“Stories To Tell Before I Forget” is an ongoing series of short stories about real events from my past. Click here to learn more about the series. And, if you’re interested in reading more, click here to sign up for updates from “The Blarg.”

Stories To Tell Before I Forget:
“The Aleve Situation”

Growing up, I never had a pet. Actually, let me rephrase that: I never had a real pet. By “real” I mean a pet you actually care about, the kind of family friend you hope to find waiting for you once you’ve met your maker.

Sure, I owned a goldfish or two in my life. I also had a pair of lizards that I never even bothered to officially name; I’d just change their names according to what was going on in the world at the time. For a period of approximately a month, they were Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco; for a summer, O.J. and Nicole. Based on their names, you should be able to nail down what time period this was.

My sister Bethany had a little bit better of a track record when it came to all things fluffy and feathered. For one summer in the mid-eighties she became the guardian of Wascal, the pet rabbit of her first-grade class; she also had a parakeet for a short while. I remember her loving that bird… until she woke up one morning to find it laying at the bottom of its cage, dead as a doornail, at which point she began to scream violently, “GET IT OUT OF MY ROOM! GET IT OUT OF MY ROOM!” That’s pet loyalty for you.

Although, I guess that’s really no different than how we’d deal with any given corpse.

Young Family Member: “I’m gonna miss you.”

Old Dying Family Member: “And I’m going to miss you.”

Young Family Member: “It’s okay, you can go now. You don’t have to fight it anymore.”

Old Dying Family Member: “I… I’m….”

(Young Family Member checks for a pulse and finds nothing.)

Young Family Member: “He’s… he’s gone.”

(Approximately four seconds pass.)

Young Family Member: “Okay, so… who do I call to get this dead guy out of my house?”

But I digress….

If the idea of a pet joining the Shady family ever did come up it was exceptionally short-lived. My family rented the top floor of a two-story duplex on Bolivar Avenue, and just below us lived the owners of the building, an elderly couple named Gladys and George who had a strict no-pet policy.

Since owning a family pet was never even an option, the topic became something we wouldn’t even think about. Other people had pets; we didn’t. It was as simple as that.

And, truth be told, I don’t think either of my parents were big pet people anyway. When my parents first divorced and my father got his own apartment, he adopted a cat named Shelby from a coworker. I can’t remember exactly why, but the coworker had to get rid of Shelby and was considering turning her over to the Humane Society. My father, being single and now living in a place that accepted pets, decided to save Shelby’s life and give her a home.

She would have been better off being euthanized.

Don’t get me wrong, my dad wasn’t a cruel owner. He just didn’t have the patience for a pet and, unfortunately, didn’t realize this until it was too late.

Every day after work, he’d come home and Shelby would be laying right in the path of the kitchen door. Frustrated, my dad would shovel her out of his way with his foot, sliding her across the linoleum. Eventually, Shelby wised up: “When you hear the old man coming up the stairs, move to another part of the kitchen floor.”

My father, possibly missing the whole routine of it all, would then walk into the kitchen, walk over to where Shelby was laying, and still slide her across the floor with his foot. Shortly after that, Shelby didn’t know where the hell to go, so she gave up and began to lay wherever she pleased.

Shortly after I moved away to Ohio for college I had this phone conversation with my dad:

Dad: “Do you have a microwave for your new place?”

Me: “No.”

Dad: “You want my old one? I can mail it to you.”

Me: “Yeah, that would be awesome! Thanks.”

Dad: “Do you want Shelby?”

Me: (laughing) “No.”

Dad: “You sure? I can stick her in the microwave before I mail it off.”

These are my parents, dear readers, so it’s no wonder why I nearly made it to the age of 30 without ever owning my own pet.

While in college, I remember having a conversation with a group of friends about charities; we were naming off which charities we would donate to if we were rich. A good friend of mine named Marcia Kranz said she’d donate her money to a charity for animals, like the Humane Society.

I remember giving her a terrible amount of shit for it. “You’d spend it on animals?!?” I attacked. “What about cancer or AIDS research? What about providing for the homeless, the sick, the dying? What about humans?!?” I just couldn’t comprehend the idea that a human being could care that much about an animal. To me, that was something crazy old widows did, rewriting their wills to leave their millions to their cat. I just didn’t understand the human/pet connection.

That is, until I adopted Mr. Fabulous.

Mr. Fabulous: Then

This is what she looked like (yes, Mr. Fabulous is a she) shortly after I adopted her back in March 2006. She’s cute, right? Well… kind of.

