Cactus Cooper gets it in the kisserby Lorin Shields-Michel on Oct. 19, 2013, under cactus cooper, Tucson Life and Heritage
The episode began innocently enough. At 7:15, Kevin got up, slipped into shorts, a tee and sneakers, and took Cooper out to pee. I got up, made the bed, got dressed. Soon, I heard the telling sound of Cooper padding back into the bedroom, the tags on his collar singing like a small wind chime. In the kitchen, Kevin was busy rinsing plates from last night’s dinner that hadn’t yet made it into the dishwasher. I heard him start the first pot of coffee for the day. He called to Cooper who turned from the bedroom and charged back toward the kitchen and dad. Time for a walk.
I put on my sunglasses and went out to meet my boys.
In the morning, I am on leash duty and the husband unit is on clean-up patrol. In the evenings, it is the opposite. It has been this way since we lived in California. Husband unit handed me the leash and we all walked out the front door. Along the sidewalk, on the way to the gate, there are a number of different types of cactus. Small saguaros and prickly pear as well as cholla. People who have long lived in the desert know all three well. People like us who are new to the Old Pueblo know that saguaros are mostly tall, with arms that jut out and turn toward the sky. We’ve learned that prickly pear are short, bush-like cactus with big flat paddles. Cholla are like squat trees with cylindrical branches or stems and joints that grow up and in and over each other. All are covered with nasty needles. This we knew. Coop d’Ville did not.
We try to keep Cooper away from any form of cactus for obvious reasons. They bite. We know from experience that a cactus burr stuck to you, whether it’s to an item of clothing or skin, requires pliers to grab it and pull it directly out and away. It is not fun. Turns out it is equally bad in fur.
Maybe I was more tired than usual. Maybe I simply wasn’t paying attention. Maybe I had been lulled into a false sense of complacency because he has never shown any interest in cactus in the couple of weeks we have lived here. Maybe it was a combination of all three. Regardless, Cooper moved in toward a cholla. I saw it at the exact time the husband unit yelled: “Cactus!”
Too late. Cooper pulled himself back, yipping, hysterical, a cholla branch embedded in his mouth and the left side of his precious little face.
I tried to grab it and pull it loose knowing that it is impossible to grab a piece of cactus without also getting impaled. We didn’t have these in Southern California. This is a learning experience. People who haven’t really ever lived in the desert have a lot to learn about how to deal with cactus. I managed to get most of it off and then shook it loose from my fingers. A small piece remained in his fur. I grabbed that, pulled and then shook that loose. Cooper was still yipping. There were several thorns stuck in his whiskers, in his mouth and he was shaking his head, pawing at the side of his face and crying. We turned and ran back to the house. Luckily we weren’t far. Husband unit was leading the way.
“Get the tweezers!” I yelled as he burst into the house ahead of me. “I’ll meet you in the bathroom!”
Cooper and I flew into the house behind him and headed toward the master bath. I sat down on the hamper bench, and grabbed his head to hold him as still as possible. The husband unit crouched on the floor, tweezers in hand, and one at a time, he pulled the thorns from our sweet boy’s gums, his bottom lip, under his nose. Thank dog none had gone into his eyes or into his nose. When they were all gone, we collapsed on the floor, the puppy parents more affected than the adult puppy. For Cooper, as soon as the last thorn was pulled from his bottom lip he was fine. Tail wagging. Ears perky. Let’s have breakfast.
But after the trauma was over, it got me thinking. What do you do if your dog gets a cactus needle in his eye? I did a little research online and found that, as I suspected, get thee to a vet immediately. Judging from all of the information I found about how to remove cactus from a dog, I’m guessing this a fairly regular occurrence and for good reason. Tucson is home to six types of cactus species, and thousands of acres of cactus. If you have a dog, at some point that dog is going to get impaled.
It’s a learning experience for people who have never lived here. Some of it is instinct. We knew the cholla wasn’t poisonous, just painful. We knew we had to remove the offending left-behinds and tweezers seemed like a good way to do that. Also needle-nose pliers. I even read that duct tape works. I can’t imagine it works very well on fur. Probably better for skin.
And so the Saturday morning tale of Cactus Cooper gets it in the kisser comes to a fitful desert end. Onto the next episode of the Cactus Couple and Coop d’Ville, navigating a new life in the Old Pueblo.