Thursday, April 09, 2009
Let's just go ahead and put it out there. For the next few seconds, many will have to wait for breathing and pulse to return to normal. Dogs and dog owners across the globe fear the vet like Mrs. Author fears mice. Mere mention of the word sends dogs scrambling to hide in closets, flatten themselves under beds, hop a train to Tuscaloosa - anything to avoid that powerful, all-encompassing, dastardly three letter word. I once thought cat to be the most powerful word in the dog dictionary, but the passage of time has taught me otherwise.
Let us be honest, then; and admit that we scramble to hide our checkbooks, freeze credit cards in tupperware, and lock up our valuable jewelry when the need to visit the vet arises. We say prayers, we will our pets to get better to avoid making the trip. Three little letters convene, leaving us fearful for the well-being of our beloved furred friends, and the health of our bank accounts. Yet in the end - when it really counts, we lasso our dogs, make the painful march to our vehicles, and speed off as fast as possible to the same place that scares us senseless.
Through no fault of their own, veterinarians have become the dentists of the dog world. Who among us may truthfully claim to have awoken to beautiful sunny Saturday morning with a great cup of coffee, and stretched out with the paper, only to lament "This would be the perfect day if only I could get to the vet." I have never been passed by a car bearing a bumper sticker that reads I'd rather be at the vet. Medical doctors crack jokes about them as though they were chiropractors. There are no red carpet events for vets. Many clients are thankless. And I don't know about you, but I hear many unfortunate conversations at the vet counter.
Friendly vet counter person: "That will be six hundred and thirty dollars. How would you like to pay?"
Client : "With Monopoly money. It costs what? But the damn dog didn't cost that much!"
I often wonder if such customers have forgotten that they didn't cost anything more than the time it took for a couple of people to bump uglies.
Despite these negative connotations, dog owners know that much like the dentist, when we truly need them, vets are our best friends. They tolerate our griping about bills, and the constant bubble of drool they find themselves encased in. They overlook wayward hounds with snapping jowls, and shrug off cat scratches like mosquito bites. They often alleviate our unfounded fears about one condition or another that we find our pets in. They deliver good news with no expectations. They save our loved ones, and help us to say farewell when the time comes. In the final analysis, vets (the good ones) are remarkable.
Every dog we have shared our home with has been very much aware of this fact, to the extent that they have made us visit the vet far more often than most dog owners we have known. Were we to tackle the painful process of tallying our veterinary expenses of the last ten years, I've no doubt there would be enough money for a second home, or a couple of nice cars at the very least. We have been through the wringer.
Sola had none of this in mind when she decided it was time for us to fire up the truck, open the checkbook and make a mad dash to the vet, our hearts in our throats (and fragments of one dastardly stick embedded in hers). The early morning drive was made in record time, Sola passed out in pain and unaware. We arrived to an empty waiting room, were seen quickly, and Sola was treated with the utmost competency. In no time we were making the drive home, feeling a few hundred dollars lighter. Sola was knocked out on pain killers for the return leg of the trip. It occurs to me now that she might not even recollect that trip, especially when one considers that her short term memory issues are well documented.
Fortune did not smile on our follow up visit. A week after the incident we needed to return for a check up. While this sounds unremarkable, it is necessary to point out that Sola was fully recovered, free of pain and meds. It is also important to understand that our vet is located in the town we first lived in when we brought Sola home. She loved the town and had many friends, and was not too terribly pleased when we moved away. Her sense of smell is keen, and if there is one thing you can count on it is this: Every trip, within three miles of the vet, Sola completely loses her mind.
Not the way Nigel might lose it, mind you. This is an entirely different animal. Sola comes very close to spontaneous combustion in her declaration of love for her destination. She squeals like a rabbit in a trap. She fast walks around the truck with no regard for others, stomping on Nigel, knocking Truffles to the floor. Her mad march continues across the front seats, making the driver swerve like a runaway drunk. We fully expect to be pulled over by the police and issued a sobriety test every time we drive Sola to the vet. Not that any officer could see us flailing about the vehicle to escape her. Sola does us the kind favor of throwing up a full vehicle privacy curtain by virtue of the ten to fifteen gallons of slobber that she sheds on every surface of the interior of our truck, living beings included. I no longer wonder about the odd stares of other vet visitors every time we spill out of the truck (in the parking lot) in a cloud of dog breath: We look like the glazed donut family.
This particular trip was no different, except that Mrs. Author was driving while I checked e-mail and listened to voicemail from work. In my distraction I failed to notice an ominous pattern of behavior developing. Sola's dysfunctional love for me is well known, but this time she was taking things a step further. As I hit the seven key on my phone and wiped out another voicemail I heard a distinct click and looked over just in time to see her step on Mrs. Author's seatbelt buckle, releasing it. Mrs. Author and I exchanged a cursory glance, both of us chalking it up to chance.
A few seconds later Sola made a full perimeter sweep, slobber strands flying, plastering the back of our heads. I turned away in revulsion, but not before I saw her throw a paw at Mrs. Author, knocking the Bluetooth headset from her ear. I held the wheel as Mrs. Author fumbled for her headset when Sola ran by again, erasing any doubts about her intent; another loud click announcing her second attempt to take out Mrs. Author by yet again unbuckling her seatbelt. Had we not been less than a mile from the vet a frantic driver exchange would have taken place. Instead I held Sola at bay for the last two minutes of the trip.
When we arrived Mrs. Author slammed the truck in park, and we oozed out in our slobber suits. After five minutes of cleanup we were presentable enough to make our way inside. In hindsight, I wish we had not.
