We were walking; and Spike spotted a stick on the ground and decided to play with it. This happens a thousand times a day. It was a small one; about pencil-width and twice as long. He pounced on it, bounced up and down and chomped it into pieces. So far, so normal.
I do know that sticks aren't a particularly safe dog toy; I've never encouraged it, and I carry a cloth tuggy to distract him off them. But I live in a windy town where you can't spit without hitting a tree, and it's truly not possible to avoid every little piece of wood on the pavement; and it's only possible to redirect him before he grabs it about 50% of the time. He's fast and he's sudden and he's not always predictable.
He froze for an instant and started frantically pawing at his face, snarling at what was hurting him. My heart stopped. I reached for him, to find out what the problem was and also to stop him putting his own eye out with his dew claws. He wrapped both front paws around my arm as I held his head, and he relaxed his jaws and let me explore with my fingers. That's how much he trusts me. If it had happened to Squish, I would have needed a vet trip and sedation just to get inside his mouth; it's a good thing Squish isn't a stick-chomper.
I found a sharp piece of stick poking into the inside of his lip, outside his teeth. I pulled it free and let go of his head. Shit. The frantic pawing started up again, and his eyes were bulging in panic now. There must be more.
It was a bit harder to relax him this time. Hold still darling, I've got it... I can't say that the prospect of losing a finger didn't flash through my mind. It does. It also doesn't stop you.
Whatever the problem was, it wasn't outside his teeth. I had to explore the entire inside of his mouth, under his tongue, the roof of his mouth - there. He'd bitten the twig into sections and there was one wedged across the roof of his mouth. There was blood on my fingers. He winced when I pulled it free. He didn't bite down; he didn't resist me at all. I knew he wouldn't.
Ever since John died, I've glided through life in the serene knowledge that I am emotionally bulletproof. Until now. Spike will be six years old on Monday; I'm twelve months closer to the day what's left of my heart gets ripped out.
At this moment, I honestly don't know if I can survive that a second time.
On the other hand, Spike was bumping me to play tug again before we were halfway home.