During her appointment at the clinic this past week, Polly Shropshire insisted on bringing her dog into the exam room with her. Polly is a haughty old bird whose ancestors were WFF’s, part of Watervalley’s First Families that settled the area back when the earth’s crust was hardening…a small detail that she amazingly manages to work into every conversation lasting more than seven words. She wears heavy facial powder and ridiculous hats but her most distinguishing characteristic is her ability to talk without ever moving her jaw.
Polly named her little dog “Precious” and even though he’s somewhere on the order of an oversized lint ball, Precious is a virtual cyclone of non-stop yipping fury. I hate him.
Now don’t misunderstand. I’m a big time dog lover. A couple of them are groomsmen in my upcoming wedding. But being around Precious makes waterboarding feel like a day at Disney World. The only thing I would enjoy more than seeing Precious gamma-ray zapped by Martians is seeing Precious gamma-ray zapped by Martians in slow motion.
My nurse, Ann Patterson was kind enough to hold Precious while I did the exam on Polly, who had quite a bit of inflammation in her knees. Meanwhile, she talked incessantly about her concerns for Precious and his lack of social life with other dogs…as if this was an issue on par with attaining world peace or perfecting cold fusion. I was doing my best to demonstrate great facial interest, but her lament was endless. How could anyone be so preoccupied with such a trivial matter? Along with her extensive bursitis, Polly clearly had extensive spare time.
She droned on and admittedly, I had tuned her out, simply mumbling the occasional “uh-huh.” It was only after her animated “Thank you, Dr. Bradford,” that I realized what I had done. Polly had just suggested how wonderful it would be if Precious could come over sometime and have a play date with Rhett and Casper, my two Golden Retrievers. I had inadvertently agreed with one of my random grunts. This was a disaster.
My dogs were eighty pounders with very undiscriminating appetites. They’d probably love to have Precious over for dinner, but not in the sense Polly was thinking. My dogs would look at Precious like he was a Hostess Twinkie, only less adorable. He was barely big enough to qualify as a side item.
“Polly, I may have spoken to quickly. I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.”
But Polly never heard a word. Having retrieved Precious from Ann, she was now in dog-talk rapture, excitedly explaining to him about how much fun he was going to have with Dr. Luke’s two doggies. While Ann and I stared blankly with each other, Polly had a protracted conversation with Precious, telling him that first he needed to go to Dr. Davidson’s and get a dog bath and cut so he could look his best.
Precious responded to all this breathless news by doing something quite unique. He yapped, endlessly. Two more attempts to dissuade Polly went nowhere. I finally let the matter drop, desiring only to get away from Precious as soon as possible. Besides, my dogs already had an incredibly busy social schedule consumed with sleeping, eating, and then sleeping some more. The play date would never happen.
I was mistaken.
My two dogs were actually father and son. Soon after my arrival to Watervalley I had been out jogging in the countryside and found Rhett tangled in some barbed wire by the side of the road. We became fast friends. Last fall, he had had a tempestuous romance with Maggie, the golden retriever from next door, resulting in a hasty betrothal and large family. I had kept Casper while the balance of his brothers and sisters had found loving homes with friends and neighbors.
In the spring I had a wooden fence built around the back yard so that the two fellows could have a place to romp and play while I worked at the clinic. I’m quite certain that Rhett and Maggie talked through the wide slats of the back yard fence on a daily basis, catching up on all the latest dog news such as who’s expecting, who’s seen any cats, and where’s everyone vacationing this summer. After that, Rhett spent most of his time sleeping in the shade while Casper spent most of his time annoying Rhett with the usual parent/child issues like, when he can get an IPhone. Despite being blood relatives, my two dogs had polar opposite personalities.