Of course, she looks adorable, mostly because she’s got the blood of numerous breeds pumping through her veins. Mr. Fabulous is part pit bull, part black Lab, part German short-haired pointer, and all garbage disposal. She will eat the ass off a pig, the bark off a tree, and the side off a barn if you let her. And that’s exactly the part that makes her not so cute.

Sure, I admit that, at first, it was kind of funny. “Oh, look,” my friends and I would joke, “she’s eating that stick… whole.” But her appetite for destruction got very old–and extremely expensive–very fast.

When I first got her, we’d leave her in a plastic-lined crate while we were gone. Slowly, over time, she began to eat the bottom of it. Let me say that again, because I can’t even honestly believe it as I’m typing it: She ate the plastic bottom out of her crate, piece by piece, bit by bit. That should have been a major sign that terrible things were on the horizon for both her stomach and my wallet. Still, I was patient.

Next, she ate one of my Doc Martens. Not the shoelace from the boot, but the entire boot! What was left by the time I got to it was a rubber sole and a few scraps of wet, gnawed-on leather. Yeah, that pretty much ruined that pair of shoes because, you know, you can’t wear a Doc Marten boot on one foot and a Chuck Taylor All-Star on the other.

After that incident, the rest of the casualties become a blur.

She ate photos out of an album. She ate an entire chocolate cake. She ate magnets off our refrigerator, original paintings from underneath my bed, and an entire pan of cooking oil off the stove. She ate a remote control, a pair of sunglasses, and even… ugh… the occasional used feminine product from the bathroom garbage can.

And yet, through all of these instances, she somehow managed to survive. But in one particular instance, just barely.

In September of 2007, my girlfriend Kathy and I moved into a three-story house on Milwaukee’s east side with our good friend Jocco. (You’ll see Jocco reappear soon enough here on “Stories To Tell Before I Forget.” I promise.)

As usually is the case when you first move into a place, everything was utter chaos. Boxes were piled everywhere, our stove wasn’t working, and we had a washer but no dryer. On top of the insanity of moving, Kathy was deathly ill battling a bad case of strep throat. So I, trying desperately to play the good boyfriend role, decided to pick up a few things from the store that might help in getting her back on the road to recovery: a packet of cough drops, some herbal tea, and a brand-new bottle of Aleve Liquid Gel caps. Forty of them, to be exact.

I gave the bag to Kathy. She emptied out the bag’s contents onto her dresser.

Even with a sore throat, Kathy was pushing herself to stay at work. At lunchtime, I picked her up to grab a quick bite. We didn’t really have a “safe spot” in the house for Mr. Fabulous yet, so I just put her in our bedroom and closed the door. Since we had just moved in, the only items in the room were a bed and a couple of dressers. Since she hadn’t graduated to eating furniture yet, though it honestly wouldn’t surprise me, I thought it was a safe bet.

I was wrong.

I returned home and let Fabulous out of the room; she was acting a bit sluggish, but that wasn’t all that unusual for her typical daytime demeanor. I remember looking on the floor and seeing tiny bits of cardboard. Still, it hadn’t dawned on me what was happening.

I went into the living room, watched a little bit of TV as I checked email, and Fabulous fell asleep on the couch next to me. Again, nothing out of the ordinary.

After about a half hour or so, I decided to go and clean up whatever mess she had made while we were gone. I walked into the bedroom and picked up the few scraps of cardboard. I got down on my hands and knees and peered under the bed to see if there was any more. There was. I reached under, pulled it out, flipped it over, and looked at it: ALEVE LIQUID GELS.

You know that scene in a movie where all the parts come together and it suddenly dawns on the previously-clueless main character that something is out of place? Well, this was that scene, all the elements adding up one by one in my head: Now-Missing Aleve Bottle + Sleepy Mr. Fabulous + Scraps Of An Aleve Box = Bad News.

It was then that it dawned on me: She had eaten the whole goddamn thing. The box. The plastic bottle. The childproof cap. The foil seal. The cotton they stuff inside. And forty pills of Aleve.

I rushed out into the living room and yelled at her. “Come on!” I screamed nervously. “Outside! Let’s go!”

She slowly shuffled off the couch, tail down, and headed for the back door. Once outside, I did something I never once saw myself doing, not in a million years: I opened a dog’s mouth and shoved my entire hand down its throat. I swore I could feel the beating of her heart on my hand… but that was probably just my own heart beating rapidly from the intensity of the situation.

