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11/28/2016 11:04 am ET

The Unlikely Love Story I Never Saw Coming

Funny thing how the last thing Lisa Kogan wanted turned out to be the thing she needed the most.
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Johannes Labusch

Bariatric surgery is a scary proposition, and believe me, I was plenty scared. But I was also, as the endocrinologist explained, “profoundly diabetic,” and the drugs weren’t working. Surgery, I was told, would be my best shot at achieving complete remission.

Had I been on my own, I don’t think I’d have had the intestinal fortitude (sorry) to permit my stomach to be rearranged. But I was part of a package deal; there was my husband, my daughter, and my dry cleaner, all of whom needed me—especially my daughter. I owed it to Julia to be the healthiest mother possible. And that wasn’t the only thing I owed her.

From the moment she could talk, Julia had one request: “Mommy, can I have a dog? Mommy, can I have a dog? Mommy, can I have a dog?” (Had Dick Cheney been familiar with this method of torture, The 9/11 Commission Report would’ve read very differently.) So, with my surgery looming, I was determined to make Julia’s dream real. I know that surgery is generally no big deal, but stuff does happen: Patients develop infections, they’re given the wrong medication, they’re forced to room with someone who watches C-SPAN at full volume. If anything were to go wrong, I wanted Julia to have something furry (besides her father) to love her every single day.

Enter Waffle. The shelter said police had rescued this rat terrier from an abusive situation in Virginia. Most of his teeth were missing; he had a benign tumor, cataracts, and what was described as “an incompetent heart.” There were also scars on his cheek and jaw, and he couldn’t stop shaking. As my daughter put it, “That dog is a scaredy-cat.” We kept walking. I kept circling back. I mean, Harrison Ford has a scar on his face, and who doesn’t love Harrison Ford?

We got the dog.

Spoiler alert: I survived the surgery. And Waffle flourished. True, his nervous tummy had a fairly negative impact on certain things: our beige carpet, our white bedding...our entire way of life. Yes, he was afraid of certain things: all human contact, any sound...the world outside my closet. And sure, there were certain things he simply couldn’t tolerate: dog food, allowing me to go to the bathroom without him...Julia. But I’m nitpicking.


Photo: Johannes Labusch

During my post-op sick leave, I learned patience; Waffle learned trust. I accepted life without chocolate; he accepted life with Julia. We began to heal and carve out his place in the family, which was next to me—at all times. Or was it the other way around?

I’d lay down my life for Julia, my husband, my dry cleaner (the man got a beet stain out of silk), but they don’t rush to greet me after a long day or sleep in my arms all night. Waffle is deeply neurotic but incredibly sweet. He is stubborn beyond words but sensitive beyond measure. He is stoic, loyal, and wildly amusing. And one more thing: Waffle is, as the vet explained, “profoundly diabetic.”

Yep, after years of injecting and testing, timing meals and counting carbs, my glucose is normal. But—and this is the new gold standard in irony—I now buy my sugar-challenged terrier the same syringes, insulin, and test strips I once bought for myself.

Twice a day, one of us pinches a fold of Waffle’s skin and injects six units of Humulin. I check to see if he’s nauseated or dizzy, exhausted or thirsty. It’s a bitch when you can’t count on your body to behave the way it should. I know this from experience, and I suspect that Waffle does too.

Last week, as we all convened in my tiny closet to comfort our trembling terrier through another thunderstorm—singing show tunes and reminiscing about the first barrette he ever swallowed—I looked at my husband, my kid, my dry cleaning, and I knew that Waffle is no more Julia’s dream dog than I am her perfect mother. He and I are both solitary souls, two anxious peas in a fragile pod. But I also saw that Waffle had quit shaking and Julia had grown drowsy (thank you, Rodgers and Hart)—and that even an incompetent heart is capable of the occasional death-defying act of love.

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