The fat, heartless, callous veterinarian asked, “So, who is going to pay for this?”
The lady and her girlfriend turned to look at each other, each face splattered with a look of disbelief. The lady turned back and said, “I don’t know. We just found her this way. She needs help. Help her.”
It was late winter, March 04, 2004. The lady and her girlfriend were driving down a busy road when they came across a dog in the middle of the street. They pulled over to help. The dog hadn’t been hit or run-over, but she was injured. She could barely walk or stand. An animal trap was snapped around a back leg. She was a gentle dog, and with the help of a young man that had also stopped, they put the dog in the lady’s car. The vet’s office was just across the street.
“But someone has to be responsible for the services,” the vet replied in a curt tone.
The exchange went back and forth a few times before the lady announced, “I’ll take care of the bill, just help the damn dog.”
Later that morning the lady picked up her cell phone and dialed a number. It rang about three times before I picked up the phone. “Good morning. This is Kirk.”
“Hey, honey. It’s me.”
“Oh, hey baby. What’s up?”
“Well,” she said. “Don’t get mad at me, but…” And she proceeded to tell me about the dog. I didn’t really want another dog, we already had Deion, our black and white Shih Tzu, but I didn’t actually get mad until she told me which vet she had taken the dog.
“You took her where? I hate those fuckers.” This I said a little too loud and received a few unappreciative stares from a few customers that were in the office at the time. Oh, well. But, it was true; I did hate the vets that ran that office. They were two bitches that studied more business and marketing than veterinarian medicine. We had used them before, and every visit was more like a timeshare sales meeting than a trip to treat a sick or injured pet. Bitches!
During my lunch hour I drove out to the vet’s office to have a look. The young girl that took me back said, “She was a muddy mess when they brought her in, but she cleaned up good. And she really is the sweetest thing.” She opened the cage for me.
She was right. She was the sweetest thing. I looked at the bandaged back foot. The assistant said, “That where the trap was. Nothing broken, thank goodness. She lost a dew claw though.”
I nodded my head and felt around her neck. The rope that had been used to tie her up had worn a bare ring around her neck. I rubbed her head and she liked it. I ducked in to get a closer look and she reached out with her head and licked my nose. As I pulled away, she pawed at me to stay. The girl closed the cage. “Thank you,” I said. “Could I see the trap, please?”
She bought it out and handed it to me. It was a bear style trap, with maybe a five inch circumference when open and set. “Son of a bitch,” I said. “You have to be kidding me? That had to hurt like hell.”
Back at the office, little work got done. Thoughts and conversations were about my new dog, how my wife had come across her, and the animal trap. I left the office early, as soon as I heard she was ready for pick-up. I didn’t want her to have to stay in that hideous place any longer than she had to.
When I came in the sweet little assistant was behind the counter to greet me. “Are you here to pick up your girl?”
I smiled and said, “I guess.”
As she was pulling paperwork, I looked around the reception area. On the side for cats, three women sat patiently as they stoked the backs of their nervous felines. On the dog side sat a guy restraining his Jack Russell and its obvious interest in the cats.
“That will be two hundred and one dollars, sir.”
I turned around and bit my tongue as I produced my wallet and credit card. When I signed the slip, the girl said, “Let me go get her for you. I’ll bring her right out.”
She came out the door all smiles and wags. She had met me only once, but she acted as if she had known me forever. We would later learn that was just how she was with everybody. She never knew a stranger. I took the leash and we headed for the door. Then I stopped. Turning around I said, “Oh … I almost forgot. The trap. I need the trap.”
The little assistance took on a troubled look and said, “I’m sorry. The doctor said you wouldn’t be able to have it back.”
I approached the counter. The girl could see my anger build and she backed up as I got closer, almost step for step. “There is no having it back. I just paid for the damn thing.”
All she said was, “I’m sorry.”
As mad as I was, it wasn’t time for an outburst. This wasn’t her fault. I smiled and said, “I’m mad, but not at you. Now, please, go get the doctor.”
