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I poked Pepper in the eye. He’s 14 and can’t see well, and when I reached out my hand to pet him, I accidentally jabbed him in the eye with my fingernail. He yelped and cringed and I felt horrible about it – but I didn’t think that such a small accident would lead to one of the biggest dramas that Pepper and I have ever faced.

I irrigated his eye and put him on a week of Doxycycline. I don’t recommend acting as your own veterinarian (or doctor, which I do to myself as well), but I do dog rescue and tend to keep first aid items around.

His eye was definitely irritated and it became cloudy, but after a week it looked better and I thought that it was healing. But as soon as I thought all was well, his eye started bulging and became completely clouded and goopy. Uh-oh.

We headed to the vet around the corner. He sent me home with more eye irrigation fluid and a different antibiotic, plus an eye ointment.

A few days later, Pepper’s eye was twice as bad, very red and swollen and gooey. Next stop: Canine ophthalmologist.

The canine ophthalmologist examined Pepper’s eye and told me that poking him in the eye was likely incidental to what was going on – in fact, it may have had nothing to do with the eye’s current condition. She suspected a tumor behind the eye. That’s when I started crying. Not abnormal for me. I sometimes cry when I drop Pepper off at the groomer. It’s just the kind of relationship that we have.

We walked home with a different kind of ointment and antibiotics, and a decision to make. The canine eye doc said that she wanted to do an MRI and an ultrasound and then possibly make the decision to take out Pepper’s eye. It was clear to me that the eye needed to come out, and I didn’t want to put 14-year-old Pepper through a bunch of exploratory tests that included anesthesia.

There are three invaluable things in a pet owner’s life that you are lucky to find, and when you do, you hang on to them fiercely: a great groomer, a well-stocked independent pet store nearby, and a reliable and compassionate veterinarian.

I wanted Pepper’s own vet, Dr. Murray, to take over. The vet that knows him, that performed lipoma removal surgery on him the year before. Pepper has canine idiopathic thrombocytopenia, a clotting issue that might scare the average vet. But not Pepper’s vet. She saved his life once and I wanted to her save him again. The problem was that Pepper’s vet was 1,300 miles away.

Without hesitation, I rented a mini van (I don’t have a car in NYC), packed up the three dogs, and started driving to Miami on New Year’s Day. I wasn’t willing to risk Pepper’s life to someone who doesn’t know him. 

We rolled into Miami two and a half days later and drove straight to Biscayne Veterinary Center. I still had my snow boots on.

After examining Pepper, she concurred that there was probably a tumor behind the eye and that my poking him the eye didn’t have anything to do with the issue. That was a relief to hear for the second time.

The next day, I dropped Pepper off at the hospital (along with Pearl and Zoey as possible blood donors if he needed them), but I didn’t feel as anxious as I thought I would. I was nervous, but I also knew he was in great hands. 

A couple of hours later I went back to see Pepper after his surgery. He was barking his little gray head off – back to normal, less one eye. The next day I was able to pick him up, and two days later we were in the mini van, headed to back to NYC.

If someone else told me this story about their pet, I might think they were nuts. But I do know that passionate dog people go the extra furry mile (or 1,300 miles) for their pets, and I fall into that category.

“Pepper the Pirate” is doing great. He is back to his old self – a little slow at 14, but normal. The pathology report came back with the diagnosis of ocular melanoma – a cancer that is known to spread rapidly. I can only cross my fingers and paws that the vet got it all out in time.

Do you have any stories of going “above and beyond” for your dog? Come on, I know I’m not alone.

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