If you are not a dog owner, it's difficult to convey what takes place when you first throw open the door of a vet office. If you disregard the animals, I suspect it has a bit of a holding tank feel. People look stressed, bored; some like they would rather be working a chain gang. There are always a few who have to use the phone. Others are trying to get out as quickly as possible.
Take in the whole picture and things get interesting. Dogs are split among a few camps. First, there are the whizzers. You know them - uber stressed; they walk in the door, look around, freeze, whiz. They are the house chickens. Next up are the impartials. These are usually the elderly, who have seen it all and know better than to get involved. Also included in this group are the stoner breeds - those of limited intellect. They are content to study a crack in the floor for an hour and wonder where it goes. Some of them wear helmets.
Finally, we have the motorboats. I know we are discussing dogs, but let me explain. Vets are smart. They know that the whizzers will flood the floors daily, so vet offices are never carpeted. Often, the lobby of a veterinary practice will be lined with practical, easy to clean, slick tile floors. Stand in the middle of one of these floors with your eyes closed as patients and owners file in. Listen intently and you can make out each of the aforementioned dog groups. The whizzers are obviously splashy. The impartials are conspicuous in their silence.
The motorboats sound like they are Riverdancing. These are the fearless dogs - they are happy to be here. I'm not sure if they suffer from the same memory issues as Sola, or if they just live for the free biscuit at the end of the exam, but have no doubt; these dogs are here to party. And that means one thing: meeting every other dog in the lobby. These pooches yank their owners around willy nilly, feet clicking hard on tile as they dig their way across the lobby to the next new friend. Thanks to the practical flooring choice (and the fact that all dogs double in apparent strength when they cross the threshold of the vet door) owners simply slide around behind their dogs as the little socialites tap dance to and fro. If you walk down the street and glance in the window of a vet lobby it looks like folks are water skiing around the room.
It was during one of these skiing passes that Nigel dragged me over to a Standard Poodle with an utterly ridiculous hairdo, little blue bows adorning her eyebrows. Before I could slide to a stop he had started flapping his gums.
Nigel: "What's shaking Don King?"
Poodle: "My name is Miss Precious Poodle."
Nigel: "Well Miss Precious, I am sure I am not the first to tell you that I sincerely hope the carpet does not match the curtains."
I reminded Nigel that a dog could indeed be fixed twice, and he absconded to the truck for the remainder of our visit. Meanwhile, Truffles attempted to dislocate my right shoulder as she motored over to a nervous looking whizzer Yorkie hiding under a bench.
Truffles: "What's kickin' chicken?"
Yorkie: "I'm ascared."
Truffles: "Oh don't be. The vet is in a good mood today and is offering all Yorkie owners fifty percent off on the big sleep package."
Truffles joined Nigel in the truck and was not heard from again. We got lucky and heard our name called just as the waiting room madness stated to wear us down. Sola dragged us to the exam room. In a matter of moments the veterinarian arrived. I hoisted Sola up on to the table as our vet put pictures of the original injury on the wall for comparison. He studied them intently.
Vet: "Wow that's a big hole!"
Sola: "If I had a nickel..."
I hid my face in my hands. The vet had Sola sit on the table and tilt her head back for a look. He told us everything had healed nicely, and that Sola could resume her normal diet. We marveled at her speedy recovery. Being rather thorough, the vet then insisted on giving Sola a quick general checkup. This did not go over well. As the vet listened to Sola's heart she grabbed her snout to quiet her.
Sola: "Um, why are you trying to stop me from breathing? I'm not an anklebiter or anything."
Sola: "I'm just saying..."
The vet reached around to feel Sola's abdomen.
Sola: "Excuse me for asking, but did you get your degree from The University of Phoenix? Warm those hands first!"
She protested at each body part. The vet was not amused at Sola's declaration that a double scotch would be required before that particular rectal thermometer would be put to use. The vaginal exam went over like Sarah Palin at a Planned Parenthood clinic. She kicked the vet during the reflex tests. By the time it was over Mrs. Author and I felt about an inch tall. We thanked the vet for helping to heal Sola, and for being so thorough.
Veterinarian: "I think you should consider transferring your records."
We walked quickly to the counter to pay, embarrassed and not at all happy with Sola's performance. Mrs. Author pulled out her checkbook as the friendly vet counter person prepared our bill. I checked a new voicemail on my cell phone that had arrived during the exam.
Friendly vet counter person: "That will be one hundred twenty dollars."
Sola: "Are you kidding me? I didn't even cost that much. Do you know how much bacon I could buy with that much money?"
Mrs. Author made out the check while I reviewed the bill. I did not notice Sola inching away from me down the hallway. As Mrs. Author dated and signed the check a piercing siren went off, and the sprinkler system came to life, little wheels spinning, flooding the entire building and ruining our bill, and the check we had made out to pay for it. Clients poured out of the building, protesting. Miss Poodle looked six sizes smaller, her fancy hair matted and flattened as she fled.
There was nothing left to do but run, and we did. We peeled out of the parking lot with the accelerator mashed, our pride hurt. We had alienated one of the most important professionals that a dog owner relies on. Nigel had crossed a serious line, and Truffles had scared an innocent Yorkie senseless. Our bill for cleanup would likely run in the thousands. The trip was a total loss.
I still giggled as we turned in to the driveway. Mrs. Author asked me what was so funny. I pointed out the fact that we had made the drive home minus one passenger, and that I was pretty sure I knew where I could find that passenger if and when the mood struck me.
Nigel: Is there any place you won't get us thrown out of?
Sola: Honestly, I haven't had that many hoses pointed at me since I went in to heat at the dog park.