I had hoped my hand would trigger a violent gagging, causing her to throw up as much of the medicine as possible. By my estimations, it had been a good hour or so since she ingested the pills, but I was hoping to at least get up whatever was left in her stomach.

What I didn’t know as I stood there with my hand shoved down her throat is that dogs don’t really have a gag reflex. I mean, not like humans at least, where we just push that hanging vomit button at the back of our throats and quickly go from a full tank to an empty tank. Dogs simply don’t work that way.

So there I stood in our backyard, up to my elbow in dog, with Mr. Fabulous staring back at me like I was the asshole.

Mr. Fabulous: (with her eyes) “Ahhh… what do you want me to do here?”

Me: “BARF!”

Mr. Fabulous: (with her eyes) “Huh?”

Me: “COME ON!”

We stood there for a second, my hand jammed between her lungs, our eyes locked. I was hoping that at any moment vomit would come shooting out of her mouth like Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.” She was hoping that I’d pull my arm out of her chest cavity.

She won.

I grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, fumbled with shaky hands for my car keys and wallet, and ran out the front door. While driving to our local animal hospital at what were surely illegal speeds, I called Kathy.

Me: “Did you take that bottle of Aleve to work with you?”

Kathy: “No, it’s on my dresser.”

Me: “No, it’s not! It’s in Mr. Fabulous!”

Kathy: “She ate the entire bottle?!?”

Me: “Of course! She ate an entire boot, for Christ’s sake! How hard is a bottle?!?”

We arrived at the hospital and, as I’m sure is the case for a parent who has brought their child in, everything after it was a complete blur.

They grabbed her, rushed her into an emergency room, and started pouring charcoal down her throat to absorb the chemicals. I was brought into a separate room and asked to fill out paperwork and hand over my credit card. I signed a “do not resuscitate” form should she go into cardiac arrest. The severity of the situation was outlined for me: Aleve, especially in those amounts, will attack the kidneys and the liver. Essentially, it will kill those organs swiftly, and the rest of the body will follow.

After a half hour or so, the doctor came in and gave his prognosis: If she made it through the night, the next day, and the next night, she would be okay. The next forty-eight hours were going to be crucial. If she took a turn for the worse, they offered to call me immediately with the hopes that I’d at least be able to rush over and say goodbye to her. I agreed to the terms and signed the appropriate paperwork.

Big mistake.

What signing that paper did was give the hospital permission to call me at any time, be it at three in the afternoon or four in the morning. If I had a normal dog it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. But I am the owner of  Mr. Fabulous, and I should’ve known better than to sign that paper.

Toward the end of her first day in the hospital she was considered stable. They were monitoring her blood, her urine, and whatever other excreted fluids they could test and charge me for. I went to bed that first night nervous, but feeling fairly optomistic.

That is, right up until 3:12 AM when my cell phone rang.

Animal Hospital Employee: “Mr. Shady, I’m calling with an update on Mr. Fabulous.”

Me: “Okay.”

Animal Hospital Employee: “Her liver and kidney levels seem to be dropping.”

I don’t honestly remember if they were “dropping” or “blowing up” or whatever, but I remember it sounding terrible.

Me: “Alright, so… should I come in?”

Animal Hospital Employee: “Well, no, because her levels are still manageable. If they get much lower she might slip into a coma. We’ll give you a call back if that’s the case.”

Part of me was upset to hear that word: coma. The other part of me was upset that they called just to say that they might be calling later.

I slept like shit the rest of the night.

Daybreak comes and my cell phone stays silent. I call the office to see what her status is. Guess what? By morning, she’s fine! She’s alert, passing fluids well and, according to the doctor, on the road to recovery. Still, they wanted to keep her overnight just once more to make sure nothing changed. Awesome. It was great news.

The rest of the day went by and, once again, I started feeling better about everything. At this point, I figured her surviving was pretty much a guarantee. Day turned to night; as I hit the sack I found myself becoming excited to finally pick her up and have this all be over with.

At 4:14 AM, my cell phone rang.

Animal Hospital Employee: “We’re calling to– Mr. Fabulous– kidneys– blood– know.”

My cell phone was getting bad service; I needed to get outside so I could hear what this lady was telling me. I jumped out of bed as naked (but much hairier) as the day I was born, threw on a pair of boxer shorts, and ran outside.

Keep in mind that this is all taking place in the early-morning hours in late September in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s cold. Not moon-boot cold, but it was still damn cold. And I’m out on the sidewalk in my underwear, pacing back and forth.