Rhett was the epitome of lethargic, preferring to give the occasional verbal warning to any rabbits or squirrels that got into my garden. Conversely, Casper displayed all the atomic energy of a nine-month old. If there was even the hint of someone on the front porch, including me, Casper would come skidding into the hallway and barking in Def-Con Seven mode, clearly convinced that terrorists were kicking in the front door. Rhett would continue to lie of the kitchen floor and possibly force his eyes open long enough to see if there was any food in his bowl.
Whenever I took Casper on a walk, he tugged so hard it nearly pulled me horizontal. He could probably get a job at the airport towing 747’s into place. Rhett, on the other hand, displayed no marketable skills, other than possibly working with the Department of Defense. He had the nasty habit of lying at my feet and emitting certain aromas. The animal produced more natural gas than a Canadian province. It had occurred to me that his GI tract could be considered a weapon of mass destruction…the sort of thing that in the wrong hands, could cause great havoc. Extremist could use Rhett to shut down half of Manhattan.
As I drove home that afternoon, I thought about Polly’s request. In all fairness, Rhett did enjoy a rather rich social life. Along with all the family close at hand, he had a grand friendship with Oscar, the bulldog who lived behind us. Oscar, bless his heart, was ugly. He had a bulging forehead and Churchill jowls that made him look subdued and serious, as though he should be carrying spreadsheets and doing other dog’s tax returns. He seemed to adore Rhett and occasionally he was allowed to come over and hang out. Given Rhett’s prowess as a lady’s man, Oscar was probably looking for dating advice. Apparently female dogs saw Oscar as wooden and not in touch with his feelings.
My housekeeper, Connie had been out of town this past week so by the time Saturday rolled around, the house had fallen into a state of untidiness on the order of a fraternity house. By ten o’clock I was in the back yard pulling weeds from the garden. I had my earbuds on and was jamming to a little Bob Marley while Rhett and Oscar lounged in the shade. The ever exuberant Casper followed me around, retrieving the weed balls I had thrown from the garden and bringing them back, along with a little associated slobber.
With sweat dripping from me, I stood up to straighten my back. That’s when I heard a loud “Yoo Hoo! Dr. Bradford!” coming from the front yard. Casper practically stood upright, going into INTRUDER ALERT mode before racing to the back door at dog warp speed. Rhett remained in the shade, lying on his side. But he did flop his tail twice to register his deep concern. Oscar only lifted his head with a look of mild confusion, as if he couldn’t remember where he had put his keys.
Casper followed as I went though the house to the front. Upon opening the door, standing before me was Polly and Precious, who was now sporting a sparkly pink collar and looked like he had just come out of the extra-fluff cycle of the dryer. Polly’s husband, Clayton, was with her.
He was a shriveled up little fellow with an absurd toupee that looked like he had glued a chipmunk to his head. Despite the heat, he wore a blue blazer over an open collar polo shirt. He had on lime-green trousers with small fish embroidered on them. I suspect they were likely a perineal winner at the ugly pants night at the country club. Meanwhile, Precious yipped incessantly.
“Dr. Bradford, I hope we didn’t drop by at a bad time. Precious just got his Paw-di-cure and he was so excited about having a play date that he wanted us to bring him by.” The amazing part about this comment was that Polly said it with total confidence, as if the dog had spoken perfect English and added a “pretty please.”
Stunned, I blurted a kind of uncertain response, more croak than words.
“Oh, we just wanted to make introductions, really. So that their scheduled play date wouldn’t be so awkward.”
The whole business was bizarre. It was too late to simply shut the door and pretend I wasn’t home. I looked down at Casper and could swear he looked as puzzled as I was, which candidly, was a relief. My initial concern was that he was viewing this as a delivery by meals on wheels.
“Um sure. Introductions would be fine. This is Casper, my younger dog. His father, Rhett, is out back. The neighbor’s dog, Oscar, is out there too.”
“Oh, splendid! Precious can make three new friends!”
I stepped aside for them to enter the hallway. I had considered offering a congenial welcoming pat to Precious’s head. But by this time he had graduated from barking to growling. I kept my distance. Polly immediately noticed the general disarray of the house and kitchen, crinkling her nose and regarding it pretty much the same way she would the floor of a gas station bathroom.
