In Defense of Wagging

We had to take our one year old fox red lab to the vet last week.

Unexpected veterinary visits are always stressful. So far, we’ve had two: Yesterday, and one day in the fall when Bridger – that’s his name – wasn’t pooping and wasn’t interested in his food. Turns out he was all jammed up from housing food like the crazy puppy that he was is and needed some meds to, ahem, help move things along.

Yesterday, my husband and I each got a phone call from daycare around 5pm.

Wait, wait. A quick word on this.

Yes, my dog goes to daycare. Twice a week, actually. He goes there for daycare, boarding, grooming, and dog training. And before you snicker, allow me to say: It has been a lifesaver. Having a labrador retriever puppy – especially one bred for hunting – has been more exhausting than I ever thought possible. There were so many days where we would run around the yard for what felt like hours and he would still be ready for more. Daycare – albeit not cost effective – has provided my dog with a lot of joy. If he’s happy, I’m happy. If he’s exhausted, I’m even happier.

So anyway, back to this phone call. Stephen got the call first and intercepted before I was able to check my voicemail from daycare – but the story was the same. Bridger was lying down, on his side, whining and crying, and had been having diarrhea. We needed to come and pick him up immediately. Something was wrong.

It may sound a little ridiculous, but I was immediately transported to the winding hills and shaded terrain between Redwood National Park in California and Portland, Oregon. You see, that’s where I got the phone call: Stephen’s Mazda 3 red hatchback pulled over on the side of the road, me leaned up against the car facing the outlook and screaming, him slamming his fists on the steering wheel.

Might be cancer. Running some tests. 

I knew that my father was going to be diagnosed with cancer, and that there was a chance that I’d lose him, and somewhere deep down I knew that things would never be the same. It all started with a phone call.

That’s the funny thing about grief: No matter how much time passes, you never forget that feeling. That bottomless pit in your stomach that you’ve never felt before, than you didn’t even know existed, until there it is, and you suddenly can’t remember what life was like without it.

When we pulled up to daycare, Stephen went inside to get him. We were afraid that he would have to carry him out, and I was already incredibly emotional on the drive over, so I thought it best to sit in the car. When I saw that little butt wiggling his way out of the front door on his leash and heading towards our car, I almost lost it. “Are you sure they were talking about the same dog?” I asked my husband. “Apparently,” he said, just as shocked. Bridger seemed fine. Sluggish, but fine. We headed to the vet.

After an hour, we had our answers: Bridger had two separate issues going on, both of which probably came to a head on the same day, and thus the lethargy and whining at daycare. 1) Following a rectal exam which was traumatizing for all parties involved, the vet discovered a bacteria in his stool which needed some simple antibiotics. 2) He had swimmer’s tail.

“Swimmer’s tail?” I said to the vet. She smiled. “Sometimes they call it ‘happy tail’. It’s caused by overuse of the tail.”

Yes. You read that correctly. My dog literally was injured from wagging his tail too much. And you know what has been the hardest thing to deal with following this vet visit? Getting him to stop wagging.

Picture this: A one year old puppy who walks around like a drunk human because his legs are far too long for his still growing body. He wags. Ouch. Turns around, checks out his tail, sees nothing. Spots me walking into the room. Wags again. Ouch. Turns around, checks out his tail, sees nothing. Sees me go to get him a treat. Wags again, Ouch. You get the idea.

You would think that at some point, Bridger would realize that wagging his tail is causing him pain. But no. Wagging his tail is the only way that he can show us how excited he is, and as a one year old labrador retriever, he is excited a lot.

So I’m writing this in defense wagging. How often do we get burned and never pursue that road again? I am notorious for this. My one essay didn’t get traction? Never blogging again. Didn’t PR that last race? Never running again. Didn’t nail those gluten free cookies? Never baking again. Instead, what if the one thing that did burned us was something that we kept doing over and over and over again?


It seems to work for Bridger. It might hurt, but he sure does get a lot of treats.


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