The vet came out to the counter with a combative expression and said, “Is there a problem?”
“Not if you give me my trap.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t give it to you.”
“That’s bullshit. The whole reason I’m here is because of that damn trap. It came in with the dog, and two hundred dollars later, it’s going out with the dog.”
“I don’t think I can legally give it to you.”
“You see. That’s your problem. You think too fucking much. But don’t worry. I have spent a good deal of my life thinking for other people, so let me save you the trouble. Go back there and bring me that goddamn trap!”
She stood there and looked at me. By now I had the full attention of everyone in the room. I turned around to address the reception area. In my full voice, loud but not yelling, I said, “She won’t give me the goddamn trap! Can you fucking believe that? Let me tell y’all a story. You won’t believe this bullshit. My wife…”
“Mr. Jockell. Mr. Jockell,” the vet interrupted. “That’s enough … please…”
I turned around to see her give a nod to her assistant. Moments later she came out with the trap and handed it to me. I looked her in the eyes and said, “Thank you, sweetheart. And I’m sorry I had to get nasty.”
The vet said, “Apologies accepted.”
With dog and trap in hand, I turned for the door and said, “I wasn’t talking to you … bitch.”
And that is how Dixie came into our lives. That was over twelve years ago. In a way, it only seems like yesterday.
The arrival of Dixie brought many challenges and surprises. First of all was her adaptation to family life. The rope burns around her neck and undernourished body were evidence that she didn’t come from a loving environment. It all pointed towards a life of abandonment and abuse, probably tied to a tree in some backyard and forgotten about. The rope was still around her neck when they found her, so how she made her escape and how long she had to forage for food to survive was anybody’s guess. And who knows where the animal trap came from. Needless to say, her prior life had not been ideal.
Remarkably, she was an immediate fit with the rest of the Jockell menagerie. Her absolute disinterest in cats was a huge relief to both me and Lucky, our Maine Coon. Deion, our Shih Tzu, was just happy to have a new pal. In no time at all, it was like they had always been together.
The first real challenge was convincing her that her meals came from a bowl and not the kitchen trash. Admittedly, her stupid humans had some things to learn as well, like closing the damn pantry door where the trash can resides.
In the early days, we would come home to a trail of trash that could be followed to the place were we would find her sleeping. And she was careful about it. She didn’t just turn the can over and root through the pile looking for tasty morsels. No, she would be quite selective and pulled everything out, one by one, and scattered it about the house.
And she had a thing for toilet paper rolls. We never got to witness how it was done, but she had a talent for taking a full roll and extracting its cardboard tube and disposing of the evidence. We would come home to full rolls of toilet paper on the living room floor with the center tubes missing. Very weird.
Within a few weeks of bringing her home we also noted her going through some physical and emotional changes. The bride took her to our good vet, and I received a call later that day.
“She’s pregnant,” announced my wife.
“What? You’re shitting me?”
“Nope. There are eight puppies…”
“Well … Isn’t that just great…” I started thinking and said, “Wait … How, exactly, do you know there are eight puppies?” That’s when the argument started.
So, during the 130th running of the Kentucky Derby, May 01, 2004, she jumped into the whelping box I had built and delivered all her pups. We named the first one after that year’s derby winner, Smarty Jones.
Over the course of time most of her sociably unacceptable habits were broken. We broke her of the trash, the toilet roll fetish just seemed to stop, and she figured out that chasing rabbits for dinner was simply too much work. And it was only once that she had pulled a large baking pan of birthday cake from the kitchen table and licked off every inch of icing. After another container of Betty Crocker, that cake was good as ever. Those kids never had a clue.
In reality, it didn’t take long for Dixie to become the great dog she was. She was sweet and pleasing, and there wasn’t a mean bone in her body. Above everything else, she loved her humans and other people. If you made the mistake of rubbing her head, you made a friend for life. And she was a great boat dog. She loved to go sailing with me. To be honest, I don’t know if she really gave a shit about the sailing. She just wanted to be with her people. She would tolerate just about anything, if it meant she could hang out.
