nip all health problems in the bud before they morph into something more serious.

Homeopathic and herbal remedies are our first line of defence as they are the easiest to come by.

At times, what I thought of as a health problem happily turns out to be something funny. Such as the cases of violent shivering we had among the dogs this winter. With the eyes almost popping out and all hackles raised, they twitched and shook uncontrollably.

The cause turned out to be the slop pile, where the dishwater gets emptied and which the dogs had decided to clean up — frozen snow and all. This was quickly remedied with a drink of warm water.

Or the time Leshi was unable to close her muzzle because of frozen moose droppings stuck in her back teeth (I did not much appreciate having to pluck them out, though).

When neither the dog first aid book nor Dr. Google point to a solution, I call the vet for help. I wish they would have some sort of form I could sign, freeing them from all responsibility and law suits in case of a wrong diagnosis.

Of course they need to examine the dog to be fairly sure but I can’t get the dogs out whenever I would like, just as I can’t get myself checked out for every little thing.

While we were able to get a few basic medications, such as antibiotics for the dogs, I am still trying for something that will make a dog unconscious for a short time.

The great horror in my mind is my much-loved old dog coming towards the end of her days and being in severe pain. Undertaking the stressful half-day voyage by snowmachine, boat or plane to have the dog put down in the vet clinic can hardly be in the best interest of an already dying dog.

I might be capable of shooting her to put an end to her suffering, but what if she would not die instantly and her last knowledge of me would be such ultimate betrayal?

If she could be made unconscious before, it surely would make the procedure more humane. Yet getting such medication is fraught with red tape that disregards what would be best for the dog.

And so I continue to search for a kind solution should we find ourselves in such a desperate situation, where a fistful of grass will not help.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.