No dog loves going to the vet. Remarkably, though, Ripley has always been pretty brave about the whole thing. Our regular vet clinic, Wikiup Vet Hospital, is staffed with kind, compassionate and professional people, from front desk to techs to our main vet, Erich Williams. They have always been great to us, giving us a multi-pet discount, routinely comping small services like nail trims and follow-up appointments, and in general treating us like family. Ripley didn’t seem to mind going there, since it was usually only for regular check-ups and vaccines – especially since she was always rewarded with what we jokingly refer to at home as “trauma cookies” – cookies given as rewards after anything even remotely unpleasant.
All of that changed in 2014, though, when Ripley had a remarkably bad year. So bad, for both of us, that I couldn’t even write about it at the time. In January, late one night when we were at the house, and Sabrina was working graveyard, I stood in the kitchen handing out cookies to all three dogs. Ripley got a piece of the cookie caught in her lip, and tried to back out of the kitchen, beginning to act distressed. That helplessness triggered a melee, and all of a sudden, our 130-pound, two-year-old Great Dane was on top of her. We had a full-blown dog attack taking place in the narrow hallway. It took all my strength to break it up. Luckily that night, Ripley’s injuries were superficial enough that we could wait until morning for Sabrina to drive us to the vet to be checked and cleaned. We believed it to be a fluke, centered around the food, and became more diligent about similar situations.
But in late February, again late at night, again when Sabrina was working (remember, I can’t drive, and we live out in the country – almost an hour from an emergency vet clinic), the same thing happened. This time, though, the Dane tore Ripley’s whole back open. After finally managing to separate the dogs, my hands shook as I dialed first the number of a friend to drive us to a clinic, and then Sabrina, for advice on what to do while I waited. It looked ghastly, but was primarily a flesh wound, thank god. Still, Ripley was in shock, and terrible pain. It took nearly 90 minutes from the incident until I could get her to the clinic. Once there, I had to leave her overnight for surgery. Because the damage was so extensive, a few weeks later, a second surgery was required.
Needless to say, following this, we had to find a new home for the Great Dane, which in itself was a heartbreak. But Ripley’s safety came first, and it had become clear that it would be impossible for her to do her job, and help me, with the potential threat of this dog. (We found a wonderful home for the Dane through Rocket Dog Rescue of San Francisco. She was not a bad dog; she got along fine with our two male dogs. It appeared that the aggression was tied in with female-on-female competition, emerging as the Dane was reaching sexual maturity. Still, an unworkable situation in our home.)
When any dog has health issues, it is a concern for their owner. But when a service dog has issues, it has a critical impact on the life of the handler. What do you do if your dog is sick? If they don’t feel well enough to go out, or are injured? During Ripley’s recuperation from her injuries, I stayed home with her almost the entire time, and was very protective while slowly bringing her back into a working environment. One of the lingering effects of the attacks, though, was not fear of other dogs – but fear of veterinarians. Now she cowered, and tried to crawl under my chair whenever we had to go to the vet.
In November, I started noticing she was having discharge from her eyes, and immediately had concern. Her eyes looked red, and somewhat irritated. I took her to Wikiup, and had it checked out, but nothing obvious showed up. We tried some simple drops, and antibiotics. However, the problem seemed to persist. I became more worried. One of our older dogs, who passed away a couple of years ago, had suffered from sudden onset glaucoma, and had lost her sight because of it. I had been the person who raced her to UC Davis in the middle of the night, trying to save her eyesight. I panicked, thinking some similar scenario might be playing out. So, not wanting to take any chances, I made an appointment with the specialist, Dr. Rebecca Burwell at Eye Care for Animals.
Now, as soon as I made that appointment, I knew it would be expensive. She is a specialist, and just like human doctor specialists, she charges more. And 2014 had been a very expensive year in vet bills. I don’t have insurance for Ripley, so each of those surgeries and follow-up appointments and bottles of pills got paid for out of pocket. And most had been not at our regular vet, but at the emergency vet clinic, upping the price tag even more. But you don’t think about that. I mean, you do, but you don’t. She’s my service dog. She’s my Ripley. You do what you have to do to keep her healthy.
So Sabrina and I went in, and Dr. Burwell checked her eyes, the complete, thorough exam – and said they were fine. All she needs is over-the-counter eye drops to help with dry eyes. I was so relieved, just to know I had eliminated the bad possibilities. It was worth the $155 office visit.
I went to the front desk to pay, and pulled out my bank card. The receptionist pushed the bill towards me, saying, “Dr. Burwell has given you a discount.” And I said, “Oh, thanks.” And I continued handing her my card. The receptionist said, “No, you don’t understand. I don’t need your card.” And she pointed to the bill.
There, at the bottom of the bill, was the discount. It said, “Guide Dogs-Working: ($155.00) Total Due: $ 0.00”
She had written off the entire balance of the bill, the whole office visit. The receptionist said, “She likes to do that when she can.” I stood there in shock for a minute. Sabrina started crying. Then I felt tears in my eyes, too.
“Thank you,” we whispered. “Thank you.”