Creature comforts

What goes down may come up

This is a story best told sideways. So, let’s start from the middle.

Monday, 3:30 a.m.: I was awakened to the sound of retching. Surer than any alarm clock, this sound rousts me from the deepest sleep as instantly and completely as a bucket of ice water thrown over me. In one fluid movement, I reached over, lifted the retcher out of bed, and set him on the floor. Silence. I snapped on the light. Walter, our 12-year-old dachshund, was standing beside the bed looking up at me as if to say, “What?” I believe I looked at him the same way. He seemed perfectly fine. Crisis averted?

Nope. A long, cylindrical lump of light tan ingesta was in the space Walter had previously occupied beside me — nicely situated on the (previously) freshly-laundered bedspread. Sigh. I cleaned it up and went back to bed.

5:25 a.m.: More retching noises, this time, from somewhere on the floor in the bedroom. Eh, I’d get it later. Zzzzz.

6:30 a.m.: A long, sustained whine-yawn from the foot of the bed. I rolled over to avoid making eye contact, but it was too late — the dogs knew I was awake.

6:31 a.m.: “Ok, I’m up, I’m up, I’m UP! UGH.” I began my daily chores. I congratulated myself on managing to remember to feed Walter a special food for upset stomachs (which he thoroughly enjoyed). Hopefully, this was the end of the belly troubles.

7 a.m.: Though my preliminary investigations revealed nothing untoward, I decided to conduct a more thorough search of my bedroom for evidence of … anything untoward. Found it behind the armoire. Another light tan, cylindrical glob of — wait — what the? — A paper towel! When the heck did Walter eat a paper towel?! Two! I realized the stuff he brought up in the bed earlier that morning was also a wadded up paper towel! Neither of the vomit blobs contained kibble, which is what Walter was last known to have eaten. He was locked in the bedroom all night.

(15.5 hours earlier)

Sunday, 3:30 p.m.: We had good weather on our return trip from my sister’s house in Buffalo, New York. Walter, as usual, slept comfortably on my lap the whole way. Apparently, he was exhausted from the stress of our whirlwind weekend trip. I was pretty tired, also, but I couldn’t sleep in the car. My stomach was still not exactly right, but I felt much better than I had earlier.

4:45 p.m.: The other dogs were exceptionally pleased to see us after being kenneled all weekend. We all piled into the minivan and headed home.

5:20 p.m.: Walter (crying and barking) made it clear that he was starving, and dinner was 20 minutes late!

5:28 pm.: Dogs’ dinner was served. Walter was enraptured.

5:28 (and 10 seconds) p.m.: Dogs finished eating. Except for Ivy, who likes to savor every kibble. Individually. Really slowly. While all the other dogs stare at close range. Years of Food Police experience have served me well, and I maintained order.

(17.47 hours earlier)

Saturday, 10 p.m.: Suffice it to say, it was something I ate, and my gastrointestinal tract was very unhappy. Being at my sister’s house and not at home made this situation even worse. Walter was waiting for me outside the bathroom, clearly concerned. I crawled into bed, feeling awful. It took only a few minutes for me to realize Walter, my constant companion, was M.I.A. I found him rooting through the bathroom trash can — Walter! Bleh!

Walter looked at me as if to say, “What?” A little affronted at my interruption, he reluctantly abandoned his quarry and followed me to bed.

Sunday, 6:30 a.m.: Walter awakened, bright-eyed and waggy-tailed, giving me no choice but to get up, let him out and feed him breakfast. At least it was all-systems-go with him. Me? Just ready to go — home.

Confused? Yeah, so was I. So, let’s put the important events in order:

1. Walter ate trash at around 10 p.m. Saturday night.

2. Walter ate breakfast Sunday morning, normal functions outside.

3. Walter ate dinner Sunday night, still normal.

4. Walter vomited paper towels Monday morning.

5. Transit time of food through a Walter — about 3 hours — apparently around paper towels still sitting in the stomach.

6. Paper towel transit time through a Walter — inconclusive. Experiment failed, paper towels were purged after 29.5 hours.

Here’s the gist: Don’t eat paper towels. They do not dissolve, and if swallowed whole, may cause a painful obstruction, which is tough to diagnose, as paper towels don’t show up on x-ray pictures. Walter was lucky — no surgery required, and no need to turn back time.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column is published every other Sunday in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at