Me: “Hello? I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you. Could you repeat all that again?”

Animal Hospital Employee: “We’re calling to let you know that Mr. Fabulous has taken a turn for the worse. Her kidneys seem to be struggling, and she’s urinating blood. We’re trying to get her stabilized, and she will probably at least make it through the night, but we wanted to call and let you know.”

It was somewhere in the middle of this sentence that I blindly stepped on a shard of glass on the sidewalk, embedding it deep into the heel of my left foot.

My dog is peeing blood and possibly on her death bed. I’m now hopping up and down on one foot in nothing more than my underwear in the cold autumn night, glass in my left foot, cell phone in my right hand. I’m trying desperately not to scream “FUCK!” into the phone, though the doctor may have found that warranted considering the situation.

I would have loved to have been a drunk college kid making his way home from the bars that night. The conversation with his roommates the next day would have been priceless.

College Kid: “There was this bald hairy dude in his underwear out on the sidewalk last night! He was jumping up and down on one foot and talking into the phone about his dog peeing blood!”

College Kid’s Roommate: “Dude, you were so fucked up last night!”

As calmly as I could fake it, I thanked the doctor for her call and made my way back inside.

Kathy, now awake, asked what was going on. I explained it to her. She said it would be okay. I wasn’t so sure.

Me: “That’s it. If she dies, I’m never getting another pet ever again.”

Kathy: “Don’t say that.”

Me: “No, I’m serious. I’m not responsible enough. I mean, we leave her alone for an hour and she tries to kill herself with an overdose! I’m a terrible pet owner.”

Kathy: “No, you’re not.”

Me: “And this is just a dog! How am I ever supposed to take care of kids? I’ll turn my head for five seconds and they’ll be bee-lining it to the nearest bridge.”

I was done. My foot was bleeding, my dog was dying, and I just wanted to go to sleep. I threw a few Band-Aids over the open wound on the bottom of my foot (the glass still embedded deep in my heel) and passed out.

Of course, by the next morning Mr. Fabulous had made it through the night and was healthy again. Healthy enough that we went and picked her up later that afternoon. She was prescribed a few meds for the next week or so, but other than that it was almost like it had never happened.

I mean, other than the $3,000 I spent to keep her alive, it was like it never happened.

I could have used that $3,000 in other ways, of course. For example, I could’ve bought health insurance for me with that money; it would have come in handy a month later.

The day that Mr. Fabulous came home, armed with a pair of tweezers, I dug out what I thought was the only shard of glass in my heel. I was wrong. In the weeks that followed, the skin on the bottom of my foot healed over, but I still had intense pain in my foot every time I walked.

Finally, it became obvious to me that there was still glass in my foot. And yes, it would have been nice to have adequate health insurance that would pay for a doctor to give me a local and dig the crap out of my foot. Unfortunately, I’m a freelance writer. For those of you who don’t know, “freelance writer” is Latin for “uninsured.”

So, instead of a doctor, anesthesia and a sanitized scalpel, I had my friend Marla, a towel to bite down on, and an X-Acto knife. Kathy looked on in horror as I began to reopen the now-healed wound on the bottom of my foot with the blade, hacking at it one layer of skin at a time. I dug down deep, blood dripping down my heel as I performed self-surgery. The X-Acto found the tip of the shard of glass and began to make a “SHINK!” noise every time it brushed against it.

Finally, fearing that I was going to pass out and hurt myself even more, I passed the blade and tweezers to Marla. Eventually, my vision blurring, my heart pounding in my chest, Marla grasped the end of the shard and pulled it out of my heel.

It was probably no bigger than a quarter of the size of a penny. It felt like it was slightly bigger than a football.

And with that, the final chapter of “The Aleve Situation” was written.

It took that situation for me to realize how important an animal truly can be to someone. I understand now why people donate money to animal charities and pay to have animals rescued. Of course, it would have been nice if they would have donated that money to me to help pay for Mr. Fabulous’ medical debt, but the whole idea behind charitable giving for pets now makes sense.

After all, I did all of that for you, Mr. Fabulous: the credit card debt; the freezing my ass off in my underwear; even the glass in my foot. It was all for you, you boot/artwork/pill-eating mutt.

Mr. Fabulous: Now

And, truth be told, I’d do it all over again if I had to. But let me be clear: I’D PREFER NOT TO! But I would if I had to.

Who knows, maybe I will make an okay father someday. After all, you only have to keep them alive until they’re eighteen, right? After that, they’re on their own.

A story I’ll now never forget,