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The asthmatic dog

He was sleeping in one of those small cages, his head resting against his sister. 

We had been there for what felt like hours already, watching an unruly Chihuahua jump at a door, other dogs with less energy mope around. The humane society can be a confusing place. Such happy children, begging for a new pet. Such sad animals, abandoned.

We found a hallway we had not yet walked, and that’s when we saw him, sleeping against his sister. He was just eight weeks old, the day we came his first eligible adoption day. Fate. They were calling him Jay, and he had been found in the rain in Bessemer, with his sister. 

We played with him in one of those small rooms behind the glass, to get to know him. I knew after five minutes he was coming home with us.

I made a list of potential names, and carefully went through the process of elimination. I chose Sonny, and I don’t really know why. It just seemed to fit.

He was a terror, at first. His puppy teeth were the equivalent of pearly-white Case knives, and he urinated on the floor what seemed to be a dozen times a day. At night, he squealed from inside his crate. 

Over time, he was taught not to bite, to paw at the back door when he needed out, to love his crate. Like any pet, he was a member of the family. At one of his first checkups, the vet told us that he would likely grow to forty or forty-five pounds. He surpassed that after just a few months. We were told that his dominant color was black. He is brown. We were told that he was a Labrador, but if you ask ten people what breed he is, you get about eight different answers. 

He’s gone on hikes at Ruffner Mountain, made hilarious facial expressions too good not to post on Facebook, pressed his black nose against the back window in the Chick-fil-A drive-thru. He behaves better in a moving vehicle than at home, and he likes to ride shotgun. He’s fascinated with shadows on the walls, and with pestering Abby, our first dog. He has watched SportsCenter, the final round of the PGA Championship and Fixer Upper, and he does not like the volume up loud when we play Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

When he was about a year-and-a-half old, he began to routinely make hacking sounds, sometimes with bile or food coming up. We believed he swallowed part of a Nylabone, that it was restricting his airway or had scratched his throat. The vet gave him some prescriptions, and we fed him rice and chicken for a few days.

A few days later, he showed signs of pneumonia. He was coughing more, and he experienced labored breathing. We took him back to the vet, where X-rays were taken. There were unidentified pieces of some material in his intestines. The concern was mild aspiration, but a rather large fear was megaesophagus. We were told quite bluntly that it was most certainly going to be megaesophagus, a canine killer. We cried in a veterinarian’s room.

We continued with his prescriptions and blended his food so that he could swallow it easier. We let him put his front paws up on the kitchen counter to eat, to let gravity do its thing. We took him back a  week later, and megaesophagus was no longer the fear. Thank goodness. The vet was most concerned about pneumonia. Over the next few days, Sonny regurgitated a small amount of food, and only seemed to cough in the mornings when coming out of his crate. 

Blood work at the veterinarian’s office revealed a high white blood cell count and an infection. Another X-ray showed that food Sonny had eaten was in his stomach, so megaesophagus was certainly not the problem. He did have gastritis. He was prescribed additional medicines. 

His coughing slowed, as did the regurgitation. He regained his energy, and I quickly remembered what it felt like to have a seventy-five-pound dog hurl himself at me. The most educated guess the vet could make was that Sonny has asthma, something he told us he had seen in only a handful of dogs he has treated over the years. He told us that Sonny was unique.

I call him special.

Gary Lloyd is the author of five books: "Trussville, Alabama: A Brief History," "Deep Green," "Heart of the Plate," "Valley Road: Uplifting Stories from Down South," and "Ray of Hope." He has been a reporter and editor at newspapers and magazines in Mississippi and Alabama. He grew up in Trussville, Alabama, and graduated from Hewitt-Trussville High School in 2006. He earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Alabama in 2009. He lives in Moody, Alabama, with his wife, Jessica, and their two dogs, Abby and Sonny.

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