A Great Growl was growing inside of me and it felt both prehistoric and preternatural at the time. I’d never been a parent before but the innate instincts of one had lain dormant inside me that I discovered that day when I damned near lost Malcolm.
The terror I felt took me to the Dark Side and by Dark Side, I mean being a Dog Person.
I realized just how uneducated, ill prepared, and uninformed I was about pet parenting and I started reading indiscriminately about Pyrenees, puppies, and about raising big dogs in general. And it was then I learned a term I was never properly introduced to before but became the absolute bane of my existence.
A term I previously associated with a late night that consisted of a dozen or so Dos Equis and take out from Taco Cabana. Like people, dogs get gassy, too, I assumed, but upon learning for the first time bloat could lead to catastrophic and complete organ failure and death, I was panic stricken.
For months thereafter I hadn't a single restful night as I became obsessed with bloat. And every article I read, website I came across, and story I learned of only compounded my dread.
When Malcolm didn't finish his meal, he had bloat. When he didn't have a bowel movement at his usual time of day, dammit it was bloat. I was constantly sticking my head to his belly listening for peristalsis, or stomach gurgling, to assure me his systems were functioning normally.
In short order I’d gone from ‘Don’t want dog’ to ‘He’s my mate’ to ‘Okay I’m a dad’ to “Mad dog man’. I wasn’t a parent anymore. I was a hyper-maternalistic maniac who was probably seriously freaking Malcolm out with my obsession over his bowels. And all of my friends and family, too.
But my mania wasn’t just limited to bloat. Shortly after nearly losing Malcolm, I became hell bent on protecting him from outside threats to the point that I installed an electric fencing system in our back yard.
Malcolm had escaped a few times before and I couldn’t figure out how until I let him outside and hid in our sun room until he tried it. I’d read about dogs digging holes underneath gates, squeezing through them, or even the more athletic ones jumping over fences but nothing like how Malcolm got loose.
Our backyard acre was enclosed by a standard four foot high Cyclone fence and there was no way Malcolm could clear it. Instead, he put his front paws on top then stuck his hind paws in the first or second openings in the weave and then somehow, miraculously, threw his fat butt over the fence in a painfully uncoordinated way.
An Olympian, surely not, nor would he ever be invited to perform with Cirque de Soleil, but after a few rolls he got up quite contented, dusted himself off, and tore ass down to the Medina River to wallow in the mud.
The only solution I could come up with back then was to electrify the top of the fence where he positioned his front paws. I grounded a single looped wire from a system I purchased at a local feed store that assured me the voltage was so low it would act a deterrent only and not a detriment. But the first time I saw it in action, Malcolm jumped straight up in the air, clearly frightened. The look on his face I never wanted to see again and I immediately deactivated the electric fence.
I just didn’t have enough parenting experience how to balance enrichments and risks and to compensate for that deficit, I suppose, I systematically started to insulate him from all external threats. Or maybe I was protecting myself.
But it all culminated when my girlfriend brought home a Pyrenees puppy she had rescued that day from an irresponsible groomer. I came home late that night and she had hoped to surprise me with him, but the second I saw the dog, I told her to start looking for a home for him.
Unquestionably, there was no way I was going to make Malcolm feel like he had to compete for my love nor was I going to permit anything to breach the bond we had developed.
The dog could stay with us for a week, I informed my girlfriend, after that, the Pyr pup had to have a new home. I was adamant I didn’t want it, wouldn’t accept it, and damn well couldn’t have another in my life.
I couldn’t have been more wrong as ‘that dog’ would one day be known as Murphy.
Author's Note On Bloat: One of the best and most comprehensive studies I've come across on the risk factors of bloat is from Tufts. Read it, learn it, and take it to heart. I say this because one of the factors that increases the risk significantly is elevated dog bowls. On our travels, I've stayed with many families that use them and I've had the discussion with people countless times. Some of them use them for older, arthritic dogs and that may be a valid reason. But if you have a large breed, barrel chested dog, here's what you need to consider. Nature designed dogs to drink from the ground no matter what manufacturers selling raised bowls try to tell you. I'm no expert about anything but at the end of my day, nature is the final arbiter.