I’ll never forget one day in particular when there was a knock at the door. I answered it. A county deputy was on the porch. “Sir, do you own a dog, fairly large and reddish in color?”
“Well, we had a call that it was running free and became very aggressive towards some of the folks down the street. It approached them growling and snarling.”
“Not my dog. No way.”
“They said that it lived here.”
He shifted his eyes and tilted his head down the street and said, “Well, I’m really not at liberty to say…”
I peeked around the corner to see some of my less favorite neighbors gathered in the street watching the proceedings that were unfolding on my front porch. I looked at the deputy and said, “Oh, hell. I should have figured. They’re just a bunch of fucking assholes.”
The deputy raised his eye lids and grinned which told me that he may have gotten the same impression. Then he said, “Well, we got the call so I had to come investigate. Is the dog here?”
I called Dixie and she came running out to find a new friend on the porch. As usual, she was all wags and smiles. The deputy bent over and rubbed her head. Then she flopped on back and spread her legs exposing her belly. Rub me here! Rub me here! And he did.
“Like I said a minute ago, ‘Not my dog. No way’”
The deputy stood up and said, “So I see. Well, I’m obligated to remind you, there is a leash law and it should be followed.”
“That’s all fine and good, but she doesn’t have a leash.”
As the deputy turned to walk back to his car, he said, “Neither does mine. Good day, sir.”
A lot like people, no dog is perfect. As great as she was, she still had habits that simply couldn’t be broke. Most of them had something to do with shit. She would often meet me at the door after work with the evidence stuck to the fur around her mouth. “Dammit, Dixie. You got to stop that.” And I would brush the cat litter off her face. She loved to eat some cat shit. But her favorite was deer scat. Oh … she would get down right crazy for some deer shit. And since herds of deer commonly make their way through our yard, she usually had a smorgasbord to select from. She would lie in the grass and chew on them like they were JuJu Beans.
Another awkward dietary choice had to do with earthworms. She was addicted to them, but they had to be prepared just so. Any worm foolish enough to try and navigate the hot pavement of a summer scorcher, would sacrifice themselves to Dixie’s delight. Once fully baked and dried like jerky, Dixie would carefully work her teeth to pry them from the concrete. For years she kept our sidewalk, driveway, and street curb clean of the unsightly little bastards.
Overall, she was simply a happy dog, most of the time. She always carried her signature smile … until the storms came. She was terrified of thunderstorms. She could hear and feel them coming long before a human could. When that was the case, you could see her become nervous and antsy. As the storms would get closer, she would turn frantic. There was nothing you could do to ease her anxiety. I’ve never seen anyone or anything tremble so much in my life. Every storm was a living nightmare, and it was heartbreaking to watch. Luckily, her good days far out numbered the bad.
The years rolled on and on. We had some great times and made super memories, but like everything else, time takes its toll. A few years ago it became apparent that she was slowing down. She was the same sweet girl, but the flame wasn’t as bright. Over time, we watched as her eyesight faded. She couldn’t hear as well anymore. And the strength in her back legs slowly disappeared. She was becoming an old lady. Let me just say it sucks when your best girl ages at a pace faster than you. Because, even though you try not to think about it, you know in the back of your mind that one day you will probably have to make a really painful decision. That day came on Wednesday, August 17, 2016.
I always promised her I would let her go when she wasn’t having fun anymore. And the fun was gone, so I made the call to a mobile vet. I’ve made that call before, and it is never easy. But this time it was harder. Through the good and the bad, Miss Dixie had been in our lives for over twelve years. That’s a long time, but a promise is a promise.
I rubbed and petted her head–her favorite–as the doc helped her along and away from the pain. I had pretty much already said all my goodbyes, so, as she slipped away, I could only think of one last thing to say. So, as I cried, I leaned over and told her, “I promise. There is no thunder in heaven.”