Oreo trying to hide at the vets.

(Not a lunchtime read.)

I woke to the sound of gagging, followed by a splat.

One of my “kids” are throwing up, I thought groggily. Probably the cats. It’s always the cats.

Another gagging noise. A splatter. A cough.

Nope. It’s my dog Oreo.

Oreo lazing about
Oreo lazing about

I sat up and peered warily over the foot of the bed.

There he was, hunched over, a string of vomit dangling from his mouth. He looked at me with miserable brown eyes and kept heaving. I rushed over to him and realized the problem — he’d eaten the inedible.

The day before, I noticed that someone had dragged the gift wrapping hay (long strands of fake hay used to make rustic bows and whatnot for gifts) out from under the bed, where I naturally keep gift wrapping supplies. At the time, I blamed the cats. They like things that crinkle. I could picture them rolling in the fake hay, curling up in it, even gnawing on it. But I didn’t think Oreo would be interested in it.

Well, I was wrong. Crouching beside my black-and-white companion, I could clearly see strands of soggy hay in the mass of vomit dangling from his mouth. I watched as he started to gnaw at it in an attempt to break it up, and I realized that wasn’t a good idea. The hay needed to come out. So without hesitation, I grabbed the vomit-coated strands and began pulling gently, extracting the hay from his throat.

The things we do.

With a few sharp coughs, his vomiting came to an end. I rubbed his back and told him it was OK, then went to wash my hands and grab the paper towels.

Gift-wrapping hay, in the trash.
Gift-wrapping hay, in the trash.

Why on Earth am I telling you this disgusting story? Well, I figure it’s just one more example of how unglamourous dog ownership can be. And I also think, if you have a dog, this story might include a few helpful lessons. I know I learned something from it. But wait, the story isn’t over yet.

In fact, we have to rewind a bit.

The day before the doggy upchuck alarm, I noticed Oreo had a small scab on his “peepee.” (That’s what I told Oreo it’s called.) I didn’t want to be an overbearing mother hen and bring my kid to the doctor for a scratch, but I was worried it might be infected. So we — my boyfriend Derek and I — decided to keep an eye on it to insure it was healing properly.

That night, Oreo woke us up three times to let him outside. He never does that. So my best guess was that he had a urinary tract infection. I decided to call the veterinarian in the morning, then drifted back to sleep.

Then came the upchuck alarm.

So – by the time I called the veterinarian office, I wasn’t sure what to say. Oreo seemed to have a few problems. If you know me well, you’ll agree that I often stumble on my words. That’s why I like writing. I can edit and rewrite, revise and delete. With talking, you have to get it right the first time, and I rarely do. So my pitch to the veterinarian’s office went something like this:

“Hi. This is Aislinn. My dog, Oreo, you’ve seen him before. I don’t really know what to do. We’re worried he has an infection or something because he got up to go pee three times last night and he never does that. And also yesterday we found a scab on his… private parts.” Nervous laugh. “But then this morning he started throwing up this hay — you know the kind that you use to wrap gifts. I guess he ate that. So now I don’t know if he just wanted to go outside because of that. We’re not sure if we should bring him in or…”

I trailed off, and the vet office manager simply said, “Sounds like he might have a urinary tract infection.” I made an appointment for 3 p.m., and she informed me that it’d be most helpful if I could collect a urine sample.

“How?” was my natural reply.

“Well, he’s a boy, right? When he lifts his leg, put a container under him,” she instructed. “It’s tricky. If you feel uncomfortable doing it, you can leave him in the car when you get here and come get someone who will help. There are so many scents in the parking lot that dogs usually pee there.”

“I’ll give it a try,” I said, again with the nervous laugh.

Around noon, I left the office. My editor had agreed to let me work from home for the rest of the day so I could keep an eye on Oreo and bring him to his appointment.

Back at home, I walked through the front door and was hit by the faint odor of — there was no mistaking it — poop. Great. Again I thought, the cats. It’s always the cats who make “mistakes” in the house. Never Oreo.

It was just a matter of following my nose. And so, however reluctantly, I did just that. It led me straight to the kitchen, where I found a pile of excrement much too large for any house cat to have produced (though it was directly in front of the cat litter box). Then, of course, there were the telltale strands of hay. And there was Oreo by the back door, looking sheepish, his tail thumping nervously, his head bowed.

It smelled wretched, just wretched.

I won't show you the poop. Don't worry.
I won’t show you the poop. Don’t worry.

Worried that I’d lose my lunch before I even had a chance to eat it, I frantically looked through the kitchen cabinets for the facemask my boyfriend uses for construction projects. It helped block the odor, but only a little.

I won’t go into detail, but the cleanup process included rubber gloves, five trash bags, all-purpose cleaner, an open window, concentrated room spray and the lighting of five Yankee Candles.

Any appetite I’d had for lunch was long gone, so I decided to get straight to business and start my next unsavory task — collecting Oreo’s urine.

Grabbing a large Tupperware container, I followed Oreo into the backyard. After sprinting across the snow-covered lawn and barking at the pigeons, he trotted over to the general area where he goes to the bathroom, and I hurried after him. He stopped and gave me a questioning look. I tried to look casual, turning my head to and fro, scanning the neighborhood trees for birds.

Slowly, Oreo began to walk along the snowbank looking for a spot to do his business, glancing at me from time to time as I mirrored his steps. Finally, he started to pee, and I sprung into action, placing the Tupperware under him. As the stream hit the bottom of the plastic container, it made a loud pitter patter. Oreo looked down, saw the container and instantly stopped peeing.

I snatched up the container, but in looking at my sample, I was worried I didn’t have enough to test for an infection. So we started our dance again — Oreo walking along the snowbank and me mirroring his steps, container held out before me.

He started to pee, and again, I shuffled forward and placed the container under him. This time, he kept going, and I smiled at my victory. This would certainly be enough!

Then he stepped on the container. It tipped, spilling onto the snow.

No! I rushed forward and snatched it up, managing to save a small amount of precious pee. It would have to be enough. Ice crystals were already starting to form in the container, so I rushed indoors with my prize.

Oreo trying to hide at the vets.
Oreo trying to hide at the vets.

When we arrived at the vets, I walked him around the parking lot, hoping he would be encouraged by the smells to lift his leg once more, but no, it just wasn’t my lucky day.

In the veterinarian’s office, Oreo was examined and I answered questions. He was perfectly healthy. The pee was enough to test. He did not have an infection. He probably woke us up so many times during the night because he was trying to pass the wrapping hay through his system.

The wrapping hay was a concern. Sometimes long strands of inedible materials can get caught in the stomach and bind up the intestines. However, she didn’t think that was the case for Oreo. When she felt his stomach and intestines from the outside, she didn’t feel any blockages. Also, if he had passed it in his waste, that was a good sign. Also, dogs with blockages are in pain and typically act lethargic, she said. Oreo appeared energetic and in good spirits.

Oreo playing with his groundhog after the vet's trip.
Oreo playing with his groundhog after the vet’s trip.

The veterinarian suggested I feed him a lubricant typically used on cats with hairball problems. It would coat the hay and help him pass it through his system. And if I noticed him acting any differently, I should call them immediately and they’d get him in for an X-ray.

Who knew dogs eating inedible items — something dogs are known for — could be such a danger?

Upon arriving home, I moved my gift wrapping supplies to the closet (I’d already trashed the hay). Oreo seems to be perfectly fine now, eating food and playing non-stop, as usual. Crisis averted. Sort of.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...