Ever since my husband and I got our papillon, Luca, my anxiety dreams have changed. I used to have normal anxiety dreams: the one where I've just learned I have an exam for a college class I've never been to and I don't even know where the exam is, or the one where we do a play and complete a fantastic first act, only to realize we've never rehearsed Act II. But now my anxiety dreams involve losing Luca in a crowd and knowing he's about to be stepped on and I can't reach him in time to stop it. Or we're out in the yard and a hawk swoops down to snatch him up, or we're in a walk-through aquarium/zoo, and giant frogs the size of Old English Sheepdogs are trying to eat him. My friends who have children laugh at me. They say they had the same kinds of dreams when their children were born.
Tuesday evening as I was leaving for work, my husband, Mike, called me on my cell phone to tell me Luca, "might be limping a little." To understand the anxiety this elicited, you need to understand several things:
1) Luca is exceptionally small for his breed. He weighs a grand old four pounds eleven ounces, half the size of his litter mates, with a delicate build and spindly little legs like a deer--or maybe a fairy. He wasn't bred intentionally to be so small; he just turned out that way.
2) In April, he broke his left front leg. I was lifting him over the baby gate so I could go to work, and about four inches from the ground, he squirmed out of my hands and landed in exactly the wrong way. The little leg bone just... snapped.
3) As a result of the above-mentioned accident, he had to have a metal plate surgically inserted, after which he had to be kept quiet for eight weeks. This means that he either had to be in his crate or being held. No small feat for a little guy of a year old.
4) The cost was...well, let's just say that after a day spent weeping in bank offices, I was saved from having to refinance my car by a substantial loan from my mother.
5) I am completely, absolutely, utterly in love with this dog.
So when Mike said Luca was limping, for just a moment, my heart stood still. Finally, I managed, "The one he broke?"
"No, the other one. His..." There was a pause while he looked. "His right front leg."
By the time I got home, "maybe limping a little" had become a no-doubt-about-it, walking-on-three-legs injury. Not an obvious break like the one in April, but still...
I took him to the vet the next morning, and fortunately, the injury turned out to be a sprained elbow. A few pain pills and a few days rest, and he should be fine. In fact, the limp is barely noticeable today. Even so, I'm struggling against the urge to make him a little suit of armor from bubble wrap.
Instead, when his sprain is healed, we'll go back to our canine freestyle classes. Canine freestyle is heelling and tricks to music. It's often referred to as dog dancing. We're still beginners, but it gives us something fun to do together, and it gives something to aspire to (see border collie Fly as "Gladiator Dog" and Carolyn Haines and her golden retriever Rookie dancing to "You're the One That I Want").
Luca also helps me write. Generally, that means snuggling next to me or in my lap while I type, but in my most recent book, I gave him what was meant to be a bit part. I did it so that, when I get my publishing deal and begin my book tour, he can go with me. Brilliant, right? His Lordship of Eternal Cuteness draws the crowd, which then stays to buy my books--or at least to have a conversation that will make me seem less desperate and more in demand. Then I realized I needed a reason for the good guys to know the bad guy is sneaking into their house, and suddenly, Luca's bit part is a major plot point.
This is the serendipity of writing. Everything is fodder. Things we think are completely unrelated end up on the page. The things we love (and hate and fear) find their way into our stories. This time, it was Luca. Next time, I have plans for Karma, our 15-year-old Tibetan Spaniel. After that, who knows? From dog dances to bigfoot festivals to public Laundromats, everything we experience makes us better writers.