To Sadie the Boxer, the parking lot of the Lubbock Animal Hospital is a smorgasbord of scent. She can’t sniff fast enough.
It’s her first visit to the clinic. We rescued her from a shelter. They had her spayed and she needs the stitches removed. She’s only 7 months old. Just a puppy. A puppy afraid of the scale. It’s silly to have to lift a dog onto a walk-on scale, but we do what we have to. 52.4 pounds. Confirmation as to why she knocks the wind out of me when jumping on the bed in the middle of the night.
Over in the corner of the waiting room is a silver haired elderly couple. Their miniature French Poodle is under the bench, hiding behind their legs. And why not? It looks like big dog day at the clinic. Two St. Bernard’s with paws the size of salad plates are ready to go home. They lumber over to me for a rub on the head before dragging their owners out to the car.
Says Mrs. French Poodle, “I doubt Marquette has ever seen a dog that big.”
I peek through the front door. “He’s about to see bigger.”
St. Bernard’s are big. Great Danes are huge. This one’s name is Case. Case is as gentle as he is large. You don’t walk a dog that big. The dog walks you. Thankfully, Case, while not content to sit, is easy going around the wait room. He ambles over to get some attention from me and Sadie. His massive head rests for a second on my knee. Sadie seems suddenly small.
Mrs. French Poodle stares in wonderment. “How much does that dog eat?”
“About 8 cups of food a day.”
“How big are the cups?”
The exam room door opens and out comes a gorgeous German Shorthair Pointer. Brown and white and so excited to see his owner that he forgets about his injured paw. They go out the door, leaving a couple drops of blood behind. So back inside they come for another look. The dog is not pleased. I imagine it’s like leaving the dentist’s office and being pulled from your car to hear, “Sorry, we missed a cavity.”
A 30-something woman in a black nylon jacket comes through the front door with her Weimaraner, sleek and silver gray.
Sadie wants to be introduced.
“What’s her name?”
“She looks like a Charlie.” Sadie and Charlie exchange sniffs. All is well for a moment. Until Sadie goes for another sniff. She has no concept of personal space. Charlie growls and snaps.
“Sorry. She’s a girl. And she gets a little pissy sometimes.” Charlie’s lip is curled up, displaying some very white teeth. Her owner sighs, “Today she’s pissy.”
Sadie looks at me with a “what’d I do?” expression. But Case the Great Dane wanders back over for more attention and she’s happy again.
The German Shorthair reappears, this time with a wrap around his back right paw. “Try to make sure it stays on there, ok? If it comes off and it’s not bleeding, you’ll be fine. Otherwise, come back and see us.”
Finally it’s Marquette the French Poodle’s turn to be seen. Whatever procedure she is about to endure must be less scary than the enormous dogs surrounding her. She comes out from under the bench and shoots into the exam room like her tail is on fire.
It’s just as well for her. The next two dogs through the door are Huskies.
Indeed, it’s big dog day at the clinic.
Comedian George Carlin said, “Life is a series of dogs.” He’s right, you know. We mark time by the dogs in our life. For me it is Kelly and Molly and Molly II, the St. Bernard’s. Sasha the Shetland Sheepdog, Palmer the American Eskimo Dog and now Boxers Bentley and Sadie and Gracie the Maltee-Poo. I can bring any of them to mind and, like mile markers on a highway, tell you about that stretch of road in my life.
Who knows why?
Perhaps because our dogs are a steady, faithful presence. They never miss an opportunity to show they are glad to see us when we come home. Even when we run to the store and back they greet us as though we’d been away on a great adventure. They are with us through thick and thin. And sad though it is, we sometimes love our dogs because they stick around when the people in our lives don’t.
Life is a series of dogs. Gather the elders in your family together around the dinner table and after the plates are pushed back and the coffee is poured, you’ll hear the stories. The reminiscing. Someone will get stuck on whether it happened in ’51 or ’55. It’s the memory of the dog that points the way. “It must have been in ’55 because that’s when Dad had old Pete. He used to ride in that Chevy truck with him, remember?”
Everyone remembers and nods. Old Pete. Dad. The Chevy truck.
There’s a pause. Everyone is remembering.
Old Pete, the black hound with the streak of white on his belly. Dad in his overalls and seed corn cap. The red Chevy with the “three on the tree” transmission and the AM radio tuned to WCCO – Minneapolis. We can still hear Herb Carneal, the voice of the Twins, doing the play by play of Killebrew, Carew, Oliva, Kaat and Tovar battling the Detroit Tigers while we haul feed and hay on the farm.
It’s the memory of the dog that marks the time.
Dr. Casey says Sadie did great on her visit. She even gave kisses to the tech while her stitches were being taken out. She’ll be back next year for her shots. Hopefully, not before. She’s healthy and happy at the lake. Chasing birds, chewing up bones and shoes, barking at cats.
And marking this stretch of road in my life.
Though when it comes to marking the stretch of road we live on, Bentley the Boxer does a better job. Trash cans, bushes, fire hydrants, trees, he marks pretty much everything.
You know what I mean.
Years from now around the dinner table, I’ll remember that, too.
“Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, your dog would go in and you would stay out.”
– Mark Twain
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
– Psalm 90:12
Todd A. Thompson – April 3, 2014