We passed through the house and out the back door where Polly took three steps into the yard and set Precious on the grass. “Run and meet the other doggies, sweetheart.”
It was a tense moment. At first, he took a few prickly steps, as if had never been on grass taller than a putting green. Casper looked at him curiously and Rhett and Oscar only stared from a distance. Suddenly, Precious made a bee-line for the garden, completely ignoring the other dogs. He immediately ran into the cover of the tomatoes where, employing every ounce of his Coco Puff sized brain, he grabbed a rotten one and tried to eat it. Having only moderate success with this, he decided to roll over and gator in it for good measure, smearing rotten tomato all over his previously white coat.
Meanwhile, Rhett and Oscar sat up and were looking at each other curiously, as if they were trying to index this strange creature. I could almost hear their thoughts. “Dwarf rabbit? Albino squirrel? Ugly cat? Does it come with fries?”
During his brief plunge into the garden, Precious had been remarkably quiet. But soon enough, he fixated on a clump of dirt and started barking at it. Then, he attacked; digging into the loose earth like a nuclear powered cotton ball. Altogether, it had taken less than sixty seconds for Precious to demote himself to junk yard dog status.
Polly was appalled. She covered her mouth with one hand and fanned herself with the other. “Precious, darling! Come here! Come here this instant!”
But Precious would have nothing to do with her. He began darting in and out of the garden rows, seemingly ecstatic with his new found freedom. Casper shied away from all the hub-bub of Polly’s frantic yelling and found refuge in the shade near Rhett and Oscar, preferring to keep his distance from all the drama. Truthfully, I felt like joining them.
The only other scenario in which I could imagine spending more than five minutes with Polly and Clayton Shropshire involved a malfunctioning elevator. Having no success with Precious, Polly turned her scorn toward Clayton.
“Clayton, do something. Go catch him!”
He shrugged and made a half-hearted effort to catch Precious as he scampered in and out of the cover of the garden. But Clayton was no match to the fleet-footed fur ball.
By now the three big dogs were lying on their stomachs, their heads moving in unison, impassively watching the back and forth of Precious playing “catch me if you can,” with Polly and Clayton. I took no part in this free-for-all. Inwardly I was a hyena on laughing gas but on the exterior I was Switzerland, a neutral diplomatic observer.
Finally, Polly and Clayton could do no more. They bent forward with hands on their hips, heaving in and out, and generally looking like they were about to have a coronary event. Precious sensed their surrender and then did the oddest thing.
He went over to the other dogs, looped around the back of them, and then pulled up in between Rhett and Oscar, stomach down and head up. His peanut sized tongue waggled as he panted incessantly, but he looked utterly content and made not a sound.
That’s when I realized a simple reality about Precious. At days’ end, he was a dog. An absurdly harebrained and galactically aggravating dog, mind you. But nevertheless, a dog. He just wanted to be one of the guys. All of the interminable barking he had done previously was just his version of Fontella Bass singing “Rescue Me.” I turned to Polly and Clayton.
“You know; I think we’re good here. Why don’t you guys come back in a couple of hours and we’ll round the dogs up then. That’ll give them time to swap a few stories and get to know each other.”
Polly and Clayton exchanged bewildered glances but soon enough, nodded in agreement. I walked them to the front door, said goodbye, and returned to the hot garden where weeds the size of palm trees awaited my eminent assault. The four dogs were on their sides, in the shade, sleeping.
I plugged in my earbuds, hit Pandora, and awaited the next song on the Bob Marley Channel.
I had to laugh.
In a moment of cosmic perfection, the tune playing was the Baha Men singing “Who Let the Dogs Out.” I reached down and yanked on the next weed.
So goes the dog days of summer.
And for now… that’s the news from Watervalley.
Until next time.