My eyes watered and bulged as I listened to the pretty, young veterinarian give me and my husband the run down on Little Paint's surgery.
"She lost a tooth and a toe, and I can't tell you how many stitches that chest wound took."
I groaned. Shut my eyes and pressed my palms into my eyebrows.
"Look on the bright side," the vet said. "Her chest doesn't fall open like an oven door when she stands up now."
I bent to look at Little Paint where she lay sleeping.
"But I can still see pink stuff," I said. "Looks like pork tenderloin. Raw. In between the stitches."
The vet nodded. "That's healthy muscle tissue," she said. "Over the next month, that'll granulate. Start looking like red cobblestone. And the skin'll close up."
I grimaced and crossed my arms. My eyes prickled with the threat of tears.
"Promise? 'Cause if she'd be better off dead, if the best thing would be to--"
The vet held her pointer finger in front of my mouth. "She's going to be fine. Really."
Over the weekend, Pawprints gave Little Paint lots of hugs and drugs. Hosed her chest wound every day. Renamed her Wonder Dog.
"Do you pray?" the vet asked me on Monday when I came for a visit.
"Uh hunh. Why?"
She didn't take her eyes off Little Paint. "Pray we don't find any necrotic tissue."
I wrinkled my nose. "Necrotic?"
"Means dead," the pretty vet told me. "If the tissue around the edges of that chest incision dies, we'll have to put her under again. Cut it off and sew her back together, even tighter. Like a Hollywood actress."
I gulped. "Anything else?"
"Can you get her to eat?" the vet said. "'Cause she won't eat for us. Not even wet food. She's losing weight, and that's not good."
I thought a minute. "Carrot juice."
The vet tilted her head. "Excuse me?"
"I read in a natural pet care book about some guy who brought his Dalmatian back from the brink of death by giving her carrot juice."
"Give it a try," she said. "Might want to add some raw hamburger too. For protein."
A week later, I was begging the fresh-faced girl vet to keep Little Paint Lou just one more day.
"You'll do fine," she said. "She'll be much happier at home, and you won't have to run her homemade food up here twice a day."
She pressed discharge papers and a bag of meds into my hands.
"Now, remember, it's Memorial Day weekend. We'll be closed until Tuesday morning. If anything goes wrong, if you have any questions, call the emergency vet clinic in Fairmont."
I slept on the kitchen floor with Little Paint Lou that night. Me on a 40 year-old sleeping bag. Painty Lou on a soft blanket. Sometime in the night, she crept onto my sleeping bag. Tucked herself behind my legs.
Daisy May was upstairs having a sleepover with the Middle Child. Daisy had decided she hated Little Paint when she came home from a week at the vet's. Well, she didn't exactly hate her. She just wanted to eat her.
Daisy held her head low to the ground and a soft but gravelly growl came out between her bared teeth. Little Paint tried to look fierce too, but her patchwork of shaved parts and her ribs sticking out made her a liar.
We made it 36 hours before we took Little Paint to the emergency vet clinic. Her stitches were popping open left and right, revealing more and more pork tenderloin. The kids wouldn't go in the kitchen 'cause they were scared to look at her.
"Be really sure you can't handle it any more before you take her there," a friend told me. "It's $150 just to walk in the door."
"What's $150 when you've already invested $2,500 plus?" my husband said as he lifted Little Paint into the car.
If Little Paint Lou was Wonder Dog, the emergency vet was Boy Wonder. He looked like a high school linebacker. I could see his quadriceps muscles through his scrub pants.
"I'm going to put your dog back together," he said. "But she's going to look like Franken Dog afterwards, okay?"
I nibbled my lip.
"I'll use whatever it takes to hold her together," he said as he massaged Little Paint's ears, inside the big, white plastic lampshade she was wearing.
"She's going to be just fine," he said. "I'll do the procedure around midnite. You all can pick her up at 11 tomorrow ."
Boy Wonder grinned as he brought Little Paint into the waiting room the next morning.
"Sit, girl," he said.
He looked at us. "Lean down here."
"No way," my husband said.
"Buttons?" I said.
Boy Wonder smiled and nodded. "Yep. Six of them," he said. "I cut 'em off a coat from the lost and found box. Sewed the buttons into her chest, then wrapped the suture around 'em. It takes the pressure off the tissue. Works every time."
He patted Little Paint's head. "You ready to go home, girl?"
She looked up at him with adoring, caramel-colored eyes. Her tail brushed his leg over and over.
My husband stood and shook Boy Wonder's hand. "Thank you."
Boy Wonder smiled. "My pleasure," he said. "You've got a great dog there."
Two weeks later, PawPrints was abuzz. I heard the whispers, the yells into the back. "Wonder Dog's here!"
Pretty Young Vet sat on the floor and touched Little Paint's buttons, one by one.
"Amazing," she said. She looked up at me. "We've been trying to recruit that guy for years."
Vet techs and vets lined up to inspect Boy Wonder's handiwork. Little Paint decided her chest was getting too much attention and her head not enough, so she deposited a pineapple-sized poo pile on the floor.
The pretty young vet grinned and picked up the poop with an inside out ziplock bag. She turned the bag right side out, zipped it, and tossed it in a corner. Then she crouched in front of Little Paint. She took Painty Lou's face in her hands and kissed her on the nose.
"You're going to be just fine, Wonder Dog," she said. "No way you'd be better off dead."