"She's famous, you know," the elderly man said humbly, half looking at the floor, while I examined his dog's swollen ear. BUt I could hear the pride in his voice.
A few moments earlier, just before entering the exam room, I had glanced over the chart for the patient in Room One. When I saw the patient's name, I thought, How original. A dog named Dog. Probably another backyard lawn ornament that's barely noticed and doesn't even get enough attention for someone to come up with an actual name for her. But then I also noticed she had been brought in for yearly exams and had received all our recommended vaccinations and preventative care. Perhaps this wasn't a neglected dog after all.
Inside the exam room, I met Mr. James Evans, eighty-four, and Dog, his eleven-year-old Weimaraner mix. I guess you could say they were pretty close to the same age. Mr. Evans had noticed the swelling and "dirty ears," and brought Dog right in to have her checked out.
As I continued the exam, he told me how he stumbled upon Dog's high intelligence when he started teaching her simple tasks. He taught her these mainly in case of an emergency since he had heart and other health problem. He noticed how quickly she caught on and began teaching her more tricks. Her most famous were counting and solving math problems. They started "showing off" for family and friends, then Mr Evans began taking her to nursing homes, schools and other small groups to perform.
"The people seem to enjoy it," he said. "Everyone's always asking how she does it. I tell them I don't know. She hasn't told me yet," he laughed. "Maybe she can read my mind. I don't know...but she gets the answers wrong when I'm not concentrating."
When he first started telling me all this, I thought, Yeah, yeah, everybody thinks their dog is a genius. But I could now tell by the way his eyes lit up, and how Dog never took hers off him, that he wasn't boasting, but doing what he always did: sharing this special animal and her stories with others. He sensed that I was genuinely interested and told me he would bring a video of her next time. He readily agreed to my recommended preanesthetic blood testing and treatment of the ears.
Mr Evans brought me the videotape the next time he brought Dog in, which was for her annual visit. Later that day, a few members of the staff and I watched it. Although it wasn't the best-quality tape, two things were evident: how much the small audiences enjoyed the performance and how Dog never took her eyes off her partner. Was she reading his mind? Or was she adept at reading his body language that she was picking up on some subconcious cue he was giving her, something he didn't even know he was doing-and isn't that almost the same thing? However they did it, it was a result of both of them being completely in tune with and trusting each other.
Several months later, they were back in my exam room, both a little feebler. Mr Evans wanted me to check those ears again. He thought she might be losing her hearing. She was also having some trouble getting around. "But so am I," he chuckled as I carefully checked her over. Her ears were fine-just some wax, no infection-but her hips were arthritic.
The next time I saw them, Dog had to be carried into the exam room. Two years passed since our first meeting. She was now thirteen and he was eighty-six. I dreaded this exam. Before I even started, Mr Evans looked straight at me with moist eyes and said, "Now, she's been too good to me for me to let her suffer. I would never let her down like that."
With that, I went quietly with my exam. She was so weak. Laboring to breathe, her heartbeat was muffled and her eyes were dim. He agreed to leave her overnight so we could do more tests. He wanted to take the time to find out everything, but didn't want to allow her to be uncomfortable any longer if nothing could be done. I said I understood.
X-Rays, EKG and blood work confirmed congestive heart failure, which had also caused liver disease. After treating her with heart medication, she was breathing a little easier and able to eat and drink. Something told me, though, that she was holding on---holding on for him...for now. I prayed that she wouldn't die, not that night, not without him beside her.
I held my breath that morning as I entered the treatment room, trying to read my staff members' faces for the answer to the questions I didn't want to ask: How was Dog? Had she made it through the night? She was alive, but very weak. I had to call Mr Evans. He seemed to already know what I had to report.
Mr Evans patted her head as I injected the bright-pink liquid, tears streaming down my face, my hands shaking. I glanced at my assistant, hoping to find a steady face. No luck. Her eyes were pools of water. Dog's leg, my hands, the syringe were now nothing but a blur. She took one last deep, long breath.
Mr Evans's son John carried out the large box. For the first time, James Evans looked old to me. I wondered how he would be without her.
Later that afternoon, John Evans called to let us know that his father had passed away--- he had suffered a heart attack while Dog's grave was being dug. I couldn't believe the pain that hit my own heart. I don't know how long I stood, stunned, before taking another breath.
I felt responsible. I had ended Dog's life, and because of that, Mr Evans's life had ended, too. But then I realized they wouldn't have wanted it any other way. The family knew this, too. They had Dos's body exhumed and cremated. And they placed her ashes with her best friend.
I am grateful to Dog and Mr Evans. They did more for me as a vet than I did for them. For at those times when I feel discouraged, dealing with the aftermath of a person's neglect of a pet, I remember Dog and Mr Evans, and my confidence in the bond is restored.
Adopted from CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE DOG LOVER'S SOUL...written by Andrea B. Redd, D.V.M.