Animal Pharm


My prob­lems start­ed with a dog’s limp. Two years ago, our brindle pit bull’s back right leg was swollen and inflamed. In the exam­i­na­tion room, the vet post­ed an X‑ray on a back-light­ed screen and point­ed to shad­owy blotch­es around P.D.’s knee.

The ACL has torn away from the bone,” he said. “He’s in a lot of pain, and it’s going to get worse.”

Can you fix him up?” I asked, naively.

I wrote a check big enough to cov­er a month’s vaca­tion at a lux­u­ry resort in Maui, and the vet rebuilt P.D.’s knee. When they brought him out of the recov­ery room after his surgery, sta­ples were stitched over a deep cut along the length of his leg, but he didn’t seem to notice. He bound­ed across the room full tilt and jumped up on me, his tail wag­ging at hum­ming­bird-wing speed.

He has to stay off that leg for six weeks,” the vet said, look­ing wor­ried. “No run­ning or jumping.”

You’ve got to be kid­ding,” I said. “Look at him! He’s nuts!”

You have to restrain him,” the vet said. “Two weeks in a cage. Four in a small room. If he ruins his new knee, we’ll have to oper­ate again.”


Back at home, Her­cules and Super­man, work­ing as a team, couldn’t have mus­cled P.D. into a dog cage. I gave up on it, set up his dog bed in my office, and locked us inside. Where­upon began the longest six weeks of my life. P.D. spent every wak­ing moment bat­ting around the room, bounc­ing off walls, and jump­ing all over me. It was like liv­ing in a clos­et with a kan­ga­roo on speed.

Twice he escaped into the back yard and bee-bopped up the hill to the fence-line before I could las­so him with a leash and drag him back to our jail cell.

Mirac­u­lous­ly, despite his best efforts to rup­ture his knee, he sur­vived the six weeks with­out blow­ing it out.

Three weeks lat­er, his back left leg went lame. Back to the vet. Anoth­er torn ACL and anoth­er big check fol­lowed by a sec­ond six weeks in Hell.

Dogs don’t blow out their front knees, so I thought we were done. I was wrong.

Vet’s exam room, not so cheap

I was at the back door watch­ing Zoey, our Amer­i­can Bull­dog, walk lazi­ly across the yard, sniff­ing flow­ers. Sud­den­ly, she lift­ed her back right leg, yelped, and ran over to me, whining.

Damned bad luck,” the vet said.

I wrote the now stan­dard big check and descend­ed into Hell again.

Two months after Zoey recov­ered, P.D. lodged a fox-tail in his paw that worked its way up inside his leg, requir­ing yet anoth­er surgery. I wrote the check and went back to jail.


After vet bills approx­i­mat­ing the annu­al gross domes­tic prod­uct of Alba­nia and sev­er­al months of con­fine­ment in a small space with a wild dog, a pru­dent per­son would back away from ani­mal hus­bandry. Me? I dou­bled down.

Hid­den Hills is zoned for hors­es. I grew up in a Vir­ginia farm com­mu­ni­ty and I still miss White Hall and Sug­ar Hol­low, so I start­ed con­struc­tion of a two-stall horse barn to remind me of home.

I bought a lit­tle red mare, Mar­garine. I board­ed her in anoth­er barn while mine was being built and hired a horse whis­per­er extra­or­di­naire as my barn man­ag­er. “Marge will need a com­pan­ion,” she said. “Hors­es are herd ani­mals. It’s cru­el to iso­late them.”

Lily, an Andalu­sian mare, was for sale in Lan­cast­er. To demon­strate to me that she was well-trained, the sell­er spurred her up and down his cor­ral, jerk­ing her sav­age­ly one way and then the oth­er, run­ning her at full speed and then near­ly rip­ping her head off to stop her on a dime. It was hard to watch.

Spade bit

Heart­break­ing­ly, when the horse whis­per­er inspect­ed Lily for phys­i­cal sound­ness, she saw that the sell­er had bri­dled her with a spade bit. A spade bit has a “spoon,” a flat plate that goes over the horse’s tongue and pro­trudes up inside its mouth. A skilled rid­er can use it to good effect. In a cru­el rider’s hands, it’s an instru­ment of torture.

I would have paid five times the ask­ing price to res­cue Lily from that guy, but the horse whis­per­er held me back. “Don’t reward his bru­tal­i­ty,” she said. “He just wants to get rid of her any­way.” She was right. I bid low and he caved in.


My barn still wasn’t ready, so we trail­ered Lily to the four-stall barn where Marge was board­ing. The first time Marge saw Lily, she laid her ears back flat and bared her teeth. We hoped Marge would get used to Lily over time, but her hatred only grew.

Mean­while, Lily fell in love with the geld­ing in the stall next to her. Every time we tried to sep­a­rate them, she had a ner­vous break­down. Although Lily’s roman­tic inten­tions could nev­er be con­sum­mat­ed (he’s a geld­ing, for Pete’s sake!), we couldn’t cure her sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety no mat­ter what we did.

Who­ev­er came up with the term “horse sense” obvi­ous­ly nev­er met a real horse.

By the time my barn was ready, Marge hat­ed Lily, and Lily was in love with a horse I didn’t own. The sen­si­ble solu­tion was to sell one of them and buy anoth­er horse for my sec­ond stall, but of course, I had fall­en in love with both of them by then and I couldn’t bring myself to let go of either one.


So in Bak­ers­field, we found Wil­son, a tall bay geld­ing with a docile, easy-going per­son­al­i­ty. I moved him and Marge into my barn and paid the board­ing fee to keep Lily at the oth­er barn where she could con­tin­ue to rub noses (and noth­ing else) with her neutered paramour.

Every­one was happy.

Until we turned Wil­son and Marge out into the cor­ral. They grazed peace­ful­ly togeth­er for almost an hour. Then, for no appar­ent rea­son, Marge began kick­ing the liv­ing crap out of Wil­son. Being For­rest Gump-like, it took him a while to fig­ure out he was under attack, but once the light bulb came on, he gave as good as he got. The horse whis­per­er hero­ical­ly jumped in between them and herd­ed them back into their respec­tive stalls.

Cuts and bruis­es,” the vet said. “They’ll be sore for a good while, but they’ll be okay.” He cleaned and ban­daged their wounds, and I wrote yet anoth­er big check. (By the way, politi­cians who are con­cerned about income inequal­i­ty could learn a lot about redis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth from the Nation­al Vet­eri­nary Association.)

Giv­en my equine predica­ment, a sen­si­ble per­son would sell Marge, but I still loved her despite her severe per­son­al­i­ty disorder.

Icy, Barb & Fajita

So I called the fence man. “We’ll run a fence down the mid­dle of the cor­ral,” he said glee­ful­ly as he hand­ed me his estimate.


I swal­lowed hard and wrote the check. Marge stays on one side of the fence; Wil­son on the oth­er. Lily remains in the oth­er barn with eunuch-boy.

That’s it, I told myself. No more ani­mals. Enough is enough. No mas.

Until grand­daugh­ter num­ber three got excit­ed about chick­ens. We built a coop on the hill above the barn. One red and two whites. She named them Icy, Barb, and Faji­ta. Two days into it, Icy tried to kill Faji­ta, and Barb almost choked to death on a long piece of straw.

I know what you’re think­ing. A sen­si­ble per­son would draw the line, once and for all, at the chick­ens, but by now I’m a fatal­ist. I know it won’t work.

It’s only a mat­ter of time until, “Don’t you think goats are kin­da cute, Papaw?”