Featured, Memoir, Pug Life, Travels With Fiona

Fiona the Wonder Pug: Blinded But Not Broken

Fiona came into my life in 2008. I had just lost my two beloved cats, Maggie and Bebop, who had been with me for 18 years, through graduate school, marriage, divorce. Utterly bereft, I resisted the many well-meaning attempts to give me new cats. One of the biggest cat-pushers in my life was my veterinarian friend Mary Avalle; I told her I wasn’t ready to replace my girls but she had bunches of animals that needed new homes. Finally I had to tell her point blank to stop.

She was very understanding. “No cats. I get it.”

But clearly all she had heard was “no cats,” because she persisted: “Well, then, how about a one-eyed pug?”

Who could say no to that? Not me, especially after I went to visit said pug, who had been abandoned at Mary’s vet hospital after losing an eye to a multi-dog attack. (Years later a different vet, looking at a chest x-ray that showed Fiona’s ribs had been badly broken, suggested that she had been kicked by an evil human, leading me to believe that “attacked by other dogs” might have been a cover story…).

Whatever her history, she was a sweet, sparkly little dog, and I was immediately charmed and captivated. Her given name was Mimi, which didn’t grab me. My dad suggested we call her Spotlight, but when my sister reminded me of Lyle Lovett’s song, “One Eyed-Fiona,” I knew that was it: Fiona, Fi, Fifi. I took her home with me and we became boon companions.

One lovely August night about a year later, Fiona and I decided to take a walk around the block before bed. Rounding the corner and just a few hundred feet from our loft building at 16th and H Streets in midtown Sacramento, a raccoon came out of nowhere, from the sewer, and attacked Fiona, going straight for her face.

Much of what ensued is a blur. I know I was screaming because one of my neighbors later confessed to having heard screams. I remember kicking it, falling down, losing a shoe, beating it with my shoe. Finally I got a handhold of its fur, greasy and coarse, I can still feel it on my skin. I pulled it off of Fiona and hurled it with all my strength. I watched it hit a parked car and come back – the Terminator Raccoon! I pulled it off a second time and this time it stood up on hind legs and hissed at me. I should have been scared shitless – this wild hissing animal was bigger than my torso, strong as hell and clearly out of its mind – but by this point I was so pumped with adrenaline I could have lifted a car. I was in total mama bear mode, fully prepared to go mano a mano with a feral beast. I remember planting myself between Fiona and the raccoon and screaming at it, “Fuck you, fuck you, motherfucker, I’ll kill you.”

Then it was gone, and I was alone on the sidewalk with my whimpering dog, her face covered in blood, her one eyeball hanging by a thread.

I scooped her up and lurched toward my apartment building. All I had with me was my house keys and a poo poo bag, and I was still so high on adrenaline I could barely think, my thoughts ping ponging madly. I needed a vet, where was my car, I needed my wallet. Fiona was keening in my arms, I’d lost one of my shoes. Fuck fuck fuck.

Somehow I was inside my apartment building, jabbing at the elevator button. The doors opened on a young couple in their early twenties. It was now after 10 pm on a Friday night, and they were clearly heading out for the evening. And this is where the story gets really good.

These two angels took one look at me, carrying a dog, covered in blood, and said, “Come with us.”

They led me to their car, he drove while she sat in the back with her iPhone, searching for an emergency vet and barking directions. They stayed with me while the vet worked on Fiona, put the deposit for her surgery on their credit card, drove me home, offered to sit up with me.

Like I said, angels. I lost track of them when I left Sacramento, but I say a little prayer of gratitude for them every time I tell this story.

Those first days back from the vet were fairly harrowing. My friend Tatiana drove me to pick Fiona up; a Ukrainian emigre who works with survivors of violent assault, Tatiana is one tough cookie, but even she was disturbed by the sight of Fiona: her face and nose scraped and raw, a line of jagged black stitches closing her lid across the empty eye socket.

My father drove down from Nevada City to sit with her while I went to Ikea to buy rugs. I was following an amazing piece of advice from the vet: cover the floor with throw rugs of different textures and dimensions, and indeed, Fiona quickly learned to recognize where she was in a room by the feel of the rug beneath her paws.

Over time Fiona regained her confidence and her other senses kicked in, including a weird spidey sense, like sonar. Now I love to watch her walk into a new space, pace the perimeter, get her bearings, and I am often astonished at how well she navigates spaces she is familiar with. Sure, she still face-bonks into things now and then but for the most part, she is so self-assured that strangers sometimes don’t realize she is blind – and are visibly surprised when I point out that she has no eyeballs.

A few days after the raccoon attack, a friend said it would have been kinder to have Fiona put down. (He’s not my friend anymore.) But it’s true that Fiona is not the same dog she was before she was blinded by the raccoon. She needs much more attention and oversight than a sighted dog. She can’t play the way that she used to, particularly with other dogs, and she sometimes gets aggressive at the approach of a strange dog or person. She can’t get up and down the Avion steps without help, and she once fell into my sister’s swimming pool when I wasn’t paying attention. But damn, this dog is a survivor. She has taught me so much about courage and resilience and everyday joy at being alive….

Indeed, I have seen her break into a run. Can you even imagine that? What kind of crazy cock-eyed faith does it take to plunge headlong into the darkness? Is that trust – in me, in herself? Just sheer happiness at the feeling of the wind on her face, the memory of freer days? Whatever it is, it is both exhilarating and humbling to watch. I don’t know that I would be so brave in her place.

So, yeah. Fiona the Wonder Pug. Any questions?

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